The linkage to Lisbon


'THE LISBON Treaty will increase the EU's capacity to respond to crises as well as its capacity to prevent crises through coherent and consistent policies."

Making this linkage between the treaty and the world financial turmoil at yesterday's European Union summit in Brussels, Commission president José Manuel Barroso said this fundamental issue would have been better managed had the treaty been adopted. The argument for it, he said, is made stronger every day the crisis continues.

Mr Barroso makes a compelling and representative case, as was confirmed by other leaders at this summit. Taoiseach Brian Cowen told the meeting he will come back to the next European Council in December with a proposed road map on how to proceed, as debate continues on whether the treaty should be revisited following its defeat in last June's referendum.

He underlined the critical value of Ireland's membership of the euro zone during the financial crisis - repeating remarks he made at Bodenstown last Sunday about the merits of pooling sovereignty the better to preserve it, just before he attended the meeting in Paris which decided on effective common instruments to tackle the crisis. Yesterday, too, Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin repeated his belief that Ireland would have gone the way of Iceland in recent days were it not for our full EU and euro zone membership.

These frank linkages between Lisbon and current events are welcome and necessary. They should be taken with the utmost seriousness by voters. World events are strengthening the conviction of EU leaders that if the bloc is to be an effective actor in the recasting of international financial and political structures, changes made by the Lisbon Treaty in bolstering its representation, decision-making and policy consistency must be put into place. By the end of the year Ireland will almost certainly be in a minority of one in our failure to ratify. It is essential to take that reality on board. To be politically isolated in the middle of such large international convulsions is an obvious way to lose influence in protecting our interests.

Other EU leaders are not threatening Ireland along these lines; but they are saying clearly that they want to proceed with the treaty and expect Ireland to make constructive proposals. While it is quite possible to argue that the treaty would not have these effects, or that in practice ways are always found in a crisis to change policies, the fact that others do not agree must be taken into account in deciding whether to hold another referendum and on what basis that should be done.

The heavy economic costs and grave political consequences of voting against the treaty should now be becoming clear to voters in the middle of an unprecedented change in world politics. The Government is in an unenviable position making this case as it defends a deeply unpopular Budget and prepares to face the political consequences in next year's elections. This probably postpones another referendum on Lisbon until next autumn. But that we must decide a road map by December is the message from EU leaders.