Saturday, June 14, 2008

How many people put a roadblock in front of the European Union?

We read (NYTimes):
Ireland Derails a Bid to Recast Europe’s Rules

Europe was thrown into political turmoil on Friday by Ireland’s rejection of the Lisbon Treaty, a painstakingly negotiated blueprint for consolidating the European Union’s power and streamlining its increasingly unwieldy bureaucracy.

The defeat of the treaty, by a margin of 53.4 percent to 46.6 percent, was the result of a highly organized “no” campaign that had played to Irish voters’ deepest visceral fears about the European Union. For all its benefits, many people in Ireland and in Europe feel that the union is remote, undemocratic and ever more inclined to strip its smaller members of the right to make their own laws and decide their own futures.

The repercussions of Friday’s vote are enormous. To take effect, the treaty must be ratified by all 27 members of the European Union. So the defeat by a single country, even one as small as Ireland, has the potential effect of stopping the whole thing cold.
Irish voters rejected the so-called Lisbon Treaty by 53% to 47%, in the only popular vote that will be held on the treaty by any EU nation. Because all 27 EU countries need to ratify the treaty, Ireland's "no" vote risks killing it.
It was the only country where a popular vote was used. All the others, and they all voted "Yes", were at the level of parliment / national assembly / chamber of deputies. So Ireland is a unique case.

Even so, it would be nice to know how many people voted. The totals are at (Irish Times):
Total 1,621,037 752,451 (46.6%) 862,415 (53.4%)
A difference of 109,000 votes. A switch by 55,000 or 0.02% of the 497,198,740 which make up the EU would have ratified the Lisbon Treaty. (0.02% is 1/5,000)

Every amendment of the Irish Constitution needs to be put to a public vote. Hence, Ireland was the only Member State that held a referendum on the Treaty of Lisbon, in addition to a parliamentary vote.

All members from the three government parties in the Oireachtas supported the 'Yes' campaign. So did all opposition parties in the chamber, with the exception of nationalist Sinn Féin. A total of 162 out of 166 TDs supported the 'Yes' campaign in Dáil Éireann.Most Irish trade unions and business organisations supported the 'yes'-campaign also. Those campaigning for the 'No' vote included Declan Ganley of Libertas and Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein.


The Europeans have been trying to get this thing going for a long time. I think their only choice is to go forward without Ireland. Maybe in a decade or so the Irish can apply to join the Union. I think they could keep using the Euro -- Montenegro and Kosova use it and their not members. They should lose to many of the US companies that set-up shop their to take advantage of their duty-free entry into Europe.

By Anonymous Rockie the Dog, at 6/14/2008 4:35 PM  

Some googled information to add to the stats:

Ireland's population (2007 est.) - 4.1 million.

Number of registered voters in Ireland - 2.8 million

I'd like to know how often the people of Ireland have had to vote on proposed changes to their constitution, and what the emotional and narrative elements of previous "campaigns" (for want of a better word) were like.

By Blogger Erick L., at 6/14/2008 8:53 PM  

One important part of the NO campaign was the (false) claim that a YES would mean that the almost total abortion ban (it's part of the Irish constitution!) would fall. The fundies are bathing in champagne now, I presume.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6/15/2008 1:19 AM  

After this decisive vote, for Ireland, I hope that both the Yes and the No sides can join in formulating Ireland's proposals for its future relations with Europe.

Sadly, the new European Union, due to changed circumstances and initially based on the Lisbon Treaty, will lose at least one valuable member, but there is little they can do about given that they have their own legitimate interests.

With good will on each side, the new EU and Ireland could find workable solutions.

By Blogger Grahnlaw, at 6/15/2008 2:48 AM  

I call bullshit. The EU tried to get this through before as a constitution, and it was defeated in a series of popular votes. So they tried again, as a treaty that required no popular votes. It was an end run around the popular will, and attempt to sneak the defeated constitution through unnoticed. Ireland in defeating did not stymie something desired (or even noticed) by the majority of Europeans.

A majority of Europeans, as of last poll on the subject, had not heard of the treaty. Of those who had, a majority wanted it ratified or not by referendum, not by parliamentary maneuver.

By Anonymous Gar Lipow, at 6/15/2008 11:22 AM  

I agree. If Europe wants to have a single federal government instead of a confederation of equals, then they need to have a constitutional convention and then they need each country to ratify it by popular vote.

That's how this sort of thing is done in democracies.

By Blogger J.Goodwin, at 6/15/2008 12:18 PM  

My memory of U.S. history is pretty fuzzy. What part of the United States constitution was ratified by popular vote?

By Blogger Erick L., at 6/15/2008 10:51 PM  

In US const. amendments require two thirds of Congress to pass and then goes to State Legislatures where two thirds of the States need to pass. Pretty sure general electorate does not vote.

Have not had one pass since the sixties civil rights. Equal rights is dead on the vine. Conservatives want icky single issue stuff - no gay marriage, flags, abortion and such that has never gotten out of Congress.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6/16/2008 12:37 AM  

Suspect anonymous is answering G, rather than me but:

I would not take our constitution as a great model for the modern world. But to the extent that you choose to do so, you should remember that one point of all the supermajorities is to make sure that substantive changes can't be made without broad popular support - that even if the majority does not rule it can at least veto, but that on the other hand large minorities also can stop things, that you need not just a majority but a big majority. While the nominal complaints about Ireland are directed at how small group stopped the thing, in practice the complaint is that the stopped a really major change being sneaked through without broad popular support, without even popular knowledge.

The Lisbon treaty is acknowledged (including by leading supporters) to be the EU constitution in a new form. The right way to get a constitution through is not to sneak it through disguised as technical tweaking.

The unanimous consent bit is a bit harsh too. I would say there is a fair compromise possible where there is a two step process. Given that the current EU structure does require unanimous consent what should be put up for unanimous consent is process not a product - a means of drafting and approving a constitution that does not require unanimous consent but does means the following:

1)Popular opinion can have some say in drafting the thinking, rather than having it put together by Europe's own brand of free market fundamentalist, then offered on a take it or leave it basis.

2) Some provision that guarantees it won't pass without popular support. Since a majority do seem to favor a referendum, one fair means might be an EU wide referendum - so no one country could stop it (and all countries would have to agree to this in step one) but it could not be snuck through in a bunch of low attention parliamentary votes either.

I'm not saying I've got the details right, this is a comment on a blog post written at a great distance from the subject. But I'll bet I've got basic outline right. Stop trying to ram through a particular constitution, and instead get consensus on a process. Make sure that process has real rather than nominal popular input, and requires real rather than nominal popular approval.

By Anonymous Gar W. Lipow, at 6/16/2008 10:50 AM  


No significant part of, but that was over two hundred years ago. Of course, in the US, we still don't use a fully democratic process to elect presidents, let alone to organize the government and it's processes.

I hardly consider the US to be the model of a modern major democracy, or even a reasonably well run republic.

By Blogger J.Goodwin, at 6/17/2008 6:09 AM  

1) Ireland is not leaving the EU. No one wants this; the EU has given substantial support to Ireland for 35 years and Ireland is one of Europe's most prosperous economies. The Irish have always been one of Europe's most ardent supporters.

2) Ireland should not be "punished" for voting No. Immediately after the vote, Irish and European leaders started asking about "what went wrong" and wondering how to "solve the problem". Nothing "went wrong"; the people made a decision according to democratic principles. The Government and the EU had ample opportunity to convince the Irish public of the very real merits of the Lisbon Treaty and they dropped the ball.

3) This isn't so much one tiny country's throwing a wrench in the works as it is one tiny country being unfairly shouldered with the burden of approving Europe's project all on its own. No other country plans to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, and several leaders (including Sarkozy) have indicated publicly and privately that they are declining to do so because the treaty would be rejected. In this context, Ireland's decision is not a spoiler but a "cold shower" (as the Italian foreign minister put it) for Europe.

4) Changes to the Irish constitution (such as adopting a treaty like Lisbon) require a referendum. The Irish Government would rather have just rammed it through themselves, and their disdain for having to hold a popular vote was palpable. European leaders' insistence that ratification continue, to hold a second Irish referendum, or the isolate Ireland from Europe are exactly the reasons behind a No vote in the first place. While the campaign was infected with unfortunate nonsense (such as arguments that the treaty would legalise abortion and prostition and conscript Irish youths into a European Army), the principal reason behind rejecting the treaty was a prolonged disconnect between the EU and the people it governs.

By Blogger Miles, at 6/17/2008 8:22 AM  

Thanks for the details about the role of the popular vote and the U.S. constitution. I'd suspected as much, but wasn't sure....

My follow-up question would be, how many times has a large popular vote supported a significant and difficult change in a nation's laws and/or constitution? Have there ever been popular votes that freed slaves, or expanded voting rights, or curtailed pesticide use, or raised taxes significantly to pay for national infrastructure?

The NIMBY instinct is very strong, and in an emotional sense it can be applied to national votes as well as local votes. It would be great if a national referendum were an effective tool for passing treaties and major (or minor, even) constitutional changes like this, but I have a suspicion that it won't work very often. This playing field isn't even.

Even with a sensible, carefully crafted measure, there are too many ways that opponents can twist the meaning of the vote to represent an "attack on national sovereignity" or say that it's "poorly crafted - try again" or use the "Another vote? What a waste of taxpayer money and time?" objection. So the status quo continues.

I could easily be wrong, though. Here in the U.S., maybe there are recent instances of large states sucessfully using a referendum to pass large taxes on themselves with a very distant goal in mind. And then stuck to the plan, of course.

By Blogger Erick L., at 6/17/2008 11:03 PM  

I agree eric l. If a sea change requires a super plurality, the chance for it passing in the general electrate is reduced, as it will nearly always be possible to whip up one or more large blocks of distrust/hate.

For better or worse, these things work best in smoke filled rooms. Like the system or not, at least most of the ammendments to the US Constitution seem to have gone in a more decent direction.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6/18/2008 8:17 AM  

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