As latest polls reveal the anti-Lisbon Treaty camp in Ireland have taken the lead, the superstitious date of Friday 13 June 2008, when the results of the referendum will be officially announced, could see Europe thrown into an existential crisis.
Opposition to the EU Treaty has more than doubled over the last week, increasing from 17% to 35% over the past three weeks, according to a TNS/MRBI poll published in the Irish Times on 5 June.
Support from campaigners in favour of the Treaty crafted to replace the defunct EU Constitution (which was rejected by French and Dutch voters three years ago) has dropped five percentage points, down to 30% over the same period.
The number of undecided voters now stands at 28% while 7% of Irish citizens said they would not be voting in the 12 June referendum.
Ireland is the only EU country to require ratification of the Lisbon Treaty through a nationwide referendum – a procedure now considered too risky by many countries, including the UK, despite earlier promises to hold a public consultation on the former Constitution.
To garner support from the large number of undecided voters, the government of Irish Taoiseach Brian Cowen launched a national campaign in favour of the treaty’s approval on 13 May.
In the meantime, the EU institutions also put on hold any discussions on sensitive issues such as taxation, agricultural policy reform or defence, for fear that they could impact negatively on Irish voters in the same way that the Bolkestein directive on services influenced French and Dutch voters in the Constitution referendum in 2005.
The Financial Times writes ironically today that ahead of the Irish referendum, the Commission is picking up on “safe” subjects, such as the endangered habitat of hamsters in Alsace. As if looking to confirm this interpretation, the Commission has also issued a strongly worded text expressing EU support for the protection of whales (see press releases).
EU leaders continually insist there is no plan B in the case of an Irish ‘no’ vote. But the Czech government has already issued a programme for when it takes over the EU Presidency in the first half of 2009 in two versions: one in case the Lisbon Treaty is ratified and one in case it is rejected (EURACTIV 03/06/08)
On 4 June, the Dutch Parliament voted in favour of the Lisbon Treaty by large majority. After the rejection of the EU Constitution by nearly 62% of the population in the 2005 referendum, the Netherlands’ major political parties decided that a referendum was “unnecessary” this time around (EURACTIV 24/09/07).