The future of the EU after the Irish ‘No’

1. How does the future of the EU after the Irish ‘No’ look like?


Conclusions of the European Council of December 2008 on the fate of the Lisbon Treaty

On 11/12 Decem­ber 2008, the Euro­pean Coun­cil unan­i­mous­ly agreed to con­tin­ue to seek rat­i­fi­ca­tion of the Lis­bon Treaty with a view to enabling its entry into force by the end of 2009. In order to respond to the Irish ‘No’ vote in the ref­er­en­dum of 12 June 2008, the mem­bers of the Euro­pean Coun­cil agreed that, sub­ject to rat­i­fi­ca­tion, the Col­lege of Com­mis­sion­ers would con­tin­ue to include one nation­al from each Mem­ber State as of the 2009–2014 Com­mis­sion, as allowed in Arti­cle 17(5) of the EU Treaty.[1] The reten­tion of the pow­er of a nation­al gov­ern­ment to nom­i­nate a mem­ber of the Col­lege was a key con­cern among vot­ers in the Irish ref­er­en­dum on the Lis­bon Treaty, a con­cern that was high­light­ed in gov­ern­ment-spon­sored research on the atti­tudes of vot­ers in the referendum.[2] Fur­ther­more, the Euro­pean Coun­cil agreed to nego­ti­ate future legal guar­an­tees respect­ing Ireland’s dis­tinct posi­tion on three issues: (1) direct tax­a­tion; (2) nation­al secu­ri­ty and defence pol­i­cy; and (3) so-called ‘social/ethical issues’ (includ­ing fam­i­ly law, the right to life and nation­al edu­ca­tion pol­i­cy). It final­ly con­firmed the ‘high impor­tance’ attached to work­ers’ rights,[3] which will be addressed from the per­spec­tive of all nation­al gov­ern­ments and not from a pure­ly Irish posi­tion. Although the con­tent of such guar­an­tees has been agreed in principle,[4] the pre­cise text and legal form will most like­ly be agreed at the Euro­pean Coun­cil meet­ing on 18/19 June 2009.[5] The Dan­ish prece­dent, where­by the then twelve Mem­ber States of the Euro­pean Eco­nom­ic Com­mu­ni­ty nego­ti­at­ed the ‘Edin­burgh Agree­ment’, has been men­tioned as a pos­si­ble prece­dent for the legal­i­sa­tion of Ireland’s ‘guarantees’.[6]

The Taoiseach (Prime Min­is­ter), Bri­an Cowen, wel­comed these com­mit­ments as “extreme­ly encour­ag­ing” in a speech to Dáil Éire­ann (House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, the low­er cham­ber of the Irish Par­lia­ment) on 17 Decem­ber 2008[7] and con­firmed in the nation­al press that Ire­land would hold a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum on the Lis­bon Treaty in light of the pro­posed guarantees.[8] How­ev­er, the details of such guar­an­tees are cur­rent­ly being nego­ti­at­ed among the nation­al gov­ern­ments of the Mem­ber States, and the pre­cise details are not yet in the pub­lic domain.

Sim­i­lar­ly the Min­is­ter for For­eign Affairs, Micheál Mar­tin, empha­sised in a speech to the Insti­tute for Inter­na­tion­al and Euro­pean Affairs on 15 Jan­u­ary 2009 that “noth­ing more could have been asked of our fel­low EU mem­bers or want­ed from them”.[9] He placed a cen­tral impor­tance on the reten­tion of the abil­i­ty of nation­al gov­ern­ments to nom­i­nate one com­mis­sion­er each as the key exam­ple of the Euro­pean Council’s efforts to meet Ireland’s concerns.[10]

The nation­al debate cur­rent­ly focus­es on the con­tent of such ‘legal clar­i­fi­ca­tions’ and their pre­cise form. Respond­ing to the ques­tion of the nature of such guar­an­tees, the leader of the Green Par­ty and cur­rent Min­is­ter for the Envi­ron­ment, John Gorm­ley, stat­ed that the ‘guar­an­tee’ relat­ing to secu­ri­ty and defence pol­i­cy may con­sist of Ire­land nego­ti­at­ing an ‘opt-out’ from the Euro­pean Defence Agency.[11] Such com­ments drew a mixed reac­tion from oth­er mem­bers of the Fian­na Fáil-Green Par­ty coali­tion gov­ern­ment. The Min­is­ter for Defence, Willie O’Dea, is believed to oppose such a move, along with a num­ber of experts on Irish defence policy.[12]

No firm date has been set for the sec­ond ref­er­en­dum on the Lis­bon Treaty, although some spec­u­la­tion cen­tres on Octo­ber 2009. A num­ber of politi­cians, includ­ing Irish MEP, Colm Burke (Fine Gael, EPP), have called on the gov­ern­ment to call a ref­er­en­dum before sum­mer 2009,[13] on the basis that opin­ion polls[14] show a mar­gin of vot­ers in favour of rat­i­fy­ing the Lis­bon Treaty. This is an unlike­ly sce­nario, giv­en that the Euro­pean Coun­cil have not yet agreed the final form of the legal guar­an­tees, as well as con­sid­er­ing the nec­es­sary time that would be required to pass the leg­is­la­tion organ­is­ing a ref­er­en­dum and to allow for cam­paign­ing. The Taoiseach appears to have implied that set­ting such a date is con­tin­gent on the details of the Coun­cil com­mit­ments being addressed to the government’s “satisfaction”.[15]

Regard­ing the reac­tion of the main oppo­si­tion par­ties fol­low­ing the Decem­ber Council’s con­clu­sions, the only notable speech thus far appears to be that of Éamon Gilmore, leader of the Labour Par­ty, on 27 Decem­ber 2008. Mr. Gilmore voiced con­cern over the con­ces­sions to social con­ser­v­a­tives made by the Irish gov­ern­ment and the Euro­pean Coun­cil in the con­clu­sions, espe­cial­ly over the guar­an­tees relat­ing to fam­i­ly, edu­ca­tion and the right to life.[16]

Beyond political parties, reaction in the media and civil society to the Council’s conclusions varies.[17]

Promi­nent anti-Lis­bon cam­paign group Lib­er­tas appear to have react­ed by refo­cus­ing their efforts on becom­ing an offi­cial polit­i­cal par­ty and cam­paign­ing in the June 2009 Euro­pean Par­lia­ment elec­tions, stat­ing that they wish to use the June Euro­pean Par­lia­ment elec­tions as a proxy ref­er­en­dum on the Lis­bon Treaty.[18]

Upcoming European Parliament elections June 2009

The date for the upcom­ing Euro­pean Par­lia­ment elec­tions in Ire­land has been set for 5 June 2009. As the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment elec­tions are still sev­er­al months away, the event has to date received lit­tle cov­er­age in the nation­al media and pub­lic dis­course, and the main issues sur­round­ing the forth­com­ing elec­tions have yet to ful­ly emerge. How­ev­er, it is like­ly that the fate of the Lis­bon Treaty will play a large role in the Irish elec­tion campaign.

The num­ber of Euro­pean Par­lia­ment seats in Ire­land will be reduced from thir­teen to twelve, with the Dublin con­stituen­cy los­ing one of its four seats.[19] The reduc­tion is like­ly to cre­ate strong com­pe­ti­tion between the four incum­bent Dublin MEPs, as each is a mem­ber of a dif­fer­ent nation­al par­ty and a dif­fer­ent Euro­pean Par­lia­ment group­ing. The oth­er three con­stituen­cies remained unal­tered at three seats each. The entry into force of the Lis­bon Treaty would have con­firmed Ireland’s appor­tion­ment of twelve seats, so its delayed entry into force has not prej­u­diced Irish rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the Euro­pean Parliament.

Most incum­bent MEPs have declared their inten­tion to seek re-elec­tion. How­ev­er, Avril Doyle (Fine Gael, EPP, MEP for Ire­land East) has announced that for per­son­al rea­sons she will not be seek­ing re-elec­tion in June.[20] Ms Doyle notably served as rap­por­teur for the Euro­pean Parliament’s envi­ron­ment com­mit­tee on the emis­sions trad­ing direc­tive dur­ing the 2004–2009 legislature.

At their par­ty con­fer­ence on 20 Feb­ru­ary 2009, Prime Min­is­ter Bri­an Cowen announced Fian­na Fáil move from the AEN polit­i­cal par­ty to the ELDR.[21] How­ev­er, some with­in Fian­na Fáil, includ­ing the co-pres­i­dent of the AEN’s polit­i­cal group­ing in the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment (UEN), Bri­an Crow­ley, have ques­tioned whether Fian­na Fáil’s ethos fits the lib­er­al demo­c­ra­t­ic poli­cies of the ELDR party.[22]

The anti-Lis­bon Treaty group ‘Lib­er­tas’, which cam­paigned in Ire­land dur­ing the June 2008 ref­er­en­dum for a ‘No’ vote, has reg­is­tered as a polit­i­cal par­ty in sev­er­al Mem­ber States with a view to con­test­ing the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment elec­tions in June 2009. Despite some ear­ly dif­fi­cul­ties in apply­ing for Euro­pean Par­lia­ment funding,[23] Lib­er­tas has launched as a nation­al polit­i­cal par­ty in Mal­ta, Ger­many, the Unit­ed Kingdom[24] and in France,[25] where can­di­dates from the sov­er­eignist ‘Move­ment for France’ and the rur­al-based ‘Hunt­ing, Fish­ing, Nature and Tra­di­tions’ par­ty will run under the Lib­er­tas banner.

Lib­er­tas is per­haps best known in Ire­land, where its founder, Declan Gan­ley, has announced his inten­tions to run in the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment elections[26] and where the par­ty real­is­ti­cal­ly will have the most chance of con­test­ing one or more seats due to their promi­nence in the Irish ref­er­en­dum campaign.[27]

Formation of new Commission in autumn 2009

The present Commission’s five-year term is due to expire on 31 Octo­ber 2009, although Pres­i­dent of the Com­mis­sion, José Bar­roso, has indi­cat­ed that the Commission’s term may have to be extend­ed until the end of the year because of the planned Irish ref­er­en­dum on the Lis­bon Treaty.[28]

Char­lie McCreevy, Com­mis­sion­er for the Inter­nal Mar­ket, has con­firmed that he will not be seek­ing re-appoint­ment to the Col­lege of Com­mis­sion­ers. Cur­rent spec­u­la­tion in the media as to whom the Irish gov­ern­ment will appoint to be a mem­ber of the 2009–2014 Col­lege iden­ti­fies incum­bent Min­is­ter for Trans­port, Noel Dempsey, and sit­ting Min­is­ter for Health, Mary Har­ney, as two pos­si­ble can­di­dates for nom­i­na­tion with­in the Irish cabinet.

Recent opin­ion polls show­ing a fall in sup­port for the gov­ern­ment may favour the appoint­ment of a non-mem­ber of gov­ern­ment to the 2009–2014 Com­mis­sion in order to avoid a by-elec­tion. This has led to sug­ges­tions that Máire Geoghe­gan-Quinn (Fian­na Fáil), cur­rent­ly a mem­ber of the Euro­pean Court of Audi­tors, may be a candidate.[29] She is a for­mer min­is­ter for Euro­pean Affairs, Jus­tice and Transport.

Beyond his own par­ty, the gov­ern­ment might also con­sid­er Ambas­sador John Bru­ton (Fine Gael, EPP), for­mer Taoiseach and cur­rent­ly the head of the Commission’s Del­e­ga­tion to the Unit­ed States.[30] There is prece­dent for nom­i­nat­ing a mem­ber of an oppo­si­tion par­ty mem­ber to the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion. For­mer Taoiseach, Charles Haugh­ey (Fian­na Fáil), appoint­ed Fine Gael mem­ber of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, Richard Burke, to the Com­mis­sion in 1982.

Regard­ing the timetable for appoint­ment, Fine Gael leader Enda Ken­ny has called on the gov­ern­ment to announce an ear­ly nom­i­na­tion ‘to secure a pri­or­i­ty com­mis­sion­er­ship’. How­ev­er, an alter­na­tive strat­e­gy would be to delay the nom­i­na­tion until clos­er to the Lis­bon ref­er­en­dum in an effort to secure a bet­ter com­mis­sion­er­ship as part of EU efforts to shore-up the sup­port for the Treaty. MEP for Dublin, Proin­sias de Rossa, has called on the gov­ern­ment to include the nation­al Par­lia­ment as a forum for scru­ti­n­is­ing and nom­i­nat­ing the mem­ber of the Col­lege from Ireland.

No men­tion of the issue of the appoint­ment of the next High Rep­re­sen­ta­tive for the Com­mon For­eign and Secu­ri­ty Pol­i­cy has cur­rent­ly been made pub­lic in Ireland.

Long term implications and scenarios for the integration process

As is per­haps evi­dent in pre­vi­ous answers, the cur­rent debate on whether Ire­land should rat­i­fy the Lis­bon Treaty has dom­i­nat­ed much of the pub­lic dis­course on the long-term impli­ca­tions and sce­nar­ios for the inte­gra­tion process. The cur­rent debate focus­es on the nature of the sec­ond ref­er­en­dum on the Lis­bon Treaty and whether the ‘ques­tion behind the scenes’ is Ireland’s future as a Mem­ber State of the Euro­pean Union.

2. Transatlantic relations renewed after President Bush


Three top priorities for a re-definition or re-vitalisation of the transatlantic and EU-US relationship

1. The issue of great­est impor­tance is almost cer­tain­ly con­tribut­ing to a glob­al solu­tion to the glob­al finan­cial cri­sis. The lack of liq­uid­i­ty in domes­tic and inter­na­tion­al mar­kets is of con­cern for Ire­land, with cut­backs in pub­lic ser­vices and increas­ing unem­ploy­ment dom­i­nat­ing the atten­tion of gov­ern­ment, media and ordi­nary cit­i­zens. Avoid­ing a growth in EU-US pro­tec­tion­ism, reas­sur­ing and encour­ag­ing US invest­ment (and con­di­tions for EU invest­ment in the US), and estab­lish­ing bet­ter inter­na­tion­al finan­cial reg­u­la­tion are press­ing issues for Ire­land in future EU-US relations.[31]

2. Cli­mate change con­tin­ues to dom­i­nate the inter­na­tion­al rela­tions agen­da in the run-up to the inter­na­tion­al con­fer­ence in Copen­hagen in Decem­ber 2009. In the Decem­ber 2008 Euro­pean Coun­cil and dur­ing his Jan­u­ary 2009 vis­it to Japan, the Taoiseach, Bri­an Cowen, made con­tin­u­al ref­er­ences to the impor­tance of tak­ing action against cli­mate change.[32]

The impor­tance of cli­mate change in the re-def­i­n­i­tion of transat­lantic rela­tions is under­writ­ten by the well pub­li­cised fact that US co-oper­a­tion and action on cli­mate change is crit­i­cal for a glob­al solu­tion to the prob­lem, and that this is an issue which the Bush Admin­is­tra­tion and the EU diverged from in some respects for much of the pre­vi­ous eight years.[33]

3. Pub­lic inter­est in and dis­course over the cri­sis in the Mid­dle East, espe­cial­ly Israel-Pales­tine and Iran, makes peace in the region the third most like­ly pri­or­i­ty. Again this issue appears in numer­ous speech­es of the Taoiseach, the Min­is­ter for For­eign Affairs and in the media.[34] Irish inter­est in this issue and the need for greater EU-US action on it is also evi­dent in the recent vis­its to the Mid­dle East by Micheál Mar­tin (Min­is­ter for For­eign Affairs) and Mary McAleese (Pres­i­dent of Ireland).[35]

3. Financial Crisis and challenges of global governance: EU response


The performance of the EU in the financial crisis

Mem­ber­ship of the Euro­pean Union is per­ceived to have had a pos­i­tive effect on Ire­land in help­ing to lim­it the dam­age that the coun­try is cur­rent­ly suf­fer­ing as a result of the finan­cial cri­sis. In par­tic­u­lar there is a per­cep­tion that mem­ber­ship of the Euro­zone and strong sup­port from the ECB is cru­cial to the sur­vival of the Irish econ­o­my, which on its own is rel­a­tive­ly small and very open.[36]

Cov­er­age has also been giv­en to pos­i­tive moves by the ECB, for exam­ple the dou­bling of loan aid avail­able to governments[37] and the Decem­ber 2008 Euro­pean Council’s agree­ment on a pan-EU Eco­nom­ic Recov­ery plan[38] and joint action over tox­ic debt and the estab­lish­ment of ‘bad banks’.[39]

Expected shifts in the international power constellation

The most sig­nif­i­cant expect­ed shift in inter­na­tion­al pow­er affect­ing Ire­land is the rel­a­tive weak­en­ing of US diplo­ma­cy fol­low­ing the glob­al finan­cial crisis[40] and the country’s mil­i­tary inter­ven­tion in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As part of a speech deliv­ered at Keio Uni­ver­si­ty on 15 Jan­u­ary 2009, the Taoiseach high­light­ed the lim­its of US pow­er evi­dent in the Iraq war, and the fresh oppor­tu­ni­ties for co-oper­a­tion with an Amer­i­ca which needs part­ners and with emerg­ing pow­ers in Asia and a resur­gent Russia.[41]

In his address to the Joint Com­mit­tee on Euro­pean Affairs on 20 Jan­u­ary 2009, the Min­is­ter for For­eign Affairs, Micheál Mar­tin, echoed these sen­ti­ments, and also gave con­sid­er­able atten­tion to the impact on the EU of a resur­gent Rus­sia and its ener­gy dis­pute with the Ukraine, though admit­ting that this did not affect the gas sup­plies of Ire­land itself.[42]




[1] Con­sol­i­dat­ed num­ber­ing of the EU Treaty as amend­ed by the Lis­bon Treaty.
[2] IMS Mill­ward Brown study, avail­able to read: (last access: 23 March 2009).
[3] Pres­i­den­cy Con­clu­sions, Euro­pean Coun­cil meet­ing, Decem­ber 2008: (last access: 23 March 2009).
[4] Report­ed in The Irish Times: (last access: 23 March 2009).
[5] Report­ed in The Irish Times: (last access: 23 March 2009).
[6] Report­ed by the Dan­ish Insti­tute of Inter­na­tion­al Stud­ies: (last access: 23 March 2009).
[7] See (last access: 23 March 2009).
[8] Report­ed in The Irish Times and in The Irish Inde­pen­dent (last access: 23 March 2009).
[9] Avail­able from the IIEA web­site, avail­able at: (last access: 23 March 2009).
[10] See and (last access: 23 March 2009).
[11] See (last access: 23 March 2009).
[12] See (last access: 23 March 2009).
[13] Press release from Colm Burke’s web­site is avail­able: (last access: 23 March 2009).
[14] No sin­gle source is avail­able to link to the rel­e­vant opin­ion polls; these polls were con­duct­ed respec­tive­ly by The Irish Times/MRBI and Red C and were avail­able in the print ver­sions of The Irish Times and The Sun­day Busi­ness Post.
[15] See (last access: 23 March 2009).
[16] See (last access: 23 March 2009).
[17] See, for instance, a strong­ly pro-Lis­bon arti­cle avail­able here: and an anti-Lis­bon stance, avail­able here: (last access: 23 March 2009).
[18] See and (last access: 23 March 2009).
[19] See (last access: 23 March 2009).
[20] See (last access: 23 March 2009).
[21] See‑f%C3%A1il-meps-set-to-switch-from-uen-to-eldr/64151.aspx (last access: 23 March 2009).
[22] Doubts have been raised over the pos­si­ble ben­e­fits of such a move: and as to whether such a move will actu­al­ly take place: (last access: 23 March 2009).
[23] See (last access: 23 March 2009).
[24] See (last access: 23 March 2009).
[25] See (last access: 23 March 2009).
[26] See (last access: 23 March 2009).
[27] See (last access: 23 March 2009).
[28] See (last access: 23 March 2009).
[29] See (last access: 23 March 2009).
[30] Supra, note 28.
[31] See for exam­ple:, and–will-mean–a‑sacrifice–for-us-all-1492545.html (last access: 23 March 2009).
[32] See, and (last access: 23 March 2009).
[33] See for exam­ple: (last access: 23 March 2009).
[34] See, and (last access: 23 March 2009).
[35] See, (last access: 23 March 2009).
[36] See and (last access: 23 March 2009).
[37] See (last access: 23 March 2009).
[38] See (last access: 23 March 2009).
[39] See (last access: 23 March 2009).
[40] See for exam­ple (last access: 23 March 2009).
[41] See (last access: 23 March 2009).
[42] See (last access: 23 March 2009).