October 3, 2009 / 2:01 PM / 10 years ago

Ireland's treaty support keeps alive EU reform hopes

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Irish voters’ approval of the European Union’s Lisbon Treaty keeps alive the EU’s hopes of implementing reforms which it considers vital to increasing its global influence.

Irish approval at the second time of asking was important for the bloc because the treaty streamlines EU decision-making, which has been unwieldy since 10 countries joined in 2004 and two more in 2007.

It was also vital because it requires the backing of all 27 member states to take effect. Poland and the Czech Republic have yet to back it but are now under more pressure to do so.

“It is an important victory for Ireland and for all of Europe,” Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, whose country holds the EU presidency, wrote in a blog after the anti-treaty Libertas group conceded defeat in Friday’s referendum.

Joseph Daul, leader of the center-right European People’s Party, said the vote result would boost European unity.

“The EU will speak with one voice and act with one voice when the Lisbon Treaty is ratified on the basis of a set of common values precious to all Europeans,” said Daul, whose party is the biggest force in the European Parliament.

Rejection of the charter would have killed it. Political analysts said this would have badly damaged the EU’s standing when it is trying to maintain Europe’s influence in the new world order that is taking shape following the economic crisis, giving China and other emerging powers more say.

Rejection would also have undermined public and investor confidence in the EU, at least briefly hitting the euro currency, and the bloc could have struggled from now on to project itself as a global economic power.

The Irish backing keeps the EU on track to carry out other reforms intended to give it more global clout, including creating two new posts — a president of the European Council of EU leaders and a high representative for foreign affairs.

SPOTLIGHT ON CZECH AND POLISH LEADERS

Polish President Lech Kaczynski said before the referendum that he would ratify the treaty if Ireland backed it.

“The moment Mr. President knows the final and official results, he signs it immediately. It won’t happen over this weekend, but it’s a matter of days,” an aide to Kaczynski said.

Czech President Vaclav Klaus’s intentions are less clear.

He could withhold approval, especially as 17 Czech senators have filed a constitutional complaint against the charter which the Czech Constitutional Court could consider for weeks before reaching a decision.

Klaus could try to delay signing until Britain holds a parliamentary election due by next June.

British opposition Conservative leader David Cameron, who leads in opinion polls, has promised a referendum on the treaty if he is elected and if the treaty is not in force by then.

Klaus hopes British voters would oppose the treaty, even though the Labour government has ratified it.

“So if Klaus can hold off the signing of the treaty until a conservative government is in power, he can kill the Lisbon Treaty and all indications are that he is going to try to do that,” Gavin Barrett, a European law specialist, told BBC television.

Some political analysts say Klaus will come under such heavy pressure from other EU leaders that he will be forced to sign the treaty by the end of this year.

If Irish voters had rejected the treaty, EU leaders would have faced a crisis over how to implement the reforms it outlines. They had said there was no “Plan B” even though they could have found other ways eventually to carry out the reforms.

Irish backing also improves the prospects of the EU pushing on with big projects such as deeper integration between its members and further enlargement of the bloc.

“It can hardly be more than a question of limited time before we can finally push the button for the better European cooperation that the Lisbon Treaty will give us,” Sweden’s Bildt said.

EU officials have said taking in new members could paralyze decision-making if procedures are not changed because the system is already unwieldy following the bloc’s expansion.

Croatia is next in line to join but Iceland could soon launch an accession drive and Turkey is hoping to become a member, even though the EU has complained about what some see as the slow pace of economic and political reforms by Ankara.

Macedonia is also a candidate country and several Balkan states hope in the long term to join.

Editing by Dale Hudson

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