The Portuguese Presidency of the European Union has decided to fast track the discussions on the new European Treaty. For those who have been sleeping in a glass box during the last years, the new treaty is a barely readable but badly cut down version of the Constitutional Treaty sunk by the French and the Dutch referendums in 2005. Anyway, the Portuguese (who currently hold the presidence of the European Commission as well) want to close the negotiation in six weeks to have something signed and validated by the member states before 2009. Most commentators are underlining the difficulty of the task (if not its unreal timetable). They point at Poland's coming elections in October as well as UK's Georges Brown lock up with unions and its own Labour Party. They also mention more minor points such as Austria's issue with University policy. All agree anyway to say that pulling the treaty out of the ditch is going to be nothing less than Herculean.
But I personaly believe than, further than the usual bickering and Teheran carpet seller style of the negotiations (which is sadly nothing new), the real problem comes from the legitimacy. We are again paying for decades of governments playing against the EU at home and even sometimes in Brussels. We are paying for the failure from most political parties to actually show some European commitment. Worse we are paying the total absence of "selling the EU to its citizens". I have said it earlier, but unfortunately, the current events are showing again the urgency of such points. The EU can't survive another blocking of its institutional construction. But it can even less survive the total disaffection from its citizens. Most citizens of the EU, even educated ones, have no idea what are the positive aspects of the EU, even the quite obvious ones. Most citizens on the other hand believe all the bad stories that an ignorant press or irresponsible politicians have spread over the EU. In summary: everything bad in the EU comes from Brussels, but everything good comes from the local politicians... Yeah, sure...
The UK unions fortunately know better, and they have severely attacked Georges Brown for its opt-out clauses in the social policy. But in other countries, unions and political parties alike blindly attack the EU for all kinds of wrong reasons. So, let's say it once and for all: yes, the EU is not very democratic, neither very transparent. But let's be honest about it, the main reason has nothing to do with Brussels (which has always attempted to simplify and democratize things) but everything to do with a bunch of ruthless national politicians. And it's time to name a few, just for the sake of responsibility (a word they use a lot but practice very little, if at all): Tony Blair and Georges Brown, Jacques Chirac (though sadly his current successor seems to take exactly the same way) and Laurent Fabius, the Kazynsky brothers, Jan Pieter Balkenende and, last but not least, Silvio Berlusconi (the frightening clown of the Italian politics). There are others, but I believe that these ones are the most directly responsible.
So if the Portuguese really want to do something for the EU, it is, I believe, more important to win the hearts and minds of its citizens, through a massive explanation campaign. This is the most urgent thing at the moment, probably the only real one actually. All the rest is technicalities which could easily be overcome, if only the European citizens had a little faith in their institutions. I just hope that decades of power play, haggling and sabotaging by national authorities haven't killed the little good will left.