Recently, Prime Minister Brian Cowen and other leaders of the Republic of Ireland were clearly upset by the result of their nation’s referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, a major overhaul of how the European Union conducts its business. The otherwise Europhilic Irish had inexplicably said “No,” embarrassing the country’s politicians in the eyes of their continental peers.
Other European countries have stubbornly continued the ratification process. Officials refuse to let the treaty die, in spite of the fact that it requires the consent of all European Union member countries before it will take effect. How do they plan to get around this?
One idea now percolating is to hold a revote once several other countries have ratified the treaty and the Irish have come to their senses. This should be suspect. What kind of democratic process asks the voters to “come to their senses” instead of accepting their decisions?
But the real scandal is this: Ireland is the only country to even hold a referendum on the Lisbon treaty, and then only because the Irish constitution explicitly demands that the people vote on its amendments. The lack of democratic oversight is troubling. Why don’t Europe’s leaders trust their citizens to decide their collective future?
The distrust began not long after October 2004 when officials drafted a European Constitution that would have changed the European Presidency, established a powerful, unified foreign policy department, and striped member states of many veto powers they currently hold.
It would also have given the European Court of Justice more power over national courts. The net effect would have been to create a more unified, nation-like European Union.
The states involved were called to ratify this new Constitution. Ten European nations then decided to put such a grand scale change up to the voters. Giving up more national sovereignty apparently required referenda, even in Europe. The problem came when, in May and June of 2005, the French and the Dutch voted down the Constitution.
Since France and the Netherlands are relatively well-respected, powerful European nations — as opposed to, say, Ireland — these votes killed the ratification process dead.
So the Eurocrats went back to the drawing board. In 2007 officials began working on a new document, this time with the more modest title of the Lisbon Treaty. This new treaty did not include any reference to a Constitution. It mentioned no European flags, anthems, or mottos. There were no laws, only nebulous regulations that resemble laws. Yet the Lisbon Treaty was still quite similar to the rejected Constitution.
According to the European Scrutiny Committee, of the 440 provisions in the treaty, only two differ substantially from provisions in the original Constitution. But the trick of calling it a treaty was enough to let most of the nations that had felt obliged to put the Constitution on the ballot to not bother this time. Only the Irish failed to go along.
This is especially insidious given the clear difference of opinion between the politicians and the proletariat in several countries. In France, the original Constitution was rejected by a vote of 55 percent. Ninety percent of the country’s politicians recommended a vote of Yes. Just over 61 percent of Dutchmen voted No. Eighty percent of Dutch politicians were counting on it going the other way.
This isn’t to say that the leadership of every country was purposefully bucking the will of the people. Both Luxembourg and Spain approved the original Constitution by referendum.
But in those countries where the governments knew the people generally opposed the changes that both the original Constitution and the Lisbon Treaty would make, it seems like cheating to avoid a vote by sleight of hand.
The Brussels Journal quoted former French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing as admitting that the “subtle,” basically cosmetic, changes in the document were meant to “head off any threat of referenda.” London’s Daily Telegraph launched a Let the People Decide petition, calling for a referendum in Britain. The British Parliament ignored it and ratified the treaty on Wednesday.
This bout of anti-democratic pique may pale in comparison with what is to come. Once the Lisbon Treaty is ratified, amending it will be the task of statesmen, not citizens, and representation will be almost arbitrary.
Though the EU Commission will initially be comprised of one politician per state, this number will dwindle down to a rotating Commission comprising of two-thirds the number of states. At any given time, a third of EU member states won’t even be represented in the Commission.
In any case, it’s unquestionably a good thing the Irish voted no on the Lisbon treaty. They, alone among Europeans, were able to exercise their right to have a say in the process before it is taken from them.
–Erin Wildermuth is a Koch Journalism Fellow at The American Spectator.
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Joseph Hammond
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Emma Elliott Freire