The debate on the Lisbon Treaty has taken off, and the ‘No’ campaign is as dishonest as they were during the last referendum. But it’s easy to misunderstand the benefits of supporting this Treaty too.
Many commentators have claimed that the new ‘High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy’ will make Europe stronger and more influential globally. The effects will not be immediate.
It’s true that Europe is not as influential in international issues as it might some day be. But the reason for this is not the absence of a common figure to represent them.
There is considerable disagreement in Europe over how best to deal with Russia. There are varying opinions on the degree to which the EU should use policy tools at it disposal to promote any number of values or objectives. Some nations (like Ireland, some might say) don’t want to be involved in any international issues at all.
If Europeans agreed, say, on how best to confront Russia over misuse of its leverage in providing energy, then they would have a united front. It wouldn’t matter who was publicly speaking on their behalf. When the most powerful nations in the Union have a common position, the world can’t ignore it.
The reason the EU is a light-weight internationally is because it’s so uncommon for countries to agree over anything. If they did, we wouldn’t need any special political figure to represent this position in public dialogue. Individuals don’t matter in politics so much as the interests that they represent.
Similarly, the existence of this new High Representative doesn’t make it any more likely that Europeans will agree on the issues that currently divide them. That is why, frankly, this aspect of the Treaty is so unimportant relative to others.
Voters in the upcoming referendum shouldn’t believe the hype, because it works to the advantage of ‘No’ campaigners. Most Irish voters don’t really want to be part of a Europe with a more coherent and powerful common foreign policy. And not just because it doesn’t exist.
In the long-term, the existence of this position will be extremely useful. Some day, Europe will benefit from having a common representative in the world of international politics untainted by national interests.
Hopefully, the power of the EU will then be used to promote peace and humanitarian action in the world.
By the time we need this common representative, it will be too late to create. So that’s why this aspect of the treaty is another reason to vote yes. But until that person is needed, Sarkozy or Brown or Merkel will do just fine.
This commentator expects that, if common sense and truth triumphs in the Lisbon Treaty referendum, the resulting High Representative will be a political joke for at least a couple of years. He just won’t have any common policies to represent.
© The Free Marketeer 2009