Thursday

1st Dec 2022

Irish vote unleashes flurry of EU activity

Ireland's strong support for the EU treaty in its second referendum has sparked widespread relief in Brussels as well as a flurry of activity as European politicians consider the next moves for complete ratification of the treaty.

"Thank you Ireland! It's a great day for Ireland; it's a great day for Europe," said European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso, noticeably sporting a green tie.

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  • Irish voters reversing their referendum vote of last year (Photo: Conor McCabe/Jason Clarke)

Fredrik Reinfeldt, Swedish leader and currently head of the EU, congratulated Irish voters on the result after all the "uncertainty and hard work."

"The Irish people have spoken with a clear and resounding voice," said a relieved Irish prime minister, Brian Cowen, the fate of whose unpopular coalition government was linked to the outcome of the treaty vote.

He called the Irish vote a "declaration of intent to remain at the heart of Europe."

The final vote showed that 67.1 percent voted in favour of the new rules while 32.9 percent voted against, a 20 percent swing to the Yes side, when compared to the country's rejection of the EU treaty last year. Turnout was 58 percent.

With the vote now in the bag, the focus has already switched to the practicalities of implementing the Lisbon Treaty and particularly to the presidents of Poland and the Czech Republic.

Their signatures under the treaty, which has already been passed in the parliaments in Warsaw and Prague, are needed for the new rules to come into force across the 27 nation club.

Polish President Lech Kaczynski's office has already indicated that he will sign the document soon leaving his Czech counterpart Vaclav Klaus as the likely biggest opponent to the treaty.

The pressure has already started to get him to sign. Mr Barroso said "our member states have practically approved the Lisbon Treaty" before adding that he thought that Mr Klaus would sign the Treaty "in the end."

Mr Reinfeldt, for his part, said he had managed to speak to many European leaders on Saturday but not Mr Klaus. "I have tried to reach him, but it has not been possible."

What next?

The Czech president's delay affects a series of other decisions including the formation of the new commission, whose term expires at the end of the month and the appointment of the beefed-up EU foreign policy chief and permanent president of the European Council, new posts created by the treaty.

Mr Barroso said that as soon as the treaty is ready he would "be ready to form a new commission." But both the current commission's term as well as the current EU foreign policy chief's term can be extended if needed, said Mr Reinfeldt.

"It [the commission's mandate] can be prolonged after 1 November. It has happened on earlier occasions. One should also keep in mind that the high representative, who we have for the time being, [Javier] Solana, has a mandate that expires on 17 October. So also in his case there could be a continuation."

Mr Barroso, Mr Reinfeldt and the Czech prime minister Jan Fischer will meet in Brussels on Wednesday to decide the next steps and discuss the situation with MEPs.

Swedish Europe minister Cecilia Malmstrom is to be dispatched to Prague on Wednesday to "assess the situation."

Mr Klaus, meanwhile, said he thought it was "wrong" that the Irish had voted to give the EU the "right answer," although he said that it "rests" for him "to respect the outcome."

He added: "But my signature is not the order of the day. I will wait for the Constitutional Court's verdict."

Czech senators handed a complaint to the court about the treaty last week. The court is expected in three weeks' time to set a date for a public hearing on the case. The hearing is likely to take place towards the end of November.

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