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From regional club to global player: how Lisbon could transform Europe

Written by Simon Maxwell, Mikaela Gavas


By Simon Maxwell and Mikaela Gavas

The Irish ‘yes’ to the Lisbon Treaty brings ratification one step closer.  Attention now turns to the Czech Republic and Poland. If ratification proceeds without delay, the Swedish Government will hold the ring on the next stage of political appointments. By the end of the year, we could know who will be the first President of the EU and the new, more powerful foreign affairs chief, as well as the leadership team supporting Jose Manuel Barroso in the European Commission.

The stakes are high. Under Lisbon, the EU could find itself in a stronger position: ready and able to play a more prominent role in the world; looking after its own interests whilst recognising that those interests are reinforced by an international outlook that actively promotes stability and sustainable development.  Without Lisbon, the EU member states could find themselves at cross-purposes, working poorly together on the international stage. The Lisbon arrangements will not necessarily produce a unitary Europe, let alone a united Europe. They will, however, encourage better collective approaches and more appropriate and coherent collective action, especially in external affairs.

The need is evident. Europe’s 500 million people are exposed to global risks as never before – through finance, climate change, potential pandemics, and the spill over of insecurity and violence from fragile states. Conversely, as the world’s largest exporter and largest importer, Europe’s future prosperity depends on opportunities abroad. Interests are in play.

At the same time, Europe’s shared values and objectives, which are based on democracy, equality and respect for human rights, mean that it cannot be indifferent to poverty, hunger and disease: to the quarter of the world’s population living on less than $US1 per day, or the nine million children who die each year before the age of five. Lisbon is clear on this: in principle, for the first time, all of Europe’s activities abroad should share the goal of eliminating global poverty, implying a longer term vision of European external relations and greater coherence between external policies.

National action is essential in pursuing both interests and values. Britain’s aid programme, commitment to climate, even military action, all contribute. However, creating a greener, more just and more equal world will require the greatest collective efforts, working through Europe.

Partnership is never easy, as Europe knows to its cost. Every EU institution and policy reflects painful and messy compromise. And EU member states have, for so long, been reluctant to recognise and give enough priority to achieving common policies. But the cost-benefit test applies.

Lisbon offers an opportunity for more coherent action, but it also offers a challenge.  Institutional arrangements can be no more than a contribution to more effective action.  Even more important will be a determination by the EU to make the new arrangements work and to ensure the right people for the new posts. Whether – from a UK perspective - that might mean Tony Blair for President, Chris Patten for foreign affairs chief, or Cathy Ashton as the UK member of the European Commission, remains to be seen.

The European Parliament will have to ratify the new Commission, including the new foreign affairs chief, who will also be Barroso’s vice-President. Some time between October and January, the key hearings will take place. The Parliament must set the highest standards and be ruthless in demanding people of the calibre these posts require.