A feeling of relief was evident among EU policy-makers when the result of the Irish referendum was made public yesterday. The revised Lisbon Treaty had cleared the most significant hurdle.
Everybody is now looking at the Czech Republic, wondering what the next step of Vaclav Klaus will be. Fredrik Reinfeldt will meet his Czech counterpart on Wednesday, at the same time as Cecilia Malmström visits Prague.
The signature of Vaclav Klaus is crucial for the institutional development of the EU. Hoever, there is a risk is that an even more fundamental problem is forgotten. The gap between citizens and EU institutions still remains.
It has taken seven years to get this far with institutional reform – and it will not be enough if the EU is really going to play a strong role on the international scene. More urgently, hard decisions on climate change, reform of the common agricultural policy and enlargement will be difficult to take as long as citizens do not feel connected to policy-making in Brussels.
That is why Margot Wallström´s communication portfolio in the present Commission has been so important.
Critics are partly right. Progress has not been quick enough and there is a tendency (more by Barroso than by Wallström) to reduce communication to PR. The task was never going to be easy.
That does not mean that the basic idea was wrong. On the contrary, opening up EU institutions and creating a `democratic infrastructure´ should be an even more important task for the next Commission.
Margot Wallström has been successful in a number of areas. Interactive communication on the Internet, Citizens´summaries for new proposals, EU Youth Summit, European citizens´ consultations.
However, other developments in the EU have not been as encouraging.
The Commission proposal for a revised regulation on access to documents has been critized for not going far enough, even weakening some of the current provisions.
Although a voluntary register for lobbyists has been established, many remain outside the system. EU regulations on lobbyism still lags far behind the US, where Barack Obama has recently established even more stringent rules.
The Council of Ministers is still lacking in transparency, to some extent because openness has never been Javier Solana´s favorite theme. Sometimes, statements from the Council are politically insensitive and further decrease the trust in EU institutions. ECOFIN´s threat to Latvia this week is one such example.
Even if Lisbon is finally approved, the fundamental crisis of confidence remains. The next Commission should build on the new Treaty and move quickly to implement the articles on citizens´ intiatives and on civil society.
Barroso should appoint a new Commissioner with a stronger mandate to improve transparency and consultation with citizens, and to strenghtening pan-European civil society.
Relaxing is not the right answer to ratification of the Lisbon Treaty.