Why it may be time to consider handing in my Irish passport

 

EUROPEAN DIARY:Fallout from the treaty referendum vote is straining diplomatic and social relations, writes Jamie Symth

I USED to be a popular member of the EU press corps and being Irish undoubtedly helped. Coming from a country that has never invaded its neighbours (unless you count the plague of Irish pubs all over Europe) is a good start in Brussels.

Speaking English, but not being English, is also a huge bonus. And it is well known we can throw good parties.

The Irish also had a good reputation among EU diplomats, who praised our ability to broker delicate compromises: remember Bertie's success with the EU constitution.

We also spent a decade at the top of the EU economic growth charts, which attracted a fan base among the new member states. Everybody in Europe loved the Irish, or so it seemed.

I got my first sense this "cool Irish" image was changing when my badminton partner Tom took me to task for my countrymen's No vote a few days after the referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

"Why do you want to ruin Europe for everyone else? How could you vote no when you have received so much money from the EU?" he asked incredulously.

Tom doesn't talk politics much, so the verbal attack delivered over the badminton net came as a bit of a shock.

I put it down to his Belgian nationality - Belgians tend to be EU federalists given that their own country regularly hovers on the brink of break-up over disagreements between the Dutch-speaking majority and the French-speaking minority.

But the Belgians are not alone in feeling aggrieved at the Irish No. In the hothouse diplomatic atmosphere in Brussels almost every nationality has a bone to pick with the June 12th result and most for different reasons.

A British friend recently said he attended a party with German diplomats where he had been forced to defend the Irish result.

"The mood was quite dark," said the friend, who joked that this type of tough criticism was usually reserved for the eurosceptic British.

There is a practical side to Berlin's displeasure with the Irish No because Germany would have boosted its influence at the council of ministers through Lisbon's "double majority" voting system, which apportions more voting weight to states with bigger populations.

French diplomats are also furious. It was President Nicolas Sarkozy who came up with the idea of a mini-treaty to replace the now defunct EU constitution.

The treaty was his "baby" and, to make matters worse, the Irish have wrecked his six-month EU presidency.

But even our traditional allies in Europe have deserted us over Lisbon.

British foreign secretary David Miliband may have assured the public on his recent trip to Dublin that there would be no "bullying" of the Irish.

But it didn't stop Gordon Brown from ratifying the treaty just days after our referendum. London wants Lisbon put to bed to prevent it becoming an issue in a 2010 general election.

The Irish No keeps Lisbon on the agenda.

The Dutch and Danish governments are "pissed off" - in the words of fellow journalists from both countries working in Brussels - by the Irish No because it has reignited a bitter debate over whether their electorates were denied a referendum on the treaty.

The political fallout from the Lisbon referendum has also reached eurosceptic Austria, where the coalition fell apart when Social Democrat chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer said future EU treaties should be ratified by referendum. Elections take place this week, with far-right politician Jörg Haider capitalising on anti-EU sentiment and expected to do well.

In Poland the Irish No has created problems for prime minister Donald Tusk. He faces a battle to persuade his political rival President Lech Kaczynski to sign the treaty to complete the ratification process. Kaczynski is using the issue as a bargaining chip to lobby for more power in the field of foreign affairs to be given to his presidential office.

In Spain the big concern is that it will lose the four extra MEPs that it has been promised in the Lisbon Treaty. Eleven other countries will also miss out on extra MEPs if Lisbon does not enter into force and the European Parliament's representation in next June's elections is decided by the rules under the Nice Treaty.

The Portuguese are unhappy because the treaty is named after their capital city, while for candidate countries such as Croatia there are fears that no Lisbon Treaty means Germany and France will refuse to let them join the EU club.

Only the Scandinavians - Finland and Sweden - seem unfazed by the Irish No vote but then they are rarely fazed by anything. "It's as if the word Irish has suddenly been tagged with the word problem," said one Irish official who works at the European Commission.

"Almost every meeting begins with a summation of how the Irish 'no' will affect a particular proposal," she added.

Given the prevailing mood in Brussels toward the Irish it may soon prove necessary to dust off the British passport that I am entitled to as I was born in Northern Ireland. Cool Britannia anyone?