Note: regular readers of Slugger O’Toole will call this entire article whataboutery. It is. I’m predicting a possible future here, so don’t hate me if you don’t like the scenario I depict. Please don’t cry, and certainly don’t have nightmares.
I had three strange conversations about Lisbon today, from three sides of the debate around the treaty. None of these interesting conversations was with an Irish person, had anything to do with Ireland, or anything to do with Irish politics, which is strange, since Ireland is the only country to put the currently active Lisbon document to its’ people, in a referendum.
One conversation was with a UK MEP, one was with a researcher from the Czech Republic, and one was with an angry Frenchman to whom I had forwarded David Cameron’s pre-conference communication. I shall leave you to guess which conversation I enjoyed most.
People did think for a long time, myself included that it was strange that the fate of the Lisbon Treaty should rest in the polling booths of a country with 4.4million people, when the total population affected by the treaty would be more than 350 million. But, now that Ireland has voted a resounding and sure-footed Yes to the treaty, something even more interesting and amusing is clear. The Lisbon Treaty will could now essentially be decided in a bizarre political melodrama between fewer than five people, (though eventually about 40 million) in the Czech Republic and the United Kingdom.
The legislation in the Czech Republic to ratify the Lisbon Treaty requires the signature of the President, Vaclav Klaus, who is known for his opposition to the European Union, in the past calling for it to be scrapped and replaced with a Free Trade area. He doesn’t have a veto over the legislation in any meaningful sense, but the ratification would need his signature. On 20 September 2009, he disclosed that legal difficulties over the treaty’s alleged unconstitutionality would delay any decision he could make on the treaty. He reckoned then it could come to 3-6 months.
Of course, if it comes to three months, the Treaty will be in force by January, and the euro-elites can go about their business shrinking the national sovereignty and growing the Brussels – Strasbourg power base.
Then, enter stage right David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom. The UK ratified the Treaty in 2008, depositing the papers, (which are drawn on Royal Prerogative by the government of the day) with the Italian Foreign Affairs ministry in Rome.
But in principle, no decision of one government is binding on a future government. Retractions of ratification have happened in the past, and, as long as the Treaty is not in force (ratified by every EU member state), the UK government could legally do whatever it wanted with ratification.
Let’s assume for the time being that the Czech Republic court deliberations go for 6 months. That takes us well into March. If the President signs on that day, with no lawful impediment to prevent him, then the treaty could come into force pretty instantly. But if he were to refer a point back to the court, as he can do, and as he has done in the past, and it took, say, two months to take a decision, then we’d be into May. Assuming the decision could be made by the President again very quickly, the process could easily bring the treaty into force by May 6, which many are now assuming to be the date of a UK general election.
Essentially, if David Cameron looks like winning the UK general election, which he currently does, and if Vaclav Klaus still doesn’t like the Lisbon Treaty, what’s to stop him going public with the line ‘I have decided to await the outcome of the UK general election since the issue of the Treaty is an important one in that country’s politics’?
He could then, immediately after David Cameron’s trip to the Queen and to the House of Commons, announce that he would sign to ratify the next day, safe in the knowledge that the UK would have time to rescind its ratification to the Treaty and prevent its coming into force. UK has a referendum, Cameron leads the No vote, Lisbon treaty is dead.
Even if the Treaty enters into force, David Cameron has said he would not let matters rest there. This is nicely nebulous, but the possibilities are clear. Cameron could say, with some justification “The last government acted without the support of the British People and after promising a referendum.” He would have a poll to bolster his views, showing some 70% of people want a referendum on Europe. Of course, it’s this post-ratification climbdown he’s trying to avoid. It would likely be the mother and father of all diplomatic cold-shoulderings if the UK decided to back out of a Treaty after ratification, and it would certainly set the tone for either a ‘like it or leave’ or charm offensive decision from EU leaders.