Why Irish Voters Rejected the Lisbon Treaty

Irish voters on June 12 said ‘No’ to the superpower ambitions of European political elites, who want all 27 member-states of the European Union to ratify the 269-page (about 3000 pages with annexes) Lisbon Treaty that would turn the EU into a bureaucratic superstate. Ireland was the only country to submit the “Reform Treaty” to a popular vote; all other member states of the EU intend to ratify the document through parliamentary procedures. Although by EU law the Irish vote (53.4 percent said ‘No’ and 46.6 percent said ‘Yes’) should kill the treaty (because it requires unanimous approval to come into effect), European politicians will almost certainly find a way to keep it alive.

One of the main objectives of the virtually unreadable treaty is to turn the EU into a “global geopolitical actor” that can counterbalance the United States on the world stage. To achieve this, European elites say the EU needs to speak with “one voice” in international affairs. In this context, the new treaty is designed to create the job position of (an unelected) European president as well as a powerful European foreign minister. It would also establish a European diplomatic corps with European embassies and a European army.

As many observers of European politics know, democracy does not come easy on a continent where European elites view themselves as an aristocracy entitled to rule over the ignorant masses. Indeed, the entire European social welfare state has been built upon the unspoken quid pro quo of “bread and circuses” (ie, the cradle-to-grave nanny state) for the general populace, in exchange for their loyal submission to the political and intellectual classes.

Thus it should come as no big surprise that the word ‘No’ does not exist in the European political lexicon. After voters in France and the Netherlands rejected the European Constitution (of which the Lisbon Treaty is an almost exact replica) in 2005, European elites famously advised the miscreants to keep voting until they come up with the right answer.

So how about this time around? Will European politicians, who say they want to bring “Europe” closer to the people, accept the will of Irish voters?

What follows is a brief summary of comments made by select European leaders, both before and after the Irish referendum. It not only provides an explanation as to why Irish voters are turned off by the Lisbon Treaty, but it also sheds some light on the state of democracy in contemporary Europe.

Before the referendum:

  • Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen said that it did not matter if people had not read the treaty (he had not read it either, he admitted) and did not understand it because they should trust their elected leaders.
  • French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner threatened Irish voters if they failed to approve the treaty: “The first victims would be the Irish. They have benefited more than others,” he warned.
  • French President Nicolas Sarkozy said: “There will be no treaty at all if we had a referendum in France.”
  • Sarkozy said: “When the people say ‘No’, we cannot say the people are wrong. We must ask why they said ‘No’.
  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel said: “Naturally [the Lisbon Treaty] is still far from the clarity of our constitution on how powers are really delineated.”
  • Former French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing said: “The difference between the original Constitution and the present Lisbon Treaty is one of approach, rather than content ... the proposals in the original constitutional treaty are practically unchanged. They have simply been dispersed through old treaties in the form of amendments. Why this subtle change? Above all, to head off any threat of referenda by avoiding any form of constitutional vocabulary ... But lift the lid and look in the toolbox: all the same innovative and effective tools are there, just as they were carefully crafted by the European Convention.”
  • D’Estaing said: “Public opinion will be led to adopt, without knowing it, the proposals that we dare not present to them directly ... All the earlier proposals will be in the new text, but will be hidden and disguised in some way.”
  • D’Estaing said: The approach “is to keep a part of the innovations of the constitutional treaty and to split them into several texts in order to make them less visible. The most innovative dispositions would pass as simple amendments of the Maastricht and Nice treaties. The technical improvements would be gathered in an innocuous treaty. The whole would be addressed to Parliaments, which would decide with separate votes. The public opinion would therefore unknowingly adopt the dispositions that it would not accept if presented directly.”
  • Irish Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern said: “The substance of what was agreed in 2004 has been retained. Really, what is gone is the term ‘constitution’.”
  • Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker said: “Of course there will be transfers of sovereignty. But would I be intelligent to draw the attention of public opinion to this fact?”
  • Juncker said: Fears connected with the treaty “most often stem from the fact that we use a language incomprehensible for ordinary people.”
  • Belgian Foreign Minister Karel de Gucht said: “The aim of the Constitutional Treaty was to be more readable; the aim of this [Lisbon] treaty is to be unreadable… The Constitution aimed to be clear, whereas this treaty had to be unclear. It is a success.”
  • European Commission President José Manuel Barroso said: “Sometimes I like to compare the EU as a creation to the organization of empires. We have the dimension of Empire but there is a great difference. Empires were usually made with force with a center imposing diktat, a will on the others. Now what we have is the first non-imperial empire.”
  • Barroso said: “If a referendum had to be held on the creation of the European Community or the introduction of the euro, do you think these would have passed?”
  • Barroso said: “Referendums make the process of approval of European treaties much more complicated and less predictable…every member state [considering a referendum should] think twice”
  • Italian President Giorgio Napolitano said: “Those who are anti-EU are terrorists. It is psychological terrorism to suggest the specter of a European superstate.”
  • A leaked February memo from the British Embassy in Dublin, which summarized a briefing about Irish government thinking over the referendum, reported that Irish diplomats described Sarkozy as “completely unpredictable”. The memo emphasized that the campaign would not focus on the detail of the treaty because it was “largely incomprehensible to the lay reader.” The Irish government wanted to hold the referendum in October 2008, but decided on an earlier date because of “the risk of unhelpful developments during the [six-month rotating] French Presidency [of the EU, which begins on July 1] — particularly related to EU defense — were just too great” and might alienate Irish voters.
  • Irish officials said they wanted “a helpful, low-profile” role from European officials in Brussels before the referendum on anything which might damage support for a ‘Yes’ vote. European Commission Vice President Margot Wallstrom allegedly told Ahern that she was “willing to tone down or delay messages that might be unhelpful.”

After the referendum:

  • Barroso said he had spoken to Cowen and agreed with him that the ‘No’ vote was not a vote against the EU. “Ireland remains committed to a strong Europe,” he said. “The treaty is alive. Ratifications [in other EU member states] should continue to take their course.”
  • Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša, whose country currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency, said: “I will invite the Irish prime minister to explain the reasons for the rejection of the treaty by the Irish people.”
  • Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said: “We shall effectively look for ways to ensure it comes into force. Irrespective of the results of the referendum in Ireland … Europe will find a way of implementing this treaty.”
  • Juncker said: “This vote doesn’t resolve any of the European problems; it almost makes every European problem bigger. It was a bad choice for Europe.”
  • Sarkozy and Merkel issued a joint statement saying they “hope that the other member states will continue the process of ratification.”
  • German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said: “The ratification process must continue. I am still convinced that we need this treaty.”
  • French European Affairs Minister Jean-Pierre Jouyet talked of finding a “legal arrangement” that would allow Ireland to ratify the treaty anyway.
  • British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said the United Kingdom would press on with ratification, saying: “It’s right that we continue with our own process.”
  • At a June 13 press conference in Brussels, supposedly impartial (but frustrated and angry) reporters and other members of the European press corps accused European Commission Spokesman Johannes Laitenberger of not doing enough to refute the “myths and false rumors” that doomed the treaty in Ireland.
This article was first published by American Thinker on June 15, 2008.


Does...Yes it does! #2

@ Rob the...

1) You only see a "contradiction" because you did not carefully read what I wrote, or because I was not clear enough.   I certainly did NOT say that "these are democracies".  On the contrary, I said that they are no longer genuine democracies.  That is almost the opposite of what you claim to read.   My basic contention is that: (a) one cannot make a genuine EU-wide democracy or democratic polity with nondemocrats, and (b) many of the constituent countries of the EU are no longer genuine democracies.  The latter implies, of course, that their publics at large do no longer adhere to democratic values, as evidenced by 'normal' legislation that blatantly undermines freedom of (political) speech and by sporadic attempts to selectively ban political parties.  These publics by and large, however, do adhere to "left-liberal values" (as John Laughland calls them in another article here), which explains the specific content of much of the proposed EU Constitution/Treaty.      

2) While I do see a proper role for referenda in political systems, I think that one should not make them the be-all and end-all of "democracy".  If you were to organise an EU-wide referendum and ask the simple question "Should the EU be abolished?", I have little doubt that a sizable majority of Europeans would say "NO".  In that sense you cannot say that the EU is being "imposed" by elites. Also, in the current state of affairs, the French, the Dutch, the Irish....they are all still at liberty to leave the EU, if they so wish. But, it is very unlikely that they would elect many politicians who would argue for that.

3)  The fundamental issue is NOT really whether there should be an EU or not, but rather what should be the nature of the EU, and what is essential about "democracy".  In a way that is the real crux of political fights in any polity or country in the world.

4)  I think that there is some truth in your explanation for the seeming contradiction between referenda-results in Europe and the continuation of electing pro-EU politicians in much of Europe.  But I do disagree with some of your specifics.  While it is true that Europe is much less "relevant" for the US today than it was during the Cold War, I do think that Europe still matters much both to the US and to the larger world. Also, what you call the "failure of multi-lateral institutions" is nothing new; Soviet obstructionism during the cold war was as much debilitating for the UN as the Russian one is today; nor is the ineffectiveness of the UN any different today from before.  The UN is political show and theatre; it does not - and cannot by definition - represent genuine 'rule of law', because that would presuppose or require common adherence to common democratic values, and is thus impossible in the current state of many cultures in the world. 

Does it matter? Yes, it does!.

I beg to differ with most of the EU-bashing comments here. 

The EU certainly has a basis in "culture" and in "history". It definitely reflects distinct behavior patters, 'values', and aspirations that are broadly shared by many Europeans of today. And, while I strongly believe in the importance of a common language to shore up nationhood, there are other examples in the world of large and 'serious' countries with multiple (official) languages, including Canada and India. 

It is also untrue that the EU is being "imposed". While imposition may well be the dominant feeling that opponents of the EU have, Europe's politicians are doing what they are doing because they are allowed to do so by their (national) electorates.  Surely, the growing merger of sovereingty with other states is an important matter that is of 'constitutional' significance.  If European electorates are not punishing their politicians for their 'behavior' and choices at the EU-level, "imposition by elites" is not an accurate description of what is going on.

The undemocratic features of the EU, as currently constructed and operated, is a reflection of the gradual loss of democracy that is occuring in many of the nation states that form the EU.  This applies particularly to its 'older' members, and less so to the newer East-European members who better remember soviet times.  Since many of the existing EU members no longer respect their own constitutions (dating from earlier more democratic times) - and the disrespect for freedom of political speech is symptomatic of that - it can not be surprising that Europe's contemporary politicians appear incapable of constructing a genuine-democratic EU constitutional order.

So, the problem of the EU is not that it is a "Marxist institution", but rather that many of its member states are no longer genuinely democratic states.  And that is largely a reflection of cultural forces that have been at work for a long time, particularly the gradual transformation of the former 'democratic left' into something more radical and intolerant of ideological diversity.  That, of course, is largely the result of extreme moral-relativism that currently permeates western education systems, and it implies that other Western non-EU countries are just as much at risk as the EU countries are. 

If European countries today are incapable of forming a democratic constitutional order at the EU level, it follows that genuine 'rule of law' at a wider global level is even more of a 'mirage'. 


I don't get it, marcfrans

A lot of what you say has merit, but there seems to be a basic logical flaw in your argument. On the one hand, you claim that the EU is really the will of the people, because these are democracies, and the people would punish their politicians if they didn't really want the EU; on the other hand, you say these same countries are no longer true democracies. These two ideas seem to be contradictory; i.e., if these countries are no longer true democracies, then it doesn't follow that the self-regulating aspect of democracy would kick in and punish those politicians that are trying to push the EU.

Also, there are multiple other explanations for the contradictions between the referendums and electing pro-EU politicians. Here's one off the top of my head: until the fall of the Soviet Union, we had a fairly strictly defined world order, and the US focused a great deal on Europe; now, Europe is, for the most part, becoming more and more irrelevant to the US and to the world at large. Add to this the fact that globalization and the post-9/11 world (and the general failure of multi-lateral organizations) creates a great deal of uncertainty that previously did not exist. So, maybe Europeans want something to help deal with this uncertainty and re-establish their greatness, but aren't being presented with any alternative to the EU. This might describe the contradiction between electing pro-EU politicians and not wanting the full-blown Union.

Of course, this is just one possible explanation from across the Atlantic so I could be completely wrong.

The EU is a Marxist instituion

1)  It has no basis in langugage, culture, or history (except in the ambitions of dictators, but nevermind that).  Marxist don't care about that fuzzy stuff.

 2)  It is imposed by a self-appointed elite, who know better than the proletariat.

 3)   Its foundations are economic, not democratic.   It was founded and supported by subsidies and bribes, not votes.   As an institution based on an economic view of history, the EU will survive everything except an economic downturn, and will continue so long as there is bread, and maybe a bit of circus, irrespective of voters or politicians.

4)   It brooks no alternatives explanations of history. Human rights, say bye-bye.


5)  It is, ultimately, antithecal to all other institutions, especially non-economic ones. 



The problem with the EU is

The problem with the EU is not that they are elitists but because they are leftists whom as usual do everything wrong. People are not competent to rule either. Let me remind you that nobody else but people elected all those Marxists to EU-parliament.

Does it matter?

Every time this thing gets voted on the people reject it. And every time European elites explain why the people's views are flawed and they know what's best. They are dictators in waiting, and the truly pathetic thing is that they are going to establish their fascist super-state without even recourse to military strength. Will Europeans ever rise up and take their own destinies in their hands, or has the social welfare state so destroyed their independent will that they will simply allow this to happen with nary a peep?

Democracy OR treaty, mutually exclusive.

The last three EU countries that did have the chance, so far, to vote by referendum for the Constitution/Treaty, voted no. Still, the european elite will do everything to conduct business as usual.

What part of the word NO do they not understand ?

They may have different reasons for wanting this. But please, if they have any common decency, let them stop using the word "democracy."

The wrong way for making a Constitution

Constitutions are supposed to be (a) made from the bottom up via representatives at a constitutional convention. Why do European leaders so fear referenda when they are the best way for people to express their opinions?; and (b) easy to understand, witness the U.S. Constitution, the world's most successful fundamental law--still a simple document with 27 amendments. 

These words from the American Declaration of Independence are still inspired and inspiring:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

And from the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution:

"We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

Please show me where I can find similar sentiments expressed in the Treaty of Lisbon. 

New Yorker

An excellent moment to

An excellent moment to observe what a swindle all the democratic pretensions of EU builders really have been. It doesn't happen that often when Europhile frustration at not getting their toy overpowers those pretensions, and ugly disregard -- not only for the people they govern, but their very own rules -- is out in full view.

Bulgarian head nod

I think I understand what has just happened. The Irish didn't vote 'No', don't you know? . No, or do I mean Yes? Eh, anyway, apparently  the Irish 'No' vote was the Celtic equivalent of the Bulgarian head nod, or do I mean the opposite of the Bulgarian head nod? Anyway, if you don't understand what I'm talking about ( and why should you?) here's a link that might help you work it out for yourselves.




P.S : They are currently working on a plan to incorporate the Balkans into the EU.

Separated at birth...

Henry Ford and our European leaders.



Who said what, to whom, and when?


"We don't want tradition. We want to live in the present and the only history that is worth a (Irish) tinker's dam is the history we make today".




" Failure (to ratify the treaty) is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time (voting) more intelligently".





" Any result - so long as it's Yes".