Do not be fooled by the atmosphere: We are actually in an Irish pub in Brussels. It is more than a little tense. With Ireland’s referendum on the Lisbon Treaty coming up next Thursday, senior figures in the European capital have refused to comment on the national opinion poll measuring opposition to the treaty ahead of support for it. But one senior analyst is predicting “a real mess if the Irish vote No”. At this informal think tank (pub), we asked local research trainee Kevin Keary and consultant Joe McHale ‘What could prompt a negative result?’
Keary said: “The concerns of some parts of the Irish electorate will be that perhaps the EU will not benefit Ireland to the same extent in the future as it has in the past.”
McHale said: “The No side have tried to say that this will somehow restrict our independence and our ability to set our own tax policy and our own tax rates. Also, people have played to the fears of farmers, and told them that this will be bad for their livelihood. Actually, I’m from a farm myself in Ireland and so I understand these fears, and I also know that the EU has been overwhelmingly positive for Irish farmers.”
Martina Daly, who works in communications, said global credit fears may have spooked people, and worse, that uncertainty over farming and trade, which the Lisbon charter does not go near, has been conscripted to discredit the European institutional reform treaty. According to Daly: “People were nervous because they had the credit crisis, they had the common agricultural policy reforms, which are already ongoing, and then they have the world trade talks, which were not part of the treaty but were seen to be used against the Yes campaign, and used for the No campaign.”
Unofficial estimates put the number of Irish living in Brussels at around 10,000. Some, bathed by the backwash of bureaucracy, are not sure which way they would vote. Blues musician Peter O’Malley was not convinced the Lisbon Treaty is a good thing. Ask him what he feels the Irish think they’d lose by it and he says: “Basically independence. And I wonder whether we are giving up too much to get back something bigger, if you know what I mean. Consolidation of Europe is brilliant, but then you don’t want them, the bureaucrats, interfering in everything, if you know what I mean.”
Again, Europe is in a bind for a back-up plan if the Irish give this treaty a drubbing, as they did Nice the first time. But political science professor Mario Telo says the EU could move on anyway, because Ireland is just a small country. Telo said:
“Europe can advance easier with a small country like Ireland opting out than with the crisis in the very heart of Europe that France’s rejection of the EU constitution caused. That imposed a rather politically more engaged approach, a solution provided by the Treaty of Lisbon.”
Another analyst said an Irish defeat of the treaty would unleash a chain reaction. Britain and others could suspend their ratification. The summit of EU leaders the week after the referendum would be up-ended. And the incoming French EU presidency would be left to sort out what the bloc does next.
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