At Large

Irish Eyes Aren’t Smiling

Good luck to Brussels as it prepares to push Ireland around.

By 6.20.08

In Dublin these days they say there were three responses to the recent referendum on approving the EU's constitutional "Lisbon Treaty." These included: Yes, No, and "I'll tink about it after this pint!"

The final result was a clear victory for the "No's" by 53.4% to 46.6%, with a surprising number of farmers, blue collar workers and small business people in an overwhelming number of counties voting with the majority. A record turnout of 53% of the electorate suggests that there is little chance soon of a call for a revote.

Twenty-six other European capitals were left in a state of confusion over the failure to secure a necessary unanimous agreement on the establishment of the much lobbied institutional reforms strengthening the EU's centralized constitutional structure.

Having been rebuffed by the voters in France and Denmark in 2005 whose negative reaction to their referendum killed the earlier constitutional treaty, the European Union legislators decided to leave the matter solely in the hands of their respective national legislative bodies. Only Ireland's constitution required getting approval directly from its voters through a referendum.

What the Irish were faced with was a 269-page document that, among other things, created a full-time President of the European Union, a foreign policy chief officer and a fully staffed diplomatic service. It strengthened the unifying effect of the European monetary system and essentially ignored NATO by creating a mutual defense clause.

Other items included the fact that the European Court of Justice would be able to rule on national legislation. There was an exception for Britain and Ireland, but the Irish voters don't trust such promises. The ambition of a new sovereign Europe was made quite clear in the minds of the majority of Irish voters.

SURPRISINGLY THE FIGHT to preserve the special "Irishness" of the vote was led by a wealthy Englishman with a posh accent and extensive U.S. business contacts. A rather mixed group of conservative Catholics, left-wingers and nationalists were reported by the press to have made up a formidable following for the self-anointed "Irish" hero, Declan Ganley.

The former Fine Gael prime minister, Garret Fitzgerald, said that in his estimation the working class areas voted No and the wealthier constituencies were Yes voters. He opined, "...the vote was very class divided, which is very disturbing in its own right."

Perhaps most upset by the Irish vote was the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy. It was his intention, as France was about to assume a six-month presidency of the EU, to launch serious programs addressing immigration, energy, climate change and defense issues. As it is, the energetic French leader will have to turn his attention to some form of watered down political solution to either satisfy the Irish or simply go around them -- which destroys the basic principle of the union in the first place.

Such is the herd instinct in Europe these days that there is an aggressive unwillingness to credit the Irish voters with the true value of their independence and democracy. As far as the politicians and many commentators are concerned, the Irish are an ungrateful crowd unwilling to recognize all that Europe has meant to their country economically.

The Irish are quite aware of the vast material changes that have occurred in the last twenty plus years. But it was the Asians and Americans who first saw the value of Irish energy and technical talent -- not the European neighbors.

The European leaders conceived of the EU as a counterbalance to American economic, political, and even strategic power. Unfortunately for these new European empire builders, the majority of the Irish voters aren't interested in these objectives.

THE AMBITION of the Europhiles is to coerce a change in Irish popular sentiment or proceed without them. Of course, this droit du seigneur is exactly what the new Europe is supposed not to be claiming. Perhaps the Irish have a particular instinct to discern the oppressive heel of the potential lord.

If and when the Irish, who have a different sense of time from others across the pond, decide they truly can maintain their individuality and independence of decision-making, they may join whole-heartedly with their European cousins.

It would be smart for Brussels not to attempt to push around Dublin. The greatest strength of the Irish is their ability to accept pain. They also do not take well to anything they conceive as even remotely superior in attitude.

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About the Author
George H. Wittman writes a weekly column on international affairs for The American Spectator online. He was the founding chairman of the National Institute for Public Policy.