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EU fears Irish rejection of Lisbon Treaty

Latest update : 2008-06-06

Ireland holds a referendum next Thursday on the Lisbon Treaty, with polls predicting a majority to vote "NO." this has Prime Minister Brian Cowen and EU leaders worried about the dire consequences. (Report: M.-N. Bauer/France 2)

A poll showing that the EU reform treaty could be rejected in an Irish referendum next week set alarm bells ringing in Dublin and Brussels on Friday.

An Irish Times/TNS mrbi poll showed a dramatic shift in public opinion with the "no" vote ahead for the first time in the campaign.

That led to Prime Minister Brian Cowen warning that a "no" vote for the Lisbon Treaty could endanger Ireland's slowing economy, and an anxious European Union urging the Irish electorate to turn out in high numbers for Thursday's vote.

The poll suggested that opponents of the treaty have doubled their support in the last three weeks, threatening a victory which could plunge the whole of the 27-country EU into turmoil.

Ireland is the only country holding a referendum on the treaty, which aims to streamline decision-making in a bloc that has expanded eastwards in recent years to embrace many former Communist nations.

But many Irish voters say they struggle to understand the complex treaty document, despite a vigorous "yes" campaign led by Cowen and backed by all but one of the country's main political parties.

The poll says 35 percent of respondents now intend to vote "no," compared with 30 percent in the "yes" camp. Some 28 percent are still undecided, while seven percent say they will not take part at all.

The Lisbon Treaty was thrashed out last year as a compromise after Dutch and French voters rejected a wider-ranging constitution for the EU and caused paralysis in the bloc.

Cowen, who took over as prime minister from Bertie Ahern last month, made a fresh plea for people to "enthusiastically vote yes."

He told Friday's Irish Independent newspaper that the treaty was designed to safeguard Ireland's once-booming economy that has recently shown clear signs of slowing down.

"It's about jobs. I mean, it's about trying to secure jobs. It's about finding means of growing the economy further," the former finance minister said.

"Having an effective union that's fit for purpose, that's meeting the modern challenges of economic and financial integration, (and) these bigger problems of climate change and cross-border crime.

"These are big issues that have to be dealt with cooperatively."

An anxious European Commission -- the EU's executive arm -- urged a high turn-out.

"If there is one thing that the commission wants to emphasise today, it is that it is very important for the Irish people to use their right to vote," said Johannes Laitenberger, spokesman for EU commission head Jose Manuel Barroso.

In 2001, Ireland sent shockwaves through the EU when it voted "no" to the Nice treaty on enlargement and institutional reform, but that decision was reversed in another referendum the following year after reassurances that Ireland's 80-year commitment to military neutrality would be honoured.

However, this time, as Irish Finance Minister Brian Lenihan said: "There isn't a Plan B. This is the Plan B."

He warned a "no" vote would do "incalculable damage" because "the signal we are sending to our biggest market is that we are not interested in it."

Declan Ganley, the multi-millionaire businessman who heads the anti-treaty Libertas group, said the poll was encouraging but "should be taken with a grain of salt."

"There are five full days of campaigning still to go in this campaign, and the referendum is still there for the taking by either side," he said.

Euro-MP Mary Lou McDonald, of Sinn Fein, the only mainstream party opposed to the treaty, insisted it could be negotiated if it is rejected.

"I believe the government can secure a better deal but I do accept it will require public pressure and a very strong mandate on June 12 to achieve that," she said.

In a sign of the sensitivity of the vote, EU nations abandoned talks Friday on making it easier to divorce, to avoid upsetting mainly Catholic Ireland.

EU justice commissioner Jacques Barrot said: "It just wasn't the right moment."

Date created : 2008-06-06