It is now 17 years since the Good Friday Agreement brought what seemed to be a definitive end to the decades-long sectarian crisis in Northern Ireland. But, in a case that has repercussions for other peace processes such as Israel-Palestine, one of the architects of the agreement says there is still much work to be done before a line can be drawn beneath the conflict once and for all.
With Spain next on the list of eurozone countries on the brink of financial abyss, nerves about the future of the great European experiment are at an all-time high. The narrative of the euro’s crisis seems self-fulfilling as markets move from one financially challenged euro country to the next, and after the Irish bailout, Portugal and Spain seem to be next in line, with cups in their hands and market speculators on their backs.
The collapse of the Spanish economy, with its overstretched banks, chronically high unemployment and a much larger economy than previous recipients of EU/IMF bailout money, is a particularly worrying prospect, yet European leaders seem committed to saving the euro. Even Britain’s George Osborne, the deeply euro-skeptic Chancellor of the Exchequer, acknowledged last week that despite not joining the euro (and still thinking it was a bad idea- “Hah, I told you so!”), it is in Britain’s interest to help with the bailout efforts and to ensure that neighboring countries like Ireland are repaired and revitalized.
With the air of crisis set to loom over Europe for months to come, EU leaders and Europhiles everywhere must be asking themselves: How do we get out of this mess (and how did we get into it in the first place)? Because as much as Americans or even the Brits might enjoy gloating in the face of this largely self-inflicted mess, the EU and its experiment with a common currency are here to stay.
For an excellent set of resources on this highly topical issue, check out our Euro keyword.
Today, 2 October, in an event likely to be a defining moment in the slow evolution of the European Union, the Irish are voting in a second referendum over the fate of the Lisbon Treaty. The Treaty, which aims to transfer more power to the EU and to streamline operations to match the new challenges faced by the Union as one unity, was rejected last year in Ireland in a campaign that brought emotive issues such as abortion into a debate over a legal document riddled with Euro jargon. The ingenious motto of the ‘No’ camp was, befittingly, “If you don’t know, vote no.” It was more like, “If you don’t know- we’ll invent something for you”.
There were more than a few muted smiles around, particularly among Conservatives in neighboring England, when the Treaty was rejected. A pet project of more Eurocentric nations like France and Germany, the Treaty was received with hostility in smaller countries, and in traditionally Euroskeptic circles, where fears of political unaccountability and loss of control dominated EU-related debates.
But Europhiles persisted and pushed Ireland to think again. Bullying or not, the Irish were encouraged to reconsider and seem to have changed course. With familiarity comes acceptance and with acceptance a sense of purpose more in line with the majority of member states that have already, mostly through parliamentary ratification, accepted the Treaty’s status as the foundation of a new and improved Union.
Although much still depends on the staunchly Euroskeptic Czechs (their president more specifically) and possibly a soon-to-be Tory government in Britain (general elections there are set for the first half of 2010), a ‘Yes’ vote would mark a dramatic U-turn for the Irish in terms of the majority’s views of the EU and its future.