This Friday, the Irish people are again being asked to sign away their sovereignty and freedom to the European Union authorities in Brussels. When the matter was put before them in a referendum in 2008, the Irish voted “No.” Now they have been told to vote again on the same matter. Ireland is the only country of the 27 EU member states where the people are allowed a direct vote about their future. In the other 26 countries which together with Ireland make up the European Union, the governments – not the people – have already decided to transfer national sovereignty to Brussels.
The EU leaders want Ireland to vote “yes.” They are intent on forcing the Irish to vote again and again until they say “yes.” In the past weeks, politicians from all over Europe, including Ireland’s own government ministers, have been threatening the Irish people that a second “No”-vote will have serious economic repercussions, although it has not been specified what these repercussions will be.
The referendum this Friday is Ireland’s second referendum in two years on the European Union’s 2007 Treaty of Lisbon. In June 2008, the Irish voted “No” and rejected the treaty. The fact that the Irish are being forced to hold a second referendum on the matter, is indicative of the nature of the EU and the way in which it “consults” its people. The EU is in the habit of giving recalcitrant populations another go if initially they fail to see that what the EU’s leaders have decided for them is best for them.
Had the Irish voted “yes” last year, they would not have been given a chance to change their minds. However, as the EU does not take “No” for an answer, the EU authorities have pressured the Irish government to make them vote again. Polls suggest that this time Ireland might vote “yes.” The Irish government and most of Ireland’s political parties are intimidating the people, warning them that if they say “no” again, Ireland will miss its date with history and isolate itself in Europe. Yet, the Irish are a proud and freedom-loving people and might live up to their ancient tradition of standing up to foreign domination. Many Europeans, including many English, are hoping that Ireland will be true to itself and defy Brussels as it once defied London. In Britain, Gordon Brown’s government had Parliament ratify the Lisbon treaty, despite the opposition of the British people.
Much is at stake in Ireland on Friday, because the Lisbon treaty is not an ordinary treaty. Over the past decades, the EU has gradually been expanding its powers through a series of treaties, such as those of Maastricht, Nice and others. The Lisbon treaty completes the transformation of the EU into a genuine supranational European State, empowered to act as a State vis-à-vis other States and its own citizens.
In June 2001, the Irish rejected the EU’s Treaty of Nice and subsequently had to vote again in 2002, when they approved it. Other notorious European nay-sayers are the Danes. In the 1990s, Denmark also had to vote again, after its people rejected the Treaty of Maastricht. In 1992 they got it wrong according to the EU, in 1993 they got it right. So far, no European country has voted wrong twice in a row. It would be rather embarrassing for the EU authorities if the Irish were to do so next Friday because, although the explicit approval of the 27 EU countries is needed before the provisions of the Lisbon Treaty can be put into practice, the EU, confident that approval is a mere formality, has already begun to implement several of them. Hence, if the Irish do say “No” again, it would be interesting to see what happens: Will they be made to vote a third time, or will Ireland be ousted from the EU?
Ireland is already an embarrassment to the EU because the Irish Constitution demands that every international treaty which limits Irish sovereignty has to be put before the people in a referendum. Other countries have constitutions which are less strict in this regard. They allow the approval by referendum to be circumvented by approval through a vote in parliament
In 2005, the peoples of both France and the Netherlands voted “No” in referendums about the EU’s 2004 Constitutional Treaty, the so-called “European Constitution.” The latter comprises a staggering 67,850 words. Leading proponents of a European superstate, such as Jacques Delors, the former president of the European Commission, the EU’s executive, immediately said that the French and the Dutch would have to vote again. However, another solution was found. The “European Constitution” was repackaged as another treaty, the abovementioned Treaty of Lisbon. This treaty, with 76,250 words even longer than the previous one, rephrased and rearranged the “Constitution” in a different order, but the content is almost identical. Indeed, as Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, the former president of France, who chaired the committee which drafted the rejected Constitution, acknowledged, “90% of the words are the same.”
Unlike the Constitution, the Lisbon Treaty was not submitted to the people in referendums. Instead, it was ratified by the governing coalitions in the EU member states. Ireland, because of its strict national constitution, however, could not avoid a referendum.
Americans might wonder why the European peoples, when given the option of a referendum, tend to vote against the EU’s plans for creating a single federal state on a pan-European level. The reason is that most peoples are attached to their national identity. Freedom and democracy have traditionally been organized and guaranteed within the framework of the nation. This is why people love their nation, however small, and do not like it to be incorporated into a supranational structure which restricts national sovereignty.
Americans might also wonder why Europe’s governments are so keen on restricting national sovereignty when their peoples oppose it. This is because the EU is basically a cartel of governments. The EU Council consists of representatives of the governments from the EU member states. These governments find it easier to pass laws in the secret Council meetings with their colleagues than through their own national parliaments in the glare of public criticism. Politicians, whether from the right or the left, by nature like the EU project because it facilitates policymaking without accountability to anyone.
Meanwhile, many Europeans will be watching Ireland next Friday, envying the Irish because the latter enjoy a privilege which they have not: the right to decide about the future of their own nation. Many Europeans hope that the polls have got it wrong, and that the Irish will vote “No,” so that Ireland may preserve its privilege.
If Ireland falls in line and ratifies Lisbon, the EU will be empowered to act as a State vis-à-vis other States and its own citizens. It will become a State in its own right, with its own President, Foreign Minister, diplomatic corps and Public Prosecutor. If Ireland votes “yes,” the national governments of the 27 EU member states, rather than representing their States in the EU, will henceforward be representing the EU in their States. And the national parliaments, currently embodying the sovereignty of their nations, will be subordinate to the EU. As the Treaty of Lisbon says: “National Parliaments shall contribute actively to the good functioning of the Union.” They will be obliged, as the imperative “shall” implies, to further the interests of the new Union, rather than those of their own people.