The EU after the Irish referendum: Reactions in Latvia

Latvian Institute of International Affairs

The decision of the Irish voters not to endorse the Lisbon Treaty on June 12th 2008 had very minimal repercussions in Latvia, especially since other issues (these will be discussed later) have been of much greater concern to both the Latvian electorate and the politicians throughout 2008.
The Irish ‘No’ came more than a month after the Latvian parliament had approved the Lisbon Treaty. On May 8th 2008, 70 deputies voted for the treaty, three voted against it, while one abstained.[1]
 
When the results of the Irish referendum were announced in June, most Latvians reacted with detachment. The topic was certainly covered by the media, but did not spark any heated or wide-ranging debates, even if a few eurosceptics insisted that the Latvian parliament had acted hastily, without adequately consulting the people. The prevailing attitude was an acceptance of the Irish voters’ right to express their opinion. Hardly anyone blamed the Irish for ingratitude to the institution widely considered as having been essentially responsible for Ireland’s economic upswing.
 
On June 13th 2008 Latvia’s Foreign Minister Māris Riekstiņš told journalists of the national news agency “LETA” that he respected the Irish voters’ decision and stressed that the explanations for such a decision need to be analysed carefully. He said that the ratification process should continue elsewhere. While not ruling out the possibility that other EU countries might find certain aspects of the Lisbon Treaty problematic, Riekstiņš did not anticipate the Irish refusal to trigger a domino effect elsewhere. Because the Union functions, Riekstiņš does not consider it to be suffering from an institutional crisis; however, in his opinion, the EU clearly needs to be modernised.[2]
 
By the end of June, the Irish ‘No’ was no longer sufficient material for media headlines in Latvia, nor was it a matter of discussion among the populace. However, for the Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and foreign policy specialists, the Irish ‘No’ remains topical and continues to be discussed. So far, the informal discussions have fostered the crystallisation of certain views and perceptions, including the following:
 
Had a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty been held in other EU member states, it is highly possible that, just as in Ireland, the majority of voters would not have endorsed it.
The Irish ‘No’, therefore, should be considered as an all-EU problem, rather than merely Ireland’s problem.
Proposals envisaging ‘a Europe of several speeds’ as a way out of the dilemma resulting from the Irish ‘No’ are misguided and unacceptable because they will inevitably weaken, rather than strengthen, European unity. Since the source of this information are two very high ranking officials of the Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs who did not wish to be identified, I would prefer not to identify them.
 
However, the Lisbon Treaty still remains on the agenda in Latvia. Thirteen persons asked the constitutional court on July 24th 2008 to consider the constitutionality of the parliament’s ratification of the Lisbon Treaty; they also suggested that according to article 101 of the Latvian constitution, the ratification should have been done via referendum. Owing to the complexity of the question, the constitutional court announced that it will take time until September 24th 2008 to decide how to deal with this issue and only thereafter issue its opinion.[3] As a first step, the court has asked the parliament to explain in writing the juridical basis for its decision and to submit its reply by October 20.[4] It is impossible to predict how the court will decide on the various questions that were raised. Consequently, further speculation on Latvia’s ratification of the Lisbon Treaty would seem to be inappropriate at this time.




[1] Delfi, 8 May 2008, available under: http://www.delfi.lv/archive/index.php?id=20896417 (last access: 23 September 2008).

[2] LETA, 13 June 2008.

[3] National news agency LETA, 19 August 2008.

[4] Delfi, 22 September 2008,available under: http://www.delfi.lv/archive/article.php?id=22011565&categoryID=193&ndate=1222030800 (last access: 23 September 2008).