Denmark may provide the answer to Lisbon impasse
Deaglán de Bréadún
It now looks as if the Government may adopt the Danish strategy from 1993, whereby that country voted again on a previously-rejected EU treaty, approving it the second time with a number of opt-outs. But a second Irish referendum seems unlikely to be held until the local and European elections are out of the way next summer.
As reported by my colleague Stephen Collins in The Irish Times, senior Irish officials visited Copenhagen in early August, seeking to learn from the manner in which the Danes resolved the Maastricht conundrum in the early 1990s.
When the Danes voted No to the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, their government responded with a proposal to opt-out of four key areas of EU activity. In a second referendum the following year, the people approved the Treaty subject to opt-outs from the euro as well as common defence, justice and citizenship arrangements.
The Copenhagen visit, revealed in the Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten, ties-in with a broad hint given by Minister for Foreign Affairs at a joint meeting of Oireachtas EU committees on July 3rd when, after Labour’s Joe Costello set out various options, Micheál Martin commented:
”In outlining the various options, he perhaps omitted to mention the Danish rejection of a European treaty and the course of action taken on that occasion. I would not pre-empt the various options. We need to be open to explore avenues to ensure we remain at the heart of the European Union project. That is the agenda.”
Meanwhile Dick Roche continues to make the running for Government on the issue, speaking out on every available occasion on the need for a second referendum at some stage. Solo run or stalking horse? A bit of both is probably the answer. Brian Cowen has said very little on the subject and looks as if he is being dragged along by his irrepressible junior minister for Europe.
Fine Gael have made it clear they don’t want the issue complicating matters in the local and European elections in midsummer 2009. Micheál Martin attempted to set up a parliamentary commission with the other parties but did it in such a high-handed way (out of character for the man, it has to be said) that the opposition felt obliged to pour cold water on the proposal.
It looks like the plan is to use the opinion survey - commissioned by the Government to assess the public’s reasons for voting No – as a launching-pad for the “second referendum with opt-outs” proposal.
The notion of running the essentials of Lisbon through the Oireachtas, so that Europe can consider the Treaty ratified, is probably a non-runner. The people have spoken and parliament cannot override their decision.
Whether a second referendum, even with opt-outs, will be approved by the electorate in, say October next, is a moot point , however, especially with the economy in bad shape and the Government under heavy fire for their approach to dealing with what looks, sounds and feels like a recession.
Deaglán de Bréadún, Political Correspondent, The Irish Times and author of The Far Side of Revenge: Making Peace in Northern Ireland, recently published in a second edition by Collins Press, Cork www.collinspress.ie