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Published: Monday, 10/12/2009

Toward EU efficiency

THE adventures of the European

Union, as it tries to get the Lisbon Treaty approved by all 27 members, do not constitute a pretty picture.

The treaty, which is designed to fix some of the inefficiencies in the EU, was signed in 2007 by the member countries' leaders. However, approval of the treaty either by each nation's parliament or by popular referendum was necessary before it could take effect.

Last year, the process hit a roadblock when a referendum in Ireland rejected the pact. This was a remarkable development. Ireland, which joined the EU in 1973, had been transformed by EU membership from a relative slum to a model of prosperity.

For Ireland, the difference was made by the receipt of EU aid and investment and the expansion of the market, including in labor, that membership opened to it. Nonetheless, Irish voters sank their teeth sharply into the hand that had fed them and rejected the treaty.

Then came the recession of the last year, which has racked Ireland with high unemployment, restrained credit, and general economic malaise. Scared, Ireland's voters overcame their concerns about the reformed EU's potential infringement on its sovereignty and voted Saturday, by 2-1, to approve the treaty.

When it goes into effect, the accord will make possible a full-time EU president and foreign minister, strengthen the EU parliament, and make EU decision-making more efficient.

Hurdles still exist, of course. The Czech Republic's parliament has approved the treaty, but its president, Vaclav Klaus, who did an abysmal job as EU president for six months this year, doesn't like the treaty and is dragging his feet, even though his signature is supposed to be pro forma.

Approval from Poland, another holdout, came Saturday.

Some think that if the matter is not settled before the next British elections, which must take place before June, the now likely victors, the Conservatives, will submit the treaty to a referendum at which it may well be rejected by British voters.

Nonetheless, the treaty's approval by the Irish was an important step toward more EU efficiencies. With a population of half a billion and eight of the world's 19 largest economies, the EU could stand improvement.



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