PIT STOP

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Irish vote puts new Europe on horizon.

After Ireland recently ratified the Lisbon Treaty, Europe has moved one step closer to being a full-fledged federation.

The potential significance for Europe of Ireland’s Yes vote in the Lisbon Treaty referendum may not yet be fully clear, but it is of major import. If the Lisbon Treaty now comes into force, the Irish electorate’s rethink will have rescued the viability of European unity, probably for a generation.

If the No side had prevailed in the referendum (as it did in the first one) the European Union would have suffered a massive, morale-sapping blow.

Not only would the Lisbon Treaty itself have been killed off, but so, too, would the prospect of reforming the EU for years, given that this time next year David Cameron and the Tories – a party and a leader both skeptical to Europe – would be in power in England.

With a Conservative-ruled UK vetoing every attempt to improve the EU, it is more than likely that Europe would be divided between states advocating further integration and states opposing it – a disaster for the continent.

However, the Lisbon Treaty is not quite a done deal. Two other states have not yet ratified: Poland and the Czech Republic. Both countries’ parliaments have voted approval but their Eurosceptical presidents have withheld their signatures.

Polish president Lech Kaczynski, however, promised last July to consent to ratification if Ireland voted Yes and he has now done so. This leaves Czech president Vaclav Klaus, who more than once said he would try to keep the treaty from coming into force.

Some have speculated that he wanted to delay signing until after the general election in Britain, in the hope the Conservatives would win and call a referendum on the treaty.

Now Mr. Klaus admits he cannot wait for a British election.

“They would have to hold it in the coming days or weeks. However, the train has now traveled so fast and so far I guess it will not be possible to stop it or turn it around, however much we would wish to.”

The treaty was designed to streamline the EU’s decision-making process following its expansion from 15 to 27 members. Critics, including Klaus, have described it as an attempt to create a European superstate that would rob individual nations of their sovereignty.

Some months ago, Klaus said he he would be the “last politician” in Europe to sign the the Lisbon Treaty. This has come true – but ironically his signature will now be the one that enables the treaty he despises to come into force.

That leaves British Conservative leader David Cameron.

Gavin Barrett, a senior lecturer at Trinity College, Dublin, specializing in European Union law, asks what Cameron’s chances are of blocking the treaty by calling a referendum in England once the Conservatives achieve power. “The answer, very simply,” Barrett writes, “is that it will end them. Once the Lisbon Treaty comes into force it will be irreversible. The new institutional architecture will be there to stay.” Part of that architecture might well be Tony Blair, considered by many to be the front-runner for the new position of EU president.

Much to the chagrin of the more Euro-phobic supporters, Cameron will have to abandon a now legally pointless referendum on Lisbon in favor of a concerted effort to repatriate certain powers to Britain – in social, employment, justice and home affairs. Whether he succeeds remains to be seen, although the UK could threaten to block the accession of new member states if it does not get its way.

Cameron’s hardest job will probably be managing Euro-phobia within his own party: An astonishing 40 per cent of Conservative supporters favor leaving the EU altogether.

Be that as it may, Ireland on its second try has broken the logjam preventing a new Europe.

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