Lisbon’s Legacy

Despite the FPÖ’s Warnings of the ‘Evil’ EU, Austrians Ratify the New Treaty

With 10,000 people gathering at Staatsoper to demonstrate against the EU, it was hard not to wonder why Austrians are so unhappy. According to the OECD, Austria had a growth of 2.2% last year, exceeding the EU average. The employment rate is 70%, one of the highest in Europe, and the country ranks high in the EU in terms of GDP per capita. But then again, this is not the EU we’re talking about – at least not exactly.

The demonstration was against the Lisbon Treaty.

The Lisbon Treaty is the replacement for the draft of the European constitution defeated by “No” voters in France and  The Netherlands in 2005. The Treaty of Lisbon proposes a more coherent external voice for the European Union, by combining the functions of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) with that of Vice-President of the Commission and High Representative for Foreign Affairs, and creating a new External Action Service to support the new representative. It also has measures to provide more assistance to citizens traveling to third countries.

So where is this negative talk coming from?

The Freedom Party (FPÖ) leader Heinz Christian Strache seems to have wormed his way into the Austrian consciousness. “Wer Österreich liebe,” said Strache, “müsse sich gegen den Irrweg des EU-Zentralismus entscheiden” (the one who loves Austria, must be against the meander of EU centralism).

Others, however, are skeptical. “Easily 99 per cent of these claims are simply rubbish,” said Ludger Helms, senior research professor at the International Relations Department at Webster Vienna. “One of the worst claims is the statement that the Treaty would re-introduce the death penalty!”

On Apr. 9 the national council voted 151 for and 27 against, while two weeks later the Federal Council voted 58 to 4 in favor. Austria is the eighth country that ratified the EU Reform Treaty, amongst Hungary, Slovenia, France, Malta, Bulgaria, and Romania. The EU is now waiting for Poland´s ratification.

The Lisbon Reform Treaty, signed on Dec. 13, 2007, is expected to be ratified by all member states by the end of 2008, to take effect in 2009.

There is ample reason for EU skepticism. Europe’s non member countries like Switzerland, which has concluded several bilatteral treaties wih the EU, and Norway and Iceland, being members of European Economic area and NATO, seem to get most of the benefits, with fewer of the burdens. Maybe that’s irresponsible, and just too good to be true.

However, isn’t the whole purpose of the EU to bring Europe together? For the countries already in the EU, why not ratify the Lisbon treaty, and strengthen the community, so

that it can be as effective as possible, support its members and be a powerful force for peace in the region?

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