Monthly Archives: June 2008

An EU survey sheds more light on the decisive “no” vote in Ireland’s referendum on the union’s Lisbon reform treaty.

The study shows that those who voted against did so because of; a lack of knowledge of the treaty; a desire to protect Irish identity and safeguard neutrality; a lack of trust in politicians; the potential loss of a permanent commissioner in Brussels and to protect the tax system. 

For a good chuckle, check out the Wikipedia entry of Hans-Gert Pöttering, the European Parliament’s president. Point No.3, headlined “Commission Speculation”, says there are rumours that Pöttering will be Germany’s next member of the European Commission, succeeding Günter Verheugen.

The entry states: “It is widely known that Angela Merkel wants to nominate a Christian Democrat as Commissioner designate for the next Commission mandate 2009-2014 and Pöttering is seen by many as a strong and properly qualificated contestant for the job.” 

With the European Union’s Lisbon treaty in deep trouble, some of the finest minds in Brussels are at work devising solutions to problems of which the general European public is wholly unaware. For example, the size and composition of the European Commission.

If the Lisbon treaty doesn’t come into force next year, the next Commission will have to be selected according to rules set out in the EU’s 2003 treaty of Nice. These state that when the EU has grown to include 27 countries (which it now has), the number of commissioners should be “less than the number of member-states”. 

According to participants at the EU’s post-Irish referendum summit in Brussels, the atmosphere among the 27 national leaders is not one of crisis or despair, but resignation and a sense of having been there and done all this before – i.e., after the French and Dutch threw out the old constitutional treaty in 2005.

However, it’s also clear there are more than a few mutual recriminations going on in the corridors of the Justus Lipsius building in Brussels. “It’s what I’d call the ‘day after effect’,” says one top-level EU official, referring to last week’s Irish rejection of the Lisbon treaty. 

According to the memorable aphorism of Robert Kagan, the conservative US scholar, Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus. But when President George W. Bush was in Europe last week and heard about Ireland’s rejection of the European Union’s Lisbon treaty in a referendum, it must have seemed to the outgoing president that Europeans are so incapable of getting their act together that they’re really from Pluto – which astronomers no longer classify as a planet.

The same thought may cross the mind of President Dmitry Medvedev of Russia when EU leaders arrive next week in the western Siberian city of Khanty-Mansiysk for an EU-Russia summit. Of course, it’s possible Medvedev will be rather more exercised about the revelation that the US has been thinking about putting part of its proposed missile defence system in Lithuania - which is precisely the sort of things that Martians, rather than Plutonians, do.  

In the Orwellian world of the European Union, no does not really mean no, a treaty pronounced dead by popular vote is still alive and the bloc’s parliament rejects the popular vote as undemocratic.

Ireland may have rejected the Lisbon treaty, which requires the approval of all 27 member states to become law, but the EU’s leaders have vowed to press ahead with ratification. 

Its 3pm on a cloudy Dublin Friday, and, as the results of the Irish referendum come flooding in, it could hardly be more clear what a kick in the teeth – and possibly to another part of the political establishment’s anatomy -  the Irish electorate has delivered by rejecting the European Union’s Lisbon treaty.

Tipperary North: 50.2 per cent No to 49.8 per cent Yes, on a turn-out of 58.5 per cent… Tipperary South: 53.2 per cent No to 46.8 per cent Yes, on a turn-out of 55 per cent… Waterford: 54.3 per cent No to 45.6 per cent Yes, on a turn-out of 53 per cent…Limerick East: 53.9 per cent No to 46.1 per cent Yes on a turn-out of 51 per cent. 

At 12 O’clock on Friday, after three hours of counting in the Irish referendum, it is starting to look as if Irish voters have rejected the European Union’s Lisbon treaty - and, to borrow a phrase from the late Saddam Hussein, touched off the mother of all political crises in Europe.

“We’re not calling it, but it looks like it’s going to be No,” one senior government official told the Financial Times. 

The moment Dermot Ahern, Irish justice minister, conceded that defeat was inevitable yesterday lunchtime the action in Brussels, shifted from the Berlaymont, the 13-storey star-shaped home of the European Commission, to a scruffy Irish bar on the other side of the street.

No campaign activists clustered in the shadow of the ‘Berlaymonster” they loathe, to celebrate the Irish rejection of the Lisbon treaty. It felt as though they had been joined in Kitty O’Shea’s by almost every reporter and camera crew in town. Even supporters of the Yes campaign were drawn to Kitty O’Shea’s in order to find a journalist to give their views to. With a pint (sorry half-litre), of Guinness in one hand, Nigel Farage, leader of the eurosceptic UK Independence party, accosted Andrew Duff, the British Liberal MEP who had played a role in drafting the original constitution. Would he accept defeat, Mr Farage demanded? Certainly not to him, was the riposte, before Mr Duff stomped off to address the waiting microphones. 

Today’s referendum is for Irish voters and the question is about Europe. But one of the paradoxes of modern Ireland and the confident role it plays in European affairs is that America’s presence is felt – and celebrated – everywhere in the country. Take O’Dea’s Hotel, a family-run establishment is the town of Loughrea, County Galway.

As I walked into the lobby at 8 o’clock this morning , having spent three hours driving west from Dublin and talking to bleary-eyed voters in Loughrea as they emerged from their polling station, whose face should I spot beaming at me from a photo on the reception desk but that of Bill Clinton.