June 14, 2008

Irish Objection Will Not Manage to Stall EU Juggernaut George Kerevan

By George Kerevan

WE ALREADY have an example of what happens when an EU treaty is rejected by the voters - very little. It is three years since the voters of France and the Netherlands upset the EU political apple cart by rejecting the original European Constitution. But the EU continued to function - as it will now the Irish electorate has sunk the "Son of the EU Constitution", otherwise known as the Lisbon Treaty.

The rationale for the Lisbon Treaty is that a union of 27 members (with more on the way) will seize up without new rules to simplify decision-making. In particular, without streamlined ways to take decisions by majority vote, any tiny member with a grievance can hold the EU to ransom.

However, during the last three years while the Lisbon Treaty has been in negotiation, the EU has continued to function perfectly adequately under its old rules: two new members have joined; the budget has been passed; agreement reached on a very ambitious policy on carbon reduction; three more counties have adopted the euro; and discussions have begun with Turkey about joining, despite opposition from some of the smaller existing member states.

What is unlikely to happen next is any move to re-write the EU Constitution yet again in order to get Irish agreement. The EU has just been through a protracted revision of the first version and no- one has the energy for another try. Besides, an Irish rejection is a very different matter from the French rejecting the Constitution. The big EU states are likely to consider the Irish rejection as a show of ingratitude by a politically marginal member.

The first suggestions coming out of Brussels are that the other 26 members - particularly the larger countries - will simply press on with ratifying the Lisbon Treaty. They may offer the Irish some further opt-outs to get rid of them and carry on regardless. If the Irish want to hold a referendum on these opt-outs, that would be seen as Dublin's problem.

There is one final option: for the EU to abandon plans for a comprehensive treaty and make much smaller-scale changes on a piecemeal basis. If the Irish problem cannot be ignored or made to go away, that is the likely direction. The Brussels juggernaut rarely stalls, it just finds another path.

The EU political leaders meet in Brussels for their annual summer summit next week. The Irish result will doubtless be at the top of the agenda.

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