Biffo puts Sarko to rights

He ducked and weaved, he charmed and wheedled, he went on and on and on, but the French coq couldn’t budge the Big Fella from Offaly from his stolid,” The Will of the Irish People Must Be Respected – and would you forever get the hell back to Paris quick before we vote ourselves out of Europe altogether” ( I made the last bit up but it sounds like Biffo, you have to admit).

Sarko’s bare-faced denial was magnifique.

I never said that Ireland had to organise a new referendum, I said that at some stage or another the Irish had to be given the opportunity to give their opinion..

So that’s alright then!

Brian Cowen was little further forward apres Sarkozy than before; but at least the damage limitation seems to have worked.
And with it, just the faintest of outlines from Sarkozy on what the future may hold.. He didn’t quite say it, he hardly needed to, but there’s no question of a second referendum before the elections for the European Parliament in June 2009 – if at all.

But – “We have to have some certainty about elections, on the basis of Nice or Lisbon.

“Nice”, (the Treaty of 2001) means no reduction of seats from 785 to 751 in the Parliament and deferring the admission of Romania and Bulgaria which would have brought total membership to 27 states – the enlargement that, in turn, would have triggered the reduction and realignment of seats.

“Some certainty” means Cowen will have to confirm by the end of the year, probably October, that there’s no going back on this referendum.

Again, Sarkozy didn’t need to say it but the impasse means everyone gets to keep their Commissioner. That will be welcomed

The Irish he said, would “work on a list of all the issues that are open to debate” in “a hierarchy of problems,” and “Brian” would report on these in September before the EU October Council.

“It’s early days, you will need time, there’s no deadline” he soothed, but ( on the other hand ) 24 countries will have ratified the Lisbon treaty by the end of the year”. ( So you Irish, the Treaty is NOT dead, he didn’t say).

Just a hint perhaps from Brian Cowen on the medium term future?

“The idea that one size fits all takes away from the fact that this is a very accommodating Union. The idea that you are compelled is not the way.”

In 1919, the first Dail demanded the “right of small nations” to attend the Versailles peace conference but was refused.
In the referendum, Irish voters may not have grasped the detail, but they somehow felt this “right” was again at stake and they were about to be cheated out of it again. It will take all the flexibility the EU can muster to assert that right.

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