After a First Irish "No"

Janis A. Emmanouilidis


Athens 06/2008

After a First Irish „No“

(published on June 10, 2008)

On June 12, 2008 Ireland will hold an obligatory referendum on the Treaty of Lisbon. The result of the popular vote is open. Latest polls suggest that the “yes” campaign is leading, but the race is too close to call. Many voters are still undecided and the perspective of a potential low turnout threatens a positive outcome of the referendum. Three years after the French and the Dutch “no” to the European Constitution, the fate of yet another European treaty is at stake.

But what would happen in case the Irish voters reject the Lisbon Treaty? Most commentators argue that an Irish “no” in June 2008 would kill off the new Treaty. Their argument runs as follows: The Irish cannot be asked to hold a re-vote on the Lisbon Treaty – as they did in 2001/02 when the referendum on the Nice Treaty had failed in the first round. This time the Irish would follow the French and Dutch example, who after their “no” to the European Constitution in May/June 2005 had opted against a second popular vote. In this case, another ratification process would have failed. The Lisbon Treaty could not enter into force. The EU 27+ would have to continue to operate on the basis of the ill-suited Nice Treaties.

But is this scenario really the only option? No! The Irish case is different from the French and Dutch three years ago. Leaving Ireland aside, chances are very high that the Lisbon Treaty can be ratified by all other 26 EU countries – provided that the ratification process continues. 18 member states have already ratified the Union’s new primary law and others are well on track. Among them also doubtful cases like the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Poland or the United Kingdom.

In 2005 the picture was different: Yes, the French and the Dutch were the ones that had actually voted against the Constitutional Treaty. But if the ratification process had continued at the time, other EU members would have followed their example. The European Union would have found itself in a total mess. This time things are different. If the remaining EU countries stay on track and continue their national ratification processes, chances are high that Ireland will be the only one that will have rejected the Lisbon Treaty. In this case, the other 26 EU members representing nearly 490 million people and thus 99 per cent (!) of the Union’s total population would have every moral right to ask their Irish fellow European citizens to reconsider their “no” vote in late 2008 or 2009.

In a first step, the Heads of State and Government should at their summit meeting a week after the Irish referendum send out a strong signal. They should firmly declare that they respect the Irish vote, but that the ratification process in the other EU members will continue in spite of the original Irish “no”. But before that, let us all cross fingers that the Irish will vote “yes” for the Lisbon Treaty already on June 12, so that we are spared from yet another European crisis.

The text can also be found under blogs@eliamep

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