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
- 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!