12th Apr 2021


What next, Europe?

On Thursday and Friday (19 – 20 June) European leaders will meet in Brussels and decide that the remaining ratifications of the Lisbon Treaty must continue as if there had been no referendum in Ireland. The leaders want to see 26 ratifications and then ask Ireland to have a re-run.

I discussed the re-run with Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin on Irish radio and television the day after the referendum and asked him if he would perhaps suggest to German Chancellor Angela Merkel that the football match between Germany and Croatia should be re-played since Germany had lost the match!

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  • According to the EU rule book the situation is clear. The Lisbon Treaty is dead. (Photo: EUobserver)

According to the EU rule book the situation is clear. The Lisbon Treaty is dead. No Treaty change can be implemented without 27 signatures.

For the Irish Government it would be a criminal act to urge the other Member States to continue their ratifications and ignore the Irish people's No to Lisbon. But since the criminal act will be decided by all EU prime ministers and presidents together, the illegality will instead be called statesmanship.

When the Danish prime minister told an earlier summit that he had cancelled the planned Danish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty he was spontaneously applauded by his EU colleagues… They cheer the chance to avoid giving voters a say.

According to an opinion poll in March 2007 organised by the British thinktank, Open Europe, 75 percent of European voters want to be asked about the Lisbon Treaty, while only 20 percent do not want to be able to vote on their political future. But this minority includes all leaders of the European Union.

The Treaty would fall everywhere

The big No in Ireland came in spite of the Irish Government's pressure, promises, half-truths and straight lies. The No vote was against the advice of 95 percent of members in the Dail, the Irish Parliament. It was against the advice of all except two of Ireland's 13 MEPs… against the advice of almost all the media and business organisations… against the advice of the Farmers' Union and the Trade Union leadership.

In France three years ago, 55 percent of voters voted against the advice of 90 percent of their MPs. In the Netherlands, 62 percent of voters went against the advice of 80 percent of their MPs. In Denmark we could also have had a people's No against 80 percent of our MPs. That is the real reason why Denmark's and other referendums were cancelled.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy was honest in his dishonesty when he met the group leaders in the European Parliament in November. The Treaty would fall everywhere, he suggested. He talked about a conflict between the voters and the European elite but took me by surprise when he concluded that we should get rid of referendums in the future.

I proposed that we instead work out a text which voters would applaud…

An easier way forward

Why will voters nowhere accept the Lisbon Treaty? It is because it moves powers from the voters to the Brussels elite, who legislate mainly behind closed doors.

The core of democracy is the ability to have elections, have a new majority and then make new laws or change old ones. This core principle of democracy is fundamentally eroded in the proposed Lisbon Constitution/Treaty.

In the EU, it is a condition that one must NOT be elected to be able to propose an EU law on the Brussels Commission.

If this really is a good system why not apply it in your own country? Why not abolish the right of your national parliament to propose and decide all laws? Why not instead give the national MPs a right to propose amendments to draft laws which are prepared by the top civil servants in government ministries behind closed doors. Why not let the right to decide what amendments they would accept be decided behind another set of closed doors in 300 secret working groups which effectively agree 85 percent of all EU laws?

I would like to propose an easier way forward. Elect a Convention to draft a simplified treaty with easy-to-read rules on how we should make EU laws in common. The text should be so short that it can be read by prime ministers before they sign up to it.

None of the 27 prime ministers have read what they signed on 13 December 2007 in Lisbon. The Irish Prime Minister admitted in Ireland before the referendum that he had not read it, but he was certainly not alone. Not one of them read it before signing. I doubt if any of them read it afterwards.

Direct election of EU leaders

In my latest book, "From Constitution to Lisbon Treaty", I published a draft proposal for a democratic EU in 47 Articles which could be printed on a single broadsheet page.

One does not need more space than that to set out the basic rules for our necessary and valuable European cooperation. You do not need more words in a national constitution either (I made a try by reducing the Danish constitution to the same size!).

Diplomatic compromises on the content of possible laws could then be added to the simple basic treaty in more complex protocols.

The simple treaty should contain some simple principles:

1. All European laws should be decided by a majority in the European Parliament and, for example, three-quarters of all member states in the Council.

2. All legislative meetings and documents should be open and transparent unless derogations are decided for special circumstances.

3. All member states should have a commissioner each of their own choice. Why not let us elect them directly together alongside the 2009 European elections?

We could then leave it to the elected Commissioners to appoint the Commission President, have a permanent chair for the meetings in the Council and a representative for foreign affairs.

Personally, I would not be opposed to the direct election of EU leaders – but I cannot that Europeans are ready for that. How many UK citizens would vote for an EU President from Luxembourg or Denmark? How many French voters would vote even for French-speaking Tony Blair?

Europe of Democracies

The federalist dream may look beautiful on paper. In the USA they elect their President and all Europeans follow even the process of nominating candidates. But Americans are Americans in a very different way from the way Europeans are European. The American experience cannot be applied in Europe. Here the only realistic project is a Europe of Democracies.

The division between national and supranational powers must be decided by national parliaments on a bottom-up basis instead of a top-down one. All national parliaments should have their own readings of European laws to make possible democratic consideration of new laws with the voters.

If an EU Treaty along these lines were to give voters a say it could easily be sent to referendums in all Member States, perhaps on the same day? And why not alongside the European elections in June 2009?

Such a route would be possible if we were to start such preparations now. But the EU prime ministers and presidents look set to agree that they only have one problem: The People.

They should take the advice of German dramatist Bertolt Brecht and elect a new people – or else re-connect to Europe's voters again.

The author is elected president of the EU Democrats and a former MEP. He was also a member of the Convention drafting the European Constitution


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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