Why we must deliver a resounding Yes to Lisbon

 

Our EU partners have addressed our concerns and we must reassert our solidarity with them

AT THE European Council in Brussels last week, the EU member states agreed to give Ireland legally binding guarantees in response to the concerns of the Irish people in relation to the Lisbon Treaty.

Going to Brussels, I had two clear aims. Firstly, I wanted clear legal guarantees on the issues of tax, neutrality and our constitutional protections on the right to life, education and the family. Secondly, I wanted an explicit commitment that these legal guarantees would, at a future point, be given full treaty status, by way of a future protocol.

Both of these aims have been met in full. I am confident that we now have a solid basis to return to the Irish people and to ask them again for their approval for Ireland to ratify the Lisbon Treaty.

I do not underestimate the scale of the challenge. I understand that, for many, absorbing a complex legal document is difficult, and I accept that we must do better this time around in explaining it in clear terms. I recognise, too, that from time to time people can find certain aspects of EU policies and regulations frustrating. Above all, I know that the forces that have always opposed our membership of the European Union since 1973 will once again seek to confuse and mislead the electorate.

Already they are trying to dismiss the significance of last week’s achievements. Their accusations that the outcome of the summit was a pre-cooked charade are wrong and highly insulting to our EU partners.

Many member states struggled with Irish reluctance to sign up to what they see as a necessary updating of the union’s rulebook. Some were alarmed at being asked to agree guarantees on issues not even mentioned in the Lisbon Treaty. Others, perfectly legitimately, did not wish to reopen their own democratic ratification processes.

Despite these misgivings, our EU partners listened carefully to us, and to our proposals about how our concerns might be addressed. Now they have responded substantively to those concerns, with legal guarantees which ensure that:

– Ireland retains control over our own tax rates;

– Ireland’s traditional policy of military neutrality will not be affected by the Lisbon Treaty; and

– The treaty will not affect the protections in the Irish Constitution on the right to life, education and the family.

They have also reaffirmed the importance of workers’ rights and public services where, far from being a negative force, the EU has brought about many positive changes over the years. Interestingly, when the No side quote last year’s research showing that workers’ rights was a big concern for the public, they omit the fact that many people cited progress in this area, including commitments in the Charter on Fundamental Rights, as a major reason why they voted Yes to Lisbon.

Last week’s agreement is not the action of a union that cares little for the interests of the citizens of its member states. Rather, it demonstrates the capacity of the union and its member states to work, patiently and constructively, towards consensus and solutions to problems. And above all it represents a very positive response from our partners and a significant achievement for Ireland.

Focusing on last week’s outcome risks losing sight of a major element of the overall response to Irish concerns: agreement last December to return to one commissioner per member state if the Lisbon Treaty enters force.

The fact that retaining a commissioner was considered important by so many Irish people reveals, I believe, an underlying appetite for connection with, and influence in, the affairs of the European Union.

In the past, we have been tenacious and successful in pursuing our interests on the European stage: we enjoyed a reputation as honest brokers, we were the model member state for countries aspiring to join the union, and Irish people have been disproportionately successful in securing high office in the European institutions.

There can be no denying that the outcome of last year’s referendum caused many across Europe to wonder whether Ireland’s commitment to, and influence in, the union was wavering. We now have the opportunity to send a powerful signal that nothing could be further from the truth. By ratifying Lisbon, by reasserting solidarity with our partners, and by fully implementing Lisbon’s enhanced role for the Oireachtas in EU affairs, Ireland can resume its place in the vanguard of the union.

Our membership has never been more important. In these times of unprecedented global challenges – the economy and the international credit crisis, climate change and energy security, regional stability and tackling terrorism – the European Union offers Ireland the best possible means by which to protect our interests and to influence the shaping of global policies and their impacts.

That is why I am determined to play my part in ensuring that when a second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty is held later this year, Ireland will deliver a resounding Yes to Europe.

Brian Cowen is Taoiseach and leader of Fianna Fáil

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