Public support for EU treaty low in Ireland

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Only 25% of Irish citizens would currently vote in favour of the Lisbon Treaty about to be signed by EU leaders on 13 December, according to a recent poll, which also showed many voters still need to make up their minds ahead of a referendum on the new EU treaty.

According to a TNS mrbi opinion poll commissioned by the Irish Times daily newspaper, only 25% of Irish citizens would vote in favour of the Lisbon Treaty, while 13% would vote against. An overwhelming 62% of those asked are undecided, with little more than a year left until the 1 January 2009 deadline to ratify the new treaty, which EU leaders will sign on 13 December in Lisbon.

The opinion poll published on Monday (5 November) indicates a sharp drop in support compared to a survey on the draft EU Constitution conducted in 2005, which showed that 46% would vote in favour, with only 12% saying that they would vote against. The new Lisbon Treaty largely takes on the main elements of institutional reform proposed by the draft EU Constitution, rejected by voters in France and the Netherlands in 2005.

With little time left, the pressure is increasing on the Irish government to avoid another ratification disaster. With EU leaders yet to sign the EU’s new treaty, the Irish government has so far not fixed a date for the referendum. However, according to speculation in the Irish press, and drawing on experience from previous referenda, the popular vote is likely to take place in the early part of the summer (May-June). 

All the main political parties, with the exception of the traditionally Eurosceptic Sinn Fein, are expected to support the Lisbon Treaty in the referendum campaign that will be launched in the next few months. 

Irish diplomatic sources in Brussels told EURACTIV that “the government will work extremely hard on this”, to ensure the treaty is ratified on time.

The Nice Treaty was rejected by Irish voters in 2001, but eventually accepted in a second referendum in 2003, after a protocol clarifying the issue of neutrality was added to the text.

The Lisbon Treaty needs to be ratified by all 27 member states in order to come into force. 

While most countries will opt for parliamentary ratification, Ireland is the only country which is constitutionally bound to a popular vote. However, the option of holding a referendum is also being discussed in Denmark and the Netherlands, where the draft EU Constitution was rejected by popular vote in 2005. UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown also finds himself under increasing pressure from the opposition Conservative Party to hold a referendum.

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