Europeans conquered the world and were at the vanguard of everything in the modern era. Then came World War II. But why is the European Union- a rebuilt harmonious Europe of 500 million- not a real global power? Henry Kissinger summed it up best: “Who do I call if I want to call Europe?”
The Treaty of Lisbon was to remedy this question. But last week, when the Irish voted down a referendum on the Treaty, the world found out Europe indeed may never be a global power. Rather, it will continue for the foreseeable future as a bureaucratic economic federation. But “the United States of Europe”? Unlikely.
The Treaty of Lisbon (O Tratado de Lisboa, as they say in Portuguese- sorry but I had to throw that in) was essentially a rewritten European Constitution that had famously been rejected in 2005 referendums by the French and Dutch publics. It was to (slightly) reform the European Union, and would have given it a real President and a Minister of Foreign Policy. In other words: people to call.
The Treaty of Lisbon had to be approved by every country of the 27 member EU, so the Irish referendum basically killed the Treaty (This time Ireland was the only country to put the Treaty to a referendum-which they had to do by Irish law).
Why did the Irish vote the Treaty down? Why did the French and Dutch do much the same with the proposed constitution three years ago? That’s what everybody is debating.
As a whole the EU has done wonders for Europe: it helped and continues to help bring peace, stability, and prosperity to the region (witness the histories of Ireland, Spain, Greece; and the newly integrated Eastern European countries).
Yet treaties and the like to further strengthen European Union institutions have been constantly rejected because, in my opinion, there is no real European identity. Countries and regions within countries have strong identities, but the idea of “Europe” doesn’t inspire passions. A man from Barcelona would die for Catalunya, and most likely Spain; but not for Europe. And that’s what these referendums and votes have really been about.
Many commentators are saying the Irish are in essence hypocritical. EU membership has done wonders for the country. After the Irish joined in 1973 the emerald isle went from an impoverished place at the edge of the world known for getting their asses kicked by the English, emigration, potato famines, alcoholism, and leprechauns; to the “Celtic tiger,” an economic juggernaut with one of the best living standards in the world. People argue that because of this the Irish should be in favor of anything the Brussels leadership wants.
This criticism strikes me as patronizing. Yes, EU membership has been great for the Irish on the whole, but that does not mean they “owe” the EU anything and should back any proposal to strengthen the Union.
Just as Ireland (along with every other country to gain admittance) petitioned to be granted membership, the EU member countries in turn voted to grant them membership. Ireland is the equal of France, Germany, Italy, etc. If they prefer Europe in its current state that is their right and they should vote accordingly. If the Irish want to see changes, but not ones stipulated in the Treaty of Lisbon, it is their right to reject the treaty.
Der Speigel has a pretty good special on the whole issue. Check it out (in English).