Crucial European Union Vote Looms for Ireland’s New Prime Minister

Crucial European Union Vote Looms for Ireland’s New Prime Minister

On June 12, Irish voters will go to the polls to say "yea" or "nay" to the proposed Lisbon Treaty to reform the workings of the European Union. To say that the Irish electorate has been unenthusiastic about the debate on this treaty would be an understatement. For one thing, a huge majority have not read this treaty. This is hardy surprising: A troupe of constitutional lawyers would be required to make sense of this dense, jargon-laden document, which cannot be read at all without reference to earlier, equally complex, European treaties.

Ireland's taoiseach, or prime minister, Brian Cowen, has called for a "yes" vote on June 12, arguing that acceptance of the treaty is in the best long-term interests of the country. The main opposition parties, Fine Gael and the Labour Party, have also endorsed the treaty and have publicly campaigned alongside him in its favor. After some prevarication, Sinn Fein, a republican party that stands for a united Ireland, has declared against the treaty -- the only party represented in the Irish parliament (the Dail) to do so. Sinn Fein is joined by a number of other marginal parties and organizations whose concerns about the treaty range from the implications it will have for workers rights to the consequences it will have for Ireland's long-standing ban on abortion.

This campaign amounts to a baptism of fire for Cowen, who only became taoiseach in May following the departure of his controversial predecessor, Bertie Ahern. Known as "Biffo" because of his reputation as a political bruiser, Cowen has attempted to galvanize his Fine Fail party, encouraging its members to ring doorbells, press the flesh and get his message across that Lisbon is good for Ireland.

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