Ireland should do the rest of Europe a favor and withdraw from the European Union. That seems to be the only tenable solution to the situation created by the Irish “No to the Lisbon Treaty. The Irish have created a problem for themselves. They should not let it be a problem for others. It would be sad to lose the merry people of the Emerald Island from the EU family. But it would be even sadder if, because of the Irish “No, all those who wish to secure the same benefits from European integration that made it possible for the Irish to prosper are left out in the cold. EU enlargement cannot continue without the many practical and pragmatic elements included in the Lisbon Treaty. And the enlargement process is the most important endeavor the EU has undertaken, including the creation of the euro. The Union has already taken in countries that need a lot of attention – and others are knocking at the door. They want to catch up with all those who prospered in freedom during the Cold War, and they should be given that opportunity as a matter of fairness. Moreover, enlargement should be regarded as an important element of Europe’s security policy, helping countries that have only recently democratized to secure stability at home and giving them the strength to deal with external pressures. It is a pity that the Irish – and their partners – did not learn the lesson from Ireland’s rejection of the Treaty of Nice seven years ago. Then as now, only a minority of voters bothered to vote, and a mere 54% of those who did participate, then as now, voted no. A year later, a new referendum approved the Nice Treaty, after it became clear that Ireland’s EU membership was at stake. The unfortunate Irish tradition for referenda should have been addressed after that dismaying experience. It was not. Now the EU is again in the Irish stew. But this time it is difficult to see a way out that offers a second referendum. Renegotiating the treaty is out of the question, since doing so would open a Pandora’s Box of demands from everybody else. So the problem lies with the Irish, and they must solve it. I cannot help but recall the situation in the summer of 1992, when a small majority of Danish voters rejected the Maastricht Treaty. Back then, there were 12 members in what was then still called the European Community. Following their vote, the Danes were told in unmistakable terms that one way or another the country would have to leave the EU family if we did not find a way out. As Denmark’s foreign minister at the time, I was able to secure some opt-outs from EU directives, and then a second referendum was held. The result was a “Yes to the Maastricht Treaty. We in Denmark have been marred by those opt-outs ever since. Our European partners could not throw us out in June 1992 – but the other 11 could create their own EC-11, and we could have been left alone in the empty shell of an EC-12. This time, however, it seems very difficult to see how all others could agree to create an EU-26 while isolating Ireland in an empty EU-27, though that would be a reasonable solution. That is why the Irish should show magnanimity and tell the others to go on without them. The Irish have been a good example for the new member states. When Ireland joined the EC back in 1972, they were so poor that many feared they would become a burden for the other members. The Irish never were. On the contrary, over a surprisingly short span of time the Irish proved how a small and determined country could use European integration to rise to the status of one of Europe’s richest countries in terms of per capita purchasing power. Indeed, Ireland has made itself a shining example to those who strive to catch up with the rest of Europe. That is one reason it will be a loss to say goodbye to the Irish, and why their frivolous rejection of the Lisbon Treaty is so tragic. But Europe must go on. It is now up to Ireland’s leaders to make that possible.
Uffe Ellemann-Jensen, a former foreign minister of Denmark. This commentary is published by DAILY NEWS EGYPT in collaboration with Project Syndicate (www.project-syndicate.org)