The End of Neutrality

DUBLIN/BERLIN | | irland

DUBLIN/BERLIN By using pressure and heavy threats, Berlin is seeking to prevent a "No" to the EU treaty in Ireland's referendum on June 12. The EU Parliament's President Hans-Gert Poettering (CDU) is demanding that "politicians of all sides" in Dublin explain the advantages of the EU to the population. Elmar Brok (CDU), a member of the European Parliament, declared that a "debate on Ireland's withdrawal" from the EU should not be excluded, if the treaty is rejected. According to opinion polls, the approval sought by Berlin, is in danger and therefore also the EU treaty's coming into force, which would permit the smooth appointment of a European foreign minister and the corresponding European foreign service, along with preparations for establishing a European army. These objectives are very important to the German government, as Foreign Minister Steinmeier recently confirmed. Fearing to be drawn into Europe's future wars, many Irish are insisting on their country's neutrality. They are rejecting the "EU treaty", because it would accelerate the EU foreign policy's further standardization and militarization. Giving in to pressure from Berlin, the Irish government is campaigning against a significant portion of its own population, and therefore drawing criticism.

Not Binding

Worries are growing in Berlin that the referendum to be held in Ireland on June 12 could complicate the ratification of the EU treaty ("Lisbon Treaty"). Ireland is the only EU member state asking its population's opinion on the far-ranging constitutional changes that the treaty would incur. This treaty is to a large extent identical with the EU Constitution that was democratically rejected. According to recent polls, the "Yes" is still under 50% while the number of undecided is receding in favor of the "No". A rejection by the Irish will most likely not prevent the treaty being enacted, because the EU Parliament has already decided that this referendum is not binding.[1] But in the case of an Irish "No", Berlin and Brussels would have to brazenly violate democratic principles a second time, to enact the treaty, that corresponds closely to German demands for the standardization of the EU's foreign policy.

Pushed Aside

On the basis of the treaty's provisions, Berlin is already preparing the next steps for the EU foreign and military policy, as shown by strategy papers from German think tanks and declarations of Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. The German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), for example, is reflecting on the European foreign service (European External Action Service, EEAS) to be established alongside of the future EU Foreign Minister, as stipulated by the treaty. According to a recent paper published by the SWP, "a group of smaller member states" fear "being pushed aside with the establishment of EEAS". "They see the danger that the major EU member states, especially France, Great Britain and Germany, will - at an early stage and informally - agree on EEAS' structures, procedures and posts".[2] "Their past experiences with EU negotiation practices in the domain of foreign and security affairs could prove them correct," as even the SWP admits. Nevertheless, German government advisors are already discussing the structure and functioning of the future foreign policy headquarters in Brussels and the French Council Presidency, beginning July 1, is expected to take decisive steps toward its formation.

EU Army

This not only applies to the " European External Action Service" but also to the EU's military projects. As Foreign Minister Steinmeier confirmed in May, "with the Lisbon Treaty the ESDP (European Security and Defence Policy will also enter a new phase". According to Steinmeier, France declared ESDP to become one of its "focal points" during its Council Presidency. This not only includes new arms projects ("additional transport and helicopter capacity"), Brussels will also "begin enhancing the EU's planning and leadership capabilities".[3] A closer liaison with NATO is also on the agenda. According to Steinmeier, these are "essential elements (...) also en route to a European army". And the German foreign minister announces, that this is, without a doubt, a "long term" project.

Humanitarian Label

Both projects are meeting heavy criticism in Ireland. For dozens of years, Dublin has been defending a "policy of neutrality and non participation in military alliances" that is also "enjoying large support from the Irish population", SWP writes.[4] In spite of all the affirmations to the contrary, the EU treaty with its projected development of the EU's foreign and military policy is a threat to Irish neutrality. EU obligations have already forced Dublin into making the first extensive concessions. With a contingent of 400 soldiers, Ireland is not only participating in the EU deployment in Tchad, it is also providing approximately 100 military personnel for an EU battle group. This is of particular significance, because participation in the battle group is connected to the Irish "triple lock", which means that Irish military personnel can only be deployed, if there is not only the approval by the Irish government and parliament, but also a UN Security Council mandate. This "triple lock" has now been suspended for soldiers in the EU battle group. They can participate even without a UN mandate, as long as its deployment is labeled "humanitarian intervention".[5]


The Irish government's efforts to induce its population into relinquishing its resistance to the German hegemonic project, are meeting criticism in Ireland. The government is accused of a lopsided campaign to impose the "EU treaty" and since the beginning of 2008, an administrative appeal has been pending before the competent commission.[6] Through diverse government channels, Dublin was allocated almost ten million Euros for its "information campaign".[7] This year, the EU Commission has augmented funds for the Irish representation, while insisting that this is "not at all" connected with the referendum.[8] According to the press, Dublin and Brussels have agreed to discuss controversial EU problems only after the referendum. This is why the referendum is scheduled to take place already on June 12 - two and a half weeks before the French EU Council Presidency will initiate projects for the EU foreign and security policy that run counter to Irish neutrality. Last but not least, the Germans applauded when the former Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, who has been at the focus of several corruption scandals and therefore threatening to provoke an additional number of "No" votes, resigned in early May ( reported).[9] "The danger of an anti-Ahern vote has been banned", predicts the German Bertelsmann Corporation Foundation.[10]


For Berlin it is unclear how a possible Irish "No" should be annulled. Special provisions are in discussion, that are supposed to make it appear as if Irish neutrality has been guaranteed, while in practice they will be without impact - as can be seen with Ireland's participation in the EU battle groups. In any case, these will also have to be submitted for the citizens' approval - a measure that already after the "No" to the Treaty of Nice in 2001 was successfully carried out, causing postponements and new insecurities. As the German European parliamentarian Elmar Brok (CDU) declared, if the referendum doesn't pass, a "debate on Ireland's withdrawal" from the EU can no longer be excluded.[11] The impatient German intention to become a world power, through a uniform EU foreign policy, will no longer tolerate objections from proponents of military neutrality.

[1] see also Der letzte Stolperstein
[2] Der Europäische Auswärtige Dienst; SWP-Aktuell 35, Mai 2008
[3] Nach Lissabon: eine neue Rolle Europas in der internationalen Sicherheit?; Rede von Bundesminister Steinmeier beim ESVP-Kongress der SPD-Bundestagsfraktion in Berlin, 05.05.2008
[4], [5], [6] Marie McGinley: Die Ratifizierung des Lissaboner Vertrages in Irland. Die Europadebatte im Vorfeld des Referendums; SWP Berlin, Diskussionspapier der FG 1, 2008/10, Mai 2008
[7], [8] Irland: Schlacht um EU-Vertrag beginnt; Die Presse 14.05.2008
[9] see also Der letzte Stolperstein
[10] Grünes Licht von der Grünen Insel? Zehn Fragen zu Irland; spotlight europe 2008/05 der Bertelsmann-Stiftung, Mai 2008
[11] EU fürchtet rote Karte von grüner Insel; Handelsblatt 26.05.2008