June 14, 2008
Less than half of the Irish electorate has spoken: By a margin of 100 000 votes it has rejected the Lisbon Treaty.
The no-votes express a bizarre mix of misconceptions and ressentiments, that had little or nothing to do with the treaty, which virtually nobody had read. It was un unreadable document, like any text that contains hundreds of amendments to an existing treaty.
We should not scold the no-voters for their jubilation. They have probably acted in good faith, seduced and misinformed by a few nationalist and irresponsible politicians and a businessman more interested in an ego-trip than the future of Europe.
But we must not follow them. The vast majority of European citizens wants a Europe that is able to decide democratically and defend their interests at the global level. The Lisbon Treaty is a step towards these ends, by allowing Europe to speak with once voice and turning the EuropeanParliament into a full-fledged legislator.
How is it possible to overcome the Irish No?
First, 18 of the 27 member states have ratified the Lisbon Treaty. It is essential that the parliaments of the remaining eight member states complete the ratification process before the end of the year, as their heads of government have pledged to do.
Second, it will be up to the Irish Prime minister to explain to his colleagues next week how to sort out the mess in which Ireland and the EU find themselves after the negative outcome of the referendum. He may ask the European Council to address a solemn declaration to the Irish voters, that the Lisbon Treaty does not affect Irish neutrality, their right to pursue their taxation policy and strict anti-abortion line etc., and to promise holding another referendum when all other member states will have ratified, as Ireland has done for obtaining ratification of the NiceTreaty.
Third, alternatively, those countries having ratified might invite Ireland to reconsider its membership in the EU, as provided for under the Lisbon Treaty, and negotiate a new status comparable to that of Norway – intimately linked with the EU, but without particpating in the decision making and in many policy areas. That would be a regrettable outcome, but one that assures Ireland its full-fledged autonomy and allows the rest of Europe to proceed towards further integration.
Fourth, there is no point negotiating a new treaty among the 27 member states. Europe has no time to lose putting its house in order. It is confronted with serious and urgent challenges that need to be addressed. It has taken seven years of patient discussions across all of Europe to finalise the Lisbon Treaty. For the time being, it seems impossible to reach a better deal, and nobody would like to run the risk of seeing a new treaty version rejected by another Irish referendum.
If Ireland persists with its No, the rest of Europe will have no option but to go on without it. It would be great pity, but the lesser evil compared to an unending institutional impasse.Author : Eberhard Rhein