Monday

18th Feb 2019

Opinion

After the Irish said No

  • There is nothing undemocratic about a new referendum (Photo: EUobserver)

Ireland has said "No", but there are 26 other member states whose opinion matters too.

It is inconceivable that all of the others will simply say "too bad - one country has said ‘No' to the package as it stands, so let's forget reform and stick with the current system for evermore."

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All member states want reform. Even the ‘No' campaigners in Ireland claimed they want to negotiate a better package.

So, what is to be done? First, Ireland must have a profound internal debate to identify precisely what it is they don't like about the Lisbon Treaty. Presumably it is not the extra powers for parliaments, nor the clearer focus on combating climate change, but some other aspects. If they can identify what those are, then they can ask the other member states for help in addressing their concerns.

Like Denmark

This, after all, is precisely what Denmark did after their initial rejection of the Maastricht Treaty. They said to the rest of Europe that they didn't want to blow up the whole edifice, but that they would come back with proposals to find a way out.

They identified four items in the Maastricht package that they didn't like, the other member states were able to meet their concerns (without, by the way, needing to change the treaty to do so) and Denmark then approved the treaty by a comfortable majority in a new referendum.

Several concerns raised in the Irish debate can easily be met, not least because they were unjustified fears.

The treaty does not affect Ireland's abortion laws, it does not change their ability to set their tax rates, it does not oblige them to send troops to a European army and it does not change the EU's negotiating stance on agriculture on the WTO.

Such fears can be assuaged without needing to change the treaty, by clarifying declarations or, if necessary, additional protocols.

Loss of a Commissioner

Other concerns might be more difficult. The loss of an Irish Commissioner (for one Commission out of three, as of 2014, as for every member state) was an issue, but special treatment for Ireland would be difficult.

After all, they and the other small countries were victorious on that point in the negotiations on the treaty in ensuring equal rotation, irrespective of the size of countries.

Note that the current treaties, if left unamended, would anyway require a smaller Commission - but without an agreed rotation system and already in 2009.

Whatever the issues are, it should not be impossible to address the bulk of Irish concerns.

If this can be done without having to alter the treaty - which would require a new IGC and renewed ratification in all the counties (now nearly 20) that have ratified already - then so much the better.

New referendum

Nor should we accept the bleating from Eurosceptics that there is somehow something undemocratic about a new referendum.

It is perfectly reasonable to address a divergence in the positions of the 27 EU countries by asking the minority of one to think again - especially if its concerns have been addressed. What would be undemocratic would be to allow the one to prevail over the many.

Of course, no-one relishes the prospect of still more debate and negotiation on the minutiae of the composition and functioning of the EU institutions.

Achieving a solution acceptable to all 27 countries may not be easy. But an even worse solution would be to abandon all reform.

A poorly functioning EU, failing to deliver on behalf of its citizens, is in no-one's interest.

Sweeping the necessary reforms under the carpet because you can't even be bothered to explore the possibility for a compromise would do nobody any favours.

The author is a UK Labour MEP

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