EU to approve Irish Lisbon 'guarantees'

Wednesday 13 May 2009 15.35
The Lisbon Treaty - Clarification sought before second referendum
The Lisbon Treaty - Clarification sought before second referendum

Europe Editor Sean Whelan looks at the so called ‘guarantees’ for Ireland on aspects of the Lisbon Treaty.



The Government says it wants some legally binding guarantees clarifying aspects of the Treaty before it can hold a second referendum.

It is expected that the guarantees will take the form of three statements regarding ethical issues, such as abortion, tax sovereignty and defence.

The summit will agree that these statements will be attached to the Lisbon Treaty as legally binding Protocols at the earliest opportunity - expected to be the accession treaty for Croatia (or possibly Iceland).

A similar formula was used by Denmark on protocols it secured after initially rejecting the Maastricht Treaty in a 1992 referendum.

In effect the three statements are likely to draw together in an explicit way all the existing ‘guarantees’ to show that the Lisbon Treaty does not bring about any changes in existing practice in these areas.

Of these three, the shortest is likely to be on tax sovereignty, which is likely to simply state that the Lisbon Treaty does not change the requirement for unanimity in tax matters in the EU.

This would make it explicitly clear that Ireland (and every other state) retains a veto over any proposals relating to taxation, such as a common consolidated corporate tax base.

On ethical issues, the text is expected to state that nothing in the charter of fundamental rights or the justice and home affairs provisions of the Lisbon Treaty will change the workings of the Irish constitution.

This would attempt to address concerns over the Irish constitutional position of the family and the constitutional ban on abortion being overturned (even thought the latter was addressed in the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 already).

The Defence issue is the subject of ongoing negotiations between Fianna Fail and the Green party.

Earlier this year the Green party leader John Gormley floated the suggestion that Ireland should withdraw from the European Defence Agency (which attempts to co-ordinate military research and development and procurement programmes).

This was rejected by Fianna Fail, which strongly opposes any opt outs from any part of the Treaty.

It is believed that a solution may come in the form of a domestic arrangement that may entail more oversight of EU military and defence matters by the Oireachtas.

This may come as part of a package of measures to improve Oireachtas engagement with European affairs, drawing on the recommendations from the Oireachtas sub committee on the Lisbon Treaty.

The issue of every country retaining a commissioner has already been addressed by the European Council conclusions in December, when governments agreed to use the provisions of the Lisbon Treaty to retain a commissioner for every member state.

But this can only happen if the Lisbon treaty is ratified in all states. Otherwise the current treaties will apply, which envisage a cut in the number of commissioners.

The Government considers this the biggest concession it has secured from the other EU states.

There will also be a statement that the EU attaches high importance to workers rights and the protection of workers. This will be declaratory, and will not have any legally binding effect.

Despite this diplomats say it has attracted more questions than any other issue from other governments.

This is because they are cautious to ensure that any language agreed for the Irish will not establish any new or unforeseen rights over and above those already established in EU law or the existing treaties.

The Czech EU presidency is hoping to reach agreement on the Irish texts several days before the EU summit, in the expectation that there will be little discussion of the matter at the summit itself, which takes place on the 18 and 19 of June.