22nd Sep 2019

Irish parliament to debate second Lisbon referendum

  • Irish MPs are to debate a report suggesting possibilities for a second referendum on the Lisbon treaty (Photo: EUobserver)

An Irish parliamentary committee is to debate a report arguing that a second referendum on the EU's Lisbon treaty is legally possible.

The draft report, first seen by the Irish Times, has been discussed in a private session by the Subcommittee on Ireland's Future in the EU and is due to be presented to the joint Committee on European Affairs on Thursday (27 November).

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It argues that a second poll on the EU's new reform treaty - following the debacle in June when the Irish voters rejected the document by a clear majority - would be preferable, suggesting a vote on the same text but accompanied by clarifying declarations on controversial issues.

One concrete issue of the kind likely to be considered is a protection of the country's neutrality. Parliamentarians argued that a new procedure should be set up to boost national decision-making powers regarding military-related matters.

Also, they would like to see in an attached declaration assurance that all member states keep their commissioner - if other European partners agree with the move.

Under the Lisbon treaty, EU member states would take turns at having a representative in the commission, meaning that once every 15 years, each country would be without a commissioner for a period of five years, as the number of commissioners is scheduled to be reduced from 27 to 18 as of 2014.

Earlier this month, Irish foreign minister Micheal Martin hinted that his government is in talks with other governments and EU officials on the issue of the composition of the bloc's executive.

But some insiders doubt this modification could be achieved, as it is one of the major elements of Lisbon's institutional reform and was introduced parallel to similar changes for other institutions, notably the European Parliament.

Under the Lisbon treaty, the new EU legislature will have 750 members instead of the current 785.

However, if the new parliament is elected according to the currently applied Nice Treaty in June, its size will be reduced to 732. In such a case, the new commission - due to be appointed later this year - should also have fewer than 27 members.

Julian Priestley, the parliament's former secretary general, believes that Ireland itself should face some "consequences" if there is no second referendum by mid-2009.

Speaking on Tuesday (25 November) at a debate on the next EU elections organised by the European Policy Center, he argued "it would be a mistake to get some kind of a fix around the clear provision of the Nice treaty."

Mr Priestley rejected the possibility of having 26 commissioners and to not count the president of the commission as part of the team, stressing that the EU should respect the provisions of whatever treaty is in force.

"If Ireland is the only country that hasn't ratified the Lisbon treaty and at least superficially prefers the Nice treaty, it should face the consequences of Nice and lose the commissioner," he concluded.

Waiting for the verdict on Lisbon

Meanwhile, Prague is expecting a verdict from the Czech constitutional court on whether the EU reform plan is in line with the Czech constitution after a heated exchange between the country's president and government officials in the courtroom on Tuesday (25 November).

The Czech Republic is the only country that has not yet voted on the Lisbon treaty. Despite this fact, the republic is preparing to take over the helm of the EU from France in January, when it assumes the six-month rotating EU presidency, and must then lead talks with Ireland on how to solve the institutional problem.

But top politicians in Prague are divided on the issue. While deputy prime minister Alexander Vondra praised the document and its improvements to the bloc's functioning, President Vaclav Klaus strongly criticised it at a public hearing.

He argued that the democratically elected institutions in the Czech Republic would be weakened and that key conditions for the country's EU membership - as stated when the citizens voted on entry in 2003 - would change due to the new treaty.

In a radio interview on Monday (24 November) President Klaus also indicated he might sign the treaty - if adopted by parliament - only after it is ratified in Ireland, echoing the stance of Poland's President Lech Kaczynski.

Meanwhile, Ireland's minister for European affairs, Dick Roche, told the Czech CTK news agency that a second referendum on the Lisbon treaty is "inevitable," adding that he hopes the whole process would not take more than a year.

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