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Things looking up for Lisbon Treaty

Should we count Euroskepticism among the victims of the financial crisis? The Czech Republic’s lower house of parliament approved the EU’s controversial Lisbon Treaty today in a major victory for the plan to streamline the body’s decision-making process. Assuming the upper house passes the measure, that will leave Germany, Poland and Ireland as the only ...

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Should we count Euroskepticism among the victims of the financial crisis?

The Czech Republic’s lower house of parliament approved the EU’s controversial Lisbon Treaty today in a major victory for the plan to streamline the body’s decision-making process. Assuming the upper house passes the measure, that will leave Germany, Poland and Ireland as the only countries yet to ratify Lisbon.

Ireland, the only country to require a public referendum for ratification, is the biggest stumbling block. Irish voters rejected the treaty last June, but the political landscape seems to have changed in the post-crisis world:

Czech approval came as new polls showed public opinion swinging behind the treaty in Ireland, raising the prospect that Irish voters will reverse last year’s 53.4 percent to 46.6 percent veto. A second vote — if held now — would yield a majority of 58 percent in favor of the accord, a poll for the Sunday Business Post found on Feb. 1.

The pressing need for unified European action to address the crisis seems to have trumped fears about national sovereignty. The Irish government is now looking to hold a new referendum as soon as possible.

In retrospect, however, country’s stubbornness seems to have paid off. The EU has been forced to make a number of concessions to placate Irish voters:

The Irish government agreed to put the Lisbon Treaty to a second referendum by November 2009, in return for a set of EU “legal guarantees” aimed at addressing various concerns raised by voters. The EU pledges not to impose rules on Ireland concerning taxation, “family” issues – such as abortion, euthanasia and gay marriage – and the traditional Irish state neutrality.

Announcing the new Lisbon deal, French President Nicolas Sarkozy also said that under Lisbon “every member state will have a commissioner” – another concession to Ireland.That promise might prove difficult to reconcile with the original plan under Lisbon to have fewer commissioners than member states, as from 2014.

Through sheer obstinateness, the Irish seem to have made themselves the most powerful constituency in the EU. Sometimes it pays to be difficult.

MICHAL CIZEK/AFP/Getty Images

 Twitter: @joshuakeating

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