If the Irish people vote "yes" to the Treaty of Lisbon today, as is widely expected, it will open the door to a new chapter in the European story. There will be some political manoeuvring in Poland and the Czech Republic, but in essence the way will be open to a more streamlined, efficient and democratically-accountable Europe.
About time too. The continent has spent too long in recent years agonising over the shape of its future governance. It is now time to stop worrying about what kind of vehicle Europe is and concentrate instead on where we should go in it. A European Union of 27 member-states cannot work with rules designed for an EU of 15. Though the new system will preserve national sovereignty in areas like tax, foreign policy, defence and social security, it will give new impetus to the decision-making process in a wide range of challenges which cross national boundaries – climate change, securing energy supplies, and combating organised crime, people-trafficking and terrorism. It will bring new synergies in areas like defence, fisheries, peacekeeping and how we send emergency humanitarian aid to disaster zones around the globe. It will even provide more practical diplomatic and consular assistance for citizens when travelling outside the EU.
A single European "foreign minister" will remove much duplication and confusion and make our voice better heard on the world stage. Similarly a President of the European Council, serving for two to three years – rather than the existing rotating six-monthly presidency – will bring continuity, stability and the ability to take decisions more quickly. The greater role for the European Parliament and national parliaments will ensure greater transparency and more democratic control. Citizens will have a better idea of who is responsible for what.
The European Union has brought an end to centuries of internecine war on the continent. It has made us all considerably richer than was imaginable in our grandparents' day. The Lisbon Treaty offers the chance to build on that. At a time of economic uncertainty it offers increased stability and the prospect of sustainable growth, improved competitiveness and greater employment. All that is needed now more than ever.Reuse content