I detect one tiny slice of silver lining on our dark clouds. A recent Red C opinion poll found that 58 per cent of respondents would vote Yes if there was a second Lisbon Treaty held this year.
If the 14 per cent don’t knows were excluded, this would yield a 2:1 Yes result. While the value of opinion polls is as durable as our recent snow, it does indicate some hope that the public realise the economic importance of our relationship with the European Union.
I believe the No result last year damaged Ireland’s vital national interests. Investment sentiment towards Ireland is dependent on our full commitment to the EU. This is reflected in 90,000 multinational industrial jobs.
While multinationals are attracted by our low corporation tax rate and a well educated labour market, they are fundamentally here because of access to the EU consumer market. Similarly, our preferential AAA credit rating is underwritten by being part of the Euro zone.
The No campaign successfully sold the voters a pup. The myth was that if we rejected the Treaty it would not proceed and would be renegotiated. Events since June have shown this to be untrue. European political leaders have respected our sovereign right to choose, but they will not agree to one per cent of the EU population dictating to the other 26 states.
The EU Council has told us bluntly that we can have clarifications to preserve our national policies on neutrality and taxation, but the Treaty text will not be amended. An arrangement has been proposed to have 27 commissioners. This will effectively mean junior and senior portfolios and rankings.
The No campaign was more professional and effective at getting their message across. The Libertas core contention is that Europe should be less federalist and not give Brussels more power. Their agenda is a pan European argument about the future of EU structures. Their subsequent links with the UK Independence Party and other mavericks confirm their true euro sceptic credentials.
The context of the next vote has to be based on realism. Given that the 26 other states are likely to proceed with ratification the future of Europe is not at issue. Instead it’s the future of Ireland and our relationship with the EU. Whatever the respective merits on the debate about the future of the EU, we have to ask what’s best for Ireland?
Glib and facile clichés should not distract from our fundamental interests. Slogans such as ‘If you don’t know – Vote No’ were very effective. The referendum became a magnet for discontent. Anti-politician sentiment, frustration with tribunals, the smoking ban, economic recession, negativity towards immigrants, Dustin’s failure in Eurovision – were among the ragbag of reasons given for a No vote. The Celtic Cubs felt it wasn’t cool to vote Yes.
There is a case for not determining such matters by way of a public vote. The referendum commission added to the confusion. Most EU states allow their parliament to scrutinise such turgid legal text and decide.
The impetus for this Treaty is to modernise EU procedures to cope with enlargement from 15 to almost 30 states. It is probably less significant than the Maastricht or Nice treaties. It will not herald conscription or abortion here. The growth of Europe eastwards is not entirely to our benefit. However, we have to face the reality that this train is leaving the station – with or without us.
The Yes campaign was inept. McCreevy and Cowen’s comments about not having read the document were ill-advised. The IFA and ICTU were tepid and uncertain in their support. The business community sat on their hands. We all have to take responsibility for the country’s future.
Ireland is one of the smallest states, with the most peripheral westerly island location. Some thought our economy was indestructible. The current round of jokes comparing Ireland to Iceland will become real if our leaders do not get their act together.
Maybe our present economic catastrophe can demonstrate our dependence on Europe. The EU is not a panacea for our ills, but without it we are doomed.