by David C. Grabbe
February 2, 2010
On November 3, 2009, after Czech Republic President Vaclav Klaus put his signature to the Lisbon Treaty, he remarked that "with the Lisbon Treaty taking effect, the Czech Republic will cease to be a sovereign state. . . ." A month earlier, he had stated "I have always considered this treaty a step in the wrong direction. It will deepen the problems the EU is facing today, it will increase its democratic deficit, worsen the standing of our country and expose it to new risks." The Czech Republic was the last of the 27 member states of the European Union to ratify the treaty that on December 1, 2009, turned the EU into an officially federalized state to which its member nations are subservient.
The Lisbon Treaty is one of a series of treaties that have gradually lashed Europe together via economic interests: the Treaties of Paris (1951), Rome (1957), and Maastricht (1992). The Lisbon Treaty is really only a repackaged European Constitution (begun in 2001), which was voted down every time it was put before the people (2005). By turning it into a treaty—which only the governments would be allowed to vote on—Europe’s leaders were able to push through a decision-making structure that attempts to turn the EU’s disjointed political reality into a coherent whole. It takes the EU beyond a glorified free-trade zone and defines a government, laying out authority for unified foreign and defense policies, as well as other facets of a fully-functioning regime.
Currently, individual European states wield little influence on the world stage. Since shortly after World War II, the leaders of Europe—predominantly France—have been working to get the states to act in concert economically to the benefit of all. Even with a monetary union, though, the EU has been hobbled by the lack of a single voice for the Union to hear, and another for the world to hear. To be truly effective, the European states need to be able to act with the economic, geopolitical, and demographic weight of a continent—which requires far closer coordination of European and foreign policies.
To this end, the Treaty spelled out two positions that would have the authority to speak for the whole EU. Its leaders elected Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy to the post of President of the European Council, essentially making him the president of Europe and the voice that the European polity will hear. European Trade Commissioner Catherine Ashton of Britain was likewise elected to the foreign minister post, known officially as the "High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy." She is the new voice of the EU to the world.
A federalized EU is viable only when dominated by a Franco-German consensus; if France and Germany are ever fundamentally and critically at odds, the EU will tear itself apart. The two nations lobbied behind the scenes to persuade the other states to elect figures that they believe they can influence. Van Rompuy, as Prime Minister of Belgium, has presided over a tiny state that is deeply fractured politically and culturally. Because Belgium’s condition essentially precludes a coherent national vision or direction, Van Rompuy has no national interests to defend—Belgium stands and falls according to the viability of the EU.
Ashton, on the other hand, may not so easily cast aside the national interests of her home country—one of which, incidentally, is to keep from arising a continental power that could threaten Britain’s shores. Regarding the choice of Ashton, an analyst wrote in Stratfor’s November 20, 2009, Geopolitical Diary, "EU Leaders Name New President and Foreign Minister":
This is quite a bet. It also goes to the very heart of the EU as a supranational project. It brings into focus one of the fundamental questions of geopolitics: whether one can truly discipline oneself to transcend the love of one’s own. The answer to that question pertains not only to how Ashton and Van Rompuy will perform as Europe’s foreign minister and president, but also to the future existence of the EU.
Yet, it is far from a foregone conclusion that the Lisbon Treaty will bring about a united Europe; many obstacles lie ahead. An agreement among the European elite does not make a superpower; 500 million citizens were conspicuously not consulted on the arrangement. European history is rife with examples of the people rising up to oust unpopular governments.
The current economic crisis in Europe has demonstrated that when push comes to shove, the individual nations will revert to looking out for their own first, while continental unity comes second. In 2010, it is expected that almost every EU member will exceed the allowed budget deficits, and the Union has no political will to do anything about it. In other words, for the sake of national interest the agreed-upon rules are already being ignored.
Nor is this the first attempt at uniting Europe—Charlemagne, Napoleon, and Hitler all likewise tried, and the continental psyche still bears those scars. The fact that the present attempt is with "soft power" rather than force of arms makes no difference. Europe is inherently divided by a geography that has always allowed various political entities to survive and resist amalgamation. Soft power is only possible while times are good; if a real crisis hits, such agreements will dissolve.
As stated previously, the EU depends upon French and German amity, yet as Stratfor notes:
There are plenty of obstacles to such cooperation, particularly economic interests. The French hope to continue to use the EU as a financial scheme from which to fund their enormous agricultural subsidies, while the export-oriented Germans frown on the deficit-fueled domestic consumption of which France, Italy and other European countries are so fond." ("The Lisbon Treaty’s Geopolitical Context," November 4, 2009)
On the other hand, when France and Germany do get along, the smaller countries are perpetually suspicious of a Franco-German axis that can run roughshod over the rest of the continent.
Rhetoric aside, the Lisbon Treaty does not automatically unite Europe. It is an agreement that the leaders have finally hammered out but has yet to be tested.