Tag: referendum (page 1 of 2)

Why Cameron’s case for ‘EU reform’ is a PR stunt

Cameron’s “EU reform” is a PR stunt designed to please the media and his backbenchers. He basically follows the advice of his pollsters that told him that he could win an EU referendum if he convincingly  changes the “UK’s terms of membership”. But it follows a simplistic idea: The man on the street does not know the current membership terms (thanks to a media that is not always helpful in reporting the facts…)  so using this general ignorance Cameron’s pollsters are convinced  that the Prime Minister can deliver “a more favourable deal” simply by getting a few concessions and by constantly emphasising how favourable these new terms would be…

There are several  problems with this approach – not least  the smugness of taking the electorate as fools:

First of all this “renegotiation” of membership terms has already happened. The UK is not part of the eurozone, it did not sign the fiscal compact, it is not part of the Schengen area. Over the years British politicians have negotiated a series of policy opt-outs (the latest being the JHA opt-out). And last but not least the UK still enjoys a “budget rebate”. The UK is effectively a semi-detached EU member state. So the question is: What else can you realistically “renegotiate”? There is also little political will elsewhere in the EU to grant yet another opt-out to the UK.

The second problem is a misunderstanding of what is an institutional – and what is a policy change.  Most things that Cameron usually labels as ‘reform’ are policies which can be implemented without banging on about how this would constitute a ‘new EU deal’ (especially when you think about ‘completing the single market’, trade agreements such as TTIP or establishing a ‘digital single market’)

The third problem is the general lack of ideas. The only evidence so far is an article by David Cameron in the Sunday Times  – not quite the  detailed policy agenda one expects from a new “EU deal”. The government also set up a process, the so-called  Review of the Balance of competences , “an audit of what the EU does and how it affects the UK”. The idea behind it was that it would generate enough ideas for this ambitious ‘new deal with the EU’. Unfortunately (for Cameron) this audit (so far) has found not much that needs to be renegotiated – the balance is broadly acceptable.

It seems to me that it would have been better to wait for the results of this review before announcing the referendum/renegotiation package. The latest idea to remove a largely symbolic (and not legally binding!) reference to  “ever closer union” in a  EU treaty looks like a desperate attempt to appease – once again – the eurosceptic backbenchers. Suffice to say the treaty will not be changed – any political declaration that Cameron could get out of the European Council will just be a piece of paper.

So basically “EU reform” is an empty shell. Cameron uses it all the time without being specific about it with the aim of giving the impression that all is going according to plan. But unfortunately (for him) nothing goes according to plan. There will be no new treaty  (another miscalculation by Cameron’s advisers) and by not framing the issue in a broader context he is set to lose all remaining allies.

Any proper EU reform is usually negotiated by all EU member states – not by one member states making demands and threatening to leave. It is about compromise – but for Cameron everything is a “battle” and it is unlikely that he will change his negotiation tactics in the coming months… If you want treaty change (and this is the only thing Cameron should fight for – forget about Juncker) you basically have to convince all other member states that it is in their interest to change the treaty – and once they want a new treaty you reluctantly also agree to call for an IGC. But this more diplomatic approach is not David Cameron’s cup of tea…

David Cameron’s “EU reform” explained in 4 tweets

After blogging about David Cameron’s “EU reform ideas”  (and some ideas that would *really* make a difference) I am getting annoyed by this renegotiation debate:  Every Sunday the British elite presents another “EU reform” idea but they don’t seem to notice that a) it is not a priority for the British citizens b) it is not a priority for the rest of the EU c) most of it is impossible or to vague to achieve d) most of it shows a profound lack of understanding how the EU works and d) the government  fails to see that some things could be achieved by changing procedures how the UK government/parliament works. Anyway, this whole story provided me with the opportunity to develop a series of ‘political analysis in 140 characters’ tweets:

Why does Cameron want EU reform?

So, what is the problem?

But what does Cameron really want?

So, his ideas are vague and resemble a Daily Mail story about the EU, I’d rather keep the status quo:

Why Miliband’s ‘EU referendum policy’ is dangerous for Britain and the EU

Well, it finally happened: Today, Brexit has become a real possibility – maybe not in the next couple of years but possibly in the long term. Under a Labour government and in the unlikely event of a new EU treaty Ed Miliband promised an in/out referendum in the UK – if “new powers are transferred to the EU”. There are few problems with this:

1) I don’t think any Labour government can ever win an in/out referendum in the UK. It will be impossible for Labour to win against the Tories in opposition and the anti-EU media in the UK.

2) One can only hope that Miliband will never have to implement his “in/out referendum policy”. It’s a recipe for disaster. What does it mean to ‘transfer new powers to the EU’? Even if it’s a treaty for the eurozone only, public opinion in the UK will perceive it as another “broken promise” if he decides not to go for the referendum.

3) Ed Miliband’s referendum lock is a new level of how to blackmail the rest of the EU. Under a Labour government any new EU treaty negotiation will always be linked to “Brexit” – not the best starting point for any negotiation over a new EU treaty.

4) It is one thing to promise a referendum over a new EU treaty. Indeed, this can be perceived as a good thing (although I disagree with the idea of having referendums on these things) but linking an in/out referendum to a new treaty that transfers ‘new powers’ is utter bollocks. There are bad treaties but the in/out question will always overshadow specific treaty issues. This is neither democratic nor strategically clever. Basically you blackmail your own population: “Accept this treaty or we leave the EU” – hardly a democratic approach! (or are we talking about 2 referendums in the case of a new treaty?)

Of course this policy can pay off in the short term (= until the next general election that is) but is it a viable strategy? Yes, it keeps Britain in the EU as long as there is no new EU treaty (and chances of it happening are minimal, except for a eurozone treaty). Miliband may manage to keep the ‘Europe question’ off the agenda in the years ahead (which is a good thing!) The “EU question” is also not one of the main concerns of the British public so everything that makes Europe a boring topic is a positive development. Plus the British and international media seem to buy the line that “Miliband rejects EU referendum in 2017”. Fair enough, but what will happen in the unlikely event of a new treaty? If this becomes part of the British approach to the EU it is likely that we will never see another EU-wide treaty again. Expect more agreements that legally resemble Schengen, the Euro and the Fiscal compact. It is clear that Miliband does not want to have a in/out referendum – but why did he not say it like this? Opposing an in/out referendum and defending EU membership – this would have been a clear policy. (And, remember: there is still the ‘normal’ referendum lock on power transfers/new treaties that has been passed by the present government a few years ago)

So, what is the lesson here? Politicians always think they can ‘match’ a policy with something that sounds similar to the policy of their main rival . But this race to the bottom never works. You can’t beat the original. On the EU, the Conservatives can’t beat UKIP and Labour can’t beat the Conservatives.

[PS: I thought I’d never say this but I think I prefer the ‘in/out referendum policy’ of the Tories. Hmm…]

The Renegotiation

One of the most puzzling questions in the referendum/re-negotiation debate in the UK is what the British actually want to “re-negotiate” (it’s questionable whether there will be any opportunity to do it – but this is another story).  Anyway, so far we’ve had to do quite a bit of guesswork to answer this question. A couple of weeks ago, openeurope (the think tank/advocacy group that is pretty close to the Conservative EU policy agenda – to say the least) published a survey that  found  that most people support Cameron’s re-negotiation strategy. It also included a very interesting list of re-negotiation priorities.  Or to put it more accurately: 14 policy areas (pre-formulated by openeurope) were ranked by survey respondents.  It would have been interesting to see what an “open question” would have produced in this context. Now I am sure Downing Street does this sort of polling as well  – or, what is more likely, use some of the results of this survey. Anyway it is quite a safe bet that all these issues  are the areas in which the UK will try to do “something” – and William Hague’s “red card” proposal  a few weeks ago was already part of it!

Before I discuss the top 4 priorities (or everything over 30% approval) in more detail it is interesting to note two issues that explain the findings:  First of all the ranking confirms the low level of EU knowledge among  people: policy areas with exclusive EU competence and/or EU policy areas where you could bring back powers (in theory at least) tend to be at the bottom of the list:  regional policy, agriculture, fisheries. And secondly: the top priorities for re- negotiation are exactly the topics that correspond with the eurosceptic agenda and the discourse in the media:  immigration, EU budget and overall costs. (with some outliers)


A methodological note: Formulating statements in surveys is always a bit tricky. However, it seems to me that the  phrase  “allowing the UK to have control/own policy x”  also assumes that the UK has somehow lost control over the particular policy area – and if you look at the table of issues – this is simply not true for policy areas that do  not fall under “exclusive EU competence“. So most of the statements are – at least slightly – misleading. Plus if you have a list like this everyone will tick a couple of boxes which gives you high percentages and long list of “demands” – just imagine an open question in comparison! Of course openeurope chose – and formulated  those 15 policy areas which does explain the framing.  However, let’s look at the four main issues in more detail:

1. Allowing the UK to have its own immigration policy

Immigration is – not surprisingly – the “top priority” with more than 50% approval. Never mind that the numbers have gone down recently – and that generally immigration has brought some economic benefits to the UK. But there is another problem: The EU has hardly any competence in immigration policy. Now I know most people perceive intra-EU migration as part of the problem – but to change this you need to re-negotiate the EU’s four freedoms which is basically a non-starter. Obviously the problem are not the German or French “ex-pats” in the UK (nor the British pensioners buying property in Spain) – the problem are the  Polish, Romanian and Bulgarian “immigrants” and “benefit tourists” (as if the UK had a generous welfare state) And interestingly, EU “immigrants” are  less likely to claim benefit than UK citizens.

But even in the policy area of immigration it was the UK’s decision (after being the champion of EU enlargement!) not to impose transitional measures after the 2004 enlargement (as most other EU countries did!) – so at the end  it was a national decision that led to increased  levels of immigration. So what can the Britain do to “please” the right-wing media/ potential UKIP voters? Introduce some new hurdles for Romanian and Bulgarians to come to the UK next year? Promise automatic transitional measures for all future enlargements? Or make life more burdensome for all EU citizens in the country (and risk a few court cases in Luxembourg – which will conveniently happen after the referendum)? Last year openeurope published a paper on this issue and proposed a reform of the  EU’s Free Movement Directive. It is a rather complicated legal issue  – but the direction is clear: instead of strengthening  EU citizenship the debate will be framed around access to benefits. The recent announcement of the Commission to take the UK to the ECJ  over its  “right to residue test” is part of this “battle”.

2. Giving UK parliament more powers to block unwanted EU laws

This is a very interesting one – and I wonder where it is  coming from (did the government thought of the red card procedure and wanted to have some data to back it up?). But again there are problems:  The proposed  “red card” procedure would be based on the” yellow card” procedure (apparently this procedure – introduced by the Lisbon Treaty – has been  so successful that it was only used once! And the government claims that is because the EP is in charge of it… but again this is another story) – anyway, you need 2/3 of parliaments in Europe to coordinate a joint position, which is a rather difficult exercise – to say the least.

Instead of opening the treaties for a procedure that is complex and not very effective – why not give the parliament the power to hold ministers to account. Maybe the UK government should visit Denmark to see how it can be done, and how the European Scrutiny committee would become the de-facto center of EU policy- making (Maybe David Cameron now regrets the decision to put  Bill Cash in charge … ) In addition the “scrap the European Parliament” idea (not part of the current debate at all – so why is it in there?) has to be seen in this context. The idea of openeurope/UK government is that democracy can only work on the national level – only here you can have increased legitimacy. Theoretically,  this undermines the European Parliament and gives national governments another veto possibility through their parliaments/chief whips.

3. Reducing Britain’s contribution to the EU

The UK  has a  permanent “budget rebate” and pays less in GDP % than some  of the poorer  member states.  The fact that significant part of the population thinks that the EU is expensive and the UK should pay less is clearly a success for UKIP.  But in this year’s budget negotiations David Cameron claimed a “victory” so the government could make the case that its “renegotiation” was successful . However, people tend to believe UKIP and the Daily Mail when it comes to costs – a problem that can probably not be solved.

4. Allowing the UK to have control over police and criminal justice laws.

Again, not an exclusive EU competence – and a reflection of the hysterical media debate. Most people probably put European Court of Human Rights  in Strassbourg into the equation (which is not an EU institution).  At the same time this is something the government can deliver.  David Cameron can use the nuclear JHA opt-out while  hoping to manage some  opt-ins at a later stage. Probably the most likely area where the government can really deliver – the problem here is what to do afterwards as the government is eager to opt-in  some selective JHA measures…

5. The rest

The top four priorities would not suggest that a full blown treaty renegotiation is required  (so do we really need an ICG?): The JHA opt-out will be the most visible action – all other things can be achieved through mixture of some changes in directives and some significant changes in the UK system itself.  The real “problematic” policy areas in terms of renegotiation are buried further down the list:  allowing the UK to negotiate trade deals with third countries (a surprising fifth place though!), regional policy, fisheries, agriculture – even employment legislation (better known as the WTD 😉  are not part of the top priorities.

It is ironic that people apparently want a “significant return of powers” but when given the choice they don’t really choose the options that would also involve a “significant return of power”.

The referendum

Some thoughts on a EU referendum in the UK (scribbled down a couple of weeks ago – the debate is so annoying so I thought I should publish a couple of bullet points without turning it into a fully thought through article)

(1) First of all we should not fool ourselves: People that call for a referendum want to leave the EU.

I know there are people who argue differently and basically want to have ‘fresh consent’ for continued membership. But would they call for a referendum without the pressure from the ‘anti-EU’ camp? Why not call for a referendum on continued membership in NATO (it surely affects sovereignty)?

(2) Renegotiation will not please the Eurosceptics – precisely because it will be a compromise. If (1) is correct this is a non starter for many on the right. Plus the other 26 EU members do not want a renegotiation and the concessions that could be negotiated may not be enough to make the case for a “new settlement”   – so promising a referendum on something you can’t deliver? Hardly a smart strategy.

(3) There is TEU Article 50 – so if you want to leave the EU why not initiate a vote in parliament. If parliamentary sovereignty is such an important constitutional feature of the country why not use it? Why a referendum?

(4) If you want to renegotiate your membership terms why don’t you just do it?  Again, what about parliamentary sovereignty, why a referendum? Just because someone 10 years ago promised a referendum on a similar topic?

(5) British media and public debate will not allow a sensible debate on the EU – and that is a fact. No need to think otherwise. There is a constant anti-EU bias in most of the British media – and that also includes BBC. Nobody is interested in facts and in explaining how things work. And 2-3 decades of this sort of  ‘debate’ has  left the country in a state where a real debate is not possible anymore. And when even the government is too scared to publish a short note of congratulations on the EU’s Nobel Peace Prize – something is seriously wrong.

(6) There will only be losers: The outcome will be narrow whoever wins it. Imagine a  52% to 48% victory for the yes side – but what then? The debate will just continue. the “Eurosceptics” will work on another referendum or more opt-outs as it was a “considerable minority” and demand more special “safeguards”  – and like any referendum in countries that don’t do referendums regularly there will be accusations about misleading campaigns, low turnout, campaign finances, media bias etc. Of course the same will be true if the no side wins it.

(7) What will happen to the EU referendum with an independent Scotland. Surely, a EU referendum cannot be held before Scotland votes on independence at the end of 2014. So why do we have this debate right now?

(8) So having established (7), there is a distinct possibility that it will be Labour’s call. And they seem to be utterly confused about the issue.

(9) I also agree with Nick (Clegg) here: Every step towards repatriation, renegotiation is a step towards the exit. But the key difference is that Nick is in government and I am not.

(10) to be continued…

David Cameron rules out ‘in-out referendum’ on EU membership

Well, technically he did not really answer the question (“I am afraid to disappoint the honorable gentleman and his wife… We are better off inside the EU but making changes to it…”) but a referendum is definitely not on the agenda. Cameron will not risk it as he seems to be afraid of a negative outcome.  (More on that issue soon on this blog… I hope) Continue reading

Dear Journalists…

Following the Yes vote on the Lisbon treaty in Ireland the media is full with articles and reports about the EU, the Lisbon treaty and the Irish vote. Unfortunately, journalistic accuracy for EU related topic is not that widespread. At least I get the impression after reading and watching a fair amount of material in the last 48 hours. Here are the most frequent inaccuracies in EU stories these days:

1. There is a difference between the European Council, the Council of the EU and the Council of Europe – just look it up! Try to get your facts straight about the rotating presidency and EU terminology in general.

2. The Polish and  Czech parliaments approved the Lisbon treaty already! Only 2 signatures are missing.  So, please don’t write that both countries  still need to vote on the treaty…

3. And while we are at it: Do your research on the competences of the Czech president (hint: Czech constitution, some basics on parliamentary vs. presidential systems)

4. There is no actual link between the Irish Yes and a European Council President Blair – The treaty merely creates the position of a European Council President and not, I repeat: NOT: EU president, President of Europe etc.) Actually, the position is more like a permanent chairman… Tony Blair seems to be one of the people that are interested in getting the job. So try to get hold of other nominees as well! If you write a opinion piece you might want to check the issue of open nominations and the stopblair petition (more arguments against Blair here).

5. Anyway, forget about the “European Council president” for a moment.  It is much more important who will be nominated for the new Commission. And who will be the next High Representative for Foreign Affairs. All of these jobs are actually more powerful than the European Council president.

Thank you!

Ireland voted YES: But what’s next?

Finally, a YES for the Lisbon Treaty in Ireland. At least the second attempt was successful.  So , what’s next? Now it is up to the Polish and Czech presidents to sign the treaty as well.  Lech Kaczinski, the Polish president, promised to sign the text after the Irish voted ”yes’. So this leaves an isolated Vaclav Klaus and a seriously confused David Cameron…

I am pretty sure that the  pressure on Klaus will be enormous. There are already rumors that Angela Merkel is preparing a “diplomatic sweetener” for him, whatever that means… Taking into account that the Czech Parliament ratified the treaty and the Czech president does not have any powers to veto the treaty,  it is his constitutional obligation to sign it eventually (apparently the problem is that the Czech constitution does not specify how long the President is allowed to postpone his  signature). Obviously he will use the argument that he needs to wait until the constitutional court has issued the ruling on a complaint of some senators. But in the end I am pretty sure that he will sign and that he will not have the guts to wait until the Conservatives form a government in the UK (which might happen next summer)…

However, the wider context is noteworthy: After a almost a decade of debate (Laeken 2001, Convention, Constitutional treaty, …) it seems that we end up with this mini reform treaty. I think most of the other major EU treaties contained more far-reaching reforms than this one. Basically only a couple of things are really innovative:  new double majority voting in more policy areas, a strengthened role for the European Parliament, some clarifications regarding competences, and some improvements in the field of EU foreign policy.

One thing is quite clear, there won’t be another big EU treaty for the foreseeable future  given the difficulty to get such a text ratified by 27 member states. A positive side effect might be that we can finally concentrate on policy issues and leave this institutional debate behind us – at least for a couple of years.  However, the Lisbon Treaty is far from being perfect and it is quite possible that it will create a number of institutional problems. The future will bring new challenges and new reforms might be necessary. And let’s face it: every reform needs to be reformed. So how is it possible to address these challenges and ensure further EU reform, even with 30+ member states (and with people like David Cameron)?

One possibility is to move towards thematic treaties. For example a “issue treaty” on climate change, or one on foreign policy or on police cooperation. These treaties would address one specific issue only – which seems much easier to communicate. These treaties would contain a list of competences for EU institutions as well as national institutions. Moreover, such an issue treaty would address the decision making in this specific policy area and  maybe even include  specific policy aims (reducing emission by 30%, creating a new agency or a new position, banning a certain chemical substance,  introducing a certain measure…whatever). One thing must be included however: if a country rejects one of those treaties, everyone must be clear about the consequences. Basically, a rejection would result in an opt out (similar to Schengen, Euro) but with the possibility to join later.  Of course the result would be an even more complex EU. But maybe this is the price to pay for a bigger and more diverse EU…

The Improved Spoofer’s Guide to the Lisbon Treaty

The Irish referendum is on the horizon. So it is time to explain the Lisbon Treaty (again!). Here it is: The second edition (“Lisbon ’09 – The Rematch version”) of the most entertaining Lisbon treaty paper ever published and of course  it is bigger, better, faster and with Omega 3:  So, enjoy Jason O’Mahony’s  New improved Spoofer’s Guide to the Losbon Treaty. Everything you ever wanted to know about the Lisbon Treaty … and written in “Pub  English”!

Jason O’Mahony explains the reasons behind the guide:

So why write this guide? Because I was so underwhelmed by the Yes side in the last referendum. We were so bad at communicating our message, and at replying to the, let’s face it, tinfoil-inside-my-hat-to-stop-Martian-radio-signals threats coming from elements of the No side. So I decided to do something about it. I wrote The Spoofer’s Guide to the Lisbon Treaty to explain what I understood and felt about an EU that wasn’t the evil monster that the No side were claiming. I put it together with some friends and sent it out, where, judging by the emails I got back from Ireland and the continent and the US, it struck a chord with people.

Here’s the new version. Those of you who read the old one will recognise a lot of it, but there’s also some new stuff in it. It is a biased guide, in that I am biased and support the Treaty, but I’d like to think that it’s not slavish about it.

Read it!

Libertas: The one-man show comes to Europe

So, just in time for next years European Parliament elections Declan Ganley launched his Libertas party, or “pan-European movement” as he would label it. However, so far the ‘party’ neither has programme nor candidates which I think is major shortcoming when launching a party. You would at least expect some basic policy goals in order to attract ‘members’ for the movement as well as funding. The conclusion could be that Libertas neither needs members nor funding. 426 fans on facebook and 29 followers on Twitter also don’t make the impression of a huge grass root pan-European movement. So is it only a small fringe party of a millionaire that got carried away by his successful Irish  No-campaign?

Declan Ganley is clearly a one man show. He wants to turn the EP elections in a Europe wide referendum about … yes about what exactly? He is against the “undemocratic” Lisbon treaty and against the “unaccountable elite in Brussels” but what does he really want to achieve?

Somehow Ganley reminds me of a classic modern populist (Ronald Schill, Jörg Haider, maybe even Oskar Lafontaine) although in quite another context.  (and also without the usual racist and law and order attitudes) Furthermore, Ganley only focuses on one single issue (anti-Lisbon basically) which is quite typical for any populist movements.

The only content worth reading on the new Libertas website is the “Facts” section that addresses “Libertas myths” which is weird because it gives the impression that Libertas is on the defensive and at the same time a kind of martyr as it seems to communicate one thing:  “We are not the establishment!”

Mark Mardell interviewed Ganley a few days ago about Libertas, you can listen to a short clip here. Actually the piece is quite interesting as it reveals the lack of any positive political vision. Ganley talks a lot about “turning the elections in a referendum against the Brussels elites” and “bringing back Europe to the people”.

His rhethoric is not very pan-European either. He hardly mentions anything that is relevant for people outside Ireland and the UK (ok, maybe because it was a BBC interview..). And even for Ireland and the UK he links everything with the distinctive British (and Irish) referendum debates. Ganley also does not seem to understand the difference between an election and a referendum which he shows by comparing the elections in the US with the Lisbon treaty referendum in Ireland.

What he also fails to deliver is any positive vision, being against something is just not enough (well, maybe it is enough for some voters?). He only talks about this one election as a ‘one-off’ opportunity for voters to show their discontent to the “unaccountable elites in Brussels”. But what about the future of the European Parliament elections and the future of the European Parliament itself? What does Libertas want to achieve in the day to day business of the Parliament? What Ganley’s vision for the insitutional setup of the EU? It seems he only wants so send a “strong message” to the leaders of Europe without any substance or as Ganley puts it “a clear no vote”.The only firm aim is a “25 page” document that would replace the Lisbon Treaty.

The claim of having a 25 page document is very interesting as it can mean different things for different target groups:

One option is a EU with very limited powers and hardly any competences as a 25 page document is not long enough to specify any political and institutional compromises. Very attractive to the Anti-EU camp and the supporters of a withdrawal policy.

The second option is a EU with state attributes similar to the US with clear federal divisions. Very attractive for federalists and very optimistic EU supporters.

Ganley seems to think that he can get supporters from both “camps” which I doubt he can achieve. I think by meeting up with known “EU-sceptics” and the lack of having an actual draft of the 25 page document he will only get votes from the Anti-EU camp.

So what can we expect from Libertas? Not much, unfortunately. Probably EP candidates will not be very prolific with the exception of the top candidates that probably will come from other fringe movements plus a few known EU sceptics. I am sure there will be some scandals with candidates that are lower ranked and not screened properly.

The campaign itself is likely to focus on traditional media strategies, lots of TV spots and big poster campaigns. (similar to the campaign in Ireland)

At the moment it is very hard to say anything about the content of the campaign. However, I suspect it will be a negative campaign. We will see a lot of false information and a lot of populist statements that include phrases with a mixture of “democracy now” “Europe for the people ” “Vote against Brussels bureaucrats”. Lots of attacks against the “elites in Brussels” that are “not in touch with us, the people” etc. of course anti-Lisbon but without any clear alternative besides a very nebulous concept of a “new deal for Europe”.

Ireland: Post Referendum Research Findings

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!

Kosmolinks #17

  • The referendum: populism vs democracy

    The idea of the referendum as an instrument of the people’s will rests on pre-democratic foundations, says George Schöpflin. I certainly agree!

  • A better way with referendums

    Interesting idea: Is it possible to introduce a more deliberative approach when holding a referendum? Does “deliberative polling” make citizens more knowledgeable?

  • Instead of bullying the Irish, Europe should be working on plan D – and E

    Timothy Garton Ash actually favours the “Nice plus” arrangement.

  • Yes, they could

    What went wrong for the German Social Democrats? And how can they recover? – Although the article could focus more on the second question it makes a few good points. However, it seems to me that Kurt Beck is the wrong person to deliver “change”… unfortunately the same can be said for a large part of the SPD leadership!

  • WIA Report » Blogger Arrests

    Quite a shocking report: “Unfortunately, one way to assess the political importance of blogging around the world is through the growing number of blogger arrests. Since 2003, 64 citizens unaffiliated with news organizations have been arrested for their blogging activities.”

  • Centre for European Reform: Tough choices to avoid euro-paralysis

    Hugo Brady proposes the most likely outcome of the “EU crisis” after the ‘No’ in Ireland. And he mentiones one interesting point: “Many voters do not see the continuity between EU treaties and think that old guarantees are over-written by new texts.”

Cameron vs. Brown

Interesting how Gordon Brown defends the EU and the Lisbon Treaty: Conviction or tactics?

Kosmolinks #16

  • Joschka Fischer has no hope anymore…

  • Wolfgang Munchau – Europe’s hardball plan B for the Lisbon treaty

    “An alternative would be a referendum with a differently worded question, such as: “Do you want to remain in the EU on the basis of the Lisbon treaty?” Of course, this bundles two questions many people would like to answer separately. Yes, stay in the EU, No to Lisbon. But folding the two into a single question is politically more honest because it is Ireland’s only real-world choice.”

  • Robert Kagan – In Europe, a Slide Toward Irrelevance

    Robert Kagan’s take on the Irish ‘NO’ – basically what you would expect from him, but also with a few good points.

  • The fear factory devastated Ireland’s flaccid political class

    “You forgot us in Shannon.” — “Our sons are too good-looking for the army” –“right-wing Catholics” — “leftwing anti-militarists” — “a mysterious group that emerged from nowhere with a great deal of money to spend” — “Imported British Euroscepticism” — “a very efficient factory of fears” — “an extensive menu of anxieties” — “the scattergun of negativity only had to hit one sensitive spot”

  • Will Hutton: Europe must not be derailed by lies and disinformation

    “On top of these there is the political problem that the treaty can’t be rewritten to accommodate specific Irish concerns because it already does; Ireland’s ‘no’ campaigners told lies. The voters’ great concerns had been met. There is a specific protocol that guarantees Ireland’s neutrality and excuses it from membership of any joint European defence effort, if any surfaces. There is no possibility of Ireland being told to enforce abortion. And all states have autonomy over tax policy.”

  • “The Irish ‘no’ – like the 2005 French ‘non’ – shows a clear poor/rich and urban/rural divide. Working-class and rural voters are systematically voting against further European integration. European leaders should take note.”

  • A handy round-up about the Irish ‘No’ in the blogosphere…

The Irish ‘No’ – Problems and Dilemmas

The problems with the Irish referendum:

  • In any representative democracy a document with 271 pages (479 pages in the consolidated version!) of legal text should never be put to a referendum.
  • The method of EU treaty ratification should be the same in every member state.
  • A very weak YES campaign and a quite strong NO campaign.
  • The NO campaign managed to put popular myths on the agenda (with no link to the Lisbon Treaty or even to the EU) and mobilised voters with fears; it seems as if the YES campaign did not take it seriously and did not prepare an adequate answer. Next time: professional campaigning needed!

The problems of the EU:

  • EU has a communication problem… a huge one! And I would include every national politician in this category. In the last 15 years there were too many politicans that constantly blamed the EU (or better “Brussels”) especially when faced with “surprising” EU decisions – and everyone who is a bit familiar with the EU knows that there is no such thing as “surprising” in this slow bureaucracy … Moreover, it is hypocritical for ministers to blame the EU although they actually had a  veto in the Council…
  • EU summits have been coined and perceived as “battles” over national interests. But what about the “European interest”?  Many politicians do not seem to see the bigger picture… The same is true for European parliament elections: National topics are always more important than “European” topics! And the result? A negative perception of the EU,  … surprise, surprise!
  • The media does not spend enough time explaining EU issues.  European politics need to play a much bigger role on national TV as well as in national newspapers and local newspapers across Europe!
  • Education: Quite important but absolutely neglected! EU is practically not existent in school curricula!
  • Unpopularity of the EU is therefore not only a problem of the EU!
  • The Lisbon Treaty is a compromise based on the lowest common denominator.  And this is the problem why it is such a long document and why it is so difficult to understand.
  • After the failed Constitutional Treaty, the Lisbon Treaty was actually Plan B: So there will be no new treaty and issues such as “number of commissioners” and “voting weights” are not likely to be re-negotiated.

The dilemmas after the NO vote in the Irish referendum:

  • If all other EU members ratify the Lisbon treaty it will be an Irish problem, if one country stops the ratification process it will be a European problem.
  • The dictatorship of a minority vs. the dictatorship of a majority. If ratification continues the EU will be blamed for the latter, if ratification stops it will be blamed for the former.
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