Sunday, June 15, 2008

Time for a two-speed Europe

By a roughly 7% margin, the voters of Ireland have narrowly rejected the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty that would have streamlined the administration of the European Union and given it the legal personality is has so badly lacked for so long. This has the practical impact, on the surface of it, of killing the Lisbon Treaty in its tracks: its ratification is incumbent on the agreement of all 27 current members of the European Union, bar none.

I do not believe it is in the interests of the EU, or the world, for the work of European integration to be halted at this point. It should, and must, continue. First the European Constitution was rejected, and now the scaled-back Lisbon Treaty is in jeopardy. My personal feeling is that European integration cannot be allowed to stumble and fall stricken to the ground on the basis of the Irish vote.

The principal problem has been the well-intentioned, but fetishistic insistence on unanimity in these votes. Given 27 different countries with 27 different cultures, histories, and attitudes towards the project of European integration, it is a recipe for permanent disaster and disappointment that can only result in cynicism about the project, and an ever-increasingly likelihood of its ultimate failure, which I believe the world cannot afford. Reality must finally be faced in this effort. Unanimity must be abandoned. Moreover, it is time to face the feared as the inevitable: the dreaded “two-speed Europe” must now become a reality. The time has come for the core nations of Europe to declare “We are proceeding. The rest of you may catch up as you please. But the time has come for those of us dedicated to European integration to go ahead without you.” It will be up to ‘slow’ European countries to consider their interests and either sign on to the project, or eventually fall away from the EU.

There is a historical precedent for this, and a great one. When the authors of the American Union proposed its constitution in 1787, they were not foolish enough to insist that the document be ratified unanimously by all 13 members who had agreed to the Articles of Confederation the new constitution was proposed to replace. Instead, they realized that some states might have reservations, legitimate or otherwise, and took that into account when they required that if nine of the thirteen states ratified the Constitution, it would then go into effect for those participating members. The other states would be left to decide their own fate, in or out… but their trepidation would not hold hostage the intention of those members willing to go ahead to do so. As we all know, those 13 states all realized where their real interests lay; they eventually all ratified the Constitution and went on to even greater things in the future.

This is the reality that Europe faces today. If Ireland is not ready for Europe, that does not mean that Europe must wait forever. It’s time for a two-speed Europe, and may the Irish have cause to reconsider.

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