Reform or crisis?: Much at stake for EU in Irish treaty vote

28th September 2009, Comments 0 comments

The Lisbon Treaty, drawn up to replace a failed EU constitution project, is designed to update the creaking institutions of a European Union which has almost doubled from 15 to 27 members since 2004.

Brussels -- If Irish voters accept the Lisbon Treaty on Friday, the starting gun will fire on a tight race for the EU's first president but a second rejection will plunge the 27-nation bloc into crisis.

"At stake is much more than the credibility of Ireland’s already enfeebled government," reckons Hugo Brady, an expert at the Centre for European Reform in London.

"A Yes vote would allow the EU to improve the way it makes decisions, particularly in foreign policy.

"A No vote would lead to recrimination, policy paralysis and probably a freeze on further EU enlargement," he warned.

The Lisbon Treaty, drawn up to replace a failed EU constitution project, is designed to update the creaking institutions of a European Union which has almost doubled from 15 to 27 members since 2004.

An Irish "yes" will remove the main hurdle for the introduction of the treaty which creates a new president of the European Council, a post already commonly called the EU president.

The treaty will also create a new EU foreign policy supremo post as well as cutting back the number of national vetoes available, thereby easing policy-making and boosting the bloc's powers.

On the other hand "a 'no' vote would kill off the Lisbon Treaty and also jeopardise Ireland’s status within the EU," former Irish EU commissioner David Byrne told the Irish Times.

For Dominik Hierlemann, at the German Bertelsmann foundation, rejection by the Irish would also ruin "Europe's political impetus."

One of the first consequences of another Irish No would be on future EU enlargement, with just Croatia -- already well advanced in its accession talks -- and Iceland -- a long-standing member of the European Economic Area -- likely to get in before the doors close on the likes of Turkey and the Baltic States.

Such an outcome could trigger "a return of political instability" in countries such as Bosnia-Hercegovina, Macedonia and Serbia, Brady warns.

Turkey, already frustrated by the slow pace of its membership talks "could turn away from the EU in anger," he added.

Voters in Ireland, the only country constitutionally bound to put the text to a referendum, have already rejected it last year, but the former "Celtic Tiger" economy has since been hard hit by the economic crisis and Europe appears more of a safe harbour now.

On top of that the EU has made a series of policy guarantees to Dublin, including its military neutrality and abortion and taxation laws.

An opinion poll on Saturday predicted 55 percent of voters will support the treaty this time round.

With such encouraging opinion polls and crossed fingers, European leaders are beginning to think about who could handle the two major EU jobs created under the Lisbon Treaty.

The name on some lips for the future top job is former British prime minister Tony Blair. However his candidature suffers from his close ties to George W Bush at the outbreak of the war in Iraq.

His "New Labour" project also lost him friends in the traditional socialist camp.

Those minus points could be good news for Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker or his Dutch counterpart Jan Peter Balkenende, other names in the mix.

Similar uncertainty surrounds the foreign policy post.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, currently enjoying the European limelight as a key part of Sweden's stint at the EU presidency, is one name being bandied around.

The name of Oll Rehn, the softly spoken Finn who is currently EU Commissioner for Enlargement, is also doing the rounds.

Even if the Irish approve the treaty, it's not the end of the line as the Poles and the Czechs still have to complete the ratification process.

British opposition Conservative leader David Cameron has also become an unlikely problem on the Lisbon horizon.

He has written to eurosceptic Czech President Vaclav Klaus to say his party would call a referendum on the EU's Lisbon Treaty if it takes office next year before all 27 EU nations have ratified it.


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