Constitutional Reform, Foreign Relations, Politics and Governance, Post-War

Taking note of the Lisbon Treaty

Czechoslovakian President Vaclav Klaus signed the 2007 EU Lisbon Treaty on the 3rd of November thereby making the Treaty effective as of the 1st of December 2009. The Czech Republic was the last European Union nation (EU is comprised of 27 nations) to ratify the Lisbon treaty. President Klaus, a Eurosceptic, had earlier opposed the Treaty, and still had many objections to the Treaty, but felt forced to sign the treaty after the Czech Constitutional Court had ruled in favor of the Treaty.

The Lisbon treaty was signed by EU leaders on 13 December 2007 bringing to an end several years of negotiations about institutional issues. The Treaty of Lisbon amends the current EU and EC treaties, without replacing them. The 287 page treaty was meant to strengthen the institutions of the European Parliament. Key innovations include a new permanent EU President to coordinate the union’s affairs; creating the post of a Foreign Minister and new regulations to allow decision making to be made by majority rather than unanimous voting. Following the Czech ratification of the Lisbon Treaty EU leaders who met in Brussels on 19 November chose Catherine Ashton(from UK) as EU Foreign Policy Chief and Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy as the EU’s first permanent President.

The EU originated from the European Coal and Steel Community formed among six countries in 1951 and the Treaty of Rome in 1957. The Treaty of Rome established the European Economic Community (EEC). However, the EU is more than an economic union. It has a foreign policy with a global reach. The EU has peace keeping missions in Bosnia, Congo, Georgia and Chad. The EU also has warships in Somali waters to protect merchant ships plying in those seas from pirate attacks. Additionally, a majority of EU member states have sent soldiers to fight the insurgency in Afghanistan. Overall an estimated 71,000 EU soldiers are stationed abroad. Perhaps second only to the US. The EU is also actively engaged in global issues such as nuclear disarmament, Iran and its nuclear program, climate change negotiations etc.

The European Commission and Sri Lanka signed a commercial cooperation agreement in 1975 and currently ties between the two entities by the third generation cooperation and partnership Agreement. Political interest of the EU in Sri Lankan affairs began with the 1983 Sinhala- Tamil riots and Tamils of Sri Lankan origin seeking asylum in EU member states following the riots. Post 1983, the EU’s interest in ending the conflict in Sri Lanka grew out of humanitarian concerns and the notion that by helping to end the conflict it could significantly reduce the number of Sri Lankan Tamil asylum seekers looking for refuge in EU countries. That is why the EU decided to become a co-chair of the Tokyo donor conference held between 9 and 10 June, 2003 and was a strong advocate of the United National Front Governments (UNF) Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) and the peace process. The Sri Lanka monitoring Mission (SLMM) was made up of five European countries. Of the five three namely Sweden, Finland and Denmark are a part of the EU.

However, EU-Sri Lanka relations have been strained in the recent past over human rights concerns chiefly arising from this administrations war against the LTTE. The GSP plus concession is the casualty of this EU-Sri Lanka war over human rights. Under the GSP plus concession which is granted to 14 countries about 7, 200 product categories are given duty free access to the EU. The Sri Lankan garment sector is one of the main beneficiaries of this concession. The withdrawal of the GSP plus concession means that some industries mainly in the garment sector will have to close down resulting in loss of income and livelihood for those in the garment sector.

The point I am trying to make is that the Lisbon Treaty has created a European constitution of sorts by creating a permanent EU President as opposed to a rotating one, a Foreign Minister who will have responsibility for the increasing EU presence across the world while decision making will be made by majority rather than unanimous voting in future. It is hoped that our politicians and policy makers take a mature, intelligent and balanced approach in our dealings with the EU as significant internal developments have taken place within that institution which has for the most part gone unnoticed in Sri Lanka.