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29th Mar 2020

Negotiations on Ireland's Lisbon guarantees continue

  • Workers' rights is proving to be a significant sticking point (Photo: EUobserver)

Negotiations on Ireland's guarantees on the EU Lisbon Treaty are going down to the wire with still no text on the table exactly a week before EU leaders are supposed to sign up to them.

EU ambassadors were meant to gather Thursday (11 June) to have a special meeting on the matter but agreeing wording that does not make any other member state jittery but keeps Ireland's electorate happy is proving more difficult than first thought.

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Ireland is looking for special guarantees on ethical issues, tax sovereignty and its neutral status. It wants them signed off by EU leaders at their summit next week and a commitment made to make them binding as quickly as possible.

The idea was to tack them on to the next available treaty - possibly Croatia's accession treaty - so that they could be ratified by national parliaments across the bloc.

However, member states fear this could open the door to a further delay in the getting the text ratified, particularly if anything in the text catches the idea of eurosceptic Czech President Vaclav Klaus.

The Czech president has already ruffled some Brussels feathers by refusing to sign off the treaty - the last act of ratification in the central EU member state - until the Irish have voted in their second referendum, due in October.

"What we definitely want to avoid a text that raises questions. We don't want him [Klaus] to say: 'that is an interesting new element, let's bring it before the constitutional committee'," said an EU diplomat.

But being wary of reopening the debate is also a key concern of Britain, where the opposition Conservatives want to overturn the treaty and of the Netherlands, which had to do some tricky manoeuvring to get the treaty through parliament, after Dutch voters rejected its predecessor, the EU constitution, in a 2004 referendum.

Bilateral discussions on the texts took place on Thursday and will continue on Friday (12 June).

The Irish, who have still not circulated a full text to member states, are intending to have one ready by Tuesday when there will be a meeting of government representatives from all 27 member states.

This is a "better option than having a patchwork of paragraphs," said an EU diplomat.

Dublin and the Czech EU presidency are hoping to get as complete as possible agreement on the texts on Tuesday.

All member states are trying to avoid a scenario where EU leaders are writing the texts when they meet at the end of the week.

"It is not a pretty sight to have prime ministers drafting texts," remarked one diplomat.

EU foreign ministers are meeting on Monday but Irish foreign minister Micheal Martin said ahead of the meeting that he did "not anticipate that [they] will engage in a lengthy discussion of the legal guarantees or the outcome of the European Council, as negotiations will be on-going at both official and political level."

"We have to be careful that in getting what we want, we do not upset procedures for others," said the minister, referring to the already-completed parliamentary ratification of the Lisbon Treaty in all other member states.

Of the three guarantees, the two on ethical issues and neutrality will be Ireland-specific. The tax guarantee will not.

In addition, there will be a declaration on the workers' rights. Although this will be non-binding, it is causing concern among several countries who want to make sure it strikes a balance between employee rights and the internal market.

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