Ireland Says No To Europe

DUBLIN, Ireland – Ireland rejected the Lisbon Treaty. The first unofficial results show that the Thursday referendum produced a strong “No” to the document reforming the European Union.

The final results are still unknown but the Irish minister for European affairs acknowledged that the majority of his countrymen had voted against the treaty. “It looks like this will be a no vote. At the end of the day, for a myriad of reasons, the people have spoken,” he admitted.

The turnout slightly exceeded 50 percent and was the highest in urban communities such as the country’s capital, Dublin. Most city residents voted for the treaty, but their number was too small to balance the negative results from rural areas where the opposition to the document was the strongest.

Although the result comes as hardly a surprise, the Irish government seems to be caught off guard. Prime Minister Brian Cowen, who came to power last May, said Friday that those who had agitated for the rejection had failed to prove the treaty wrong, focusing instead on anti-EU stereotypes.

“We have conducted a positive campaign, an honest campaign,” the prime minister told reporters. “Anti-treaty campaigners promoted misinterpretation and worries over issues that clearly weren’t in the treaty at all.”

Michael Mulcahy, a member of the ruling party, told the Polish Press Agency that, although a huge disappointment, the referendum result would change nothing in the European Union. Rather than a drawback, the rejection of the treaty should sober up politicians in Brussels.

“It’s going to be a big shock for the bureaucrats in Brussels,” said Mulcahy. “But I do not think that it will have any impact on ordinary citizens of the European Union,” he quickly added.

But for the opponents of the Lisbon Treaty, the result is a clear sign that the Irish are fed up with the European Union. Most of those who checked “No” on referendum cards feared that the document might have significantly undermined their country’s independence.

“You don’t mean to be a bigot or a racist. But you would like to see your country keep control of its identity, and make sure your own people are being looked after first. That’s just not happening,” one voter told the Guardian newspaper.

It is estimated that immigrants comprise up to eight percent of the 4.4 million-strong population. Their numbers have greatly increased since 2004 when countries from Central and Eastern Europe joined the European Union. Irish workers fear that they will never be able to compete with cheap labor from Latvia or Slovakia.

To be ratified, the Lisbon Treaty must be accepted by all the 27 EU member states. Only Ireland, however, is obliged by its constitution to hold a referendum, while most countries vote through their national parliaments. The treaty was to replace the European Constitution that had been rejected in referendums in France and Holland in 2005.

Jose Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, has not commented yet. But back in May, he warned that the rejection of the treaty on the green island would have an impact on the entire institution. “If there was a ‘No’ in Ireland or in another country, it would have a very negative effect for the EU. We will all pay a price for it, Ireland included, if this is not done in a proper way,” he said.