Europe’s plan B for the Lisbon treaty
By Wolfgang Münchau
Published: June 15 2008 18:37 | Last updated: June 15 2008 18:37
What is going to happen now after the Irish No vote? I would expect the European Union to find a way to implement the Lisbon treaty, leaving Ireland potentially isolated within the EU. I would also expect another Irish referendum at some point, probably in the first half of next year.
I personally found last week’s Irish No vote shocking, not in terms of what it means for the EU, but what it says about Ireland. Ireland is one of the EU’s great success stories. Dublin has become one of the great European cities. Both Ireland and the EU should have celebrated their relationship. The No vote leaves the country with exactly two alternatives. One is a humiliating U-turn, consisting of a Yes vote in a second referendum without a material change of circumstances. The other is that Ireland could lose its full EU membership if the second referendum produces another No victory. Ireland’s citizens would send the country back to the economic Dark Ages, from whence it emerged only a few decades ago.
Why am I so confident that the Lisbon treaty is going to be implemented? 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 (albeit that is easily turned into permanently) from the process of European integration. This is a fairly exotic comment for an otherwise non-exotic minister. I had no idea that that you could temporarily withdraw from the EU and rejoin it later, as though you were buying a forward contract with an option attached. What he is saying in effect is that Ireland should quit the EU. !!!! surely the term is "thrown-out".
It is not mentioned in this article but the elephant in the room is the UK and its ambivalence towards the EU (well by now i would call it outright hatred of the EU if it wasn't for labour ignoring the electorate and preserving the country's interests by holding the status quo and a semblance of normality in relations). The recent ratification of the lisbon treaty by the british parliament is due to the fact that the british establishment that really understands the importance of these treaties is still ignoring the public on decisions of real substance, they just let the hysterics of Murdoch et al play out in the non-decision making world of newspapers. In any case vast chunks of the public is currently overly occupied by pathetically moronic pursuits of no consequence, importance or value of any kind like the football tournaments. The seem to follow every technicality of football with great gusto, but the european union and the Lisbon treaty is alas too complex obviously. Its this cretinous behaviour that necessitates the existence of parliaments to shield decision making from morons hooked on quiz shows, and sky television.
The approval of the Lisbon treaty by the British parliament is a delicious example of the extent to which the UK has a managed democracy where institutions like the foreign office and the parliament still decide the course to take and politely but steadfastly ignore the public completely. I am surprised that nobody pointed out the paradox of the fact that the eurolunatic crowd seeks to defend the UK parliament from the clutches of EU to ensure that British sovereignity "remains intact". Then immediately afterwards self-same parliament approves the hated treaty... Surely there is something off here. In fact even if one goes back to Thatcher the famously anti-european PM of the UK, she herself signed the treaties that expanded the competences of the EU the most.
The paradox is eliminated if one accepts that in reality to enter a treaty or not is decided by the foreign office and not the public. It requires a modicum of political education, and a healthy sense of cynicism. In fact I would go as far as to say that the foreign office seems to govern it's area of competence through policies that have a life of tens to even hundreds of years rather be dependent of the views of whoever the public votes to number 10 every five years.
The underlying truth is that Big Business, the political establishment, and government made a decision during Edward Heath's government that the british economy was going nowhere outside this newly forming economic block, and the real decision makers in the UK have been implementing this decision ever since. The only thing that has changed is that especially after its debt bubble the UK economy needs the EU more than ever as it starting to look like its going to resume its role as the "sick man of europe" at least for a good . Ireland in the grand scheme of things is just a few steps ahead in this process and needs the EU membership even more..
Another thing, lets call euroskeptics by their true name, nationalists, because that is what the euroskeptics are in reality, they exist all over the world and have an extreme attachment to those artificial constructs called nations/borders/flags and other nationalistic fetchisms. They are usually less well-travelled, ageing people with a need to cling to something stable in a globalising and volatile world full of change. It is an understandable need, but that does not make it any less infantile, regressive, intellectually lazy and primitive decision-making.
In reality all this is a reopening of a debate of the 1970es when a sickly British economy pleaded to be allowed in the precursor of the EU. The French had their doubts about the UK, and now it seems they were correct in some things. The fundamental issue seems to be a british disdain of other nations as inferior. The UK's participation in the EU seems to be characterised by a kind of opposite of Groucho Marx's "PLEASE ACCEPT MY RESIGNATION. I DON'T WANT TO BELONG TO ANY CLUB THAT WILL ACCEPT ME AS A MEMBER." Basically they are not happy in any "club" or trading block asthey are not quite as elite as they ought to be, but they can't afford to stay outside all of them.
The following conclusions are being drawn for Ireland, but the threats are equally aimed at London as at Dublin.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.
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 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. But so far there is no sign of the same happening again.
The eurosceptic Czech government may be tempted to follow the Irish. It would also be a mistake to take Swedish ratification for granted. But on balance I would still expect a 26-to-1 ratification score at the end of the year.
What then? Ireland could then hold a second referendum. One possibility would be to ask the same question again, but it is difficult to see what should produce a different result. Ireland has already opted out of everything it wanted to opt out of. It is difficult to formulate any specific concessions, since nobody knows what the Irish electorate wants. This suggests that the Irish problem may not be fixable through a simple declaration by the other member states. A renegotiation of the treaty is out of the question.
An alternative would be a referendum with a differently worded question, such as: “Do you want to remain in the EU on the basis of the Lisbon treaty?” Of course, this bundles two questions many people would like to answer separately. Yes, stay in the EU, No to Lisbon. But folding the two into a single question is politically more honest because it is Ireland’s only real-world choice.
What if the Irish government refused to hold a second referendum? In that case I would suspect a frantic discussion about enforcing the Lisbon treaty without the Irish. I honestly have no idea of how this could work. I know this appears to be in contravention of European law. 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 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. The biggest losers from this fiasco will be the Irish themselves. They brought the country to the brink in its relations with the EU at a time when the economy is facing the most severe crisis in living memory. I shudder to think how foreign investors are going to react, given how much Ireland relies on them for its prosperity.
Faced with this situation, the strategy most likely to be successful from the perspective of the rest of the EU is to play hardball. This is plan B.
The biggest lie told to electorates was that there was an alternative to forming a block of european nations with a common currency in a globalised world. It seems that the british government got the message and knows where the UK's interest lies but the british public does not and for nationalistic reasons may never get it, particularly if as it looks increasingly likely the UK and Ireland are going to need the ECB to bail their debt-ridden over inflated economies and unbelievably overvalued property markets when the bank of england will not be capable of doing it like the previous time in the early 90es when the brits went cap in hand to the Bundesbank. The UK's woes were far smaller then, but they nevertheless they received a crushing NEIN back then..