Lisbon treaty faces ratification delays

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Series Details 10.01.08
Publication Date 10/01/2008
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Ratifying the Lisbon treaty could take until the end of this year even under the most optimistic scenario, making it unlikely that the new treaty’s procedures and provisions will be in place from 1 January 2009, as planned.

Even if the new treaty is approved through parliamentary ratification in the majority of member states, several countries will not be able to complete the process until towards the end of 2008.

Belgium will be able to start its ratification process now that it has an interim government under Guy Verhofstadt but ratification must pass through seven regional and federal assemblies.

Although the majority of Belgian political parties are expected to support the treaty, the ratification process is expected to take time: approving the EU constitution, which was rejected in France and the Netherlands and which the Lisbon treaty seeks to replace, took more than a year.

Spain approved the constitution in a referendum in 2005 but ratification by the parliament of the new treaty could take until the autumn.

So far only Ireland is committed to having a referendum. This is expected to take place in May to coincide with another possible referendum. But there are reports that the referendum might be delayed until later in the year, possibly October, and might, in a bid to encourage Irish voters to vote ‘Yes’, be held after all other EU countries have approved the new treaty.

Despite strong pressure from the media and the opposition Conservative Party to hold a referendum, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown is planning to have the treaty approved by both houses of parliament by the end of the year at the latest. The most optimistic scenario, barring any unforeseen political hold-ups, is approval by the summer.

Denmark has ruled out a referendum on the treaty although the government is planning a popular vote on whether to end the country’s opt-outs (from the euro, security and defence co-operation, justice and home affairs, and provisions on EU citizenship), probably in the autumn of 2008.

This week (9 January) Portuguese Prime Minister José Socrates ruled out a referendum, unsurprisingly given that it would undermine the case against referenda in other countries.

In the Czech Republic, the ruling Civic Democrats (ODS) have asked the constitutional court to rule on the legal status of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which is attached to the treaty, and this could delay the ratification procedure.

Given that 18 countries had already approved the EU constitution, the new treaty, which is broadly similar to the text of the constitution, is not expected to face any new major political opposition although surprises can never be ruled out.

EU leaders set January 2009 as a target for the treaty’s entry into force. And French President Nicolas Sarkozy is keen for several new EU appointments introduced by the treaty, such as the president of the European Council and the new high representative for foreign policy with increased powers, to be decided under the French presidency of the EU, in the second part of this year.

But the length of the ratification process and a widespread desire to agree all new appointments as part of a package after the European Parliament elections in June 2009, which will influence the choice of a new Commission president, suggests that the new treaty will not come into force until the second half of 2009. This would also suit the two countries - the Czech Republic and Sweden - which have the presidency of the EU in 2009 and are keen to chair summits before the new treaty comes into effect.

Under the new treaty, a president of the European Council will be chairing all EU summits, replacing the rotating EU presidency at the highest level.

Ratification deadlines

Country: Timetable for ratification/referendum; Threshold required

Austria: By June 2008; Two-thirds in both chambers

Belgium: Start spring 2008; Simple majority in 7 chambers

Bulgaria: By first quarter 2008 (not confirmed); Simple majority

Cyprus: After March 2008; Absolute majority in parliament

Czech Rep.: Not confirmed; Simple or three-fifths majority

Denmark: By March 2008; Simple majority with 50% quorum

Estonia: By May 2008; Simple majority

Finland: Start spring 2008/Within 3 months; Two-thirds majority

France: By February 2008; Three-fifths majority in Congress

Germany: In May; Simple majority

Greece: Not confirmed; Simple majority

Hungary: Ratified 17 December

Ireland: Referendum probably May; Simple majority in parliament/50% of votes

Italy: Not confirmed; Simple majority

Latvia: Start January 2008; Simple majority

Lithuania: Before October 2008; Simple majority

Luxembourg: By June 2008; Simple majority

Malta: By June 2008; Simple majority

Netherlands: Not confirmed; Simple majority, both chambers

Poland: Possibly February 2008; Two-thirds majority with 50% quorum

Portugal: Referendum ruled out; Simple majority in parliament

Romania: Not confirmed; Two-thirds majority in both chambers

Slovakia: Not confirmed; Three-fifths of parliament

Slovenia: Start January 2008; Two-thirds majority

Spain: By end of 2008; Absolute majority in Congress/Simple majority in Senate

Sweden: Late autumn 2008; Simple majority in parliament

UK: Draft law in parliament December 2007; Simple majority in both houses

Source: Adapted from European Policy Centre table, 13 December, with some additions

Ratifying the Lisbon treaty could take until the end of this year even under the most optimistic scenario, making it unlikely that the new treaty’s procedures and provisions will be in place from 1 January 2009, as planned.

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