Ireland votes today on whether or not to approve the Lisbon Treaty agreed by twenty six other member nations of the European Union. It is likely that they will say yes. The result will be known on Saturday evening, Irish time.
Ireland is in serious trouble. Unemployment is at thirteen percent, the government is creating a “bad” bank to adopt the toxic assets of Ireland’s indebted banks so as to ease the flow of credit. Large corporations, once part of Ireland’s “roar” as a Celtic Tiger, are now leaving Ireland for less expensive and friendlier nations, many offering incentives for moving. They need the support of the European Union to get to the other side of the real crisis that Ireland faces. That support depends, in some measure, on how the people of Ireland vote today.
The “no” campaign has focused on the loss of sovereignty they see inherent in the Lisbon Treaty, which cedes powers to the European Union and unelected bodies within it. They also claim that the European Union will force social policy changes, especially about abortion, on Ireland which the Irish people do not want.
The “yes” side focus on the economic benefits that will be derived from the European Union and the potential of the Union for strengthening Ireland’s infrastructure as a knowledge based economy. They also point out that there have been concessions, both in terms of the Treaty itself and other matters, which support Ireland’s economic future and social development.
Ireland is the only nation bound by a referendum and most of the remaining nations have approved the Treaty, despite the fact that the Treaty was rejected by referenda is both France and the Netherlands. Two countries – the Czech Republic and Poland – have still to sign the treaty, though both of these countries are in a position to do so. The Treaty creates new institutions, formalizes majority decision making and creates the post of President of the European Union. It also permits a strengthening of the co-decision powers of the European Parliament, working collaboratively with the European Council of Ministers.
Watching the Irish vote anxiously is former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, widely thought of as the front runner for the Presidency of the European Union, a post the EU wants to fill before the British general election, expected in May 2010. Several reports appeared this week suggesting that, if the Irish vote yes, Blair would be named President at the next meeting of the EU heads of government within a month. While there are other candidates - Jan Peter Balkenende, Prime Minister of the Netherlands; Herman Van Rompuy, the Belgian Prime Minister; Jean-Claude Juncker of Luxembourg; Felipe González, the former Spanish Prime Minister; Mr François Fillon, Prime Minister of France; and Wolfgang Schüssel, the former Austrian Chancellor – Blair has the formal support of Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s Prime Minister, President Sarkozy of France and Angela Merkel of Germany. It looks like a done deal.
The Irish people are in a very powerful position: they will determine some key elements of the future of the European Union, the fate of the present Irish government and the career prospects of Tony Blair. Much will depend on turn-out and the mood of the people of Ireland. There is a lot at stake. The announcement of the vote will be watched with interest.