Wednesday, 18 June 2008

EU fumbles for grounds to justify second Irish vote

Update (13:46): Open Europe blogs that the Commission has only given the results of this poll out to selected journalists and have not published full details of questions asked. So the integrity of the poll can't be scrutinised.

As OE concludes, "It's a reminder that the European Commission is not just a civil service, but a campaign group".


The Daily Telegraph's Bruno Waterfield reveals on his blog that the EU is already moving to determine exactly what it will take to buy off a sufficient proportion of 'No' voters to win a second Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

Such a move would completely contradict everything key figures in Ireland have said about the prospect of a second vote. But politicians saying one thing and doing another on the EU treaty issue wouldn't exactly be a shocking development to us here in Britain.

The EU's poll reportedly finds that 75% of 'No' voters "believe the Irish government can renegotiate exceptions", but this is hardly surprising. After all, that's exactly what happened the last time the Irish people said 'No' to an EU treaty, back in 2001.

The key question for the EU is whether any possible exceptions would be enough to gain public approval for Lisbon in a referendum re-run.

Key concerns

Questions around the treaty's influence on family law (abortion, gay marriage, euthanasia) and military neutrality may be easy to deal with through straightforward 'clarifications', in particular about the influence of the European Court of Justice in conjunction with the EU's so-called Charter of Fundamental Rights.

But those who hold concerns on these fronts may not be concerned about the EU's influence over these issues alone, so 'clarifying' these may not necessarily bring everyone who rates these issues into the 'Yes' camp.

Questions around taxation may prove trickier to divert, as France is obviously keen to push forward with 'harmonised' business taxes during its forthcoming 6-month EU presidency - a particular issue for Ireland, with its advantageous low rate of corporation tax.

The French are unlikely to want to give one of the key targets of such legislation a clear exclusion.

Harder still will be evidently strong concerns about the effect on Irish influence of changes to the EU's chief decision-making institutions, such as the loss of an Irish Commissioner and a cut in voting strength in the Council of Ministers.

These were institutional deals reached only after tortuous and complex negotiations, and special treatment for Ireland would be very difficult to secure.

So the EU is unlikely to want to reopen such negotiations. Yet, as we reported on Saturday, and this new poll confirms, questions of power and identity loom large in the reasons people voted 'No'.

Young oppose treaty

A cause of particular alarm for the EU in the poll's findings was obviously that there were many more 'No' voters than 'Yes' voters among young people aged 15-29.

More future-thinking than any age group, it's surely no surprise that few see it as sensible to cling to out-dated centralisation ideas of a century past. "Factor 2 to 1. Very Serious!”, the poll report says.

And of course we get the usual EU focus on those ("40%") who said they 'didn't understand' or 'weren't familiar' with the treaty. As if the massed ranks of Ireland's political, business, media and cultural establishment plus a massive financial advantage for the 'Yes' campaigners wasn't enough to 'inform' people of the treaty's alleged benefits.

Nevertheless, we're used to such findings being trumpeted by the EU simply to justify splashing even more public cash on more pro-EU propaganda.

A second 'No' vote would be utterly devastating for the EU as we know it today, and this poll appears to provide little comfort for the EU that this would not be the outcome of forcing the Irish people to vote again.

No comments: