Commission to seek ways to help State on Lisbon campaign

 

THE EUROPEAN Commission will hold a special meeting next week to determine how it can help the Government campaign to secure a Yes vote in the second Lisbon referendum.

All 27 EU commissioners will meet the head of the commission’s Irish representation office, Martin Territt, in Brussels on Wednesday to consider a range of initiatives that will better inform the Irish about Europe and the treaty.

They will discuss the launch of a new publicity campaign designed to inform the Irish public about the merits of EU membership. They are also expected to agree on a high-profile series of visits to the Republic by EU commissioners and commission president José Manuel Barroso.

“One of the lessons the commission and the European Parliament learnt from the first referendum on the Lisbon Treaty was that the pro-Lisbon voices were too often absent from the public debate,” said a senior commission source, who added that the EU’s most visible institution – the EU executive – could not be absent from the debate this time.

The three main EU institutions – the commission, parliament and council – all took a back seat during the first referendum campaign on the Lisbon Treaty on the advice of the Government, which was concerned their input could hurt the Yes campaign. But there is a growing appreciation in Brussels that a deeply unpopular Government will need all the help it can get to persuade the public to change their vote.

The commission is unlikely to propose getting directly involved in the referendum campaign itself, which will remain the primary responsibility of the Government. But it will propose providing information to the public to ensure they understand how Europe plays a role in their everyday life and to clarify points of the treaty that are disputed. A new EU-funded €1.8 million publicity campaign in Ireland is due to begin shortly.

Mr Territt is expected to update commissioners on the potential strength of the No campaign, and particularly the rise of Libertas. He is likely to discuss the changed economic context and how that could affect a second referendum.

EU competition commissioner Neelie Kroes is likely to be the first member of the EU executive to travel the Republic. EU foreign affairs chief Javier Solana is also considering travelling to Ireland next month to talk about European security policy.