So, the Irish “dwarf” has rejected the Lisbon Treaty — a decisive 53.4 percent against, to 46.6 in favor, with a turnout of more than 51 percent, in excess of the last time the Irish voted on an EU treaty.
Yet, the very idea of an Irish referendum on the latest European Union treaty is preposterous. With all but one of the 27 member states deciding on parliamentary ratification of the reheated constitution, masquerading as the Lisbon Treaty, it has been left to the three million voters of Ireland to decide the fate of a treaty that will affect the lives of 490 million — the population of the EU.
Such an idea is akin to the voters of Colorado deciding on the president of the United States of America, the others leaving it for their state legislatures to decide. Although, in Europe, this is not a presidential election — we are not allowed to elect the EU president set up by the new treaty. This is about approving an amended constitution and only the Irish people are to have a say in the process.
Before the event, there were few clues that the result was going to be so decisive. There were only two polls published, respectively last Friday and Sunday. The first put the “no” vote ahead by 35 percent to 30 percent while the Sunday edition gave a 42 to 39 percent lead to the “yes” campaign. The “don’t knows” far exceeded the differences between the two sides, and the turnout was uncertain. There was everything to play for.
Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin claimed that the “no” campaign had petered out, but the multi-millionaire leader of the anti-treaty group Libertas, Declan Ganley, was being more cautious, saying his group was “not taking any single voter for granted.”
The campaign itself was “played dirty.” Each side warned of dire consequences if their messages should fail to come through. Such were the passions that the “no” side invoked the Easter Uprising — which led to Irish independence — reminding voters in a bold poster that “People died for your freedom,” telling them not to throw it away.
On the other hand, a procession of European elites has warned the Irish that they would, in effect, be cast into outer darkness if they failed to support the treaty. Taoiseach (prime minister) Brian Cowen closed the “yes” campaign by telling his countrymen that a “yes” vote was “crucial” to Ireland’s future prospects. He flatly rejected the idea of renegotiating a better deal — a prospect that had been held out by the “antis.”
Ireland, of course, has history when it comes to rejecting EU treaties. It did it in 2001 when the Nice Treaty came to town, casting 54 to 46 percent against the treaty, on a low turnout of 34 percent. This caused shock throughout the Community, potentially derailing the treaty which required the unanimous assent of all member states before it comes into force.
With so much at stake, the Irish were told to go back and vote again — and this time to get it right. Backed by a huge effort from the government, the entire media, and industry, the citizens obeyed, holding another referendum a year later. Voting on what many regarded as a rigged question, they delivered 63 percent for the “yes” camp, with 37 percent for the noes, on a turnout of nearly 50 percent.
This time, however, it will be different. Already, the European Commission president has declared that the treaty is still “alive,” even though it is technically dead. However, there will be no overt attempt to make the Irish vote again, although the project will sail on.
Despite protestations to the contrary, the “colleagues” — as they like to call themselves — already have their “plan C” ready. Plan B is the Lisbon Treaty, a replacement for the first attempt at ramming through the new constitution, defeated by the French and Dutch referendums in 2005.
Stung by wholly justified accusations of bullying, they will play the “democracy card,” professing to bow to the will of the Irish people and accepting the result — albeit with some ritual and highly publicized breast-beating.
The smart money is then on the meeting of the 27 EU heads of state and governments at the European Council on 19-20 June doing some creative adjustments. The word in Brussels is that they will agree on a declaration excluding Ireland from the list of signatories to the Lisbon treaty. The remaining 26 member states can go ahead with “unanimous” ratification — a treaty built for 27 minus one.
Such a move might be of dubious legality, but such detail rarely worries the “colleagues” who have in any case been stealthily implementing the Lisbon Treaty, even though it is not yet in force.
Under such a regime, Ireland would be left out in the cold until such time as it “voluntarily” decides to rejoin the party. Possibly, after a sustained campaign by the Irish government and some more creative manipulation of the treaty — adding “declarations” addressing the citizens’ concerns — they may be invited to sign up alongside Croatia, when it joins the EU, piggybacking on their accession treaty.
Whatever does transpire, the one certainty is that the “colleagues” will not allow a small country like Ireland, on the periphery of the Community, to derail the “project.” And they are nothing if not inventive in bending their own rules when it suits them. We have had the theater, but the serious business of European political integration must go on.