Posts tagged ‘Lisbon Treaty’

A rentrée of doubt and anticipation

Rarely has the Brussels rentrée occurred in such a muddle of doubt and anticipation. Doubt because the October 2 Irish referendum could kill the Lisbon Treaty for good; anticipation because approval of Lisbon should open up new capabilities for Europe and settle the constitutional uncertainty which has dogged the EU for so many years – and provide some jobs for the boys.

The Irish Times reports that support for a “yes” vote slipped eight points in a recent opinion poll, with 46 per cent in favour, 29 per cent against and 25 per cent don’t knows – and that’s just four weeks before the vote. Irish political leaders have started to raise the tempo of their campaign, but the Swedish prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt has confirmed that contingency plans are being drawn up to apply the terms of the Nice Treaty in the event of an Irish rejection.

Of course even a “yes“ vote in Ireland is not quite the end of the affair. Germany, Poland or the Czechs could delay ratification well into 2010, raising the hopes of some British Conservative eurosceptics that a victory in a June 2010 general election would allow them to hold a referendum, steer a de-ratification through the Westminster Parliament and so block the treaty. A mouth-watering prospect for constitutional lawyers!

The hero of these eurosceptics is of course Czech President Vaclav Klaus who has so far refused to sign the act of ratification and is determined to be the last to do so. Germany now appears to be on the brink of approval having agreed more national scrutiny of EU legislation. The Polish president has yet to sign.

It’s looking inevitable that the present Commission, which would normally step down on October 31, will be asked to remain in office for some months until the treaty is fully ratified, taking its term beyond the Copenhagen post-Kyoto summit, but at least Barroso should provide continuity into a new college provided that he can secure the approval of the European Parliament on (probably) September 16 following this week’s meetings with the political groups.

I was particularly intrigued to learn that the EP vote on the Commission president would be through secret ballot. A defeat for Barroso would be an interesting test of party loyalty – but I suppose we’d never know who the rebels were.

September 8, 2009 at 9:25 am Leave a comment

Iceland’s path to EU membership may be a rocky one

Coat of arms of Iceland
Image via Wikipedia

I see that the EU Council of Ministers has asked the European Commission to deliver an opinion on Iceland’s application to join the EU, just 10 days after Reykjavik submitted its formal request for membership. The Swedish presidency wants the report by the end of the year, and foreign minister Carl Bildt has implied that Iceland’s status as an EEA country could speed the process of the application, in contrast to the slow progress for the Balkan applicants.

The Icelanders no doubt remain shell-shocked by the collapse of their banking system and the consequent halving in the value of the krona, and crave the stability of the eurozone, but it strikes me that the path to membership may be far from smooth. At the end of the process – say in 2011 – lurks a referendum: by then the mood of the country may have changed.

Fisheries could be a major stumbling block. Seafood accounts for almost half of Iceland’s exports and 10 per cent of its gross domestic product, which is quite something when another chunk of the country’s economy – the banking system – has disintegrated. The cod wars of the 1970s, when Iceland extended its territorial limits to 200 miles and the Royal Navy sent frigates to protect British fishing vessels, showed the depth of national feeling on this issue.

Even now international relations on fisheries policy remain poor. I gather for instance that Iceland has been excluded from negotiations on the management of mackerel stocks in the North Atlantic and has therefore opted out of catch allocations. The country is very concerned to rebuild cod stocks, which is a key economic asset. Stocks may be recovering but there will be intense opposition to surrendering quota to EU fishermen under the common fisheries policy. Just to add to the sensitivities, Iceland still has a whaling industry.

At least the review of the EU common fisheries policy is timely, with signs that ministers have accepted the need for fundamental change (just as well, as many fish stocks in European waters are on the point of collapse – and see Sarkozy’s change of heart). However, the fisheries chapter in the Commission’s Iceland report will be one of the most difficult to compose. Could it be the catalyst for the creation of a new fisheries policy, or will it hark back to the disastrous EU policy which has been pursued since 1973?

Becoming part of the eurozone is the big driver for Iceland, but there could be difficult issues here as well, given the level of Iceland’s public debt (about 100 per cent of gdp). For Iceland to qualify for eurozone membership could be an even greater challenge than is faced by the Baltic states and Hungary.

The vote in the Althing to apply for membership was a close run thing – 33 in favour, 28 against – and it would certainly be wrong to underestimate the negotiating difficulties which lie ahead. If the Irish vote “no” on Lisbon then the prospects for any enlargement would be gloomier still.

Meanwhile Britain’s Conservative shadow foreign secretary William Hague continues to inveigh against Lisbon. But whatever you think of his views, he is a consummate speaker. You may like to savour his recent performance in the House of Commons on the possibility of Tony Blair becoming president of the European Council under a ratified Lisbon Treaty. No wonder Gordon Brown needs a holiday!

Michael Berendt

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July 28, 2009 at 10:00 am Leave a comment

Frustrating start for Sweden’s presidency

LISBON TREATY POSTERS
Image by infomatique via Flickr

What a frustrating time this must be for Sweden’s EU presidency! Stockholm’s ambitious plans to demonstrate its dynamic management of the Union are becalmed. Two days after confirming the Council’s candidacy of Barroso, prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt was obliged to announce that the European Parliament had postponed until mid-September its vote on renewing the Commission president’s mandate. Urgent decisions relating to climate change and the economic crisis could well be delayed. No institutional navel-gazing was the Swedish promise, but it’s not turning out like that.

To make matters more complicated, all institutional matters must await the outcome of the Irish referendum on the Lisbon treaty, now scheduled for October 2. “There is no plan B” commented Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt on the possibility of an Irish “no” vote.

All this delay must be especially galling for Bildt, a quintessential man of action who relishes the international stage – and one of the candidates for Lisbon’s new job as Council president.

Still, a pattern is beginning to emerge. On Bastille Day former Polish prime minister Jerzy Buzek is expected to be elected president of the Parliament for the next 2 ½ years on the understanding that the Socialist group will take over for the second half of the five year mandate in the person of Martin Schulz. ALDE’s Graham Watson has withdrawn his candidacy in return for an enquiry into the financial services crisis to be chaired by German liberal Wolf Klinz.

It now seems likely that this package will ensure EPP, Socialist, ALDE and Conservative support for Barroso in September, although the greens and others will seek a further postponement.

The MEPs are keeping up the pressure on Barroso: he must set out his own policy objectives to the Parliament in advance of the EP vote.

However, I see that Barroso is planning to use his spare time between now and mid-September to campaign for a “yes” vote in Ireland. Jerzy Buzek is also planning to go there. This is surely in marked contrast to the previous referendum, when foreign politicians were asked to stay away. The point will no doubt be made that without approval of the Lisbon Treaty, the Nice rules will apply, depriving Ireland of a commissioner, maybe for five years in every 15.

Back in the Parliament, chairs of the committees are being allocated. The Conservatives – that’s to say European Conservatives and Reformists – will be pleased that Malcolm Harbour is slotted to take over as chair of the Internal Market Committee. Harbour is much respected by the Commission, in particular because of the role he played in piloting the services directive through Parliament.

I reckon Harbour is someone in touch with the real world. Having just got a new mobile phone and yet another charger to add to my collection I’m glad to see his involvement in a voluntary scheme for setting a standard for these devices so you don’t get a new charger every time you have a new phone. Practical measures like that are especially welcome in the midst of all this institutional power play, or navel-gazing as they call it.

Michael Berendt

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July 13, 2009 at 9:57 am 2 comments

From one seat to one president – a new digital dawn in Brussels?

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Hats off to Brussels bloggers Jon Worth and Jan Seifert as they embark on a new Brussels digital campaign called “Who do I call?“.  Their aim is simple. They think that the Commission President and newly created President of the European Council should be the one and same person.

While we still remain to be convinced about the merits of the case,  we do admire the team’s online efforts. (Admittedly as some of us have yet to really think about it – this thinking usual happens when we should be relaxing).  You can support in a number of ways from a simple signing of their petition, signing up on Facebook, putting the banner on your site to translating their copy into another language. The choice is yours. For the first time we have seen in an EU based campaign, the guys are using many of the tools out there to take visitors through all of the stages of online activist engagement, with the exception of getting people to take their activity offline…

Online activism

As Jon readily admits, the challenge will be to see whether their own (formidable) online and offline networks will draw enough support to the campaign centre. Unlike the one seat campaign and the 1million4disability, they do not currently have the kind of ready made organisational support of traditional NGO grassroots campaigns. It’s an interestingly experiment to see whether a European campaign can start online and migrate offline as attention builds. Clearly however, the team is already using its online contacts to spread the word and is actively looking at networks they are already part of to join the cause (hence this blog post). More posts in Facebook groups and a guest appearance on Blogactiv’s ideas page are perhaps in order in the coming days.

BTW – it’s great to see best practice blogger relations techniques being used here in Brussels. It’s just a pity that this time around we are the subject of the blogger relations, rather than the ones undertaking it!

March 3, 2008 at 8:01 pm 4 comments


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A blog on politics, policy, public affairs and communications in Brussels and the European Union. The blog is written by the team at Fleishman-Hillard in Brussels. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect those of the company or its clients. You will find the contact details of our team at www.fleishman-hillard.eu

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