Wednesday

16th Aug 2017

Opinion

Irish referendum: anger, fear and some hope

  • 'The European Union is doomed to become the world's first super-democracy: direct, transnational and digital' (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

At the outset there was a clear choice for the Irish electorate, when they went to the polls last Thursday for the 9th time on a European issue since 1973. „Yes to Stability“ or „No to Austerity“. And they delivered a clear result: 60.3 percent said 'Yes“, 39.7 percent 'No'.

The turnout hovered just over the majority of the 3 million voters, at 51 percent. As the voting issue was designed as a amendment to the Irish Constitution, the president will now have to authorize the ratification of the European Fiscal Treaty.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now and get 40% off for an annual subscription. Sale ends soon.

  1. €90 per year. Use discount code EUOBS40%
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

Despite the mainly green (yes-leaning) referendum map – just five out of 43 constituencies voted 'No' – this popular vote has revealed profound divisions within Ireland, based on social indicators.

While mostly rural-agrarian and middle-class areas approved the amendment, working class constituencies across the country clearly offered a no-vote, with some neighbourhoods in Dublin West strongly rejecting (up to 90%) the Fiscal Treaty. Such social cleavages are new for Ireland and indicates that the current crisis in Europe is a big challenge even to strong communities like the Irish one.

But this popular vote on the Fiscal Treaty also offers interesting insights into the emotional state of the voters. The No-campaign was based on anger about the consequences of the crisis while the Yes-campaign addressed the fears of many citizens regarding future uncertainties. And as the result made clear, the fear-argument was stronger than the anger-one. A lot of Irish people have high mortgages in euro, which are linked to relatively low interest rates. A possible departure from the common currency could mean even higher debts for many people.

Another element which contributed to the resounding Irish Yes-vote was the lack of so called "red herrings." These are issues unconnected with the ballot question, but which have in earlier EU votes – like the Nice- and Lisbon-Treaty – played decisive roles. In Ireland, such red herrings included neutrality and abortion issues. But these were hard to include in any campaign on the Fiscal Treaty. In a European perspective however, the 31 May referendum produced a rather typical decision, when it comes to votes on Europe in Europe.

This was the 53th nation-wide popular vote on a European Issue in the last 40 years. Such referendums – which sometimes also have been triggered by a citizens' initiative or by a top-down decision in a plebiscite – have been conducted in 26 different countries and have seen an average participation of over 60 percent.

While a few No-votes have made big headlines (and sometimes also lead to constructive developments), most often the voters have approved the agreements made by their elected leaders at the European level. These include accession treaties, treaty revisions or opt-out agreements to accommodate the specific requirement of a member state.

In sum, the referendum experience on EU issues has produced a positive outcome when it comes to strengthening the legitimacy of the integration process as well as the quantity of knowledge involved in popular decision-making processes.

There is a third way between the nationalistic retreats offered by leftist and rightist forces on one side, and the mainstream technocratic paths favoured by dominant political parties, most governments and many businesses. This third way is about making democracy - people power - work on all political levels.

There is no doubt that the politics of economy have to be transnationalised much more efficiently in order to balance the almost borderless market structures in the 21th century. There is no way back to the old, protective (and often even corrupt) national structures. But this does not mean that we have to give up the principles, procedures and practices of modern democracy. To the contrary!

Ireland shows that it is not sufficient to have frequent elections and referendums. The political system must be updated as well in order to become a well-functioning part of a bigger democratic Europe and the world.

After last week's referendum Ireland is now looking to a profound revision of its political system by establishing a Constitutional Convention to fix key problems in its political system. Other European countries are heading in a similar direction including Greece, Austria and Spain. In all cases the basic pillars of modern democracy, which are protection (rule of law), delegation (elections) and participation (direct democracy) are about to be strengthened comprehensively.

The work to make democracy more democratic does not end at the national borders. After the Irish vote, we need to examine how to bring EU citizens onto the political stage. The newly-introduced European Citizens Initiative is one such important step. The introduction of a pan European referendum process – for example on treaty changes – would be another one. The European Union is doomed to become the world's first super-democracy: direct, transnational and digital. This is not only feasible, but also necessary.

This means a more federal approach to the EU integration process, or as the early pro-democracy forces in the Austrian-Hungarian empire understood: "Federalism is the democratic answer to the Empire."

The writer is President of the Initiative and Referendum Institute Europe and Chairman of the Election Commission in the city of government of Falun/Sweden

EU needs lasting solution to refugee crisis

If we continue with the failed approach of the last two years then this could become a systemic crisis that threatens the EU itself, writes Gianni Pittella.

Young Poles can halt Kaczynski’s illiberal march

Debates are ongoing on whether president Duda vetoing two out of three bills on judicial reform should be seen as the opposition's success. But the protests brought about another, much less disputed success.

Column / Brexit Briefing

The return of the chlorinated chicken

Britain has only just started on the path towards a post-Brexit trade deal with the US, but you can already see the same all-too-familiar disagreements.

Stop blaming Trump for Poland’s democratic crisis

If you were to judge events purely on the US media's headlines, you would be forgiven for wondering if the Polish government had anything to do with its recent controversial judicial reforms.

News in Brief

  1. Russian power most feared in Europe
  2. UK unemployment lowest since 1975
  3. Europe facing 'explosive cocktail' in its backyard, report warns
  4. Danish police to investigate misuse of EU fishing rules
  5. German constitutional court questions ECB's €2tn spending
  6. Low support for Norway's labour party ahead of elections
  7. Slovakia's future is with core EU, says PM
  8. Italy relieved as migration drops to lowest level since 2014

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ACCABusinesses Must Grip Ethics and Trust in the Digital Age
  2. European Jewish CongressEJC Welcomes European Court of Justice's Decision to Keep Hamas on Terror List
  3. UNICEFReport: Children on the Move From Africa Do Not First Aim to Go to Europe
  4. Centre Maurits CoppietersWe Need Democratic and Transparent Free Trade Agreements Says MEP Jordi Solé
  5. Counter BalanceOut for Summer, Ep. 2: EIB Promoting Development in Egypt - At What Cost?
  6. EU2017EELocal Leaders Push for Local and Regional Targets to Address Climate Change
  7. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceMore Women Than Men Have Died From Heart Disease in Past 30 Years
  8. European Jewish CongressJean-Marie Le Pen Faces Trial for Oven Comments About Jewish Singer
  9. ACCAAnnounces Belt & Road Research at Shanghai Conference
  10. ECPAFood Waste in the Field Can Double Without Crop Protection. #WithOrWithout #Pesticides
  11. EU2017EEEstonia Allocates €1 Million to Alleviate Migratory Pressure From Libya in Italy
  12. Dialogue PlatformFethullah Gulen's Message on the Anniversary of the Coup Attempt in Turkey

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Martens CentreWeeding out Fake News: An Approach to Social Media Regulation
  2. European Jewish CongressEJC Concerned by Normalisation of Antisemitic Tropes in Hungary
  3. Counter BalanceOut for Summer Ep. 1: How the EIB Sweeps a Development Fiasco Under the Rug
  4. CESICESI to Participate in Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee on Postal Services
  5. ILGA-EuropeMalta Keeps on Rocking: Marriage Equality on Its Way
  6. European Friends of ArmeniaEuFoA Director and MEPs Comment on the Recent Conflict Escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh
  7. EU2017EEEstonian Presidency Kicks off Youth Programme With Coding Summer School
  8. EPSUEP Support for Corporate Tax Transparency Principle Unlikely to Pass Reality Check
  9. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament Improves the External Investment Plan but Significant Challenges Ahead
  10. EU2017EEPM Ratas: EU Is Not Only an Idea for the 500mn People in the Bloc, It Is Their Daily Reality
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersCloser Energy Co-Operation Keeps Nordic Region on Top in Green Energy