The leaders of the European Union can now consider themselves immersed in the mysterious arts of Irish politics. Following the recent EU gathering in Seville, Spain, the heads of state of the 15-member union have conspired, in the context of the Nice Treaty, to deliver an Irish solution to an Irish problem.
At the very least, the EU heads of state must be amused. At the most, they must be feeling a little bewildered, if not downright annoyed, at the athletic gyrations of the Irish government as it attempts to secure passage of the treaty while opting out of one of its key requirements, that of a mutual European defense.
Irish voters, hopefully more than turned out for the first referendum on Nice just over a year ago, will now be asked to step out again in the fall and vote for or against the treaty a second time.
The major parties, Fianna F_il to the fore, are urging a yes vote, a result that will clear the way for EU expansion even while it exempts Ireland from ever actively defending EU territory, both new and old.
Part of the special deal that Taoiseach Bertie Ahern managed to wrangle from his Euro colleagues was a new clause for the Irish Constitution that allows Ireland to take a pass on any common European defense pact.
Irish voters will, as a result, be voting for or against the full treaty, but really only for or against a partial version of it. If they vote in the affirmative, they will be endorsing the entire treaty in a European context but only part of it in a solely Irish one. Quite a trick.
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Still, whatever works. The expansion of the EU can’t and should not be held up by Ireland. And if a smoke-and-mirrors job on Irish neutrality is what is required to open the privilege of membership to other nations, then by all means guild the neutrality lily.
Irish neutrality has, at its heart, a noble ideal. It was an entirely understandable historical phenomenon in the context of early Irish independence, World War II and even the Cold War. It is a lot less understandable in the context of the EU, an organization from which Ireland has drawn great benefit and, ultimately, guaranteed national security.
Hopefully, the debate over “Nice II” will be devoid of some of the more sanctimonious, holier-than-thou pronouncements of those who use Irish neutrality as a stick to beat those nations who better understand that freedom, prosperity and national security really do command a price and that common defense is, in a present day context, even more an instrument of peace than it is of war.