Barroso courts the Irish ahead of EU Treaty referendum


European Commission President José Manuel Barroso has paid a visit to Ireland in a move seen as an attempt to rally support for pro-EU forces ahead of the Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty on 12 June.

Speaking at the National Forum of Europe, Barroso said he had not come here to "try to tell you how to vote". However, he expressed his hope that Irish citizens would vote in favour of the new Treaty.  "The eyes of Europe - if not the world - will be on you on 12 June" - the EU chief said, referring to the fact that, for the treaty to enter into force, it will require ratification by all 27 member states. Ireland is the only EU member state set to hold a referendum on this issue.

The latest poll revealed 60% of the Irish were still undecided on how to vote, with only 28% 'certain' to vote in favour of the new Treaty (Click Here).

Referring to Irish sensibilities over their corporate tax policy, Barroso stressed that its tax sovereignty would not be affected by the new Treaty. "No member state - either under the current rules or under the Lisbon Treaty - can be obliged to accept a tax proposal to which it objects" - he said.

Meanwhile, some 10,000 farmers were protesting in the streets of Dublin against EU trade liberalisation -  which, they claim, will destroy the industry. Industry representatives made it clear that the outcome of the negotiations by Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson at a UN Conference in May will have a huge impact on the way farmers vote on the Lisbon Treaty. "Sell us out and we will have our say on the 12th of June" - IFA President Padraig Walshe told the rally.

However, Barroso emphasised the need to conclude talks on a new world trade agreement, saying it would be in the interest of Irish farmers to see a quick resolution.

The main changes the Lisbon Treaty makes are -

  • A full-time chairman (President, if you speak French) of the European Council - the summit of leaders. Up until now, the post rotates among the different states every six months. If the new treaty is passed, the prime ministers and presidents will chose one of their number to organise their business on a full-time basis for a two-and-a-half year period (renewable for a further term if they do a good job).
  • Establishing a new foreign policy figure for the EU, who will work for both the European Council (i.e. the member states) and the European Commission (who have a large budget and staff for areas such as development aid and disaster relief).
    In the EU constitution, this figure was known as the Foreign Minister - in the Lisbon treaty they get the title High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. The idea of both new positions is to give the EU a higher profile on the world stage.
  • A new system of voting for the member states when they are making laws. A law will be passed if 55% of member states - representing at least 65% of the population of the EU - agree. This is what is known as Qualified Majority Voting or QMV.
  • Expands the number of policy areas in which decisions will be taken by majority voting (instead of unanimity).
  • Gives a new role to national parliaments to get them more involved in the process of making EU laws.
  • Gives legal effect to the Charter of Fundamental Rights - a comprehensive listing of human, civil, social and economic rights for EU citizens.

To download a consolidated version of the Lisbon Treaty from the Institute for European Affairs - Click Here