Wednesday, 25 June 2008

US Neocons Accused of Role in Irish 'No' Vote

DER SPIEGEL, 25 June 2008

Did neo-cons from the United States fund the campaign in Ireland to reject the Lisbon Treaty? Accusations to that effect are widespread -- particularly given the business contacts of a leading group in the "no" camp.

Demonstrators want Ireland's voice to be heard.

Demonstrators want Ireland's voice to be heard.

The words were clear: "Europe has powerful enemies on the other side of the Atlantic, gifted with considerable financial means." The speaker was France's Europe Minister Jean-Pierre Jouyet, addressing a pro-European rally in Lyon at the weekend.

He was putting the blame for the Irish rejection of the Lisbon Treaty on some surprising shoulders: neoconservatives in the United States. "The role of the American neocons was very important in the victory of the 'no,'" he said.

A voice of paranoia from old Europe? Perhaps. But the allegations are not exactly new. Those campaigning for a "yes" vote in the Irish referendum on June 12 had made similar suggestions in the run up to the vote.

One of the most powerful groups campaigning against the treaty was Libertas, which describes itself as a "new European movement dedicated to campaigning for greater democratic accountability and transparency in the institutions of the EU." The group had said that its main gripe with the Lisbon Treaty had been that it was anti-democratic and could undermine Irish business interests.

Libertas claimed it spent €1.3 million on its campaign, though its opponents speculate the total might be even higher. In contrast, the ruling Fianna Fail party was estimated to have spent around €700,000 on its "yes" campaign.

There has been much speculation about where exactly the Libertas funding came from. The group's founder Declan Ganley is an Irish millionaire who is also CEO of Rivada Networks, a telecommunications company which has worked with the US military. The company's Web site says that it is a "leading designer, integrator and operator of public safety communications and information technology networks for homeland security forces and first responders."

A member of the center-right Fine Gael party, Lucinda Creighton, said before the referendum that the businesses of Ganley and Ulick McEvaddy, an aviation millionaire who was also involved in the "no" campaign, were "heavily dependent on contracts from the US State Department, the Pentagon and US government agencies." She went on to say: "These men are a lot less concerned about Irish sovereignty than they are about the potential hit to their own personal business interests."

However, Ganley rejected any allegation that US funding was behind his campaign. Before the referendum he told the Irish Independent newspaper: "I am funding it and so are a lot of other people. We have a donations facility online. .. There are some wonderful people that are stepping forward and writing checks."

However, Libertas were forced to admit in the course of the campaign that many of its staff members were on Rivada's payroll.

The "yes" campaign has since urged the group to make its donors and accounts public and has expressed skepticism that Libertas could have raised so much money within Ireland alone.

Comments from a controversial former US diplomat before the referendum have added fuel to the conspiracy theory. John Bolton, the former US ambassador to the United Nations, was in Dublin to deliver a speech on trans-Atlantic relations a week before the vote. He warned that the treaty could "undercut NATO," something that would be a "huge mistake." According to Bolton, known for being one of Washington's most outspoken hawks, if the EU had its own military capability people will think NATO redundant and that Europeans "can take care of their own defense."

While Ireland is not a member of NATO one of the concerns before the vote was that the treaty could compromise the country's long-standing military neutrality. Other doubts that arose related to Ireland's low taxation rate and its ban on abortion.

The "yes" campaign tried but never managed to counter these arguments effectively. In the end Ireland rejected the Lisbon Treaty by 53.4 percent to 46.6 percent on June 13. A result that has since thrown the European Union into disarray. There has been talk of a two-speed Europe or even of kicking Ireland out of the EU if it were to reject a second referendum.

Nevertheless, the latest poll on opinion within Europe shows that Ireland is in fact still the most resolutely pro-European country in the EU. The latest Eurobarometer survey, conducted in April and May, showed that Ireland had a more positive opinion of the EU than every other member state apart from Romania, with 65 percent viewing the union positively, well above the average of 48 percent. And Ireland topped the list of countries which believed they had benefited from EU membership; 82 percent of Irish voters believed Ireland had benefited, compared to an EU average of 54 percent.

There is no doubt that Ireland has done well out of EU membership, although other factors such as low taxation, high investment in education and a record of good labor relations, also helped fuel the period of sustained growth. According to figures released by Eurostat on Tuesday, in 2007 Ireland had the second-highest gross domestic product (GDP) per capita in Europe -- almost one and a half times the EU's average.


Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Europe must not be derailed by lies and disinformation

Will Hutton, The Observer, Sunday 15 June 2008

Eurosceptics celebrate a triumph of the little people against the Euro juggernaut. Ireland's 'no' vote against the treaty on the European constitution is, in such minds, the brave assertion of democracy against bureaucracy. The European elite in Brussels, with its dark plans to hobble Europeans everywhere, deserves a good kicking for producing an unloved, incomprehensible set of reforms. It has got it. Ireland has stood up for Europe.

This is nonsense from top to bottom, a farrago of lies and disinformation. The European Union is a painfully constructed and fragile skein of compromises that allows 27 democratic states on our shared continent to come together and drive forward areas of common interest to further their citizens' well-being. The elite that plots this is a nonexistent phantom invented by populist demagogues. The beleaguered, unloved treaty would have improved Europe's effectiveness and tried to address its much talked about democratic weaknesses.

The reality is that Ireland's 'no' voters have trashed an EU that is precious but weak. Most 'no' voters, grabbing on to the worst fear rather than reasoned fact, have unknowingly set in train a political dynamic that, unless carefully handled, could lead not just to Ireland but Britain leaving the EU. Everybody will be the poorer.

Sometimes, fatalistically, I think this may have to happen. Eurosceptics, such as Ireland's leading 'no' vote campaigner Declan Ganley, like to position their fierce and unjustified attacks on the actual Europe we have as being pro-European because today's EU does not correspond to some impossible notion of Europe that meets their own very particular prejudices. Such is the flaw of referendums as a means to practise reasoned democratic decision-making that the only way voters will come to realise that the sceptics are wrong is to be forced to live through the consequences of their vote.

For although the first reaction in Ireland, Brussels and the rest of the European Union has been to say that the will of Ireland's voters must be respected, the wider political logic is that Irish voters are in effect saying no to the European Union, a will that can only be respected by other states freezing their ambitions. Ireland's voters have primed a bomb.

Thinking through the options shows just how big the bomb is. Eighteen states have already ratified the treaty, some for the second time. The first reaction of José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, was to ask the last eight member states, Britain included, to proceed with ratification. Gordon Brown has agreed; the final reading is on Wednesday and to stop the process because of the Irish vote would be unreasonable. The European Council of heads of state meets this week and will surely re-endorse that collective view. So the EU on 1 January 2009 will have a treaty that 26 states have ratified - but not the Irish. A new commission is to be appointed, supposedly on a new basis, as well as a new president, along with a strengthened foreign policy chief. So what is to happen?

What can't happen is that the treaty is scrapped, rewritten to accommodate changes to meet the will of Ireland's voters and then re-ratified in 27 countries. There are the practical questions of time and expense and there is no political readiness in the other 26 capitals to go through the whole interminable process again.

On top of these there is the political problem that the treaty can't be rewritten to accommodate specific Irish concerns because it already does; Ireland's 'no' campaigners told lies. The voters' great concerns had been met. There is a specific protocol that guarantees Ireland's neutrality and excuses it from membership of any joint European defence effort, if any surfaces. There is no possibility of Ireland being told to enforce abortion. And all states have autonomy over tax policy.

Crucially, the treaty contains a clause that states that do not agree to its provisions are required to leave the European Union. The existing treaty can certainly be made more obviously Ireland-friendly within its existing provisions, but beyond that, the EU will have to get tough and invoke the clause. It will have to ask Ireland to resubmit essentially the same treaty for a second referendum early in 2009, rather as Ireland held a second referendum over the Nice treaty in 2002.

If Ireland votes similarly again, then it will have to accept associate status in the EU and not be a member of its governing structures. The EU will proceed without Ireland.

Nobody wants this outcome and the language at this week's European Council will be carefully diplomatic. Senior British government sources have told me that the EU has to be 'respectful' of the Irish vote and not be portrayed in any way as a bully that disregards the popular will. This may be possible for a few months, but the clock is ticking. Decisions cannot be deferred. Sometime during the autumn, the President of the European Commission or the Irish Prime Minister must spell out Ireland's choices.

Irish and British Eurosceptics, in close alliance, will react in fury. I can see it now. This will be proof-positive of the Brussels elite's malevolence and anti-democratic intent. David Cameron's Tory party will say that Ireland is being treated disgracefully. I don't see how Cameron will be able to avoid a pledge to give British voters the same chance for a referendum on the treaty as the Irish, not least to strengthen the hand of the Irish 'no' campaigners in their second referendum. One of Europe's big states will be on Ireland's side when the Tories win power. They can take on Brussels bullies etc.

Battle is going to be joined in earnest because it must. Pro-Europeans everywhere must engage. We need this Europe - to fight climate change, to ensure security of energy and food, to underwrite our prosperity and to fight for our common interests.

The world needs it too. The EU is the citizens' friend. If it did not exist, Europe would have to invent something similar. Over the next few months, Europe's leaders are going to have to develop concrete initiatives to support these points and to present what they are doing as European and only possible because of the EU.

Maybe pro-Europeans can win Ireland's second referendum and then, in 2010 or 2011, our own. But referendums work best for the demagogue, the dissimulator and scaremonger, as Hitler and Mussolini, lovers of referendums, proved. Increasingly, Ireland and Britain are heading for the European exit and that could portend further break-up of the Union. Pro-Europeans look out.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

The Naked Emperor

José Ignacio Torreblanca
Translated by Douglas Wilson, El Pais, 16 June, 2008

The Irish no has made patently clear once again the fracture between the political class and European public opinion. With the exception of the minority Sinn Fein group, the five main parliamentary parties proved themselves incapable of mobilising the Irish people to vote yes. In Parliament, 156 MP’s voted in favour of the Lisbon Treaty and 10 against; but opinion in the country at large was very different, with final results showing 53% against the Treaty and 46.6% in favour of it.

Aware of the lack of popularity of European construction, from the beginning of the decade the European elites have tried to widen their support base with the European public. A Charter of Fundamental Rights was drawn up, followed by a Convention consisting of members of national parliaments, summoned to prepare the way for a Constitution. Finally, a good number of countries decided to call a referendum in order to ratify the resulting document. However, none of these strategies led to the desired effect; France and Holland soon regretted calling a referendum, while Spain and Luxemburg were left smarting by a low turn-out and a narrow margin of victory respectively.

But European leaders decided to ignore the growing breach with their citizens, beginning a new reform process of the Treaties which was designed, from the very outset, to get round the need for any more referenda. The old European Constitution changed its name, was chopped into two and its symbols quietly forgotten. After an eighteen month hiatus, technically described as “a reflection period” but during which reflection was conspicuous by its absence, a new Treaty was drafted behind closed doors. Up until last Thursday, the scheme seemed to have worked well enough, but there were some loose ends which couldn’t quite be tied up, namely, the mandatory Irish referendum. 862.415 Irish voters have tugged away at those loose ends, unraveling a whole process and leaving the Emperor without clothes.

Although the Irish result can’t simply be extended to the rest of the EU (it ought to be remembered that eighteen countries have ratified the Lisbon Treaty to date), mere common sense points to a significant problem for the twenty seven member states. Certainly, for the Reflection Group on the Future of the EU headed by Felipe González, the question of how to widen popular support for the integration process now takes on an absolute, almost life or death priority, because Europe without Europeans is neither viable nor sustainable as a political actor, either in the continent itself or the wider world. It is clear that European integration creates winners and losers, and as long as European and national institutions are incapable of harnessing and channeling the demands of unhappy voters, they are likely to let off steam in the public arena.

As for the short term, doubts about how to extricate Europe from the crisis are more than justified. Plan “A” with all its constitutional fanfare, sank without trace; plan “B”, stripped of such trappings, now also seems headed for failure. The Irish Government suspended ratification of the European Constitution in 2005 on the grounds that it was too ambitious; now it has failed with a more modest text. Should we try again with an even less ambitious draft? Or should 136.964 votes lead us to muddle along with the Treaty of Nice, which everybody knows is inadequate if an enlarged EU is to become a real protagonist on the world stage? Cleary, that is no solution either.

In spite of the desire to find a rapid and painless way out of the crisis, there is no quick fix to the Irish no. The turnout (53.1%) was more than sufficient, higher even than Spain’s in 2005 (42.3%), which makes calling a second referendum with the same question unthinkable. For a second referendum to make any sense, Ireland has to agree on a set of conditions with its partners beforehand (as in the case of the “Decalogue” which the 1986 Spanish referendum on NATO membership was based on). The only problem is voters rejected the Treaty for a variety of often irreconcilable reasons, making it is hard to imagine what safeguards or derogations could keep the Irish people happy.

However, despite these complexities, it does amount to a possible and above all desirable way forward, because it would mean the ratification process could continue. That’s why it’s vital European leaders prevent contagion spreading when the European Council meets this Thursday, hold firm on the ratification timetable, categorically rule out a renegotiation of the whole Treaty and, above all, do all they can to ensure the Treaty comes into effect on January 1st 2009 as planned, or at the very latest, before the European elections in June 2009. If not, those elections might well turn into a real European referendum, with unforeseeable consequences for legitimacy. Clearly, the solution to this crisis has to come from the politicians, not the technocrats.

El emperador desnudo

El no irlandés ha puesto de manifiesto una vez más la fractura existente entre la clase política y la opinión pública europeas. Excepto el minoritario Sinn Fein, los cinco grandes partidos con representación parlamentaria han sido incapaces de movilizar a los irlandeses a favor del sí. En el Parlamento, 156 diputados votaron a favor del Tratado de Lisboa y 10 en contra; en la calle el resultado ha sido muy distinto: un 53% votó en contra y un 46,6% a favor.

Desde comienzos de la década, las élites europeas, conscientes de la escasa popularidad de la construcción europea, han intentado ampliar su base de apoyo ciudadana: primero fue la redacción de una Carta de Derechos Fundamentales, después la convocatoria de una Convención integrada por parlamentarios nacionales que preparara un proyecto de Constitución y, finalmente, un buen número de países decidieron recurrir al referéndum para ratificar el texto resultante. Sin embargo, estas estrategias no dieron el resultado esperado: Francia y Holanda pronto se arrepintieron de haber convocado referendos, mientras que España y Luxemburgo salieron escaldados por la baja participación, en el primer caso, y por lo ajustado de la victoria, en el segundo.

Pero los líderes europeos decidieron ignorar la brecha ciudadana, iniciando un nuevo proceso de reforma de los tratados, diseñado, desde un principio, para sortear los refrendos. La vieja Constitución europea se cambió de nombre, se troceó en dos y fue despojada de sus símbolos. Tras un parón de 18 meses, técnicamente denominado "periodo de reflexión" pero en la que ésta brilló por su ausencia, se pergeñó, a puerta cerrada y en pocos meses, un nuevo tratado. Hasta el jueves, la conjura funcionó, pero debido a las peculiaridades de Irlanda, donde el referéndum es obligatorio, las élites dejaron un pequeño fleco. Y hete aquí, que tirando de ese fleco, 862.415 irlandeses han dejado al emperador desnudo.

Por ello, aunque el resultado en Irlanda no pueda extenderse sin más al resto de la UE (no debe olvidarse que 18 países han ratificado hasta la fecha el Tratado de Lisboa), el sentido común no deja de indicar que los Veintisiete se enfrentan con un problema de gran calado. Desde luego, para el Grupo de Reflexión sobre el Futuro de la UE que lidera Felipe González, la cuestión de cómo ampliar el apoyo popular al proceso de integración adquiere a partir de ahora una prioridad absoluta, casi existencial, porque una Europa sin europeos no es viable ni sostenible como actor político, ni en Europa ni en el mundo. Está claro que la integración europea genera ganadores y perdedores: por ello, mientras las instituciones, nacionales y europeas, no sean capaces de arbitrar y canalizar las demandas de los descontentos, la presión se desbordará por la vía popular.

Más a corto plazo, las dudas respecto a qué hacer para salir de esta crisis están más que justificadas. El plan A incluía toda la fanfarria constitucional y naufragó; el plan B, despojado del concepto constitucional, también parece ahora abocado al fracaso. El Gobierno irlandés suspendió en 2005 la ratificación de la Constitución Europea, alegando que era un texto demasiado ambicioso; ahora ha fracasado con un texto cicatero. ¿Debemos probar con un texto menos ambicioso aún? ¿Conformarnos, debido a 136.964 votos de diferencia en Irlanda, con un Tratado de Niza que sabemos que no es apto para hacer de la UE ampliada a Veintisiete un actor de talla mundial? Claramente, no.

Pese a los deseos de encontrar una salida fácil y rápida, el no tiene una muy difícil solución. Por un lado, la participación (53,1%) ha sido más que suficiente, superior incluso a la que registró el referéndum en España en 2005 (42,3%), lo que hace impensable convocar un segundo referéndum con la misma pregunta. Para que un segundo referéndum tuviera sentido, Irlanda debería pactar de antemano con sus socios una serie de condiciones (como en el caso del decálogo en el que se basó la consulta sobre la OTAN en España en 1986). El problema es que las razones del rechazo son tan diversas, e incluso tan irreconciliables entre sí, que resulta difícil imaginar qué salvaguardias o derogaciones podrían satisfacer al pueblo irlandés. Sin embargo, pese a la complejidad, es una vía posible, y sobre todo, deseable, porque no obligaría a suspender el proceso de ratificación.

Por ello, lo esencial es que este jueves, en el Consejo Europeo, los líderes europeos eviten el efecto contagio, manteniendo a toda costa el calendario de ratificación, descartando una renegociación global del tratado y sobre todo, haciendo todo lo posible para que el texto entre en vigor, como estaba previsto, el 1 de enero de 2009 o, a más tardar, antes de las elecciones europeas de junio de 2009. De lo contrario, éstas sí que podrían convertirse en un referéndum europeo de imprevisibles consecuencias deslegitimadoras. Claramente, la solución a esta crisis tiene que venir de la mano de la política, no de la técnica jurídica.

Monday, 16 June 2008

'Europe Demands More from Its Voters'


European politicians are to blame! No, the Irish are to blame! Wrong again, it's the disillusioned Europeans! Everyone thinks they know why the Irish rejected the Lisbon Treaty last Thursday. German commentators give it a go as well.

Ireland put the brakes on EU integration on Thursday.

Ireland put the brakes on EU integration on Thursday.

The shock delivered by the Irish last Thursday is difficult to overstate. By a margin of 53.4 percent to 46.6 percent, Ireland's voters rejected the Lisbon Treaty, an agreement designed to improve the efficiency of the European Union. In other words, as many observers have pointed out, a tiny minority of European citizens have blocked a reform project designed to benefit 490 million EU citizens.

But what does the Irish veto mean? Should the EU move forward with a core group willing to further integrate? Should Ireland be asked to hold a new referendum? Should the ratification process be carried forward as though nothing happened?

The ideas are myriad. But on Monday, most commentators in Germany seem to be at a loss as to what should be made of the debacle:

Writing for Die Zeit on Monday, former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer writes:

"Poor Europe. With the Irish referendum, it has thrown itself needlessly into a political calamity. Of course the EU will continue to exist and its institutions will continue to function, for better or worse, on the foundation of the Treaty of Nice. But a proactive, strong Europe capable of determining its own fate will not be in the cards for quite some time."

"What will be the consequences of the Irish referendum? First of all, a strong European foreign policy -- which, given the current state of the world, is more necessary than ever before -- was buried on June 12. Nation-states will have the foreign policy say once again. The same is true for the democratization of the EU…. The Irish decision is, given this point, especially grotesque, because it rejected exactly that which it demands."

"Secondly, the EU will stagnate. In addition, the process of enlargement will either be delayed or will be stopped completely…."

"Thirdly, the smaller and mid-sized members of the EU will pay the price for the Irish decision when foreign policy becomes re-nationalized. They will lose influence. That is nothing new if one only looks at the foreign policies of France and Great Britain. But the case of Germany is different. Germany has long seen its strategic interests from within the framework of an integrated EU. A long-term blockade of a strong EU will necessarily change this viewpoint."

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung on Monday reminds its readers of Europe's long history of violence and the role the EU has played in interrupting that cycle. It writes:

"It is easy to berate European politicians because they were unable to explain a treaty or because they were unable to awaken enthusiasm for their work. But perhaps one should be allowed to berate European citizens for once for not showing an interest in the complex political entity that has grown up around them. People would of course like things to be simpler and like to believe populists who say things could be simpler. But this treaty -- highly complicated and a masterwork of political skill -- … is not so simple. It introduces more democracy, more involvement and more control. The Lisbon Treaty is a treaty that forces the politicians in Brussels back to their voters. But it also demands more from those voters."

"Europe cannot allow itself to be slowed down by 862,415 Irish. The Irish government should study the treaty and follow its voters' wishes with a period of EU abstinence. But Europe hasn’t come even close to the end of its history."

The financial daily Handelsblatt writes:

"Europe is on the knife's edge. Can the EU keep together despite the failed referendum in Ireland? Or will it drift apart into groups of those that want to integrate further and those that don't? With earlier crises, that was something of an academic question. This time, though, it is real. Because this time, the EU doesn't have the strength to hammer out a new treaty as it did after the French and Dutch vetoed the European constitution in 2005. Either Europe finds a way to get Ireland to change its mind, or we are seeing the EU collapse into a meaningless framework with a small core of tightly bound countries surrounded by a loose alliance of others."

The weekly Die Zeit, which comes out on Thursday, wrote in an online editorial this weekend:

"The extreme absurdity of using a referendum to decide on such a complex entity as the European Union has become abundantly clear. The minority of one country -- in the Irish example, just 45 percent of registered voters cast their ballots -- can vote on the fates of the majorities of 27 countries. Referendums may very well make sense in those situations where the fate of one's land is in question. But when the future of other countries is involved, it is the wrong instrument."

"It would be the wrong move to re-write the Lisbon Treaty yet again. It would be better to continue the ratification process. Then we would see who else falls by the wayside: England? Czech Republic? Poland? Those who ratify the treaty, however, should formalize an agreement among themselves, allowing them to create a core Europe -- without the half-hearted and disruptive members -- leading to closer cooperation and increased integration."

"Such a process would not take place overnight. But just having it as a goal could help restart the sputtering motor of Europe."

The center-right daily Frankfurter Allgemeine writes:

"Maybe it is time to look at reality head on: The European Union will always be faced with the mistrust of its citizens, and this mistrust may very well grow the more powerful the EU becomes. That can't be changed simply be handing the European Parliament new powers because this body is totally alien to most European citizens and is seen as much less important than national parliaments. It is also likely that the EU will not become the homogenous actor on the world stage as many would like it to be. The path to the United States of Europe is one which the Irish, Brits, Poles and Czechs don't want to follow…. In other words, attitudes toward integration in Europe won't change in the near future and neither will Europeans' loyalty to the EU."

"There is, however, a path -- that of differentiated integration…. Each country can decide in which areas it would like more integration and which it would for now like to remain apart. It isn't the easiest path and it makes things even more complicated. But it reflects the principle of European diversity without torpedoing integration or overtaxing traditionalists. There is even a successful blueprint: that of the euro."

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Friday, 13 June 2008

Why Europe Should Listen to Ireland


By Sebastian Borger in London

Ireland shot down the Lisbon Treaty in a referendum held on Thursday. Already, EU politicians are branding the Irish as ingrates. But it is exactly that kind of arrogance which helped lead to the Irish "no" in the first place.

It was a process that began seven years ago. Meeting after difficult meeting, compromise after painful compromise, members of the European Union hammered out a new set of rules aimed at improving the way the EU functions.

Ballot boxes in Ireland did not contain the message that Brussels wanted to hear.

Ballot boxes in Ireland did not contain the message that Brussels wanted to hear.

In 2004 -- at a time, ironically, when Ireland held the rotating European Council presidency -- the process resulted in a European Constitution. But in 2005, the constitution idea was rejected by the French and the Dutch. Still, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was able to breathe new life into the EU reform last year. On Friday, though, with most of the results in from the Lisbon Treaty referendum held in Ireland, it looks like the process has once again been dashed.

With 29 of 43 constituencies reporting the results of the Thursday vote, 53.5 percent of those casting ballots have rejected the treaty with 46.5 percent voting in favor. Because all 27 EU member states have to approve the Lisbon Treaty for it to be adopted, the Ireland vote single-handedly derails the agreement.

Brussels is disappointed -- and furious. When France and Holland rejected the EU constitution three years ago, it sent the alliance into two years of soul searching. This time around, EU functionaries thought they had satisfied doubts about the depth of democracy in the EU -- and about concerns that too much power was being centralized in Brussels.

So far, accusations of Irish ingratitude have been muted. But it likely won't stay that way for long. Already on Monday, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, a diplomat not always known for his diplomacy, said that Ireland itself would be the first victim of its own referendum. "They have benefited more than others," Kouchner said on RTL radio. "It would be very, very awkward if we were not able to count on the Irish, who have often counted on Europe."

At first glance, Kouchner has a point. The island nation of 4.3 million has received billions of euros worth of subsidies from Brussels during its 35-year-old membership in the European Union. In recent years, Ireland's economy has enjoyed rapid growth -- indeed, the so-called "Celtic Tiger" will even soon become a net payer to the European Union. Instead of people flowing out of Ireland looking for work, Europeans from all over the continent are now flowing in.

But there is more to it than that. Kouchner's comments assume that anyone who is pro-Europe must necessarily be in favor of the Lisbon Treaty. At the same time, Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen and others from the pro-treaty camp have complained that the "no" camp in Ireland often focused on issues that had nothing to do with the Lisbon Treaty. So was the vote about the document at hand? Was it about Ireland's membership in the European Union or the future of the EU itself? Or was it about something else entirely?

Listen to the Irish themselves and it becomes clear that they remain, for the most part, committed Europeans. In the run up to Thursday's referendum, though, the country posed two questions born of pragmatism: Is this treaty good for us? And: Are we happy with the current development of the EU? Both questions are ones which many millions of Europeans would likely have responded to with "no." Had they been asked.

Supporters of the treaty argued that the EU needs to "function better," and that the Lisbon Treaty would help it do so. Opponents, though, responded by pointing out that the institutions in Brussels didn't exactly collapse after the French and the Dutch rejected the EU constitution in 2005. And voters instinctively suspect that behind all the talk of "functioning better" lies a process that makes them uneasy, namely that the political elite are continuously working to increase European integration.

The treaty did indeed call for some changes to knit Europe closer together. One provision was for a "president" who would serve for two-and-a-half years to replace the current system whereby the presidency rotates every six months. Still, calling the position a president is something of a misnomer in that heads of government from the 27 member states would still have had most of the say. The treaty also called for the position of foreign minister, though it avoided that title. The European Court of Justice and the European Parliament would also have gained additional powers.

But there were specifically Irish fears which played into the "no" vote as well -- fears which proved difficult to dispel. The Lisbon Treaty, its opponents never tired of pointing out, would have lessened the voting leverage of smaller EU members and would thus have been bad for Ireland. Furthermore, Ireland, like the other 26 EU members, would have had to do without its own EU commissioner at times due to a provision in the treaty to shrink the size of the European Commission. Such a loss would not be a big deal for bigger countries like the UK or Germany, whose influence in Brussels is secure. For a small country like Ireland, however, it was clearly a consideration.

But the argument that perhaps resonated the most was the specter -- called into being by those opposed to the Lisbon Treaty -- of Brussels eventually passing a uniform tax code for the EU. Ireland, after all, was able to kick start its boom by offering generous tax breaks to investors from the US and elsewhere. Even the slightest hint that Ireland could lose control of its own tax policy was enough to prick up Irish middle-class ears.

Most importantly, however, the discussion leading up to Thursday's referendum was intense. And even if many of the issues raised had little to do with the Lisbon Treaty, Irish voters were the only ones able to vote and Ireland was the only country of 27 where an intense public debate took place. Their verdict on the project of European integration should be carefully considered.

Bernard Kouchner-style arrogance, in any case, should be avoided at all costs. Talk of Irish ingratitude or arguments that referenda are unsuitable in the EU would merely increase the already wide gulf between the EU elite-o-crats and the voting public.

That, though, looks to be exactly what will happen. Already, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown have said that ratification of the Lisbon Treaty should continue as planned -- as though the Irish referendum never took place. But for the EU -- which sings the praises of democracy and does what it can to improve democratic institutions in places like Turkey -- that would be the wrong way to go.

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