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TAOISEACH Brian Cowen agreed with French president Nicolas Sarkozy at the recent European Council summit to discuss the drafting of opt-outs to the Lisbon Treaty, specifically in line with the proposal I made earlier this month.
I proposed an extended plebiscite on the treaty in Ireland where we would have a referendum on yes or no to the treaty, while on the same day holding consultative referenda on key opt-in/opt- out issues such as the EU charter of fundamental rights, European security and defence policy and other potentially sensitive areas for us.
In proposing this, I am attempting to isolate the crucial thematic areas in need of rational and neutral debate in Ireland. I would be encouraging Ireland to opt in concerning these policy issues, but voters deserve the right to make their own informed decision following open and unemotional discussion.
If, in the extended referendum, Irish voters were to opt out of these sample areas, the Government could then seek a separate agreement at the European Council to be signed by all 27 member states. This move would be similar to the precedent of the Edinburgh agreement sought by the Danish government at the European Council in December 1992 which granted Denmark four exemptions to the Maastricht Treaty. This allowed them to ratify the treaty overall.
With this plan, member states who have already ratified the Lisbon Treaty would not have to do so again. This extended plebiscite would offer the Irish electorate a choice as to the extent of the role they want to play in the EU.
In addition, I support the reiteration of declarations and protocols preserving Ireland’s tax position and our stance on ethical issues such as abortion. Reform of the Referendum Commission is also urgently required to strengthen its capacity to counteract lies and misinformation put forward by both yes and no sides in the run-up to a vote.
We need to be at the heart of Europe now more than ever in times of financial turmoil. A second referendum under the conditions I have outlined will allow us to stay there.
Colm Burke, MEP
20 Washington Street
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