Friday 22 February 2019

Our top EU post saved in new plan for Lisbon

Fionnan Sheahan Political Editor

THE guarantee of holding on to a European Commissioner will be the carrot for a 'Yes' vote in a second Lisbon Treaty referendum late next year

The Government is considering a second vote in autumn 2009 -- but this time with assurances on a commissioner, abortion, taxation and neutrality.

The complex plan would involve extending the term of the current European Commission by several months. Irish voters would effectively be told their vote would save countries from occasionally losing their commissioner -- if the Government goes down this route.

After the resounding 'No' vote last month, Government and European figures now acknowledge the prospects of Ireland sorting out its stance on Lisbon before next summer appear remote.

Critically, the referendum package would include EU assurances on the contentious issues of abortion, taxation and neutrality to head off concerns in each area.

The move for a referendum re-run in September/October 2009 is among the options being studied by the Government as it struggles to come up with a solution to the Lisbon dilemma.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen would have to inform his EU counterparts of the plan later in the year, as it would have a direct impact on next year's European Parliament elections and the appointment of a new European Commission.

Senior Government sources have indicated it is among the choices being looked at, but it would need the co-operation of the rest of the EU.

A source said: "You'd have to arrive at that decision by a logical means by the end of this year. It's shaping that way. It's being kicked around."

The plan would involve:

- A European Commissioner for each country.

- A delay in the appointment of a new Commission.

- Written assurances of no interference on abortion, neutrality and tax.

- Some EU countries (not Ireland) losing even more MEPs next year.

Without Ireland ratifying the Lisbon Treaty by next June, the European elections will have to be run under Nice Treaty rules, meaning a greater reduction in the number of MEPs across Europe.

Spain would be the big loser under this development, but up to 12 countries would be affected.

Under the new Lisbon rules, the number of MEPs would drop from 785 to 751, but under the old Nice rules the MEP numbers would fall from 785 to 736.

Either way, Ireland's representation will be cut from 13 to 12, with Dublin losing one MEP as a result.

Likewise, agreement would be required on the status of the European Commission, which is again due to reduce to less than one per country under the Nice rules.

Crisis

"Where it's going to come to a crisis will be when the commission has to be appointed. By the end of this year, 25 if not 26 countries will have ratified Lisbon. Ireland will become, as the days pass, increasingly exposed and dependent on goodwill that could melt away," another source said.

The temporary solution would be to delay the appointment of the new commission until the winter of 2009 -- after a second Irish referendum.

To relieve the severe pressure on Ireland, the European Council would have to agree by 'solemn declaration' to each country retaining its commissioner if Lisbon was passed.

A spokesman for the Taoiseach insisted that "absolutely no decision" has been taken by the Government on what steps to take.

"The process of surveying the public on the reasons behind the 'No' vote is only under way. This is only one part of a few elements the Government will use to inform their decision," a spokesman said.

Yesterday, former minister Mary O'Rourke said there was no chance of a second referendum being passed -- and that it should not even be put to the people.

"It is a very foolish route we are taking if we think we can have another referendum," Ms O'Rourke told a Dail committee.

"The people said 'No'. There is no escaping that. We will not be able to carry another referendum. The sooner we realise that, wake up to it, the better."

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