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Ratification woes

Posted by Richard Friday, July 27, 2007 , ,

Funded by the EU commission and living on the same street in Brussels, the European Policy Centre (EPC) is something of a mouthpiece for the project, often flying kites on issues which the commission does not want to express directly. And the EPC is worried about losing the treaty-to-be through the ratification process which suggests, by proxy, the commission is also worried.

So it is that in a short report published today, Sara Hagemann, a Policy Analyst at the EPC, is articulating the fear that the "reform" treaty may be easier to get signed than it may be to ratify.

She does not anticipate problems in Germany, Italy, Greece, Hungary, Sweden, Lithuania, Latvia, Slovenia, Estonia, Cyprus or Malta, as all should ratify with absolute or simple majorities in parliament but those which require two-thirds parliamentary majority are more potentially troublesome. Of those Austria and Finland will ratify, but there may be "complications" in Poland and (surprisingly)Belgium.

Even more problematic are the situations in France, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, where three-fifths majorities in parliament are required, although Hagemann predicts that Sarkozy will be able to resist calls for a French referendum and that parliament will ratify the treaty.

But the real danger points are the UK, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Portugal and Denmark. These are all under intense pressure to call referendums with the UK the biggest threat. She predicts that the result would be a "resounding 'No'" in the UK.

To neutralise the threats from the various quarters, Hagemann argues that there is "no time to lose" if "majorities in favour of the treaty in national parliaments and the wider public" are to be mobilised. Governments must launch a wider debate on the treaty now or face "potentially serious consequences". Leaving it until after the treaty is signed to launch a wider debate would be too little, too late, with potentially serious consequences.

She thus warns that a "carefully orchestrated" process is required to ensure the new treaty is ratified and comes into force, not least to counter criticisms that the entire deal is being "stitched up". Interestingly, she is also worried by the fact that the IGC is sovereign in deciding on the content, form and path of the new treaty, meaning that "the claim that the text is already 'closed and sealed' could be legally challenged."

Ultimately, though, Hagemann writes, "success or failure depends on whether any member state other than Ireland calls a referendum". If they do, it would be difficult for others to avoid following suit. Governments must thus recognise that the support of their parliaments and citizens cannot be taken for granted.

One cannot help but feel, however, that Hagemann is a little too late. When it comes to the "stitch-up", which is undoubtedly going on, the word is already out.

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