As Britney Spears makes her whirlwind tour of Europe (she hit the British, French and German versions of American Idol in quick underwhelming sucession last week), she isn't the only one criss-crossing the continent in the hope of redemption. This week Irish prime minister Brian Cowen is coming hat in hand to the European capitals delivering his proposed solution to the Lisbon standoff. By most indications, it looks like Ireland is going to have another referendum before June.
So far Cowen has been in Luxembourg and Germany. Today he's in London with Brown and tomorrow he'll be in Paris with Sarkozy.. At the same time, his Europe minister is visiting the small countries to tell them of Ireland's plans. The two of them are coordinating with the leaders for next week's proposal to the European Councilon what to do about the situation. According to reports, that solution is going to be another vote. But what they have to come up with is a way to say that this is not the exact same vote done over, but rather a different vote that will be palatable to the Irish people.
Surveys have been done over the past few months that have indicated that if the Irish government were to get specific guarantees for key areas - namey abortion, neutrality - the referendum would pass. Of course there was nothing affecting these two areas in the treaty anyway, but it is thought that if the Irish were to have the issues spelled out in disclaimaers. This will surely not be enough for the dedicated no campaigners - since their beef is with the EU itself, but it may be enbough to convince some of the fence sitters.
The revote would be a big gamble, particularly for Cowen whose government hangs by virtually a thread at home. But it is thought now that the economic turmoil has set in, it is thought voters will be more receptive to argument sthat Ireland shouldn't cut off its ties to the safety net of the European Union. The Irish may have been feeling a bit overconfident about their economy during the last vote, no doubt their optimism about whether Ireland needs the EU has changed over the past few months.
So as much as the first referendum was watched, the second one will be even more so. If Ireland votes no again, there are only two options: Scrap the treaty and allow the EU to operate in disfunction, or or go ahead with the treaty and kick Ireland out of the union. Considering that the current economic crisis means that the EU's institutions must function properly as soon as possible, the second option is perhaps the more likely. And I think that this time around, in these uncertaint times, EU leaders won't be above using this as a threat before the vote.