By next Monday night, after the visit to Dublin of Nicholas Sarkozy as President of the European Council, Brian Cowen will have been forced to declare some of his hand for persuading the Irish people to hold a second vote on the EU treaty. I say “some of his hand” because Sarkozy is unlikely to arrive in Dublin for his five hour consultation armed with a full package of sweeteners. The French President will be on the diplomatic high wire to avoid further offence to Irish susceptibilties after his Elysee stumble?/ deliberate indiscretion? that “The Irish will have to vote again,” which later his diplomats scarcely bothered to deny in the code of their trade.
Brian Cowen’s brush-off was unconvincing. Privately he was seething.
Sarkozy had two choices. Either to defer the suggestion of an offer of better terms to the Irish to the last possible moment, to EU summits in October or even December. Or make an outline offer now, before it’s even agreed by the other member States, risking a partial unraveling of the Treaty itself and inviting the fury of the great majority of member States which have ratified it already. Deferment of new terms make sense until the laggards, the Polish President and the Czech legal system fall into line, leaving Ireland isolated but the rest of the Union in compliance with the Treaty. This list from the excellent multilingual EurActiv website reveals all too starkly that the ratification deal in the rest of Europe is nearly made.
With ratification complete by the entire EU minus one State, the emphasis on Ireland would be less on sweeteners and more on implied threats such as banishment to the fringes or even suspension of full membership. Very rough politics indeed. And moreover, a violation of the very principle of unanimity for institutional change on which the Irish people voted last month.Looking at it from Brussels, a second vote is inevitable and improved terms for holding it are fairly obvious, as stated in the briefing of the authoritative Centre for European Reform . .
The preferred option of the French government, like most other EU governments, is for the Irish to hold another referendum, after the rest of the EU has offered them reassurances on issues such as sovereignty, neutrality and taxation. However, the Irish will need more time and concessions than most European politicians are yet prepared to acknowledge, such as a return to the principle of each EU country having one commissioner in Brussels
These terms are echoed in an analysis of the No vote by the Eurosceptic but reputable think tank Open Europe
Myth: The posters that I saw on BBC and Sky had issues of abortion, tax and
conscription, which are nothing to do with this Treaty. (David Miliband, BBC News,
13 June 2008).
Fact: The latest poll showing Ireland would vote no revealed that the reasons for
their planned rejection of the Lisbon Treaty were primarily to keep Irelands power
and identity and to safeguard Irelands neutrality. It was also clear that they voted
no because they dont like being told what to do/forced into voting yes. Abortion did
not appear anywhere in the top ten reasons for voting no. (Irish Times/TNS mrbi poll
6 June 2008)
Tax did indeed feature in the campaign, driven by ongoing moves towards a common
corporate tax base.
Cowen’s electorate would I suspect be very interested indeed if he were to endorse terms like these. But the bind he is on is this: if he goes public on such an offer, he will attract the ire of the other heads of government who have sold the Treaty to their parliaments and peoples, on lesser terms, believing that terms now being offered to the Irish were either unnecessary or unattainable. And that is very bad politics indeed.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London