Open Europe Bulletin: 4 September 2008
New Open Europe briefing warns EU trials in absentia could mean miscarriages of justice
Georgia crisis would have been better handled under Lisbon Treaty, say EU politicians
A plan to circumvent the Irish "no" vote begins to emerge
News in brief
Open Europe in the news
1. New Open Europe briefing warns EU trials in absentia could mean miscarriages of justice
Open Europe has published a new briefing note which warns that EU plans to impose recognition of foreign trials in absentia could lead to miscarriages of justice.
The European Parliament this week adopted a proposal that would allow citizens to be extradited automatically to another EU country after having been convicted by a foreign court in their absence.
Judgements in absentia would be recognised by several countries that do not currently allow this practice in their own judicial system, including Britain. The proposals, which were put forward by seven countries, including the UK, were described as "by their very nature a violation of the fundamental procedural rights of the accused" by the European Criminal Bar Association.
The proposal will now be presented to the Council of Ministers within the next three months, after which the document will start the process of becoming national law.
Please click here to read Open Europe's new briefing:
2. Georgia crisis would have been better handled under Lisbon Treaty, say EU politicians
Europe's leaders have failed to agree on sanctions against Russia in response to its invasion of Georgia. However, they did threaten to "postpone" planned talks on cooperation with Moscow. Unarmed EU civilian observers are also to be sent to Georgia to ensure the Russian army is abiding by its ceasefire agreement. Vladimir Putin praised the "good sense" of the EU for not imposing sanctions. (Les Echos, 3 September)Although EU leaders were deeply divided on the approach to take to Russia, there were numerous statements claiming that the crisis proved the need to bring into force the Lisbon Treaty. French President Nicolas Sarkozy said that "If the Lisbon Treaty, which is in the process of being ratified, had already been in force, the EU would have had the institutions it needs to cope with an international crisis", including an EU Foreign Minister and "a real European diplomatic service". (Le Figaro, 18 August) EU Commission Vice President Margot Wallstrom said, "I was encouraged and impressed by the determined action taken by the French Presidency but can not help thinking that with a new treaty it would have been easier to have a better coordinated response, faster and with greater authority." (Wallstrom blog, 3 September)A European Commission official told the EUobserver website that, "Some people are saying that Georgia - which has changed the atmosphere in Europe - could be used as a pretext for the Irish to hold a second referendum". (EUobserver, 3 September)European Parliament President Hans-Gert Poettering called on all member states to ratify the Lisbon Treaty "as quickly as possible", saying that the Georgian crisis proved why it is important for the EU to be united (EUobserver, 2 September)
3. A plan to circumvent the Irish "no" vote begins to emerge
All eyes continue to be on Ireland, where the government has proposed the idea of a second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, despite the resounding 'No' vote delivered on 12 June.
After strongly denying any prospect of a second Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty back in July, the Irish Europe Minister Dick Roche has now publicly announced that a second vote would be "appropriate". (Newstalk Radio, 22 July, and Irish Independent, 25 August)
Prime Minister Brian Cowen also admitted that a second referendum will be considered. However, it was suggested that people might only be allowed a second vote on parts of the Treaty, with much of the text just being pushed through the Irish Parliament.
A report in the Irish Independent stated that: "It is possible for the Dail to pass some parts of the treaty without a public vote, and it is understood that Mr Cowen sees this course of action as an option." (2 September)
Meanwhile, according to the Irish Times, Irish officials met with their Danish counterparts last month to get advice on how Ireland could opt out of crucial aspects of the Lisbon Treaty - like the opt outs the Danes adopted following the "no" to the Maastricht Treaty in a referendum.
In 1992, the Danish government responded by coming up with a proposal to "opt out" of four key areas of the Maastricht Treaty - the euro, defence, justice, and common EU citizenship. The proposals were then approved in a second Danish referendum in 1993. (Irish Times, 28 August)
Several pro-Treaty commentators have questioned in the media why a referendum was held in Ireland in the first place. They argue that only some of the elements in the Treaty are constitutional changes and therefore legally require a referendum.
So it seems likely that in October Ireland will be offered the option of "opt outs" from the most sensitive, constitutional elements - for example, the provisions on an EU defence, Home Affairs, and the Charter of Fundamental Rights.
The Irish government will then try to push the rest of the Treaty through the Dail without a referendum, and will allow a second referendum only on the question of whether Ireland should opt out of the most controversial elements.
In this way, even if the second Irish referendum on the opt-outs returns a 'No' vote, the Treaty will still come into effect for all other member states.
Legally such a process could be achieved in one of two ways. The contents of the Lisbon Treaty could be inserted into the forthcoming Croatian Accession Treaty (expected at the end of 2009). The text would be the same as the Lisbon Treaty, but would also make provisions for Ireland's opt outs. This would be legal, but would require the other 26 member states to re-ratify the new Treaty. This would be unpopular in Britain, as the Government would not want to push an unpopular Treaty through the Commons just before a general election.
The alternative is to bend the law. The current problem for supporters of the Treaty is that giving Ireland legally-binding opt outs from Lisbon should require a change to the treaties, which in turn would have to be ratified by all other member states. However, the law could be fudged, as it was after the Danish "no" in 1992. Britain's former "ambassador" to the EU, Sir Stephen Wall, recalls in his recent memoirs that EU leaders simply invented a whole new type of legal arrangement to get round the "problem":
"Member states rallied round the plan that had been in gestation for some weeks, of providing an interpretation of the treaty which would, as the Council's legal adviser, the clever and inventive Frenchman Jean Claude Piris, advised the heads, clarify the treaty provisions for Denmark."
"It was an intergovernmental act with binding legal consequences. However that did not mean, either in national law, community law, or constitutional law that it needed to be ratified."
While neither of these options are ideal from the point of view of the pro-Lisbon camp, they are probably the only realistic ways to "get round" the no vote. There seems little prospect that a second referendum on the same treaty would be won. A new poll for the Irish Sunday Independent found that people would vote no by 44 to 42 percent if a second referendum were held. The poll also showed a sharp drop in Brian Cowen's popularity, down 34 points since he was elected in May.
The main pro-Lisbon opposition parties in Ireland have also reacted angrily to suggestions of a second referendum. A spokeswoman for Fine Gael said that talk of a second referendum only served to highlight the "arrogance and lack of respect" the government has for voters. A spokesman for the Labour Party said comments about a second referendum were "not helpful" and that there can be no question of simply putting the same proposition to the people again. (Irish Independent, 28 August)
Meanwhile, the European Commission has been rolling the pitch for a return to the Treaty. The Commission's office in Dublin last week issued a briefing to journalists blaming the "British media" for the Irish no vote, and complaining that it could not control "anti-establishment" bloggers. In a separate report this week the European Parliament called for EU regulation of blogs (see the Open Europe blog for more details).
4. News in brief
EU military mission in Chad dependent on Russian support. Russia has agreed to send four helicopters and up to 200 military personnel to take part in the EU mission to Chad despite recent tensions with Europe over its role in the Georgian crisis. EU officials this week decided to accept Russia's offer, as the mission has long struggled to muster enough helicopters. Daniel Keohane of the EU Institute for Security Studies in Paris said: "Despite spending 200 billion euros annually, it still took fully six months to find only 16 helicopters and 10 transport planes for the Chad mission." (Irish Times 4 September)
Brown's fuel poverty plan thwarted by EU rules. Gordon Brown's plan to raise £500 million to fund fuel vouchers for vulnerable families, which was the centrepiece of the Prime Minister's relaunch, has had to be abandoned as a result of EU rules. (Guardian EUreferendum Times 4 September)
EU to regulate bloggers? The European Parliament's Culture Committee has adopted a report recommending the regulation of blogs, including making it impossible to blog anonymously. (Report OE blog Expressen 4 September)
EU renewables targets to push half a million people into fuel poverty. The new wind farms required in the UK in order to meet EU renewable energy targets could add £6 billion a year to consumers' energy bills, adding 25% more to the current cost of domestic electricity. According to the Government's former chief scientist Sir David King, the drive to increase the UK's wind power to meet EU targets for renewable energy could push half a million more people into fuel poverty. (Telegraph EUreferendum 28 August, PA 4 September)
Did EU win the Olympics? The EU-funded organisation the Young European Federalists have said in an open letter to athletes from the 27 EU member states that if they became Team EU they would have a higher medal tally than the US, China or Russia. French President Nicolas Sarkozy said that, "The European Union therefore takes the leading position. It's a victory for sport and for the fundamental and common values of the people of the union." (Sun EUobserver Dan Hannan's blog Telegraph 26 August)
EU emissions rules stop production of classic Vespa. EU emissions restrictions have effectively ended the production of the classic Vespa PX. The new rules require automatic gears and make the production of a two-stroke engine larger than 50cc economically unfeasible. Andy Gillard, editor of Scootering magazine said that it was the end of an era, whilst Piaggio UK general manager said that the PX "will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the best". (Telegraph 26 August)
EU price controls increase phone bills. Vodaphone has announced that it will increase the price of domestic phone calls to make back revenue it has lost because of EU price controls on overseas calls. (Times 19 August )
5. Open Europe round-up of EU news
Every morning Open Europe produces a round-up of news from all around Europe, looking at the French, Spanish, Belgian, German and Scandinavian press as well as UK coverage of EU issues. If you would like to receive the press summary by email, please sign up on the front page of our website - http://openeu.bluestatedigital.com/page/m/661f27c961e28569/wKQSlR/VEsHAg==/
Open Europe also runs a blog on all EU-related issues which is updated regularly, and where you can post your comments. To read our blog, click here: http://openeu.bluestatedigital.com/page/m/661f27c961e28569/OnknIB/VEsHDQ==/
6. Open Europe in the news
UK Government welcomes EU plans to allow citizens to be tried in their absence in other member statesDaily Mail BBC 3 September, 4 September
Various papers picked up on Open Europe's new briefing paper on EU plans which would impose recognition of foreign trials in absentia. Open Europe's Pieter Cleppe was quoted on the BBC website and in the Mail, as saying, "This proposal could open the door to serious miscarriages of justice and ministers should not be supporting it."
United in PowerlessnessNational Interest Open Europe blog 18 August
US magazine the National Interest quoted Open Europe dismissing the notion that the Lisbon Treaty would make Europe a more serious player internationally, saying: "Open Europe points out that EU members collectively spend but 1.6 percent of their GDP on the military and have been steadily cutting expenditures since the 1990s: 'Why will the short war in Georgia change this long trend when the other wars--which EU members are actually fighting in--have not?'"
EU sends development aid to RussiaTelegraph blog 18 August
On his Telegraph blog, Alex Singleton questioned why the EU gives aid to Russia, citing an Open Europe report calling for control over development aid to be returned to member states.
UK Government too passive about EU proposalsNews of the World 17 August
Open Europe was quoted in News of the World, in a piece looking at a House of Lords report on the EU Commission's Annual Policy Strategy. The report criticised the UK Government for taking a too passive an approach to proposals coming from the Commission.
170,000 people work for the EU, as revealed by Open Europe researchHeritage Foundation Het Nieuwsblad Overheidsmanagement.nl SP National Interest 11 August, 14 August, 18 August
Open Europe's research, which found that the number of people working for EU institutions has reached 170,000 people, far more than it claims, continued to receive coverage, reported in several European newspapers in particular.
71 per cent of Irish voters against a second referendum, according to Open Europe pollLe Monde Le Figaro L'Express Elsevier 25 August, 26 August
Open Europe's poll, which found that 71 per cent of Irish voters were against a second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, continued to receive coverage