Ireland’s second take on the EU

Irish voters have strongly backed the European Union’s Lisbon Treaty. The endorsement will contribute to the further integration of some 500 million people in 27 countries and help put the EU project back on track. In the Oct. 2 referendum, an overwhelming 67.1 percent of the Irish voters voted “yes” while 32.9 percent voted “no.”

The treaty cannot take effect unless all 27 EU member states approve it; so far, the parliaments of most member states have done so. Ireland was the only member state that had to hold a referendum because of constitutional provisions. With Ireland’s “yes” vote, 25 member states have approved the treaty. The presidents of the Czech Republic and Poland have not yet signed on, although their parliaments have approved the treaty. Czech President Vaclav Klaus is a strong EU-skeptic. But coupled with pressure from other EU leaders, Ireland’s referendum results could sway him.

In a referendum held 16 months ago in Ireland, 53.4 percent voted “no” against 46.6 percent “yes.” Many voters feared that the treaty would interfere with Ireland’s autonomy in such matters as taxation, social policy, military neutrality and family policy including abortion. This time, EU leaders guaranteed Ireland its autonomy in these matters.

Economic conditions are believed to be a big factor that caused the swing in the Irish vote. The global financial crisis hit hard in Ireland, which had been enjoying high economic growth. People apparently thought the situation could have been worse if Ireland had not been a member of the euro zone, and that a “no” vote would worsen Ireland’s relations with other EU member states and further harm its economic outlook.

The Lisbon Treaty creates the new posts of EU president — with a 2 1/2-year term — and foreign minister. It will speed up most EU executive decisions by requiring a majority rather than a unanimous vote. If the treaty takes effect, the EU president and the foreign minister could make policy quickly. A more agile EU will play a bigger role in the international community in light of America’s leadership having been weakened by the financial crisis.