NY Times: Ireland Derails a Bid to Recast Europe’s Rules
EXCERPT: “People in Ireland have sent the clearest possible message that they do not want this treaty, they do not want this constitution, and by all rights now it should be declared dead,” said David Cameron, the (UK) Conservative leader. “I think the elites in Brussels have got to listen to people in Europe who do not want endless powers being passed from nation-states to Brussels.”
By SARAH LYALL and STEPHEN CASTLE
New York Times, June 14, 2008
Europe was thrown into political turmoil on Friday by Ireland’s rejection of the Lisbon Treaty, a painstakingly negotiated blueprint for consolidating the European Union’s power and streamlining its increasingly unwieldy bureaucracy.
The defeat of the treaty, by a margin of 53.4 percent to 46.6 percent, was the result of a highly organized “no” campaign that had played to Irish voters’ deepest visceral fears about the European Union. For all its benefits, many people in Ireland and in Europe feel that the union is remote, undemocratic and ever more inclined to strip its smaller members of the right to make their own laws and decide their own futures.
“Europe as an idea does not provoke passionate support among ordinary citizens,” Denis MacShane, a Labor member of the British Parliament and a former British minister for Europe, said in an interview. “They see a bossy Brussels, and when they have the chance of a referendum in France, the Netherlands or Ireland to give their government and Europe a kick, they put the boot in,” he added, referring to earlier defeats of similar agreements in similar referendums.
The Lisbon Treaty, written after torturous meetings among all the member states, is dense and complex. But if enacted, it would give Europe its first full-time president and create a new foreign policy chief whose responsibilities would include controlling the development aid that the union distributes.
It is unclear what exactly will happen next. Ireland is the only country to put the Lisbon Treaty to a referendum, as its law requires. In general, such treaties are far more popular with Europe’s leaders than with its voters, and most governments are reluctant to risk the uncertainty of a national vote.
Around Europe, pro-treaty officials reacted to the vote with a collective brave face, vowing to forge ahead with the Lisbon Treaty despite Friday’s possibly fatal setback.
But in Brussels, the president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, said he believed that the treaty was still “alive.” In Paris, Jean-Pierre Jouyet, France’s minister for European affairs, said that “the most important thing is that the ratification process must continue in the other countries, and then we shall see with the Irish what type of legal arrangement could be found.”
Mr. Jouyet told LCI television that Europe could not eject Ireland from the Union, but added, rather ominously, “But we can find specific means of cooperation.”
In Britain, government officials said that they would continue the process of ratifying the Lisbon Treaty, which is currently wending its way through Parliament. But there are deep strains of anti-European sentiment there, and the treaty’s defeat in Ireland lends new momentum to the campaign against it.
“This is a resounding victory on behalf of ordinary people across Europe over an out-of-touch and arrogant political elite,” said Neil O’Brien, the director of Open Europe, a British group that opposes the treaty and argues, with some justification, that it is merely a slightly altered version of the failed 2005 European Union constitution.
And Britain’s opposition Conservative Party said that it would be the “height of arrogance” and an insult to public opinion for the government to forge ahead with the treaty now.
But the campaigners against the treaty mobilized under the efficient leadership of Declan Ganley, a businessman who argued that the treaty took power away from Ireland.
Mr. Ganley, who formed a group, Libertas, to campaign against the treaty, said that voters’ rejection of it would force the Irish prime minister, Brian Cowen, to renegotiate its terms and secure a “better deal.”
“We want a Europe that is more democratic, and if there is to be a president and a foreign affairs minister, they should be elected,” he said in an interview.
Experts on Ireland’s relationship with Europe said that the country was not anti-Europe, just against European institutions it found to be shadowy and remote.
“It’s a pro-European country, but they didn’t understand the treaty — why it was needed, what it was going to change,” Mr. Bruter said in an interview, speaking of the Irish voters. “They just don’t want to give Europe a blank check anymore.”
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