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EU reform at stake

October 2, 2009

Ireland's electorate decide this Friday whether to accept or reject the Lisbon Treaty. If the Irish vote "no," the badly-needed reform of the European Union won't happen.

'Yes' camp poster on the Lisbon Treaty
The Lisbon Treaty is crucial for Europe's future, supporters sayImage: AP

European leaders are hoping that Irish voters will overturn last year's 'no' vote and avoid plunging the bloc into chaos and political gridlock. Ireland rejected the Lisbon Treaty in June 2008 with more than 53 percent voting against it. This time, however, the final opinion poll before the October 2 vote, published last Sunday, put support for the treaty at 55 percent, with 27 percent opposed.

Both camps in the Lisbon campaign spent the last few days trying to get their message across to an electorate that has been notoriously skeptical about the European Union in the past.

Prime Minister Brian Cowen and other Lisbon Treaty supporters have warned that another rejection would damage Ireland's attempts to reverse its sharp recession and marginalize the country in European affairs.

Irish premier Brian Cowen
Prime Minister Brian Cowen has staked his political career on a 'yes' voteImage: AP

'Defining moment'

Cowen called the Lisbon Treaty referendum "a defining moment in Ireland's destiny," and said "the road the Irish choose will not only determine the shape of our economy, but will also define our place in the wider world."

The main opposition parties, Fine Gael and Labour, have urged voters not to use the referendum as a vote against Cowen's unpopular government, which they blame for the country's spectacular economic collapse in the wake of the global financial meltdown.

Fine Gael leader, Enda Kenny, said he was confident that people would "put aside their anger at the government and distinguish between domestic political issues and the bigger European question."

The end of Irish sovereignty?

The 'no' camp, on the other hand, argues that agreeing to the treaty would spell the end to Irish sovereignty and force the country to accept decisions it did not support, such as Europe's pro-abortion policies. It also warns that Ireland would lose its military neutrality. Irish trade unions say the treaty does not adequately protect worker's rights.

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams said voters should reject the treaty to ensure that decisions about Ireland's future would not be handed over to an EU elite. "If we want to have decency and accountability, and if we want a social Europe, then come out and vote no," he said.

Socialist party leader Joe Higgens took issue with the way the 'yes' camp has conducted its campaign. "It has been extremely difficult to get a decent debate going on the treaty itself because the government has adopted this dishonest tactic of reducing the whole issue to a question of the economy," Higgens said.

Libertas leader Declan Ganley walking beside his 'no' campaign bus in Dublin
'No' campaigner Ganley says no jobs will be savedImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

Ireland battered by economic crisis

Libertas founder, Declan Ganley said the 'yes' campaign had been based on falsehoods about job creation and that "the only job that will be saved if we vote 'yes' will be Brian Cowen's."

Richard Boyd Barrett of "The People Before Profit Alliance" seconded that notion and added that "this treaty offers us the same failed economic policies which have caused the recession."

This year, Ireland's gross domestic product is set to shrink a record eight percent, while the jobless total could exceed 15 percent – three times the level at the time the last referendum was held.

Ireland is the only EU country constitutionally obliged to put the treaty to a vote. Of the 27 EU members, Poland and the Czech Republic are the only others yet to ratify the Lisbon Treaty.

A little more than three million Irish are eligible to vote in the referendum. Some have already cast their ballots on remote islands off the western Atlantic coast. Official results are expected by Saturday afternoon.

Anne-Marie McNerney, Dublin (gb)
Editor: Nancy Isenson