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.

100 Comments

  1. HOORAY FOR CATH…

    The Irish voters did a great thing and people across the EU are grateful.

  2. @Carl Gardner:
    Are you talking about an EU wide referendum. Where the majority wins irrespective of country? Then maybe I might agree. But this type of thing will never work on a country by country basis. Because on or two (or three) countries will always block it. This would mean we decide to stick with the Nice Treaty (which indeed would not mean the end of the world).

    “It’s quite ludicrous to put ourselves in a corner in which every referendum seems to be make or break for the EU. ”
    That is definitly correct. But your solution is then to stick with the Nice Treaty. Despite that it seams, from what your write on your blog, that you are pro-EU and even like the content of the Lisbon Treaty. Your reasons why you reject it seems to me (expressed in my limited english) a bit whiny.

  3. Carl Gardner

    No, rz, I disagree. “In or out” referendums wouldn’t tell you whether or not people agree to, say, a full-time EU president, but would produce wholly unnecessary Eurocrises every ten minutes. It’s quite ludicrous to put ourselves in a corner in which every referendum seems to be make or break for the EU. I’m sick of that kind of brinkmanship, blackmail and bullying from the European Council, and so are the Irish.

    I think referendums would be better on questions like “Do you agree to there being a full-time EU president” or “do you agree to these new voting weights”.

  4. “To the extent that, in their opinions on the question of ratification of these treaties, national and European parliamentarians significantly differ from the those of the general public, it’s misleading to conflate electorates and parliaments as “countries”.”

    Only if you think that representative democracy is basically illegitimate.

  5. Martin Keegan

    What’s wrong with special treatment? US states shift their presidential primary votes forward to increase their influence. It’s open to any Member State to establish a mechanism whereby it gets the first referendum vote on each new European treaty, thereby maximising its influence. Hopefully competition will encourage a large number of Member States to hold referendums contemporaneously (as France and the Netherlands did).

    The Irish electorate is not vetoing the “choice of 26 other countries”, it is vetoing the choice of a few national electorates, several parliaments and governments, and formally doing nothing in respect of the many countries where ratification has not taken place. To the extent that, in their opinions on the question of ratification of these treaties, national and European parliamentarians significantly differ from the those of the general public, it’s misleading to conflate electorates and parliaments as “countries”.

  6. Carl:”The way forward for Europe is to submit to the will of the people more, not less.”

    But this type of referendums should be formulated in a clear cut way: Like ‘in or out’ or ‘in or EEA’ or something like this. It should not be in ‘in or getting some extra special treatment for your country because you veto the choice of 26 other countries’.

  7. Carl Gardner

    Notice the key sentence in Cath’s post, though, Jon: “We do not wish to be dictated to and have no say.” I know I’m repeating myself, but not everyone’s getting the message that this is the key to understanding the No vote. Note the way the Noes campaigned: http://flickr.com/photos/infomatique/2557730464/.

    The way forward for Europe is to submit to the will of the people more, not less.

  8. Martin Keegan

    Ok, my mistake (or rather that of the person who misled me on this point!) – ah, but rereading, I see you’re not sure either. At any rate it’s one thing for the cost-benefit analysis of alternatives to the current arrangements.

    On the actual subject matter of the post … why is it thought necessary to combine institutional reform with competence enlargement? If institutional reform is so necessary, why scupper it by saying “you only get streamlined decision-making if you give up X vetoes”? People asking “what did the Irish / French / Dutch say no to?” should also ask “why did these people get asked fifty questions rolled into one?”

  9. “Tim, aren’t the non-EU EEA countries still stuck behind the common tariff barrier and thus subject to the protectionism of other EEA interest groups?”

    As far as I’m aware (and I’m obviously open to correction) this isn’t true. I think it is on components and products which are then re-exported into the EU, yes, but other than that, EEA countries retain both hte right to set their own tariff levels and they aslo keep the revenues from such (which of course EU countries don’t).

    As to free trade, yes, of course. Once you’ve accepted the idea that voluntary exchange creates wealth (which is the very basis of any trade policy) then logically the only appropriate trading area is the globe.

  10. Martin Keegan

    Tim, aren’t the non-EU EEA countries still stuck behind the common tariff barrier and thus subject to the protectionism of other EEA interest groups? Wouldn’t you want the UK outside the customs union to get the benefits of free trade with the rest of the world rather than just free trade internal to the EEA?

  11. “Tim – you’re really infuriating.”

    Excellent, effort leads to accomplishment then.

    What about your previous comment? EEA without being able to negotiate? What are you talking about? We would be able to negotiate any and everything to do with our EEA membership. At any time. That’s what treaties between sovereign states are all about.

    If we’re in the EEA alongside those poor basket cases like Norway and Switzerland then what the hell do we care how the remaining EU members decide to screw up their lives, liberties, freedoms and economies? They can load themselves up with whatever level of bureaucracy they want to smother themselves under and we’ll be living the life of Riley outside all that nonsense.

    If (against all reason) their economies prosper under said idiot policies we can trade with them. If (as reason would insist) they crumble then we can trade with others who have not been so insane. What’s the problem?

  12. Martni Keegan

    While we’re on the subject of only commenting when it’s convenient, Jon, do you have a response to what I wrote on your post about about ending the rubber chicken circuit?

  13. @Tim – you’re really infuriating. Do you only ever comment on a blog entry if you disagree? Do you have a response to what I wrote previously in reply to your comment?

    @Head of Legal – yes, I agree. But if you’ve spent your whole career climbing the greasy pole then you’ll hold on as long as you can possibly manage!

    @Cath – have you read the Treaty? Do you know what’s in it? I suspect not. “The Irish constitution is democratic, The Lisbon Treaty is undemocratic for everyone.” Erm, no. The Treaty of Lisbon might not make the EU the best democracy in the world, but at least it gave the European Parliament more powers to improve democracy in the EU. So please think before you have a rant.

  14. Ive posted my response to the matter here (and here and in Welsh here)

  15. HOORAY FOR DEMOCRACY…
    In Ireland our constitution requires that the people have a say on these issues (thanks to our founding fore-fathers), the EU and The Lisbon Treaty would have taken that right away from us. The Irish constitution is democratic, The Lisbon Treaty is undemocratic for everyone. Irish people want to be a part of Europe but not at any price. We do not wish to be dictated to and have no say. We hope the other countries understand this. People of Europe you also deserve the right to have your say and you should have a referendum also, otherwise the EU is not a democracy. Good luck and good health to the people of Europe!

  16. Carl Gardner

    Update 6, sorry.

  17. Carl Gardner

    Jon, I’m responding to your update 5, about trust. You’re right: this is at the heart of what might be called the “No” reflex. I honestly think the first step to rebuilding trust is to show people – not simply tell them – that their opinion is decisive and binding. If they really believe that politicians ultimately serve and obey them, then they might start to be less cynical. If they think politicians simply want to carry on their own projects regardless, then they’ll be tempted to hit back when they have a chance.

    Imagine if at the next election, Gordon Brown lost but decided not to leave No. 10 but to reflect for a while on what message the voters had sent him, and what to do about it. What would it do to turnout and the Labour vote at the following election? Pro-Europeans like you and me need to get what’s going on out there and start talking and acting accordingly. At the moment, people like Bernard Kouchner and Margot Wallström prove UKIP right each time they open their mouths.

  18. “Have a referendum Europewide on every single paragraph of a treaty? Allowing everybody to ask for an amendment? How would it work? It wouldn’t!”

    Indeed. So Europe cannot work in any democratic manner, therefore we shouldn’t have it. Good, glad we finally agree.

    “But I do have a major problem with something that enshrines the free market, an enshrinement no one wants.”

    Twit. the old treaties at least tried to ensure that voluntary exchange was protected. This latest does not. Have you bothered to read the damn thing?

  19. “So how about listening to the people of the EU and see what they want in a constitutional treaty?”

    Oh, man. Clearly that sound great in principle, but isn’t “listening to the people” exactly why we end up with some type of super long treaty. Every single interest group gets it pet issue enshrined in the treaty. Be it Buisness of Unions!

    I am not saying that one should explicitly not listen to the people. But again and again I have to read these tired phrases on blogs about “listening to the people” without anybody suggesting how the process would look like which would accomplish that.

    Have a referendum Europewide on every single paragraph of a treaty? Allowing everybody to ask for an amendment? How would it work? It wouldn’t!

  20. I really cannot see the point in continuing the ratification process. So yes it’s only one country that has rejected it. But no other government is daring to put the treaty to their electorates – what does this say about its content?

    As far as I’m concerned I have no problem with a treaty that serves to tie up a few loose organisational ends. But I do have a major problem with something that enshrines the free market, an enshrinement no one wants. So how about listening to the people of the EU and see what they want in a constitutional treaty?

  21. An European wide referendum with the possibilities to stay inside the political union, stay inside some free trade zone or opt out completely might indeed be a good idea.

    It would offer some clear choices, in contrast to a referendum purely on the Lisbon Treaty, where people can be against, without expressing what they are for.

  22. Yes, why not? I’m OK with putting that question to a referendum in the UK. It would also force plenty of UK politicians to come clean about why political integration, and – crucially – a seat at the negotiating table are actually good. EEA without any negotiating powers would not be a good proposition as far as I’m concerned, but I would be happy to test it.

  23. “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?”

    Yes, and let’s offer that to everyone as well. We Brits would leap for option 2.

  24. Carl Gardner

    Yes, future changes need to be put to all Europe’s people piecemeal, so that they can be understood and clearly accepted or rejected. There are European elections every four years; that’s the time to put at most two or three specific proposals.

    Jon, thanks heavens someone on the pro-European side is at least showing some respect for the Irish voters. I’m fundamentally pro-EU myself but am dismayed and distressed at how the attitudes of some (as exemplified in comments here) are actually creating this resistance among people not just in Ireland and the UK, but across Europe.

    The European Council must wake up and realise this project has simply failed to get public consent. If it doesn’t, I fear for the future of the EU.

  25. Martin Keegan

    Two of the comments here get to the nub of the matter. Firstly, we failed to kick France and the Netherlands out of the EU in 2005, despite Chirac saying that that is what should happen to any country which failed to ratify; I fail to see why France is essential to the EU and Ireland is not. As a country with a recognisable Christian Democrat party (if not two), Ireland is actually much closer to the EU mainstream than France or the UK.

    But more seriously: there’s no Eurodemos, more concretely, there are very few people who would be willing to be bound by the will of an EU-wide majority. Ireland is not going to amend its Constitution to get around Crotty v An Taoiseach (the 1980s case which gave the Irish a referendum on all substantive EU treaty changes), the Tories in the UK are saying there’ll be referendums here on future treaty changes as well, and other EU member states are likely to have them too.

    Referendums on treaty changes should be recognised as part of the EU’s small-c constitution: it is a waste of time to treaty changes which can’t be carried by the people of the countries which will hold them. This may well mean no more treaty changes in the current manner for decades. I think that would be a good thing: the EU has a British-style small-c constitution already, comprising the treaties, directives, ECJ caselaw and various conventions, particularly those at Member State level. This can be allowed to evolve (as the UK constitution has until recently) rather than be redesigned; this is much less likely to run into democratic opposition, as each change can be taken separately on its merits.

  26. eulogist

    @Tim: Well, that is why his words struck me as remarkable.

    What Carl Bildt says is that the EU functions better under Nice than expected after the recent accessions. However the EU does need the stronger voice in the world that Lisbon would have given it, and now perhaps we should start discussing other ways of achieving that.

    To me that sounds as if he has almost given up on Lisbon already. On the other hand, he also seems to expect it will take quite some time before there is a solution for the problem that arose yesterday, so perhaps all he meant was “other ways of achieving that” until we have found a proper solution.

  27. Perfect Euro logic. The Nice Treaty is working better than we expected so let’s replace it as quickly as we can.

  28. eulogist

    Also, Swedish Foreign Ministers says on his blog that ratification in Sweden should go ahead. Does it require more than an ordinary majority? If no (as I think), the socialists cannot stop the process.

    He does add though that the Nice Treaty seems to be working better than expected, and seems to suggest we have to start thinking of ways to move ahead while it is still there.

  29. eulogist

    (I meant vicious circle, of course)

  30. eulogist

    […] 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…

    But there is a virtual circle there, isn’t it? The reason why there is so much horse-trading is precisely that governments know they have a parliament or an electorate at home that could veto the whole thing. There have to be little presents for everyone in the end result, if they ever want to get it accepted.

    I am very much in favour of referendums, but vetoes – be it in ordinary legislative decision-making or in constitutional matters – are the devil’s invention.

    Not that I know how to get rid of them, of course… Perhaps a trade-off, like in: all Member States abolish (the possibility of) constitutional referendums at home in return for the introduction of a European-wide referendum (Swiss style, with double majorities) for these situations?

  31. Jon, good piece.
    For me the question is why they voted no…
    – for national reasons (sticking two fingers up at the establishment who favoured it);
    – because of unrelated/ only partally connected issues (abortion/ human rights, credit crunch, food and fuel bills);
    – because of issues of general unhappiness with the EU; or
    – because they are happy with things the way they are (i.e.thus far and no further, which is a perfectly legitimate viewpoint)
    or any number of reasons.
    Sometimes things are not clear cut, but it’s hard to put that into a soundbite or to fit to the timetable of 24 hour news. I’m blogging on this also… might be a little slower as the baby is teething and sleeping less…

  32. Jon,

    In part I agree with you, but I have looked at future options in my blog in more words than reasonable for a comment.

  33. Jon,

    that’s because you’re on the wrong side!

    Don’t worry, it’s only a quick sprint across no-man’s land.

  34. Problem is I feel I have little common ground with the folks that are supposed to be on ‘my’ side of this battle… 🙁

  35. Fair enough, Jon. I understand that, from a pro-EU viewpoint, a NO vote gives you a lot to think about. For me it will be – when it is confirmed – a cause for great celebration. The Irish just threw a spanner in your well-oiled machine. You lost a battle. The war goes on.

  36. Sorry, Trooper – just to make it clear – I am trying to be as open and clear as I can here. I’m far from having complete and adequate answers to these questions. People are going to have a go at me because I am pro-EU and on the Yes side, but I do hope that people will consider the arguments at least.

  37. There are a bunch of lessons to learn – a number of which can be deduced from the original post. For a start the Yes side needs to get its act together – more grassroots, less high profile politicians. Second you need to know what No means. In this case I don’t think anyone thinks No meant Ireland wants to leave the EU, but what does it actually mean…? It’s easy to be against something, but what are the people actually for? We need answers to that.

    More referendums on EU questions are inevitable, so we need some answers to points like that.

  38. Jon,

    what lessons should both sides learn? From my side, the lesson is this:

    fight for a referendum, fight for democracy, because when the people have a choice, more often than not they reject the EU plan.

    What lesson will your side learn, apart from trying to stop any future referendum taking place, especially in the UK?

  39. Yes, yes, Tim, you would say that wouldn’t you. But lessons need to be learnt across the board from 2005 – on both sides. And unlike you I don’t want the EU to cease to exist, the UK to cease to be part of it, or for all of us to be forever saddled with the Treaty of Nice.

  40. When it was all voted down last time we didn’t have our referendum because of course it wasn’t needed. The Constitution had fallen.
    The same logic applies now. We should not continue the ratification process because the Treaty has fallen.

  41. RZ – it’s different to have 24 ratified and 1 against, as opposed to 17 ratified, 1 against, and 9 too weedy to carry on (the situation if everyone caves in now). In response to the French and Dutch No votes everyone else just caved in – they should not do the same now, even if – if you take the nationalist view – caving in looks like a better option.

  42. Mark Mardell reports (via Toader at afoe):
    “The plan is that all other countries will press ahead with backing the treaty. I am told Gordon Brown has phoned the French president to assure him that is what he will do.”

    So? What would that be good for, if the final goal is not to go ahead with the treaty anyway?

  43. Thanks for the thoughtful reaction – I’m staying out of this one for now.

    >less members

    Fewer members – the EP is not a quantity of foodstuff.

    Bee in bonnet – sorry !

  44. well, one has to be a bit realistic, there can be no EU without France, but there can be a EU without Ireland.

    However let me emphasize that I do not call for Ireland to be “kicked out” of the EU. I rather see it as a “multi-speed” Europe. Where some countries go ahead with a further integration. And others don’t.

  45. rz,

    did you call for France and the Netherlands to leave the EU when they voted down these proposals the first time?

    I hope the early indications are correct. If Ireland has voted no, this is a great day.

  46. “I’m pretty sure there’s at least one other country that would vote No – not just to the Lisbon Treaty, but to remaining in the EU as it currently operates.”

    True. That is why I think it would have been a good idea to make a referendum in Great Britain, but not about the treaty, but about ‘in’ or ‘out’.

  47. QuestionThat

    Doesn’t it occur to you that perhaps the only reason the “other 26 countries” don’t join the Irish is that they’re not given the opportunity to?

    I’m pretty sure there’s at least one other country that would vote No – not just to the Lisbon Treaty, but to remaining in the EU as it currently operates.

  48. Belfast Joe

    Goodbye Ireland.

    Yourself alone.

  49. Sorry, but the rules are the rules – however twisted they are. I don’t want Ireland (or anyone else) to have a veto over future institutional changes, but the EU has to stick to its own rules on this.

    The EU has to be honest: this is what has to be done, get it agreed and then do it. Not say, oh, well, we had the wrong result, so we’re going to disregard it. The more the EU does that the lower the chances any country is ever doing to vote in favour of anything.

  50. “It should be made very clear in Brussels that things will not carry on regardless. ”

    Why, not? While it is clear that Irleand has the right to reject the treaty it is also self evident that the all other 26 countries of the EU have the right to form a Union based on the Lisbon Treaty.

    The answer to the problem is obvious. Ireland has to leave the Union. Clearly this should be done step by step and a certain status for Irelands connection to the EU (maybe similar to Norway) should be negotiated. Maybe they should be able to keep a representitive in the Council (without veto rights) etc.

    But all in all I don’t see why we should give Ireland a veto over the form on the Union.

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