Ireland and Europe

Could the Lisbon Treaty somehow survive the Irish referendum that rejected it last week? That’s what the EU foreign ministers are trying to figure out in Brussels today and tomorrow. Opponents are calling the treaty dead, while supporters (like French President Nicolas Sarkozy) are trying to have it voted on by the eight countries yet to definitively pronounce on it. In the event it survives all eight, look for Ireland to be asked to hold a followup referendum on it towards the end of the year, with a major part of France’s EU presidency in the second half of 2008 being a direct and indirect campaign to convince Irish voters that “membership has its privileges,” so to speak.

I don’t think anyone knows what will happen if it fails, since the treaty is already an administrative rehash of the failed constitutional treaty. It’s hard to see any effort to forge ahead with institutional construction being legitimized, but it’s equally hard to see the major EU powers (in particular France and Germany) content to settle for an economic union that doesn’t carry its geoolitical weight around the globe. It’s speculation, but I’ve heard mention of a political bloc along the lines of a “Union within the Union.” In the end, that might even prove more manageable in terms of arriving at a consensus line, but it would lose quite a bit in terms of the multilateral legitimacy that Europe demands in order to act.