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The latest edition of the European Union agreement could force Ireland to have a referendum later in the decade if one is not held this year. Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland
David Cameron

Latest draft of EU deal raises further questions of Irish referendum

Even if Ireland does not need a referendum on ratifying the deal this year, one may be required later in the decade.

A LEAKED COPY of the latest draft of the ‘fiscal compact’ deal being discussed by 26 members of the European Union has raised further questions about the need for an Irish referendum on the deal.

The updated draft – which supersedes a formal edition published by the European Council last month – contains a clause which agrees that the terms of the ‘international agreement’ should be adopted into existing EU treaties within five years of coming into force.

With the updated document giving January 2013 as an intended starting date for the deal to come into effect, participating countries – which is set to include all 27 European Union members, with the exception of the UK – will have until 2018 to have the conditions adopted into full EU law.

The new deal would mean that even if Ireland decides it does not need a referendum to ratify the deal this year, it could be required to hold one later in the decade in order to give its approval on amending the EU’s founding treaties.

Ireland is not constitutionally required to hold a referendum on a deal unless it involves the transfer of decision-making powers from Dublin to Brussels, but it is possible that the amendment of existing treaties – even if it does not involve extra powers – might also require a ballot.

Currently, Ireland holds referendums which place an explicit reference to each EU treaty in the Irish constitution – so an amendment to those treaties may require a similar Irish referendum before they can be ratified.

The clause – which did not appear in last month’s version – is seen as a nod to France and Germany, who had wished for new financial oversight rules to be adopted as part of a full-blown treaty change.

The January 2013 clause may also put pressure on the Irish government, as it would raise the stakes for any potential referendum that Ireland may hold in 2012.

Ireland has rejected each of the last two referendums on EU treaties on the first attempt – and opposition to the EU-sanctioned austerity measures could galvanise support against any further European integration.

British benefit

France has ceded some ground, however, to the benefit for the UK – who are given an olive branch in another new paragraph which invites non-participating EU countries (of which Britain may be the only one) to sign up at their leisure.

The new draft also drops France’s controversial reference that signatories would work more closely to forge a ‘single market’ – which may ease the way for Britain to sign up, as it ensures the UK would not be excluded from decisions on how the single market is governed.

If Britain does not sign up, however, it may face a difficult decision – as the deal may now be fully adopted into EU treaties by 2018.

If Britain objects to the terms of the agreement, and does not want them adopted into EU law, it could find itself having to leave the Union entirely.

Read: The full new leaked draft of the EU deal (PDF) >

More: Better deal for Ireland if we pass EU referendum? >

Read: Draft EU deal could commit Ireland to austerity for a decade >

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