Irish Vote Again On European Union Treaty

The future direction of the European Union hangs in the balance as voters in Ireland decide whether to ratify the EU Lisbon Treaty on Friday. The treaty is essentially a constitution for the European Union, which lays out how the EU should develop in coming years. Ireland is the only EU member requiring the treaty to win majority approval from voters. The Irish rejected it last year.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Every country in the European Union has now approved what amounts to a constitution for Europe. Every county except one - Ireland said no the first time around. The Irish voters are going back to the polls today. If the constitution is approved, it would lay out how the EU would develop. NPR's Rob Gifford reports on what's at stake.

ROB GIFFORD: Few people in Europe really know what the European Union does, and few people have read the Lisbon Treaty. It's full of commitments to streamline the EU and make it more accountable, and to cooperate on a range of different issues - from the environment to fighting organized crime. The treaty will also bring in an EU president - Tony Blair is apparently interested in the job - and a foreign policy chief to help Europe speak more with one voice.

Plenty of people here in Dublin, like law student Dan Hayden(ph), thinks it's a great document.

Mr. DAN HAYDEN: I'll be voting yes. Yes, please.

GIFFORD: Why?

Mr. HAYDEN: Personally, I can only speak about the personal things that matters to me - climate change. Like, I think it seems so common sense to (unintelligible) to work together with energy security, researching key technologies. I want to see sharing within different European states that can pool their resources. Those are all good reforms.

GIFFORD: The Irish people have already voted on the Lisbon Treaty once before, last year, and rejected it. But so important is it for the EU, that concessions were made to the Irish government on a number of issues and Dublin agreed to present it to its people again. In the interim though, the Irish economy almost collapsed. Now, big business is pushing even harder for a yes vote.

Michael O'Leary is the founder of cut-price airline Ryanair, and one of Ireland's most successful businessmen.

Mr. MICHAEL O'LEARY (Founder, Ryanair): We're bankrupt. The only difference between Iceland and Ireland is not one letter but our membership of Europe and our membership of the euro. The people who are bailing us our are Europe and the European Central Bank.

GIFFORD: This argument and the argument that passing the Lisbon Treaty is almost a precondition for recovery, has swayed many, and it may be enough to push the treaty through, but it has by no means persuaded anyone.

Unidentified Man: We have made a request to the department of transport - to the minister of transport for a meeting. If we don't get a response or we get a negative response, this protest will escalate.

(Soundbite of applause)

GIFFORD: The tanking of the Irish economy has brought all sorts of people onto the streets here, such as taxi drivers protesting yesterday. For drivers like David Weaver, the problem is that the Lisbon Treaty gives too much power to Brussels. He says he will vote no again like he did last year.

Mr. DAVID WEAVER (Taxi Driver): It will have a devastating effect on all of society, both our rights, our fundamental rights, our constitutional rights. What they're saying is might is right. The history of Europe can tell you what that leads to. It's not so long ago when the last person wanted an empire of Europe. We all know the consequences.

GIFFORD: Such statements comparing the European Union with Hitler have become the general use of fear and emotion by both sides to promote their arguments. Professor Ben Tonra of University College Dublin, sees parallels with recent debates in the United States.

Professor BEN TONRA (University College Dublin): So that, for example, in the U.S. with your health debate and people talking about death panels and people talking about, you know, whether or not President Obama is legitimately president by virtue of his birth certificate - you have people here in Ireland today looking at the Lisbon Treaty. We're looking, you know, people making claims about abortion, about forced conscription into European armies, about cuts in our national wage - none of which could or would happen, and everybody has said that. But nonetheless, people are emotionally engaged in this in a way that raises a lot of heat with very little light.

GIFFORD: What Tonra and others worry is that the Irish, understandably angry at their government for its economic failures, could end up voting no on the treaty, even though the treaty may be in their best economic interests.

Prof. TONRA: If there's a no vote, the Lisbon Treaty is dead but the European product is in serious crisis. Because everything that the European Union plans to do for the next five to ten years, has been predicated on the passage of the Lisbon Treaty.

GIFFORD: For decades, European countries have tried to resolve the tension between exercising their sovereignty while cooperating effectively in Europe. Clearly, that tension is as difficult as ever to maintain. If the no vote wins again, the concern is that cooperation with allies, especially the U.S., will suffer while the European Union regroups.

Rob Gifford, NPR News, Dublin.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.