Wednesday

10th Aug 2022

Opinion

What would a second Irish referendum solve?

  • "Public opinion is different now, and the European project has got to recognise that" (Photo: EUobserver)

The defeat of the Lisbon treaty in the Irish referendum last week has led to lots of head-scratching about what do to next. The Irish foreign minister Micheál Martin has declared that he does not know yet: I think one should beware of anybody who claims that they do. We are in truly unprecedented circumstances.

Treaties have been rejected before, it is true, but this time is different. The Danish No vote over the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 and the Irish No to Nice in 2001 were each followed by a period of discussion among the protagonists, a confirmation by the rest of the EU that the specific concerns of the Danish/Irish voters were not put at risk by the treaty in the way that some people had feared, and a second referendum a year later that reversed the earlier decision. Why can that route not simply be followed again?

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

A key factor in each of the two cases above was that the No votes themselves were a freak, an aberration, outside the trend of public opinion. They were not representative of the sustained view of public opinion. (They still counted, of course, which was why they set the political agenda, but it was realistic and reasonable to suppose that they might change.)

No-one can say that the Irish vote last week was a surprise. The referendum results in France and the Netherlands in 2005 presaged an era of suspicion by voters of official policy on Europe everywhere. The determination by the heads of government that the Lisbon treaty should avoid referendums where possible is testament to that.

Is there the prospect that a second referendum might reverse the outcome of the first? Of course it is possible, but one cannot view the prospect with the same confidence that might have been justified seven years ago. Public opinion is different now, and the European project has got to recognise that.

Even if the necessary guarantees can be given to the Irish voters and a second referendum held and won as a result, there are still good reasons to doubt that this is the best outcome.

First, it reinforces the idea that referendums do not really count. Opponents of the EU love to argue that a Yes means yes, and a No means yes a year later. That is a very damaging argument to make and it is not wise for supporters of the EU to add fuel to it. The fact that the second referendum result was in fact a Yes gets lost in the face of the suggestion that the second referendum should never have been held.

Secondly, it might lead to the idea that the process set in train by the Laeken Declaration has now been completed. The European Council meeting in December 2001 set out at Laeken a series of concerns about the functioning of the EU that needed to be addressed. These included some concerns about the effectiveness of the way the EU acted, but also some concerns about its relationship with the citizens.

The mess that has been made of the ratification first of the constitutional treaty and now of Lisbon only emphasises the scale of the problem. It is bigger than can be fixed by a set of treaty amendments, particularly this set of treaty amendments.

Now, there are some advantages that would flow from a second Irish referendum that produced a Yes vote – we would get the Lisbon treaty, for a start – but no-one should imagine that the problems of the EU would be magically solved as a result. We might get a short-term fix, merely postponing the difficult and important issues into the long term.

A second Irish referendum, therefore, is not a neat and tidy solution to the problem facing the EU. There are still democratic challenges ahead waiting to be solved.

Richard Laming is Director of Federal Union.

Disclaimer

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

Russia puts EU in nuclear-energy paradox

There's unprecedented international anxiety about the safety of Ukraine's nuclear reactors, but many European countries are also turning to nuclear power to secure energy supplies.

How Ukraine made the case anew for an EU army

The Kremlin attacked Ukraine because it believed it could afford to. It perceived nuclear deterrence between Russia and the West as reciprocal, and therefore almost a non-issue. It also saw, in military terms, Europe is disappearing from the world map.

Let Taiwan's democracy shine brighter

Dr Ming-Yen Tsai, head of the Taipei Representative Office in the EU and Belgium, responds to EUobserver op-ed on Taiwan by the Chinese ambassador to Belgium. "Taiwan is an 'island of resilience'. That will continue to be the case."

Supporting Taiwan 'like carrying water in a sieve'

China's ambassador to Belgium, Cao Zhongming, says the US has been distorting, obscuring and hollowing out the 'one-China' principle and unscrupulously undermining China's core interests. This is sheer double standards and a shameful act of bad faith.

One idea to tackle Big Energy's big profits

A new idea, besides a windfall tax on polluting Big Energy giants, is to make them invest their profits in their own sustainable futures. After all, these companies have a large 'sustainability debt' and extraordinary transition costs awaiting them.

Column

Global hunger crisis requires more than just the Odessa deal

International donors are playing hide and seek. Instead of stepping up their assistance programmes, richer nations are cutting overseas aid, or reallocating funds from other parts of the world towards the Ukraine crisis.

Exploiting the Ukraine crisis for Big Business

From food policy to climate change, corporate lobbyists are exploiting the Ukraine crisis to try to slash legislation that gets in the way of profit. But this is only making things worse.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  3. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers write to EU about new food labelling
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersEmerging journalists from the Nordics and Canada report the facts of the climate crisis
  6. Council of the EUEU: new rules on corporate sustainability reporting

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us