Book Review: The Politics of Ratification of the EU Treaties

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Carlos Closa, The Politics of Ratification of the EU Treaties (London: Routledge, 2013). 212 pp., $140.00 (hardcover), ISBN: 9780415454896.

Carlos Closa is one of the most prominent Spanish political scientists working on EU politics. He was one of the first scholars dealing with the constitutional politics of the EU. This book represents the outcome of a research activity developed for several years. Assuming the Treaties as quasi-constitutions of the EU, Carlos Closa has investigated, with the tools of political science, the cumbersome process of their ratification. The ratification of each of the various Treaties that accompanied the constitutionalization of the EU took place within a complex set of factors, domestic and supranational, where strategic considerations intermingles with short-term interests.

Carlos Closa goes beyond the two-level game approach, introducing a more articulated framework for understanding success and failure in the ratification of the Treaties. In Carlos Closa’s analytical framework, a crucial place has political agency; namely, the preferences of the main domestic actors relatively to the process and content of the Treaty to ratify. Indeed, from the perspective of 60 years of ratification processes, Carlos Closa argues that the only two cases of ratification’s failure (the European Defense Community in 1954 and the Constitutional Treaty in 2005) can be explained on the bases of the preferences of key ratifying actors. Certainly, under the conditions of unanimity for the approval of a Treaty, governments have to identify the proper framing and use the more convenient events in other member states for persuading domestic actors to support the approval of the Treaty.

Framing and events thus play a crucial role in in Carlos Closa’s framework. Indeed, they can activate or prevent veto players. In fact, the book shows how domestic veto players can be activated and empowered by a suitable sequence of ratification events outside of the member state in question. The EU experience made evident the existence of a sort of ratification’s interdependence among member states. Ratification events across member states have thus been a crucial factor in the success or failure of the ratification’s process in a single member state. This is a finding of crucial analytical importance. It raises the analytical challenge of how to deal with collective action. Because the Treaty comes out from an agreement between governments, each government should have an interest to structure the process of domestic ratification in a way that might help all the other governments to reach the common good of successful ratification.

However, although all governments have the same interest, domestic conditions might differ consistently. At this regard, the choice of the right timing and the definition of the appropriate framing are the crucial decisions to make for a national government. This collective action problem has been magnified by the unanimity’s criteria necessary for approving a new Treaty in the EU. Treaties have become more and more detailed for anticipating negative reactions at the national level, but of course unanimity offers large opportunities to those domestic actors opposing the Treaty. In an EU of 28 member states, unanimity has thus become the recipe for an highly uncertain ratification’s process. Indeed, the new intergovernmental treaties approved during the euro crisis (as the European Stability Mechanism and the Fiscal Compact) challenged the rigidity of the previous approval procedure, introducing for the first time in the EU history the ratification through qualified majority.

A new era, in the ratification story, has probably started. This book by Carlos Closa constitutes the powerful demonstration that such new approach to ratification has become inevitable, if the purpose is the formation of a more ‘genuine economic and monetary union’.

Sergio Fabbrini, School of Government, LUISS Guido Carli, Rome

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