Irish vote, Europe’s future: Four options after the ‘no’

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

In the aftermath of the Irish rejection of the Lisbon Treaty, Dominik Hierlemann considers four options for the future in a June 2008 paper for the Bertelsmannstiftung.

Repeat the referendum: Ireland would issue a special declaration about “national sovereignty”, thus preventing other EU member states’ ratifications from becoming “invalid”. Meanwhile the Irish would be asked to vote again, but the author believes that it is unlikely they will “change their minds by the time the second referendum comes along”.  

Full renegotiation leading to a new treaty: Other member states may see this as “back-pedalling,” while it could be a politically “risky” way of determining the Treaty’s contents. Hierlemann calls for a “Europe-wide referendum on the new treaty” to be held, whereby the “dual majority” principle would be conceivable if “at least fifty per cent of the EU electorate were in favour” of the new text.    

Keep the Treaty of Nice: This text “would remain the basis for business” with “minimal changes”. Considering the number of EU member states is likely to increase in the future, the paper underlines the need for a “different decision-making mechanism” based on the Nice Treaty. Hierlemann argues that it is necessary for member states and Brussels’ institutions to “work out every single amendment of the institutional structure” if Europe is to be assertive in the face of “great powers”. He suggests creating a European Minister for Foreign Affairs even without the treaty, arguing that “new treaties are not required to do this”.     

Establish a new supranational union, forming a ‘core’ Europe: This would involve the co-existence of the “old EU” based on the Nice Treaty and a new Union formed by the “pro-deepening member states”. Hierlemann warns of the consequences of “a separate European core,” claiming it would lead to the “formation of two competing camps,” “exerting political pressure”. 

The paper questions which candidates would take part in this core Union considering that some countries like France or Germany are not willing to “surrender more sovereignty to a supranational level”. 

Hierlemann believes that a “project-based Europe” is more realistic than establishing a new union as it “would not lead to competing blocs”. 

He concludes that “European policymakers have very little room for manoeuvre” and recommends that current draft treaty be retained. 

The author calls on heads of state and government to make clear that the ratification process will continue until completed. Once ratified, a “special declaration” could be added to the Lisbon Treaty before it is submitted again to the Irish electorate, Hierlemann argues. 

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