On the blog of Belgian daily De Standaard, its EU correspondent Bernard Bulcke has some inside information on the plans to get the Lisbon Treaty passed.
It reports that a “very reliable source” has confirmed that “if the Lisbon Treaty hasn’t been ratified by the end of 2009, the Treaty will be integrated into the accession treaty for Croatia”.
It adds that “the probability of this scenario increases as the chances of Lisbon just being ratified through a second Irish referendum diminish”. This means that “the Irish would have to block the accession of Croatia in order to remain able to block Lisbon.”
And not only the Irish, because, as the article says, it is a “happy coincidence” that “the countries that aren’t that excited about the new treaty are exactly the greatest proponents of further enlargement of the European Union”, citing Poland and the Czech Republic, neither of which has ratified Lisbon.
The article reports that by 2009 all negotiations with Croatia should be concluded, but that this doesn't automatically guarantee Croatian entry. French President Sarkozy and German Chancellor Merkel have already indicated that the approval of Lisbon will be made a condition for enlarging the EU, effectively blocking the accession of Croatia until this happens.
Sarkozy’s claim that it would be impossible to enlarge without Lisbon is dismissed as “legal nonsense” by the piece, given that accession treaties always adapt the EU institutions to take account of new members. However, as the article points out, the claim nonetheless serves as a “political threat” directed at Ireland, Poland and the Czech Republic.
Integrating the Lisbon Treaty into the Croatian accession treaty certainly would make this 'blackmail' strategy against future enlargement carry more weight in terms of persuading more reluctant member states to ratify it.
And as we've argued before, opting for this plan will also mean that supporters of the Lisbon Treaty may be able to circumvent the Irish electorate. The "Croatian Accession Treaty plus Lisbon" could be ratified through the Irish Parliament, with a referendum held on various opt-outs. Even if the Irish referendum on the opt outs returns a no vote, the Constitution / Lisbon Treaty will still come into effect for everyone else.
On the other hand, the Croatian option would mean effectively re-ratifying Lisbon in other member states. This would be particularly unwelcome for a weakened Gordon Brown, especially if it happens in early 2010 - just before a General Election.