Title: Ireland’s Future in Europe: Scenarios and Implications (PDF 4.8MB)

Author(s): Gavin Barrett, Brigid Laffan, Rodney Thom, Daniel C. Thomas, Ben Tonra

Paper number and date: Policy Paper 08-01, November 2008

Executive Summary: The This report was prepared at the request of the Oireachtas Sub-Committee on Ireland’s Future in the European Union. Its purpose is to identify the range of options available to the Government regarding Ireland’s relationship with the European Union and, in particular, the Lisbon Treaty. It discusses the nature and foreseeable implications of each option, but does not make recommendations. Discussion of particular scenarios does not constitute their recommendation.

Ireland is at a critical juncture in its membership of the European Union (EU) and its relations with the other Member States. The defeat of the Lisbon Treaty referendum in June 2008 has brought Ireland’s relationship with the Union sharply into focus at home and more widely in Europe. The choices that Ireland and the other Member States make in relation to the Treaty are likely to have a major impact on the character of Ireland’s engagement with the EU and on the future dynamic of European integration and governance.

Ireland’s decision to join the EU in 1973 provided a critical foundation for the subsequent growth of the Irish economy, whose unprecedented success would have been impossible without membership in the Single Market. Nonetheless, the Irish electorate has now twice proven reluctant to embrace negotiated changes in the treaties that govern the Union. By the end of 2008 or soon thereafter, it is likely that most (if not all) the other 26 Member States will all have ratified the Lisbon Treaty. Ireland’s outlier status has undermined its reputation with other Member States and thus poses a real challenge to the Irish government’s ability to advance Ireland’s interests at the EU level.

As a small state that has benefited considerably from EU membership and yet lacks the voting weight of a ‘big’ Member State, Ireland has a particular interest in maintaining its standing as ‘good’ EU citizen whose needs should be accommodated regardless of its size. It is therefore in Ireland’s interest that any domestic discussion of European options (including but not limited to the Lisbon Treaty) take into account both Irish interests and preferences and those of other Member States.

With respect to the ‘big picture’ of Ireland’s future relationship to the EU, the State has three major options: (1) continued membership with limitations in several policy areas, (2) economic engagement through the common currency and the European Economic Area but withdrawal from the EU’s political or decision-making structures, and (3) membership in a yet-to-be-constructed two-tier Europe. A hypothetical fourth option – total disengagement – is neither economically feasible nor demanded by any major political or social group, so it is not discussed in this report. With respect to the narrower but thorny issue of the Lisbon Treaty, the Government has a wide range of options. The first three are premised upon a renewed attempt to seek ratification of the Treaty. The next three are premised upon the other Member States working with Ireland in the event of an Irish decision not to attempt to secure ratification of the Treaty or a failure of this attempt. The remaining four are premised upon Ireland not ratifying the Treaty and the other Member States pursuing a path that does not require Irish involvement.

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