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Ireland embraces Lisbon Treaty. Will Blair be next EU president?

Ireland says 'yes' to Lisbon Treaty. Reforms will give European Union a unified foreign policy, and a permanent president.

By Staff writer / October 4, 2009

Supporters of the European Union's Lisbon Treaty react outside Dublin Castle, in Dublin, Saturday.

Peter Morrison / AP

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PARIS – A significant ‘yes’ to Europe by the Irish in a reform vote tallied Saturday removes the last main hurdle to a more unified and federal European Union. The result brought great relief (and some Parisian celebratory horn-honking) in many European capitals.

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Moreover, the Irish decision may indirectly result in former British prime minister Tony Blair becoming the first fixed-term president of Europe.

Amid deep economic woes, the Irish appeared to have no desire for the isolation from the 27-member European Union that a ‘no’ vote on the Lisbon Treaty would bring. The 67 percent who voted ‘yes’ in Ireland was a higher total than even euro-optimists dared expect.

Ireland – which voted ‘no’ in 2008, in a bit of pre-economic crisis national identity politics – was one of the last hold outs on the treaty. The next hurdle is a euro-skeptical Czech president.

But Ireland’s ‘yes’ now makes it possible for Brussels to quickly move toward change. It gets the EU closer to answering Henry Kissinger’s famous question “Who do I call if I want to call Europe?”

What the Lisbon Treaty does
The Lisbon Treaty will initiate a common foreign and security structure, including a High Representative or foreign minister. It will streamline decisionmaking by abandoning the current ungainly system of unanimity in favor of majority rule. It also greases the skids to select a president; Mr. Blair is considered the front runner.

(The Financial Times wryly noted what the atmospherics might be like if “EU President Blair” were to visit British Prime Minister Gordon Brown at Downing Street, Blair’s former residence.)

The Irish ‘yes’ to Europe is widely seen as less a change of heart than of mind. “The economic crisis is so deep in Ireland that the people don’t want to be isolated,” says Jean-Dominique Giuliani, president of the Robert Schuman Foundation in Paris.

(Read more about the Celtic Tiger's collapse here)

“The crisis has brought a desire for Iceland, the Balkans, Ukraine, to join the EU. The reform has come a long way, and today Europeans just want to face the crisis, recover purchasing power, and deal with unemployment. Europe wants to finish this phase of integration.”

Indeed, the consequences of an Irish ‘no’ were considered by most European capitals to be almost too bitter to contemplate. “A ‘no’ by Ireland would have required another decade to settle this at least,” says Thomas Klau of the European Council of Foreign Relations in Paris.

Lisbon is the latest effort to create a stronger federal Europe, dating to the Maastricht Treaty in 1992. In 2005, Europe failed to adopt a new constitution after Dutch and French voters said no; the Lisbon treaty was agreed to by the parliaments of most ‘no’ voting states as the size of the EU jumped to 27 from a handful in the 1980s. A ‘no’ by Ireland would also tangle the EU applications for suitor states like Iceland and Croatia.

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