Mandelson urges Irish farmers to keep treaty and trade talks separate
By Honor Mahony
EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson has urged Irish farmers to refrain from linking next month's vote on the Lisbon Treaty to ongoing world trade talks.
"I don't think the Doha talks should get mixed up with the Lisbon Treaty or any referendum on it. Rejecting the treaty would not be in Ireland's interests, it wouldn't be in Europe's interests," said Mr Mandelson on Tuesday (6 May).
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The commissioner, who represents the EU in the global trade liberalisation negotiations known as the Doha talks, has come under increasing fire from Irish farmers, who say he will undermine their interests during the negotiations.
The Irish Farmers Association (IFA) has delivered up the threat of a No vote in next month's referendum to both the commissioner and the Irish government if their interests are not defended in the talks.
But the commissioner said the facts being bandied about in the debate are not always true. "The IFA are getting their facts wrong" said Mr Mandelson, suggesting that a "successful Doha deal" would mean a reduction in beef tariffs of 23 percent and not 70 percent "as some are suggesting."
He also indicated that Irish farmers have latched onto the WTO negotiations out of a general fear about the EU's planned reform of the CAP, from which Irish farmers have strongly benefitted for many years.
"Irish farming is probably one of the largest if not the largest per capita recipient of farm support in the EU, and that makes change inevitable as that farm support is reformed.
'What Doha enables us to do is to force others to make the same changes as we are choosing to do in Europe and to create an even playing field on which European farmers can compete."
The robust defence comes as Brussels officials are getting increasingly nervous about the prospects of a No to the EU treaty, amid regular reports about the negative stance of farmers, the apparent reluctance of trade unions to support the document and the No side's momentum in opinion polls.
For his part, Mr Mandelson, who on Tuesday promised that Irish farmers' "particular needs and interests" would be "accommodated" in the talks, has become something of a hate figure in certain sectors of Irish society.
Last month, the anti-treaty Libertas group launched its 'No' campaign with large posters of the commissioner saying: "Say 'no' to Mandelson's Europe," while the IFA took out ads in newspapers with the slogan: "Stop Mandelson WTO sell-out."
All member states have to ratify the EU treaty for it to come into force. Only Ireland is to have a referendum on the document, planned for 12 June.