The Irish government has announced that a second Irish referendum on the European Union’s Lisbon Treaty will be held in the autumn. As IntLawGrrls have posted, the treaty was rejected by Ireland’s voters in a referendum last June. (photo by Peter O'Neill of "No to Lisbon" poster in the west of Ireland, June 2008)
The Lisbon Treaty is effectively a ‘de-constitutionalized’ version of the EU Constitutional Treaty, which French and Dutch voters had rejected in popular referenda in 2005. (Prior IntLawGrrls posts).
At the same time, recent newspaper reports are suggesting that across Europe in one month's time, the turnout is likely to be lower than ever for European Parliament elections.
Each of these news reports highlights an aspect of what might be called Europe’s political deficit – in other words, the chronic lack of political engagement of ordinary European citizens with the EU, and the failure or unwillingness of Europe’s political leaders to fully grasp this fact.
In a recent paper, I criticized the EU’s response to Ireland’s no vote to the Lisbon Treaty on the basis that the EU leadership chose to treat the referendum result as essentially an Irish problem rather than as a European problem. According to the Europe’s political leaders, the no-vote reflected concerns specific to the Irish population. The solution proposed was for the Irish government to suggest ways for the EU to respond to these particular concerns -- ultimately, through a package of largely redundant legal and political ‘guarantees’ -- so that the Lisbon Treaty could be ratified.
In this sense, Ireland's no-vote to Lisbon was treated very differently from the French and Dutch no-votes to the Constitutional Treaty in 2005. On that occasion, the complex but overwhelming tide of discontent reflected in the no-votes was quickly recognized as a collective European problem rather than as a specifically Dutch or French problem, and the Constitutional Treaty in its original form was rapidly declared to be dead.
My paper argues that despite the various plausible reasons for distinguishing between the Constitutional Treaty no-votes and the Lisbon Treaty no-vote, the EU strategy of treating Ireland's rejection of the Lisbon Treaty as primarily an Irish problem is a short-sighted one which is likely to backfire in the longer term. Ireland's no-vote is merely the latest manifestation of an ongoing crisis of popular legitimacy in the EU, and the European Council's strategy of treating it as essentially an Irish problem is part of the ongoing failure of Europe's political leaders to acknowledge the link between this crisis of popular legitimacy and the deliberately de-politicized nature of the European Union.