The passing year has been an "annus horribilis" for European integration as the "no" vote by 860,000 Irish voters in June 2008 derailed the Lisbon Treaty, which was designed for 490 million European Union (EU) citizens.
To make it worse, the subsequent financial crisis hijacked the agenda of EU leaders, who had decided to revisit the treaty impasse at an informal summit in October, making its entry into force impossible before European Parliament elections.
When EU leaders signed the Lisbon Treaty in December 2007, they had hoped that the treaty can be ratified by all 27 member states by the end of 2008 so that its provisions on the composition of the European Parliament and the European Commission can apply.
At their December 2008 summit, EU leaders decided to give concessions to Ireland so that a second referendum can be held in the autumn of 2009.
EU leaders have agreed to yield to a demand from Irish voters that the country have one national on the European Commission. The Lisbon Treaty had previously planned to downsize the European Commission, the executive body of the EU, to a college of commissioners from only two thirds of the EU member states.
Other concerns of Irish voters, including Ireland's military neutrality, its opposition to abortion, national rights on taxation, will also be dealt with. The EU leaders hoped that the concessions can result in a "yes" from Irish voters. A positive outcome of the second referendum, however, is not guaranteed.
Another uncertainty facing the Lisbon Treaty is politics in Britain. General elections may well be called during the course of2009. Should the conservatives win, there is a possibility that the treaty be put on a referendum in Britain as well, said a political analyst.
It is generally believed that a British referendum would probably turn out to be disastrous for the treaty given wide-spread euroskepticism among British voters.
The year 2009 is crucial for EU integration, a process that has seen many twists and turns. Past experience has shown that integration has always been able to overcome hurdles and move forward.
The Lisbon Treaty was drawn up in replacement of the ambitious EU Constitution, which was rejected in referendums in France and the Netherlands in 2005. The Irish "no" vote in the referendum this year dealt another severe blow to the integration process of the EU.
The Lisbon Treaty is designed to reform EU institutions and streamline decision-making in the ever enlarging union.
The treaty provides for far-reaching changes in the EU's institutions and decision making mechanisms. It creates the post of a long-term president of the European Council, which comprises heads of state and government of the member states, in place of the current six-month rotation between member states.
A new post of EU foreign policy chief will be created, which combines the duties of present foreign policy chief Javier Solana and EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner.
To make decision-making more effective, a double majority voting system -- approval by at least 55 percent of the number of member states representing at least 65 percent of the EU's total population -- would be introduced to the Council of the EU, a decision-making body composed of member states' ministers.
While unanimity is still required in certain areas, more policy areas will be governed by the double majority voting system, notably in justice and home affairs.
(Xinhua News Agency December 26, 2008)