European Union leaders will approve concessions for Ireland today that will enable it to hold a second referendum on the Treaty of Lisbon.
At a two-day summit in Brussels, the 27 leaders wrangled over the legal niceties of guarantees that the treaty, which streamlines EU decision-making, would not affect Irish sovereignty on tax, abortion or military neutrality. Their goal was to ensure that the safeguards for Ireland would not force other member states to re-ratify the treaty, which could further delay it. "We want maximum impact in Ireland and minimum damage for everyone else," said one EU diplomat.
A second referendum has been pencilled in for 25 September or 2 October, allowing the treaty to take effect at the start of 2010. Brian Cowen, the Irish Prime Minister, told fellow leaders he would lose a second referendum unless legal guarantees promised to Ireland had the force of a full treaty. The blueprint was rejected by the Irish people a year ago but opinion polls now show a clear majority in favour of a revised treaty.
Mr Cowen insisted the decision "will not require any member state to re-ratify the Lisbon Treaty or any element of it... This is necessary if I am to call, and win, a second referendum".
But other countries, including Britain, are worried that such guarantees would reopen the ratification process. In Britain, that would mean another vote in the Commons and the Lords and provoke further demands for a referendum. Gordon Brown told a press conference that Britain wanted to "do the right thing by Ireland and by Europe". He added: "I want to ensure that the Lisbon Treaty as it affected Britain will not be changed in any way." Diplomats said last night that agreement was in sight.
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