Irish vote 'No' to EU treaty

17th June 2008, Comments 0 comments

They have no confidence in the Irish government, nor in Europe. The Irish have voted with a clear majority against the Lisbon treaty. They want Prime Minister Cowen to return to the negotiating table. But what for? By Perro de Jong* in Dublin

How the Irish voted
- 53 per cent of the electorate
   voted (1,620,000 people)
- YES: 46.6 per cent
- NO :  53.4 per cent
- Ten constituencies backed the
   treaty, 33 rejected it


Triumphant cries of 'There's no Lisbon' by No-voters drowned out the voice of Finance Minister Brian Lenihan in the hall where votes were being counted.

An Irish 'No' had been in the air ever since the Yes-votes were overtaken in an opinion poll last week. But the government kept hoping to the last that party loyalty would tempt floating voters to say 'Yes' after all.

Single to Brussels

That they did not is ominous for Prime Minister Brian Cowen, who came into office only last month. At the moment there seems to be little confidence in Irish politics, while accusations of corruption and arrogance are becoming more numerous. Similar accusations were enough to finish off Cowen's predecessor Bertie Ahern.

What makes it even harder is that the prime minister has to put on a brave face and renegotiate the treaty on behalf of the Irish. One of the No-campaign leaders, Declan Ganley, this week even ostentatiously bought a cheap single ticket to Brussels for the prime minister, to rub in what is being expected of him.
Mission impossible
Such a renegotiation, however, seems to be a 'mission impossible'. For one thing, the Irish nay-sayers belong to several groups whose agendas sometimes clash.
One wants more guarantees that the EU will not force the Irish to accept abortion through the backdoor, while the other wants more protection of women's rights. One group wants to lower taxation for companies, while the other wants better protection for workers.

In addition to that, proponents of a Yes vote say that many No-voters have been misled, and that they are calling for things that have already been won in earlier negotiations. Such as the guarantee that a bigger military role for the EU will never lead to the introduction of conscription in traditionally neutral Ireland.

27 Commissioners
Even a few weeks ago the former Speaker of the European Parliament, Irishman Pat Cox, said there was nothing he could think of that could possibly be achieved by the prime minister at the negotiating table.

Even the only point that most Irish No-voters agree on - that they do not want to lose their European Commissioner - is hard to solve.

The alternative, with one commissioner for each of the 27 member states instead of the rotating commissioners proposed in the treaty, would lead to an increase in the Brussels bureaucracy. And that again is something to which the No-voters are vehemently opposed.

Not the status quo
On the other hand the Yes campaign has warned that an Irish No would lead to a loss of influence, causing the Irish to be listened to less. The status quo - with Ireland in the heart of Europe, having its own commissioner - will be broken anyhow.

That warning is an attempt to intimidate the voters, the 'No' lobby said. But John Gormley, the leader of the Irish Greens, repeated it. "This will have consequences for Ireland," he said. "And I can now say this without fear of being accused of scaremongering."

It remains unclear what those consequences will be. In the Dublin streets there seemed to be nobody who feared, like former Dutch minister Laurens-Jan Brinkhorst once said, that the lights will go out.

"I guess they will invest less in Ireland," one Dubliner said this afternoon. "But I don't expect we'll be kicked out of the EU. Although we might as well throw in the towel if we're not supporting Europe today."

No 'Plan B'
Ireland is the only one of the 27 EU member states that was putting the treaty to the popular vote, as required by its Constitution. Some observers said the three million Irish voters were in fact determining the fate of the Union of 500 million European citizens.

The rejection of the Lisbon treaty by the Irish is causing a deep crisis in Brussels. Prime Minister François Fillon of France, whose country takes over the rotating EU presidency in July, said on Thursday there will be no Lisbon treaty if the Irish people reject it. Officials in Brussels repeatedly said there is no 'Plan B'.

The Lisbon treaty was meant to go into effect on 1 January 2009. So far, 18 members have ratified the treaty, most of them through a parliamentary procedure.

Analysts in Brussels assume that the other member states could go ahead with the ratification procedure and adopt the treaty. The 26 signatory countries could then offer Ireland a separate agreement subscribing to 'Lisbon', possibly with some opt-outs.

June 2008 

[Copyright Radio Netherlands] 

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