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Lisbon not done deal for Irish

Mark Mardell | 09:00 UK time, Wednesday, 8 April 2009

So a harsh, tax-raising budget from the deeply unpopular Irish government. I wonder how this will impact on the planned autumn referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. The consensus view in Dublin and Brussels is that the economic crisis will reverse last summer's "No" vote. I am doubtful. The logic goes that Ireland would have been much worse off outside the euro and the EU and so people will deliver a vote "for" the EU. The first is open to debate of course, but I have seen few disagree strongly. I would be grateful if any of you can point me to those who argue against the feeling that the euro was and is a good thing for Ireland.

The second half of the proposition seems to me much more contentious. In most referendums voters will take the opportunity to give an unpopular government a good kicking, whatever the question on the ballot paper. Can the Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, really buck the trend?

Then there is the assumption, common in the EU establishment, that you can't be "for" the EU and against the Lisbon Treaty. The Irish people may not agree.

As the referendum grows nearer voices will be raised again suggesting that if the Irish say "No" then the rest of the EU will move ahead without them. Aside from the morality or wisdom of this I am not sure it has any meaning. Sure, an Irish "No" might mean a lot of ill will from from other member countries' governments at a time when Ireland needs all the friends it can get. Certainly some EU countries can proceed to "ever closer union" while others decline to take part, the euro and the passport-free area being the most important and obvious examples.

But Lisbon is not like the euro or the Schengen agreement. How on earth could 26 countries operate under Lisbon while Ireland operates under the Nice Treaty? So most nations would be represented, as per Lisbon, by a new president of the European Council while Ireland sticks with the old system of a six-month rotating presidency by nation states? And Ireland keeps 27 commissioners but the others reduce their numbers? It doesn't make sense. I am not one to wish summer and spring away, but autumn in Ireland will be fascinating.

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