Editorial: Battle lines drawn in EU debate

The battle lines have been quickly drawn in the wake of the Taoiseach’s announcement of a referendum on the European Stability Treaty last Tuesday week.

The battle lines have been quickly drawn in the wake of the Taoiseach’s announcement of a referendum on the European Stability Treaty last Tuesday week.

Whether the country really needs another European referendum at this point in time seems to be a moot point - the determination has been made and there will be no going back on it.

However, the wisdom of holding a referendum on a European treaty in an era of severe austerity is questionable to say the least.

The decision was motivated by a legal opinion, and that does not always make for good poltics.

As the debate and diatribe intensifies over the next few weeks and months, from both sides, the patience of an already beleagured public is likely to be greatly tested.

Factors such as the cost and necessity of this referendum itself will grate deeply on people.

How much that will influence the outcome no one knows.

This referendum does represent a pivotal point in our relations with Europe.

It is not another Nice or Lisbon, dealing with vague European treaty and institutional concepts.

There will be no chance this time of a ridiculous second run, should this fail to pass. This European treaty will become reality once it has the requisite 12 members on board - no one country is allowed to hijack the whole show.

The EU project will continue apace, whether we are fully on board or not, and that is worth bearing in mind.

The shape of that project is causing concern and we are likely to hear much more about this in the weeks ahead.

The dominance of Germany and France is now a reality, and the attendant financial and budgetary regulations is likely to become more pronounced.

The debate over the shape of this EU is worth having, but it’s worth having in the context of being fully committed Europeans.

We nailed our colours to the European mast, long ago, and we have done very well by it.

From areas as diverse as agricultural subsidies to social legislation, Europe has been a positive force.

The current crisis has been very testing for everyone. What the Irish public deserves from this referendum is a mature and constructive debate about the EU, with a particular emphasis on our relationship with it.

Only then will an informed decision be made.