Tuesday, 3 November 2009
Vaclav Klaus has become the final European leader to sign the Lisbon treaty into law, enabling it to take effect across all 27 countries.
This is good news from a purely practical point of view - it streamlines decision making and enables the EU to work more effectively with a growing number of member states.
From a symbolic point of view things are more controversial. It is a declaration that the European institutions intend to move forward rather than fading into irrelevance, and there are a number of important symbols which will reinforce this in the public view. In ten years it is possible to foresee a European president coordinating and powerfully representing European interests in the world. Possibly even the beginning of a European economic or fiscal presence. And most importantly, a more powerful, legitimate and meaningful democratic process in Brussels and Strasbourg.
Most people would regard most of these things - in isolation - as positive moves. But they will inevitably take power and attention - is there a difference? - away from national governments. This is the main reason why people whose power base is local, or who have a strong emotional attachment to national cultures, object to greater European democracy and streamlined institutions. Nobody can dispute democracy and streamlining on their own merits, so opponents must either make a complex case about limited public attention, or a simple (and misleading) case about loss of sovereignty.
The treaty will remain divisive for few months, but I suspect that long before the next British election it will have faded as an issue. Tory divisions mean that David Cameron will be no more keen than Gordon Brown to raise its profile. UKIP will try to run against it but I don't see them making much headway in a parliamentary election.
Overall: a good thing, and the only logical next step in the European story. Let's take this opportunity to hold European institutions accountable and ensure that they serve us and not themselves.