Page last updated at 16:28 GMT, Thursday, 23 October 2008 17:28 UK

EU in new push to inspire voters

European Commission Vice President Margot Wallstroem
Ms Wallstroem wants the EU's message to be easily understood

The European Commission is stepping up efforts to get its message across to Irish voters and other EU citizens ahead of European elections next June.

The commission, stung by the Irish rejection of the Lisbon Treaty, plans to form a partnership with the Republic of Ireland to raise public awareness.

The "management partnership" involves explaining EU goals and policies in plain language to ordinary citizens.

The EU's controversial reform treaty was rejected by Irish voters in June.

Commission vice-president Margot Wallstroem said there had been a lot of "emotional arguments" and "disinformation" in the run-up to the Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

She told the Irish Times newspaper that for many of the anti-treaty arguments the pro-Lisbon side "never had a counter-argument". She is due to visit Dublin next month.

Anti-treaty campaigners insist that the referendum cannot be re-run and that "no means no".

Explanations needed

Ireland's strict neutrality and opposition to abortion were among the issues that featured in the Irish debate on Lisbon.

Lisbon Treaty signing ceremony, 13 Dec 07
EU leaders signed up to the treaty but ratification has been slow

Ms Wallstroem said the EU needed to express its ambitions "so that people know what is planned".

"Not everybody is going to read a 400-page legal document."

The treaty, aimed at adapting EU institutions to the demands of a bigger 27-nation bloc, has to be ratified by all member states in order to take effect.

The Irish government has been given until December to come up with a "roadmap" charting a way forward.

The treaty was originally meant to be in place in January 2009 - well ahead of the European Parliament elections in June 2009.

The commission, European Parliament and European Council - the EU government leaders - have signed a political declaration to co-ordinate their dissemination of information to EU citizens.

Information "management partnerships" already exist between the commission and several EU member states, including Germany, Portugal and the Netherlands.

In Germany, many officials in the government and EU institutions went back to their old schools to talk to pupils about the EU.

No such partnership is planned yet with the UK, Ms Wallstroem's spokesman Joseph Hennon told the BBC.

The Irish Republic was the only EU member state to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. The other countries that have not yet ratified it are the Czech Republic, Poland and Sweden.

Critics see the treaty as further evidence of a federalist, pro-integration agenda at work in the EU. They say the treaty is just a modified version of the EU constitution, rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005.

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