18th Oct 2021

Uncertainty over legal format of Irish Lisbon guarantees

  • Ireland is struggling to get all member states to accept legally binding protocols to be enshrined in EU law (Photo: EUobserver)

EU foreign ministers discussed the legal guarantees being sought by the Irish government on the Lisbon Treaty on Monday (15 June) but disagreement remains over how they will be presented.

The Irish government is keen that the legal guarantees in the areas of taxation, neutrality and social affairs be attached as protocols to the next available treaty – possible Croatia's accession treaty – and then ratified by all member states, enshrining the guarantees into European law.

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However some member states – such as the UK – fear this could reopen the domestic debate on the Lisbon Treaty. They are instead pushing for a legal declaration from EU leaders at a European Council later this week (18-19 June).

Czech European Affairs Minister Stefan Fule confirmed on Monday that a number of details related to the guarantees – including their "legal form" – needed further discussion.

Member state ambassadors to the EU will attempt to iron out as many of the remaining issues as possible when they meet on Tuesday, in order to: "ensure a smooth passage for the required guarantees during the European council," said Mr Fule.

"Very good progress has been made and we are well on track to reach agreement at this week's European Council," he said. "Reaching consensus this week is important not only for Ireland but for the whole of Europe."

Speaking to journalists after the meeting, Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin said the response to the draft texts "has been very positive so far" and that he was "quietly confident" that Ireland would secure the legally binding guarantees it was seeking.

Different concerns

The Irish government is keen to come away from this week's meeting of EU leaders with enough to convince Irish voters to back the treaty in a second referendum likely to take place in September or October.

A majority of Irish voters rejected the Lisbon Treaty in a referendum last June while all other member states ratified the document via national parliaments.

However recent polls in the country suggest public opinion is now in favour of the treaty, with the change of heart largely attributed to the financial crisis and subsequent recession that have hit the small, open economy particularly badly.

Other member state governments insist the wording of the Irish guarantees must not create unwanted complications in their own constituencies.

"The red line will be not to open the ratification of the Lisbon treaty and not to go beyond what was agreed at the December European summit," said Mr Fule on Monday.

An EU official close to negotiations said bilateral discussions in recent weeks had helped ease a lot of member state concerns related to the guarantees, and that these tended to vary from country to country.

"The text of the legal guarantee on neutrality and defence issues has been of particular interest to other neutral member states. The text on the declaration of workers rights has been of interest to a lot of member states as well," the official said.

Ireland is also issuing a non-binding declaration on workers' rights.

The legal guarantees on neutrality and social affairs are intended to be Irish specific, addressing concerns over abortion and a threat to Ireland's traditional position of neutrality amongst other issues.

"The Treaty of Lisbon does not provide for the creation of a European army or for conscription to any military formation," says a draft copy of the guarantees.

"It does not affect the right of Ireland or any other member state to determine the nature and volume of its defence and security expenditure and the nature of its defence capabilities."

The guarantee on taxation relates to all member states. "Nothing in the Treaty of Lisbon makes any change of any kind for any Member State, to the extent or operation of the competence of the European Union in relation to taxation," says the draft.

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