Tag Archives: referendum

Ireland: Post Referendum Research Findings

The long awaited report on the underlying causes of the No vote on the Lisbon Treaty in Ireland has been published.  You can read the complete report here: “Post Lisbon Treaty Referendum Research Findings (.pdf)

Here some key findings:

  • The main reason for abstaining in this referendum was lack of understanding/knowledge (46%), which is far in excess of any other voluntary or circumstantial reason given for not voting.
  • Much of the Yes vote is underpinned by a strong general feeling of pro-Europeanism rather than Treaty specific motivations.
  • Twenty-six percent of No voters mentioned Treaty specific elements that were of concern to them.
  • The main reason cited for voting No was ‘lack of knowledge/information/ understanding’ at
    42%. There can be little doubt that this emerged as the primary reason for people voting
    No.
  • At a wider level, an EU knowledge deficit is clearly present which has undoubtedly contributed to the No vote.  Knowledge of EU institutions and how they work appears to be particularly low.  The difficulty of advocating a referendum that is based on the premise of institutional reform in this environment is apparent.

So, the report suggests that a lack of knowledge/information/understanding was the main reason for the referendum outcome: At the same time there seems to be little willingness to do something about it:

  • Despite not having a good understanding of  how EU institutions operate, there was fairly limited appetite for additional information, particularly among younger group participants. Few felt that they would realistically take the time or go to the bother to inform themselves in any great detail. Older group participants (those aged 35+), were more open to learning more and felt that if the EU  was going  to become more important to Ireland then it was important for them to be better informed.

Let’s have a look at the ‘issues’:

  • ‘No’ voters were far more likely to believe that erosion of Irish neutrality, end of control over abortion and conscription to a European army were part of the Lisbon Treaty, revealing key cracks in the debate.
  • Loss of Commissioner was also a common concern on the No side.
  • When asked directly, respondents cited the issue of protection of workers’ rights as being
    “very important” more often than any other issue (of a defined set of issues) relating to
    Ireland and the EU. Retaining control over public services in the future was similarly cited.
  • Concerns over specific aspects of the Treaty loom large, particularly perceptions of an erosion of neutrality, the Commissioner issue (which many do not seem to properly understand), Corporate tax and to a lesser degree abortion.

Well, the report clearly did not come up with any surprising results. Most of it has been debated over and over again. So I will not get into the debate whether referendums are useful (hint: they are not!) or whether the Lisbon treaty is too complex (hint: yes it is!) or whether the EU is a big conspiracy theory (hint: it is not).

However, one question is of course still the same: What to do now?  – A new referendum on the same text? No new referendum and a parliamentary ratification followed by an referendum on one or two treaty issues? A new EU treaty and negotiations from scratch? A kind of “Irish Protocol” that addresses the problematic issues despite their irrelevance? The report only suggests that any new vote on an unchanged document would have a negative result again.

The only certain fact is the existence of the “EU knowledge deficit” which is probably a widespread problem everywhere in the EU. I think this is a structural problem that needs to be addressed on different levels: The EU should be included in school curricula and there needs to be a better media coverage and reporting of EU affairs. Of course local, national and European politicians need to explain the role of the EU with more honesty. At the same time the EU needs to engage more people in debating European issues, some institutional reforms would also be helpful … Ok, enough wishful thinking for today!

Kosmolinks #17

  • The referendum: populism vs democracy

    The idea of the referendum as an instrument of the people’s will rests on pre-democratic foundations, says George Schöpflin. I certainly agree!

  • A better way with referendums

    Interesting idea: Is it possible to introduce a more deliberative approach when holding a referendum? Does “deliberative polling” make citizens more knowledgeable?

  • Instead of bullying the Irish, Europe should be working on plan D – and E

    Timothy Garton Ash actually favours the “Nice plus” arrangement.

  • Yes, they could

    What went wrong for the German Social Democrats? And how can they recover? – Although the article could focus more on the second question it makes a few good points. However, it seems to me that Kurt Beck is the wrong person to deliver “change”… unfortunately the same can be said for a large part of the SPD leadership!

  • WIA Report » Blogger Arrests

    Quite a shocking report: “Unfortunately, one way to assess the political importance of blogging around the world is through the growing number of blogger arrests. Since 2003, 64 citizens unaffiliated with news organizations have been arrested for their blogging activities.”

  • Centre for European Reform: Tough choices to avoid euro-paralysis

    Hugo Brady proposes the most likely outcome of the “EU crisis” after the ‘No’ in Ireland. And he mentiones one interesting point: “Many voters do not see the continuity between EU treaties and think that old guarantees are over-written by new texts.”

Cameron vs. Brown

Interesting how Gordon Brown defends the EU and the Lisbon Treaty: Conviction or tactics?

Kosmolinks #16

  • Joschka Fischer has no hope anymore…

  • Wolfgang Munchau – Europe’s hardball plan B for the Lisbon treaty

    “An alternative would be a referendum with a differently worded question, such as: “Do you want to remain in the EU on the basis of the Lisbon treaty?” Of course, this bundles two questions many people would like to answer separately. Yes, stay in the EU, No to Lisbon. But folding the two into a single question is politically more honest because it is Ireland’s only real-world choice.”

  • Robert Kagan – In Europe, a Slide Toward Irrelevance

    Robert Kagan’s take on the Irish ‘NO’ – basically what you would expect from him, but also with a few good points.

  • The fear factory devastated Ireland’s flaccid political class

    “You forgot us in Shannon.” — “Our sons are too good-looking for the army” –“right-wing Catholics” — “leftwing anti-militarists” — “a mysterious group that emerged from nowhere with a great deal of money to spend” — “Imported British Euroscepticism” — “a very efficient factory of fears” — “an extensive menu of anxieties” — “the scattergun of negativity only had to hit one sensitive spot”

  • Will Hutton: Europe must not be derailed by lies and disinformation

    “On top of these there is the political problem that the treaty can’t be rewritten to accommodate specific Irish concerns because it already does; Ireland’s ‘no’ campaigners told lies. The voters’ great concerns had been met. There is a specific protocol that guarantees Ireland’s neutrality and excuses it from membership of any joint European defence effort, if any surfaces. There is no possibility of Ireland being told to enforce abortion. And all states have autonomy over tax policy.”

  • “The Irish ‘no’ – like the 2005 French ‘non’ – shows a clear poor/rich and urban/rural divide. Working-class and rural voters are systematically voting against further European integration. European leaders should take note.”

  • A handy round-up about the Irish ‘No’ in the blogosphere…

The Irish ‘No’ – Problems and Dilemmas

The problems with the Irish referendum:

  • In any representative democracy a document with 271 pages (479 pages in the consolidated version!) of legal text should never be put to a referendum.
  • The method of EU treaty ratification should be the same in every member state.
  • A very weak YES campaign and a quite strong NO campaign.
  • The NO campaign managed to put popular myths on the agenda (with no link to the Lisbon Treaty or even to the EU) and mobilised voters with fears; it seems as if the YES campaign did not take it seriously and did not prepare an adequate answer. Next time: professional campaigning needed!

The problems of the EU:

  • EU has a communication problem… a huge one! And I would include every national politician in this category. In the last 15 years there were too many politicans that constantly blamed the EU (or better “Brussels”) especially when faced with “surprising” EU decisions – and everyone who is a bit familiar with the EU knows that there is no such thing as “surprising” in this slow bureaucracy … Moreover, it is hypocritical for ministers to blame the EU although they actually had a  veto in the Council…
  • EU summits have been coined and perceived as “battles” over national interests. But what about the “European interest”?  Many politicians do not seem to see the bigger picture… The same is true for European parliament elections: National topics are always more important than “European” topics! And the result? A negative perception of the EU,  … surprise, surprise!
  • The media does not spend enough time explaining EU issues.  European politics need to play a much bigger role on national TV as well as in national newspapers and local newspapers across Europe!
  • Education: Quite important but absolutely neglected! EU is practically not existent in school curricula!
  • Unpopularity of the EU is therefore not only a problem of the EU!
  • The Lisbon Treaty is a compromise based on the lowest common denominator.  And this is the problem why it is such a long document and why it is so difficult to understand.
  • After the failed Constitutional Treaty, the Lisbon Treaty was actually Plan B: So there will be no new treaty and issues such as “number of commissioners” and “voting weights” are not likely to be re-negotiated.

The dilemmas after the NO vote in the Irish referendum:

  • If all other EU members ratify the Lisbon treaty it will be an Irish problem, if one country stops the ratification process it will be a European problem.
  • The dictatorship of a minority vs. the dictatorship of a majority. If ratification continues the EU will be blamed for the latter, if ratification stops it will be blamed for the former.

Kosmolinks #15

  • “A fashionable idea is circulating among Balkan-watchers: “Belgianisation”. This is not meant to suggest complex federalism. Instead it implies that different nationalities whom history has left sharing a state are at last behaving like Belgians, reaching for ballot boxes and courts, rather than guns and bombs.”
  • It is gonna be a close race. And it seems that No voters don’t know anything about the treaty: “The reason most often cited by No voters is that they don’t know what they are voting for or they don’t understand the treaty – with 30 per cent of No voters listing this as the main reason for their decision.” I have argued before that referendums and uninformed publics do not go well together, moreover referenda over several hundred pages of legal text will never cause any enthusiasm… Let’s see on Thursday…

  • The logo of the French EU presidency…it is actually quite ugly…

  • “The west could be sleepwalking into a war on the European continent. Georgia, which burst into view with a moving display of democratic ambition during the Rose Revolution of 2003, is teetering on the brink of war with Russia over the separatist Georgian enclave of Abkhazia. The outcome of this crisis – involving a fledgling democracy with aspirations to join Nato and the European Union – will help determine the rules of the post-cold-war security system. But western diplomats are not sending strong enough signals to either side.”

Communicating the Lisbon Treaty…

… to the citizens seems to be a huge problem.

Seals of signatures of the Treaty of LisbonOne could assume that at least in Ireland, the only country that will hold a referendum on the Treaty, things are slightly different. But apparently this is not true! This article (What exactly are we reforming in this treaty?) shows us all the problems of the Treaty /EU in a nutshell: Lack of a professional communication strategy, arrogance of EU officials, no consolidated version of the rather complicated Treaty and journalists that are not doing their job properly!

– Problem No.1:The European Commission Representation in Dublin clearly fails in explaining the Treaty. Not only were they not able to answer some of the questions, but they also showed a degree of arrogance that makes it hard to become a supporter of the Treaty (and eventually the EU)! It is another proof that the Commission does not have the slightest idea how to communicate professionally. Commission Representations in the member states are seen as ‘official embassies’ of the EU! Therefore, it should be in the interest of the European Commission to make the case for the EU and the Treaty in a convincing way. The upcoming referendum in Ireland should make training of the Commission staff in Dublin a priority! Or to put it more dramatically: Dublin might be the only place in the EU where people actually want to know details about the Lisbon Treaty!

– Problem No.2 is of course the complicated nature of the Lisbon Treaty which also makes it more difficult to explain (but that should not be understood as an excuse!). Of course the reason for this is the failed constitutional treaty and the problematic idea that the new treaty should be similar in content but with a different form. It is believed that only a stripped down treaty that looks very technical and incomprehensible (= “non constitutional”) can win the support of all member states and, at the same time, prevent as many referenda as possible.

– Problem No. 3: The missing consolidated version of the Lisbon Treaty. Ralf Grahn put together a list of existing consolidated versions of the Treaty which is probably the most comprehensive list to date. I guess there are three reasons why the EU has not published consolidated versions: firstly, a lot of legal details have to be clarified, secondly, a translation in all languages takes quite a while and, thirdly, I think the EU institutions have an interest to preserve the “technical look” (see above) as long as possible.

– And problem No. 4: Journalists that are unable to find facts. Of course I understand the point Vincente Brown wants to make in his article. But in a way he is doing it in such a typical manner. I agree that the Commission Representation behaved in a very unhelpful way, but why is it not possible for journalists to distinguish between the Commission in Brussels and Dublin? Why did he not phone the various information services of the Commission? What about the journalistic principle to check more sources? Maybe he would have found that website! Somehow I am sure that he just wanted to “test” the knowledge of the Dublin Representation so why does he not say that clearly in the article? I also agree that the treaty is not easy to understand: the language of the treaty is very legal and compared with other treaties also the structure is confusing and complicated. But can we not expect from journalists to read the treaty a bit more carefully? Because he would have found the following article (admittedly very hidden in the treaty!):

Article 2
The Treaty establishing the European Community shall be amended in accordance with the provisions of this Article.
1) The title of the Treaty shall be replaced by “Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union”.

Anyway, if he still has problems with the TFEU he should start reading EU blogs!

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