Four percent of the world population will be living in the European Union in 2040 and its total share in the global economy will be only 5% at that time. In 2000 these figures were 6% and 20%, respectively, according to the estimates of the economic historian and holder of the Nobel Prize for economic sciences, Robert Fogel. In the eyes of the Lisbon Treaty defenders these numbers are sufficiently alerting for the Union to become more efficient and able to compete with the growing strength of the developing states, such as China and India.
But the main problem of the European Union is not the strength or weakness of its economy. Despite the 50 years of European integration the EU is considered to be a project detached from the needs of ordinary citizens, although EU fans, such as the Spanish, would not probably agree with this statement. Their enthusiasm results mainly from the funds that they literally milked after the country’s accession to the European Community.
Compromise of compromises
Two opposing statements apply to the Lisbon Treaty.
First: The ratification process has shown that the European integration is rather in the interest of elites than citizens. This is also evident from the falling voter turnout during the European Parliament elections, as well as in the failure of the European constitutional treaty in two referenda and only very tightly ratified (but still not adopted) “Lisbon”. As the Polish conservative commentator Marek Magierowski has written, on their second trial the Irish ratified the treaty “with a gun put to their head” at the time of deep economic crisis and a threat of isolation. This is probably not the right way to arouse spontaneous affection for European integration.
Second: There is nothing better left now for the Europeans than the compromise of compromises (or Lisbon). They will not be able to do without it, if the community of 27 states is to remain working and play a role of one of the key economies. A Mirek Topolánek’s statement applies here: the EU guarantees that the Russian bear will not swallow us (or that it won’t be as easy for him, one could add, when observing the French or German accommodating policies towards Kreml).
In summary: Lisabon is the best of the worst solutions that are available on the field of European integration, if the old and ageing continent wants to be taken at least a bit seriously by the rest of the world.
Who is the Union?
What is therefore the main general problem of the Lisbon Treaty? As every novice in journalism knows, it is best to show a problem on the story of a particular person. And the European Union lacks a face. The symbol of the unification of Germany was Helmut Kohl, the symbol of post-war German boom is Konrad Adenauer. The symbol of the Velvet Revolution in the Czech Republic is Václav Havel, the symbol of the fall of communism in Poland is Lech Walesa. Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher led the conservative revolution. Stagnation of communism, that must be Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev.
The answer to question why there is a strengthening notion among Europeans that there is something wrong with the integration, may be the following: there is nothing that would personify it. The Union is something distant, it is someone anonymous with a great salary in glass buildings around the Schuman square in Brussels.
The Union lacks a human face, it lacks a story and it would be an illusion to think that the election of Tony Blair or anyone else for the EU president will give that face to the Europeans. That is, if it is not themselves who will elect him, or if they do not find a strong story connected with such a person. A story, even though it is not a strong one, but is strongly personified, is for now present only in the person of the relentless Czech president.
Europeans will be less and less willing to do with a statement that the Union ensured peace, stability and development after the second world war. Its citizens will face new challenges and it will be the Union – or politicians representing it – who will have to ensure steady supplies of energetic resources and calm coexistence with the growing number of immigrants.
The end of the Lisbon Treaty ratification process means an end to excuses of politicians such as Nicolas Sarkozy or Angela Merker who often say that something is not possible in the Union. The Spanish daily El País’s commentator Moisés Naím posed quite an interesting question: whether Europe wants to be a museum or a laboratory. The Lisbon Treaty does not give an answer to this question, it will have to be provided by particular deeds of particular people.