Disagreement over reasons for Irish rejection and over a British referendum

Throughout the process of ratification of the Lisbon Treaty in the British parliament, the opposition Conservative Party, together with much of the British press, argued that a referendum should be held for the treaty’s ratification in the United Kingdom. Two premises formed the basis of this argument: first, that the Constitutional and Lisbon Treaties were essentially identical, so that the government’s promise to hold a referendum on the former should apply also to the latter; and, second, that the Lisbon Treaty was in any case ‘of constitutional significance’ and therefore needed the direct consent of the electorate. In arguing for ratification by parliament only, the government focused its efforts on countering these two lines of argument.

Does the Irish ‘No’ affect the accession process?

The Irish ‘No’ for the Lisbon Treaty has not created a widespread debate across the Turkish government, opposition, political parties, civil society organisations, press/media and public opinion in light of the weight of the domestic political agenda of the country, which remains almost exclusively focused on the closure of the case against the governing AKP (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi – Justice and Development Party), and the “Ergenekon” investigation on plots to overthrow the current AKP government.
The major point within the limited discussions on the referendum results concerns an emphasis on the indifference of the Turkish public to the Irish ‘No’ vote, which is found to be puzzling by the media, as the rejection of the Lisbon Treaty at the EU level is to have clear repercussions for the EU accession process of Turkey. It is no surprise that the results of the referendum are discussed mainly in relation to EU enlargement and Turkish accession process, as the main axis of the debate on the EU in Turkey is shaped around the relations between the EU and Turkey, rather than the EU’s internal structure, institutions and dynamics.

Ratification process continued, opposition divided

The view of the government is that the Irish ‘No’ is a setback for the EU, which according to the Minister for EU Affairs, Cecilia Malmström, has accomplished to produce a draft treaty that is open, democratic, more efficient and better than any previous one.[1] Urban Ahlin, foreign policy spokesman for the main opposition party, the Social Democrats, agrees with her, seeing the Lisbon Treaty as better fit for a large Union, thus giving the EU better possibilities than the Nice Treaty to work with the important issues of continued enlargement, a new climate change agreement, stimulating growth, and building a socially fairer Europe.[2]
The views on Swedish ratification differ. Urban Ahlin argues that there are reasons to wait. The Polish President’s ‘No’to sign the ratification document and the German decision to let ratification be decided by the constitutional court underline the concerns that exist in Sweden after the verdict in the Laval case, and Sweden should therefore take its time to deliberate on whether it should ratify the treaty.[3] However, the Swedish government in early July decided to continue its process of ratification, Cecilia Malmström stating that, in spite of the Polish and the German decisions, the Swedish procedure, aiming at a decision in the parliament on 20 November, will not be delayed.

After the Irish referendum

The ‘No’ vote in the Irish referendum held last June was generally received with great disappointment among Spanish political elites, mass media and public. The main newspapers’ headlines even highlighted with some overstatement that the results of the voting in Ireland meant the “worst crisis ever in the EU”[1] and that the integration process was, as a consequence of that, “close to an abyss”[2]. Of course, all analysts and most citizens, bearing in mind the unanimity requirement for European treaties ratification among member countries, realised that the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty faced a serious setback and that a new period of political uncertainty – coinciding with the increasing signals of economic crisis – had commenced in Europe.
The somewhat deceitful idea that only 862,415 Irish voters had blocked the political will of 500 million people all around Europe was particularly stressed and, as a natural result of this viewpoint, some commentators supported the idea of rethinking unanimity among the member states, blaming it was an unsuitable procedure for reforming treaties.[3] On the other hand, the referendum was also interpreted as a manifestation of the divorce between public opinion and politicians since the five most important Irish parties had recommended supporting the Treaty but yet 53 percent of people voted against.

No stalemate over Enlargement

There has been a lot of media and inter-political group debate about the negative impact that the Irish ‘No’ on the Lisbon Treaty might have had on Slovenian EU-Presidency. The Irish rebuttal without a doubt cast a shadow over the presidency; however it would have had the same effect in the case of any other EU country presiding at the time. Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dimitrij Rupel, has expressed his hope that the French Presidency will find a way to solve the quandary surrounding the Irish rejection.[1] Slovenian Prime Minister, Janez Janša, believes that the Irish votes against the Lisbon Treaty are not votes against the EU and that the process of ratification will continue.[2] The President of the Republic, Danilo Türk, sees the Irish refusal as an opportunity for all EU citizens to consider the kind of instrument the EU should be in order to help find the right answers to the world’s challenges in times of globalisation and to encourage people think of the EU as their broadened homeland.[3]
Two implications of the Irish ‘No’ can be observed. Firstly, the consequences it has brought about for the incoming French Presidency in relation to its concentration and continuity of policies and processes on the EU political agenda, which touch upon the institution of presidency and extend beyond the French term.

EU still focused on institutional issues

The Prime Minister is interested in EU affairs especially in relation to the short-term domestic issues of Slovakia. At the Summit of the European Council on June 19-20, 2008 the Prime Minister Fico expressed his disappointment about the fact that after the unsuccessful Irish referendum on the Treaty of Lisbon the leaders of the EU were still focused on institutional issues “which don’t mean anything for the people” instead of addressing the problems of “unprecedented high prices of oil and groceries”.[1] The Foreign Ministry urged the search for a way out of the crisis. There were no other specific official reactions to the failed Irish referendum. In general, politicians have not anticipated any fundamental consequences for the EU or for Slovakia as a result of the failure to ratify the Lisbon Treaty.

[1] TASR, 20.6.2008.

Wide span of “judgments”, absence of official views on mending ways

The first official reaction following the announcement of the disappointing result of the Irish referendum came on June 13th 2008, from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Foreign Minister (and former Romanian permanent representative to the EU) Lazăr Comănescu stated that it was “the option of the Irish electorate and has to be respected as such”, while also expressing his trust that “as shown in other moments, the member states together will find the best way for continuing the consolidation of the European construction”[1].
Somewhat more surprisingly, the positions subsequently expressed by other top-level Romanian officials were equally optimistic and deprived of concrete suggestions as to the solutions available for breaking the deadlock. Before leaving for the Summer European Council on June 19th, President Traian Băsescu declared to the press that he does not see the situation engendered by the Irish rejection as a “crisis”, but merely a “difficulty”, and expressed his belief that the European Summit will “find solutions in order for the Lisbon Treaty to enter into force before the European Parliament elections of June 2009”. Prime Minister Călin Popescu-Tăriceanu’s remarks on the subject sounded slightly more concerned.

Dropping the Lisbon Treaty or making efforts to save it?

The Irish ‘No’ vote in the referendum, naturally, provoked some controversy along the traditional lines. Eurosceptic analysts and parties saw in it, a vindication of their reservations and criticisms, while those favourable to deeper integration pointed to the fact that the EU remains highly popular in Ireland.
The Portuguese Prime Minister, José Sócrates, argued that the ratification process should go ahead. In this he had the support not only of his own Socialist Party[1], but also of the two main right-wing parties, PSD[2] and CDS-PP[3] respectively a member and a former member of the European People’s Party. At the same time, the Portuguese government was again concerned that Ireland should not feel pushed into a corner, and emphasised, as it did with the difficult case of Poland during the negotiations of the treaty, that in a union everyone has to move forward together. Contradictory, perhaps, political unpractical maybe, but reflecting powerful concerns: on the one hand that the EU should not again be paralysed by institutional discussions and to preserve an achievement of the Portuguese EU-Presidency; while at the same time, safeguarding the principle of the equality of member states.

Government and President: divergent viewpoints about Lisbon Treaty

The Polish parliament ratified the Lisbon Treaty on the 1st of April 2008 (396 for and only 56 votes against). During the following week the Senate swiftly ratified it. The Polish President Lech Kaczyński has been threatening since mid-March that he would obstruct the ratification unless the government prepared a parliamentary resolution according to which Poland would not withdraw the opt-out from the Charter of Fundamental Rights and forego the ‘Ioannina compromise’. The party “Law and Justice” also wanted a guarantee stipulating that Polish law remained the highest law in the country and that any further transfer of competences to the supranational level would need the approval of the President. After Civic Platform promised to prepare such a resolution the President agreed to drop his reservations concerning the Treaty.
After the Irish ‘No’, Prime Minister Donald Tusk, on numerous occasions (during the European Council, the bilateral meeting with German Chancellor Merkel) agreed with the official EU line to continue the ratification process. “The result of the Irish referendum does not have to rule out the chances of its implementation.

‘Parliamentary ratification should continue’

In line with the conclusions of the European Council meeting in June, just after the Irish ‘No’, the official reaction of the Dutch government to the referendum outcome has been that ratification should continue, whilst the Irish government should be invited to present an analysis of the reasons behind the vote. There is parallel to the studies that the government commissioned just after the Dutch ‘No’ vote to the Constitutional Treaty in 2005, the outcomes of which were subsequently used by the government to broker a package of demands for the re-negotiations of the text leading up to Lisbon.
In a first reaction, Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende expressed his disappointment,[1] whilst State Secretary of European Affairs Frans Timmermans spoke of a ‘déja-vu feeling’, referring to the negative outcome of the Dutch constitutional referendum in June 2005.
An editorial in De Volkskrant argued that the result of the Irish referendum should be regarded, in the first place, as an expression of the democratic deficit haunting Europe, calling into doubts the possible effects on public legitimacy of the EU, with the cabinet’s decision in fall 2007 not to organise a second referendum on the EU treaty.