Compromise over Irish revote on EU treaty takes shape

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A compromise package aimed at convincing the Irish to return to the ballot box and agree to the Lisbon Treaty seems to be taking shape as Dublin considers opt-outs on defence. Meanwhile, EU countries appear to be leaning towards retaining the current system of one commissioner per country in response to Ireland’s concerns that it may lose its representative.

The Irish government is exploring the possibility of opting out from European security and defence policy in an attempt to make the Lisbon Treaty more palatable to the public, the country’s foreign affairs minister, Micheál Martin, told the press at an informal ministerial meeting in Avignon on 7 September. His announcement came as a confirmation of previous reports that Dublin had sent officials to Copenhagen last month to study Denmark’s experience since the latter decided to opt out of EU defence completely in 1992. 

Martin said he was personally against such a move, as a decision to completely pull out of European security policy would mean that Ireland would no longer participate in EU peacekeeping missions overseas. According to him, the Irish army has benefited greatly from such experiences, receiving much international praise. 

But a diplomatic source said that if a defence opt-out is the price to pay for an Irish ‘yes’ to the new Lisbon Treaty, then “so be it”. The French EU Presidency has already indicated its willingness to consider possible guarantees the Irish might like to have added to the treaty, notably as regards their neutrality, religious values, abortion, taxation or aid schemes for certain professions (EURACTIV 25/06/08). 

What’s more, a Commission source told EURACTIV that the latest word was that EU countries may even attempt to convince Ireland to vote again by changing the current treaty’s provisions on reducing the number of commissioners. Many Irish voted ‘no’ in the 12 June referendum, believing that they could thus preserve their country’s commissioner. 

Only after the vote did they realise that this was not the case (EURACTIV 19/06/08). The Lisbon Treaty envisages reducing the number of commissioners from 27 to 15 by 2014. But even if the Lisbon Treaty is not enforced, the Nice Treaty requires their number to be reduced to below 27 as of the Commission’s next term, from as early as autumn 2009. 

According to the source, keeping the present system of one commissioner per country may not only serve to give the Irish a sense of having accomplished an important goal with their negative vote. Such a measure could also be easily adopted (by means of a brief intergovernmental conference) because other countries are starting to have second thoughts about reducing the number of commissioners, the source added. 

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