Caribbean relations with a federalised Europe

Published: Sunday | November 8, 2009

David Jessop

On November 3, the Czech president became the last of 27 European heads of state to ratify the Lisbon Treaty, a document intended to make Europe more democratic, transparent and efficient.

At the stroke of a pen, he ensured that Europe will deepen its integration process and, some believe, embark on a course that will eventually lead to a federal Europe.

For the Caribbean, it will change the way it relates to Europe in future and raises indirectly, questions about its own failing integration process.

Achieving agreement on the EU treaty has been far from easy.

Despite this, accommodating differences proved possible. Electorates or interests groups within almost every EU member state opposed the treaty.

They did so on grounds ranging from an unwillingness to cede national sovereignty, through fears that the treaty would increase the power, waste and bureaucracy of the European Commission. Governments, too, expressed serious national reservations and sought exemptions from its language. These included Poland, which excepted itself from parts of the charter covering family issues and morality, such as abortion; a written guarantee for the United Kingdom that its language cannot be used by the European Court to alter British labour law, or laws that deal with social rights; and an arrangement for the Czech Republic that guarantees that it will not face property claims by Germans expelled from then Czechoslovakia after World War II.

cut-down version

The treaty is in effect a cut-down version of an earlier attempt in 2001 by EU heads to agree a European constitution.

Then, when the people of France and The Netherlands rejected this, European governments set about finding ways to achieve a similar outcome by other means.

They did so by amending the language of previous European treaties and by placing a version of a sometimes contentious Charter of Fundamental Rights in an annex, thereby avoiding the need to consult electorates through referenda.

The new treaty will be introduced gradually after December 1, and depending on one's viewpoint, will either make Europe more efficient and sensitive to the concerns of its citizens, or will accelerate what its opponents see as a federalist agenda that threatens national sovereignty.

Like many European documents, it is far from user-friendly but contains many radical structural changes to Europe's decision- making structure.

To understand why, it is necessary to know that for the most part, the European Commission develops policy and proposes regulations to the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament which, depending on the issue, have various competencies to approve, then amend, or give an opinion.

Under the Lisbon Treaty, this will change significantly. From 2014, there will be a smaller European Commission, with fewer commissioners than there are member states, resulting in some nations no longer holding any key administrative positions.

Critically, there will be a redistribution of voting weights between the member states, phased in between 2014 and 2017. This will introduce qualified majority voting based on a double majority of 55 per cent of member states, accounting for 65 per cent of the EU's population. This will change the balance of power in decision-making between older and newer member states.

more powerful Parliament

At the same time, the European Parliament will become significantly more powerful, being given the power of co-decision with the council on almost al issues.

This is potentially an important political and democratic development as the Parliament will then be on an equal footing with the council for most legislation, including the budget and agriculture so that key issues will require the Council of Ministers and a majority of the Parliament to agree.

Beyond this, there will, in future, be a president of the European Council, who will serve for two and a half years, replacing the current system where each EU member states takes a turn at holding the presidency for six months.

There will also be a new post of high representative for foreign affairs who will become the external affairs minister for the whole of Europe.

Contentiously for some, there will also be the removal of national vetoes in areas including climate change, energy security and emergency aid, but unanimity will still be required in a number of areas, including foreign policy, defence, taxation and social security.

At a working level, the changes being introduced will have a significant effect on the way the region relates to Europe on issues like trade, development assistance and climate change.

new voting system

The new voting system in council will mean that the Caribbean will need to broaden its relationships in Europe beyond traditional friends. While this was always the case, this will become more of a priority as Europe disperses its political power in ways that suggest traditional relationships may have less value.

And second, the European Parliament, which has tended to be a much-neglected friend to Caribbean interests when lobbied, will have much greater significance.

Here again it will not just be cultivating MEPs from well-disposed nations, but spending time understanding the political composition of a Parliament which has inter-parliamentary alliances unique to Europe.

This is now truer than ever, making it necessary to not only encourage friendships with French, Spanish, British and other MEPs, but also to focus on where Caribbean interests might coincide with say, those of the Greens, the European People's Party (Christian Democrats), or others with a more significant role in decision-making.

Beyond this and at a deeper level, the Lisbon Treaty raises other more profound questions for the Caribbean. Despite having reservations, Europe's people, politicians and nations, have accepted that closer integration and the ceding of executive authority are prerequisites for long-term stability and growth.

The contrast with the inability of the region to move forward its own integration process could not be greater.

David Jessop is director of the Caribbean Council. Email:

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