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Irish No sparks EU crisis

Mark Mardell | 15:55 UK time, Friday, 13 June 2008

What does Ireland's No mean for the European Union? Here is a longer version of my thoughts for Radio 4's 1800 bulletin.

This is a multiple crisis. The Lisbon Treaty itself is a watered-down version of the European constitution, which was abandoned after it was rejected in referendums in France and the Netherlands three years ago. Lisbon was only stitched together after tortuous negotiations, carefully balancing the competing wishes and concerns of 27 countries. To go back to the drawing board is unthinkable to those who would have to do the work, as well as fairly pointless.

So it's a crisis about what happens to the ambitions and the rule changes in the documents.

Some politicians, particularly in France, will want Ireland to vote again - perhaps after a concession allowing all countries to keep a commissioner.

But it is also a crisis about legitimacy. The Irish voted No to the Nice Treaty in 2001 and were asked to vote again a year later. That time they said Yes. The Danish voted No to the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 - and voted Yes a year later. The French and Dutch rejected the constitution in 2005 and the leaders designed Lisbon instead.

If Ireland is asked to vote again, voices saying that the EU doesn't understand the word "no" can only grow louder. In the end Lisbon could be declared dead. Some bits would be implemented without a treaty, others abandoned and others put into a new treaty when Croatia joins the EU in a couple of years' time. So it's also a moral crisis: we face another few years of potentially boring navel-gazing, when some European leaders say the only way to sell the EU is to deal with things like climate change, immigration and terrorism.

Friday 13th may turn out to be very unlucky indeed for those who believe in the EU project... not that it will stop them trying to press ahead regardless.


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