26th Jan 2020


The EU: reform or self destruct?

If the Irish were wondering whether they made the right decision by voting against the Lisbon Treaty, the reaction of the European political class confirms that they made the right call.

The Brussels response is simply to pretend that it never happened. Like people who have been brainwashed, they all say exactly the same thing.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

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

... or join as a group

  • If we carry on like this the madmen in charge are going to blow the EU to bits. (Photo: IWRCampaign)

The French Europe Minister says "I don't think you can say the treaty of Lisbon is dead even if the ratification process will be delayed."

The German Foreign Minister says "we are sticking with our goal for it to come into force. The ratification process must continue.""

People who thought the treaty was dead, just because people had said no to it, were mistaken. The Irish no vote means nothing to the euro elite.

A full circle

The irony is that when the Irish voted against the Lisbon treaty last Thursday (12 June), a very long argument finally came full circle.

This whole business started when the Irish voted against the Nice treaty in 2001. In response the leaders of the European Union promised they would start to make the EU more democratic, more transparent, and start handing powers back to the member states.

But things quickly went off course. Although the leaders of the EU had signed up to these fine principles, and had even written them down in a grand document called the "Laeken Declaration", the great majority did not actually believe in them in the slightest.

Instead, EU leaders appointed the federalist Valery Giscard d'Estaing to draw up an EU Constitution, which gave even more powers to the EU. Under the Constitution, everything from immigration to your electricity bill would become a subject for Brussels to decide on, by majority vote.

When the Constitution was torpedoed by the French and Dutch, EU leaders simply dredged it up, gave it a fresh coat of paint, and had another go. I am not surprised the Treaty has been sunk again.

The surprise is that EU leaders have still learned nothing the second time around. Eventually rats in a maze will find their way out. But the leaders of Europe want to go round the same circle yet again, like a gormless coach driver with a broken sat-nav who can't admit to himself that he is coming up to the same dreary roundabout yet again.

Two ways out

There are two ways this mad process can end. One is to press on regardless and risk a crisis of legitimacy.

The news this week that only 29% of UK voters now support full EU membership should warn EU leaders that they are on very thin ice. Their reaction to the no vote so far plays perfectly into the hands of those who want to leave the EU.

The better way out would be to accept the no vote for what it was – a rational rejection of deeper EU integration – and to carry out the reforms that were promised in the Laeken Declaration.

But in Brussels that is clearly regarded as a crazy idea. Totally off the wall.

Instead the EU has launched a spin operation to smear the Irish as ungrateful bigots voting against abortion or for some other obscure reason. This spin has been so widespread and so successful, that it's worth repeating here the real reasons why the Irish voted no.

According to a poll for the Irish Times, the reasons people said no were to keep Ireland's power and identity, to safeguard Ireland's neutrality, and the fact that they didn't like being pressured to vote yes.

Crash or gentle reform

Europe's elite are clearly not going to listen, so it looks like the EU is heading for a crash rather than gentle reform. Sooner or later some way will be found to implement the Lisbon Treaty by stealth. Maybe the Irish will not be allowed another referendum.

Perhaps the contents of the Constitution will be repackaged again, this time in the Croatian accession treaty. It hardly matters which route is taken to overturn the verdict of the people.

Why are they so determined to continue. Politicians love the EU as it is today because they can dump their political problems onto it and evade responsibility.

That's why, despite the no vote, this week the French proposed the beginnings of an EU naval force and a single asylum policy.

Over the coming years more and more controversial issues are going to be loaded onto the EU, while at the same time its slender support in public opinion withers further.

Sooner or later this structure is going to buckle under the ever-heavier load. I can't tell you what will bring it down.

I can tell you that sooner or later it will come. The current model of responsibility without accountability, power without democracy, can only bear so much. If we carry on like this the madmen in charge are going to blow the EU to bits.

The author is director of the UK-based Open Europe thinktank.


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

Second-hand cars flaw in EU Green Deal

The moment Europe revels in its carbon-free transport system, most of the cars that emitted too much for EU standards will still be driving around for years somewhere else in the world.

Eastern Partnership must now improve media freedoms

The EU can hardly criticise Eastern Partnership countries for disrespecting media freedom. Five EU member states, including current presidency Croatia, came below Armenia and Georgia in the 2019 RSF Press Freedom Index. Bulgaria ranked nine places behind Ukraine.


What's Libya's impact on EU foreign policy?

The Libya case might finally give the EU some strategic clarity. This sounds like a small thing, but EU foreign policy is in such bad shape that it would be a big leap forward.

Why isn't Germany helping gay rights in Hungary, Poland?

The European Centre-Right LGBT+ Alliance demands Germany give up its resistance to the Anti-Discrimination Directive and suggest the commission and centre-right parties exert further pressure on Polish and Hungarian authorities to improve conditions for the LGBT+ community and people.

Is there more than coffee for European Works Councils?

In 1994, the EU decided that, at least, the employee representatives of a multinational were to meet each other and the management from time to time. In these meetings, management had to inform and consult the employees about transnational issues.

Brexit - Europe's 'Versailles moment'?

The spectre of another peace agreement looms: that of the doomed Versailles treaty, which, by sowing resentment and perpetuating misunderstanding of each other's true ambitions and principles, created more tensions than it dissolved.

News in Brief

  1. Catalan premier refuses to step down, despite ruling
  2. UK set to support new fossil fuel projects in Africa
  3. Leftists MEPs travel to visit jailed Catalan MEP
  4. Bulgaria may expel Russian diplomats over 'espionage'
  5. EU, China, others agree on WTO body to settle disputes
  6. EU Commission makes move against Poland on judges law
  7. Soros pledges $1bn for liberal universities
  8. Merkel: Germany unprepared for 2015 refugee crisis


Why nations are egomaniacs

A nation, Reinhold Niebuhr wrote, is not capable of altruism. Even less so, if such a group has formed on the basis of strong emotions and casts itself as the "saviour of the nation".

Maltese murder - the next rule-of-law crisis in EU?

While Poland's government is escalating its rule of law crisis by introducing even more drastic measures against the country's judges, another problem is looming over the EU's commitment to upholding the rule of law: Malta.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  5. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture

Latest News

  1. AI must have human oversight, MEPs recommend
  2. Second-hand cars flaw in EU Green Deal
  3. Why do EU arms end up in Libya despite UN ban?
  4. Brexit deal to be signed, as sides poised for tough talks
  5. Timmermans urges EU governments to tax carbon
  6. Vietnam sent champagne to MEPs ahead of trade vote
  7. China spy suspect had EU permission to work as lobbyist
  8. EU to unveil 5G 'toolbox' to tackle security threats

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  2. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  3. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us