The Lisbon referendum

And so the referendum campaign is upon us – we shall shortly be voting on whether to ratify the Lisbon treaty. The first sign of trouble ahead is the appearance of posters on every lamp post. First up were the anti-Lisbon group, COIR, and now the pro-Lisbon groups and parties have also got active. And so also the campaign themes are being fine-tuned and aired. And then we have the opinion polls in the newspapers.

The strangely disturbing thing about the Lisbon saga is the fog in which all discussion and debate seems to take place. Last time round, key players declared they had not read the treaty, or didn’t understand it. And others started to make claims about what was in it or connected with it which were colourful but, perhaps, didn’t owe very much to the Lisbon provisions. On the polling day I asked a number of people who had voted to tell me two things that were in the treaty. Several couldn’t name one, and most of the rest named things that were in fact not in the treaty, or associated with it, at all. In fact if I recall only one person gave me a nearly accurate answer.

When I taught law, one of my constant messages to students was to go to the primary texts. Notwithstanding what was said at the time of the last referendum, there is much in the treaty that is quite accessible. So let me try to help by referring to some of them. First, let’s give the treaty its title: it is the ‘Treaty of Lisbon amending the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty Establishing the European Community.’ You can find the text of the treaty here. And you might usefully go to the following pages: on page 13 you will find a statement of the aims and values of the EU under the treaty; on page 14, and then on pages 18-20, are some of the principles of governance of the EU. And if by then you are in the mood, just keep reading.

Of course if you believe some of the opponents of the treaty, there are evil things waiting to be inflicted upon us once the treaty is ratified, from a dramatic lowering of the minimum wage to unfettered abortion. None of this is in the treaty. Whether the two claims just cited are true would depend, in the first case, on new EU member states bullying and cajoling the rest of us into adopting their pay rates, and in the second on an unreasonable and highly unlikely approach of the European Court of Justice. But from the posters and the campaign theses, we can gather that the strategy of the opponents is to make our flesh creep. In fact, in the past yes campaigners have also been tempted by the scaremongering tactic, with warnings of dire consequences if we were to vote ‘No'; so far the approach there has been more positive.

But for those who want the treaty to be ratified, it is worth pointing out that they have a difficult subject – not because the treaty is unworthy, but because it makes for a dull read and doesn’t provide much material for a passionate campaign. A slogan of ‘Let’s look at the new article 3a’ doesn’t set the pulse racing. And in that setting, opponents can just assert that it means all sorts of horrible and life-threatening things. Brian Lenihan wisely remarked last time, if you’re explaining you’re losing.

As we’re in a democracy, in some ways how you vote is less important than that you vote, and so I would urge everyone to exercise this right. And as for the main parties to the debate, stick to the facts and forget about all the dramatic statements, hair-raising threats and creative interpretations.

And if you can find it in your hearts not to put up any more of these annoying posters, then I for one will be grateful.

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10 Comments on “The Lisbon referendum”


  1. As a Yes campaigner I,m quite annoyed the Yes side is resorting to the same FEAR tactics that they criticise the No side for. Granted the fears being promoted are economics, rather than wholesale abortions or a EU army that will conscript every fie year old child, but none the less the tactic is the same. Irish politics and it,s hypocrisy never ceases to amaze me.

  2. Vincent Says:

    Last time, I had three copies of the Treaties. The first one, I did not believe, the second one, well, on the third one I was fighting mad. Now, I must say I voted for, last time.

    Many view this as a Treaty, but this is not a treaty in the accepted meaning. A treaty, attempts to define something relatively static. What this does is to allow the ever moving politics. Nothing is stated that cannot be changed.

  3. Aoife Citizen Says:

    You are a lawyer; of course you think people should read the treaty.

    I am continually annoyed by people using computers without ever really bothering to understand how to use them. People spend all day with their hand glued to a mouse but they never bother to learn the computer tricks and usage patterns that would increase massively their productivity. The cost is huge, wasted time and a growing practice of making computers easier and easier to use badly but harder and harder to use well. I don’t go on about it though, or at least not normally, because I know I am a computer person, I enjoy programming and my profession has trained me in a way that makes understanding computers easy and fun. I realize my perspective in this matter is different from everyone else’s.

    As to your posting, at first reading it makes me feel guilty for deciding my vote, as ever, based on gut-instinct and trust. On second thought though, you have probably never opened your computer’s command shell and I’ll probably never read a EU treaty.

  4. Eoin Says:

    I was discussing with friends of mine (we’re all around the 21 year old mark) what exactly this campaign is about.

    I haven’t read the treaty, but I would like to know hard facts. The way I have heard is that this treaty, if it be ratified, will make the EU far more efficient. Alternatively, I have heard that in doing so, the Treaty runs the risk of diminishing our independence to make decisions for ourselves.

    Now, I don’t know if either is true, but I do know that the facts purported by the No side are far more convincing than the Yes side. Saying that we would have 0.8% of a vote compared to Germany’s 17% (as one poster stated) makes a far greater point than the “Europe is our future” type of non-factual persuasion.

    Again, as I said, I don’t know much, but what I would like to see is tangible facts that would give us an insight into what the Treaty could do for us (i.e., as one friend put it, saving 90 billion Euro in spending). Or if the parties earmarked the savings in money (I assume that’s what they mean by more efficiency) for increased class sizes or a better Health Service.

    Despite the political theories on mandates, I believe this referendum will come down to two issues: our independence and our economic well-being. If I believe my friends, there is no risk to the former and an extreme to the latter. However, several No commentators have said it’s the opposite- that we run an extreme risk of compromising our independence and that the Treaty will have no economic significance.

    What we need from both sides are the cold hard facts- the truth. I’m certainly not going to jeopardise the independence of the Republic. And yet, I want economic stability. Is it really a choice between these two things?

  5. cormac Says:

    we urgently need to introduce penalties for those on either side of the debate (and any other such debate) who make statements that are clearly false (and ignorance is no excuse. I cannot understand how the law does not address this – how we can we possibly have a meaningful debate if people are constantly bombarded by misinformation?

  6. Mammydiaries Says:

    All yes’s and no’s aside, what I still can’t help but wonder is this:

    Is there really any point in having the right to “decide” when the government is only going to keep on asking us until they get the answer they want?

    And on the same note, are we going to just sit here and allow them to treat us like children? Spending millions on a “referendum” which bares more resemblance to an indulgant parent placating a small child then any sort of democratic vote with real meaning.

  7. Dirk Says:

    The Rueffert judgement handed down by the European Court of Justice states that it contravenes EU law to require that an employer pay the collectively bargained mimimum wage. This is not the statutory mimimum wage, just (“just”) the wage agreed in an industry by employers and unions.

    It’s hard to see how, following this logic, someone will not ask the court in future if a national statuory mimimum wage is not also “an unjustified restriction on the freedom to provide services.” Will the ECJ agree? I don’t know and I presume Coir don’t either and that is why they are putting a question mark after the words “1.84 mimimum wage after Lisbon.” Trying to answer this question would be a lot more helpful than writing Coir off as a front for Youth defence.

    For devotees of primary sources:

    http://curia.europa.eu/jurisp/cgi-bin/form.pl?lang=en&alljur=alljur&jurcdj=jurcdj&jurtpi=jurtpi&jurtfp=jurtfp&numaff=&nomusuel=R%C3%BCffert%20&docnodecision=docnodecision&allcommjo=allcommjo&affint=affint&affclose=affclose&alldocrec=alldocrec&docor=docor&docav=docav&docsom=docsom&docinf=docinf&alldocnorec=alldocnorec&docnoor=docnoor&radtypeord=on&newform=newform&docj=docj&docop=docop&docnoj=docnoj&typeord=ALL&domaine=&mots=&resmax=100&Submit=Rechercher

  8. Vincent Says:

    We had Nigel Farage (ukip) on Pat Kenny this morning. I must say he is exactly the type of Englishmen from whom we Irish love taking advise.

  9. Iwona Says:

    1921 – Great Britain?
    NO! = Freedom!

    2009 – European Union?
    NO! = Freedom!


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