Yet opinion polls across Europe suggest a deepening suspicion of E.U. institutions, with surveys in Ireland particularly suggesting a wide gap between the public and its leaders over the wisdom of granting more power to authorities in Brussels.
While the new treaty appears to enjoy more support in countries such as Germany — where famously frugal taxpayers have been heavily tapped to bail out Greece, Ireland and Portugal — in Dublin and elsewhere, opponents say they see their sovereignty at stake.
“I don’t think the Irish feel we have any sovereignty left anymore,” Shay Moran, a 41-year-old unemployed semiconductor engineer and treaty opponent, said recently at Dublin’s Gravediggers pub, where Irish revolutionaries once plotted against British rule. “All I see is [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel wielding a big stick and telling us what to do.”
The move by the Irish to put the question before voters who have a history of rejecting European accords could not alone scuttle the new treaty.
Although 25 nations have agreed to the new accord, only 12 of the 17 nations that share the euro must ratify it for the treaty to come into effect. So far, only Ireland has declared that it will hold a public vote.
Yet Ireland’s announcement comes as doubts are swirling about the treaty’s backing in France, the region’s second-largest economy and without whose support many would see the treaty as effectively dead.
In Paris, the Socialist front-runner in the upcoming presidential election, Francois Hollande, has indicated that if he were elected in May, he would renegotiate the treaty to include measures oriented toward promoting growth in European economies — something the Germans continue to strongly oppose. The Irish referendum, analysts said, amounts to a further complication to a treaty meant to prevent another European debt crisis and that was used to persuade German politicians this week to support a costly second bailout for near-bankrupt Greece.
More important, a rejection of the treaty by the Irish people would put any future bailouts in jeopardy. Under a 2010 deal, Ireland is scheduled to receive rescue funds through next year. But analysts say that, like Greece, Dublin may require another rescue package — one it could effectively be barred from getting if the treaty is voted down. Ireland’s prime minister, Enda Kenny, who strongly backs the treaty, described the referendum on Tuesday as an “opportunity to reaffirm Ireland’s commitment to membership of the euro.”