Second No could force Irish exit from union - MEP


THE LIBERAL group in the European Parliament has pledged to help Fianna Fáil fund a major campaign in favour of the Lisbon Treaty in a second referendum this autumn.

But its leader, British MEP Graham Watson, has warned that a second No vote could force Ireland to withdraw from the union,prompting a flight of capital from the State.

“It is very difficult to see any country being able to stay in if they have had two Nos from the people,” said Mr Watson, who welcomed last week’s decision by Fianna Fáil to join the European Liberal Democrats (ELDR) before the European elections in June.

“It would be very difficult to get large companies to invest in a country that looked as if it might be leaving the EU. I think it would have a social impact as well and, of course, it would call into question the future of the EU agency that is based in Ireland,” he said.

Mr Watson, who is campaigning to become the next president of the European Parliament, said ELDR and the Liberal group in the parliament would contribute money to the second Lisbon referendum campaign if Fianna Fáil asked for financial help.

“It would be our great pleasure to support Fianna Fáil if they wanted us to, either in the referendum campaign in the autumn or any other campaign . . . There is no doubt we could offer, being a much bigger group, a much broader base of support to Fianna Fáil than the UEN group,” said Mr Watson, who added this would not amount to millions of euro.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen announced to the Fianna Fáil Ardfheis last Friday that the party would apply to join the ELDR, a move that will see it end its 10-year relationship with the UEN group in the European Parliament.

The ELDR bureau is expected to discuss Fianna Fáil’s application at its meeting next week. It is likely to invite Mr Cowen to attend a meeting of Liberal prime ministers before the upcoming EU leaders’ summit in Brussels on March 19th as an observer. Formal acceptance of the party’s application is not expected until April.

The Liberals are the third-biggest group in the European Parliament, with 100 MEPs, while there are four Liberal EU prime ministers and seven commissioners.

By joining the Liberals, Fianna Fáil will be able to have a significant influence on top EU appointments, such as the next president of the European Commission or the next EU foreign affairs chief.

The Liberals will benefit by boosting the number of MEPs in its group and building its own representation in Ireland by adding a government party to its party membership.

The defection of Fianna Fáil from the UEN is likely to spell the end for the group, which will also lose MEPs from the Italian Alleanza Nazionale. It also means that Fianna Fáil MEP Brian Crowley will have to step down as co-president of the UEN, a position that entitled him to sit at the conference of presidents in the parliament.

Mr Watson hinted that Mr Crowley – who had previously opposed a plan by Fianna Fáil to join the Liberals after the last elections in 2004 – would get a good job in the Liberals. “He is someone that commands huge respect and that will be recognised,” he said.

Some Fianna Fáil MEPs have, in the past, expressed concern about support by prominent Liberals for abortion, stem-cell research and gay marriage. But Mr Watson said this should not cause a problem because such social issues were a matter for member states and the group did not support legislating at EU level on these issues.

“It is true the majority of liberal parties are in favour of civil partnerships and the partners in those having the same rights as married couples. It is also true that most of the liberal parties are in favour of abortion, but it is not true for all our parties. I could mention the Finnish Centre party and I could also mention our Italian colleagues – they don’t share the view of the Liberals on these issues. So Fianna Fáil would not be alone in its differences.”