'The only thing saving the Irish is European protection'


Daniel Cohn-Bendit says Ireland’s recent wake-up call will ensure a Yes vote to Lisbon, writes LARA MARLOWE in Paris

DANIEL COHN-BENDIT criticised the Irish when they voted against the Lisbon Treaty last year. But the Franco-German Green MEP has mellowed. “I had harsh words for the French and Dutch when they voted No too,” he said yesterday at a press conference to launch the Paris Europe-Ecology list, which he heads, for the June European elections.

“You can understand the Irish position,” Cohn-Bendit says. “They thought, ‘For us in Ireland, Europe is fine the way it is. We’ve benefited enormously, so why would we want it to change’?”

Cohn-Bendit became famous as “Dany le Rouge” in the May 1968 student riots. He derides European politicians with the same insolence he used to taunt Gaullist ministers 41 years ago. Yesterday, the Irish commissioner Charlie McCreevy was twice the object of Cohn-Bendit’s barbs.

The Irish campaign is becoming the stuff of European legend. “You have to remember what happened,” Cohn-Bendit recounts. “Monsieur McGreevy [sic] lands in Lisbon and declares to the Irish media, ‘You know, the Lisbon Treaty, I haven’t read it. It’s too complicated. But it’s very good for Ireland’.” Laughter breaks out in the press conference. The result of McCreevy’s admission, Cohn-Bendit said, was the slogan, “If you don’t know, vote No.”

“Well today, the Irish know,” he continues. “They know how much they depend on the European Central Bank; that their policy of low corporate tax didn’t save them; that the only thing saving them from the mess they’re in is European protection. That’s why they’ll say Yes, because they have a strong sense of their national interest.”

Interviewed four years ago, Cohn-Bendit criticised the Irish Green Party because he expected them to oppose the constitutional treaty. Yesterday, he had only praise for his “lucid and courageous” Irish comrades.

Although Cohn-Bendit insists his heart is still on the left, he advocates “radical political pragmatism” and approves of green parties going into coalition with conservatives if it enables them to move ecological issues forward.

European greens oppose another term for the president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso. “He’s a man with no backbone,” Cohn-Bendit says, advising us to read a book by Jean-Pierre Jouyet, who was Nicolas Sarkozy’s minister for European affairs during the French presidency. “When I say Barroso degraded the commission, people say I exaggerate. When Jouyet writes it, they start wondering.”

Cohn-Bendit offers “two out of a thousand” examples of Barroso’s ineffectual leadership: the German commissioner Günter Verheugen denouncing an ecological package as inimical to the interests of the German automobile industry; and Charlie McCreevy saying deregulation should continue, shortly after speeches by Sarkozy and Barroso on the necessity of regulating markets. Both times, Cohn-Bendit maintained, Barroso should have told the commissioners to “shut up or get out”.

“What did he say?” Cohn-Bendit asks. “Nothing. I want a president of the commission who doesn’t always agree with the last person who’s spoken, especially when they’re from a big country.”

Cohn-Bendit accuses Barroso of scheming to get himself reappointed in July, because he knows he will face stronger opposition if the appointment is left until the new commission is formed in the autumn. Britain, Spain and Portugal support his reappointment.

The longer it is delayed, the better the chances of a strong candidate emerging, says Cohn-Bendit. “The green candidate is me.” He holds dual German and French nationality, and has served as a German or French MEP for the past 15 years.

“I have as much chance of becoming president of the commission as of becoming pope,” he laughs. Cohn-Bendit describes himself as a non-believer. His parents were German Jews who fled to France during the second World War.