Ireland Says Yes To European Union

The people of Ireland have overwhelmingly approved a document known as the Lisbon Treaty, which some are calling a new constitution for the European Union. But it seems the debate about how much sovereignty European countries cede to Brussels is far from over.

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The people of Ireland have overwhelmingly approved a document known as the Lisbon Treaty, which some are calling a new constitution for the European Union. But it seems the debate about how much sovereignty European countries cede to Brussels is far from over.

NPR's Rob Gifford reports.

ROB GIFFORD: For EU bureaucrats who'd spent years shaping the document that became the Lisbon Treaty, yesterday was a huge relief. The treaty will help to reform and streamline the EU, assist cooperation between European nations on everything from climate change to energy security and pave the way for a new EU president and foreign policy chief.

Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen also seemed relieved that his country was not going to be the one to bring down a treaty that all 26 other nations had approved.

Prime Minister BRIAN COWEN (Ireland): We as a nation have taken a decisive step for a stronger, fairer and better Ireland and a stronger, fairer and better Europe.

GIFFORD: Part of the reason the treaty was needed at all was because so many new countries had joined the European Union in the last decade. On top of that, new frameworks were needed to govern issues like law enforcement cooperation between different EU countries. But some people in Europe still fear a kind of super state or United States of Europe federal system taking over their country's sovereignty. Those fears had won the day last summer when the Irish voted no to the Lisbon Treaty.

But in the intervening 16 months, the Irish economy has only been saved from complete implosion by financial support from, yes, the European Union. So this time voters apparently decided the EU wasn't so bad. Even so, opposition leaders such as Mary Lou McDonald of the Sinn Fein Party accused the government of scare tactics in pushing through the yes vote.

Ms. MARY LOU MCDONALD (Sinn Fein Party): This campaign was fought against a backdrop of economic meltdown in this state, a public finance crisis and so on. And the yes campaign and the government successfully preyed on the kind of economic fears and insecurities of the population here.

GIFFORD: But just because the Lisbon Treaty has gone through, don't expect European countries all to speak with one voice. Now, among many other things, there's the horse trading about who will be the first EU president. Tony Blair has said to want the job, but an Englishman as head of Europe? Perhaps after the joy of yesterday's result, an Irishman might be more appropriate.

Rob Gifford, NPR News.

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