The icing on the cake.jpg

The icing on the cake


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THE STROKE of 27 pens across the Treaty of Lisbon last Thursday ended two years of political stalemate in the European Union project.

Signed in the high Gothic Manueline monastery of Jerónimos to the backdrop of music by Portuguese composer Rodrigo Leão, the Treaty of Lisbon has been hailed as the triumphal icing on the cake of Portugal’s Presidency of the European Union which ends at the end of December.

Building on the foundations of the Treaty of Nice, the Treaty of Lisbon is a ‘Reformed Treaty’ largely based on the failed European Union Constitution that France, Holland and the United Kingdom boycotted two years ago.

The new Treaty of Lisbon, which is expected to be ratified before the 2009 European elections, has been tinkered with to satisfy the

German Chancellor Angela Merkel strode laughing and grinning, arm in arm with French President Nicholas Sarkosy.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel strode laughing and grinning, arm in arm with French President Nicholas Sarkosy.

needs of individual countries by effectively taking out the unpalatable ‘constitutional’ parts each particular country couldn’t agree with.

José Manuel Durão Barroso and José Sócrates talked about building Europe ‘step by step’ but critics in different countries claim Brussels is peeling away layers of national sovereignty treaty by treaty rather like the layers of an onion.

On the face of it, the signing ceremony was a triumphant, well organised and excellently orchestrated EU and Portuguese publicity stunt.

Heads of state began arriving in limousines from 10am onwards in glittering sunshine to be welcomed by Council of Ministers President José Sócrates, and Foreign Minister Luís Amado before posing for photographs in country groups.

Inside the cloisters of Jerónimos, in exactly the same spot where Portugal joined the European Union in 1986, the Portuguese great and good gathered: the Archbishop and Cardinal of Lisbon Policarpo, former President and Prime Minister Mário Soares, Minister for the Economy, Manuel Pinho, Arts and Culture Minister Isabel Pires de Lima, João Cravinho and others.

Stronger Union

As the VIPs drifted in, European flags were projected behind the slender and ornate Gothic columns of the cloisters and the ethereal music of Rodrigo Leão filled the stone vaulted ceiling. Then began the speeches, with José Sócrates explaining that the idea behind the signing of the treaty was a simple one – “to advance the European project”.

“Today we need a stronger Union, to respond to the desires of European citizens, to promote the European economy and defend European values,” he said. “What we are doing here is already part of history. History will remember this day as a day when new paths of hope were opened to the European ideal.”

The Portuguese Presidency believes and hopes that the Treaty of Lisbon finally overcomes the political and institutional impasse that limited its capacity to act during the last few years.

The overcoming of that impasse started when, facing doubts, the Trio Presidencies, the German, Portuguese and Slovenian, undertook the elaboration of a new Treaty.

Merkel’s day

Congratulating Angela Merkel, he said the process wouldn’t have been successful without the German Chancellor’s help. And it certainly was Angela Merkel’s day as she strode laughing and grinning, arm in arm with French President Nicholas Sarkosy, through the Lisbon sunshine, looked on by Romano Prodi, José Sócrates, Javier Solana and Bertie Aherne. The acknowledged successor to Tony Blair as ‘Head of the EU Statesman Clan’, Angela Merkel was euphoric and ecstatic at her achievement.

Sócrates believes that the Treaty of Lisbon meets a central challenge, that of European citizenship.

In this, he meant the adoption of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union: democratic legality, respect for fundamental human rights, communitarian freedom, equal opportunities, solidarity and access to justice, respect for pluralism and diversity of societies.

He said that the Treaty did not “eliminate national identities or states’ specific interests”, instead it offered a multilateral framework of regulation, improved the EU decision-making process, affirms the open economy and the challenge of global competitiveness, and championed ecological issues, climate change, global warming and more efficient energy policies.

The Treaty of Lisbon also defined new institutional architecture: the new Permanent President of the European Council, the High Representative for External Affairs and Defence, and the new system of vote weighting on the Council.

For Portugal, it was a “great honour that the treaty was known by the name of Lisbon. Lisbon has always been a city of openness and a meeting point. Its history is also the history of discoveries, which this moment evokes,” he said.

“This treaty is not the end of history. There will always be more history to be written.” But it was a new moment in the European adventure and European future, one faced with “confidence and the strength of the Union”, he concluded.

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