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Europeans Debate Council After No Vote In Ireland

European Council
18-06-2008

MEPs debate the forthcoming European Council after the No vote in Ireland

MEPs held a debate in Strasbourg ahead of the Brussels European Council of 19 and 20 June. All groups in the House accepted and respected the outcome of the vote in Ireland. Many groups underlined the need to continue the ratification processes and to respect those Member States that had already ratified the Lisbon Treaty. Some of the smaller groups, however, called for an immediate end to the ratification process.

For the Council Presidency, Slovenian European Affairs Minister Janez Lenarčič said the first topic on the agenda for the European Council would be the result of the Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. He said the Slovenian presidency was "disappointed" at the result of the referendum but that it "respects" the will of the Irish electorate. However, Slovenia had spoken to several heads of state or government, who were determined to proceed with ratification in their countries. Overall, he believed a solution could be found but the European Council would first listen to the views of the Irish prime minister.

Turning to other issues to be discussed at the summit, Mr Lenarčič highlighted soaring food and oil prices and listed short and medium term steps that could be taken to mitigate the problems. These ranged from agricultural policy measures to sustainable development of biofuels. Other topics on the agenda would be the Western Balkans, implementation of the Millennium Development Goals, the climate change and energy packages and the European Neighbourhood Policy. The minister concluded by congratulating Slovakia, which will join the euro on 1 January 2009.

European Commission President José Manuel Barroso also acknowledged that while the European Council would be discussing many issues, "foremost on everybody's minds will be the No vote in Ireland". He too saw the vote as "a disappointment" to all those in favour of a stronger, more efficient and accountable European Union and stressed that "the No vote did not solve the problems which the Treaty seeks to tackle".

Thus, while fully respecting the outcome of the Irish referendum he was keen to emphasise that "We must show the same respect for all national ratifications". He pointed out that "there have been nineteen democratic decisions in the process so far: eighteen in favour of the Treaty of Lisbon; one against. Eight other Member States still have to take position".

Mr Barroso then made an impassioned plea. He said "there is no way around the fact that governments have a particular responsibility" and "years of treating the European Institutions as a convenient scapegoat leaves fertile ground for populist campaigns. In the end, it only serves to make life easy for the euro-sceptics. As I said before, you cannot bash Brussels from Monday to Saturday and expect citizens to vote in favour of Europe on Sunday".

Of all the other topics on the summit agenda, Mr Barroso singled out food and fuel price rises and described the measures the Commission favoured to alleviate them. However, he saw short term measures as only part of the answer. More broadly, "the pressures being faced by Europeans today show why the EU's goals on energy security, energy efficiency and climate change are so crucial". Ultimately, "the structural response to the structural challenges we face is to save and diversify". Against this background, "adoption of our climate change and energy security package is therefore a matter or urgency".

In conclusion, the Commission president said the task of the European Council this week will be "to show that setbacks like the no vote do not mean paralysis for Europe", since "the case for an effective European union is stronger than ever."

Political group speakers

Joseph DAUL (EPP-ED, FR)said that his group respected the decision of the Irish people just as much as the 18 Member States that had ratified the Treaty of Lisbon. He recalled that the EU is founded on freedom of expression and democracy and that as a result no Member State could prevent another from expressing itself. It is now for the European Council to analyse the message of the Irish people who are concerned about the EU's trade, agriculture and tax policy.

The aim of the EU to guarantee peace on the continent of Europe is no longer held up the young generation. The European Parliament, which often adopted complicated texts, must take its responsibility. Mr Daul called on the European Council to take on board the concerns of citizens on food and oil prices.

"The Lisbon Treaty enables progress and allows the EU to function better with its voice heard louder int he world", he recalled. He concluded by saying that the period of introspection should end quickly. "We must stop the naval-gazing".

"The EU has spent eight years ratifying various treaties" noted Martin SCHULZ (PSE, DE) and yet is now unable even to put its own house in order, even though this it what it asks of would-be new members. "Who is turning the institutions into scapegoats?" he continued, suggesting that Council ministers might be less free to blame disasters on "Brussels" if their debates were not held behind closed doors.

Crisis of confidence

That Ireland's "no" vote defied calls from all Irish political parties to vote "yes" points to a crisis of confidence in national and supranational institutions - and "the integration process is on the line," he affirmed.

Internal Market Commissioner Charlie McCreevy's visit to Ireland, during which he admitted not having read the Lisbon Treaty and implied that this was not really necessary, had done little to help, noted Mr Schulz.

The internal market portfolio should be taken away from Mr McCreevy, who had engaged in a "one-sided" drive for "deregulation at any cost without social flanking measures," added Mr Schulz.

No soul

"We must find a way out of the impasse and get the Irish back on board", said Mr Schulz, affirming that where once it had been the pro-European movement that had "soul", now it was the anti-Europeans. "Where's the passion gone?" he asked.

"People speak ill of Europe because they have ängst," he continued, but "Europe is a great tribute to peace in the world - fight for tolerance, and "don't be drowned out by that lot", he urged.

On his way to Brussels on Thursday, the Irish Prime Minister could well be asking himself "Where did it all go wrong?" said Graham WATSON (ALDE, UK), noting that the Irish "no" had come on the threshold of a French Presidency, leaving the EU with the Nice Treaty. "We have come from Nice to Nice" he said.

Mr Watson claimed that a "majority in every Member State backs the EU," but agreed that trust in institutions is ebbing away.

"The EU cannot be made 'with or without you' - you cannot dissolve the people", he continued, stressing that "in a landscape littered with lies, people are not persuaded - we have done little to convince them." Every national government needs to plan for dialogue, and it is the job of political parties in every Member State, to remedy this, he added, despite the fact that "wealth these days is amassed les honestly, and shared less fairly, than it used to be."

MEPs' mailbags are filled with cross-border complications, e.g. to with property rights or data protection, so "we know Lisbon is needed, even though this is not obvious to the citizen", said Mr Watson, who urged the EU to "get on with business", if necessary using the Nice Treaty to tackle real problems.

He also suggested launching a Guinness-style compaign publicising why "Europe is good for you." Europe means "too much, to too many, to be stopped in its tracks" he concluded.

"We have always said the EU needs a short constitution and charter of rights, on a sound economic footing," said Monica FRASSONI (Greens/EFA, IT), adding that whilst "Ireland's verdict must be respected, it is not more democratic than ratification."

The treaty text, she said, is "unintelligible, hedged round with a forest of protocols and opt-outs" and some countries "will not swallow this", she continued, stressing that "governments of opaqueness have lost out".

What is required is an agreement on a "positive text that flows from convinced countries and democratic forces and is big enough to take the process forward" she concluded.

Brian CROWLEY (UEN, IE) said the no vote represented a "sea change with regards to the opinion of one set of voters in the European Union" towards the treaty and because of the diversity of the people who opposed the treaty, more time is needed to analyse the reasons why.

He also said that "this is a time of respect, not just respect for the Irish voters who gave the democratic opinion with regard to this treaty, but respect for the other countries and their individual rights about how they operate and how they ratify a treaty". "Allow us to move forward. The European project is one worth saving. It is not just about peace or prosperity, it is about solidarity."

Francis WURTZ (GUE/NGL, FR) said: "The European Council would be well advised too avoid any arrogance expressed against the Irish people" and that the way the Lisbon Treaty which was presented in an "incomprehensible way" is an example of the "ivory tower syndrome that we see in the European Union that's creating so much concern amongst our citizens". For Mr Wurtz, the No Vote was about the "role that Europe plays around the world" and said "we hope that we are going to have a fairer politics in Europe now".

Nigel FARAGE (IND/DEM, UK) said "well done the Irish" and that "it is perfectly clear that the ratifications should stop now and the implementation of the treaty should stop now". He also said the decision to continue with the ratification of the treaty is "EU nationalism and it is the most dangerous political phenomenon to have swept Europe since 1945" and said to the house that "you are destroying the EU in the eyes of the voters".

Ashley MOTE (NI, UK) said: "Lisbon required unanimity, you ignore that and you ignore the rule of law itself. The Irish are not just 10% of the EU, they are 100% of those that are allowed to vote and we all know that others would have voted no given the chance". He also said "suggesting that the process should go on is an arrogance of breathtaking proportions".

Barroso response to the debate

José-Manuel Barroso welcomed the consensus in the European Parliament to continue the process of ratification which would allow "dialogue with the Irish in an atmosphere of solidarity". According to him, the only way to construct legitimacy of for is to present concrete results for citizens. Finally, in reaction to statements by Mr Shculz about Commissioner McCreevy, he concluded "do not find easy scapegoats. Attacking the Irish Commissioner is not the best way to have a constructive dialogue. We will only solve the problem when we concentrate on citizens' expectations."

British and Irish speakers

Philip BUSHILL-MATTHEWS (EPP-ED, UK) said that "our problem must not be to discuss the speed at which the EU should now move; it should be to discuss its direction. Listen to the people and they will tell you." If the ratification process continues, he said, it will show that EU leaders have learnt nothing and that politicians still believe they know best and that it is the people who are wrong.
Rather than ignoring the Irish vote, he said, we should build upon it. "The ratification process should stop. The listening to the people should begin."

Marian HARKIN (ALDE, IE) said that a core issue in the Lisbon debate in Ireland was the principle of unanimity. For Lisbon to be ratified, she said, we need unanimity. All 27 Member States must agree – that is core. This is the first real test of unanimity under Lisbon. "As politicians, our job is to rise to that challenge, to listen to our citizens, to find solutions and to get on with the business of building a better Europe. Some on the ‘no’ side in Ireland spoke of a better deal. Let us be optimistic and look for a better deal for all citizens. We need some time and space in Ireland to reflect and respond to find solutions. The good will for Europe is there in Ireland."

Bairbre DE BRÚN (GUE/NGL, UK) (speaking in Irish) said that the bulk of the Irish people had not voted against Europe. Ireland had made a lot of progress in the EU but the question the Irish people were asking was: "Did we have the best deal through the Lisbon Treaty?". The Lisbon Treaty is over after the No vote and ratification must be stopped. Continuing (In English) she said "we need to listen very carefully and calmly to what the Irish people have said." The key issues are: the democratic deficit, neutrality and EU militarisation, workers' rights and the impact of the Lisbon Treaty on the developing world. In conclusion, she said "democracy must prevail, we must listen carefully."

Kathy SINNOTT (IND/DEM, IE) said that "if the response to the democratic will of the people that I have heard in the last five days is outrage, then there is something wrong. Make no mistake: Ireland is pro European. We believe, as obviously you do not, that the project has lost its way. It has lost sight of the one thing it needs most – democracy – and forgotten the only people that matter – its citizens. So, before you try to bypass our democratic decision, ask yourself two questions. One: do you truly believe that this Treaty would survive referendums in the other 26 countries? And two: is threatening a country for being democratic an action of democracy?

Andrew DUFF (ALDE, UK) thought is bizarre that "Mr Farage and his right-wing troops here prefer to let a referendum in a foreign country take a decision on behalf of, and in place of, the British sovereign Parliament. It confirms my opinion that the plebiscite is a form of democracy, possibly suited for revolutionary circumstances, but completely unsuited for informed and deliberative decisions on complex treaty revision." That is why, Mr Duff concluded, that this Parliament must assist the Council to deliver the content of the Lisbon Treaty

"The Lisbon Treaty is dead" stated HUDGHTON (Greens/EFA, UK). "Without unanimity that is simply a legal fact. Voters, not just in Ireland but in France and the Netherlands too, have said ‘no’ to the Treaty text or its twin brother. To regain the confidence of our peoples, we must do more than just re-badge and rename the Lisbon text and try to push ahead. The new Treaty was too easy to ridicule and too complex and obscure to explain, making it difficult for ‘yes’ campaigners in any country in a referendum.

It is, he said, up to the other eight Member States to decide whether and how to continue with ratification, but Mr Hudghton thought it would be very helpful if, for example, the UK were to decide to do so by referendum and "let us see whether we have the confidence of the people to continue with this process."

While Avril DOYLE (EPP-ED, IE) was deeply disappointed with the result, we must, she said, accept and respect it as the democratic will of the people. A measured response to the genuine concerns of the Irish electorate is called for, she said, but we must not appease the extremists. The Irish Government, she said, must analyse the outcome calmly, to establish exactly what happened and provide answers. She hoped that colleagues would agree with her that a "two-speed Europe is not the answer but the beginning of the end of our Union, the most successful democratic peace project of our time." It has, she said, always been easier to peddle fear than hope,.

Richard CORBETT (PES, UK) said that as well as reflecting on the Irish result, we must also listen to the other 26 countries, their results and also concerns that may be expressed during their ratification. And then we must rise to the enormous challenge of bridging the gap. "If we do obtain 26 ratifications and one rejection, it is neither unreasonable nor undemocratic to ask the one whether they could consider the possibility of adjusting the reform package, reviewing it, explaining it better, perhaps seeking a new compromise rather than block all reform. There is nothing unreasonable or undemocratic about that. After all, even some of the ‘no’ campaigners in Ireland professed they claimed their intention was to renegotiate and seek a better agreement."

"Some people – and we have heard that from some parts of this House – only want to listen to one side, to the answer that they like, which is the answer ‘no’. I want to listen to both sides and then find a solution acceptable to all 27 countries. That is the challenge we must all rise to", he concluded.

Lisbon is not dead stated Proinsias DE ROSSA (PES, IE). Nevertheless, he continued, the choice made in Ireland is a sovereign decision of the Irish people. The only people who can vary that decision on that Treaty are the Irish people.

Mr De Rossa proposed a new deadline for ratification of Lisbon. He thought that setting it before the European elections is a reasonable target. "If the Irish people continue to be dissatisfied with Lisbon in whatever form it is finally agreed between us and the rest of Europe, then Ireland will have no option but to renegotiate its relationship with the Union. That would be a disastrous course for our country. Europe has very little to lose if it loses Ireland, but Ireland has everything to lose if it loses Europe.

Citing global challenges - climate change, demographic change, migration and energy crisis, hunger and poverty killing millions, human insecurity, international crime, topped by an identity crisis in virtually every one of our Member States - these cannot be solved by any Member State pulling the shutters down and hoping they will go away.

Concluding, Mr De Rossa urged that Europe demonstrate tangible capacity to deliver decent living and working conditions. That , he said, will reinforce our unity and our solidarity and produce a positive solution to this crisis.

Gary TITLEY (PES, UK) said that clearly the Lisbon Treaty cannot come into force on 1 January as was hoped. "We have to wait for the Irish Government to tell us how they think we should proceed. But meanwhile other states should exercise their sovereign right to ratify this Treaty. My own Member State will finish its ratification today in accordance with its long-standing and widely respected parliamentary tradition."

Taking into consideration globalisation and the insecurity it generates, the EU, he said, is a political process designed to deal with those issues, looking at the Millennium Development Goals, at climate change, at migration. What action to improve the lot of our citizens?

Concluding, Mr Titles questioned the the Slovenian presidency: "could you tell me what are the implications of the Irish vote for Croatia’s accession to the European Union?"

Mairead McGUINNESS (EPP-ED, IE) worried that those who voted ‘no’ felt there were no risks in doing so: they felt, perhaps, the status quo would prevail. Now, she said, it is very clear from this debate that other countries believe that their process of ratification through parliament is equally valid and that that will proceed.

There is, she said, urgency for the Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Brian Cowen, to come forward in the next few days with certainly a reflection, and perhaps proposals, on the way forward.

Addressing Kathy Sinnott, concerning this worry about loss of values in Ireland, Ms McGuinness said "we cannot blame Europe for the loss of values in Ireland. We have done that ourselves, and let us stop throwing the buck at the European Union and maybe look at our own values of materialism in Ireland and elsewhere."

Jim ALLISTER (NI, UK) (in writing) said that the Treaty is dead. Lisbon had set its own test for survival - unanimous ratification and it failed that test. The challenge now is whether some 'elite' have the honesty and integrity to admit that the Treaty is dead with no prospect of resurrection.

REF.: 20080616IPR31779

ENDS

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