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13th Apr 2024

EU mulls Lisbon Treaty sweeteners for Ireland

  • The Nice Treaty is tailored to no more than 27 member states (Photo: europa.eu)

As EU foreign ministers try to breathe life back into the Lisbon Treaty, the charter of institutional reforms rejected by Irish voters last week, Dublin is likely to be offered stronger guarantees in the sensitive areas of taxation, defence and family policies.

According to the Financial Times, "explanatory protocols" should explicitly state that the document does not affect Ireland's ability to set its own tax rates, the country's neutrality status or its abortion policy.

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Although the Lisbon Treaty does not undermine Irish powers in these three areas, they all featured prominently in the pre-referendum debate, with the No camp citing them as reasons to not support the document.

A similar solution was found in 2002 after Irish voters ditched the current Nice Treaty a year before.

Another solution being floated involves a legal assurance that Ireland will never lose its seat at the European Commission table, the Irish Times reports. The Lisbon Treaty enables EU leaders to put the reduction of the size of the commission on ice.

Either scenario is expected to be agreed at the first top-level meeting of EU leaders under the French EU presidency in October.

"The best is to find common ground with the Irish," Luxembourg's prime minister, Jean-Claude Juncker, was cited as saying by the FT. He added that the second best option would involve "enhanced co-operation in which Ireland would not take part and would not block the others."

The EU is not in a crisis, ministers say

But EU foreign ministers, kicking off a week of emergency talks on Monday (16 June), fell short of spelling out an official fix to the situation.

"In order to understand this referendum well, we need to take some time to reflect upon it, some time for analysis, for consultations and for studying of this problem," Dimitrij Rupel, speaking on behalf of the Slovene EU presidency, said after the meeting.

The Slovene foreign minister was quick to add that the European Union "is not in a crisis" and that the Lisbon Treaty "is still alive."

"I am convinced that sooner or later these reforms will see the light of day," Mr Rupel said, but stopped short of outlining a concrete way out of the deadlock. "How we will find a solution on the next step is another question."

Irish foreign minister Micheal Martin, for his part, also stressed that it was "far too early to start coming up with solutions." The thorny question is to be the main topic on the agenda when EU leaders meet in Brussels at the end of the week (19-20 June).

But whether it wants to confront the issue or not, the EU is likely to find itself under pressure to deal with practical consequences of the treaty rejection.

Irish No will not put brakes on EU enlargement

Aside from the size of the next European Commission - now capped by the current EU rules - a question mark hangs over the 27-nation bloc's capacity to absorb new members.

The Nice Treaty is tailored to no more than 27 member states.

When asked about the prospects of EU hopefuls' accession to the EU, Mr Rupel excluded any changes to the process.

"The outcome of the Irish referendum in no way changes enlargement policy...The EU unanimously decided to invited the countries of the Western Balkans to take membership so there is no doubt about that," the minister said, but added: "How we will carry that out that is another question."

Minister Rupel's line was quickly backed by EU enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn. The union "cannot take time out from [its] consolidated and carefully managed accession policy."

But not all politicians are singing from the same hymn sheet, with Germany's Angela Merkel spelling out some stark realities on her visit to Gdansk, Poland on Monday.

"We need this treaty in order to think about further EU enlargement," she said, Polish daily Rzeczpospolita reports. Speaking during a visit to the Czech Republic, French president Nicolas Sarkozy said: "In order to open up to the Balkans, to Croatia, we need the treaty of Lisbon."

Ms Merkel and Mr Tusk in Gdansk reiterated last week's call for the ratification process to continue, with the chancellor saying "I am sure we will develop a solution for Ireland."

But Polish media say German diplomats aired worries that the Irish No could spark fresh ratification problems in the UK, the Czech Republic and Poland, where the president, eurosceptic Lech Kaczynski, has yet to sign the text.

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