The World from Berlin Irish Lisbon Vote Is 'A Cry for Help'

The European Union has taken another step toward the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty after the Irish backed it in a second referendum on Friday. While most German commentators welcome the decisive "yes" vote, some also voice regrets that a campaign of fear was necessary to produce the desired result.

Supporters of the Lisbon Treaty celebrate in Dublin after the resounding "yes" vote.
AFP

Supporters of the Lisbon Treaty celebrate in Dublin after the resounding "yes" vote.


In the end, it wasn't even close. Instead of the predicted photo finish, the "yes" vote galloped home to victory in Friday's referendum on the Lisbon Treaty in Ireland, with the winds of the financial crisis at its back. The Irish electorate backed the Lisbon Treaty by 67.1 percent on Friday, overturning its rejection of the same treaty by 53.4 percent in June 2008. The second referendum in 18 months may have brought the drama to an end in Ireland, but the ratification process is not quite over yet, with both the Czech Republic and Poland representing further hurdles.

In Ireland, the recession was plainly the deciding factor in the sharp turnaround. With the Irish economy in the doldrums, public dept soaring and unemployment on the brink of 20 percent, the voters chose to decisively back the treaty, which is supposed to stream-line decision-making in the much expanded European Union. However, many undecided voters may also have been swayed by the guarantees the Irish government secured from the other 26 member states that the EU would not be allowed to force Ireland to raise taxes, legalize abortion or give up its military neutrality.

"We as a nation have taken a decisive step for a stronger, fairer and better Ireland, and a stronger, fairer and better Europe," a relieved Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen told reporters after the results were announced on Saturday. Although his government is deeply unpopular, in the end the Irish voters seem to have opted to clearly differentiate between the issue of the Lisbon Treaty and any desire to pass judgement on the ruling coalition of Cowen's center-right Fianna Fail party and the Green Party. The government would in all likelihood have collapsed if Lisbon had not passed, but Cowen is not out of the woods yet. His junior coalition partner, the Greens, may yet pull out of government if their membership rejects a planned bailout for the country's stricken banks, or if they find the sweeping cuts slated for the next budget too unpalatable.

A Defiant Czech President?

Meanwhile, the saga of European reform drags on. As the European reporters left Dublin in the aftermath of Friday's vote, many would have been heading straight to Prague and Warsaw. While Polish President Lech Kaczynski has indicated that he will sign the treaty in the light of Ireland's "yes" vote, the defiant Czech President Vaclav Klaus has so far refused to sign. Although both houses of the Czech parliament have approved the treaty, a group of senators close to the euroskeptic Klaus have filed a legal challenge to the treaty.

After the Irish referendum, the Czech intransigence is the last hope for another leading European euroskeptic party. The British Conservative Party and its leader David Cameron have long pushed for a referendum in the UK on the issue. And with the party all but assured of ousting the Labour Party in elections next spring, Brussels has been desperate to have the process of ratification sewn up before Cameron can get his hands on the treaty and unravel it. However that scenario now seems less likely after Ireland's convincing "yes."

While Cameron had recently written to the Czech president to ask him to delay signing the treaty until after the British election, it seems Klaus is on the verge of conceding defeat. "After (the) Irish referendum there will never be another referendum in Europe," he told reporters on Saturday. "The people of Britain should have done something much earlier," he said. "And not just now, too late, saying something and waiting for my decision."

German newspapers on Monday are divided on whether to greet or lament the Irish vote. And while some see this as the great chance for the European Union to take its place on the world stage, others point out that the Irish "yes" vote was born out of fear and argue that it will take some time for the EU to recover from the painful ratification process and win back the trust of the bloc's citizens.

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"The Irish 'yes' to the Lisbon Treaty … prevents the European Union from collapse and from falling into political irrelevance. And it provides the Europeans with the opportunity to have a lasting influence in the world. … The national governments must now show if they have the courage and skill to position Europe in the global power game."

"Ostensibly the treaty is to provide the EU with new structures to be capable of taking action after growing from 15 to 27 members within 10 years. However the almost eight-year struggle has always at its core been about two fundamental questions: Should Europe grow even closer together, now that the Cold War is over? And should it lay claim to becoming a global power?"

"There are still major differences between the big and small countries, and between the new and old members -- and it will take years, if not decades, before the new European Union is as close-knit as the old, smaller one. That won't make things easy for Europe in the future. The question of the relationship with Russia will repeatedly cause tensions between the eastern and western member states. The same goes for military security, as made evidence by the dispute over the planned American missile shield in Eastern Europe. However, the realization has taken hold in all of the countries that the gains that come with unity far outweigh the loss of national independence. … The fact that Czech President Vaclav Klaus and the British opposition leader David Cameron are still trying to sabotage the treaty with undemocratic tricks doesn't change the basic decision: Europe wants to grow closer together and to project its collective power in the world."

"The European Union has proven to the world, that it has the strength to reform itself. Now it has to show that it is resolute about taking action."

The Financial Times Deutschland writes:

"The fact that an overwhelming majority of Irish voters supported the Lisbon Treaty has a lot to do with the financial crisis. Ireland has been harder hit than any other country in the EU. And belonging to an EU that was stabilizing and showed solidarity seemed much more attractive now than when the first referendum was held."

"The strong 'yes' vote may have been heartening, but it was also clouded by the fact that it was the result of a fear campaign. The Irish were persuaded by their politicians that a 'no' to the treaty could result in being kicked out of the EU -- something that naturally is not true. The EU would still function without Lisbon. It would just have been less efficient and the expansion process would have come to a halt."

"The Irish vote was the biggest hurdle for the treaty. The last one to be overcome -- the signature of the euroskeptic Czech president -- is far from just a formality. Although Vaclav Klaus may be even more unpredictable than the Irish voters, there is now far less danger that he will refuse in the end."

"The Europeans would be well advised to calmly observe the ratification process and refrain from any calls or threats to Prague. That would not only spur on the attention-seeking president. It would also strengthen the impression that many people have that the EU is a detached, tyrannical apparatus that calls into line anyone who tries to interrupt the integration process. This mistrust goes far beyond the borders of the Czech Republic. To dispel it will take as much effort and be as important as the reform of the EU institutions."

The conservative Die Welt writes:

"The Lisbon Treaty will bring the EU and its institutions closer than ever to democracy. At the same time they will be able to work more effectively, because there will now be joint decisions in areas such as foreign policy. However, it is doubtful if this is laying the groundwork for Europe as a global power, as some claim. With or without a European 'foreign minister,' there is as little desire to push aside national interests as there is to give up foreign policy or military competencies to Brussels."

The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:

"The economic liberals have won the struggle over Europe. That is the bitter result of the second referendum in Ireland. … When the financial crisis and the euro became the focus of concerns and Ireland's corporate bosses came out fighting for the 'yes' vote, then the Irish thought about things differently."

"Everyone who eight years ago at the constitutional convention dreamed of a more democratic Europe have now lost. …. The strategists in the European Commission who believe that low mobile phone rates, attractive MP3 players and a stabile euro are the strongest arguments for Europe have prevailed."

"The new treaty will never get over the blemish of how it came about. The people who said 'no' the first time, were either not asked a second time or were blackmailed with the threat of being marginalized in economically tough times."

"It is pointless to think about how things might go better next time, with a referendum held in all EU countries at the same time, for example. There will not be another chance to make Europe more democratic and social in the next 20 years."

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"The amazingly decisive Irish 'yes' vote is the first sign of how great the fear is in Ireland. Until the outbreak of the financial crisis, which led to the collapse of the housing market in Ireland, the Irish lived in the belief that the Europe that had promoted its economic boom was integrated enough for Ireland's purposes. Why take further steps toward integration, which could burden their precious neutrality with a common security policy or force them into tax harmonization which could reduce their attractiveness for investment?"

"That was the thinking in the past. Nowadays, worries about tax increases are a joke in a situation where government debt is a tenth of the gross national product, unemployment will soon rise to 20 percent and the IT and financial services sectors that made the boom possible are either migrating or threatened with collapse."

"The referendum result is a cry for help."

-- Siobhán Dowling

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