Next Referendum: inside Europe, or out?

Fintan asked yesterday, and Mary Lou replied today (subs needed). She won’t be going to renegotiate a new treaty for the Republic with Europe. But she has a drawn up a list that’s more remarkable for its length than its detail. I won’t comment on them directly, other than to note that since the Republic has already assented to the change from the first thing on the list (all countries to retain a Commissioner) in the Nice Treaty, it is unlikely that any Irish government will make headway on that particular aspect.

• The retention of a permanent commissioner for all member states;

• The retention of the Nice Treaty formulae for qualified majority voting;

• The removal of all eight self-amending articles including the simplified revision procedure in Article 48;

• The removal of Article 46a giving the EU a single legal personality;

• A strengthened protocol on the role of member state parliaments;

• A significantly expanded protocol on the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality including the aims and values of the EU;

• Substantial amendments to aspects of the Common Foreign and Security Policy;

• Substantial amendments to the section of Common Defence and Security Policy;

• A new protocol on neutrality;

• A strengthened social clause;

• A substantially revised protocol on vital public services;

• Amendments to articles dealing with public services and state aid;

• The inclusion of the European Trade Union Confederation Social Progress Clause to protect workers’ rights;

• A protocol on Irish tax sovereignty;

• Substantial amendments on Article 188 dealing with international trade agreements including a cast-iron veto on mixed World Trade Organisation agreements;

• A new protocol ending Ireland’s participation in the European Atomic Energy Community;

• A series of amendments to Articles 10 and 188 promoting the needs of the developing world in the context of international trade.

She concludes:

Politics is the art of the possible. When entering any negotiation one must be both ambitious and realistic. Crucially, you must gather around you as much support as you can, both domestically and in other member states, to secure the most advantageous outcome.

Fair enough. Although, there is a touch of the back seat driver about all of this, since Sinn Fein won’t have any responsibility for pulling it off. It’s one of the few blessings of being in opposition.

However Wolfgang Munchau had a fascinating take on the possible outworkings of the current situation:

The No vote leaves the country with exactly two alternatives. One is a humiliating U-turn, consisting of a Yes vote in a second referendum without a material change of circumstances. The other is that Ireland could lose its full EU membership if the second referendum produces another No victory.

At the time I read it was sceptical of that second clause. But as Bridget Laffan notes in today’s Irish Times that possibility is real enough. She outlines two possible scenarios. The first a referendum, which she rules out in the short term at least. The second is a more detailed explanation of the scenario Munchau has in mind if all the other states ratify the treaty. In which case:

…the treaty will apply to 26 states with a bilateral treaty setting out Ireland’s relations to the 26. Just how this will be accomplished is far from clear but the Union has long experience of accommodating those states that want or need special arrangements.

The existing Union is replete with “opt-in” and “opt-out” clauses. This would deliver Ireland into a second tier of EU engagement, something that was always regarded as against our essential interests.

The other member states will make every effort to accommodate Ireland’s needs and concerns but there are limits to accommodation as the EU is a partnership of 27 states and the needs of one will never be allowed trump the needs of the Union.

That’s the brick wall this SF strategy (where the government minded to be guided by it) would likely hit. Of course it depends on what the deal breakers are. If its ‘the removal of all eight self-amending articles including the simplified revision procedure in Article 48’, you begin to sense just how far outside the EU internal machine a future Irish government is likely find itself under new associate membership. And that’s only if it can win another referendum on the renewed basis.

Munchau has an alternative though:

An alternative would be a referendum with a differently worded question, such as: “Do you want to remain in the EU on the basis of the Lisbon treaty?” Of course, this bundles two questions many people would like to answer separately. Yes, stay in the EU, No to Lisbon. But folding the two into a single question is politically more honest because it is Ireland’s only real-world choice.

Stark? Yes. Realistic? Undeniably so. When the warm glow fades after the NO vote of last Thursday, the people of the Republic may soon discover that a national mandate brings with it some tough (possibly very lonely) choices.