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What now after Irish 'Yes' vote?

By Laurence Peter
BBC News

Voters in Dublin, 2 Oct 09
The eyes of EU politicians are focused on the Irish referendum

Political sensitivities surrounding the second Irish referendum mean that the road ahead for the Lisbon Treaty is less clear than many EU leaders would wish.

Since Irish voters rejected the treaty in the first referendum, in June 2008, politicians across Europe have tried to avoid giving voters the impression that the Lisbon Treaty is a fait accompli.

But this time the Irish verdict is overwhelmingly "Yes" - so the Lisbon ratification process is likely to speed up, because the Czech Republic would appear to be the only odd one out.

The Eurosceptic Czech President, Vaclav Klaus, is still quite capable of throwing a spanner into the Lisbon works - and the complex machinery of ratification might yet grind to a halt for a few more months.

He will not sign the treaty until the Czech Constitutional Court has ruled on another legal complaint by a group of Czech senators - and that complaint has only just been filed.

The only other country yet to ratify Lisbon is Poland - but Polish President Lech Kaczynski is expected to sign the treaty within days, now that it has got the Irish thumbs-up.

UK election looms

Could Lisbon spark a Czech political crisis that lasts until the UK general election next April or May?

Any moves to punish the Czechs would be counter-productive
Hugo Brady
Analyst, Centre for European Reform

British Conservative leader David Cameron - favourite to win the election - has promised a referendum on Lisbon if it is not yet in force by then. And the Conservatives would urge a "No" to Lisbon.

But according to Hugo Brady, an analyst at the Centre for European Reform think-tank, that nightmare scenario for the pro-Lisbon camp is just an outside possibility.

"It is highly unlikely that the Czechs will not have ratified it in six months' time," he told BBC News.

That view was shared by UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage, speaking to the BBC recently.

Now that the Irish have voted "Yes" there will be a frenzy of activity in the EU, with meetings to prepare the 27-member bloc's institutions for the Lisbon Treaty changes, Mr Brady predicts.

At the same time, EU pressure will be put on President Klaus, "but any moves to punish the Czechs would be counter-productive," he says.

New Commission

The EU's first priority will be to put together the new 27-strong team of European commissioners. They are the guardians of the EU treaties and legislation.

The current Commission's mandate runs out at the end of October. But owing to the delays over Lisbon, the new Commission will not take office until January.

Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair
Tony Blair remains tight-lipped about the job of EU president

Lisbon keeps the number of commissioners at 27 - one per country. But if it is still not in force by January, the EU may opt for 26 commissioners plus the new High Representative for foreign affairs, who will automatically gain membership of the Commission anyway.

The two big new posts created by Lisbon - the High Representative and the President of the European Council - are expected to be on the agenda of the EU summit at the end of October. The priority will be to decide on the High Representative, because he or she will sit with the Commission.

A role for Blair?

But there is likely to be intense rivalry for that post and for the EU president's job. The latter is unlikely to be settled at the October summit.

Few potential candidates have been named so far - not least because EU politicians did not wish to be seen to be pre-empting the Irish vote.

But in July the UK Europe Minister, Lady Kinnock, said: "The UK government is supporting Tony Blair's candidature for president of the Council".

The former UK prime minister, currently a Middle East envoy, has the high-level experience of EU politics necessary for the new job. The president will be appointed by the European Council - the grouping of EU government leaders and presidents.

But Mr Blair's key role as an ally of former US President George W Bush in the 2003 Iraq war proved very divisive in Europe.

And it is not yet clear how much international clout EU leaders want the new EU president to have.

According to Hugo Brady, the EU president's job will be "very limited, with few executive powers" and "it is hard to find a list of candidates".

The proposed EU External Action Service - another Lisbon innovation - has not taken shape yet.

It will be a "quasi diplomatic service," Mr Brady says, and its formation is likely to be "messy," drawing officials from the teams serving EU foreign affairs chief Javier Solana and EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner.

Looking further ahead, key changes in voting "weights" - the majority required to enact EU decisions - are not scheduled to come in until 2014.



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