Tuesday,
22 August 2017
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EU crisis: The same, but different

The Irish, this time, have snubbed the latest incarnation of the EU reform charter. And, just as in 2005, some of the finest minds in Europe are trying to work out how to keep alive a treaty that looks rather, well, dead...

Tempting as it is to use the fabulous Yogi Berra phrase "it`s deja vu all over again," it isn`t - which is strange, because it should be.

The Irish, this time, have snubbed the latest incarnation of the EU reform charter.

Just as in mid-2005, EU leaders gather at the European Council summit in Brussels with a long-negotiated treaty having been stymied by the popular will.

Just as in 2005, Euro-sceptics are exultant.

And, just as in 2005, some of the finest minds in Europe are trying to work out how to keep alive a treaty that looks rather, well, dead.

So why does it all feel so different?

Weary familiarity

Last time, so many people were running around crying out "don`t panic" that the natural desire was to rush for the exits, pushing the elderly and infirm out of the way as you went.

This time it is more a sense of weary familiarity. Part of it is because so many people in Brussels – officials, journalists, diplomats, researchers – are very bored of talking about the treaty.

Contrary to belief in some quarters, people in Brussels are humans. They like a little bit of variety in their lives too.

And of course the fact that the EU has been here before has helped calm things down. One senior diplomat said that as the results rolled onto Blackberries in meetings across Brussels, the overwhelming feeling was one of resignation.

But the main reason that things are different this time around is, to adapt the great baseball player Yogi Berra, because things are different this time around.

Last time it was a big member-state - France - and a founder member-state - the Netherlands - that said "no".

This time it was Ireland. And while there is a fair amount of surprise that a country that was believed to be very much in favour of the EU project should try to stop it in its tracks, it just does not have the same impact as France and the Netherlands did.

No conclusions

The other reason for the relative calm is Britain.

Last time around, Britain suspended its ratification. This time, it has not. So the treaty remains, to the fury of the sceptics, in play.

Heads of state and government will discuss where to go next over dinner on Thursday night.

Expect very little in the way of formal conclusions. The truth is the gathering comes too soon after the Irish vote for anyone to have anything sensible to suggest.

There are a fair number of plans around – some sort-of realistic, others so left-field as to make the eyes water. Most of them involve the Irish being asked to vote again.

But until the Irish government indicates whether it thinks that is worthwhile, and under what conditions, there is very little the other 26 leaders can suggest.

Even a reference to continuing with ratifications seems unlikely, as that would be interpreted as going against the will of the Irish electorate.

Expect much heat, but little light, to emerge from this gathering.

By Jonny Dymond, BBC

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