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Q&A: Irish treaty referendum

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Dublin is now in the EU spotlight

The Republic of Ireland rejected the EU's Lisbon Treaty in a referendum on 12 June - by 53.4% to 46.6%. The treaty's future now looks bleak.

The treaty is supposed to replace the defunct EU constitution, which was rejected by voters in France and the Netherlands in 2005.

Ireland was the only one of the EU's 27 member states to call a referendum on the treaty. The plan was for all 27 to ratify the treaty by the end of this year - but that looks very unlikely.

What will happen to the treaty now?

"There is no quick fix," said Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Brian Cowen, commenting on the No vote.

European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso said 18 member states had already approved the treaty, and "the remaining ratifications should continue to take their course". But before the vote he had warned that "there is no Plan B".

The treaty requires ratification by all 27 member states to take effect.

LISBON TREATY PROGRESS
Approved by parliament: Austria, Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia
Referendum: Irish Republic
Challenges: Legal objections in Czech Republic, UK
No firm date: Belgium, Cyprus, Netherlands (held up by referendum proposal), Italy (new government), Spain (new government), Sweden

There is a precedent for holding a referendum re-run in Ireland. Irish voters rejected the Treaty of Nice narrowly in 2001, but a year later a second referendum was held and the Yes camp won.

But trying such a manoeuvre again could well provoke howls of protest. It could be portrayed as EU bullying of a small member state, especially as French and Dutch voters had previously rejected the constitution, and were not asked to vote again.

The countries that have approved the Lisbon Treaty - 18 so far - would object to any changes proposed to secure an Irish Yes vote. Moreover, many European politicians believe the EU has spent more than enough time discussing institutional reform.

A delay would mean the Nice Treaty remaining in force, postponing the streamlining of EU institutions that the Lisbon Treaty is meant to provide for the enlarged bloc of 27.

Eurosceptics in Britain and elsewhere are now likely to intensify their pressure on the EU to scrap the treaty. The Irish No lends weight to their argument about a "democratic deficit" in the EU.

But France, which takes over the EU presidency next month, argues that the Irish No should not block ratification of Lisbon.

France's Europe Minister Jean-Pierre Jouyet has spoken of a possible "legal arrangement" with Ireland at the end of the ratification process.

Who joined the Yes camp?

The government parties of Fianna Fail and the Progressive Democrats. The other coalition partner, the Green Party, was divided on the treaty.

The main opposition parties - Fine Gael and Labour - also backed the treaty. A powerful Irish Alliance for Europe pushed for a Yes vote. It united many trade unionists, business people, academics and politicians.

Who was in the No camp?

A broad-spectrum coalition including Libertas, a lobby group started by businessman Declan Ganley, and a group called Coir. Sinn Fein was the only party in parliament against the treaty.

What did the Yes camp say about the treaty?

The treaty's supporters pointed to the economic benefits of Ireland's EU membership. Brussels subsidies and immigration from new member states have contributed to the prosperity of the "Celtic Tiger" - though Ireland is now feeling the impact of the global credit crunch and strong euro.

"The European market is on our doorstep," said Prime Minister Cowen. "If we send a negative signal, I'm afraid it will be very confusing to those with whom we want to increase our trade and investment."

But even some Yes camp leaders admitted they had not read the treaty in full and that there was widespread confusion about what it meant for Ireland.

What did the No camp say?

Opponents argued that the Lisbon Treaty would weaken Ireland's voice in Europe, because more policy areas would come under qualified majority voting - rather than the requirement for unanimity - and because there would no longer be a commissioner from each member state.

Other issues were raised by the No camp, which Yes lobbyists said were not directly related to the treaty. These included fears that Ireland would lose out in the world trade talks - especially the farming sector - and that it would be harmed by EU tax harmonisation. They also raised fears that Ireland's traditional positions on abortion and neutrality would be undermined.

Why is Ireland the only EU member to hold a referendum?

Under Irish law, any amendment to EU treaties requires an amendment to the Irish constitution - and all constitutional amendments require approval by referendum. That has been the case since a Supreme Court ruling in 1987.

Governments in other EU member states have argued that the Lisbon Treaty is an amending treaty which, like other EU amending treaties, only requires parliamentary approval. So they are all going down the parliamentary ratification route.

Yet there are calls in several member states for referendums. In the UK, the opposition Conservatives and some Labour MPs have demanded a referendum. They say the Lisbon Treaty is very much like the EU constitution - and that the Labour Party promised to hold a referendum on the constitution.


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