The assortment of groupings within the ‘No’ camp should beware thinking that yesterday’s result in the Lisbon Treaty referendum is evidence of actual support for any of their differing agendas. As well as a leader column, “Not so much a rainbow alliance as a horde of Goths at the gates of Rome”, The Guardian has two comment pieces from supporters of the defeated ‘Yes’ position. First up, Colm Tóibín – “The treaty was a godsend to every crank in Ireland, on the left and the right.”
The defeat of the Lisbon Treaty in Ireland was not a single mutiny on the part of the Irish moral majority. It was 20 different mutinies. For example, all areas which depend on fishing voted heavily against the treaty. Working class areas in the cities voted against it. Right-wing Catholics voted against it. Old-fashioned Irish nationalists voted against it. Rural people voted against. Certain rich business interests voted against. But also, some in Ireland, like their French and Dutch counterparts who voted against the European constitution, have deep and serious concerns about the democratic deficit in Europe.
And Fintan O’Toole, who also identifies the ‘No’ campaign’s “extensive menu of anxieties”, points to the ‘Yes’ campaign’s poor strategy
The implicit message was: “This document is complicated and virtually unreadable but, trust us, there’s nothing bad in it.” This strategy betrayed an astonishing ignorance of the way the Irish, in common with most Europeans, currently regard their political class. Trust isn’t the most obvious feature of the relationship between governments and the governed. In the Irish case, this lack of faith was greatly enhanced by the scandal over his personal finances that brought down the long-serving taoiseach, Bertie Ahern.
Fintan O’Toole continues
The biggest problem for the EU now is that what made the no campaign so effective is also what makes it so hard to deal with. In 2001, when Irish voters rejected the Nice treaty, it was possible to discern a relatively coherent message – mostly that voters were concerned about neutrality. Those concerns could be addressed by adding a declaration to the treaty and changing the Irish constitution. Nice was put to the people again and passed comfortably.
This time things are different. In the first Nice referendum, the turnout was so low that the government could just about get away with asking people to vote again. The turnout for Lisbon was much higher, so repeating the exercise would simply feed the perception that voters are being bullied. In any event, a second vote would have to be on an altered proposition. But to remove most of the things people objected to in the treaty, they would have to have been there in the first place. The treaty’s doom, in other words, is probably sealed by the fact that it’s not actually as bad as many Irish voters think it is.
Also in the Irish Times, the EU political reaction [no subs req]
The reaction from the EU’s leading politicians was restrained. The German government promised yesterday to give Mr Cowen time to reflect, but senior sources warned that it saw little alternative to a second referendum.
“We would have wished for another solution but as good Europeans we have to take the situation as it is,” said German chancellor Angela Merkel after a conversation with the Taoiseach yesterday.
“Ratification will continue and either Ireland votes again or we try to come up with a new text, something on which 27 countries will simply not be able to agree,” said a senior government source.
In a joint statement last night, Dr Merkel and French president Nicolas Sarkozy said: “With all due respect, we take note of the democratic decision of the Irish citizens, even if we regret it.”
Sources close to Mr Sarkozy said there were only two solutions: for the Irish to vote again, or for an as yet undefined legal mechanism to bind Ireland to EU institutions if Ireland does not ratify the treaty.
While Dr Merkel was conciliatory, her coalition partners, the Social Democrats (SPD), were more blunt. The party’s foreign minister, Frank Walter Steinmeier, said the result was a “severe setback” while a party colleague called it a “catastrophe”.
“With all respect for the Irish vote, we cannot allow the huge majority of Europe to be duped by a minority of a minority of a minority,” said Axel Schäfer, SPD leader in the Bundestag committee on EU affairs.
“We are incredibly disappointed. We think it is a real cheek that the country that has benefited most from the EU should do this. There is no other Europe than this treaty.”
More EU reaction here.
Meanwhile, again in the Irish Times, former Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald is also critical of the ‘Yes’ campaign [subs req]. And he points to a wider problem.
This referendum has demonstrated a huge disconnect between an important element of the electorate and the political parties for which they vote. To anyone who values the representative democratic system, this is deeply disturbing, for it clearly reflects a potentially corrosive lack of trust in the political structures of our State.
The preference shown in this referendum for the views of populist elements outside the normal democratic process argues a deep need for political reform. Institutional reform is always difficult, because it is strenuously resisted by the powerful interests who benefit from the status quo. But when the reform needed relates to the political system itself, it becomes almost impossible to achieve.
I do not have the impression that our politicians reflect much, if at all, on the recent loss of confidence in and respect for them. This insensitivity reflects the fact that, in a political system as devoted to clientelism as is ours, elected representatives tend to judge their public standing by the narrow criterion of whether individuals continue to come to them for assistance with personal problems arising from their often fraught dealings with the bureaucratic system.
But while this process continues, both those who seek mediation by their politicians and – perhaps more so – the much greater number who do not, may be losing trust in the integrity of those whom they elect to office.