By Hilary White

Irish FlagDUBLIN, June 13, 2008 ( – Irish voters have voted “No”, by 53.4 per cent to 46.6 per cent, to their country ratifying the European Union’s Lisbon Treaty, the document that was to replace the European Constitution defeated by French and Dutch referenda in 2005. Ireland was the only one of the 27 EU member states obliged by law to hold a referendum on the Treaty.

The European commission president, José Manuel Barroso, said he believed the Treaty was still “alive,” despite the resounding defeat in Ireland. This, however, was immediately contradicted by Luxembourg’s Prime Minister, Jean-Claude Juncker – the longest serving leader in the EU – who said the Irish vote meant the Treaty could not enter into force in January 2009 as planned. Under the EU rules, the Treaty required unanimous consent of all member states. Barroso said EU leaders would consider their response at a summit in Luxembourg next week.

The French Prime Minister, Francois Fillon, said, “If the Irish people decide to reject the treaty of Lisbon, naturally, there will be no treaty of Lisbon.”

The head of the European Union’s current presidency is now demanding an explanation for the Irish people’s democratically obtained rejection of the Treaty. “I will invite the Irish Prime Minister to explain the reasons for the rejection of the treaty by the Irish people,” said Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa.

EU leaders have vowed that, despite the vote, the concept of a reformed European Union constitution will go forward. Barroso said today that the Treaty must go forward with the ratification process. France’s Europe Minister Jean-Pierre Jouyet said the EU must discuss a “legal arrangement” with Ireland.

The Treaty’s defenders said the 300 page document was merely a way of streamlining “EU governance” and re-working the system of national votes to more closely reflect the various positions of the member states.

Pro-democracy groups in Ireland warned, however, that the same dangers to democracy and national sovereignty exist with this revised version of the rejected EU Constitution as were in the original. Ratification of the Treaty, they maintained, would threaten the democratic principles upon which the Irish polity rests, including citizenship.

Anthony Coughlan of the National Platform EU Research and Information Centre, wrote that the Lisbon Treaty ratification would create a new super-state “in the constitutional form of a supranational European federation” making citizens of ratifying countries primarily into citizens of that super-state, “owing obedience to its laws and loyalty to its authority,” in contrast to their current honorary EU ‘citizenship’.

Pro-life advocates argued that this would threaten the Irish constitutional protection for the unborn, given the almost universal acceptance and promotion of abortion at the EU level. Certain EU bodies have also lobbied hard for pressure to be put on countries that retain their legal protections for natural marriage.

Coughlan wrote that the reforms of the Lisbon Treaty would grant the EU a “legal personality” and corporate existence fundamentally different from its current make-up. It would, he said, “for the first time, [be] separate from and superior to its member states”. It would reduce sovereign nations like Ireland, Britain and Germany, to the status of subordinate states comparable to the relationship between the state of Texas and the US Federal government.

“Politically and legally, this is the core element of an EU constitution,” which, Coughlan said, is the least-discussed aspect of the Treaty.  Coughlan is a Senior Lecturer Emeritus in Social Policy at Trinity College Dublin and Secretary of the National Platform.

Party leaders in Ireland are re-thinking their positions on the Treaty after the vote. All three major parties had supported a Yes vote for ratification. Party leaders in Dublin are said to be stunned at the size of the margin against their position. In the two constituencies of county Donegal, two thirds of voters said no to Lisbon. The biggest no vote was in Dublin South West, which saw a 65.1% majority.

In Britain, Tory opposition leader, David Cameron, whose party supported a referendum in Britain, said it is time to abandon the ratification of the Treaty. The Labour party, which pushed the ratification of the Treaty through Parliament without a public vote, contrary to their 2005 campaign promise, is now facing plummeting opinion polls. Prime Minister Gordon Brown refused to allow a vote, claiming that the Lisbon Treaty was substantially different from the previous document. This, however was widely refuted by legal experts, and even some prominent EU politicians, who said the differences between the two documents were negligible.

The Treaty would give the EU more law-making powers, Coughlan added, and would transfer more powers to the EU from national states, national parliaments and citizens. The non-elected Commissions have a monopoly on proposing EU laws. Laws would be made primarily by an irremovable “oligarchy,” of 27 legislating politicians who constitute the Council of Ministers, who would make laws for 450 million Europeans.

Weight would be given to nations by population, which would reduce the relative voting weight and influence of small and middle-sized states, such as Ireland, Poland and Malta, the three EU countries maintaining legal protections for the unborn.

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