The Irish Lisbon revote: in 9 months, 15 months, or never

Nicolas Sarkozy is going to Dublin for a few hours on Monday.  Going by the Elysee website, his agenda for Barack Obama’s visit on Wednesday is far clearer than for his visit to Ireland.   On what is ostensibly a listening tour to understand the reasons for Ireland’s rejection of the Lisbon treaty, the signals are already strong that he is there to urge a second referendum on the Treaty if Ireland wants to continue participate as an equal with the 26 other EU member states.  But the timing of the revote is tricky.  Here is the key answer given by him to the Irish Times (responses to written submitted questions) —

I said that I wanted to be able to propose a solution or at least a method during the October or December European Council meeting. Why? Not to impose a timetable on anyone, but simply because Europeans need to know on what basis they will be electing their representatives to the European Parliament. These elections will be held in June 2009 and need to be organised several months in advance. We cannot ignore this constraint which binds us all: whether the Nice Treaty remains in effect or the Lisbon Treaty enters into force, we must elect a new Parliament in June 2009 and appoint a new Commission in October of the same year. We will need to know a little in advance under which legal system, Nice or Lisbon, we will be making these decisions. It is the role of the Presidency to prepare to meet these deadlines; naturally we will respect the Irish vote in so doing.

In other words, he expects (not unreasonably) that people need to know under what basis they are electing a European Parliament next year, meaning that whether it’s the Nice or Lisbon Treaty would need to be clarified by Spring, and governments need to know under what basis a European Commission is being selected, meaning by Autumn 2009.  Thus in his view, these are the two windows within which Lisbon can be reconsidered, otherwise Nice remains the institutional framework.

The implicit contingency is that if Ireland can’t or won’t have a referendum on either of those dates, then the post-2009 options are bleak.  Croatia and other aspiring EU members would then have to be admitted, in theory, under Nice rules, but with the big EU powers having already declared that the EU can’t be run on a further enlarged basis under Nice.  And by that time, it’s likely that 25 or 26 countries will have ratified Lisbon and will perhaps wonder why they can’t run the Union under those rules. 

So Ireland will get a two part message: ratify Lisbon before the next Commission is nominated, and preferably before the European elections, and you get to keep your commissioner and we all quickly forget this messy business.  Or stall all the way through next year and expect to be increasingly out in the cold from then on. 

As this Irish Times analysis accompanying the Sarko interview explains, the Irish government would much prefer an Autumn 2009 referendum, because a Spring referendum will generate momentum for the No parties into the June European Parliament elections.  But if they feel that a referendum can’t be won at all, the options are either a parliamentary ratification, which will inflame No voters, or the undiscovered country of a 26+1 EU.  Let’s hope Sarko is on his best behaviour on Monday.  Maybe he should bring Carla.

12 thoughts on “The Irish Lisbon revote: in 9 months, 15 months, or never

  1. But if they feel that a referendum can’t be won at all, the options are either a parliamentary ratification, which will inflame No voters, or the undiscovered country of a 26+1 EU.

    The notion of ignoring the electorate and pushing the Treaty through the Oireachtas (Irish parliament) regardless seems to have struck a chord in the Irish Times (see here and here). It doesn’t particularly surprise me that Gay Mitchell (of Dublin Olympics fame) would think it a good idea as well.

    It would inflame more than just No voters, however. Whatever one thinks of the the Lisbon Treaty (disclaimer: I voted Yes), it was a clear enough decision on what was, by Irish referendum standards, a reasonably high turnout.

    A parliamentary ratification would essentially tell the electorate that their democratically-expressed opinion is irrelevant, and that our political class will do whatever it pleases regardless. I’m not sure that all Yes voters are so ideologically committed to Europeanism that they would be supportive of that kind of message.

    It would, to put it very mildly, be asking for trouble at the following general election for any political party that supported it. The electorate are unlikely to be in a happy place even as things stand given the economic downturn ahead.

    In any case, the speculation is moot. Whatever one thinks of Fianna Fáil (and I know, P, that you are not a fan), they are not politically suicidal. The noises coming from Labour and from the likes of Marian Harkin (see here) also indicate that they see what way the wind is blowing.

    The more enthusiastic partisans on the Yes side might want to wind their necks in for a while.

  2. What many do not understand is that when the EU talks about “Ireland” having to deal with ‘the problem’ they are not talking about the people but the political class, which is fully on-side with what the EU wants. What the EU is saying is: “this has to happen, you have to deliver”. The Irish political class is obviously working to try and find a way of getting the voters to agree to give the ‘right’ result as soon as possible. Put simply, they have to find a way of terrifying them into sonmething or spinning a new referendum as if it were about something that has been meaningfully altered for the Irish electorate (when it will not have been). They are up against a tight deadline because they have to stage the referendum before March 2009. The EU has already agreed with Ireland a deadline – October to decide what to do. March to implement it. They will all present the discussions in the compliant Irish media as “game set and match” to the plucky Irish who will have “extracted major concessions” and EU leaders will nod their heads and say “they’ve wrung us dry, they’ve done you proud”…but it all won’t amount to a hill of beans because the Irish politicians cynically don’t care about concessions, only spin and only ramming the new arrangements home as fast as possible.

  3. Why even hold a referendum in the first place if the Irish will be politically coerced in accepting the treaty in the end anyway? What if they do hold a second referendum in order to meet the deadlines and they again vote no? Is it the fault of the Irish that the average “voter” did not understand what the treaty stood for or is it the fault of the Commission who seemed to have left the Irish government in the cold at the end?

    I mean granted the voter turnout was about 40%, on par or perhaps a little lower than what the average voter turnout for the European Parliament elections usually are. But I suppose it is important to inform the voters in what environment they are voting in, considering that everyone understands what these treaties mean in the first place.

  4. Damian’s tour d’ horizon, is spot on. The clique who control the European project do not want the Lisbon Treaty to be an issue in the june european parliamentary elections. Already eurocseptic groups in France and elsewhere are planning to turn these elections into the referendum on Lisbon they were denied. As long as Ireland is not a part of the Libson grouping it will leave the door open for a 2 speed europe that may prove attractive. Cameron will be under pressure to follow the Irish lead.
    Don’t hold your breath though!

  5. I am an indigenous Irishman, but I have to say; I wish people would realize that the Irish NO vote was nothing more than a belligerent, chip on the shoulder expression of general unhappiness in Ireland. Discussions regarding the Treaty in the Irish media prior to the vote were ridiculously uninformed. Most people voted NO because it is the Irish Catholic thing to do and most definitely not because of any deeply considered views!!

    But even in this article we read of the possibility of Ireland being allowed to retain a Commissioner; don’t you all realize that Commissioners swear an oath to the EU – they are defenders of the Treaties and as such can do less for their own countries individually that any other EU servant! It was and remains a pointless consideration (other than the possibility of having a good national politician out of commission at home, so to speak;)

  6. @Chris:
    The turnout was actually north of <a href=””53%, which is more than respectable for a referendum in Ireland, comparing favourably with Nice II (49%) and Nice I (34%). The Irish electoral register is a bit shambolic, so these reported turnout figures are probably lower than the actual turnout. This is probably the main reason the Government is lukewarm about a rerun – the expectation is it would be lost again. With economic indicators all pointing downwards, people will be in the mood to give the Government a good kicking in 2009. I think Lisbon is dead and that we’re still in the denial stage.

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  8. In God we trust says a dollar bill.

    The economy has suffered here in Dublin too in the Emerald Island.

    I hope the green party does not abandon us as then FF will be left. The better join up with Labour and Socialist party before more marches in the street.

    The FAI (farmers Association are marching next week), yesterday (parents), previous week (pensioners). What has become of Eamon De Valera’s idea of the nanny state or is it a state that does not care about her children?

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