"The god of Europe is Irish," Euro-skeptics from across the continent rejoiced in saying over the weekend. The fact that the citizens of the Irish Republic succeeded in preventing the adoption of the Treaty of Lisbon is reason for them to celebrate.
However, this is a harsh blow to one of the European Union's most ambitious projects.
In a headline that bore an unmistakable aroma of deja-vu, the French Liberation announced after the vote: Ireland 1, Europe 0.
Another census and another defeat, and again, unlike soccer, in European politics the injury time starts now. After the match has been decided.
During the publicity campaign leading up to the census, supporters of the rejectionist camp spat on a parliament member who favored the treaty. When the results were announced, many people all across Europe felt as though they themselves had been spat on.
How did it come to pass that a tiny country of 4 million inhabitants managed to thwart the agenda of half a billion Europeans? How did Dublin succeed in intercepting a constitutional document that was meant to allow the union - after it expanded eastward and nearly doubled the number of its member states - to operate efficiently and promote its federalist goals?
How could it be that of all the states, it was the "straight-A student" - a country whose gross domestic product per capita is now the second highest in Europe - that spat in the well from which it drew its wealth? And why did the representatives of "the most European nation in Europe" opt to ignore their large parties, the heads of industry and academia, the Catholic Church, workers unions and farmers - the majority of whom supported the treaty? The answers are as follows.
1. Economic stalemate
Since Ireland joined the European community in 1973, Europe has channeled more than 40 billion euros to Ireland, which transformed itself beyond recognition. From the continent's poorest country, Ireland became the booming "Celtic tiger," boasting the fifth highest GDP per capita in the world.
It is now, when Ireland is required to demonstrate solidarity toward the new member states from the east, that the Irish community is at a stalemate. It is still the object of envy for the other union members, but unemployment (5.5 percent) is rearing its head. Growth (5.7 percent in 2007) is expected to halve, the real estate market is suffering and inflation - which is affected by rising food and oil prices - is climbing. Not the ideal time for displays of magnanimity and gratitude toward the adopting continent.
2. The treaty is hard to digest
The Treaty of Lisbon, like all constitutional documents, is the fruit of member states' struggles, compromises and creative ideas. It is complicated and hard to read through. On the night of the census, the Irish Times published a survey that said 83 percent of rejectionists intend to vote against the treaty because they don't fully understand it.
The European Union has again failed in its public awareness efforts, which are notorious for their gaucheness. The country that gave the world renegade wordsmiths Oscar Wilde, James Joyce and Samuel Beckett has simply taken exception to a 287-page document that doesn't scan, as one commentator from the Guardian observed.
3. A local Talansky
Ireland's former prime minister, Bertie Ahern, had to resign a few weeks before the census, following suspicions that he had received substantial donations from businessmen. Brian Cowen, his replacement, has had limited time to prepare for this crucial census, and some people believe the treaty's rejection was in part an expression of the public's lack of confidence in the political establishment.
4. French boomerang
The leaders of the rejectionist camp should probably thank the tactlessness of the French leadership, which is supposed to receive the European Union Council presidency in two weeks. On the night of the census, the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, revealed far-reaching ambitions vis-a-vis the common EU defense policy. Christine Lagarde, the French finance minister, meanwhile called for fiscal cooperation throughout the continent.
It was enough to wave two red capes in the face of a nation fiercely protective of its historical neutrality and its low taxation system. Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner added insult to injury when he warned that Ireland would be "the first victim" if voters reject the treaty. The tabloids had a field day, and the "Frogs" were asked to "bugger off."
5. An exercise in disinformation
The rejectionists' relevant grievances, such as concern over a possible encroachment on Irish neutrality or fear of interference in its tax system, have been addressed by the union's leadership, which provided Ireland with written guarantees to the contrary. But, as is common in censuses, the rumors prevailed, reflecting the apathy and incompetence of the treaty's supporters.
The rejection will undoubtedly forestall the process of building the Old Continent and distance it from its ultimate goal, which is political unison. It could also compromise the union's image in its talks with Iran or Russia. Those seeking European military involvement in Palestinian territories evacuated by Israel, under a peace agreement, will also have to wait patiently.
The train of integration may often halt, but it will never reverse in its tracks. The Treaty of Lisbon is very much the creation of Sarkozy, along with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. We may assume that during Sarkozy's upcoming six-month stint at the helm of the European Union, he will work vigorously to prevent the treaty from being cast into history's dustbin.
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