The EU’s Rocky Road

The EU has agreed to continue with the ratification process of the Lisbon Treaty, while putting off a formal solution to Ireland’s rejection of it until the next European Council in October. There’s been some mention of a special status for Ireland, and some concessions are already being considered (a Brussels “hands off” policy with regard to Ireland’s neutrality, abortion ban and economic model) in the event the treaty makes it past the seven remaining countries set to vote on it and Ireland goes ahead with a new referendum.

According to European Commission President Manuel Barroso, one week wasn’t enough time to find a solution. Fair enough. But with the Czech Republic far from certain to vote on, let alone ratify, the treaty (the matter is before the Constitutional Court due to Ireland’s rejection), it also seems like a bad time to start rewarding no votes with concessions. While everyone is handling the Czechs delicately, that didn’t prevent Nicolas Sarkozy from declaring that enlarging the EU (which the Czechs, among others, support) without the more effective institutional framework of Lisbon is out of the question.

In the aftermath of France’s 2005 rejection of the Constitutional Treaty, the idea of a practical approach to Europe gained currency. Instead of grand schemes, it was argued, public opinion needed to be won back over through case by case projects that responded to Europeans needs. Nicolas Sarkozy has already trotted that approach back out as the guiding logic for France’s upcoming EU presidency. Trouble is, one of his populist proposals — a cap on diesel fuel taxes — has now run into opposition from Germany’s Angela Merkel, who believes the measure will prevent the market from making longterm adjustments. And as everyone knows these days, nothing gets done in Europe without Angela.