We began the last lecture day of the week by diving into the details of the Lisbon Treaty as a conclusion to the prior day’s lecture. As Maddie mentioned in yesterday’s post, the Lisbon Treaty is the most recent treaty to be ratified and enacted by the European Union. As a whole, the EU hoped that the Lisbon Treaty would address the democratic deficit that was so often criticized by eurosceptics and increase the efficiency of the EU’s processes as well as make those processes more comprehensible and transparent. Externally, the EU hoped to increase its political clout by strengthening its ability to shape foreign policy positions and agendas. Indeed, the origins of the Lisbon Treaty can be traced back to the ineffectiveness of the Treaty of Nice. Several member states asserted that the Nice Treaty failed to adequately prepare for future expansion and the increased democratic processes for which they had hoped. Therefore, the Convention on the Future of Europe began in 2001 to discuss the next steps for the EU. This Convention was unprecedented in the history of the EU because instead of only allowing member states’ participation, a wide range of participants attended, including representatives from member states, candidate states, national parliaments, the European Parliament, and the European Commission. Dr. Birchfield was quick to highlight this point as a direct contradiction of the technocratic nature so often attributed to the development of the EU. After all, how can something so heavily attended by such a wide variety of representatives of different governments and populations be elitist?
We then walked through the rough-and-tumble process that tends to be international political decision-making to discuss how the Constitutional Treaty produced by the Convention was transformed into today’s Treaty of Lisbon. Essentially, the initial Constitutional Treaty hoped to constitutionalize the EU by creating a self-standing body of text as opposed to merely amending prior agreements and legislation. This text would unify member states under the concept of supranational law and the primacy of such law over national governments and establish cultural symbols like a common flag and anthem. Interestingly enough, most of the proposed institutional changes were widely accepted by member states, but many had severe reservations about constitutionalizing of the EU, citing disagreements with other states’ ruling governments, persistent euroscepticism, and fears of an overly liberal and social Europe. I would also agree to a certain extent that the Constitutional Treaty’s blatant formatting of the EU’s supranational authority threatened the pride of nations, as agreeing to such official measures of consolidation would challenge a nation’s identity. It makes me wonder if that degree of integration is even possible in the near future, and if this was maybe an early indicator of the increasing prevalence of nationalist movements we see in today’s political landscape.
The Lisbon Treaty did indeed restructure nearly every major EU institution. The directly-elected European Parliament’s (EP’s) seat count was granted co-decision power with the Council of Ministers for 95% of decisions, and the election of members of the EP also now impacts who the European Council proposes as the European Commission President. It granted national parliaments a method of subsidiarity control for challenging Commission proposals. The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, initially lacking legal validity upon its proclamation in 2000, was granted the same value and force as all other Treaties. The Treaty also institutionalized the troika system of Council presidencies to standardize goals and created a new institution and established a new institution, the European Council, to maintain intergovernmentalism.
After breaking for lunch, we moved away from the Lisbon Treaty and began to discuss the institutions of the EU. As an institution, the European Council is comprised of heads of government that formally meet at least four times annually at summits to establish policy directions and make declarations. Meanwhile, the Council of Ministers, or Council of the European Union, is a second intergovernmental institution that acts as a decision-making body. The Council of Ministers touts national interests as its prime focus and is divided into ten committees. The Committee of Permanent Representatives to the EU (COREPER) is comprised of several dozen diplomats who shape meeting agendas for the Council of Ministers. This Council cooperates with the only directly-elected international legislative body: the European Parliament. Aside from co-decision making, the EP is tasked with reviewing all EU actions through a democratic lens. Each member country is guaranteed six members of the EP (MEPs) to guarantee representation for each major identity on the political spectrum. Currently, there are eight affiliations for MEPs, and to form a new political party, a minimum of twenty-five MEPs from seven states is required.
The basis of the European Union lies within the concept of pooled sovereignty. Something that struck me in particular today while studying the composition of the EU was the willingness to be vulnerable that the member states need to possess. A democratic state exists to serve its people. Sacrificing sovereignty and the protection that comes with it because a state believes the end result will better its population is a fascinating concept. Historically, weaker states were detrimental to their populations, and here we have the EU, full of member states choosing to become weaker to benefit their populations. The intergovernmental trust between the member states is unprecedented in modern history. The Brexit crisis, which Pedro discussed in class during his member state presentation today, has caused nations to become aware of how affected international relations are by the EU, both internally and externally, and I look forward to seeing how this first test of interstate reliance impacts the future of this sustained vulnerability between member states.
Following class this afternoon, Dr. Birchfield treated us to boat rides on the Moselle river through historic Metz. We divided into two boats of five and one boat of eleven and cruised our way past beautiful churches, murals, balconies, and other scenery. We managed to pull all three of our boats together for a group selfie, and not a single person fell into the water. Most of us ate dinner afterward at a local restaurant that specializes in flammekuecheor “flam”, the local (and far superior) version of a flatbread pizza, and celebrated the end of a successful first week of our program. I look forward to learning more about the EU, delving into my personal interests in intergovernmental relationships and national sovereignty, continuing to explore the city and culture, and eating more flam!