Foreign Policy Blogs

EU referendum: All eyes on Ireland

EU referendum: All eyes on IrelandThere is a nervous anticipation in the air in Brussels. Today is the day that might undo the fragile compromise negotiated by Angela Merkel during Germany's Presidency of the European Union.

Eyes grew wider with anguish when the Irish Times reported earlier in the week that the ‘No’ camp had overtaken the pro-Lisbon Treaty faction in the polls. What is clear is that it will be an extremely close vote.

But who are these nay-sayers that may be poised to undo an incomplete, though “best-possible-given-the-circumstances” compromise to reform and streamline the unwieldy 27 member ship that is the Union? The Guardian says it best:

“..ultra-rightwing Catholics, traditional nationalists, pro-American free marketeers and the far left. Add in a pop star and a turkey puppet called Dustin and you have a force which threatens to sink a reform project designed to transform how nearly 500 million Europeans are governed.”

As is always the case with contested votes, the undecided electorate and the overall turnout will play a disproportionate role in the final decision. Despite government efforts led by new Taoiseach Brian Cowen and supporters, 60% of the public still felt they were ill informed about the impact the Treaty would have on their lives and the status of Ireland within the Union. Unsurprisingly, then, that the eclectic ‘No’ camp has preyed on these fears: Some argue that the Lisbon Treaty will allow abortion to sneak in through the back door, others are concerned about how it might affect Ireland's corporate tax base, still others – including the only male member of pop act The Corrs – argue that signing on to the reform treaty is akin to remilitarizing one of the few remaining neutral countries in the European Union.

In a last minute publicity stunt, free-market advocating businessman Declan Ganley, who heads Libertas, the ‘No’ group that wants to see Ireland's politicians negotiate a “better deal” for the country, bought one way tickets to Brussels for the country's leadership, arguing they shouldn't return unless they came back with a Commissioner and significantly more influence for the green isle (the Lisbon Reform Treaty creates a more streamlined EU executive, with rotating Commissioners, eradicating the traditional “one Commissioner per country” practice).

But honestly: What's the worst that could happen if Ireland says no? Will it truly be the unravelling of the Union? My former colleague, EU expert and Director of Studies at the European Policy Centre, Antonio Missiroli predicts that practicality might prevail: The first option might be to organize a second referendum (this would be highly dependent on the margin of the ‘No’ camp win), the second might include a renegotiation of additional Irish opt-outs from the Treaty to satisfy skeptics and/or in the worst case (and given the amount of subsidies that Ireland still receives, no one could possibly want this solution), Ireland would pull-out of the European Union altogether.

Whether or not any of these options will have to be considered is only a matter of hours. We will feature a roundup of results and commentary in tomorrow's blog.



Cathryn Cluver

Cathryn Cluver is a journalist and EU analyst. Now based in Hamburg, Germany, she previously worked at the European Policy Centre in Brussels, Belgium, where she was Deputy Editor of the EU policy journal, Challenge Europe. Prior to that, she was a producer with CNN-International in Atlanta and London. Cathryn graduated from the London School of Economics with a Master's Degree in European Studies and holds a BA with honors from Brown University in International Relations.

Areas of Focus:
Refugees; Immigration; Europe


Great Decisions Discussion group