Lisbon: Take 230 July 2009
The announcement from Taoiseach Brian Cowen that the Republic of Ireland is to hold a second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty on 2nd October has come as no real surprise. Ever since the electorate delivered a decisive rejection of the Treaty back in June 2008, the options open to Mr Cowen's government were fairly limited. Sure enough, there was the all too familiar sound-bite, "we must respect the Irish electorate's decision", expressed by all the pro-Lisbon political parties in the aftermath of the referendum.
However, for the Treaty to take effect, it must be ratified by all EU countries, and, there was a sense among the big players in the EU, especially France and Germany, that the Republic was "holding up the show", so to speak. Against this backdrop, a second referendum was always going to be inevitable, with certain guarantees inserted into the Treaty to make it apparently more "palatable" to the Irish voter.
It would not be an over-exaggeration to state that the referendum in October is a big test of Brian Cowen's leadership. A second 'No' vote would be deeply embarrassing for him and he would almost certainly find it difficult to remain in office amid calls for him to resign. He will hope, therefore, that the guarantees he has secured will ensure that Ireland delivers a positive verdict on the Treaty.
Among the guarantees that have been agreed with the other 26 Member States include: the Republic of Ireland will retain its Commissioner (as will all the other 26 Member States); Irish neutrality will not be affected, which is designed to quell fears over conscription and plans for a common defence; and the Republic will retain control over sensitive ethical issues such as abortion.
The question is, however, will these measures be enough to deliver a 'Yes' vote in the October referendum?
What's different this time around is that the political and economic landscape has changed considerably since the last referendum in June 2008.
The Republic has since slipped into a severe recession, with the Economic and Social Research Institute expecting unemployment to rise to almost 17 per cent next year. Some observers take the view that the bleak economic outlook may make a "Yes" vote more likely, as voters may feel that the Republic needs to deliver a strong message to its European partners in its moment of need.
The failure of both Declan Ganley of Libertas, and Mary Lou McDonald of Sinn Féin, to get elected to the European Parliament could also severely affect the 'No' campaign's chances of success. Ganley's announcement that he would not be campaigning in the forthcoming referendum will have a big impact on the 'No' campaign's ability to raise funds. The millionaire businessman contributed large sums of money to the previous 'No' campaign, which actually outspent the 'Yes' campaign by a considerable margin.
Impartial observers have cautiously predicted a 'Yes' verdict to be delivered in October, with the latest opinion poll from the Sunday Independent stating that around 54 per cent intended to vote "Yes", compared to 28 per cent who said they would vote 'No'. Whatever the result is in October, it will have huge implications for the future direction of the EU. A "Yes" vote would give much needed momentum to the enlargement process, which would be good news for Iceland, who have recently lodged an application for EU membership with the European Council. The economic woes that Iceland are currently suffering have clearly resulted in a change of thinking amongst its political elite, however, whether negotiations between Iceland and the EU yields a fruitful relationship remains to be seen.
The Republic of Ireland's voters will also have the final say over any aspirations Tony Blair has to become the EU's first president. The former Prime Minister has been announced as a candidate for the job by Europe Minister Lady Kinnock, who said that his candidature would be supported by the government. The only catch, of course, being that the post will only be created if Ireland ratifies the Lisbon Treaty second time round, and, as yet, the post has an undefined remit. Mr Blair still has not confirmed if it is his intention to put his name forward, however, Lady Kinnock's intervention only increases the speculation that he will.