Ireland’s EU Referendum
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 4th June, 2008
A few thousand Irish voters could decide the short-term future of the European Union, when Ireland goes to the polls on 12 June in a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. It is the only country in the 27-nation EU that is putting the issue to the public (because of a constitutional obligation), but a ‘no’ vote would scupper the whole EU reform process, as the Treaty has to be ratifed by all the member states. One would think that the result should be obvious, as Ireland has benefitted so much from being in the EU; from being one of Europe’s poorest countries, it is now the second richest (after Luxembourg). But things aren’t as simple as that.
At a breakfast seminar organised by Business for New Europe in the City of London this morning, Hugo Brady from the Centre for European Reform warned that the omens were worrying. Although opinion polls have shown a consistent ‘yes’ majority, that has been shrinking. The latest figures are Yes 41%, No 33%, Undecided 26%. Ominously, opinion polls ahead of the Irish referendum on the first Nice Treaty in June 2001 showed a ‘Yes’ majority, but in the event, the vote went the other way. That result was later overturned in a second referendum, but there would reportedly be no question of a second try this time if the result goes the wrong way.
As often with referenda, ‘No’ campaigners are focussing on issues which are completely irrelevant to the Lisbon Treaty, such as abortion, Ireland’s neutrality and Peter Mandelson’s performance in the WTO. The ‘No’ camp is a motley crew. The only serious political party on that side is Sinn Fein, but a mutli-millionaire businessman, Declan Ganley has organised a campaigning group called Libertas to fly the Eurosceptic flag. All the other manistream parties are in favour, as are most of the trade unions. But that doesn’t mean the ‘Yes’ side will automatically win. And with only an estimated 350,000 voters likely to go to the polls, that could mean that a few thousand people do indeed hold the EU’s short-term future in their hands.