Government faces nightmare scenario of third Lisbon vote
By Fionnan Sheahan and Sarah Collins in Brussels
Friday October 29 2010
THE nightmare prospect of another Lisbon Treaty vote loomed last night as EU leaders met in Brussels.
Germany is continuing to press hard to reopen the Lisbon Treaty, tighten rules on spending and bring in punishments for breaches.
Backed by France, the Germans want countries that break budget deficit rules to have their voting rights suspended — a measure that would prompt a referendum in Ireland and is staunchly opposed by Mr Cowen.
After the Nice and Lisbon experiences, the Government is against any changes that would result in substantial changes needing to be passed in a referendum.
“I don’t believe the suspension of voting rights is a runner as far as getting the agreement of my country,” Mr Cowen said.
Spain, Italy, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands and Portugal are also sceptical on the voting rights issue.
The Taoiseach did support proposals for discussions on making the EU emergency economic fund permanent, but said this issue should be handled in the most “specific and narrow way possible”.
Mr Cowen was unable to rule out a referendum being required if there was a renegotiation of the treaty’s rules.
And the Taoiseach showed no appetite for going back to the people for the fifth time in a decade on a European issue.
“Referendums aren’t something you hold lightly. You hold them if they are necessary.
“Whatever constitutional requirements are is what you have to abide by.
“I’m just making the point that it’s not necessarily the case that a referendum is the mechanism in every case.
“You have to judge it on a case-by-case basis. That’s our constitutional position,” he said.
Arriving at the summit in Brussels, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the reforms she wanted would mean the EU would “have to change the treaty”.
Germany insists on putting the treaty text back on the table to create a permanent emergency mechanism for ailing eurozone countries. The current €440bn eurozone stability fund runs out in 2013.
Ms Merkel wants to avoid a repeat of the Greek debt crisis that threatened to bring down the single currency earlier this year, and is also suggesting that debt write-downs be a condition of future loans. She is beholden to a German constitutional court, which is currently mulling a challenge to the legality of the existing bailout, and feels that changing the treaty is the only way to avoid a potentially disastrous verdict.
The EU’s legal services say that the fund is compatible with European law and could be extended without a major revision.
Labour’s Pat Rabbitte appealed to Finance Minister Brian Lenihan to confront the EU over the Lisbon Treaty.
“Does he not think that he ought to summon up the courage to send a message to the Franco-German declaration that whatever they are contemplating, that the last thing that this little country wants is to have another referendum on Lisbon imposed on them?” he asked.
Mr Lenihan said he agreed with him and he didn’t want to see a referendum, saying “the Government would be anxious to ensure that any such treaty would not entail an amendment to the Constitution”.
Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny also spoke out against a renegotiation of Lisbon, saying it would cause “serious problems” for Ireland and its EU partners.
He insisted Ireland had already ratified the document and any changes to it that included suspending the voting rights of persistent debt and deficit offenders would not be countenanced.
“I’m not sure of the wisdom of proceeding down the route of reopening the treaty where a referendum might be required,” the told the Irish Independent.
“If we were to go the treaty route it would obviously cause quite a degree of difficulty for a number of reasons in Ireland.”
When questioned on the suggestion to suspend errant countries’ voting rights, Mr Kenny added: “I don’t expect anything that would do down a European country or leave out a country like Ireland would be supported.”
Mr Kenny insisted that more “clarity” was needed on the proposals before going any further.
- Fionnan Sheahan and Sarah Collins in Brussels