Irish government embarrassed by leaked EU treaty email
By Honor Mahony
German chancellor Angela Merkel has called on Irish voters to back the EU treaty on the same day that the Irish government was embarrassed by a leaked email outlining what a UK diplomat says is Dublin's strategy for holding and winning a referendum.
In a state visit to Ireland, the only country to hold a public poll on the treaty, Ms Merkel on Monday (14 April), said "To my mind, the Lisbon treaty offers the best preparation for Europe's future."
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"To the sceptics, I can only say that if everything remains as it is now, your concerns will definitely not be better addressed," she told the National Forum on Europe.
Ms Merkel also reassured Ireland, as a small country, that it will have an equal seat at the EU table noting that the new majority voting system in the treaty "is actually more of a problem for the bigger states."
During her visit the Irish government was forced to contend with a story in the Irish Daily Mail which gives details of an email sent by a British official based in Dublin after a briefing by a civil servant in the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs.
According to the article, the email says that the Irish government had ruled out having a referendum in October although it would have been better procedurally because they were concerned about "unhelpful developments during the French presidency – particularly related to EU defence."
The email noted that French president Sarkozy was considered "completely unpredictable."
The defence issue is extremely sensitive in neutral Ireland. Irish voters rejected the EU's Nice Treaty in 2000 largely on the back of a heated debate about neutrality and European defence issues.
The email also alluded to what has been quietly admitted in Brussels since the beginning of the year – that much of EU politics has been put on hold until after the Irish referendum, scheduled to take place on 12 June.
It said that EU communications commissioner Margot Wallstrom had reassured foreign minister Dermot Ahern during a visit to Dublin earlier this Spring that the "commission was willing to tone down or delay messages that might be unhelpful."
Reacting to the article, prime minister Bertie Ahern denied there had been any strategy on Brussels' part.
"On the article today, of course officials from Foreign Affairs, and my department as well, meet our European colleagues on a very regular basis, but the suggestion that Europe will somehow deliberately change announcements ahead of the referendum is without any foundation," he said, according to the Irish Times.
The leaked email – which was not reproduced in full in the newspaper article – has been seized upon by 'no' campaigners.
Declan Ganley, chair of anti-treaty organisation Libertas, said that the most damning part of the email "was the admission that the Government hoped that very few people would actually read the text of the Treaty, and would simply vote with the politicians they trust."
The revelation also came on the same day that a new poll showed that the treaty remains an enigma to most Irish voters.
Some 65 percent of the 1001 people surveyed by the Irish Sun said they had very little or no understanding of the treaty, 28 percent claimed to have some understanding while 6 percent said they fully understood it.
Meanwhile, 60 percent do not know how they will vote on the treaty while 28 percent said they were planning to vote in favour and 12 percent against.
But the same poll also confirmed what has regularly been shown by EU-wide surveys – that Irish voters are the most positive about effects of the European Union. Some 89 percent surveyed said membership of the bloc had been good for the country.