Early Christmas for Croatia? Brussels Invents Trick to Get Irish to Vote Again

Brussels has come up with a new trick aimed at getting Ireland to hold a second referendum on a failed EU treaty. It would like to make concessions to Dublin guaranteeing it the right to determine its own taxation, abortion laws and neutrality -- and to codify those rights as part of Croatia's membership deal.

The European Union appears to have a new trick up its sleeve for pulling itself out of its current political dilemma. This time around, it's future membership candidate Croatia that could stand to profit. At the recent summit meeting in Brussels on Dec. 11 and 12, the heads of state and government for 26 EU member states made numerous overtures to Ireland in an effort to get Dublin to push through a second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, the document which replaces the failed draft EU constitution.

The Irish "no" during the first referendum in June has derailed the entire EU reform process because the treaty, which has been in the works for many years, can only go into effect if it is ratified by all member states. In exchange for a new referendum, other EU member states are pledging that if Irish voters accept the treaty, they will be given a long-term commissioner seat in Brussels and assurances that they will be able to determine their own legislation on issues like taxation, neutrality and abortion largely independent of the EU. But the Irish would also like to see these concessions written in a way that is legally binding. Problem is: That's not an easy thing to do.

If the provisions were to be written into the Lisbon Treaty as a special clause, then the modified document would in all likelihood have to be re-ratified by all the EU member states. It's a risk no one wants to take. But creative EU lawyers have come up with a trick: They want the legal provisions guaranteeing the concessions for Ireland to be written into the accession treaty with Croatia. All the member states must ratify that treaty, anyway. It's unlikely, so the thinking goes, that any EU country -- even the Euro-skeptical Eastern Europeans -- would reject future membership for Croatia because of special rights bestowed to Ireland. It would also just about ensure that Croatia could get its hoped-for membership in the EU by 2010.