The future of the EU after the Irish ‘No’

Institute of International and European Affairs

Conclusions of the European Council of December 2008 on the fate of the Lisbon Treaty
On 11/12 December 2008, the European Council unanimously agreed to continue to seek ratification of the Lisbon Treaty with a view to enabling its entry into force by the end of 2009. In order to respond to the Irish ‘No’ vote in the referendum of 12 June 2008, the members of the European Council agreed that, subject to ratification, the College of Commissioners would continue to include one national from each Member State as of the 2009-2014 Commission, as allowed in Article 17(5) of the EU Treaty.[1] The retention of the power of a national government to nominate a member of the College was a key concern among voters in the Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, a concern that was highlighted in government-sponsored research on the attitudes of voters in the referendum.[2] Furthermore, the European Council agreed to negotiate future legal guarantees respecting Ireland’s distinct position on three issues: (1) direct taxation; (2) national security and defence policy; and (3) so-called ‘social/ethical issues’ (including family law, the right to life and national education policy). It finally confirmed the ‘high importance’ attached to workers’ rights,[3] which will be addressed from the perspective of all national governments and not from a purely Irish position. Although the content of such guarantees has been agreed in principle,[4] the precise text and legal form will most likely be agreed at the European Council meeting on 18/19 June 2009.[5] The Danish precedent, whereby the then twelve Member States of the European Economic Community negotiated the ‘Edinburgh Agreement’, has been mentioned as a possible precedent for the legalisation of Ireland’s ‘guarantees’.[6]
The Taoiseach (Prime Minister), Brian Cowen, welcomed these commitments as “extremely encouraging” in a speech to Dáil Éireann (House of Representatives, the lower chamber of the Irish Parliament) on 17 December 2008[7] and confirmed in the national press that Ireland would hold a second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty in light of the proposed guarantees.[8] However, the details of such guarantees are currently being negotiated among the national governments of the Member States, and the precise details are not yet in the public domain.
Similarly the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Micheál Martin, emphasised in a speech to the Institute for International and European Affairs on 15 January 2009 that “nothing more could have been asked of our fellow EU members or wanted from them”.[9] He placed a central importance on the retention of the ability of national governments to nominate one commissioner each as the key example of the European Council’s efforts to meet Ireland’s concerns.[10]
The national debate currently focuses on the content of such ‘legal clarifications’ and their precise form. Responding to the question of the nature of such guarantees, the leader of the Green Party and current Minister for the Environment, John Gormley, stated that the ‘guarantee’ relating to security and defence policy may consist of Ireland negotiating an ‘opt-out’ from the European Defence Agency.[11] Such comments drew a mixed reaction from other members of the Fianna Fáil-Green Party coalition government. The Minister for Defence, Willie O’Dea, is believed to oppose such a move, along with a number of experts on Irish defence policy.[12]
No firm date has been set for the second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, although some speculation centres on October 2009. A number of politicians, including Irish MEP, Colm Burke (Fine Gael, EPP), have called on the government to call a referendum before summer 2009,[13] on the basis that opinion polls[14] show a margin of voters in favour of ratifying the Lisbon Treaty. This is an unlikely scenario, given that the European Council have not yet agreed the final form of the legal guarantees, as well as considering the necessary time that would be required to pass the legislation organising a referendum and to allow for campaigning. The Taoiseach appears to have implied that setting such a date is contingent on the details of the Council commitments being addressed to the government’s “satisfaction”.[15]
Regarding the reaction of the main opposition parties following the December Council’s conclusions, the only notable speech thus far appears to be that of Éamon Gilmore, leader of the Labour Party, on 27 December 2008. Mr. Gilmore voiced concern over the concessions to social conservatives made by the Irish government and the European Council in the conclusions, especially over the guarantees relating to family, education and the right to life.[16]
Beyond political parties, reaction in the media and civil society to the Council’s conclusions varies.[17]
Prominent anti-Lisbon campaign group Libertas appear to have reacted by refocusing their efforts on becoming an official political party and campaigning in the June 2009 European Parliament elections, stating that they wish to use the June European Parliament elections as a proxy referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.[18]
Upcoming European Parliament elections June 2009
The date for the upcoming European Parliament elections in Ireland has been set for 5 June 2009. As the European Parliament elections are still several months away, the event has to date received little coverage in the national media and public discourse, and the main issues surrounding the forthcoming elections have yet to fully emerge. However, it is likely that the fate of the Lisbon Treaty will play a large role in the Irish election campaign.
The number of European Parliament seats in Ireland will be reduced from thirteen to twelve, with the Dublin constituency losing one of its four seats.[19] The reduction is likely to create strong competition between the four incumbent Dublin MEPs, as each is a member of a different national party and a different European Parliament grouping. The other three constituencies remained unaltered at three seats each. The entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty would have confirmed Ireland’s apportionment of twelve seats, so its delayed entry into force has not prejudiced Irish representation in the European Parliament.
Most incumbent MEPs have declared their intention to seek re-election. However, Avril Doyle (Fine Gael, EPP, MEP for Ireland East) has announced that for personal reasons she will not be seeking re-election in June.[20] Ms Doyle notably served as rapporteur for the European Parliament’s environment committee on the emissions trading directive during the 2004-2009 legislature.
At their party conference on 20 February 2009, Prime Minister Brian Cowen announced Fianna Fáil move from the AEN political party to the ELDR.[21] However, some within Fianna Fáil, including the co-president of the AEN’s political grouping in the European Parliament (UEN), Brian Crowley, have questioned whether Fianna Fáil’s ethos fits the liberal democratic policies of the ELDR party.[22]
The anti-Lisbon Treaty group ‘Libertas’, which campaigned in Ireland during the June 2008 referendum for a ‘No’ vote, has registered as a political party in several Member States with a view to contesting the European Parliament elections in June 2009. Despite some early difficulties in applying for European Parliament funding,[23] Libertas has launched as a national political party in Malta, Germany, the United Kingdom[24] and in France,[25] where candidates from the sovereignist ‘Movement for France’ and the rural-based ‘Hunting, Fishing, Nature and Traditions’ party will run under the Libertas banner.
Libertas is perhaps best known in Ireland, where its founder, Declan Ganley, has announced his intentions to run in the European Parliament elections[26] and where the party realistically will have the most chance of contesting one or more seats due to their prominence in the Irish referendum campaign.[27]
Formation of new Commission in autumn 2009
The present Commission’s five-year term is due to expire on 31 October 2009, although President of the Commission, José Barroso, has indicated that the Commission’s term may have to be extended until the end of the year because of the planned Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.[28]
Charlie McCreevy, Commissioner for the Internal Market, has confirmed that he will not be seeking re-appointment to the College of Commissioners. Current speculation in the media as to whom the Irish government will appoint to be a member of the 2009-2014 College identifies incumbent Minister for Transport, Noel Dempsey, and sitting Minister for Health, Mary Harney, as two possible candidates for nomination within the Irish cabinet.
Recent opinion polls showing a fall in support for the government may favour the appointment of a non-member of government to the 2009-2014 Commission in order to avoid a by-election. This has led to suggestions that Máire Geoghegan-Quinn (Fianna Fáil), currently a member of the European Court of Auditors, may be a candidate.[29] She is a former minister for European Affairs, Justice and Transport.
Beyond his own party, the government might also consider Ambassador John Bruton (Fine Gael, EPP), former Taoiseach and currently the head of the Commission’s Delegation to the United States.[30] There is precedent for nominating a member of an opposition party member to the European Commission. Former Taoiseach, Charles Haughey (Fianna Fáil), appointed Fine Gael member of the House of Representatives, Richard Burke, to the Commission in 1982.
Regarding the timetable for appointment, Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny has called on the government to announce an early nomination ‘to secure a priority commissionership’. However, an alternative strategy would be to delay the nomination until closer to the Lisbon referendum in an effort to secure a better commissionership as part of EU efforts to shore-up the support for the Treaty. MEP for Dublin, Proinsias de Rossa, has called on the government to include the national Parliament as a forum for scrutinising and nominating the member of the College from Ireland.
No mention of the issue of the appointment of the next High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy has currently been made public in Ireland.
Long term implications and scenarios for the integration process
As is perhaps evident in previous answers, the current debate on whether Ireland should ratify the Lisbon Treaty has dominated much of the public discourse on the long-term implications and scenarios for the integration process. The current debate focuses on the nature of the second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty and whether the ‘question behind the scenes’ is Ireland’s future as a Member State of the European Union.

[1] Consolidated numbering of the EU Treaty as amended by the Lisbon Treaty.

[2] IMS Millward Brown study, available to read: (last access: 23 March 2009).

[3] Presidency Conclusions, European Council meeting, December 2008: (last access: 23 March 2009).

[4] Reported in The Irish Times: (last access: 23 March 2009).

[5] Reported in The Irish Times: (last access: 23 March 2009).

[6] Reported by the Danish Institute of International Studies: (last access: 23 March 2009).

[7] See (last access: 23 March 2009).

[8] Reported in The Irish Times and in The Irish Independent (last access: 23 March 2009).

[9] Available from the IIEA website, available at: (last access: 23 March 2009).

[10] See and (last access: 23 March 2009).

[11] See (last access: 23 March 2009).

[12] See (last access: 23 March 2009).

[13] Press release from Colm Burke’s website is available: (last access: 23 March 2009).

[14] No single source is available to link to the relevant opinion polls; these polls were conducted respectively by The Irish Times/MRBI and Red C and were available in the print versions of The Irish Times and The Sunday Business Post.

[15] See (last access: 23 March 2009).

[16] See (last access: 23 March 2009).

[17] See, for instance, a strongly pro-Lisbon article available here: and an anti-Lisbon stance, available here: (last access: 23 March 2009).

[18] See and (last access: 23 March 2009).

[19] See (last access: 23 March 2009).

[20] See (last access: 23 March 2009).

[21] See (last access: 23 March 2009).

[22] Doubts have been raised over the possible benefits of such a move: and as to whether such a move will actually take place: (last access: 23 March 2009).

[23] See (last access: 23 March 2009).

[24] See (last access: 23 March 2009).

[25] See (last access: 23 March 2009).

[26] See (last access: 23 March 2009).

[27] See (last access: 23 March 2009).

[28] See (last access: 23 March 2009).

[29] See (last access: 23 March 2009).

[30] Supra, note 28.