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Rescuing the Lisbon treaty

Much to French President Sarkozy’s evident frustration, the Irish are stalling for time. By the time the European Council meets in Brussels next week four months will have passed since Ireland’s referendum blocked the ratification of the Lisbon treaty. Those four months have been almost entirely wasted.

Ireland’s beleaguered government made great play of mounting yet another survey of public opinion to find out why the naysayers won. In fact this poll, conducted by Millward Brown IMS, added very little to what close observers of the referendum campaign, supplemented by Eurobarometer polls, already knew. IMS began their survey in July, by which time a certain sobering up had taken place. The most interesting feature of the IMS inquiry is that as many as 20 per cent of the 862,415 people who voted No were ready to concede that the result had weakened Ireland’s position. Much now rests on the political evolution of that chastened 20 per cent.

A considerable factor determining the outcome of the referendum was the constant bickering during the campaign among the five pro-European political parties. That bickering has since descended into open warfare, with spokesmen from the opposition Fine Gael and Labour parties calling on the government to demand substantive changes to the Treaty before a second referendum is held. Only now has agreement been reached to set up a new cross-party parliamentary committee to consider Ireland’s treaty options in a more considered way. Recriminations have also taken place within the government itself, putting more pressure on Taoiseach Brian Cowen to save his own skin first and the Lisbon treaty only second.

Mr Cowen and his finance minister, Brian Lenihan, missed a good opportunity in September to appeal to their EU counterparts for urgent help in shoring up Ireland’s fragile banking system. On the assumption that such an appeal would have been met with a quick, coordinated and constructive response from Brussels and Frankfurt, the Irish people would have been given an impressive demonstration of the EU’s mission and value. Instead the Dublin government opted for panicky unilateral measures, ignoring EU state aid constraints, by offering full state guarantees for the total liabilities of Irish banks, estimated at €400 bn. Thus Ireland established a new EU low for beggar-thy-neighbour policies. In addition to sending the wrong signals back home, this performance hardly instils confidence elsewhere in the EU about the capability of the Irish government to do the right thing by Europe. Continue reading »

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