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Would-be voters support Irish veto of EU treaty

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080614/ap_on_re_eu/europe_s_irish_setback Would-be voters support Irish veto of EU treaty By SHAWN POGATCHNIK, Associated Press
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 14, 2008

      Would-be voters support Irish veto of EU treaty

      By SHAWN POGATCHNIK, Associated Press Writer Sat Jun 14, 1:24 PM ET

      DUBLIN, Ireland - Political leaders across Europe were shaking their heads in frustration this weekend at the Irish voters' veto of the latest European Union treaty. But many of their citizens weren't.

      Ordinary Spaniards, Dutch, French and Britons, who wish they could get the same chance, might also say "no" to the cold, distant heart of Europe.

      "Spaniards feel Spanish, the French feel French, and the Dutch feel Dutch. We will never all be in the same boat," said Eduardo Herranz, a 41-year-old salesman in Madrid, Spain.

      Herranz said Europeans were right to feel alienated from bureaucrats in the EU base of Brussels, Belgium.

      "You don't decide on anything, and you don't get to vote on anything they are talking about," he said of the average voter. "In day-to-day life, out on the street, the European Union is something very distant."

      The emotional disconnect between EU commissioners and their 495 million citizens has never been more evident than in the rejection of the Treaty of Lisbon Thursday by voters in Ireland, long considered one of the most pro-European voices in the 27-nation bloc.

      The complex, 260-page document sought to change EU powers and institutions to keep them in line with its rapid growth into Eastern Europe, but like all EU documents requires unanimity to be ratified.

      While all other EU members are ratifying it only through their national governments, Ireland is constitutionally obliged to subject all EU treaties to a popular vote. The unexpectedly strong "no" result announced Friday effectively acts as a veto.

      The EU's political establishment is already calling on all other members to keep ratifying the treaty through their governments alone while calculating what it will take to make Ireland vote again, only this time "yes."

      Ireland's government played along with such a maneuver in 2002, when it staged a second referendum after narrowly rejecting a previous EU treaty, then haggling for an appendix that emphasized Ireland's military neutrality.

      Many Europeans say this is exactly the problem with democracy Brussels-style, where European Commission members are not directly elected but wield continental powers.

      "We're told we can vote no, that the system requires unanimity. But when (a `no' vote) actually happens, every time, the EU tells us: You really only have a right to vote yes," said Dublin travel agent Paul Brady, who voted against the treaty. "You know, I love traveling through Europe, but I don't really want to live there all the time. I'd like to stay as close to America as Europe."

      The new treaty would increase powers for the president and foreign policy chief, prune the commission from 27 to 18 members — resulting in only two-thirds of the countries being able to nominate one of their own members in any given term — and trim the policy areas where a holdout nation can block a decision.

      "It's OK to belong to Europe, but I do not want to be governed by them," said David Richards, 56, a tourist from Lincoln, England, on vacation in Dublin.

      Richards expressed delight at Ireland's "no" vote and said he wished he had the same opportunity in his homeland, where skepticism about all matters EU runs particularly high. The United Kingdom is one of eight EU members that had waited for the Irish referendum before proceeding with their own ratification through Parliament.

      Citizens across the continent complain they have no direct power to influence EU treaties, which are produced in legalese too complex to understand. They say it's not enough that their elected governments help to negotiate such treaties.

      Would-be voters in France and the Netherlands appear particularly annoyed on that score. Majorities there thought they had registered powerful statements against EU accountability by shooting down the EU's proposed constitution in 2005.

      Instead, most of the constitution's rules for reshaping EU institutions and decision-making procedures reappeared in new packaging two years later when all 27 governments signed the Lisbon Treaty in the Portuguese capital.

      "First they asked our opinion (on the constitution), and we said no. So the second time they didn't ask our opinion. They said it wasn't the same, just some little laws. But it is the same," said Han de Vries, a parking meter attendant in Amsterdam.

      "Now the Irish have said no. So in Brussels they will now look again for a way and pass it anyhow," de Vries said.

      Rachel Sayer, a French woman spending the summer working in Dublin, said her country "would have voted no again" if given the opportunity to test the Lisbon Treaty.

      "I know we voted no to the last one, and changes were made, and our government passed it without a revote. A lot of people didn't like that," said Sayer, 24, sitting in Dublin's central park with friends.

      An Austrian schoolteacher escorting 17 teenage students on a visit to Ireland said her father back home in Vienna was jubilant over the Irish "no."

      "People want to stay independent and be less regulated by Brussels," said Marianne Findeis, 51, who added that she herself would have voted in favor even though the Lisbon Treaty is "not really the best."

      "They have to have some sort of treaty for Europe," she said.

      French President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose country assumes the rotating EU presidency next month and is saddled with keeping the Lisbon Treaty alive, on Saturday said "this Irish hiccup" should not affect other governments' in-house ratifications.

      But Sarkozy conceded that voters throughout the bloc were liable to shoot down the high diplomacy of EU insiders, if given the chance.

      "A lot of Europeans do not understand how we are shaping Europe right now and building Europe, and we have to take account of that. And we have to do so very fast. We have to change our way of building Europe," he said, according to a translation of his French comments.

      Sarkozy said the European Union "was set up to protect. And yet it worries so many Europeans ... I take the Irish `no' as a call for us to do things differently and do things better."


      Associated Press writers Daniel Woolls in Madrid and Toby Sterling in Amsterdam contributed to this report.
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