There was jubilation in many quarters after the No vote was carried last Friday. Saying No to Europe seemed to be a badge of honour for many.
In Britain this had been the hallmark of the Right of the Conservative Party for a decade and more and has seen them lose many elections. It has also led to some diplomatic isolation. Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was a noted opponent of European Federalism and Centralisation. The UK press in Ireland similarly opposed the Lisbon Treaty, adding another complication to the mix.
Are we to follow in Margaret Thatcher’s footsteps? We hope that the vote is due more to temporary local matters such as the dramatic reverse in the health of the economy and housing market.
Waterford mirrored the national trend with a No vote of 54 per cent. The Left were against it as were Sinn Fein. Is the European Union a scapegoat for some other problem? Has not Europe been good for Ireland? We believe it has.
The worry about tax was accepted and was excluded from the Lisbon Treaty. So also was abortion and the issue of neutrality, all agreed by the Brussels Commission in previous treaties.
Libertas ran a good campaign. Are they a new force of the Right like the PDs were in the eighties? They seemed to be rather conservative in their approach and their rhetoric was more like that of the American Republican Party in some instances, with a Big Government Wrong theme.
Taoiseach Brian Cowen now has new forces against him. His worst comment in the campaign was saying he did not read the Treaty.
One savvy observer said that an Irish farmer would not vote for something he did not understand and did not trust politicians. The IFA’s initial opposition to the Treaty as a result of Peter Mandelson‘s role in the Trade Talks put many farmers against Europe. In the end farmers who have done so well from Europe went against it.
There may be some revision to the Treaty but at the end of the day there needs to be a new one to cater for the larger entity, with all the new countries from Eastern Europe joining up.
Ireland has lost goodwill in Europe through this vote. We should not be too demanding as a result of the vote, as Sinn Fein and Libertas suggest, although Europe may need to clarify some matters in respect of the vote and the Treaty.
Ireland needs to restore its reputation and state that it was not a vote against Europe but more a concern about particular rights, with which many might concur.
Here in Waterford we have done well from Europe, but concerns about the local economy and an inability to understand the Treaty, as it was filled with legal language, were among the factors behind the No vote. Some of the trade unions were also worried about the future as jobs are displaced to cheaper cost countries.
New thinking is needed for any future referendum. The government says the No campaigners misled people and created fear about European armies and many other non relevant issues.
They should ask themselves why the Yes campaign was so unexciting and why it failed to pinpoint some of the successes of Europe. We wonder would the vote have been more positive if the economy was better and the national soccer team was in the Euro Championships. Negative campaigning won out as so often happens in politics.
The feel-good factor is no longer there, life is more expensive and someone is getting blamed. This is another element.
The French and Germans will hardly ratify the Treaty and have a two speed Europe. The Czechs are unlikely to endorse it in their parliament, nor will the Swedes. Britain is afraid to have a referendum, as they could get an Irish style result.
In the meantime the Eurocrats must muddle along with the structures created by the Nice Treaty, but this time there are 28 countries involved.
Greater harmony and a more dumbed down Treaty is needed so that the public can actually read it and understand its jargon, for it to be passed.