EU crisis due to Irish “No”

Lena Görgen (Germany, AC 07-09)

After the “No” of the Irish voters to the Treaty of Lisbon, the European Union finds itself again in a problematic situation. With a majority of 53.4% percent the camp of the opponents could mark a victory in the referendum. The Irish were the only voters of the 27 member states of the EU that were asked to decide on the Treaty in a referendum as the constitution demanded a public and direct vote on a contract changing the legal system in consequence.

The opponents criticised that the essential parts of the Treaty were not known to the public that uninformed did not want to accept it. The blame for the rejection is therewith put on the government and its head Brian Cowen who were not able to promote the treaty as an improvement for the EU and the Irish society. The vote is seen as an expression of the grievances over the economical situation and general discontent with the new Irish government. Experts also mark that rejections in referendums are often used to give politicians a warning and have little to do with the actual topic. The camp of the opponents does not want the “No” to be seen as an anti- European vote but as a pro- European message for more democratic and predictable policies and an end of the bureaucratic organisations.

Politicians all over Europe were disappointed by the rejection of the Treaty that was to give the EU a new and at points simplified structure and the European Parliament more power. The heads of government of the EU are confronted with a critical situation that will unsolved paralyse the Union for the next time. The Treaty of Lisbon was accepted after long negotiations at the end of the last year. The process of ratification in the member states started this year. But as the Treaty can only be put into action when accepted in all 27 countries, the Irish “No” has wider consequences. At a crisis summit in Brussels shortly after the Irish referendum the European heads of states tried to find a solution in the crisis. Brian Cowen, the Irish head of government said that there were no quick solutions to this difficult situation and that Ireland needed a break to understand what had happened and discuss the reasons of the rejection. In the statement at the end of the summit, the European politicians ask the Irish government to meet for talks in the next four months and present ideas for a solution at the summit on October 15th. In the meantime ratifications should continue in the eight member states that had not accepted the Treaty yet. Following the summit the parliaments in Cyprus and the Netherlands have accepted the contract signalising that the EU continues in the process of change.

But the time for solutions for the Irish situation is short. In the plans of the European Commission the Treaty of Lisbon should be ratified in all 27 member states by the time of the election for the European Parliament in the spring of 2009. The French President Nicholas Sarkozy plans to take a leading role in the talks with Ireland having taken over the presidency of the European Council for the second half of 2008. His task will be a very difficult one as the ratification in other European states such as the UK depends on a solution to the Irish rejection. Another factor putting pressure on him are the negotiations with Croatia for a new membership in the EU. Is the Treaty of Lisbon not accepted in all member states the Treaty of Nice that was ratified in 2003 will continue to be valid and limit the EU to the existing 27 states.

Experts now present four options to the EU. Suggestions for a new treaty are rejected by European politicians as the experience with the Treaty of Lisbon showed how difficult it is to bring together the different expectations and requirements for a new contract. And no one can promise that a new treaty will not be rejected just as the Treaty of Lisbon. The situation in Ireland is to a certain extent similar to the situation in 2001 when the Treaty of Nice was rejected in a referendum. Seven years ago the Irish were presented shortly after a Treaty with special clauses that was accepted in a second referendum. To explain a new referendum for the Treaty of Lisbon the EU would have to add again clauses that could deal with tax policies or abortion, themes that caused discontents in the Irish society and would maybe this time lead to an acceptance of the Treaty. But only maybe. Experts also suggest the creation of a so- called “core- Europe” that would include only these states that are willing to work together closely. Those states that are unable to find a political integrity would then work together loosely with the “core”. But it is not clear how this would work juristically and institutionally. Many European head of states have political reservations concerning this idea. As a fourth option everything could stay the same. This would mean that European political processes are as slow as they were, national parliaments have less right to a say and the European Parliament continues to have limited powers.

The Irish rejection puts Europe in a crisis, again after the rejection of the European constitution. The Treaty of Lisbon that was seen as a new hope to discontented European citizens was rejected with reference to problems that the Treaty was to solve itself. The EU is hence partly in a self made crisis. Is it not too easy to understand that a society does not want to accept a Treaty that is not known to those who will be confronted with the changes? A solution has now to be found very quickly. The French President Sarkozy has to prove his abilities as a mediator and overcome the difficulties that also other EU member states cause who are now reluctant to ratify the Treaty. The hopes are that the problematic situation can be solved satisfying most member states´ demands so that the EU can continue its development to a more efficient and common organisation.

– United World College Student Magazine –

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