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Ireland Votes, Europe Waits

MAYNOOTH, IRELAND – On June 12, Irish voters will vote on the European Union’s Lisbon Treaty, the instrument designed to improve the efficiency and legitimacy of the now 27-member bloc. Ireland is the only country to put the Treaty to a referendum – all the other member states have chosen to ratify the Treaty by parliamentary means – and everything indicates that the result will be close.

For Prime Minister Brian Cowen’s new government, the risk is that a “No” to the Lisbon Treaty would cripple his administration in its infancy. For the EU, Irish rejection of the Treaty would probably trigger a lengthy period of instability, and perhaps even an end to the European integration process as it is now constituted.

In 2001, Irish voters rejected the Nice Treaty, which threw the EU into a protracted period of crisis and introspection, which ended only with agreement on the so-called Constitutional Treaty in 2005. Almost immediately, however, French and Dutch voters rejected that Treaty, bringing the negotiations back to square one. Now, after a lengthy and difficult period of reflection and bargaining, those efforts may be in jeopardy again.

The “No” campaign has been vigorous, comprising a motley crew of aging Marxists, anti-globalization protestors, traditional euroskeptics, and obsessive “sovereigntists.” They have sought to capitalize on the vacuum of knowledge in Ireland regarding EU affairs and the “Yes” side’s relative lateness to mobilize.