The Lisbon treaty - A real test for principle of EU unity

IF TAOISEACH Brian Cowen had been allowed to write his own script he would not be in Brussels today explaining why we rejected the Lisbon treaty.

Neither would he have to try to put some sort of shape on the next phase of our relationship with the European Union; or as some would have it, the EU’s relationship with Ireland.

Neither would he have to consider analysis of what the vote meant, which is more diverse and confusing than the campaign that led to the treaty’s rejection.

Had he been able to write the script his focus today might have been on matters more pressing and local — a tottering economy and soaring energy costs.

Nevertheless, Mr Cowen is in Brussels and he has a job to do, albeit an unenviable one. Though it is not the agenda he would have wished for, neither is his hand as weak as it might first appear. Some domestic opponents already know what some of Europe’s haughtier politicians might soon discover — Mr Cowen is unlikely to roll over to have his tummy tickled. He will not stand in the corner and he will not be cowed.

Wounded he may be, supplicant he is not. As the yes camp argued, the EU is more about support than finger-wagging or domination and he will find more support than might be imagined.

There have been the expected criticisms; one critic called on Commissioner Charlie McCreevey to resign. Others indicated it was a temporary little difficulty to be outflanked by adding a line or two to the treaty excusing Ireland from its obligations.

Indeed, the dismissive responses from some quarters, that ignore one of the main reasons we rejected the treaty — the contempt for democracy — just add fuel to an inflamed situation.

President José Manuel Barroso has encouraged the eight member states that have not yet ratified the treaty to do so, even though voices in the no camp insist the treaty is redundant. However, he admits he believes Ireland remains committed to building a strong Europe and playing a full and active part. Mr Barroso also said the treaty was signed by all 27 member states, so there is a joint responsibility to address the situation.

This morning’s meeting is the start of that process and no one knows where it will go or end. However, one unacceptable option is a secondary relationship.

Mr Cowen should not be slow to point out that we were the only country to put the matter to a vote. Neither should he be slow to suggest that the margin of defeat might be as wide if the French or German government allowed a vote. Neither should he be slow to point out the practicality of our contribution to European unity. When France and Germany rejected Eastern European immigrants we opened our borders and offered opportunity where others offered nothing.

We changed lives rather than constitutions.

Nearly every aspect of our relationship with Europe has been positive and there is no reason to imagine that will change this morning. Our friends will realise that some of the criticisms levelled at Lisbon and the way the EU operates are justified. They will work to rectify that situation because if they don’t they know they will face a no vote in their own country sooner or later.


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