Once again it was time to get out the pens and reword the Lisbon Treaty. On the night of 28 October, Europe’s 27 member states agreed to accept “limited treaty change” with a view to the creation of the European monetary fund, which Germany has been advocating since the Greek crisis in the spring of this year. An amendment to this effect will be presented by European Council President Herman Van Rompuy at the next summit in December.
At the same time, they indefinitely postponed the introduction measures to suspend the European Council voting rights of economically non-compliant states — an initiative that was demanded by Berlin, but described as unacceptable by Commission President José Manuel Barroso.
Many political commentators have warned about the dangers of tweaking the treaty. For example, what will be the impact in Ireland, where the population had to be browbeaten into approving the current version of Lisbon? Will Irish voters now have to go back to the polls at a time when the economic crisis has made them even more mistrustful of Europe? What about the Czech Republic? When you consider President Vacláv Klaus’ dogged resistance to the treaty, can we really expect the Czechs to be enthusiastic second time round?
Let’s not forget that the French and the Dutch populations did not have an opportunity to vote on the treaty, which replaced a European Constitution they had previously rejected. How will they respond to a reworking of the current text, even if it is only a limited one? Isn’t it likely that voices will be raised in many countries to demand the negotiation of a new treaty to overcome the weaknesses of Lisbon?
In short, Europe’s leaders have opened what could be a legal Pandora’s box. But the principle of necessity is also recognised in law, and they are right to take the opportunity to create a permanent mechanism to provide support to eurozone states in difficulty. When the single currency was created in the 1990s, no one foresaw the economic and budgetary difficulties that Europe now faces. The community method, which generates pragmatic but haphazard measures, has now reached its limit. However, in view of the urgency of the current situation, and the fact that a complete rethink of the European project and its method of operation is out of the question, the community method remains, as Churchill put it, “less bad” in view of the far worse alternatives.