Thursday 22 March 2018

Vote Yes or we'll all pay price, EU chief warns

Jose Manuel Barroso: warning for voters
Jose Manuel Barroso: warning for voters

Fionnan Sheahan Political Editor

IRELAND and Europe will "pay a price" if there is a 'No' vote in the Lisbon Treaty referendum, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso warned voters last night.

Putting the gun to Irish heads ahead of the referendum in just over a fortnight, Mr Barroso said rejection of the EU Reform Treaty would be bad for the whole of Europe, including Ireland.

His comments could be used by the 'No' campaign to show that Europe is trying to coerce Ireland into voting 'Yes'.

They will cause a further headache for the 'Yes' campaign, which is already watching its lead narrowing while also trying to fight public confusion on the treaty's details.

Ireland is the only one of the 27 EU members States to hold a referendum on the Treaty.

But Mr Barroso said there is "no Plan B" if the referendum on June 12 is not carried by the Irish voters.

He said the European Union could be stuck with an unresolved problem of institutional reform for years if the Irish public rejects the treaty.

"If there was a 'No' in Ireland or in another country, it would have a very negative effect for the EU," he said.

"We will all pay a price for it, Ireland included, if this is not done in a proper way," he warned.

Mr Barroso delivered his remarks at the European Policy Centre think-tank in Brussels last night. Pro-Lisbon campaigners argue the Treaty will make an enlarged EU work more effectively, give the enlarged union stronger leadership, a more democratic decision-making system and a more effective foreign policy apparatus.

The Treaty replaced the defunct EU constitution, which was rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005.

The latest opinion poll shows 'Yes' vote at 41pc, down three points, and the 'No' vote at 33pc, up five. The Red C poll for the Sunday Business Post showed the don't knows down eight points to 26pc.

Mr Barroso's intervention came on the same day as the Government expressed its concerns over the European Commission's handling of the highly contentious World Trade Organisation talks.

Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin said the EU's concessions on agriculture at world trade talks remain "unacceptable" to Ireland.

Mr Martin said Ireland still had "very serious concerns" about the latest negotiating position set out at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) talks by EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson, the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Briefed about the proposals by the Commissioner at a meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels, Mr Martin said the proposals were "unbalanced and unacceptable" and posed a serious risk to Irish and European agriculture.

He said the latest offer from Mr Mandelson -- tabled on behalf of the EU Commission at the Geneva negotiations last week -- was even less acceptable than previous suggested concessions that farming organisations denounced as an outrage and a sell-out.

The WTO talks are a major stumbling block to the Government's hopes of passing the referendum.

Farmers have linked the WTO outcome to their vote on the EU Reform Treaty, even though Taoiseach Brian Cowen has said it is "foolish" to link the two issues.

The Irish Farmers' Association is effectively threatening to vote 'No' if they are not happy with the expected outcome of the WTO negotiations.

Mr Cowen denied yesterday that the referendum was now too close to call.

He said opinion polls were just snapshots at any given time, and the fact remained that it was very much in Ireland's national interest to vote Yes to Lisbon.

"We're only halfway through this campaign, and I'm betting a very positive message on the ground," he said.

Mr Cowen said he believed the Irish people were of a pro-European outlook.

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