Changes to the Lisbon treaty to allow for euro crisis bailouts are storing up political troubleby Manneken Pis / November 17, 2010 / Leave a comment
Nothing horrifies governments more than the prospect of consulting voters on matters European. So it was little surprise to see them reaching for diminutives to describe the change to the Lisbon treaty which they agreed late in October. “Small, small, small” was one diplomat’s verdict of the revision which Berlin demanded as a price for agreeing a mechanism to deal with future eurozone debt crises.
Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European council, the body where EU governments meet, is very much of this view. Never an enthusiast for any form of treaty change, he managed to kick into touch a proposal from the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, to deprive spendthrift EU nations of their voting rights—a change that would have required a proper treaty rewrite. Van Rompuy has now been asked to achieve Merkel’s wider aims without triggering any dreaded referendums.
But will it work? Van Rompuy is likely to opt for a simplified treaty revision which can be decided by heads of government without the panoply of normal procedures. He is confident this can be done with so little fuss that the great European demos will barely notice. Not everyone is so sure. In Britain this will be presented as a technical change with no impact on nations outside the eurozone, though David Cameron will still have to steer a bill through the commons, officials say. In the Czech Republic, Václav Klaus, the Eurosceptic president, will be tempted to do what he did when the Lisbon treaty was ratified and hold everything up. Denmark is likely to question whether a referendum is required and there may be constitutional complications in Ireland. But the Netherlands is causing officials most concern. Though the country does not have any provision for a legally binding referendum, that did not stop it holding one in 2005 on the ill-fated European constitution. The government could hardly ignore the resounding “no” vote.
Fast forward five years and the party of the maverick anti-Islam campaigner and Eurosceptic, Geert Wilders, has already suggested a referendum, as has the Dutch Socialist party. Alone the two parties do not have enough votes to push the idea through the Dutch parliament. But if a debate takes off, the bigger parties who backed the referendum in 2005—including the main opposition Labour party—could be put on the spot. The proposed new monetary fund for the eurozone would be a backstop mechanism to…