By Gethin Chamberlain
Leaked memos and French threat to Celtic Tiger economy could scupper Brussels-Dublin manoeuvring over EU treaty.
Yet even as the two men [Bertie Ahern and José Manuel Barroso] emerged from their private talks to insist that Europe loved Ireland and Ireland loved what Europe had done for it, a murky deal to keep voters sweet was threatening to scupper their hopes.
Two leaked memos suggest that the Irish government and Brussels are going to great lengths to suppress bad news that might encourage a No vote – a result that would delight Eurosceptics everywhere, since if Ireland does not ratify the treaty it cannot come into force anywhere in Europe.
Just how sensitive some issues can be became clear earlier this month when Christine Lagarde, Mr Sarkozy’s finance minister, said Paris was “determined” to push for harmonised corporation taxes across Europe.
Her words sent a shiver through Ireland, where a low corporation tax – 12.5 per cent compared with 28 per cent in Britain – is one of the main factors credited with attracting the international companies that have helped create its “Celtic Tiger” economy.
Two technology giants, Hewlett-Packard and Intel, employ 6,000 in a town of few more than 14,000, attracted in part by the favourable tax regime. The No camp claims such companies would move away if the tax breaks went.
An internal email from a British diplomat in Dublin let slip that the commission’s vice-president, Margot Wallström, had promised the Irish government to “tone down or delay messages that might be unhelpful”.
The diplomat, Elizabeth Green, also said Ireland had decided to get the vote out of the way before France took over the EU leadership in July, to avoid “the risk of unhelpful developments during the French presidency” – noting that President Nicolas Sarkozy was “completely unpredictable”.
The second memo, from Jo Leinen, the German chairman of the European Parliament’s committee on constitutional affairs, warned that “politically sensitive” aspects of the treaty should not be discussed until it was in force.
Ireland is the only country holding a referendum on the treaty. Britain has been denied a vote, although this faces a High Court challenge on Tuesday by the businessman Stuart Wheeler.
Donal O’Sullivan-Latchford, of the EUReform group, said voters were alarmed at the prospect of further interference from Brussels.