Thursday, October 8, 2009


The New York Times reports on the last piece of the ratification puzzle for the Lisbon Treaty, the proposed new constitution for the European Union (EU), about which I wrote in this recent post.

The Czech Republic is the last EU member state whose ratification is still uncertain.

As I explained here, the EU's forerunner, the European Economic Community, was formed in 1957 among six homogenous continental European non-Communist countries. It was easy for such a group to require unanimous agreement on decisions.

Now that there are 27 member states, achieving consensus is much more difficult.

When the EU started the process of bringing in several of the former Soviet-bloc countries, there was intense debate about whether the Union's governance structure could withstand such a major enlargement of the membership. In the end, it was decided that the political importance of bringing those newly-democratic countries fully into the European fold, outweighed all other considerations. That rationale was similar to the one that induced West Germany's neighbors to bring it into international organizations, starting in the 1950s.

Now, as the Times article explains, the Czech Republic, theoretically at least, has the power to kill a treaty that will soon have been ratified by all 26 of the other EU countries.

The alternative would be to allow something less than a unanimous agreement on such decisions (a simple majority, or two thirds, or whatever). But that would substantially change the degree of sovereignty that the member states delegate to the EU.

With a requirement of unanimity, no country can be forced to accept a policy with which it disagrees. But the power of a majority to adopt a policy reduces each member state's right to control its own governance.

Unanimity is no longer required for all decisions, as the EU explains here and here. But a decision as major as the ratification of the new constitutional treaty can still be vetoed by a single member state, such as the Czech Republic.

Any moves to allow voting by simple majority or supermajority will make the EU more similar to what the United States has been under its Constitution of 1787.

The main Czech opponent of the treaty is President Vaclav Klaus. It seems as though the treaty will eventually be ratified, despite Klaus's opposition. He appears to be in the usual position of a president in a parliamentary system, able to complain and delay, but not to permanently block something that has been approved by the parliament.

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