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Europe's powers banking on Ireland 'yes' vote to avert crisis

Video by Neale DICKSON , Hervé AMORIC


Latest update : 2009-10-01

Ireland's Prime Minister Brian Cowen (photo), a proponent of the Lisbon Treaty, is out campaigning for a "yes" vote ahead of Ireland's referendum. The faltering Irish economy may push voters toward ratification.

Reuters - Europe's big powers are banking on Irish voters backing reforms to make the European Union a stronger
player on the world stage and avert a crisis they fear could paralyse the 27-nation bloc.


Irish approval for the EU's Lisbon treaty in a referendum on Friday would clear an obstacle to streamlining decision-making and put pressure on the Polish and Czech presidents to follow other EU leaders by signing it into law.


Rejection could delay moves towards closer EU integration and enlargement, and undermine public and investor confidence, at least briefly hitting the euro currency.


"There's a sense it's going to be a 'Yes' vote," Hugo Brady, of the Centre for European Reform think-tank, told Reuters.


"A 'Yes' vote would allow the EU to improve the way it makes decisions, particularly in foreign policy," he added in a
research note. "A 'No' vote would lead to recrimination, policy paralysis and probably a freeze on further EU enlargement."


If the treaty is rejected, he said, leaders would be divided and distracted from urgent tasks such as responding effectively
to the global economic crisis and making a success of talks on a new global deal to combat climate change.


Plans to develop the EU could be frozen and the bloc could struggle to project itself as a global economic power. Investors
could sell off the euro because of uncertainty about Europe's future.


Opinion polls suggest Irish voters will back the Lisbon treaty, partly because many say being in the EU has helped
Ireland through the global economic crisis.


But leaders of EU states that have already backed the treaty are taking nothing for granted because Ireland has already
rejected it once, in June 2008, and are avoiding saying anything that might be seen as interference and cause a voter backlash.


"It's not all over yet," said Roland Freudenstein, a political analyst at the Centre for European Studies.

Fighting irrelevance


The Lisbon treaty was drawn up after Dutch and French voters rejected a draft EU constitution in 2005. It would supercede the Nice treaty, agreed in 2000 to help cope with enlargement.


If ratified by all EU states, the Lisbon treaty would amend voting rules to ease decision-making, which has become unwieldy following the accession of 12 countries since 2004.


It would also create two new posts -- a president of the European Council of EU states' leaders and a high representative for foreign affairs.


Even Irish support would not clear all obstacles to the treaty going into force because Polish President Lech Kaczynski and Czech President Vaclav Klaus have so far refused to sign it.


"A 'Yes' would in effect clear two obstacles, Ireland and Poland, because Kaczynski says he will sign the treaty if
Ireland backs it. Whether Klaus would then back it is less clear," Freudenstein said.


"If there's a 'No' vote, all dynamism would be lost. We'd talk ourselves into some kind of paralysis."


Klaus could try to hold out until Britain holds a parliamentary election next year which is expected to be won by the eurosceptic Conservative Party, his potential allies.


The EU could find other ways to push through reforms, just as it did after the draft constitution was rejected in 2005.


But the changes could be delayed for years at a time when unity is being sought to maintain Europe's influence in the new
world order that is taking shape following the economic crisis, giving China and other emerging powers more say.


"Europe is facing stark choices in today's interdependent world. Either we work together to rise to the challenges. Or we
condemn ourselves to irrelevance," Jose Manuel Barroso, the president of the executive European Commission, said this month.

Date created : 2009-09-29