The Irish rejection of the Lisbon Treaty has sent shockwaves across the EU. But the treaty is still no lost cause, says German Foreign Minister Steinmeier in an exclusive essay for DW-WORLD.DE.
Frank-Walter Steinmeier is German foreign minister and vice chancellor. He is also deputy chairman of the Social Democratic Party.
Whither Europe? We are asking that same question yet again. One year ago, we were all relieved because the EU appeared to have survived its crisis. While it had parted ways with its constitution, it was still committed to plans for a reform treaty. Months later, this had evolved into the Lisbon Treaty.
And today? The treaty has been ratified 23 times. But it was vetoed once, on June 12, in the Irish referendum. The looks of consternation on the faces of the European foreign ministers who met up in Brussels a few days later are still a vivid memory to me.
Continuing the ratification process
My counterpart from Slovenia -- which then still held the rotating EU presidency -- gravely asked the question that was on the whole of Europe's mind: What now? A new treaty? Or should the rules laid out in the Treaty of Nice be upheld? A few days later, the European Council had its answer: neither. We will not give up on the Lisbon Treaty. We want to see the ratification process continued. And together with the Irish, we will seek a solution.
I believe that the European Council made the right decision. Europe needs the Treaty of Lisbon! And I don't say that only because we held hundreds of meetings agonizing over every single one of its clauses during Germany's EU presidency. No. But because this treaty resolves many of the complaints that citizens understandably have about Europe, and it does it far more successfully than its precursors did.
More democratic and more efficient
For a start, it makes Europe more democratic. As the only directly elected institution in Brussels, the European parliament will become a lawmaker equal to the European Council. National parliaments will be included in legislative projects at an earlier stage. And if they feel that a decision is being made on a European level that is actually a national matter, they can turn to the European Court of Justice.
Secondly, Europe will become more efficient. Today, 27 countries belong to the bloc. Existing treaties do not factor in this range -- not to mention any further countries to which we have promised a European future. The Lisbon Treaty makes provisions for any necessary institutional alterations, from the size of the commission to voting procedures in the council. All this would streamline European decision-making.
Europe's voice in the world
Thirdly -- and this point is of particular importance to myself as a foreign minister -- the treaty will give Europe a more recognizable voice on the international stage. National foreign policy will continue to exist, but the scope for European policy will improve. And even if the new European foreign minister won't be officially called that, his remit as president of the Council of Foreign Ministers and as vice-president of the commission will be considerably boosted.
Today, we live in a world undergoing dramatic change. New centers of power are emerging, which are economic and increasingly political. With Russia, China, India, but also Brazil and Mexico on the rise, we need global partnerships which include these future powers. Climate protection, dwindling supplies of raw material, the fight on terror, disarmament -- these are the questions to which we need to find answers.
"We need state-of-the-art codes of practice"
No single European country is large enough to rise to these challenges by itself. If we are to make progress, we need to join forces. Especially in a world which has no intention of waiting for Europe to solve its inner conflicts. We need state-of-the-art codes of practice -- as foreseen in the Lisbon Treaty. And that is why it is right that we stick to it.
Clearly, the current situation is anything but straightforward -- both for Ireland and for the other EU countries. The Irish have promised to come up with proposals for a way forward this year. They have also asked for time to analyze in peace the reasons for the 'no' vote. I am in favor of giving them this time. And I am optimistic that ultimately it will be possible to find a solution that is acceptable -- even to the Irish.
Europe is a success story. Visionary politicians created it, built it and bequeathed it to us. Its foundation was a promise of peace and affluence. Today, this promise has largely been fulfilled. Can we continue asserting our position in a globalized world? This is the question we now face, especially as we consider the future of the Lisbon Treaty.
Hendrik Brugmans, an early and emphatic advocate of a united Europe, predicted fifty years ago that in future "Europeans will conduct international politics together -- or not at all." I believe he was right. The Irish 'no' should not lead Europe into a cul-de-sac.