The Luck Of The Irish

Despite being cautiously pro-European (mostly for geopolitical reasons, but that the way things are), I must say I’m kind of glad the Irish voted against the Lisbon treaty. The European Union has around half a billion citizens, and yet a mere 800.000 votes brought the Lisbon treaty to a grinding halt. And while one may argue that this is a case of a minority imposing its will on the majority, I think it atcually shows that democracy in the EU – for all its failings – is alive and well.

Ireland votes NO (source)

Think about it. The way things stand now, the EU is still nothing more than a association of nation states (although a very closely bound one). Member states have not relinquished its their sovereignity, but have opted to excercise it via a common political entity which goes by the name of the EU. However, this does not – should not – preclude the right of every member state to excercise its sovereignity in full as it sees fit. And if the Irish constitution calls for a referendum of any and all matters of international association, then so be it.

Furthermore, the initial statemets of a number of European politicians – including the man who happens to be my prime minister – show that Irish “no” was a much needed reality-check which hopefully burst the bubble of “planned democracy” the EU and indeed most member states are infested with. It is one thing to know the result of a political proces in advance due to predictability of political players and factors, it is however quite another to devise ways and means which only keep the illusion of the decision-making process as being democratic, where in reality there is only one “acceptable” decision.

Most European leaders, shocked by the fact that the Celtic Tiger gave them the finger, said that “they expect the ratification process to go forward“. Janez Janša (presiding over the EU for 14 more days and counting) even said that the Irish Taoiseach Brian Cowen will “explain the reasons for this outcome“.

Waddafuckyoumean go forward and will explain??? As far as I know the Irish government stated beforehand that there will be no re-run on the referendum, so the “no” is final. There’s nothing to go forward to and nothing to explain. Secondly: True, none of them forgot to add that the democratic decisions must be respected, but… There shouldn’t be any “buts” here. Are EU leaders trying to say that there are referendums that count and referendums that don’t? When France and The Netherladns rejected the European Constitution, everybody went “That’s it! Game over!” and now when Ireland said no, they’re trying to pretend it didn’t happen?

I realize that a lot of work has been put into the Lisbon treaty and I’m convinced that it is a good treaty and that it would benefit both the EU and member states including Ireland. It would also allow expansion of EU to include Balkan states and finally Turkey (both of which are a must). There are, however, no shortcuts. If this treaty went down badly in Ireland, imagine what the result of such a referendum would be in France or the UK, or any other “old” member state, whose people have long ago fallen out of love with the EU. Even worse, imagine that the Irish are somehow coerced into ratifying the treaty, which is followed by quick accession of Balkan states into the EU in the next ten years. How on Earth will you explain to the people that Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina must become members if you can’t even properly explain why a simple treaty is a good thing?

The rejection of the Lisbon treaty by Ireland is the best thing that could have happened to the EU at this moment. Not because it slowed the process of enlargment (that’s bad), but because it showed that a lot must be done on the home front as well. Perhaps starting to rebuild trust between the citizens of existing member states and their elected officials might be a good way to go about it. Once that is achieved, a lot more faith will be put into politicians’ abilities to tackle “big issues” as well.

Slovenia once was a member of a multinational super-state. As time progressed it was coerced more and more into decisions it didn’t want to take. And then one day it walked out. Perhaps unbeknownst to them, the EU leaders are making the very same mistake Yugoslav leaders did some 25+ years ago. Back then noone really believed that anyone would leave the federation. And today noone really belives anyone will leave the Union. History, however, has a nasty tendency to repeat itself at the hands of those who forget it.

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Agent provocateur and an occasional scribe.

32 thoughts on “The Luck Of The Irish”

  1. Good post! Here here! People should not be steamrolled into falling lockstep with the EUropean status quo and frankly while they may be a smaller nation I don’t think the Irish are to be trifled with. Janša should just keep quiet and spend his last few days taking EU expense account trips/staying in cool hotels and call this last 6 months a wash.

  2. One of the main differences between the Lisbon treaty and the old, failed one, is that the newer one contains information on how a country would go about if it wanted to leave EU. As it is now, there are no rules regarding this.
    Anyway, I’m divided by this development within EU. I’d like to see a united Europe, but I want a constitution that isn’t written by Milton Friedman.. So far the drive behind EU has been capitalism, but if that would change in favour for a more social concept of a european union, I’d be on board.
    But since this is not very likely to happen, I remain sceptic.

  3. “Ireland said no, they’re trying to pretend it didn’t happen?”

    Well… It worked before, didn’t it? 😀

  4. What amuses me the most is that (at least from what I’ve read) the Irish rejected the Lisbon treaty because they are afraid EU would take away something, Slovenians are convinced is absolutely fatal – economic liberalisation, brutal capitalism, neoliberalism or whichever phrase you prefer. Shouldn’t they be very, very happy about the possibility to get rid of those horrible and cruel reforms since such systems leave people to starve to death, die lonely and sick in the ditches, become under-educated because education is available only for the rich and so on? 😀 :mrgreen:

    Irish obviously love low taxes, foreign investments and competition in the market – everything that majority in Slovenia obviously hates and fears. 😆 😀 😈 I know I have a weird sense of humor sometimes, but this really makes me grin every time I read about it.

  5. @Camille: Thanks! As far as JJ is concerned – I’m sure his remarks on Irish referendum were just a prelude to his twisting and turning and spinnig of the results of Sunday’s referendum on regions in Slovenia. More on this tommorow, but you can be sure that he’ll use phrases like “the process of regionalisation will go forward” and the likes.

    @gandalf: Yes, I saw the same paradox 🙂 The Irish rejected a treaty which would have enabled them to “legally” exit the EU should they wish it. The catch naturally is, that they can do it now as well. It’s just that it would be a hell of a lot more messy 😀

    However, I fully subscribe to your vision of a united Europe. As I said, my reasons for this are mostly geo-political, but in this day and age geopolitics and social issues go hand-in-hand. I know it’s a tough job, and I remain convinced that EU must include entire Balkans plus Turkey and not necessarily in this order. But if – to put it in Marxist terms – you want to enlarge the superstructure, you have to enlarge the infrastructure first. Meaning that the EU must reinforce its role and position in existing member states – at grass-roots level.

    @Cornelius: It did 😀 the question is, can you pull the same trick on the same people twice?

  6. @Sunhine: With all due respect – you’re waaaay off target here. Prior to reforms, Ireland was in extremely deep shit, a totally agricultural country with absolutely no future. So a very wide consensus was reached on how to go about it. Irish reforms radically changed the face and structure of the society and their overall outcome was positive.

    This does not mean that the outcome would be the same in Slovenia. Slovenia does have its share of socio-economic problem, most of which shares with the EU (plus a couple of our own production). But it is nowhere near the rock-bottom where Ireland was thirty-odd years ago, thus there is no need for a radical transformation of social fibre in this country.

    Slovenes don’t die under ditches, do have access to higher education, do have acces to relatively good health care – and all of this without reforms.

    And so we’re in a sense there where Ireland is. Perhaps it was true that the fear of losing what was gained made the Irish reject the Lisbon treaty. But it was that very same fear (of losing what was gained) that made Slovenes reject reforms.

    In both instances it was a case of leaders telling the people what was good for them and the people telling the leaders to piss off.

  7. As I’m sure that many are aware, Euroscepticism is EXTREMELY strong in the UK and many are very glad that our Irish cousins have thrown a spanner into the works. The reasons for the dislike are many and varied but one thing I see more and more is a perception that the Euro-political classes are out of touch with opinion “on the ground”.

    Principal among these reasons is the denial of a vote on whether this treaty (and let’s not forget it is reputed to be 99% the same as the previously rejected constitution – I’ve yet to hear of anybody who’s actually read and understood it all…) should be adopted by member countries. Many people, both pro and con in the UK feel genuinely hard done by that they are not allowed a direct say in their political future.

    Consequently there is an ongoing legal challenge in the UK concerning the legitamacy of our government’s refusal to hold a referendum.

    Only the Irish have put this treaty to the people, and they , for their own reasons have rejected it. The feeling among many across Europe (Say the UK, France, Germany, Czech republic etc.) is that they’d like the same opportunity.

    Perhaps these ordinary people feel that they are being disenfranchised from their own political process?

  8. It is also that there are two basic forces at work within the EU from its very beginning, anyway. Those with loaded guns and- erm. sorry: I think they are called federalists (emphasizing the individuality of Member states, like UK) and unionists (emphasizing the EU as the common state, I think Luxemburg). So, possibly, if we all got to vote, the results would be predictable enough and would run along those old lines.

    Still, it is a pity we didn’t have the opportunity to understand the treaty, the few changes it brings and to vote upon it. It would be nice. And sooo European, in the ideal meaning of the word.

    Apart from the “Exit” option, this treaty also mentions climate change and the need to do something, to introduce sensible energy policies – nothing revolutionary or binding, I know, but it would be nice to have a European “constitution” explicitly mentioning it.

  9. @Adriaan: Perhaps these ordinary people feel that they are being disenfranchised from their own political process?

    Indeed. I’m following a hunch here, but I strongly suspect that this was as much a resentement-vote than anything else. And it is not as if the people are opposed to the idea of Europe. It’s just that the politicians take too much for granted.

    @alcessa: I only mentioned the “exit option” because of the paradox it presented… As I said, I think it is a good treaty, but – and you’re totally right – it should have been explained better. And again if necesarry. And again. And again. Instead, shortcuts were taken and they turned out to be a very long and a very winding road.

  10. >>Secondly: True, none of them forgot to add that the democratic decisions must be respected, but… There shouldn’t be any “buts” here.

    Why not though? The clear solution to the problem is simply to carry on without Ireland. The Irish vote ought not to have any effect outside of Ireland, and other states should be allowed to integrate further – if Ireland doesn’t want to take part in that (and building an ‘ever closer union’ is at the core of the European project, enshrined in the Treaty of Rome), that’s fair play and they don’t have to: BUT they can’t expect Europe to stop for them. I think that’s a perfectly legitimate use of ‘but’ in this context. 🙂

    Also, if you’ve followed the news prior to the Irish vote, it’s quite clear that the referendum fails on the legitimacy front for two reasons:
    – the people had no idea what the treaty was about, in particular due to scaremongering by Libertas/Sinn Fein and others of their ilk; most of their stories had absolutely no basis in reality, and many of the people who voted ‘no’ thought voted against something that wasn’t actually there (the most ludicrous one I heard was that the Lisbon Treaty would force all member states to reinstate the death penalty)
    – the people voted ‘no’ because they didn’t understand the treaty (instead of spoiling their ballot, as reason would dictate). Complex treaties are not suitable for ratification by referendum: politicians are PAID to read and understand such treaties, and clearly the treaty would have gone through in Ireland had there only been a parliamentary ratification. The whole concept of a representative democracy is being eroded by having referendums, particularly on complex issues which ordinary people (i.e. those for whom this isn’t their job) can’t easily grasp.
    (I personally think that referendums are *never* legitimate – the people elect their representatives to make INFORMED decisions on their behalf – and would not support any whatsoever; but some of them are even less sensible than others.)

    Can I just say at this point that I love Jean-Claude Juncker. :p

  11. @Alex: The clear solution you mention goes in the face of a united Europe. This is somewhat different from adoption of the euro where the common currency is an addition to the existing union, whereas Lisbon replaces the treaty of Nice. Should the EU move forward sans Ireland, this country would find itself in an institutional vacuum. So what you’re proposing is not a “but” option. It is an “out-out” option. The EU put itself in this position, and the Irish only called its bluff.

    As far as a legitimacy of a referendum is concerned, I’d love to take your argument apart, but since this will party the topic of tomorrow’s post, it’ll have to wait 🙂

  12. @Alex: Whatever the benefits (and detriments) of this treaty, we both agree that it was not sufficiently explained to the electorate. I think you and I are going to part company however when you say that if they didn’t understand it they should merely have spoilt their ballot. Reason doesn’t dictate this, surely: Why should they allow the possibility of something so fundamental to their country’s future to become enshrined in law, if those proposing it have not taken the trouble to outline its benefits sufficiently for it to be understood by those “on the receiving end”?

    Politicians may be paid to read and understand the treaty but the Irish Prime minister himself admitted to not having read the treaty so why would anybody have taken his stance on it seriously?

    You say that “Complex treaties are not suitable for ratification by referendum”: Maybe this is so, but then this is surely the fault of those who drafted them, not those who were called to vote for them.

    As for the future imposition of the this treaty in the absence of total agreement of all member countries, since it is implicit in its articles that ALL members must ratify in order for it to come into effect, how might this legally come into effect? Any deviation from these articles is changing the rules after the fact. Why should this be allowed just because the people posing the question don’t like the answer they’ve received? How is that fair or just?

    Unfortunately such an action would reinforce many people’s idea that the “political classes” are becoming detached from reality and treating the electorate with increasing arrogance. It would be easy to come to the conclusion that a (possibly THE) principal reason the treaty is not being put to a referendum elsewhere is precisely because the politicians fear what the people might tell them.

  13. The problem is in this redicuously fat and incomprehensible bureaucratic treaties. In the good old days they just engraved a nice little stone tablet, like Hammurabi’s Code or Ten Commandments, and put it on the square where everyone could read them. So I suggest we give Janša and Barroso a chisel and a hammer and make them produce something usable.

  14. @Luka: You must be one of the apostoles, your words should be headed with a title “1st Letter of Luca to the Eurocrats”.
    Should you ever run for any kind of office in Slovenia, please, count my vote.

  15. Oh, Venera, but I am an apostle, truly I tell you, I am! Once I went to the mountain and took Pengovsky with me. There are legends, even films made about what happened up there. Now, we are just brushing up our apostolic letters. No promises though. You know, Nemo propheta in patria!

  16. @ Luca: Why on earth did you take a sinner (Pengovsky) with you? To try God’s wrath? I am so tormented because I can’t see the film on my wretched PC, I will amend, however :).

    AS for the Irish: the result of their vote has more to do with their internal politics and rivalry, combined with a healthy dose of mistrust towards this mastodontic Europe. I and the Irish are happy with the slow progress, ample time to dwell on the how and the why.

  17. Irish should re-run the referendum after all the member states have ratified the treaty. The tables should turn and the question read: Do you want to join the EU based on Lisbon treaty? Simple.

  18. And, btw, Lisbon treaty is the only treaty that regulates the exit from the union. So the Irish, despite being so intent on leaving the union, have slammed the doors on themselves. What a pity for the rest of the EU.

  19. For once I beg to differ on a number of the points you’ve made – you too are guitly of simplifying the issue! No time now though, hopefully I’ll manage to get round to it later.

  20. @Horsemanure: I don’t think anyone has suggested (least of all the Irish!) that they wish to leave the Union. Personally I think it was a vote against an unclear document and an attempt to remind politicians who they work for.

    It might be a bad thing for the EU political classes. Whether it’s a bad thing for the European on the street remains to be seen.

  21. “Most European leaders, shocked by the fact that the Celtic Tiger gave them the finger, said that “they expect the ratification process to go forward“. (..)Are EU leaders trying to say that there are referendums that count and referendums that don’t? When France and The Netherladns rejected the European Constitution, everybody went “That’s it! Game over!” and now when Ireland said no, they’re trying to pretend it didn’t happen?”

    – The reaction of EU leaders to the Irish “no” is no different than what it was to the French and Dutch “no” to the Constitution. Indeed, a number of Member States continued their ratification of the Constitution AFTER the French voted no. Since we’re on the subject of democracy, member states who have not yet ratified the Treaty are sovereign free to continue this process if they so wish. In this sense, I don’t see how you can claim the Irish are being treated any differently than the French/Dutch. That said, since Ireland signed the Treaty, it is duty bound to find a way to move forward.

    “If this treaty went down badly in Ireland, imagine what the result of such a referendum would be in France or the UK, or any other “old” member state, whose people have long ago fallen out of love with the EU.”

    Which is exactly why such a Treaty has no business being put to a referendum (unless the law demands so, as is the case in Ireland). And I mean this in the most democratic way possible: we elect our politicians to read through complex legal documents on our behalf and expect them to take the best possible decisions for us. I don’t think we should be expected to do this work for them. The Treaty is NOT a Constitution and can not be simplifed because it represents the entire body of EU legislation. One can not vote for or against it based on whether certain aspects of EU membership are making our lives less comfortable. Indeed, the Irish “no” campaign had a very simple but powerful slogan: “If you don’t know, vote no” – who can argue with that? You can be sure that 99% of those who turned up at the referendum never read the Treaty.

    Alcessa: federalism is basically the opposite of what you claim. I don’t think I’ve come across the term “unionism” in reference to the EU.

    I hope what I wrote makes sense, am in a bit of a rush…

  22. @Pengovsky: you’re right. Since they are bombing us with this Patria business everywhere I made this mistake. My apologies to poor Nemo who had nothing to do with it. 🙂

    @Venera: you should know that as an apostle I am only interested in sinners.
    Repent and thou too shall see (the movie).

  23. @Poulette: Love you ❗ I stand corrected, not everyone went “game over!” after France and the Netherlands said no, but the reactions were definitely mixed.

    And you are quite correct, member states can do whatever they want – ever ratify a treaty which was shot down by another member state.

    I think the Irish vote is being treated differently because this is the second time a rejection has happened, and EU leaders still stick to the same rhetoric. French and Dutch rejections were as much a matter of internal politics as anything else. But in this case, EU leaders knew Ireland will hold a referendum, knew the turmoil a rejection can create and had previous experience with Irish refusals. And still they a) let the referendum fail and b) turned out to have no contingency plan.

    So the people never read most of the treaty. Why should they? Do you carefully read policy outlines of every party before you cast your vote in an election? I doubt it…

    I’m not saying that every nation should hold a referendum. In fact, I’d much rather see the treaty ratified.

    As for simplyfing: It was the Irish who simplified things. Not me. They said no. That’s basically it. We can all pretend that Lisbon can be salvaged, watered-down again and put on another referendum, only to see the whole thing repeat itself – this time perhaps in the UK or in Denmark.

    My point is – it is time for EU leaders to think outside of the box. I’ve no idea how (not yet, anyway) but that IS why they were elected. The idea of a representative democracy is not that the people vest unlimited power in their elected officials, but that this power can be checked and overruled if necesary via established procedures such as a referendum.

    I also agree that it was an uphill battle and that the supporters were up against a whole lot – but that’s just the way things are… There is no easy way out. If EU wants to build an ever closer union it will have to put its back into it and stop taking things for granted.

    I for one am prepared to do my share. But it’s a two way street and if people reach out towards the EU, maybe the EU should reach out towards people in general. You see, the main problem is that the EU is not felt on the ground. Or rather (and I’m speaking stricly for Slovenia here), whenever it is felt, it is usually in a sentence “I’m sory ma’am you can’t do that any more. You know – EU regulations”.

    This is not only EU’s doing, but it is mostly EU’s problem. And it is high time it starts dealing with it.

  24. Well, it is that simple. Once all EU members except Ireland will have ratified the treaty, they will have established a new legal basis for the functioning of the Union. They just have to ditch the old treaties which is no problem as treaty abrogation is perfectly legal under international law. If this happened, Ireland would be left with the hollow Treaty of Nice and a stark choice to either join the “Lisbon” union or continue on its own.

  25. Love you too, baby. However:

    “But in this case, EU leaders knew Ireland will hold a referendum, knew the turmoil a rejection can create and had previous experience with Irish refusals. And still they a) let the referendum fail and b) turned out to have no contingency plan.”

    – a)Ireland held a strong campaign, but explicitly – and rightly so – asked the EU not to get involved. The referendum is part of Irish internal affairs and it is not on the EU to spread its propaganda (which is exacatly how it would have been perceived had it done so).

    – b) I wouldn’t be so sure about that. But obviously nobody is going to talk about a plan b until it is certain that one is necessary, for obvious strategic reasons. And I believe the HorseManure scenario isn’t as far-fetched as it may seem.

    So the people never read most of the treaty. Why should they?

    -My point exactly, why should they? And in a similar vein, why should they be asked to take a decision on it, when we have elected politicians who’s job it is to do so in the first place? Irish law requires this, so be it. But I just don’t get some of the other commenters on this blog who feel Slovenia and other member states should have done thesame.

    – But it’s a two way street and if people reach out towards the EU, maybe the EU should reach out towards people in general.

    If only it were that simple. I’m not defending the EU’s communication policy (well, there is no such thing really – there is an EP communication policy, a Commission communication policy and to a degree, a Council communication policy. But they don’t relate to one another or overlap in any way), in fact, I think both the efforts of the Parliament and the Commission in this area are lamentable, to put it lightly. That said, they are in a very unique position. Whenver the EU does something that is positive, the governments of Member States like to take the credit. And whenever there is a problem, they’re just as quick to point their fingers at the EU (hence the “I’m sory ma’am you can’t do that any more. You know – EU regulations”). I don’t say I blame them, it’s the name of the game and the easiest solution if you want to get reelected. However, it means that no matter how ambition a communication policy the EU sets out for itself, it will always remain but a drop in the ocean.

  26. Although Pengovsky has not mentioned the notorious democratic deficit of the EU, I think that by pointing out the need for the EU to reach out to the citizens he touched upon that issue. I’d like to know what the people talking about the democratic deficit mean by it. I don’t think that people can exercise much more influence on the national level than they can on European level. It is a common fallacy to compare the EU to some democratic ideal and not to, for example, Italian or British political system.

  27. This is alcessa’s comment. Sorry it took me so long to transfer it 😳

    # alcessa Says:
    June 19th, 2008 at 1:32 pm e

    Poulette: thx for commenting, I checked the term “federalism” and found out that I had meant “federalism” in its German usage, rather than its EU-usage, as explained in Wikipedia: In Europe, “federalism” is sometimes used to describe those who favor a stronger federal government (for example, with governance under the European Union) and weaker provincial governments. In federal nations of Europe (such as Germany, Austria and Switzerland) or South America (such as Argentina or Brazil), the term “strong federalism” usually means sub-national states having more power than the national (federal) government, in contrast with a centralist system.
    As for the “unionists”, it now turns out the term is not only non-existent in this field, it is also not necessary. 🙂

    The interesting thing about the L-Treaty is that it is supposed to give more power “to the people”, i.e. national parliaments, possibly pushing some of the responsibility in the direction of people’s chosen representatives?

  28. @Poulette: no matter how ambition a communication policy the EU sets out for itself, it will always remain but a drop in the ocean.

    Agreed. But that’s no reason to stop trying.

    As for the referendum in other member states: I think the “overall strategic goal” is to put this (or any other) treaty into effect. Personally, I think Lisbon is dead and the sooner we start working on a new treaty, the better. Maybe the Irisih might even change the constitution, who knows.

    But if any other referenda are called, so be it. If any of the governments can’t take the heat, maybe they don’t deserve to be there.

    What I’m trying to say is that the buck stops someplace. And I think it should stop with individual governments, while the Commission (which is – as you so aptly note – in a unique position) should double its efforts on closing the gap between itself and “the base”. Either directly or via the national governments.

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