A Second Chance for Lisbon Ireland To Hold Second EU Referendum

It's official, the Irish will head to the polls again in October for a second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, the deal that would see the European Union's biggest reform in years. The move follows a German court decision last week paving the way for the treaty's ratification.

The date is set. The second referendum in Ireland on the European Union's Lisbon Treaty will take place on Oct. 2, the government in Dublin announced Wednesday.

Prime Minister Brian Cowen said that he was confident that voters would approve the treaty this time around. Last year, Irish voters' rejection of the treaty plunged the EU into a deep state of crisis.

A cyclist passes by a "Yes" for Lisbon Treaty bus and a "No" for Lisbon truck in Dublin, Ireland in June 2008.

A cyclist passes by a "Yes" for Lisbon Treaty bus and a "No" for Lisbon truck in Dublin, Ireland in June 2008.

A survey conducted at the beginning of June indicated that 54 percent of Irish voters would now vote in favor of the Lisbon Treaty and 28 percent would vote against it. Last June, 53 percent of Irish voters rejected the original draft of the treaty.

In mid-June 2009, however, Ireland successfully won legal guarantees at an EU summit in Brussels that Dublin's sovereignty on defense policy and taxation as well as the right to preserve its strict abortion ban will be left intact.

"I believe these concerns have been addressed now in the shape of legal guarantees," Cowen told parliament Wednesday. "On that basis, I have recommended to the government that we return to the people to seek their approval for Ireland to ratify the treaty and that referendum will take place on Oct. 2."

A "Safe Harbor"

Many have pointed to the recent global economic downturn, which has struck Ireland with particular ferocity, as one significant reason for the country's shift in public sentiment in favor of the treaty.

"The Irish have been profoundly shocked by the speed and depth of the economic crisis," Pat Cox, an Irishman and the former president of the European Parliament, told SPIEGEL ONLINE earlier this year. "We've gone from a balanced budget at the end of 2007 to a deficit this year that will be more than 10 percentage points of GDP. We have an unemployment rate that has virtually doubled and continues to rise. It's not surprising that a cold shower of economic reality has descended upon Irish public opinion and I think there is a general feeling that the tsunami of bad economic news could do with at least one safe harbor."

Last year's "no" campaign against the Lisbon Treaty also suffered a major blow in June when Declan Ganley, the multimillionaire leader of the Libertas party, suffered a crushing defeat in European elections and withdrew from politics. This could diminish the credibility of any opposition campaign against the treaty in the run-up to the second referendum.

Of the 27 EU member states, Ireland was the only country that required a national referendum on the issue. However, voters in France and the Netherlands rejected the predecessor to the Lisbon Treaty, the draft European constitution, in referenda held earlier.

The treaty aims to streamline EU institutions, give them more power, to make the European institutions more democratic and to foster greater unity on foreign policy with the addition of a European foreign minister and a president.

Lisbon can only go into effect once it has been ratified by all 27 member states. Outside of Ireland, the treaty still hasn't been ratified by Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic.

In Germany, the country's highest court ruled last week that before the treaty could be adopted here, a new law would have to be passed in Berlin stipulating a far greater role for the federal parliament and upper legislative chamber in Brussels decision-making. The German government has said it plans to draft and pass the required legislation prior to the German general election scheduled for Sept. 27.


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