22nd Feb 2019

France warns Ireland on EU treaty 'No' vote

  • A possible 'no' by Irish voters is viewed with incomprenension in some member states (Photo: EUobserver)

French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner has warned Ireland about the consequences of voting "No" in Thursday's referendum, saying the Irish would be the "first victim" if they reject the EU treaty.

Speaking on France's RTL radio, Mr Kouchner said that a "No" vote would be met by "gigantic incomprehension" in the rest of Europe.

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Mr Kouchner alluded to the Irish being ungrateful about what the country has received from the EU since its membership in 1973.

Ireland has strongly benefitted from EU farm aid and structural aid over the years and has managed to turn itself into one of the most prosperous member states in the EU.

With the latest poll showing only a narrow gap between the "Yes" and the "No" side, politicians in larger member states particularly cannot understand why the treaty may be defeated.

"I believe the first victim of an eventual no would be the Irish. They have benefitted more than others," said Mr Kouchner.

"Yes, they're not happy because maybe nobody told them that Europe is confronting the rest of the world and that to have advantages for themselves, for the Irish...well, Europe has to develop, has to go in the direction of the Treaty of Lisbon," he said.

"It would be very, very, very troubling...that we could not count on the Irish, who themselves have counted a lot on Europe's money,"

The comments are the most outspoken from such a high-ranking politician on the issue, with member states so far careful not to be seen as interfering in Ireland's vote.

Referring to a rejection of the treaty - which needs to be ratified by all member states to come into force - Mr Kouchner said this was "beginning to be envisaged" almost everywhere.

But he said that France, which holds the EU's six-month rotating presidency from July, would continue with implementation of the treaty anyway while trying to persuade Ireland, which already voted twice on the bloc's Nice Treaty, to "put this treaty back on the drawing board."

His comments mirror those of French Green MEP Daniel Cohn-Bendit who told Le Monde on Monday "Why say yes to something that forces them to share what they get with the new EU members from Eastern Europe? The basic reaction is to protect one's own interests."

"A referendum must have consequences: if we say 'No', we leave Europe," he added.

Ireland is the only country to vote on the EU treaty and is feeling the strong pressure from the rest of Europe to secure a "Yes" vote. All the main political parties support the charter but the outcome is likely to hinge on turnout, with a low voter show at the ballot box aiding the anti-treaty camp.

Voting has already started in some part of the country on Monday. Five islands – with a total electorate of 745 people – off the coast of County Donegal traditionally vote early to avoid bad weather delay. The defence forces voted by post last week.

The main polls close at 10 pm on Thursday (12 June), but ballot counting will take place the next day.

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