13/12/2007

Lisbon Treaty's Success May Depend On Irish Votes

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern today joined other European Union (EU) leaders in Lisbon to sign the controversial EU Reform Treaty.

But, crucially, the charter is to be put to a referendum in Ireland during 2008, which the Government hopes to win comfortably.

They are buoyed up by a national opinion poll published last month which said that only 13% would actually vote against the Treaty, while 62% didn't know or had no opinion.

The Government has insisted that key Irish interests are fully represented within the complex Treaty.

The signing ceremony took place at the historic Jeronimos Monastery in the Portuguese capital and was attended by the 27 EU state leaders as well as European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso.

However, others are not so sure the Irish people will back the agreement and say it is by no means as cut and dried an issue as Mr Ahern – and the Brussels politicians - hope it will be.

This means that Ireland may well hold the ultimate fate of the EC's Lisbon Treaty in its (electorate's) hands as it is the only country that will hold a referendum on the text.

An expert with a 'think tank' on EU policies said that the Treaty must be ratified by all 27 EU member states before it enters into force.

"The only country in which the ratification is at risk is Ireland because it is the only country where a referendum will be held," Antonio Missiroli, Head of Studies at the European Policy Center.

"Referenda, by definition, are unpredictable," he said, noting that all Euroskeptics across the EU, particularly those from Britain, will flock to Ireland in order to campaign for a "No".

The Irish referendum, which is required by the country's constitution, is expected to take place in spring 2008, almost the same period when the British House of Commons, where Euro skeptics abound, is expected to ratify the treaty.

UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown - who arrived late for the signing of the European Union Reform Treaty due to work at Westminster - is also facing criticism on the Treaty too.

Political correspondents feel that rather than giving Europe a strong solitary voice in the world, it will only add to rivalry.

(BMcC)

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