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AAnyone who has read the Lisbon Treaty from cover to cover should wear their achievement like a badge of honour. Taoiseach Brian Cowen was honest enough to admit he hadn’t read all of it, while businessman Ulick McEvaddy admitted he couldn’t read it at all. You’ll know the feeling if you’ve tried.

Occasionally, the masses and molasses of legalese is punctuated by the simplicity that was supposed to be a cornerstone of this new open, transparent, citizen-centred Europe. Article 46 will delight the most ardent Europhile … “The Union shall have legal personality.” Article 50, on the other hand, will comfort the coldest Eurosceptic … “Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.”

Simple! Now try Article 45: “Articles 29 to 39 of Title VI shall be replaced by the provisions of chapters 1, 4 and 5 of Title IV of Part Three of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

“As set out below, in Article 2, points 64, 67 and 68 of this Treaty, Article 29 shall be replaced by Article 61 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, Article 30 shall be replaced by articles 69F and 69G thereof, Article 31 shall be replaced by articles 69a, 69b and 69d thereof, Article 32 shall be replaced by Article 69h thereof, Article 33 shall be replaced by Article 61e thereof and Article 36 shall be replaced by Article 61d there of.”

Final provisions

It goes on: “The heading in this Title shall be deleted and its number shall become the number of the Title on final provisions.” Right!
Clearly, it’s difficult to argue passionately — if at all — for the intrinsic merits of a mish-mash like Lisbon, for the simple reason that they’re impossible to find. The ‘Yes’ side is thus condemned to campaign once again on the basis that past performance is actually a reliable guide to future returns, that because historically Europe has always been good for Ireland, it’s unlikely ever to be bad for us.

The ‘No side, on the other hand, is hamstrung yet again by the fact that no matter how strong the principled arguments and practical considerations surrounding closer integration may be, the possibility of bundling issues which are rarely discussed in the political mainstream with a project that appears entirely incidental to it, is an opportunity many activists just can’t pass up.

Here in Galway, for example, there are hundreds of posters urging people to vote ‘No’ in order to prevent the cruelty of fox hunting; and hundreds more with images of ‘Tankman of Tiananmen’, Robert Mugabe and Saddam Hussein running alongside a message urging millions of Irish to vote ‘No’ on behalf of the 500 million Europeans who, it is claimed, will be disenfranchised should the Lisbon Treaty come into force!

Depending on your perspective, we’re either creating a more effective, efficient, transparent, open Europe or we’re on the slippery slope to a European super state. In that sense, our vote represents a leap of faith or a leap in the dark. Yet there is nothing remarkably new in Lisbon, certainly no momentous changes of the kind we have already gone through in creating a single market and adopting the euro.

From 2014, there will be a rotation of Commissioners, meaning Ireland will have one at the table for ten of every fifteen years. Ireland can’t be dragged into others’ wars because the so-called triple lock of UN resolution, Government sanction and Oireachtas approval would have to be followed.

We retain our right to say no to harmonised corporate taxes and a harmonised corporate tax base. The Charter of Fundamental Rights gives workers’ rights the same status as civil and political rights.

The biggest risk is that aspects of the current proposals for a new world trade deal will mobilise the farming sector and, by extension, a significant swathe of Fine Gael supporters to turn their backs on Lisbon.

The undecideds are as much as a quarter of the electorate. If they come out to kick the Government parties, the vote is sure to be lost; if they stay at home, it will just about squeeze through.

Tetchy exchanges

The tetchy exchanges between Brian Cowen and Enda Kenny show just how high the stakes are for a Taoiseach who is little more than a month in office. This is Mr Cowen’s first real test and he can’t afford to fail it.

If Lisbon is lost, the Taoiseach’s stock will go down just when he needs all the political capital he can muster to deliver a new social partnership deal against a highly uncertain international economic environment.

And if he were unlucky enough to lose the social partners so early in his tenure, the kind of questions that are now circulating about Gordon Brown in Britain might just start to be asked around Government Buildings and Leinster House.