23rd Feb 2019

Dublin sees 'no obvious solution' to EU treaty rejection

  • Ireland - in the EU hotseat (Photo: EUobserver)

Europe will this week try and pick up the political pieces following Ireland's rejection of the Lisbon Treaty, but the relatively high turnout at the ballot box, the wide margin and the jumble of reasons for the No vote mean an exit strategy will be hard to find.

For the moment other member states have insisted that ratification of the treaty continue, despite the 53.4 to 46.6 percent No vote on Thursday (12 June). But they have made it clear that they expect the Irish government to come the EU leaders summit later this week equipped with some answers.

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The Slovenian EU presidency said it would ask Irish prime minister Brian Cowen "to explain the reasons for the rejection of the treaty by the Irish people" at the top-level meeting.

The European Commission almost made it clear that this is more Dublin's problem, rather than a strictly EU one.

A referendum is a "matter of national responsibility" said commission president Jose Manuel Barroso after the vote and pointed out that "our Irish friends always said it was a national campaign."

However Ireland has admitted it will be hard-pressed to come up an answer and asked Europe to not isolate it.

"We now have to sit down in a sense of solidarity and co-operation with all of the member states to see if we can find a way forward and the fact of the matter is there is no obvious solution before us here," said Irish prime minister Brian Cowen in an interview with state broadcaster RTE.

"I want Europe to provide some of the solutions as well as just suggesting that it is Ireland's problem alone, although Ireland has a position here that we have to try to deal with."

France and Germany have been careful to sing from the same hymn sheet, staving off a feeling of Europe in crisis and rushing out a joint statement to say ratification should continue in a bid to stop more eurosceptic countries such as Britain immediately calling off the process.

"The others must continue that the Irish incident does not become a crisis," said French president Nicolas Sarkozy.

Scrambling for a solution

The next few days are likely to everyone "scrambling" for a legal solution to the quandary, an EU diplomat told EUobserver adding that there is no answer stored away in a "vault" somewhere.

Germany's foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said "[The question is whether] Ireland for a certain time can clear the way for an integration of the remaining 26 [member states]."

But all countries need to ratify the Lisbon Treaty for it to come into force. UK liberal MEP Andrew Duff and constitutional affairs expert said attempts to find some sort of legal half-way house are "nonsense."

"We are all trapped in the Treaty of Nice," he said, summing up the situation after the Irish No.

The most obvious way out – without resorting to renegotiating the treaty for which there is little political appetite - is another vote to see if the Irish say yes second time round, something already mooted by France's Europe minister

Jean-Pierre Jouyet told French radio that there was "no other solution" to the situation even if Dublin would have to wait quite a long time to have a second vote.

But it appears unlikely that the Irish government can take this route – something admitted by Conor Lenihan, a junior minister responsible for integration.

"I can't see a situation where we can put this matter again," he told RTE. "I think the result is deeply damaging to our position within Europe,'" while voting again would "create a double risk of creating even more damage.'"

A second vote?

Ireland has voted twice before. In 2001 it rejected the Nice Treaty before accepting it a year later. But the first rejection saw a low voter turnout and came after the government had done virtually no campaigning, being complacent about a Yes.

Thursday's vote saw a relatively good turnout (53% in comparison to 34.8% in the first Nice Treaty vote), based on the back of a strong effort by Dublin to secure a Yes. There appears also not to have been a clear reason for voting No, but rather a motley selection of grumbles, making it difficult to add a few provisos to the treaty to make it more palatable.

On top of that, the EU would leave itself exposed to charges that it is ignoring the will of the people if it pushes Dublin towards a second vote.

The victorious No-side which encompassed pro-business lobby group Libertas and Sinn Fein as well as military neutrality and anti-abortion groups believe the treaty can be renegotiated.

The pro-treaty side believe this is not possible and that Ireland has damaged its European interests.

"Things will never be quite the same again, no matter what deal is eventually patched up at European level. In simple terms, Ireland's position as the favoured child of the EU project can never be restored and we will have to live with the implications of that," said an opinion piece in the pro-Europe Irish Times.

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