Lisbon Treaty will give European Union a president -- and it may be Tony Blair


Ireland voted strongly in favor of the European Union's Lisbon Treaty, overturning a previous, shock No vote and taking a key step towards ending the 27-nation bloc's deadlock, ministers said on Saturday.

Irish voters backed the EU's Lisbon Treaty by 67.13 percent in favour to 32.87 percent against, according to final results of a re-run referendum published Saturday.

There have been suggestions in the European Parliament that British former prime minister Tony Blair could be given the job of EU president which would be created if the Lisbon Treaty comes into force.

The Times Online reported Saturday on the whispers of unnamed British sources who claim "[French] President Sarkozy has decided that Mr. [Tony] Blair is the best candidate..."

"The former [British] Prime Minister could be ushered into the European Union’s top post at a summit on October 29," the UK publication added, noting that while Blair has not even formally announced his candidacy, he is unlikely to do so unless guaranteed a victory.

Europe Minister Dick Roche hailed "overwhelming" support for the treaty in the second referendum, called after an initial No vote in June 2008, while Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin predicted a "convincing win."

In the first reaction from outside Ireland, European Parliament head Jerzy Buzek welcomed the result. Reax: EU relief at Irish vote

"This is good news for Ireland and good news for Europe... The Irish people have demonstrated true commitment to the European project. They reconfirmed their desire to be in the heart of Europe," he said.

The No camp conceded defeat even before official results were published, after informal exit polls pointed to a 60 percent vote in favor of the treaty -- designed to streamline decision-making in the expanding European bloc. Related article: Irish EU chief confident

"The Irish people have asserted their trust in the political establishment of this country who have promised them jobs for a Yes vote and economic recovery," said Declan Ganley, who led the victorious No campaign last year.

Ireland's three million voters -- who alone among the EU's 500 million citizens have a referendum on the treaty -- delivered a stunning blow to the bloc in June 2008, when they rejected the reform treaty by 53.4 percent.

A second No vote would have effectively killed the treaty, which notably creates a new full-time EU president and foreign minister.

Roche said Ireland's recession, which has hit hard after years of the "Celtic Tiger" boom, was a major reason for people backing the treaty.

"I am confident it will be carried by close to two-to-one nationally. It is overwhelming.

"It goes back a long way to when we had anything like that," he said.

After voting Friday, counting started across the republic Saturday at 9:00 am (0800 GMT), with the full result expected by mid-afternoon local time.

By early afternoon, with 12 out of 43 constituencies counted, the national result was 65 percent in favor with 35 percent against.

Exit polls conducted by Fine Gael, the main opposition party which backs the treaty, suggested the Yes camp was well ahead, with about 60 percent support compared to 40 percent for the No vote.

Some 1,000 voters at 33 polling stations were questioned for the poll.

The result was likely to be welcomed by the leaders of Ireland's fellow EU member states, as the European bloc seeks to end the constitutional paralysis in the EU since last year's Irish No vote.

Reports said turnout was around 50 percent across the country. Turnout in the 2008 referendum was 53 percent.

There had been concerns that some voters would use the referendum to kick Cowen's increasingly unpopular government over the spectacular collapse of Ireland's long-booming economy.

Ireland is the only EU country constitutionally obliged to put the treaty to a referendum. Of the 27 EU states, Poland and the Czech Republic are the only others yet to ratify it.

"Warsaw is expected to come on board swiftly," added Times Online. "President Klaus is harder to predict but diplomatic sources expect him to agree quickly, possibly after receiving a sweetener from Germany."

Dublin agreed to hold another poll after securing guarantees on key policy areas which it felt were behind last year's rejection, such as its military neutrality, abortion and tax laws.

Even with an Irish Yes vote, further obstacles remain.

In Prague on Friday, the Czech constitutional court ordered President Vaclav Klaus -- who in any case is a fierce opponent of the Lisbon Treaty -- to hold off signing it into force.

The Irish result is also being closely watched in Britain where opposition leader David Cameron, tipped to win elections due by next June, has pledged to hold a referendum if he takes power and Lisbon has not yet been ratified.

This video was posted to YouTube by The Europe Channel on Sept. 2, 2009.

With AFP.

This article has been updated from a prior version.