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Cat out of the bag

Posted by Richard Sunday, June 15, 2008 , , , ,

The European Union will find a way to implement the Lisbon treaty, leaving Ireland potentially isolated within the EU. And there will be another Irish referendum at some point, probably in the first half of next year.

That is the view (or expectation) of Wolfgang Münchau, columnist for The Financial Times. So solidly europhiliac is this man that, if you cut him in half (do not try this at home), you would see the words "European Union" running through him like a stick of rock.

And, he asks – rhetorically … they love their rhetorical questions – "Why am I so confident that the Lisbon treaty is going to be implemented?" You do not have to wait long for an answer:

Because, contrary to widespread protestations, Europe's leaders actually have a plan B. It is not a pretty plan. Just listen to what senior French and German politicians had to say over the weekend. Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German foreign minister, suggested on Saturday that one way to implement the treaty was for Ireland to withdraw temporarily from the process of European integration … What he is saying in effect is that Ireland should quit the EU.

Jean-Pierre Jouyet, the French European minister, said something similar. He talked about a "legal arrangement" with the Irish. It seems to me that France and Germany have put some thought into how to drive the Irish out of the EU if they fail to reverse their "no" vote.
With the cat only poking its head out of the bag, it now takes a gigantic leap and it is free. Writes Münchau:

The most important prerequisite of plan B is a 26-to-1 situation in terms of countries that have actually ratified the treaty. This outcome is far from assured and explains why Brussels, Berlin and Paris are so adamant that the ratification show must continue. So far 18 countries have ratified, with eight to go plus Ireland. Once 26 countries have ratified, EU countries accounting for more than 99 per cent of the EU's population will have approved the Lisbon treaty. The pressure on Ireland would then become unbearable.
This is, of course, why the pressure is on for the UK to continue the ratification process. As Münchau remarks, the situation would be completely different if the ratification process were interrupted. In that case, the treaty could probably not be resuscitated. A ratification strike is what sank the constitutional treaty.

The man worries about the eurosceptic Czech government, which may be tempted to follow the Irish. And, he says, it would also be a mistake to take Swedish ratification for granted. But on balance he expects a 26-to-1 ratification score at the end of the year.

Then the pressure is on Ireland. One idea this man has is another referendum, but rigged in the same way of the last Lisbon vote. He suggests a question: "Do you want to remain in the EU on the basis of the Lisbon treaty?" thus forcing voters to make the choice between accepting the treaty or leaving the EU.

In the event that the Irish government refused to hold a second referendum, though, there would be "a frantic discussion about enforcing the Lisbon treaty without the Irish." This might appear to be in contravention of European law, writes the man:

But then again, European law may not be quite as predictable as you may think. It is not enforced by pundits, but by an often unpredictable court. My hunch is that if the 26 member states really wanted to do this, they would find a legal way.
So, he concludes, "the treaty of Lisbon will be implemented one way or the other, but only if the other 26 countries continue to ratify. Otherwise, all bets are off." And, to deal with the Irish, the strategy most likely to be successful from the perspective of the rest of the EU is to play hardball. This is plan B.

That is the authentic voice of the EU. Forget David Miliband and his blathering about there being no question of "bulldozing" Ireland into voting again on the EU Treaty. He is a bit player in this drama, and has yet to get his instructions from the EU foreign ministers' meeting tomorrow.

But, so far, he is following the line – Britain must ratify and, like a good and faithful servant, little Miliband is ensuring that his master's voice is obeyed.

COMMENTS (Irish referendum thread)