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How an obscure rule could trample EU dissenters

The EU might invoke an 'overpass' clause to head off individual nations' objections to more centralized budgetary powers. 

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"Certainly in Ireland it would have been considered a sneaky inclusion [in the treaty]. I can't see it going down well. Most people will probably be torn but this won't sit well with them, or indeed with national governments," she says.

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Despite this, Ms. Murphy says any decision to attempt to do so can be understood: "There was an understanding that it would only be done in an emergency. If ever there was an emergency situation, this is it."

A post-democratic phase?

Businessman Declan Ganley, who led the campaigns against the Lisbon treaty in both 2008 and 2009, says he warned of the EU's ability to override the national parliaments and Ireland's Constitution in 2009.

"We [the No campaign] labeled Lisbon the self-amending treaty [because] they could make changes to the treaty without consulting parliaments and the public. To force a change such as this through, boy, are they making a point. If they do this, we are fundamentally entering a post-democratic phase in European affairs, and that is alarming."

Ireland's emboldened left, composed of Sinn Féin and the United Left Alliance, remains steadfast in its opposition to handing over any more powers to Brussels, now viewed as a cipher for the political will of Berlin, and will demand a referendum.

"There can be no treaty changes without it being out to the people," said Sinn Féin's spokesman.

Paul Murphy, a United Left Alliance European MP from Ireland, said action would be taken to secure a referendum.

"There's a large chance of a need to take a court case over this. It looks like they're going to push the clause to the maximum. What's happening is a major move toward fiscal union," he said.

Should one come to pass, getting the Irish to say yes to anything proposed by the EU could prove a Sisyphean task.

Two possible strategies are the carrot and the stick: debt forgiveness or ejection from the euro.

"There's a lot of hostility [to the EU] at the moment," says Tom McDonnell, policy analyst with the Dublin-based think tank Tasc. "If it was presented in such a way as [to be] the price of a write-down on Ireland's banking debt, it could pass."

Alternatively, the threat of having to go it alone on the markets could be enough to pacify Irish voters.

"An ejection of Ireland from the euro would be traumatic. Our currency would devalue, standards of living would fall, and our bank debts would become unaffordable," says McDonnell.

"The devil, as always, will be in the detail. There's a problem with the system and we need a systematic response. It can be fixed if the right policy options are pursued."

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