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Posted on on November 26th, 2008
by Pincas Jawetz (

Austrian minister quits over EU referendum clause.

25.11.2008   the EUobserver – Austria’s pro-European foreign minister Ursula Plassnik has refused to be part of the country’s new governing coalition because it did not rule out future referendums on EU treaties.

“I was not ready to serve as an EU warranty or fig leaf for a government where some of its members do not distance themselves enough from a fruitless and energy consuming alliance with EU-critical forces,” Ms Plassnik told Die Presse.

The minister’s center-right OVP party formed a “grand coalition” with the populist Social-Democrats (SPO) at the weekend, following two months of talks that locked Austria’s resurgent far-right factions out of power.

The new SPO chancellor, Werner Faymann, declined to insert a clause into the coalition pact guaranteeing that future EU treaties will be ratified through parliament instead of referendums, prompting Ms Plassnik’s departure, she explained.

Instead, the coalition signed up to a “self-destruct clause” under which the two parties can seek EU-wide or national referendums by mutual agreement. In case of disagreement, the government would be dissolved.

The OVP and SPO both officially want the Lisbon treaty – which was ratified by the Austrian parliament in May – to come into force.

But in tendering her resignation, Ms Plassnik recalled that Mr Faymann and the then SPO chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer in July wrote a letter to Hans Dichand, the editor of the tabloid Krone newspaper, pleading for national referendums on EU affairs.

“Future changes on the EU treaty, which touch upon Austrian interest, should be decided through a referendum in Austria. The same applies to a possible EU accession of Turkey, which would overstrech, in our view, the current EU structures,” they said, as part of the SPO election campaign.

“It is not about cutting ‘the people’ out. Mr Dichand [the editor of Krone] is not ‘the people.’ It is about explaining carefully and clearly the EU and its co-operation with Austria. The EU must not be chased as a scapegoat through the villages. This is false and brings Austria to a dead end. And Austria is no dead end country,” Ms Plassnik told Kleine Zeitung.

A coalition cannot assume governing responsibilty and have an “official pro-EU line,” but at the same time “enter a coalition with EU opponents,” she added. “It shouldn’t be the case that Austria becomes a risk country [in terms of future EU integration].”

The Austrian public is the most eurosceptic in the union – only 28 percent had a positive view of the EU in a June 2008 survey, the lowest among all 27 states.

The majority of Austrians also wanted a referendum on the Lisbon treaty, with 59 percent saying they wanted a popular vote in a Gallup poll in April 2008.


Prague – It is inevitable for the Irish to vote on the EU Lisbon treaty in a referendum again, Dick Roche, Irish minister for European affairs, told CTK in Prague today.

He emphasised that the new referendum would take place only after careful negotiations with the EU removed objections and dispelled the apprehensions the Irish public feels about the reform treaty.
In a month Dublin is to disclose the main areas the Irish want to discuss with the EU in this connection, Roche said.
At the European Council meeting in December the Irish prime minister will propose a “road map” to identify the main areas we believe we have to discuss with our European colleagues in order to clarify the problems the Irish feel worried about, Roche said.
The complex negotiations will probably continue throughout the period of the Czech Republic’s EU presidency in the first half of 2009 and they could even be completed not before the start of the Swedish presidency, Roche said.
After the Irish apprehensions of the Lisbon treaty are dispelled, Ireland will see another referendum, Roche said.
He said the Irish government has not discussed the referendum’s date as it will be topical only after a final agreement with the EU is reached.
Roche said he personally hoped the process not to take more than a year.
One of the issues for the Dublin-EU discussion will be the proposed new size of the European Commission. Ireland insists on the principle of one commissioner from each member state, Roche continued.
The Lisbon treaty, nevertheless, contains a mechanism that enables to preserve this principle until 2014. Afterwards it will be possible for the EC to decide on an increase in the number of commissioners.
Dublin also objects to the EU’s liberal approach to abortion. Roche said Ireland respects it that other EU countries have a different approach, it is their right, Roche said.
He said the planned negotiations could bring about a declaration recognising Ireland’s different view in this respect.
The other problems Ireland considers important include the sovereignty of individual member countries in deciding on their own systems of taxes.
In this respect Roche said he believes that the Czechs and most small countries share a similar view.
He said the Irish also differ from most European countries by their strive for neutrality.
Other countries ensure their security by their participation in NATO. Ireland respects this, but it has a different view, Roche said.
He said he believes that a result can be achieved after all the worrying problems are analysed. The Lisbon treaty must not be approached with fear. It is necessary to assure the Irish that they rights will be guaranteed, he said.
The negotiations will last many months and they will require much good will. The discussion must not destroy the balance the other EU states have achieved, Roche pointed out.
In the Czech Republic, which is the last of the 27 EU countries not to have taken an official position on the Lisbon treaty so far, the document has been assessed by the Constitutional Court these days.
At the court’s public proceedings today, Czech President Vaclav Klaus, an ardent opponent of the treaty, said in his opinion the treaty is at variance with the Czech constitution.
Klaus previously said that if the court gave the green light to the treaty and if the Czech parliament ratified it, he would not sign it until it is ratified by Ireland.
Roche said he would not dare to comment on a political debate in the Czech Republic as it would be impolite.
He said the ratification process in an EU country should not be made conditional on the ratification elsewhere.
Roche said there will always be discussions about the balance between national sovereignty and the advantage to be a member of a bigger grouping.
The Irish do not have a feeling of being less Irish in the EU. The opposite is true, Roche said.
Author: ÄŒTK

Irish parliament to debate second Lisbon referendum.

November 26, 2008, EUobserver – An Irish parliamentary committee is to debate a report arguing that a second referendum on the EU’s Lisbon treaty is legally possible.

The draft report, first seen by the Irish Times, has been discussed in a private session by the Subcommittee on Ireland’s Future in the EU and is due to be presented to the joint Committee on European Affairs on Thursday (27 November).

It argues that a second poll on the EU’s new reform treaty – following the debacle in June when the Irish voters rejected the document by a clear majority – would be preferable, suggesting a vote on the same text but accompanied by clarifying declarations on controversial issues.

One concrete issue of the kind likely to be considered is a protection of the country’s neutrality. Parliamentarians argued that a new procedure should be set up to boost national decision-making powers regarding military-related matters.

Also, they would like to see in an attached declaration assurance that all member states keep their commissioner – if other European partners agree with the move.

Under the Lisbon treaty, EU member states would take turns at having a representative in the commission, meaning that once every 15 years, each country would be without a commissioner for a period of five years, as the number of commissioners is scheduled to be reduced from 27 to 18 as of 2014.

Earlier this month, Irish foreign minister Micheal Martin hinted that his government is in talks with other governments and EU officials on the issue of the composition of the bloc’s executive.

But some insiders doubt this modification could be achieved, as it is one of the major elements of Lisbon’s institutional reform and was introduced parallel to similar changes for other institutions, notably the European Parliament.

Under the Lisbon treaty, the new EU legislature will have 750 members instead of the current 785.

However, if the new parliament is elected according to the currently applied Nice Treaty in June, its size will be reduced to 732. In such a case, the new commission – due to be appointed later this year – should also have fewer than 27 members.

Julian Priestley, the parliament’s former secretary general, believes that Ireland itself should face some “consequences” if there is no second referendum by mid-2009.

Speaking on Tuesday (25 November) at a debate on the next EU elections organised by the European Policy Center, he argued “it would be a mistake to get some kind of a fix around the clear provision of the Nice treaty.”

Mr Priestley rejected the possibility of having 26 commissioners and to not count the president of the commission as part of the team, stressing that the EU should respect the provisions of whatever treaty is in force.

“If Ireland is the only country that hasn’t ratified the Lisbon treaty and at least superficially prefers the Nice treaty, it should face the consequences of Nice and lose the commissioner,” he concluded.

Waiting for the verdict on Lisbon

Meanwhile, Prague is expecting a verdict from the Czech constitutional court on whether the EU reform plan is in line with the Czech constitution after a heated exchange between the country’s president and government officials in the courtroom on Tuesday (25 November).

The Czech Republic is the only country that has not yet voted on the Lisbon treaty. Despite this fact, the republic is preparing to take over the helm of the EU from France in January, when it assumes the six-month rotating EU presidency, and must then lead talks with Ireland on how to solve the institutional problem.

But top politicians in Prague are divided on the issue. While deputy prime minister Alexander Vondra praised the document and its improvements to the bloc’s functioning, President Vaclav Klaus strongly criticised it at a public hearing.

He argued that the democratically elected institutions in the Czech Republic would be weakened and that key conditions for the country’s EU membership – as stated when the citizens voted on entry in 2003 – would change due to the new treaty.

In a radio interview on Monday (24 November) President Klaus also indicated he might sign the treaty – if adopted by parliament – only after it is ratified in Ireland, echoing the stance of Poland’s President Lech Kaczynski.

Meanwhile, Ireland’s minister for European affairs, Dick Roche, told the Czech CTK news agency that a second referendum on the Lisbon treaty is “inevitable,” adding that he hopes the whole process would not take more than a year.

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