In an earlier post (see post), we asked if the European experiment was irreversible. Ever since the French and Dutch public voted against their national ratification of the European Constitution in 2005, it has been taken for granted by the Eurosceptics (the Atlanticists in our previous post) that no further integration would occur. Even at the time, we thought this to be a rather simplistic view. This has proved to be the case.
The original document was ratified by sixteen member states, including Spain who tested the document by Referenda. After the rejection of the document by the Dutch and French publics, seven further member states, including the UK, decided not to continue with the ratification process. Upon joining the EU in 2007, Bulgaria and Romania signed up to the principles of the Constitution as a condition of their membership. This resulted in an unhappy situation where the majority of member states wished to reform the way in which the EU operates, but were unable to affect that reform at a national level.
The answer to this quandary was to use the device of a Reform Treaty. The Lisbon Treaty (as it will come to be known) seeks to reform the existing treaty arrangements between member states rather than to create new arrangements (see article). Although the Atlanticists cry ‘foul’, it is unlikely that any action can effectively be taken to derail this arrangement (see article), despite mounting pressure to halt the process (see article).
This is significant for a number of reasons. First, it demonstrates that there is a momentum behind European integration. This point needs to be remembered when considering the case for further enlargement of the EU (in particular in the case of Turkey). The momentum of the project will continue to drive it forward, which brings us to the second point. If the EU is evolving and changing, any forecasts about its development over the next twenty years need to be hedged with a great deal of uncertainty. The EU may well not have an ageing population – through enlargement. It may not turn out to have a sclerotic economy – through enlargement. These issues depend upon how the EU evolves in this time frame.
The EU is a supra-national response to the supra-national issues of climate change and globalisation. As these issues progress in the years to come, the justification for the EU will also grow stronger. The challenge to be faced by the EU will be to develop as a supra-national institution whilst allowing the character of local communities to remain. The evidence so far suggests that this challenge is being met more than adequately.
Indeed, the future challenge might be for national governments to demonstrate their continued relevance.