Friday was a dark day for many in Europe (and not only for those in France that were watching their national team lose 1-4 against Holland at the European soccer championship).
In a referendum Irish voters said no to the Lisbon Treaty (53,4%). This is a new blow for the EU after the trauma of the Spring of 2005 when the new European Constitution was rejected in referendums held in Holland and France.
EU leaders thought that they had figured it out this time. The Lisbon Treaty includes (1) some of the essential components of the rejected Constitution (institutional reform, stronger role for the parliament etc), (2) none of the focal points that plagued its predecessor (constitutional bells and whistles such as the EU flag and hymn) (3) many unreadable sections and undecipherable wordings.
Now who would object to such a fine document? EU leadership was not planning on giving voters a chance to object anyway. So far the Lisbon treaty had been ratified by 18 member states without organizing national referendums.
So it is painful for the EU that the outcome of the only referendum organized is negative- especially because Ireland is one of the countries that supposedly benefited a lot from the EU (40 billion euros in subsidies aided its visionary turn to IT-foreign investments).
What’s next? The Lisbon Treaty will certainly survive. What about Ireland’s position in the EU? Perhaps a slimmed down version could be adopted in Ireland including some of the essential institutional components.
Many Europeans citizens do not feel that they are part of the decision-making process – either because of the lack of connection to the European parliament or the high degree of bureaucratic decision-making on the EU level. At the very least, “Brussels, we have a PR problem”.
But there also seems to be something about the instrument of referendums. In Ireland, the political opposition was able to frame the vote of the Lisbon Treaty in terms of Ireland’s autonomy on diverse issues such as abortion, gay marriage – a bit of a stretch when looking at the Treaty’s content. Other than some of the more obvious arguments, what is it exactly about referendums that make them so easy to manipulate?