Experts fear another Irish 'no' would erode EU's power

Ireland votes Friday in a referendum on ratification of the controversial Lisbon Treaty. If it votes "no" again, as it did in 2008, some say this could, in the long run, erode the European Union's power.


On Friday, Ireland heads to the polls to vote in a referendum that will determine whether the nation will ratify the controversial Lisbon Treaty — already ratified by 24 of the 27 member states of the European Union.

Ireland is the only EU country constitutionally obliged to put the treaty to a referendum. If it votes no again — as it did in 2008 — some say this could, in the long run, erode the EU's power.

On Thursday, voting kicked off in five Atlantic Ocean islands, which start early in case weather delays the transportation of the ballot boxes to the mainland, while eight islands off western County Mayo and County Galway also cast their ballot.

No third referendum

Peadar O'Broin, senior researcher at the Institute of International and European Affairs in Dublin, told France 24: “If Ireland votes no, the Lisbon Treaty is finished. There is no question of a third referendum.”

Ireland held the first referendum on June 12, 2008, with 53% of voters ticking the “no” box – thus, Ireland did not sign. The reasons were many, but the thrust was that many felt the treaty compromised Irish sovereignty.

Europe's big powers fear a “no” vote could paralyse the EU.

If Ireland votes “no” for the second time, this may not just mean the end of the Treaty, said O'Broin. “The EU won’t dissolve overnight. It’s designed to keep the show on the road. You will still have the European Council and the euro.”

The damage, he said, will be in the long term. First, Poland and the Czech Republic have stated that they are inclined to pull out of the treaty if Ireland votes no. Poland and the Czech Republic, he said, “will see it as the EU bullying the small countries, and their presidents are eurosceptics.”

O'Broin goes so far as to envision a Europe in the distant future in which the EU loses its global clout. He sees the possibility that geographical blocs — “perhaps an Eastern bloc, a G6 and a Mediterranean Union” — will become more important.

The changes

Since the 2008 referendum, the EU states worked out a compromise to accommodate some of Ireland’s concerns.

The treaty itself remains unaltered, as a change in the language of the treaty would require all nations to re-ratify it. Rather, the changes are reflected in addenda, which, according to an EU statement, give “legal guarantee that certain matters of concern to the Irish people will be unaffected by the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon.”

These measures include a clarification that Ireland would be completely autonomous on decisions about sensitive issues like the protection of the right to life and family policy, and that Ireland would keep a fixed commissioner in Brussels rather than entering a rotation.

Will the outcome be different this time?

According to O’Broin, Ireland will likely vote “yes, but more out of fear”. The collapsed Irish economy and high unemployment may have Ireland unwilling to rock the boat.

Prime Minister Brian Cowen warned ahead of Friday’s vote that another rejection would damage Irish hopes of reversing its sharp recession.

The main difference between this referendum and the previous one is that in 2008, said O Broin, most people did not really know the issues.

“They were asking people to vote on a legal text,” said O'Broin. “You don’t lead by trying to communicate what every semicolon means.”

This time, however, the vote is more “emotional”, he added.

Opinion poll results suggest the vote will be “yes”. The latest survey on Sunday put support for the treaty at 55 percent, compared to 27 percent who said they were planning to vote against it.

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