Battle lines drawn on Lisbon Treaty


THE BATTLE lines are drawn. Over the last couple of weeks partisans of Yes or No to the Lisbon Treaty have formally launched their campaigns or declared their intentions ahead of the referendum on October 2nd. In the No camp there are many familiar faces: the Campaign Against the EU Constitution has transmogrified into Vote No to Lisbon, and then there’s the Peace and Neutrality Alliance, the National Platform, the People’s Movement, People before Profit, and Cóir. Notable by its absence is Libertas whose lavish spending on advertising will be missed. And Joe Higgins will be the lone MEP on the No side, with his Socialist Party and Sinn Féin its main political party voices.

Out of the stalls earlier this time on the Yes side, representing civic society are, so far, Women for Europe, We Belong, Ireland for Europe, Lawyers for Europe, and Business for Europe, while some trade unions and the Irish Farmers’ Association have declared firmly for the treaty. A significant addition to their cause will be the Green Party, backing a European treaty for the first time. Labour will run its referendum campaign like a “ground war” rather than the “air war” last year’s campaign turned into, leader Eamon Gilmore has promised.

In truth, to continue the military metaphor, the campaign has yet to really engage. The two armies are sizing each other up in preliminary summer skirmishes. In September, the battle proper will start. This time round, however, polling for the Referendum Commission suggests 60 per cent of voters say they have at least some understanding of the treaty compared with 44 per cent just before last year’s vote, and 21 per cent two months out. The poll also showed an encouraging increased intention to vote – 91 per cent are extremely or quite likely to do so, they say.

Already central to the No campaign is the insistence that, as Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald puts it, “On October 2nd we will be voting on exactly the same treaty, with exactly the same consequences for Ireland . . . as we did last year”. It is a contention that is perfectly unexceptional for proponents of the Yes camp but has been widely repeated by No campaigners as, somehow, a damning indictment of the treaty.

Last year Yes proponents insisted that the voter concerns which led the Government in the referendum’s aftermath to seek written guarantees from EU partners – on Irish autonomy on tax, abortion, and neutrality, and a right to retain a commissioner – were already adequately safeguarded in the treaty. The receipt of the reassurances merely confirmed that reality and, in their view, makes no material legal difference to the treaty. For No campaigners, however, the copperfastening of the allegedly vulnerable Irish positions, logically has to represent a change in the treaty, even if it is one that does not fully meet their requirements.

For voters faced with the question “is it the same treaty?” the answer is yes and no, depending where you start. What matters crucially, however, is not that question but the reassurances which the Lisbon II guarantees genuinely provide on those critical issues.