So, there is to be another Irish referendum on the European Union’s Lisbon treaty – probably in September or October 2009. When the news emerged at the EU summit in Brussels on Thursday, I didn’t hear anyone cheering.

This wasn’t only because no one can confidently predict that the Irish will vote Yes next time. Another reason is that the delicate, behind-the-scenes negotiations that have gone on to permit the second referendum are not, in fact, finished.

Ireland will get its concessions – on taxation, abortion law, neutrality and the right to keep a seat on the European Commission. But the unanswered question is: What form should these concessions take? A straightforward declaration by all EU leaders won’t be enough, because it may not be legally binding.

On the other hand, if the concessions to Ireland were wrapped into Croatia’s EU accession treaty (Croatia is aiming to conclude its membership negotiations by the end of 2009), that may be no good, either.

That’s because all other EU countries will have to approve Croatia’s accession treaty, probably during 2010. If this document included extra language on concessions to Ireland, it would look as if the EU was trying to sneak changes to the Lisbon treaty through a back door.

In the UK, but possibly in other countries, too, cries would go up for a fresh look at the Lisbon treaty as a whole. And you can imagine the mayhem if all this were happening in mid-2010 and the fiercely anti-Lisbon Tories had by then replaced the ruling Labour party in the UK after winning an election. To the horror of the UK’s EU partners, the Tories might find a way to scupper the Lisbon treaty.

It is , of course, possible to imagine another scenario in which it would make no difference at all what the Tories were to do. And that is if the Irish were to vote No for a second time. The tension is unbearable… 

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