13th Aug 2020

MEPs in passionate war of words over Irish No

Supporters and opponents of the Lisbon Treaty in the European Parliament have crossed rhetorical swords in a debate over the consequences of Ireland's No to the document, with several Irish MEPs saying their country alone cannot decide for the whole bloc.

After the Irish rejection featured in several diverse discussions throughout this week's plenary session in Strasbourg, the assembly held a debate dedicated exclusively to the issue on Wednesday (18 June).

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With all eyes on the EU leaders' summit in Brussels on Thursday, Janez Lenarcic, secretary of state for European affairs for Slovenia, currently chairing the 27-strong bloc, told MEPs that the continued ratification of the treaty looks likely to be supported by all participants at the top-level meeting.

"The presidency has held talks with countries which have not yet ratified the treaty, and it is quite encouraging to see that those countries are ready to continue the ratification process," said Mr Lenarcic.

The same approach was advocated by the European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, who argued that the energy the EU had put in to drawing up its internal reform "cannot go to waste."

"I do not think that we can rush into a premature decision about the next step. We need to take the time to find a real consensus and see what is possible for Ireland. But equally we should not take too long," said Mr Barroso.

EU nationalism?

But the idea of a possible re-run of the vote - with some deputies suggesting it should be before the June 2009 elections to the EU assembly - met with strong opposition from critics of the treaty.

"You ignore the voters, you are destroying democracy, and you have shown that you will stop at nothing," said Nigel Farage, head of the UK Independence Party, accusing mainstream politicians of creating a "new phenomenon" he termed "EU nationalism", which he went on to characterise as "the most dangerous political phenomenon to have swept Europe since 1945."

His statement was applauded by several eurosceptic deputies, wearing green T-shirts and holding posters urging their colleagues to "Respect the Irish vote."

But their staged protest sparked anger, particularly among some Irish MEPs. Centre-right deputy Avril Doyle commented that support from Britons over respecting the Irish vote was rather late.

"How things could have been different if only our British colleagues had come to this conclusion a century ago."

Brian Crowley, an Irish MEP from the rightist UEN group argued that while Ireland's vote should be respected, "we must also respect the wish of other countries if they want to move forward in the EU integration. It is not up to us to dictate to anybody," he noted.

Some other Irish parliamentarians criticised foreign campaigners from the No camp for distributing "lies" among the Irish voters, including that the Lisbon Treaty would introduce euthanasia or weaken the ban on abortion in the prevailingly Catholic country.

Pro-Europeans have lost passion

Head of the Socialists, German MEP Martin Schultz, said that the events in Ireland show that pro-Europeans have fallen behind in showing support for the EU project.

"Anti-Europe camp has got a soul," he said, adding that what used to be "passion" for Europe at the earlier stages of EU integration has "now emigrated to the other camp."

Mr Barroso blamed national governments for tending to treat Europe and EU institutions as "convenient scapegoats" for negative developments, which he said "leaves fertile grounds for populist policies."

But he defended Irish commissioner Charlie McCreevy who had been criticised by Mr Schulz for widely proclaiming that he had not read the Lisbon treaty.

Mr Barroso said that while he viewed his colleague's comments on his lack of knowledge of Lisbon Treaty as "not particularly fortunate", Mr McCreevy should not be singled out for criticism.

"It would not be a good way to foster a good dialogue with our Irish friends," said Mr Barroso, pointing out that the document was backed by Mr McCreevy's constituency in Ireland, where he personally went to promote it.


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