Now that Ireland and Poland have ratified the Lisbon Treaty, a document designed to fundamentally re-engineer the 27-member European Union, Czech President Vaclav Klaus is the only remaining holdout. If Klaus gives in and signs the document, as he is largely expected to do, the Treaty will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2010, ushering in profound changes in the way the EU operates, especially on the global stage.
Up until now, the EU has been stymied in its efforts to exert more influence in international affairs, largely because of its inability to "speak with one voice," especially on matters of foreign policy. The Lisbon Treaty is designed to remedy this institutional problem by centralizing key elements of European foreign policymaking in Brussels, in particular through the creation of two top EU jobs, colloquially known as the EU president and the EU foreign minister.
Empowered by the Treaty to unify the myriad competing foreign policy interests of the individual EU member states, these two high-power, high-profile positions will have the potential to completely remake the EU's global image and, over time, to significantly boost the EU's global clout.
Achieving European unity on foreign policy would, of course, be historically unprecedented, and the task is sure to be an arduous, daunting and ultimately time-consuming one. But if the EU succeeds in overcoming its internal divisions to do so, it will almost certainly become a more influential actor on the global stage.
A more powerful EU will, in turn, affect changes in the world's geopolitical landscape in ways that are still unknown. Among the big unanswered questions is what impact the Lisbon Treaty will have on transatlantic relations in general, and on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in particular.
Although it is premature to make definitive predictions, several factors will determine EU-U.S. relations during the middle- to long-term future. Among these factors, arguably the most important is to what degree the EU will evolve as a geopolitical rival to the United States.
In the United States, there are currently two main schools of thought vis-à-vis the Lisbon Treaty. On the one hand, there are many analysts on both sides of the political spectrum who believe that European unity is a generally positive development for the United States. This view is based, among other things, on the idea that in a globalized world, the United States needs a strong partner in Europe in order to effectively tackle global problems such as climate change, terrorism or organized crime.
On the other hand, some American analysts are hostile to further European unification, largely because they suspect that the main motivation behind the Lisbon Treaty is an attempt to "counterbalance" the United States. They say that a more powerful EU is not in the U.S. interest because its main raison d'être will be to limit America's freedom for global action, especially in the military realm.
Indeed, the United States has long taken advantage of the divisions within Europe in order to achieve its policy aims, as most recently demonstrated in the lead-up to the war in Iraq. A more unified Europe would presumably make it more difficult for American policymakers to play "New Europe" off against "Old Europe" in the future.
As a result, the way in which any given American president perceives further European unification -- that is to say, as either an opportunity or as a threat -- will have a big impact on the tenor of transatlantic relations. Although the Americans cannot stop European unification per se, the United States certainly has the power to help or to hinder the EU on many fronts.
Perhaps no issue has a greater potential for generating transatlantic conflict than the question of the future militarization of the EU. Although supporters of the Lisbon Treaty have long denied that the document will lead to the creation of a European army, Article 28 of the Treaty clearly establishes the legal basis to do so.
This was recently acknowledged in an op-ed article by the EU's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, who wrote: "Our capacity to deploy rapid reaction forces also needs strengthening. In the second decade of ESDP [European Security and Defense Policy], the Lisbon Treaty will put all this within the EU's grasp."
The all-important question, then, is how further European integration in the military realm will impact NATO. More specifically, will ESDP be set up to compete with or to compliment NATO?
Article 27 of the Lisbon Treaty does stipulate that for "those States which are members of it," NATO will remain "the foundation of their collective defense and the forum for its implementation." But Article 28 A (7) duplicates NATO's Article 5 commitment, which states that an attack against one member constitutes an attack against all members, by establishing an EU mutual defense clause. Elsewhere, Article 19 of the Treaty (.pdf) restricts the ability of individual EU member states to operate on the international stage on an independent basis.
It also remains unclear how the Lisbon Treaty will impact some of the structural problems facing European defense. Currently, three states -- Britain, France and Germany -- contribute almost two-thirds of all military spending within the EU, and the Lisbon Treaty does not address how that burden might be more equally shared. In fact, some EU countries are already at loggerheads over how to pay for major weapons systems such as the Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jet and the A400M military transport plane, and are unlikely to be able to dedicate more money for European defense.
Only time will tell how the ambiguities of the Lisbon Treaty will work themselves out in practice. Two things do seem certain, however. If the EU evolves as an actor willing to work together with the United States and in harmony with NATO, Brussels can probably expect enthusiastic support from whoever is in the White House. But if the EU's long-term purpose is to counterbalance the United States, then transatlantic relations will be in for a rocky future.