Ireland & the Lisbon Treaty: Quo Vadis?
O'Brennan, John (2008) Ireland & the Lisbon Treaty: Quo Vadis? CEPS Policy Brief (175). pp. 1-13.
The rejection of the Lisbon Treaty by the electorate on 12 June 2008 has presented the Irish government with the most serious crisis in external relations since the Second World War. This was the third such referendum on Europe held in Ireland since the millennium and the second plebiscite in three to result in a rejection of an EU Treaty following the failed Nice poll in 2001. There is no obvious solution to the dilemma the government faces and no obvious pathway to achieve ratification. There is however a clear consensus amongst the political parties that ratification constitutes both a clear political priority and a fundamental national interest. At the October European Council summit in Brussels, Taoiseach Brian Cowen promised to come back to the December meeting “with a view to our defining together the elements of a solution and a common path to follow”.1 But the external context is now clear – EU leaders indicated an unwillingness to re-negotiate any part of the Treaty: it will be up to Ireland to find an Irish solution to this European problem. Thus the opportunity cost of the No vote has become somewhat clearer: Ireland faces marginalisation and isolation in Europe if a solution to the Lisbon dilemma is not found. The domestic context is also somewhat clearer now that we have access to extensive data that sheds light on the reasons for the No vote in the 12 June poll. In assessing the options for ratification this paper draws upon that data, presented in among other sources, the post-referendum Eurobarometer survey and the government-commissioned Millward Brown IMS research findings.2 Any course of action that involves another referendum campaign implies significant risks for the Irish government and for Ireland’s position within the European Union. The principal danger here lies in the continuing knowledge deficit regarding EU affairs: fully 42% of respondents polled by Millward Brown cited a “lack of knowledge/information/understanding” as their reason for voting No to Lisbon.3 But the threat to Ireland’s national interests, to the country’s longterm economic prosperity and international relations are very grave and now necessitate the most substantive engagement by political actors. This paper seeks to contribute to the debate on ratification and to provide policy-makers with an assessment of the options before them. Before proceeding to outline those options it sets out four key assumptions upon which the arguments made are based. It also outlines the importance of securing a clarification of the constitutional position via a Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality of the Lisbon Treaty and the desirability of finding EU agreement on the right of all 27 member states to permanent representation on the European Commission.
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