I hope I’m premature writing this – final results in the Irish referendum on the Treaty of Lisbon have not yet been released but all the tallies so far point towards a No vote. That’s also the impression conveyed to me via people in Dublin. No vote has been confirmed – 53.4% to 46.6%, with a respectable 53% turnout. The Irish Foreign Minister has admitted defeat for the Yes side. So what has to happen?

(1) Immediate Response
The response from politicians in other EU countries and from within the EU institutions should be calm and respectful. The Irish have voted no, and solutions need to be found. Even if, inside, plenty of politicians feel like Bernard Kouchner, his line is not one that should be repeated. It should be OK to mention low turnout, and a close(-ish?) result, but forget any talk of cajoling, forcing, arm twisting.

(2) Continue Ratification
Ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon should continue elsewhere. No country should unilaterally decide to suspend ratification. Apart from Ireland, ratification is ongoing in the UK, Belgium, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Finland, Italy, Netherlands, Spain and Sweden (see the list from Wikipedia). Especially in the UK situation, with the vote already passed in the House of Commons, what does the government have to lose by continuing? The line to take is that just as Ireland has decided against, so each country should also take its decision. An assessment of what then happens should be conducted once all countries have expressed their view one way or another. A 40-odd percent turnout, voting up to 60% no, among 3 million voters in Ireland should not yet be sufficient reason to abandon everything.

(3) Don’t reform regardless of the Irish result
It should be made very clear in Brussels that things will not carry on regardless. Just going ahead with the External Action Service, for example, is not acceptable (more from Bruno Waterfield on this) – it’s just sticking up two fingers to the Irish and that’s not acceptable. There are also institutional questions that cannot be answered if the Treaty is not ratified – no permanent President of the European Council for example. 2009 is not going to be fun in Brussels – the Treaty of Nice calls for less members of the Commission than there are Member States in 2009, but the text does not say how many. Tricky games to play there. But so be it.

(4) Analyze the result
What does the No vote actually mean? Is it a rejection of the EU as a whole? Is it a rejection of the Treaty of Lisbon? Is it discontent about the economy / the government / high fuel prices / economic worries? Did people not understand what they were voting about? Some sort of debate across Europe about how to set out the options in a referendum on a complex issue like the Treaty of Lisbon is needed – a ‘Don’t know’ option? Maybe a second referendum, but not on the same issue – do you want Ireland in the EU with the Treaty of Lisbon, Ireland in the EU with the Treaty of Nice, or Ireland out of the EU? These are rough ideas only – the Irish No is the rejection of something, but what exactly? In any case, another referendum in Ireland with the same question about the same treaty is a non-starter. Cowen should not consider it.

(5) Campaign better
How the hell do you argue in favour of something from the EU in referendum campaigns? The campaigning efforts in Ireland now, France and Netherlands in 2005, Sweden in 2003 and Ireland in 2001 have been quite rubbish. Money has been thrown at the campaigns, but there has been no clear leadership, no sensible strategy, and no clear message. Having high profile national politicians heading up a Yes campaign does not seem to work, although you could probably argue that the Treaty of Lisbon would have been better if high level politicians had not done so much horse-trading when agreeing the damned thing…

(6) Don’t make grand statements if they are unrealistic
There will be calls in some parts for the EU to start off with something new – something clearer, simpler, a statement of principles. Maybe sounds OK, but how the hell is it ever going to be possible to produce such a thing?

In short the response should be calm, respectful, and with a determination for all other countries to ratify before the EU then takes stock of the situation. Not a hope that happens though, I fear.

[UPDATE 1] Richard Corbett has some suggestions about how Irish concerns (whatever those are) could be accommodated.

[UPDATE 2] An interesting idea has come to me after reading Ralf’s analysis – why not offer EEA Membership as a half-way stage for the Irish? A new referendum with 3 options – EU with the Treaty of Lisbon, EEA (Norway style – market, no CAP, no decision making powers), or out of the EU?

[UPDATE 3] Mats Engström at Europabloggen (in Swedish here) has a quote from Urban Ahlin, Social Democrat member of the Riksdagen European Affairs committee in Sweden, saying that “At present, it is difficult to move forward with the Swedish ratification”. So maybe Sweden might pull the plug on this before the UK does? Reinfeldt and his bourgeois alliance are not going to be keen to make a fight out of this.

[UPDATE 4] I’m struggling to find any decent analysis of the result, or suggestions about what to do. FT has a couple of reasonable pieces. Plus the amount of people reading this entry of mine is, as ever, lousy – only when I write something silly, personal or sensationalist do people bother to read. Political Betting on the other hand has 2 posts about the result, and seems to have missed what should have been the main issue for them – that Paddy Power paid out erroneously, thinking Yes would win.

[UPDATE 5] This is what referendum campaigns are like (BTW, welcome to the world of EU blogging Joan Marc). The 1st, 5th and 6th points make you smile while the 2nd, 3rd and 4th points are just gruesome. Beyond that nothing of much significance this evening – France and Germany say they want to carry on with ratification. Vaclav Klaus has said ratification will stop – well he would, wouldn’t he. I think some pressure will be applied to the less abrasive people in the government to make sure things will carry on.

[UPDATE 6 – 14.06.08] One day on and some good analysis is emerging. There’s an excellent piece from Fintan O’Toole in The Guardian that looks in more depth at what made the Irish vote No. James Rogers has also written a thoughtful reflection about the predicament Europe finds itself in. Jacob Cristensen has a summary of Eurobarometer stats for Ireland – interesting the low level of trust in Irish politicians. Lastly Head of Legal asks whether piecemeal changes to the institutions could be proposed to populations at the same time as European Parliament elections (I disagree with a lot of the rest of the post however). There’s something fundamental behind all of this: trust in politicians, and political leadership. These qualities seem dreadfully lacking across the EU – at national and EU level. How the hell do we change that?

[UPDATE 7 – 15.06.08] Some interesting analysis from Kevin H. O’Rourke at Vox EU, essentially that Yes-No votes were split according to different groups’ economic prospects in both France and Ireland, even if the arguments articulated were different. Charlie Beckett thinks the game has changed – going on as we have been so far is not an option. Unfortunately Will Hutton’s column in The Observer is a bit of a let-down – I normally think Hutton is great but lines like “The elite that plots this is a nonexistent phantom invented by populist demagogues” make me squirm – it’s not that there’s an elite plot as such, but an elite there very much is, as Carl Gardner and others have rightly argued in the comments.

101 Comments

  1. Hello, just an American sticking his nose in. Lot of Euro interest over here lately, some of my friends are taking up the study of soccer, I’m trying to learn your politics. This issue is very confusing to try to become informed on at this late stage and I thought I’d just say that this is a great discussion here. No better way to learn about a political issue than to watch informed people debate it vigorously I always say.

    Of course I’m going to jump right in and shoot off at the mouth on this. It seems to me that there are questions that ought not be decided in a democratic fashion but whether ones country should take big steps from being a sovereign nation towards becoming a state within a larger federal system is certainly not one of them. Shouldn’t that simple question be put on a ballot across Europe? Something like “Would you be in favor of your country giving up its own sovereignty in favor of becoming a state within the EU?” That probably sounds like a ridiculous thing to propose and its only because nobody in their right mind would go to the bother of printing up the ballots when its so obvious the result would be a resounding no. They may well vote to drop their tariffs if their neighbors will to advance their economy but there is no way they vote away their country. Isn’t the question amongst EU supporters about how to move forward presumptuous when there isn’t even agreement on whether to move forward?

    Also, as turnabout is fair play I’ll try and answer any questions about how screwed up American politics is if anybody wants to hold my feet to the fire. But the EU situation is more interesting, take my word for it.

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