Friday, 18 July 2008

Responding to Ireland's No vote

Last night I went along to a discussion organised by the Brussels Branch of the Irish Institute of International and European Affairs on “Responding to the No vote on the Lisbon Treaty”. Speaking at it was Ireland’s Minister for Europe, Dick Roche and Brendan Halligan, the Chair of the Irish Institute.

Dick Roche began by saying that “there were no instant solutions” to Ireland’s no vote and that the Irish government was looking at producing a very detailed analysis to understand better the result of Ireland’s recent referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. The Irish government will not be bringing forward any solutions at the European Council meeting in October but instead would be presenting a wide progress report. He acknowledged that the issues were very complex and that it was going to take some time to do a very detailed analysis.

It was underlined that the Irish government does not have a “pre-cooked solution” and that the first response is to respect the fact that the Irish people have spoken, and to understand and listen to what the Irish people are saying.

For the Minister, communicating the EU to the people is a problem for the whole of the EU and not just an Irish problem. In this respect Europe has a huge challenge and one which I believe cannot be left to the EU institutions themselves when it comes to communicating Europe’s relevancy. There is a job here to be done by all levels of government. Europe has to move away from its constant institutional navel gazing and focus on delivering on the issues that people are looking to the EU to try and resolve.

In the Irish context as Dick Roche pointed out there is a need to make the EU relevant to the Irish people in a creative way. Right now there is very clearly something wrong with the way in which Europe is not being communicated and there is a need to get away from the idea of blaming Europe when things go wrong and governments taking the credit from the EU when things go right. As Dick Roche said during the referendum campaign there was no discussion about how best to promote Irish interests through the Lisbon treaty. The Minister also spoke of the ramifications if no solution is found before the next European elections but emphasised again that the best way to find a solution was through detailed analysis and the Irish government would take as much time as it was necessary to take.

The Irish Institute has set up a task force on the post Lisbon situation to help the government in its analysis. It will be producing a number of papers on the referendum campaign itself and the various issues as well as the different scenarios if Lisbon doesn’t come into force with two reports planned in time for the European Councils in October and December.

Sitting there in the audience I got the distinct impression that there was a feeling of guilt but there was also a sense that the current situation could not be resolved with timetables and agendas being imposed by external pressure and this was clearly not the role of the French presidency.

I’ve asked a number of my Irish pals how they think this will all pan out and there are many who say they cannot envisage that there won’t be a rerun of a referendum, though this won’t happen before the European elections next June. Indeed, there are murmurings about October 2009 once concessions have been worked out on issues such as abortion, each member state retaining its own EU Commissioner.

But why should the Irish be made to vote again? The people of Ireland have spoken and their democratic decision should be accepted . The Lisbon Treaty has been rejected and should now be put to bed. Its time for Europe to move on and to focus the issues that are relevant to people and which matter the most to them.

No comments: