Are Biffo and Brown trying to spin a yes?
It’s a rare sight indeed: Brian Cowen offering a smile at an EU summit.
Biffo has had an annus horribilis since becoming taoiseach. At his first EU summit last June he had to explain to his angry EU counterparts why the Irish public had rejected Lisbon. He has been in the bad boys corner ever since.
What a contrast then to see him emerge victorious from last week’s summit after doing battle with Gordon Brown clutching seven pages of legal guarantees and that all important protocol.
Britain a few other EU states were concerned that offering Ireland the ability to write its guarantees into the text of the EU treaties at the time of the next EU accession treaty could reopen the whole Lisbon debate in their home countries.
The spectre of Vaclav Klaus also hung over the summit. The eurosceptic Czech president says Ireland’s legal guarantees- even without a protcol- needed to be reratified by the Czech parliament. The Czech prime minister rejects this.
But at the summit EU leaders were desperate not to hand Klaus a new pretext to further delay the ratification of Lisbon. They all know that if Lisbon isn’t ratified when David Cameron’s Conservatives sweep to power, the treaty is dead. And they need Klaus to sign the treaty before then.
There is also a fear among diplomats that when Ireland asks other states to ratify its protcol through their parliaments in 2 or 3 years time a host of other states will put forward requests of their own. A pandora’s box of requests could leave the EU engaged in a new bout of insitutional navel gazing.
But back to the summit and that splenidid Cowen victory. I can’t think of any better way to start a second referendum campaign than Biffo getting one over the old enemy in a high stakes game of summit diplomacy.
As a cynical journalist that makes me rather suspcious. Did the Irish and British deliberately engage in grandstanding to spin the media and smoothe the path towards a second yes?
The leak of a confidential pre-summit letter from Cowen to all 27 heads of state, which warned he couldn’t win a referneudm without a protocol, certainly helped to raise the tension and attract front page headlines in Ireland. But surely the Irish had already been promised a protocol by French president Nicolas Sarkozy last December when he said it could be granted when Croatia eventually joined the Union? And couldn’t the intensive three weeks of shuttle diplomacy between London, Dublin and Brussels by Irish diplomats prior to the summit have sorted out any problems?
Most diplomats I’ve asked about this say it would be too dangerous to try and spin a major row at a summit in case other member states got involved. They suggest that the real answer lies in the busy schedules of prime ministers.
Brown probably wasn’t briefed about the Irish request until a day before the summit because he has so many other things on his plate. Diplomats also be their very nature are cautious and can’t decide on the big issues before their boss has attended to them them.
Thankfully that leaves just a little bit drama for us journalists at summits.