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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: July 16, 2008 @ 11:22 am

    Cowen in New York but with Lisbon on his mind

    Deaglán de Bréadún

    New York: Brian Cowen did not seem particularly put out by the remark attributed to France’s President Sarkozy that Ireland needs to have a second vote on the Lisbon Treaty. The Taoiseach arrived here last night for a series of engagements, mainly to do with business, the economy and investment.  But his first task was to open an exhibition at the Irish Arts Centre on West 51st Street, a very pleasant and quite touching occasion where photographs of elderly Irish-Americans taken by John Minihan were put on display, with many of the subjects in attendance, some of them over 100 years of age.

    Resisting the plaintive appeals of the media for comments on the way in, Cowen finally got around to talking to us afterwards, by which time it was  after midnight back home. His key point was: “President Sarkozy, on the remarks attributed to him, has a view and obviously we have to talk to him as President of the EU about these matters. We need to look at all the options to see where we go from here but obviously we have had a referendum in recent times and he needs to take account of that as well.”

    This is Cowen’s style on these occasions: an almost imperceptible sideswipe at the alleged comment made by Sarkozy. But it is on the record that the Taoiseach is reminding the French President to take account of the Irish referendum result.

     The Sarkozy story broke when the Taoiseach’s party were in the air on the Government jet and greeted them when they landed in the Big Apple. They were clearly not amused but the consistent message coming out from that quarter is  that the Government won’t be rushed into anything and no decision on a second referendum is imminent. The survey it has commissioned will buy the Government some time and Cowen is only committed to giving a progress report at the next EU Summit in October.

     That won’t be good enough for Chancellor Merkel in particular who is understood to have been lobbying Dublin, from the day the votes were counted, for a second trip to the polls. But defeat in a second referendum would hasten the end of this government and would not enhance the career prospects of Brian Cowen.  

    Interestingly, Brian Hayes of Fine Gael was very unenthusiastic on RTE’s The Week in Politics at the prospect of holding a referendum within the next 12 months, i.e., before the local and European elections next summer. You can bet that the candidates for the pro-Lisbon parties feel the same way.

     The other side of the argument is that we could be kicked out of Europe. Would scare tactics work with the electorate or would they rebound? Difficult to know. Scare stories worked very well for elements on the No side last time out.

     Deaglán de Bréadún (on vacation until August 18th)

    • Umar Ahmed says:

      The political risk of a defeat in a second referendum on Lisbon is significant and is certainly a concern for the government. However, it seems increasingly likely that a return to the polls will happen. With polling firms and visits by foreign heads of state seeking to understand the Irish ‘no’ vote, what remains is to see what guarantees or protocols will be offered to the Irish in a second referendum.

      Many of the anti-treatyites campaigned on the basis of renegotiation. It is highly unlikely that a new treaty will be negotiated but if the Irish do get something in return for their original ‘no’ then the government can at least argue that they have received concessions of sorts. Of course, those who are fundamentally opposed to Lisbon will remain but if those who voted on single issues in the referendum can have those addressed then the government could carry a second referendum.

      It all depends on timing. One feels that the longer it is left the greater the chance of a ‘yes’ in a second referendum. But will Ireland be given enough time to ensure success.

    • Of course Cowen and his government want the Lisbon Treaty to be approved, and that’s the crux of his dilemma. For this to happen, he and the other institutions of Ireland that support the Treaty must do the homework they should have done before the vote. They must address the fears that provoked the No, even if they cannot deal with some objections. So far, I see little of this going on. Again, fear of alienating voters is the problem. But their duty is to lead the country in the right direction, and staying in the EU is a must if the Irish people are to remain on the back of the tiger.

    • Horace says:

      The Solution is simple: let the Irish vote again in April just to be sure they don’t want further integration at all. If they vote YES, then NO Problem. If it they vote NO, we’ll kill Lisbon and will go ahead with a Multi-Speed Europe. A new treaty will be signed but ARTICLE 1 will say: THIS TREATY WILL ENTER INTO FORCE IN THE COUNTRIES THAT RATIFIES, THE OTHERS CAN STAY BEHIND (To be written in more gentle terms of course). Pro-Integrationist countries (Germany, France, Italy, Spain, all of eastern Europe, Belgium) will move ahead with further integration. Ireland, UK, Sweden and Denmark will stay out and they will join in the future if they want to. Multi-speed Europe already exists (see Shengen and the Euro). We can do that again.

    • Brian says:

      The no vote to the Treaty was entirely justified for many reasons. It overcentralises power in Brussels and in the European Court of Justice, without providing adequate reciprocal measures on democratic-accountabiity. The treaty in the form of the EU Constitution was rejected by the French and Dutch peoples in referenda, and polls suggest it would have been rejected in many other states had referenda been held there. In that context the Treaty and the elites’ reaction to it embodies the democratic-deficit in the EU. It seems pretty clear that there is growing opposition to the kind of Europe the political-elites want. The people do not want a Federal United States of Europe, but the elites want it and in the rest of Europe they are prepared to push this agenda no matter what gets in their way. I hope as a no voter that the Irish elite are not going to repeat the con-job seen in France and Holland where an almost identical document was conjured up and ratified to the one that was rejected in 2005. To do so would only reinforce the public’s sense of Brussel as indifferent to public opinion, unyielding in imposing unpopular decisionmaking and lacking in democracy.

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