The Irish people vote on the fate of the Lisbon treaty today: British eyes are looking west to see what they will decide.
One of the founding principles of the European Union is that it is for each country to decide for itself whether it wishes to engage in the EU and, if so, how. The decision to hold a second referendum on Lisbon was taken by the Irish parliament, not by the EU. The people in Britain who say that it is wrong for Ireland to have a second referendum are presuming to second-guess the decision of the Irish parliament. No-one should force the Irish to vote again, but no-one should prevent them, either.
But British eurosceptics often find it hard to come to terms with the new Europe. Here is Stephen Glover in the Daily Mail today:
“How bizarre it is, how grotesque and how ironic too, that the future of this once great imperial power called Britain should depend on the votes of a few million Irish people such as these.”
Well, an EU in which every treaty needs to be agreed by unanimity and ratified in every member state will always mean that the decision in each country is of vital interest and will have a great effect on all the others. It was the great federalist Altiero Spinelli who wrote about how one country’s constitutional arrangements could be a matter of concern for its neighbours. Stephen Glover echoes this thought.
If he doesn’t like that thought, there are two alternatives. The first is to have a system of treaties that does not require unanimity for its amendment, permitting those countries that wish to deepen their integration to do so without having to drag all the others along with them. If the Irish vote No today and kill the Lisbon treaty, this might be how Europe develops in the future.
The second option would be for Britain to opt out of the European Union altogether. That way, the influence that Ireland has over Britain might be reduced. The consequence, and the drawback, of this is that the influence that the world’s biggest powers, such as America and China, would have over Britain would be increased. Membership of the EU is the means by which Britain can speak to America and China on something approaching equal terms – do we want to spend our lives scurrying through hotel kitchens chasing after the American president?
No, the best option for Britain is to be in the European Union, strengthened by the Lisbon treaty. For that, we need the Irish to vote Yes today. Let us hope that they do so.