Commission warned of another No vote

 

THE UNSTABLE political and economic situation in Ireland could prompt a No vote in a second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, the European Commission has been told.

Internal market commissioner Charlie McCreevy and the head of the EU executive’s Irish delegation, Martin Territt, delivered the stark warning yesterday to a special meeting of all 27 EU commissioners, which discussed its strategy for a second referendum.

Mr Territt told commissioners about the very difficult economic crisis in the Republic and how it could impact on a second referendum, which is likely to be held in the autumn.

He stressed that Ireland’s membership of the euro zone has cushioned the country from the worst of the economic crisis and this may make people more open to supporting the treaty. But he cautioned that the upcoming emergency budget in April could further hurt the Government’s popularity, making it difficult to carry a vote on Lisbon, according to commission sources who sat in on the “brainstorming session”.

Mr McCreevy also delivered a very frank assessment of how the current problems in Ireland may play out in a second referendum, warning his fellow commissioners not to rely on the recent opinion polls that show public support has swung behind the treaty.

“He told commissioners there needed to be a very strong campaign to win a referendum, stressing the new guarantees that the Government had secured in talks with other EU states,” said one source, who noted that Mr McCreevy stressed the volatile political situation ahead.

EU commissioner Margot Wallstrom, who has responsibility for communications strategy, has proposed that the commission work with EU states to prove a short, easy-to-read guide to the treaty and communicate what Europe is doing for citizens.

“The aim is to make it easier for people to understand the treaty, but also to explain just how the EU is helping them in the face of the economic crisis,” another commission source said.

Ms Wallstrom and commission president Jose Manuel Barroso have both been invited by Taoiseach Brian Cowen to visit Ireland in the months leading up to a second referendum. Other commissioners have been encouraged to visit the Republic, to spend more time outside the Dublin area and meet the general public as well as politicians.

A spokesman for Mr Barroso said yesterday that the results of the brainstorming session would be translated into commission decisions in the coming weeks.

He said the commission would provide factual information to citizens about EU policies and the Lisbon Treaty in Ireland, and in other member states, to allow a “vigorous debate”.

He said the commission’s strategy would present no legal problem and it had a duty to inform people about the EU.

The commission plans to spend €1.8 million on a public information campaign in Ireland this year.

Mr Territt also gave an assessment of the strength of the No campaign in Ireland, including the rise of Declan Ganley’s Libertas organisation. A handful of Libertas supporters held a protest yesterday.