Financial Times (Link) - Tony Barber (June 15, 2009)
European Union leaders are close to a deal on the legal guarantees of national sovereignty that will be offered to Ireland so that it can hold a second referendum that could unblock the group’s Lisbon reform treaty, EU diplomats said on Monday.
Negotiators from the EU’s 27 countries have yet to agree on the precise wording of the guarantees on taxation, neutrality and abortion, but diplomats said there was widespread optimism that an accord would be ready in time for a EU summit on Thursday and Friday.
“We would hope to be in a position to sign off on those texts tomorrow [Tuesday] at the latest,” Micheál Martin, Ireland’s foreign minister, told Irish radio.
Irish voters rejected the Lisbon treaty last June in a referendum whose outcome forced a delay in the EU’s efforts to streamline its decision-making procedures and project its influence more effectively on the world stage.
But recent opinion polls have suggested that a clear majority of voters, mindful of how EU and eurozone membership has protected Ireland from economic disaster over the past nine months, will now support the treaty.
Under the treaty, the EU will receive its first full-time president, will boost the powers of its foreign policy high representative, currently Javier Solana of Spain, and will give the European parliament the right to shape almost all EU legislation in co-operation with national governments.
The Irish government, which is expected to hold the second referendum in late September or October, has been at pains to reassure voters that it has taken account of objections voiced in last year’s campaign.
It has agreed with other EU governments that the European Commission will continue to have a representative from all 27 countries, rather than being slimmed down in size.
Ireland has also secured a EU declaration on the protection of workers’ rights – an issue that worried the UK last year, when it appeared that the EU might be making fresh commitments on social policy, but has been settled to the satisfaction of all governments.
EU officials are still wrestling with the question of how the protocol covering taxation, neutrality and abortion will be given legal force.
Some experts want to attach the protocol to the treaty that will be drawn up when the EU next expands its membership, perhaps to take in Croatia and Iceland in 2012.
But countries such as the Netherlands, where public opinion is unenthusiastic about EU enlargement, contend that this would send a signal that the EU was pressing ahead with expansion regardless of voters’ views on the matter. †
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