Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Ireland rocks-- and not just Bono!

Ireland continues to be an economic stand-out in Europe-- one of the freest countries in the world, quite a turn-around from even 20 years ago. They also stand out politically, as evidenced by this op-ed in the WSJ...

Irish voters struck a blow for democracy in Europe this week, stopping a power play by the Continent's political elites. On the ballot was the Lisbon Treaty, which European Union grandees in Brussels pitched as a tidying-up exercise to make the bloc's institutions work better. Most everyone else saw Lisbon for what it really was: An attempt to sneak through a dolled-up version of the failed "EU Constitution."

That constitution was hailed as Europe's entrée to a U.S.-size presence on the world stage, complete with a non-elected president and a beefier defense and foreign policy. It was rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005. Rather than respect that decision, Brussels simply made cosmetic changes and asked governments not to put such a major EU overhaul before voters.

Twenty-six EU members sent the treaty to their legislatures. But Irish law mandates referendums for international treaties to maintain the island nation's neutrality. And in Thursday's referendum, 53% of the Irish voted "no."

Where does the EU go from here? There will be hand-wringing from those who dream of one EU super-state not under God, and jubilation from those who'd like to kill the entire project. Both emotions are exaggerated. The current arrangements are satisfactory for the EU to function, and the Lisbon Treaty won't be missed. The lesson from Ireland is that European politicians need to sell their grand plans in the open, not via stealth, especially when those plans dilute national sovereignty.

The EU doesn't need a new treaty to play an important role in the world. It needs political will, whether on terrorism or free trade. On this score, the EU has done better of late. Stronger leaders – Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy – have replaced Gerhard Schröder and Jacques Chirac. Labor laws and tax codes have been liberalized. As President Bush's European tour this week shows, EU nations are eager to work with the U.S. even if they don't love its leader. They recognize more clearly of late that shared values and interests are the glue of the trans-Atlantic alliance....

The Irish have previously shown Europe how to solve some of those economic problems. They accepted the euro as a currency, using its efficiencies to attract capital and achieve a prosperity unknown in the country's long history. Now they have sent another mature lesson to Europe – namely, that the advantages of union do not also require ceding political sovereignty to the Brussels bureaucracy.


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