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News and views from the German-language region of Europe

March 9, 2008

A cold EU wind from this Irish spring?

Filed under Life in Europe

With the British parliament now having rejected a national referendum on the ratification of the EU's Lisbon reform treaty, the path seems clear for the treaty's implementation in January 2009. Or does it? One country is a cause for concern in Brussels.

British voters were once promised the opportunity to vote on whether their country would accept the proposed EU constitution. After French and Dutch voters rejected the constitution, the British never got a chance. With the British government calling the Lisbon agreement a treaty and not a constitution, it will be parliament itself that will vote to ratify the treaty. The French government did the same thing and has already ratified the new treaty. The Dutch government does not have plans to submit the Lisbon treaty to a national referendum. One would think that all major hurdles have been cleared for the treaty's acceptance.

If there weren't the Irish, that would be the case. May 29, 2008 looks like decision day for the EU's future. That’s the day that 2.5 million Irish citizens will have their chance to give a thumbs up or down for the Lisbon treaty. With Ireland being the only country where a referendum will be held, EU officials in Brussels are concerned about the potential for a no vote. Irish EU minister Dick Roach has said that "a no vote will mean that the treaty is dead." Opinion polls show that half of eligible voters are still undecided. More important, though, is that among voters with a preference the percentage of those prepared to vote against the treaty is running about the same as in France and the Netherlands prior to the national referendums held there in 2005.

Leading EU bureaucrats in Brussels are well aware of the Irish opinion polls. That's why they seem to have embarked on a "feel good" campaign for the time being, meaning that the EU shouldn't do anything to upset its citizens, especially the Irish. Slovenia's prime minister Janez Jansa, who is also the current president of the EU's Council of Ministers, put it this way: "We aren't going to touch any dossier that could threaten the ratification process."

The furrowed brows in Brussels are mindful of the past events. Seven years ago Irish voters initially rejected the treaty of Nice. That's why May 28 is a day marked on calendars all over Europe.

Paul Kieffer's blog with personal insights and news from the German-language region in Europe.


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