Resounding Irish ‘yes’ to EU’s Lisbon Treaty

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Irish voters have approved the EU’s reform treaty by a margin of two to one, lifting the EU out of institutional limbo after years of democratic setbacks and blockage. All eyes now turn to Eurosceptic Czech President Václav Klaus to sign the treaty.

The final result shows 67.1% of the electorate voted in favour of the Treaty, with 32.9% voting against. This represents a 20% swing towards the ‘yes’ campaign compared to the 2008 referendum. Turnout was 58%, an increase of around 6%.

Pressure on Prague and Warsaw

In Brussels, political parties from across the spectrum are turning up the heat on Czech President Václav Klaus to sign the Lisbon Treaty into law, with European Commission President José Manuel Barroso saying all Europeans had now backed the Lisbon Treaty, either directly or indirectly. 

Klaus said he would delay his approval to await a ruling on a constitutional complaint filed by 17 senators against the treaty (EURACTIV 30/09/09). 

Speaking on Saturday (3 October), the Czech president declined to say how he would proceed with ratification after the Irish results. “The question does not exist today. Today I have a ban […] until the Constitutional Court releases something,” he told reporters.

Final ratification is also due in Poland, where President Lech Kaczy?ski had said he was willing to ratify the charter if Ireland voted ‘yes’.

Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer said he believes the country will complete ratification by the end of the year, a government statement said. “The prime minister […] is convinced that ratification will be completed in a way that the Lisbon Treaty can take effect by the end of 2009,” the statement said.

Many political analysts expect Klaus will be forced under heavy EU pressure to sign the treaty into law before the end of the year, helping the bloc to forge a bigger role for itself as the global balance of power shifts following the financial crisis.

EU summit on 29 October

A summit of EU leaders is planned in Brussels on 29 October, at which Klaus is expected to come under heavy pressure to ratify.

“We have a summit at the end of October and that might be perfect timing for this kind of discussion,” said Fredrick Reinfeldt, prime minister of Sweden and current holder of the European Union presidency.

With the ‘yes’ vote due to be confirmed, the chances of Europe taking a great steps to become a better organised Union with a stronger voice in world affairs dramatically increase.

The treaty would give the EU a long-term president and stronger foreign policy chief.

Economic crisis bolstered ‘yes’ vote

Many voters were thought more likely to back the treaty second time around because of the economic crisis, the impact of which EU aid has helped to curb. The European Commission offered 14.8 million euros to help workers at Dell’s Irish plant on 19 September, just weeks before the vote (EURACTIV 21/09/09).

The mood at the main Dublin counting centre was a far cry from last year, when officials watched in disbelief as voters rejected the reform charter, holding up the foreign policy ambitions of a bloc representing 495 million people.

The atmosphere was calm after fraught campaigning that pitched Ireland’s main political parties against anti-abortion groups, pacifists and British Eurosceptics.

Irish approval represents be a boon for the former ‘Celtic Tiger’ economy, which was spared an Icelandic-style collapse because of its membership of the euro zone. It is still reliant on goodwill from Brussels and Frankfurt for its future recovery.

Many people in Ireland are struggling to come to terms with unemployment, higher taxes and the possibility of lower social welfare payments in the next austerity budget.

Irish borrowing costs would likely drop and its banking stocks rise on Monday if the result on Saturday is a ‘yes’, according to predictions prior to the ballot.

EURACTIV’s Gary Finnegan has been following developments by the minute on his 
blog
, where EURACTIV readers can submit their comments and observations.

(EURACTIV with Reuters.)

Irish Prime Minister  (Taoiseach) Brian Cowen hailed the guarantees secured at the European Council meeting in June for securing a solid 'yes' vote. "Today we have done the right thing for our own future and the future of our children," he said. He added that those who voted 'yes' had voted for a "stronger, fairer and better" Ireland and Europe. He thanked his political colleagues, both in government and opposition, who campaigned in favour of the 'yes' vote.

"I am delighted for the country. It looks like a convincing win for the 'yes' side on this occasion," Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin told national radio. Martin said two thirds of voters had backed the treaty thanks to a more constructive information campaign this time around. He said pro-Lisbon campaigners had steered clear of fear-mongering and won the vote based on debating the facts. 

He also acknowledged the importance of the guarantees given to Ireland by European leaders in June. "The European Union delivered for Ireland in June and the people have now endorsed this new package. The Union works best when it listens and accommodates the concerns of individual member states. I am grateful to our European colleagues for their positive and constructive response to our concerns," said Martin.  

The swing in favour of the treaty is a response to the recession and shows an understanding that Ireland's economic future lies with other European countries, Irish Finance Minister Brian Lenihan said. "We face very serious [economic] challenges," Lenihan told national broadcaster RTE on Saturday. "The government is not engaged in any celebratory parties. We are in a very difficult place [economically] and that's precisely why people have voted 'yes'."

European Commission President José Manuel Barroso also framed the result as an endorsement of the EU's coordinated response to the financial crisis. "It [support for the treaty] shows the value of European solidarity and I am really glad with the result we are receiving from Ireland," Barroso, who heads the EU executive, told reporters. "It shows the very positive response that Europe is bringing to the economic and financial crisis." 

Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, whose country currently holds the EU's rotating presidency, said he was "very pleased about the very positive outcome of the Irish referendum". "It is my firm belief that the Lisbon Treaty will make the enlarged Union more democratic, more efficient and more transparent. It is now important to get the Treaty in place. The European Council is united in its wish to see the Treaty enter into force before the end of the year." 

"But the Treaty cannot enter into force until all member states have ratified. We have been in contact both with Poland and the Czech Republic. I understand that the Polish president will sign the legal act shortly and I have invited Czech Prime Minister Fischer and Commission President Barroso to a meeting in Brussels on Wednesday. We will then discuss the situation and see what actions can be taken to move the situation forward."

Richard Greene, a spokesman for Coir, an extremist Catholic group which opposed the treaty, said: "It looks like a 'yes' vote. I want to sympathise and commiserate with all our people who put in a great effort for the love of their country." Greene said it was a "David versus Goliath" battle given the financial resources available to 'yes' campaigners. "The battle to kill this Treaty is not over. President Klaus should wait for the British to have a referendum before signing the Treaty." 

"We are extremely disappointed that the voice of the people was not heard the first time around," added Greene, whose group is one of the most visible opponents of the treaty.

Piotr Maciej Kaczy?ski, research fellow at the Centre for European Policy Studies, told EURACTIV: "The 'yes' vote, if confirmed, is a reinvigoration of the ratification process. Czech President Klaus is now the last person to postpone the process, but there's no one who can stop the process now."

However, he warned Europhiles not to get too carried away: "At the same time, we should not overestimate the 'yes' vote because it comes at a time of deep economic recession in Ireland. It's not jubilation for Europe, it's fear of the economic consequences of a 'no'".

European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek welcomed the results in Ireland by saying "Europe is back on track". "But it is not the end of the story," he added. 

"Now we must start to work to overcome the difficulties. Our citizens are concerned about energy issues, raising unemployment, migration and demographic problems. We can do it together in the future, as we did in the past. All based on the principle of solidarity," Buzek said. 

"We should not forget about those who chose to vote 'no'. It is our habit and it is our custom to think about all Europeans. I can assure that I will work very hard to make you feel that this is our common Europe," he added.

Joseph Daul, chairman of the centre-right EPP group  in the European Parliament, congratulated Fine Gael leader, Mr Enda Kenny, for "leading the 'yes' campaign and showing true political leadership by putting Ireland's interests above narrow political considerations". "This decision endorses the Lisbon Treaty and secures our common future with a more democratic and efficient European Union and ensures Ireland remains at the centre of the European decision making processes," Daul said. "I now look forward to the completion of the ratification process in the coming weeks. I call on Poland and the Czech Republic to ratify without delay."

Martin Schulz, leader of the Socialist and Democrats group in the European Parliament, welcomed the Irish vote and called on "Eurosceptics, including Czech President Václav Klaus, to respect the outcome." 

MEP Ramón Jáuregui of Spain, S&D spokesman on constitutional affairs, said the Irish 'yes' "opens the way to the Europe we need in the 21st century and ends five years of uncertainty and transition in the Union's political and legal framework". 

"We need a stronger and more united Europe to play our part in world governance and in resolving the major problems that face humanity," he added.

Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the liberal ALDE group in the European Parliament, said: "Today is a beautiful day for Europe. Today is the first day of a new future for Europe, united, democratic, effective and strong. With this new treaty the European Union will be able to tackle important problems such as the financial and economic crisis in a more European, coherent and effective way. We will be able to speak with one voice in the world and to provide the answers our citizens need." 

"Now is the time to bring this process to an end and begin the hard work our citizens expect of us. I now expect that everyone takes up their responsibility so that the Lisbon Treaty can enter into force as soon as possible," Verhofstadt added.

The anti-federalist group in the European Parliament, the European Conservatives and Reformist Group  (ECR), warned that ratification of the Lisbon Treaty "is not yet complete and European leaders should not pre-judge the constitutional processes of the Czech Republic or Poland". 

"The European institutions have funnelled a great deal of time and resources into securing a 'yes' vote and the interventions of the European Commission in this internal debate have been extremely regrettable and undemocratic. The Irish have not given a full-throated support for the Treaty; they have been forced into accepting it," said ECR chairman Michal Kaminski MEP.

Timothy Kirkhope MEP, deputy chairman of the ECR Group, said: "In the UK, the Conservative Party will continue to call on Gordon Brown to honour his manifesto commitment to put the treaty to a referendum. We still believe that the Lisbon Treaty takes European integration too far. The British people want the EU to focus on areas where it adds value to their lives, but they do not want to see this ongoing creep towards a federal Europe."

Open Europe, a group which had campaigned against the treaty, said the result marked "a sad day for democracy in Europe". "EU elites will be popping the champagne and slapping each other on the back for managing to bully Ireland in to reversing its first verdict on this undemocratic treaty. But most ordinary people around Europe will not welcome this news, as they were never given a chance to have their say on the treaty. We should all be deeply worried about the way in which EU leaders have gone about forcing this treaty on us." 

Former European Parliament President Pat Cox, who led the 'Ireland for Europe' campaign, said the next European Commission would respond to concerns on workers' rights that arose during the campaign. Cox, who is tipped by some as a potential EU commissioner, said better organisation and explanation had won the day. "The result reflects a very mature vote by the Irish public," he said. 

Left-wing MEP Joe Higgins said the result is a great achievement for the 'no' campaign given that the political, business and media establishment were pushing for a 'yes' vote. He said anti-Lisbon campaigners were outgunned by a well-resourced effort by the government and business interests. He also criticised the involvement of the European Commission in an Irish referendum. 

Lothar Bisky, leader of the left-wing GUE/NGL  bloc in the European Parliament, said the Lisbon Treaty represents a "neo-liberal perversion" in European political thinking and the number of 'no' votes shows Europeans have reservations about the direction of the EU.

Europe for Ireland said Ireland will remain master of its own destiny in Europe. 

"The big majority reflects the clear wish of the Irish people to continue to play an active role in the development of the European Union and to work together with our partners in Europe to master the challenges that face us all. We respect our fellow citizens who voted 'no' and we believe that the future will show that their worst fears about the treaty were not well founded. Ireland will remain the master of its own destiny in Europe."

UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the Irish vote would be "good for the UK and good for Europe". "We can now work together to focus on the issues that matter most to Europeans - a sustained economic recovery, security, tackling global poverty, and action on climate change," he said. 

UK Conservative leader David Cameron said he still wants a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty in the UK. "The treaty has still not been ratified by the Czechs and the Poles. The Czech prime minister has said that the constitutional challenge before the Czech Constitutional Court could take 3-6 months to resolve. I have said repeatedly that I want us to have a referendum."

The ongoing institutional uncertainty over the Lisbon Treaty began in earnest when Irish voters rejected the text by popular referendum in June 2008 (EURACTIV 13/06/08). 

However, the Irish government committed to holding a second referendum, set for 2 October 2009, after being granted a number of key concessions by EU leaders (EURACTIV 12/12/08).

  • 7 Oct.: Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer to discuss ratification process in the Czech Republic with Commission President José Manuel Barroso and Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt in Brussels.
  • 29 Oct.: EU summit in Brussels

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