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Scherpe discussies op straat in Dublin in aanloop naar stemmen over 'Lissabon' (en)

Met dank overgenomen van EUobserver (EUOBSERVER), gepubliceerd op donderdag 1 oktober 2009, 17:43.

EUOBSERVER / DUBLIN - David Weafer, a taxi driver for 19 years, is definitely voting No. "Brussels has turned into the the Big Brother of Europe," he says, arms folded and leaning against his car, itself festooned with anti-Lisbon Treaty stickers.

"The EU has a social dumping policy that allows foreign workers to come in and take our jobs," he adds. "The taxi industry is destroyed."

Mary, a flower seller in the centre of Dublin, says apologetically that she "doesn't know much about the treaty" but she will give it the thumbs down because everyone she knows will do so when they vote in Ireland's highly anticipated second referendum on Friday (2 October).

A rushing businessman has time to say: "We'd be mad not to vote Yes. Where would the country be if we say No?" while Susan, a dentist, says she still has to study the arguments but does not see any reason to change her mind from last time when she voted in favour of the treaty. Tony, a shopworker, expresses much the same opinion.

Sixteen months on, Ireland is once again voting on the Lisbon Treaty - a dense and complicated document that will give the EU a strengthened foreign policy chief, a permanent president and remove member states' vetoes in several areas, particularly on questions related to justice and home affairs.

The context is profoundly different the second time around. The financial crisis has rocked the country, turning it from having a much-admired and booming economy into the economic sick man of Europe, where the bottom has fallen out of the housing market, the banks are broke, unemployment is in double figures and GDP has dropped sharply.

Both the Yes and the No side have latched onto people's fears about their jobs and futures. Posters smother lamp-posts, road signs and public transport.

"Yes for jobs and investment," says one by Fianna Fail, the governing party. Another by the pro-treaty Ireland for Europe suggests a No vote will mean "ruin" while a Yes vote will bring "recovery." "Yes for jobs," says a Labour poster.

"1.84 minimum wage after Lisbon?" asks a poster by Coir, a socially conservative anti-treaty group; "The only job it saves is his" says another, featuring a picture of a downbeat-looking Prime Minister Brian Cowen.

Although late into the game this time round, Libertas, the anti-treaty group that spearheaded the No campaign last year, is clearly visible. Their posters feature a forlorn looking young girl and the words: "European democracy - 1945-2009?"

It's the economy

The government's economic argument, which makes no direct reference to the Treaty itself, does strike a chord with some.

David, a book-seller, says he voted No last time round but plans to vote Yes on Friday because "Ireland is in so much trouble as it is." He reckons a No vote would mean "less companies wanting to set up in Ireland because it is less appealing than other countries."

The No side's arguments have been more varied. But claims by Coir about the minimum wage and the country's lack of voting weight under the new treaty have caused huge debate and were widely noticed.

Comparing the campaigns of last year and this year, Jens Kristian, a young Liberal from Denmark, handing out leaflets on behalf of Ireland for Europe, said the "Yes side is clearly more organised."

"Last year I sat on the Yes campaign bus and there were just five people on it," he noted "and one of them was the prime minister." His companions, three young Liberals from Germany, laugh and say they are "really hoping" for a Yes, before moving on to hand out more leaflets. In the early afternoon on Thursday, no anti-treaty campaigners are evident in the centre of town.

Result on Saturday

While the over 3 million Irish voters weigh up whether to vote in favour of the treaty or not, much of the rest of Europe is looking on with high interest.

Dublin secured guarantees on the interpretation of the treaty on neutrality, tax policy and some social issues in order to pave the way for a second referendum. Now, the view of some capitals, particularly France and Germany, is that it is time for a Yes vote.

The result, due on Saturday afternoon, will determine whether the treaty has to be binned or not - Prime Minister Brian Cowen has ruled out a third vote.

With the government at historic lows in the polls and trying to push through yet another austerity budget, there is a fear that voters may use the referendum to attack the government - with a No likely to result in its fall.

"I'm blue in the face explaining to people to hold their fire," said Enda Kenny, the leader of the opposition Fine Gael party.


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