Oh no, not again…

A few thoughts after the Irish ‘No’:

  • National politicians and national media still have a major communication problem concerning the EU. European politicians too, of course, but they cannot solve the problem. Only those who already have the voters’ ear can do that.
  • The irony of constitutional safeguards: Current legal constraints on the powers of governments prohibit the creation of legal structures that would offer better legal constraints on the informal powers that governments already have created for themselves.
  • The democratic paradox: The smallest of Member States can veto a Treaty change supported by all other Member States. Isn’t this the dictatorship of the minority?
  • If the issue was costs to tax payers or delivering concrete results, Irish voters would have voted ‘Yes’, massively.
  • Nor can it be that the EU undermines symbols of national identity, like (in Ireland’s case) non-alignment, prohibited abortion, and low corporate taxes, as Ireland has opt-outs on the first two and tax decisions require unanimity in the Council.
  • Perception, then, is everything.
  • Today is Friday the 13th.

Update: First reactions by AFOE, Jon Worth, Nosemonkey.

12 Responses to “Oh no, not again…”

  1. Mike Harmon Says:

    Where did you get your blog layout from? I’d like to get one like it for my blog.

  2. eulogist Says:

    Uhm… I’m afraid I designed it myself, using WordPress.

  3. QuestionThat Says:

    As I posted on Jon Worth’s blog: Doesn’t it occur to you that if the people of the other 26 states had been given the chance to vote on the Treaty in a referendum they too may well have rejected it as the Irish did (and as the French and Dutch did when it was still called the Constitution)?

    This “dictatorship of the minority” argument is really disingenuous in my opinion.

  4. eulogist Says:

    Which is why I put it in these general terms.

    The point is not the Irish vote as such, but the design of the *system*. With national vetoes for everyone (however they are exerted, through the government, Parliament or a referendum), you will *never* get to a result that everyone likes, so you will never get anywhere at all.

    Not making a choice (whether that is due to the system or not), is a choice for something as well. And it isn’t mine.

    I am all for referenda, on any issue including EU treaties. But I am against national vetoes. A referendum on an *EU* issue should be held on the *EU* level and require reasonable majorities (of the form: at least x% of all voters and at least y% of the voters in at least z% of the Member States should vote in favour, with x,y,z at 50 or more).

    Setting any of these numbers (including z) to 100, however, is unreasonable and unfair. Like I said above, this amounts to dictatorship by a minority.

  5. Sebastian Says:

    “I am all for referenda, on any issue including EU treaties. But I am against national vetoes. A referendum on an *EU* issue should be held on the *EU* level and require reasonable majorities (of the form: at least x% of all voters and at least y% of the voters in at least z% of the Member States should vote in favour, with x,y,z at 50 or more).”

    Do you believe that you would have gotten that at the EU level? I tend to think not. And if not, it really isn’t a dictatorship of the minority, it is the democratic expression you probably would have gotten anyway except that European leaders won’t allow it.

    Remember the French and Dutch rejected a very similar proposal recently. And unless I’m wrong, that makes it 0/3 whenever the people have actually been consulted.

  6. eulogist Says:

    But that is not the point, is it? Evil dictators sometimes are remarkably (and genuinely) popular, but that does not make them less evil or less dictatorial.

    People tend to forget the second order effects: Holding separate referenda in three individual Member States – even with 3 years in between them – is just not the same as having one referendum all over Europe at the same time. Discussions would get a chance to influence each other, and the most flagrant contradictions get exposed more easily (France: “We get lower corporate taxes and abortion could become illegal” vs. Ireland: “We get higher corporate taxes and abortion could become legal”). You cannot extrapolate from individual referenda to a common one that easily.

    And may I remind you that the Spanish and Luxemburgers voted in favour of the EU Constitution in their referenda? That makes it 2/5 so far in reality. It’s so easily forgotten, isn’t it?

    Final remark: There is of course a general lack of experience with direct democracy as well in Europe. You cannot expect people (including politicians, media and interest groups) to learn how it works if you only hold very occasional referenda, and then even usually at the initiative of the political class. That’s just asking for voters to use it then to express discontentment on whatever issue apart from the one on the ballot.

    And, before you ask, *of course* the answer to this is more, not fewer, referenda, and more on the voters’ request instead of the government’s – so voters can vent whatever anger they have in a more directed manner and stop whining that they are never consulted.

  7. Reflections on European Democracy » After the Irish no - where to now? Says:

    [...] on European Democracy EUlogical reflections « Oh no, not again… [...]

  8. rz Says:

    I think you are a bit to optimistic about the applicability of referendums to resolve political issues. No European country is governed by raw majoritarianism. We all have live in countries where limits are set by the a constitution and we practice representative democracy.

  9. eulogist Says:

    It is not a matter of optimism, but of principle.

    The “applicability of referendums” is as much an issue to me as the applicability of universal suffrage: not at all. I consider both to be basic elements of a mature democracy, and I have never heard an argument against referendums that is not, more profoundly, actually an argument against democracy as such. Question the first (“raw majoritarianism”?), and what you are really questioning is the second.

    As for limits set by the constitution: the only suitable limit I can think of, is to have some sort of threshold in place to limit the number of referenda to only those for which their is a genuine interest among the public (the usual form is to require the collection of a large number of signatures). Otherwise you get thousands of referenda every year on all kinds of minor issues, and we really have a parliament for those.

    So in short, what I am thinking of is a Swiss style democracy. They seem to be doing rather well with it.

    However, that is not the issue of the EU referendum thing I am advocating here: this would be limited to EU treaties alone.

  10. Sebastian Says:

    “And may I remind you that the Spanish and Luxemburgers voted in favour of the EU Constitution in their referenda? That makes it 2/5 so far in reality. It’s so easily forgotten, isn’t it?”

    Ok, so that is 2/5 in your ‘z’ dimension for a non-majority. And considering that Luxemberg plus Spain has fewer people than Holland plus France plus Ireland, you are losing on the ‘x’ dimension as well.

    I guess it is difficult for me to understand all the furor being whipped up against the Irish when it looks to me like it wouldn’t have passed (even with a ridiculous-for-Constitutional-changes level of 50% much less the more suitable 60% or so I would want to see with changes of that magnitude) had a similar question been put to all the other states.

  11. eulogist Says:

    I just think the current system of Treaty ratification should be changed to something that is fair and reasonable, which it isn’t at present.

    Whatever I think of the Irish people’s decision last Friday has had no influence on it: I have been arguing for that x,y,z method since the nineties (when I was considerably more EU-skeptic).

    And if you are so certain that a majority of the Member States would vote against if they held a referendum, surely giving up the current undemocratic system can’t be such a problem for you?

  12. Sebastian Says:

    “And if you are so certain that a majority of the Member States would vote against if they held a referendum, surely giving up the current undemocratic system can’t be such a problem for you?”

    Did you think I was against giving up the current system? And I’m not certain of any such outcome, other than the fact that the ministers of all the states seem very interested in avoiding such a test.

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