Will Irish voters sink EU constitutional treaty?

Given talk of an EU army, many in the Republic of Ireland are worried about a loss of neutrality:

Moves to create a European Army controlled from Brussels have been revealed.

France is pushing for a new dedicated military headquarters and more fighting formations.

The French take over the EU presidency next month and will use their six-month term to drive forward ambitious plans to develop Europe’s own military structures – a move which critics claim will undermine Nato by excluding the U.S.

Gordon Brown was forced to make a hurried denial, playing down the prospects of a Euro Army, as the fiercely divisive issue returned to the political agenda.

Critics in the UK are deeply suspicious of strengthening the EU’s military identity – fearing that the French see it as a way to challenge Washington’s world dominance.

(Now, I don’t care for Nato – a relic of the Cold War – and I’m not bothered about the military power of the US being challenged. What worries me is that so-called “defence spending” will increase rather than diminish – and it won’t be impoverished soldiers seeing increases in pay, it’ll be the shareholders of the arms industry recieving greater dividends.)

Far from being apathetic, the electorate in the 26 counties are becoming more engaged in the issue of the nascent European state, and could help us here in England where the UK government has reneged on a promise to hold a referendum:

The number of Irish people planning to vote against the European Union’s reform treaty in Thursday’s referendum has unexpectedly surged, causing alarm among EU policymakers.

An Irish “no” could doom the Lisbon treaty because it must be ratified by all 27 EU member states. Ireland is the only EU member country to ratify by referendum, rather than a process of parliamentary assent.

The TNS MRBI poll in Friday’s Irish Times showed that the number of dissenters had risen from 18 per cent to 35 per cent. Support for the treaty had slipped from 35 per cent to 30 per cent. Those undecided or intending not to vote represented 35 per cent, down 12 per cent from three weeks ago.

The treaty, which superseded the more ambitious draft EU constitution rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005, aims to make the EU function more effectively. The deepest fear of EU policymakers is that an Irish rejection would spread “contagion” to the Czech Republic, Poland and the UK – three countries where the Lisbon treaty has always been contentious – and torpedo the ratification process.

“These countries will have a pretty tough time if Ireland says ‘no’,” said one EU diplomat.

The British House of Lords has yet to give its approval to the treaty, while the Czech Senate has sent the document to the nation’s constitutional court for scrutiny. In Poland, parliament has approved the treaty but President Lech Kaczynski has yet to sign it. In each country, an Irish “no” could unleash potentially unstoppable pressure for a fresh look at the treaty, EU officials and diplomats fear.

The mood in Brussels has settled into one of quiet determination rather than panic.

“Most people still think it will be ‘yes’, so long as the turn-out’s high,” one EU diplomat said. “They also think the best thing they can do is not interfere in the campaign.”

The Irish government accused anti-treaty campaigners of creating “suspicion and confusion”.

If the treaty failed, the EU would be unable to put in place measures designed to help it cope with its incorporation since 2004 of 12 states.

These include the creation of a long-term president of the European Council, an EU diplomatic service and changes in the EU’s voting procedures.