Lisbon vote baffles US, says Bruton

 

EU:JOHN BRUTON has warned that Ireland's rejection of the Lisbon Treaty could inhibit US investment in Ireland by raising fears that Irish people are turning away from the European Union.

The former taoiseach, who is now EU ambassador to Washington, said US reaction to the referendum result has been overwhelmingly negative. "Americans I have met on both sides of the political aisle and in business and academic life are all baffled by the decision that the Irish electorate took to reject the Lisbon Treaty, which was signed by the Irish Government on their behalf.

"Americans had come to assume that Ireland was completely committed to the European Union and that its Government was at the heart of European decision-making and that had created the climate in which Americans were more inclined to invest in Ireland because it was seen as being at the heart of the European Union," he told The Irish Times.

"Now for the second time to reject an EU treaty which the Irish Government had agreed, Americans seem to see as somehow turning away from the European Union and they don't understand why that would be the case."

Mr Bruton said that although it was a mistake to interpret the referendum result as a rejection of the EU, such a view could take hold in US boardrooms unless "serious public diplomacy" is undertaken.

"Clearly, companies that are already invested in Ireland and are doing well there are not going to be influenced by this sort of thing because they have their own independent sources of information, but I would expect that companies that are looking at a number of countries for the first time might be influenced by it," he said.

Mr Bruton, who has stressed in US recent media interviews and public appearances that Ireland remains one of the most enthusiastic EU member-states, said there was a consensus of support for European integration across the American political spectrum.

"The entire mainstream of political, strategic and economic thinking - both in the Republican Party and in the Democratic Party - is strongly favourable to a strong European Union. It's only on the extreme fringes of one of the parties - and very much on the fringe - that one would find any other opinion. Americans I meet who would be very conservative, or very liberal, all are agreed that the European Union is a good thing and that it's important for the stability of the United States and the stability of the world.

"So it would be a great mistake for people to think that any difficulty for the European Union is liable to be welcomed in the United States," he said.

The former taoiseach said it was no surprise that French president Nicolas Sarkozy should be considering options such as a second Irish referendum, but that was only one of a number of options. EU leaders could consider using a provision in the Lisbon Treaty to agree unanimously to retain all 27 commissioners, while declarations added to the text could address other concerns.

Another option would break up the treaty, incorporating some parts of it into an accession treaty for one of the next member states to join and agreeing to implement parts of the document that did not involve treaty change.

"There isn't just one option, there are several options," he said. "All of them are difficult."