The journalists have got it wrong: you can tell by the headline you probably read often enough by now, saying that the EU is at its turning point. Well it is, but contrary to what the headlines suggest, the turning point is not right now. Not while Ireland votes (again), and not while the Czech senators file a complaint at their constitutional court against the Lisbon Treaty, and nor was it a turning point when the constitution fell and finally became the Lisbon Treaty. The EU is at its turning point all the time. It is in a transitional process with a clear direction and an unknown end. But we can get a feeling of how it works.

Hmm, wait, where is it?! Do you see it? Where is the EU's future and what does it look like anyway?
Picture: Listen-to.it-network / photocase.com

The road we are on and how we got here

Right now the latest term that marks the status of this transition is "Lisbon Treaty". It's a big step, a chapter so to speak, in this process which the EU is undergoing right now. As in this whole process, the direction it was supposed to take, has been clear for quite some time, it was laid out in the previous chapter named "The EU constitution": at least ten years ago, back in the days of the old EU-15, there was the feeling that something had to be done about the EU's institutional setup. The heads of government had already rubber-stamped the enlargement when they feared that a commissioners' college of 25 or more would be far from desirable, that the voting weights in the Council might need revision, and that there would be a democracy deficit. Some of these issues they were able to address in Nice in 2001 – for example the possibility of reducing the number of commissioners. In Nice they also decided that a constitution should be drafted for the EU. They did draft it and they did sign it but the constitution failed. It did not find the approval of the people in France and the Netherlands who called a referendum. That was the end of the chapter of the constitution.

The ongoing transitional process of the European Union did not then come to a full stop, but it halted for a time. Commentaries and op-eds were getting dramatic on the EU facing – once again – a turning point in its history. The lesson learned was that "constitution" is a buzzword to avoid. "Too much federalism", was the diagnosis that was found by this trial and error manner. But the process went on with a new chapter, the one that is now supposed to come to an end soon: the Lisbon Treaty. It was signed in December 2007, by the way, not at the regular December summit in Brussels but a few days before that in Lisbon, and embellished by a ceremony, to make sure it really would be called the Lisbon Treaty.

The Lisbon situation today and its struggles after the irish 'yes'

"Lisbon treaty" is a topic in which the Irish were increasingly interested, whereas
"vote no" or "sinn fein" – one of the parties that oppose the treaty – were never
googled in Ireland. They were though in the rest of Europe (not displayed here).
Graphic: J.Himmelreich, Data: Google Trends, relative scaling: monthly average indexed at 1

The treaty was already highly contested by the time it was signed. Gordon Brown did not attend the Lisbon ceremony to cut the topic off the UK news agenda, fearing it might be exploited by conservatives raging about an allegedly severe cut to the Kingdom's sovereignty due to the Lisbon provisions. But in fact right now Gordon Brown is the head of government who most stalwartly but inaudibly defends the Lisbon Treaty and its coming into force. Of course all eyes are on Ireland right now, and the second referendum. But we are safe to assume that the Irish will vote yes: even the Google Trend charts suggest this. And anyway - for the Nice Treaty it also took Ireland a second referendum to agree, so maybe that's just the Irish way.

The bigger problem that the Lisbon Treaty faces now, and will continue to face during the coming months, originates in Eastern Europe and yet involves Gordon Brown. Here is why: if the treaty does not enter into force until next May, remaining stuck in the Czech Republic's institutions, the Brits will cast their ballots for a new parliament. We do not know when exactly the elections will be - they do not have them planned in advance, the parliament calls them - but May next year is said to be the latest date. Now, why might this spawn a problem for the Lisbon Treaty? New elections would make the conservative David Cameron prime minister, replacing Gordon Brown. Cameron, unlike Brown, announced that he will then call a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, restarting the UK's ratification. Considering that the UK is said to be notoriously eurosceptic, there is a likely chance of failure for Lisbon. So it is a matter of time: Gordon Brown seeks to have elections as late as possible – and not only to save Lisbon but also to save himself, hoping for his good fortune to return.

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