Cablegate: Ireland On the Hook to Devise Solution to Lisbon

DE RUEHDL #0384/01 1771134
P 251134Z JUN 08

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 DUBLIN 000384


E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/25/2018


Classified By: Ambassador Thomas C. Foley; Reasons 1.4 (B) and (D).


1. (C) In the past week and a half, Irish Prime Minister
Brian Cowen has succeeded in getting breathing space from his
counterparts in the European Council to find a solution to
the dilemma created by the rejection of the Lisbon Treaty by
the Irish people in a referendum on June 12 (reftel).
Nonetheless, recent discussions with senior Irish officials
indicate that the way forward is far from clear, in part
because the Irish don't fully understand why the voters
rejected the Treaty. (Eighty-two percent of the Irish say
membership in the EU is good; only 46 percent voted for the
Treaty). It is becoming more and more clear that the Lisbon
Treaty referendum failed due to an ineffective campaign by
the political parties and other 'Yes' supporters. Ireland is
now on the hook to suggest ways out of the dilemma at the
October 2008 meeting of the European Council. Whatever the
outcome, Ireland has probably lost a significant amount of
the political good-will, credibility, and clout built up
since it joined the EU 35 years ago. As the former "poor
man" of Europe who has received more than 83 billion euro in
EU subsidies, Ireland is now seen in some parts of the EU as
ungrateful. End summary.

Taoiseach Addresses the European Council

2. (U) On June 19, a week after the Irish rejection of the
Treaty, Prime Minister Brian Cowen met in Brussels with the
Heads of Government of the other 26 members at the European
Council, which reportedly dedicated its entire four-hour
dinner discussion to the issue. Taking his cue from his
speech to the Irish Parliament on June 18 (reftel), Cowen
stressed that the will of the people in Ireland had to be
honored, touched on the myriad reasons for the referendum's
defeat, and asserted that Ireland remained firmly committed
to the European Union. Calling the defeat of the referendum
"an Irish and a European challenge," he asked for time to
consult with the Irish people and EU partners, which would
enable his Government to "engage in serious and careful
analysis of the outcome of the referendum and its
implications." Cowen declared his determination to resolve
the dilemma and voiced his confidence that Ireland and the EU
would find an acceptable way forward.

3. (U) The conclusions of the June 19 European Council
meeting made clear that Cowen had received the breathing
space he desired. The conclusions stated that the Council
agreed more time was needed to analyze the outcome of the
referendum, noting that the Irish Government would actively
consult, both internally and with other Member States, to
suggest a way forward. Noting that the ratification process
was continuing in other Member States, the Council agreed to
Ireland's suggestion to revisit the issue at the Council's
meeting on October 15, 2008.

4. (C) On the same day as Cowen addressed the European
Council, the Ambassador met with Minister of Justice,
Equality and Law Reform Dermot Ahern (other issues reported
septel), who appeared exasperated with the referendum
outcome. Ahern (a former Foreign Minister, 2004-2008)
declared that the Treaty had failed because of its legalistic
complexity, which made it hard for 'Yes' campaigners to
explain the document and difficult for voters to understand
it. Ahern also intimated that some politicians didn't
enthusiastically participate in the 'Yes' campaign, noting
that it was hard for the politicians to assure their
constituents that there was really something in the Treaty
worth supporting. Ahern flatly asserted that "there was
nothing the Government could have done to win the referendum
-- the problem was the Treaty itself."

5. (C) Dan Mulhall, Director General, EU Division,
Department of Foreign Affairs told EMBOFFs on June 24 that
the tone of the European Council meeting was positive, saying
that Ireland "couldn't have expected a better result." He
said that the leaders of the other EU Member States displayed
a good deal of understanding and recognized that the
situation was a European, not merely Irish, problem. He said
that the Council's process was cooperative and transparent,
with no evidence of anyone ganging up on Ireland, and he
voiced appreciation that the European Council had not placed
any hard deadlines on Ireland. Nonetheless, Mulhall noted,
it was clear that the EU leaders expect Ireland to devise a
solution to the dilemma; that the Treaty ratification process

DUBLIN 00000384 002 OF 002

would proceed throughout the EU; and that the EU wants to see
positive progress by the October 2008 Council meeting. If
Ireland has not presented a way forward by the end of the
year, Mulhall predicted, the pressure on Ireland would
intensify greatly.

6. (C) When asked what the way forward might be, Mulhall
replied that he did not know. He said that in spite of a
recent poll -- which indicated that 82 percent of the Irish
people think Ireland has benefited from membership in the EU
-- only 46 percent of voters supported the Treaty on June 12.
He stated that Ireland needed a period of reflection.
Mulhall mentioned his and others' surprise at the outcome
despite a 53 percent turnout, when it had been widely
believed that a voter turn-out of more than 45 percent of the
electorate would ensure passage.

7. (C) In response to a question whether any solution to the
problem was "off the table," Mulhall said all options --
including another referendum -- had to be kept open as the
Irish Government teased out options that would satisfy
Ireland's fellow EU Member States, while meeting the needs
and expectations of the Irish people. He noted that Ireland
could attempt to remain within the terms of the current EU
treaties (which would likely create a two-tier EU), try to
re-negotiate the Lisbon Treaty (which would probably not be
acceptable to other EU Member States), or devise
modifications to make the Lisbon Treaty work. Mulhall
revealed that the Government has commissioned studies to sift
through the referendum results and determine why the voters
rejected the Treaty. These studies, he said, would inform
the way forward. He stated that the defeat of the Lisbon
Treaty was much more significant than the defeat of the first
Nice Treaty in 2002 because the percentage of the electorate
voting was so much higher in the Lisbon defeat.

8. (C) Mulhall commented that the election result indicated
a huge shift in Irish public opinion, noting that more than
300,000 additional voters voted 'No' in the Lisbon Treaty
than had voted 'No' in the 2002 Nice Treaty referendum.
Paradoxically, he added, polls subsequent to the Lisbon
referendum indicated that the popularity of the political
parties (which were leading the 'Yes' campaign) have held
steady in spite of the referendum's defeat. The 'No' vote,
he concluded, had little to do with lack of support for the
Government, and everything to do with protests against a
proliferation of narrow single issues, perhaps the greatest
of which was a mild, but widespread and seemingly growing,
concern that the Treaty would cede too much of Ireland's
national authority to Europe. The emergence of such a
euroskeptic view, Mulhall reflected, was a new phenomenon in
Ireland, which would complicate the Government's efforts to
devise a solution to the Treaty's rejection.


9. (C) The verdict seems to be that the Lisbon Treaty
referendum failed due to an ineffective campaign by the
political parties and other 'Yes' supporters in getting out
the 'Yes' message. Ireland is now on the hook to choreograph
a solution to the dilemma -- and it is hard to see how
Ireland can avoid another referendum in light of the
constitutional and judicial requirements that changes to the
existing EU Treaties must be ratified by the people.
Whatever the outcome, Ireland has probably lost a significant
amount of the political good-will, credibility, and clout
built up since it joined the EU 35 years ago. As the former
"poor man" of Europe who has received more than 83 billion
euro in EU subsidies, Ireland is now seen in some parts of
the EU as ungrateful.

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