Ireland under pressure to hold second EU poll

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Ireland will be expected to hold another referendum on the Lisbon Treaty by the end of next year under the terms of an EU summit deal due to be agreed in Brussels.

Draft summit conclusions prepared before the summit begins this afternoon set out the likely way round last June's "no" vote - a re-run of the poll on the basis of new guarantees to convince voters that the Treaty does not undermine policies on abortion, neutrality and tax.

The draft conclusions make clear that EU leaders want the Treaty, which must be ratified by all 27 EU countries, to come into force by January 1 2010.

If that target is approved at the summit, the implication is that Ireland will have to re-stage the referendum.

To give a second poll a chance of swinging a "yes" vote, the Irish Government requires legally-binding additions to answer fears that the Treaty would pave the way for EU interference in the Irish ban on abortion, in Ireland's cherished neutrality, and in tax laws.

The Irish Government will also be demanding assurances that Ireland will retain an EU Commissioner in Brussels.

Under the Lisbon Treaty, the number of EU commissioners would be reduced to cut bureaucracy and unnecessary jobs at the top of the EU civil service.

That would mean the current arrangement of one commissioner from each member state would be replaced by a rotating system involving fewer commissioners.

Ireland, and other smaller member states, fear this would leave them without a voice for at least part of the time in Commission policy discussions.

Supporters of a leaner Commission say that, as EU commissioners are not intended to represent their nation of origin - they all swear an oath that they will not be partisan - the reduced size of the team does not matter.

But, thanks to the Irish "no" vote, the Treaty is likely to be adjusted to restore the full team - one commissioner per country, however many member states eventually join.

One EU official said: "The fact is, there aren't enough proper top commissioner jobs to make one per country necessary.

"There are already some makeweight posts in the current 27 portfolios and we will simply have more unless we agree to cut the size of the team.

"It's ironic that countries which complain about too much EU bureaucracy are playing a national card to keep a so-called national commissioner around the table in future. But if that's what it takes, that's what we'll do."

Later today Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen will set out what measures he thinks will be necessary for the Dublin Government to take before launching another referendum calculated to reverse the "no" vote.

A second referendum before next June - when European Parliament elections are held - has been all but ruled out, with the most likely date seen as October.

But by then anti-referendum campaigners will have reinforced their efforts to scupper the new poll.

Declan Ganley, leader of the Irish No campaign, announced today that he will not only continue battling in Ireland but will also field candidates in the UK Euro-election campaign under the banner of Libertas as a pan-European party.

Libertas has just opened a Brussels office as its European headquarters, and a statement said: "Libertas is a new European political movement dedicated to campaigning for greater democracy, accountability and transparency within the EU.

"Libertas will also develop innovative and enterprising policies to benefit Europe and foster a more positive relationship between the EU institutions and citizens for whom they legislate."

Their message to EU leaders hoping to kick-start the Lisbon Treaty later today is that the fight to have the document declared dead and buried will continue in earnest.

Mr Ganley said the Irish government was showing utter contempt for voters by considering a second referendum.

"The Irish government and the powerful elite in Brussels are showing utter contempt for the democratic decision of the Irish people in rejecting the Lisbon Treaty," Mr Ganley said.

"Not one sentence will change in a 'new version'.

"Some non-legally binding texts will be added in an attempt to fool the people.

"They tried this with the French, they tried with the Dutch, they are trying with the Irish.

"It's time to put a stop to this bullying."

Mr Ganley vowed to field candidates across the EU on a pro-European ticket focusing on democracy, accountability and transparency.

"If people want a strong and healthy Europe that is democratic and answerable to them, they should vote for a Libertas candidate," he said.

"If they do not want Europe to succeed or if they are happy with the current undemocratic practises, then they should vote for an incumbent party."

The party said candidates' names as well as a detailed policy document will be unveiled in the coming months.

Leader of the Liberals and Democrats in the European Parliament Graham Watson said the arrival on the scene of Mr Ganley's new party would galvanise pro-Europeans to speak out in favour of the EU.

He said he welcomed the challenge it posed, adding: "Declan Ganley is doing Europe a favour by stimulating interest and debate about the EU, which may result in a higher turnout at next year's European elections.

"As democrats, we must recognise that Libertas represents a strand of political thought in several countries and it is only in open debate that we can address the myths and falsehoods that they are perpetuating in their campaigns.

"Pro-Europeans should not be afraid to confront such anti-European movements head-on with the truth that now, more than ever, there are many issues of a global nature that can only be tackled successfully by a united response across the EU."

Fellow Liberal Democrat MEP Andrew Duff was less positive about the development: "We note the formation of yet another anti-European party peddling simplistic and demagogic opinions. Libertas will have a tough time competing for europhobic votes in what is already a crowded field.

"At least, now that he has formed a political party, Mr Declan Ganley will have to come clean about his finances."

Ukip leader Nigel Farage said there was "absolutely no common ground" between Libertas and Ukip.

He said: "Libertas has nailed its colours firmly to the David Cameron mast of wishing to stay within the EU to try to reform from inside.

"Declan got one thing right - they didn't listen to the Dutch, they didn't listen to the French and they're not listening to the Irish over reform. So why do he and Cameron think they'll listen to them?"

Mr Farage said Mr Ganley was actually pro-EU: "I think it will come as a surprise to many to learn just how pro-EU Mr Ganley is. When he says that Europe is too important to fail and that it is important to all our futures, then you begin to see the true picture.

"Ukip remains the only party committed, absolutely clearly, to Britain leaving this political union and becoming a free and sovereign state once again. One where our laws are made by us for ourselves, rather than the vast majority being made in Brussels."