What’s really in the Lisbon Treaty
This is a shortish ‘dull detail’ companion piece to Dave’s examination of how the European question may pan out following the referendum in Ireland and the Polish ratification.
Dave’s right that for any incoming Conservative government this is unlikely to be the major factor that it was for the Thatcher and Major governments, and by and large Cameron would be able to get away with the line that it’s not his fault there was no referendum, but that’s it’s too late now.
Even so, in the light of B Johnson’s sound bites, Cameron will need to set out why, broadly, the EU is not such a bad thing really, and why a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, which would effectively become a referendum on withdrawal, is not really needed that much.
One of the arguments that will almost certainly be trotted out is that the Lisbon Treaty does at least allow for Council/EU parliament co-decision making and therefore national parliamentary scrutiny on a wider set of matters than were previously enjoyed, namely agriculture, fisheries and justice and home affairs.
This is similar to the line already being taken by, for example, Andrew Duff MEP in this otherwise useful summary article on the Lisbon Treaty:
‘The Treaty of Lisbon will greatly improve the democratic character of the Union by increasing Parliament’s powers, by entrenching the Charter of Fundamental Rights and by strengthening the rule of law. It clarifies the values and reaffirms the objectives of the Union.’
Those ‘objectives’, lest it be forgotten, are all about the entrenchment of neoliberal norms at the heart of the EU:
‘For the purposes set out in Article 3 of the Treaty on European Union, the activities of the Member States and the Union shall include, as provided in the Treaties, the adoption of an economic policy which is based on the close coordination of Member States’ economic policies, on the internal market and on the definition of common objectives, and conducted in accordance with the principle of an open market economy with free competition.’ (Article 119 of the Lisbon Treaty)
Given the likelihood of this line on increased parliamentary powers and enhanced ‘democratic character’, I think it’s instructive to note, therefore, what the House of Lords European Union Committee 17th report (July 2009) made of these new co-decision provisions (my emphasis):
‘Much of the evidence we have received suggests that both the codecision procedure itself and these trends in codecision practice make it harder for national parliaments to follow the procedure. The points raised most often are that:
- Codeciding legislation can mean that a proposal will change substantially from the Commission’s initial text: it is therefore not sufficient for us only to scrutinise the proposal proposed by the Commission;
- Agreement at first or early second reading hinders scrutiny;
- The speed at which legislation is adopted is too fast to enable effective scrutiny; and
- The use of informal trilogues is not conducive to effective scrutiny.
Should the Lisbon Treaty come into force, these difficulties will be magnified by the expansion of codecision into new areas.’
The informal ‘trilogue’ is the part of the co-decision process that comes in for most criticism:
‘We consider that informal trilogues, whilst helpful to expeditious agreement of legislation, make effective scrutiny of codecided legislation by national parliaments very difficult. There are two reasons for this:
(a) Their informal and confidential nature is not transparent: as a result it is difficult for us to follow the course of negotiations and comment usefully to the Government; and
(b) The Council is represented only by the Presidency which tends to hold its cards close to its chest: as a result it may be difficult for all governments other than the Presidency to follow the course of negotiations and to represent the views of their national parliament at the appropriate point.’
In the event that there is any hint of dissent from parliamentary types, though, when it comes to the more important issues such as who controls banking, the Lisbon Treaty has a trick or two up its sleeve. After all, absolutely anyone could get elected, including leftwingers who might want to rein in the banks!
Thus, while the Treaty Establishing the European Community (the Treaty of Rome, essentially) is content to seek the assent of the European Parliament over how the European Central Bank should supervise the activities of ‘credit institutions and other financial institutions’, with the following wording:
‘The Council may, acting unanimously on a proposal from the Commission and after consulting the ECB and after receiving the assent of the European Parliament, confer upon the ECB specific tasks concerning policies relating to the prudential supervision of credit institutions and other financial institutions with the exception of insurance undertakings (TEC, article 105, para. 6)’;
the Lisbon Treaty limits the European Parliament’s role to consultation, alongside consultation with the ECB itself:
‘The Council, acting by means of regulations in accordance with a special legislative procedure, may unanimously, and after consulting the European Parliament and the European Central Bank, confer specific tasks upon the European Central Bank concerning policies relating to the prudential supervision of credit institutions and other financial institutions with the exception of insurance undertakings (Lisbon Treaty article 127, para 6).’
As might be expected then, the devil is in the detail, but next time you hear from a Tory that at least the Lisbon Treaty gives some power back to the UK parliament, and that at least the European parliament will get more of a say, you’ll know how to respond.
Now go and read Dave’s post, which is more interesting than this.