Irish Vote Launches the Lisbon End-Game

It looks like end-game for the Lisbon Treaty at last. Ireland’s two-to-one majority in favour of ratification on October 2  was a convincing reversal of the 2007 “no” vote, especially given the increased turnout, which at 58 per cent of the electorate was six points up on last time.

The convincing “yes” majority can be ascribed especially to the economic crisis and a hunger for European solidarity in the face of Ireland’s troubles, but there were other factors, including strong leadership of the campaign by former European Parliament president  Pat Cox, the specific reassurances given on sensitive subjects such as abortion, tax and defence policy, and the promise to guarantee a Commissioner for every country as from 2014.

There’s even a chance that the Treaty could come into force at the start of 2010. The Polish president may well sign within the next few days, so foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski told the BBC over the weekend.

The Czechs await a ruling from their constitutional court on questions posed by Czech senators before President Václav Klaus will sign – although it seems that the Court did already give its seal of approval in November 2008 in response to a similar reference. The Czech Europe minister is pushing for ratification before the end of the year.

Once the Court has pronounced there is a suggestion that Klaus could declare himself indisposed for 24 hours to allow his temporary replacement to put a presidential signature to the Lisbon document.

The Irish referendum result couldn’t have come at a worse time for the British Conservative leader David Cameron, just as his party conference begins. Party unity is vital in the run-up to a general election and there’s no subject like Europe to reveal the fault lines. Cameron has apparently written to Klaus, in effect urging him to delay ratification (while rejecting any “interference” in the Czech ratification process!) to give time for an incoming Conservative administration to hold a referendum.

Be careful what you wish for! The Scottish National Party is planning a referendum on Scotland’s separation from the UK. Given Scotland’s general enthusiasm for EU membership a United Kingdom vote on Europe could give quite a boost to the nationalist cause. One referendum could beget another.

Everyone is now asking Cameron whether he will still hold a referendum if the Treaty has been ratified and implemented by the time of a general election, which must be held by June 2010 at the latest. The eurosceptic wing of his party is angrily demanding a vote whether or not the Treaty has been ratified.  Klaus however remarked after the Irish vote that “the people of Britain should have acted much sooner” if they had wanted to stop the Treaty. There would be no further referendums on Europe, so he told reporters. Not particularly helpful for Cameron.

The Swedish presidency is now wrestling with the question of how to select a new Commission, whether under Nice or Lisbon rules. Under Article 213  of Nice there must be fewer than 27 Commissioners, which would leave one member country unrepresented, but one idea is to nominate the Council foreign affairs supremo at the same time on the assumption that he or she will become the 27th Commissioner once Lisbon is implemented.

Of course Lisbon does give the Commission president the task of allocating portfolios between members of the college, but there seems little reason why Barroso should not work with the member states in selection of the individual candidates and their allocation of roles. That would surely be the reality in constructing the college whatever treaty was in force.