'European elite got too arrogant and it might make EU leaders think again'

Sat, Jun 14, 2008, 01:00

As if it was St Patrick's Day, suddenly everyone was Irish, even hardened British Eurosceptics, writes Judith Crosbiein Brussels.

IT WOULD have had the No campaigners choking on their posters about Irish freedom. From lunchtime yesterday a group of British Eurosceptics had gathered around a large Irish flag draped over tables in Kitty O'Shea's pub in the heart of the EU district.

As things livened up with news trickling in from Ireland, ashtrays and drinks were placed on the Tricolour. But nothing was going to dampen this party.

"It's terrific, absolutely great," beamed Nigel Farage, MEP and leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) in the European Parliament. "Despite all the appalling bullying the Irish have shown they know their own minds," he said.

As if it was St Patrick's Day, suddenly everyone was Irish. The drinks of choice were Guinness, Kilkenny and Bulmers, while the UKIP punters and their fellow Eurosceptics from around Europe insisted that the pub show television referendum coverage from RTÉ.

Alas, they had to settle for Sky News for the half-hour that the Irish broadcaster switched over to show the Australian soap opera, Neighbours.

"The Irish didn't vote as Irish, they voted as Europeans and I am glad they saved the rest of us," said Emmanuel Bordez, who works for French Eurosceptic MEP Philippe de Villiers.

"It is good for all European people. Only Irish people had the possibility to vote, but if the French, if the British, if the Dutch had voted they also would have said 'no'," said Karoly Lorant, a Hungarian official working in the European Parliament's Independence/Democracy group.

But not everyone was in such jubilant mood. Over at the European Parliament's coffee bar, officials including press officers, political group strategists and MEPs' assistants, sat in huddled groups and mulled over the results.

"Personally it's a catastrophe. The Lisbon Treaty is a natural evolution of Europe and it is falling," said one young Romanian.

"It's a shame, we are saddened. There will be far-reaching negative consequences. Ireland may not feel it this year or next year, but they will feel it," said a Belgian official.

"I can't understand how a country which joined in 1973 as one of the poorest countries in Europe and has undergone an amazing recovery with a lot of support from the EU has forgotten that," said a Dutch official.

"What is very disappointing is that apparently a majority of voters followed people who lied. If you have to lie to obtain your vote it's very sad," said his colleague. There seemed to be no question of proceeding without Ireland. "You can't talk about Europe if you don't include Ireland," he said.

But some in the parliament felt the result was a wake-up call to Europe's elite. "I think it's a great result. It restores your faith in democracy. There's a feeling that the European elite got too arrogant and it might make EU leaders think again," said a Welsh official. "In a way I'm happy. The way things are planned at EU level shows a democratic deficit," said an official from Spain.

Over at the European Commission's daily press briefing there was some sympathy for this view. "I'm glad it's a No. This treaty was dreamed up in backrooms. It's bad for the commission and good for big member states. Everything can function perfectly under the current system," said one commission official.

Given the No vote on the EU constitution three years ago in The Netherlands, Ireland also received some sympathy yesterday from Dutch journalists. "Ireland has a perfect right to say No. All this talk that this is going to be a problem for Ireland alone, it's a problem for the EU," said one. But others at the commission were not as understanding. "Ungrateful bastards. After all the money you got," said one British Brussels insider.