17, January, 2009
It would be unwise for politicians to presume that the EU will become any entity based on the Lisbon Treaty. The Irish are most likely to vote No again. Many politicians, diplomats and officials have been planning their careers while waiting for the ratification with its promised bonanza of new top jobs. Simple, back-of-the-envelope calculations about what is likely to happen in the coming Irish referendum in autumn 2009 tell a different story.
It would seem that it is highly improbable that a majority of Irish voters will say Yes. In June 2008, they already voted No. Another No would mean the Lisbon Treaty will be thrown out and have the same fate as the Constitutional Treaty (with which it is practically identical.)
First, what will the Irish be voting on? The main difference between the Lisbon and Constitutional treaties is that politicians decided that the Constitutional Treaty should be largely rewritten in an incomprehensible form in the Lisbon Treaty as a list of amendments to existing treaties. Then they asked national governments to avoid referendums and ratify only by parliamentary vote, in spite of the fact that it had been rejected by referendums in France and the Netherlands. It is of course politicians and political party machines that will seize for themselves powers originally open to all citizens in previous treaties. Personalities such as Jean Monnet, Walter Hallstein, Etienne Hirsch who staunchly defended European democracy and solidarity against authoritarianism of de Gaulle would be EXCLUDED. So would 98 per cent of the public who do not have party membership cards. Thus the political representatives will be deciding among themselves that they are more important than the citizens that they are there to represent. And only politicians can decide if the politicians should be given these quite extraordinary privileges.
The following calculation is based on Irish voter turnout. In June 2008 most of the population, amounting to 53% of electors, did in fact turn out for the vote. The highest previous turnout in a referendum was when Ireland joined. A similar figure of 57 per cent turnout voted on two different dates for the Maastricht and Amsterdam treaties. The second factor is those who actually voted Yes in previous referendums has declined from around 70 % on the adhesion vote to 46 % this year.
Let us analyze the turn-out. The Irish were asked to vote twice in 2001 on the Nice treaty. In the first vote the population voted No. After some political arm-twisting the population voted Yes in the second referendum. The main factor was not that people changed their minds but that in the first vote 1 million people voted; in the second 1.5 million. Practically all this extra half million went to the Yes camp. Nonetheless an extra 60,000 of the new voters voted No. (Obviously some few of the voters changed their minds in both directions, but what is clear is that the No vote actually increased but the yes increased more rapidly.)
When we come to the autumn 2009 referendum, the government will be asking the same 1.62 million voters to change their minds and vote a Yes majority. Of the 1.62 million voters in June 2008, 725,000 voted Yes and 862,000 voted No. The turnout was 53 %. If the government manages to get the maximum turnout in autumn, it is not likely to be more than 57 %. Where will the extra 4% of the electors direct their vote? Even if all of them voted Yes it would only raise 120,000 extra Yes votes. And the total vote would still be NO.
Thus to stop another No result, the government will have to make electors, who have already committed themselves once to No, to vote Yes. How? On the basis of very vague declarations made at the December summit? Not very likely, especially in the present political/financial climate. The problem with politicians is that they assume that people are objects and that if they tell them they will vote in another direction. In fact this time they want them to vote the opposite of what they voted earlier.
One democratic stipulation works against this manipulation. The vote is secret. If any normal person had voted No it would take a lot to persuade him/her to vote Yes. Would a confession of such action gain anyone respect while admitting it in the pub? One Irish MEP told me that in her experience being again asked to vote twice on the same treaty as they had previously done on Nice, would make people more obstinate not less.
Another major factor is the political climate in autumn 2009. In June there will be elections for the European Parliament. The result because of political fixes and pent-up anger against the lack of referendums for the Lisbon Treaty is likely to be an increase in the parties which although not eurosceptical are anti the present elites who are abusing their powers. Let us call them an obstructionist grouping, some pronouncing very soberly about democratic rights and saving Europe from the dictatorship by arrogant political elites. They remind Brussels anti-democratic fixers of how Irish Christians saved European civilized values in the Dark Ages. Some others are traditional nationalist / eurosceptic groups. (Some indications say that the eurosceptics will not get many more votes but the alternative parties will.)
I went to the launch of one such party, Libertas. It was born of the Irish No vote and is now to become a European party. Is it eurosceptic? In the foyer to the new offices are the pictures of the founding fathers of European democracy, Robert Schuman (France), Alcide de Gasperi (Italy), Konrad Adenauer (Germany), Paul-Henri Spaak (Belgium). This is quite unusual as no other of the mainstream parties is likely to show off a collection of socialist and Christian Democrats.
These statesmen reached a common understanding about supranational democracy. Who knows what that means today? The modern-day governments and politicians have twisted the original ideas into something scarcely recognizable as European democracy. The Irish referendum is likely to take place with a quite unusual European Parliament just elected. Among its members will be a block of MEPs attached to an idea of democracy quite different from the party elites that gave the European public the Constitutional and Lisbon Treaties. And the new parties will be demanding more democracy, and more referendums! How will the Irish react to that? It will hardly encourage people who have already voted No to vote Yes for the Lisbon Treaty! A stream of visitors from the other 26 Member States will be encouraging the Irish to stick to their guns.
Thus if Ireland votes against, it will be the end of the Lisbon Treaty and the politicians will have to work with the existing Nice Treaty. This may be just as well. Besides giving posh jobs to politicians, the Lisbon Treaty is probably largely unworkable and will increase hidden and overt battles among its various conflicting presidencies.
Who knows? Maybe governments and politicians will be forced to examine the original concept of European democracy initiated by Robert Schuman, and begin to call the long-overdue elections required by the treaties.David Heilbron Price