News | Sunday, 04 October 2009

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Labour – Irish ‘yes’ means sovereignty cannot be taken for granted

Ireland yesterday gave a “clear and resounding” vote backing the EU’s Lisbon Treaty in the republic’s crucial second referendum, prime minister Brian Cowen said, with 67% of the vote in favour.
Early returns showed clear majorities for the ‘Yes’ campaign - just 18 months after voters rejected the treaty first time round. The EU Commission called the result a “vote of confidence” in the EU.
Tallies based on partial results indicate a 60:40 ‘Yes’ vote in some constituencies.
The first official result, for Tipperary South in southern Ireland, showed 68.4% voting ‘Yes’ and 31.6% ‘No’. Later, the result from Kildare North showed 76% in favour and in Tipperary North the ‘Yes’ vote was 70%. As expected, Donegal North East rejected the treaty again, but only narrowly, with 52% to the ‘No’ camp.
Nearly all the EU states have ratified Lisbon, the treaty that streamlines decision-making in the 27-nation EU, and importantly for Malta, awards it a sixth MEP seat, which will be taken up by former Labour MP Joseph Cuschieri.
The only other countries yet to ratify Lisbon are the Czech Republic and Poland. But the parliaments of both countries have approved the treaty, and only await a signature from presidents Vaclav Klaus and Pollak Kaczynski.
Apart from the increase in the size of the European Parliament, Malta is now guaranteed a Maltese member in the European Commission. The Treaty also gives some more power to the EP and national parliaments in the creation of laws.
Ireland was the only EU member state to hold a referendum on Lisbon, though there have been calls for referendums in several countries. The leader of the anti-Lisbon lobby group Libertas, Declan Ganley, said the result marked a “very convincing win” for the ‘Yes’ camp.
A ‘yes’ vote will see Angela Merkel of Germany, Nicolas Sarkozy of France and others move quickly to introduce the changes under the Lisbon treaty.
But intense politicking will immediately ensue over the two plum posts created by Lisbon: a president of Europe who will chair EU summits and serve for up to five years, and an EU foreign policy chief.
The post of president, to be decided by European leaders, has to go to a former or sitting head of government or state. Tony Blair is a frontrunner, but has plenty of enemies. Conservative shadow foreign secretary, William Hague, said his party was prepared to lobby EU capitals in an effort to block the appointment.
Jan-Peter Balkenende, the Christian Democrat Dutch prime minister, is also lobbying discreetly for the job and could have the backing of Merkel, whose say will be decisive.
The post of EU foreign policy chief – foreign minister in all but name – who also serves as vice-president of the European commission, is arguably more important. The post combines two jobs currently held by the Spanish Social Democrat Javier Solana as foreign policy supremo and Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the Austrian Christian Democrat, as external relations commissioner in charge of a large budget.
If Blair gets the president job, the foreign policy post will probably go to a Christian Democrat. The vote trading is being conducted behind closed doors and will come to a climax at a Brussels summit at the end of the month.

The Nationalist Party expressed its satisfaction with yesterday’s result, saying the Treaty would allow faster decision-making within the EU and the creation of a European foreign minister. “It will be a more effective Union and stronger when it takes on challenges… in the words of Commission president Josè Manuel Barroso, the 'Yes' vote in Ireland is a sign of trust in the EU.”
The PN said it was looking towards the future of the EU with optimism, saying Malta would continue to reap opportunities from the Union and strengthen its voice inside the bloc.
The students’ group Studenti Demokristjani Maltin (SDM) also expressed satisfaction at the outcome of the referendum, and with the fact that the result was welcomed locally by both the PN and Labour.
Shadow foreign minister George Vella yesterday said Labour was happy about the Irish outcome, which had put an end to “a chapter of great uncertainty in the development of the EU”.
But he noted there were more challenges for the EU before it could fully adopt the Treaty. “Labour praises the Irish people which safeguarded its interests, did not decide to take on the Treaty straight away, and through delicate and precise negotiations, assured itself that the Lisbon Treaty’s operation would not affect its rights when it comes to neutrality, the life of the unborn child, its lifelong right to an Irish Commissioner, tax decisions, and other security and defence decisions.”
Vella, who as Labour deputy leader had opposed EU membership, said the Irish had shown how much it believes in the European Union and that its future lies within the bloc. “But it still did not abandon its national interest, putting the interests of the people and the respect of its Constitution first, before others.”
The Labour spokesperson said the Irish process shows how EU member states were still sovereign nations, despite delegating some aspects of their sovereignty to the EU.
“Lisbon is a useful and necessary tool for the operation of the EU’s structures. Labour augurs for the Treaty to be in place without further delays, so that our country can benefit from its sixth MEP seat, as well as our guaranteed Maltese Commissioner in the EC.”

Irish change
Many voters said they had switched from ‘No’ to ‘Yes’ this time around. Opinion is thought to have swung behind the “Yes” vote this time because of the severity of the economic downturn, as well as the legal “guarantees” on Irish sovereignty that the EU pledged after the first referendum.
The legally binding “guarantees” state that Lisbon will not affect key areas of Irish sovereignty, such as taxation, military neutrality and family matters such as abortion – significant issues in last year’s campaign in Ireland. But they have not yet been attached to the treaty.
The treaty is intended to make EU institutions better suited to the enlarged bloc of 27. The current Nice Treaty was designed for a 15-nation bloc and predates the EU’s eastward expansion of 2004.
Opponents see Lisbon as part of a federalist agenda that threatens national sovereignty.
In last year’s vote, 46.6% of Irish voted ‘Yes’ and 53.4% ‘No’, and the rejection of the treaty plunged the EU into political gridlock.
The Irish anti-Lisbon group Coir said on Saturday voters appeared to have approved the treaty. “We are extremely disappointed that the voice of the people was not heard the first time around,” said Richard Greene, a spokesman for Coir, which means Justice in English.
Three million people were eligible to vote in the referendum. All of the republic’s major parties campaigned for a ‘Yes’ vote except the nationalist Sinn Fein. The party believes rejecting the treaty would mean a more democratic EU.


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