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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » June 25, 2008
POLITICS
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What Next for Lisbon Treaty?
June 25, 2008   
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Ireland's rejection of the Lisbon Treaty in a referendum has triggered a new crisis in the European Union.

Irish voters said "no" to the EU's reform treaty-designed to streamline the bloc's operations-in a national referendum June 12, with 46.6 percent voting in favor of the treaty and 53.4 percent opposing it. Turnout was 53.13 percent. Ireland was the only EU state to hold a public vote on the treaty, which must be ratified by all the bloc's members in order to come into effect.

At a summit in Brussels June 19-20, EU leaders failed to reach a decision on what exactly should be done to overcome the crisis provoked by the Irish vote. The crisis is the EU's most serious since French and Dutch voters rejected the Lisbon Treaty's predecessor, the EU draft constitution, in 2005.

The leaders of EU member states and European Commission officials meeting in Brussels agreed that Ireland should be given more time to find a solution to the problem. It is unclear if the matter will be decided at the EU's next summit scheduled for Oct. 15. The EU leaders failed to agree on the final wording of an appeal for the continuation of the ratification process in the countries that had not completed it. The Czech Republic opposed such a direct appeal because the country's upper house of parliament has asked the Czech Constitutional Court to rule on the treaty's constitutionality. Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek said in Brussels that his country would not seek to halt the EU reform process despite Euroskeptic declarations made by Czech President Vaclav Klaus, who said the Irish vote had killed off the treaty.

As the deadlock continues, Poland's ruling parties are in favor of further work on ratifying the treaty and reforming the EU. Ever since the results of the Irish referendum were announced, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk has insisted that the remaining EU countries should ratify the treaty as soon as possible.

"The result of the Irish vote does not mean that the Lisbon Treaty stands no chance of coming into force," Tusk wrote in a special declaration. "We can find solutions to accommodate the fears of the Irish people without upsetting the whole reform process. In the past, when the 1992 Treaty Establishing the European Union was adopted, such measures were used in relation to other member states. We should do everything we can to avoid a scenario of a two-speed Union," with one group of countries moving full speed ahead and the other lagging behind.

Poland's Danuta Hübner, EU commissioner for regional policy, has voiced a similar view. "The EU must not waste the last seven years marked by efforts to adopt the new treaty and must go ahead despite the Irish 'no,'" Hübner said. She said she regretted the outcome of the Irish referendum, but said she was not losing hope that the EU reform treaty would eventually come into force.

However, it is unknown what Polish President Lech Kaczyński will do in this situation. Despite appeals from both domestic and foreign politicians, Kaczyński has not yet signed the ratification document. In March, Kaczyński promised Tusk that he would try to persuade the opposition Law and Justice (PiS) party, led by his twin brother Jarosław Kaczyński, to stop blocking the process of ratifying the treaty in parliament.

In exchange, the government was expected to draft a law under which no future government in Poland-without the consent of both houses of parliament and the president-would be able to withdraw from the so-called British Protocol, which enables Poland to opt out of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, and from the Ioannina mechanism, which allows a small number of member countries to temporarily block EU decisions. The parliament has yet to approve the draft.

Zbigniew Chlebowski, leader of the parliamentary group of the Civic Platform party, the senior partner in the ruling coalition, said that Europe needed the treaty ratified and that "Ireland's failure to deliver on Lisbon does not mean the treaty is finished." Chlebowski added that French and Dutch voters had rejected a similar document in 2005.

After Ireland rejected the treaty, prominent PiS politicians, including the party's leader Jarosław Kaczyński, began to argue that Poland should delay ratification until the situation in the EU clarified. PiS politicians said that Britain's policy on European integration could change next year if the Conservative Party comes to power there. As a result, the Polish rightist opposition insists it is necessary to look for ways other than the Lisbon Treaty to reform the EU. Lech Kaczyński said June 16 that the Irish decision should be treated with "respect." "There's no need to push things forward at all cost because the EU is a union of free nations and people ... and all of them should be respected and treated in the same way," he said. "This is exactly what makes the Union successful." Previously Kaczyński had said on many occasions that the Nice Treaty currently in force in the EU was more advantageous for Poland than the Lisbon Treaty. Consequently, some observers say that Poland may not ratify the treaty in the coming months despite appeals from Tusk and his ministers.

A recent survey by the TNS OBOP polling company shows that 45 percent of respondents in Poland want President Kaczyński to sign the ratification document despite the failure of the Irish vote; 24 percent say the president should not sign the document; the remaining 31 percent are undecided. The survey also shows that, if the issue were put to a vote in Poland, 71 percent of those polled would vote in favor of the treaty, while only 14 percent would be opposed. Fifteen percent are undecided.
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