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With Irish 'No' Votes Rising, What Next for the EU?

Lunchtime on Friday 13th in Dublin and it looks to be unlucky for some. The results are still being counted, but early reports certainly suggest that the 'No' side has done better than it had hoped.

AP

It's too early to call but some in the press center at Dublin Castle are already talking about a victory for the 'No' camp and asking questions about what this means for the Lisbon Treaty, for Ireland and for Europe.

Ireland is the only country that is voting on the Lisbon Treaty. The treaty sets out how Brussels wants Europe to function and while all 27 EU countries must ratify the legislation, only Ireland's constitution requires a public vote. The Irish feel the weight of European eyes on them as the world's media has descended on their capital.

The 'No' camp has brought together voters with disparate motives for defying the country's political leaders, the church and business groups. Reasons for voting against the treaty come in many forms and they don't all have to do with the treaty's contents. Anyone who has tried to read the 279 page document will not be surprised to hear that "not understanding it" comes high on any list of reasons to reject. The Treaty is an amending document written in the language of lawyers. It is designed to be read in conjunction with other European legislation which makes it almost impenetrable to the layman.

The Irish business lobby has backed the treaty. The boss of Enterprise Ireland has said that Ireland needs the EU like it needs the air that we breathe. John Sheehan, head of research at NCB, had a slightly different perspective. He says Ireland's political leaders will remain business friendly.

Indeed, even Michael Youlton, national coordinator for the Campaign Against the EU Constitution, says that a 'No' vote is not about abandoning the EU. That is simply not on the table for a country that has received billions of euros of aid since it joined the European family back in 1973.

Before the vote took place the three main political parties in Ireland, along with Brussels, all warned that there was no plan B. Youlton doubts that this is the case. Certainly Brussels will be giving it some thought now. The Irish are all too aware that in the early 1990s their rejection of the Treaty of Nice didn't result in the legislation being abandoned. It was re-drafted, put before the nation again, and the second time, with a higher turnout, it was passed.

If the 'No' vote is successful I still wouldn't sound the death knell on the Lisbon Treaty: these things have a habit of coming back from the dead.

A taxi driver here in Dublin told me that you'd have to be a fool to vote in favor of something that you don't understand. Polls in local papers running up to the poll have suggested that this is a widely held view. Whether the Lisbon Treaty fights to live another day, this element of the campaign must give politicians across Europe pause for thought.