Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
You need to spend more time thinking about this from a perspective that does not pre-suppose a positive view of the EU.

This is where Cowen then turns the vote into a referendum on our membership of the EU as a whole.  Do we want to be part of the project or don't we?  If he can succeed in turning a second vote into a plebiscite on our continued membership of the "inner circle" of the EU project he will still win.

This is the weak link in your otherwise reasonable plan. Claiming it is a "referendum on our membership" can be easily dismissed as a campaigning ploy unless it is actually a referendum on membership. And if it is, then you had better be willing to accept the consequences of defeat in the (admittedly unlikely) event that it occurs.

There were no obvious negative consequences to voting No the last time. The fact is that the No campaign was factually correct in saying that a voting no was a vote for the status quo (Nice rather than Lisbon). The damage to Ireland's interests that you highlighted in other diaries is the loss of "political capital" behind the scenes - easily presented as "bullying' if one is so inclined.

The problem with Ireland's vote is not the No as such, but the dog-in-the-manger aspect of that no. If a second referendum is held, then the no option should remove this aspect - meaning that Ireland opts out but that the rest of Europe is given permission to proceed. You have to be prepared to risk losing something in the event of a second no. However, be aware that, unless you opt for the nuclear option (voting no = withdrawal from the EU), it is likely that any "limited-withdrawal" associated with a No vote would be presented by some as "getting all the benefits and none of the liabilities" of membership.

The question is how many people would be prepared to campaign on such an argument? Despite all the cash of Libertas, the real danger is "Sinn Fein", which for those who are unaware translates as "ourselves alone". I may be wrong, but I suspect Sinn Fein would be perfectly happy with a provincial backward-looking Ireland so long as they were kings of that Ireland. Don't dismiss the "better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven" mentality.

by det on Thu Aug 28th, 2008 at 02:49:29 AM EST
Actually, I have a thought. Don't hold a second referendum on approving Lisbon. Hold a referendum on allowing the rest of the EU to proceed without Ireland. In this case:

Voting Yes = We confirm that we opt out, but we permit the rest to proceed without us.
Voting No = No, actually we have changed our minds and want to ratify the Lisbon treaty.

As a minimum, at least it forces Libertas into reprinting all of its campaign material again :-).

And no, I don't have the faintest clue how this could be arranged with respect to number of commissioners, MEPs, etc.

by det on Thu Aug 28th, 2008 at 03:04:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Hold a referendum on allowing the rest of the EU to proceed without Ireland.

This doesn't require a referendum - merely a government decision not to oppose "enhanced cooperation" by others under Nice - something that may not be possible in any case.  How can Ireland stop (say) Germany and France and a lot of other members agreeing to (say) enhanced security/military cooperation?

What the Government DOES need to do next time around is spell out what the rest of the EU WILL do if Lisbon is rejected a second time.  Of course this will be presented by the NO campaign as bullying, but nobody is forcing Ireland to tag along.

Quite the reverse.  The No campaigners are trying to bully 26 other democratic Governments into not doing what they have freely said they want to do.  It would be helpful if the absurdity of this proposition were exposed by the other 26 member states jointly declaring that they will proceed with Lisbon on a multilateral "enhanced cooperation" basis without Ireland if Ireland CHOOSES  to opt out - as it is perfectly entitled to do.

Thus there is no bullying - we can come to the party or stay at home as we choose.  What we can't do is stop 26 other democracies from agreeing to work ever closer together.

(In practice such enhanced cooperation without Ireland would be extremely unwieldy.  The Parliament/Commission/President of the Council would still be elected/appointed on the Nice basis and some business would be concluded on a Lisbon (without Ireland) basis whilst Ireland would be included in other business on a Nice basis.  It would be a bit lie Russia being excluded from some G8/G7 meetings and not others with Ireland "stepping out" of certain meeting whist some decisions were taken by the Lisbon EU26 version 2.0.

The absurdities inherent in this would force a reappraisal on all sides but the divergence could become permanent if (say) Croatia were admitted into the Lisbon EU but not the Nice EU.  Then you would have Ireland and Croatia swapping seats from time to time.  It would be easy to spot which country is on the way out.

Vote McCain for war without gain

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Aug 28th, 2008 at 04:26:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Of course, for the other 26 governments to say explicitly what they are going to do with enhanced cooperation if Ireland opts out kinda requires that they agree on what they're going to do if Ireland opts out.

In practise, I suspect that that some governments (none named, none forgotten) would be quite happy to open the Lisbon can of worms again and see if they could get a better deal.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Aug 28th, 2008 at 05:46:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't think ANY Government wants to re-open that can of worms again because they know how difficult it was to get agreement (and ratification) last time around.  

Even the Irish Government doesn't want to do this - with the possible exception of the Commissioner issue which is probably simple and ring fenced and equitable enough for it to be ring-fenced from contaminating any other issue - but even this change would require unanimous agreement and re-ratification - something Governments might be prepared to do to save the Treaty - always presuming this whole process is closed off before the Tories or any other more Eurosceptic Government gets into power anywhere.

If the Tories get in before the Treaty is fully ratified and comes into force, all bets are probably off anyway.

How to handle an EU with 26 Lisbon and one Nice member is indeed a mind boggling task - something I am sure all would like to avoid - if not for Irelnd's sake, then to avoid creating a very difficult precedent which might one day effect them.

Vote McCain for war without gain

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Aug 28th, 2008 at 06:40:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What the Government DOES need to do next time around is spell out what the rest of the EU WILL do if Lisbon is rejected a second time. Of course this will be presented by the NO campaign as bullying, but nobody is forcing Ireland to tag along.

You are on a loser here, if not this time then later on down the road. The problem with the Crotty decision, or more precisely with the manner in which Irish governments have decided to interpret it, is that it is a time bomb. With each successive referendum you add some latent hostility from the "you mean we have to vote AGAIN? Will it ever stop?" attitude. Then you have the accusation that no answer except the "right" answer will be accepted and "they" will keep coming back until you give "right' answer. What this results in is an accumulation of bile. Given the previous Nice referenda, my initial thought was that the No campaign was starting out with the advantage. That is what makes the complacency of the Yes campaign so frustrating - they should have seen this coming.

You are absolutely correct to say an referendum would not be required to implement an "Ireland-opts-out" scenario. But holding a second Lisbon-approval referendum backed by the perceived threat of what will happen if you vote No again is just way too easy to present as "bullying". Even if the electorate reverses the vote, you will have just accumulated more bile and next time you will have an even steeper hill to climb. Any consequences that flow from a second No should just as naturally flow from the initial No - otherwise the "threat" is a new addition. The fact that the electorate was not aware or may have been deceived on this point is neither here-nor-there. They voted; the consequences should follow even if those consequences were not recognized.

Now I absolutely do not want the Irish government to follow a course that begins to exclude Ireland. I think it would be bad for the EU and a disaster for Ireland. That is why I am only half in jest when I propose reversing the question. The logic is that the Irish government negotiates the terms of its exclusion, then it says "Ok people, this is what you have voted for, are you SURE you want to do this?". To my mind it is a far easier referendum to market. You are not asking the same question so much as looking for confirmation. The rational is that even though the confirmation is not required, the consequences that flow from the initial vote are so potentially damaging to the national interest that the government feels obliged to seek that confirmation before proceeding. The fact that the No campaign would not simply be able to dust off their generic "Don't be bullied - Vote No"/"If you don't know - Vote No" posters would just be an added bonus. The down-side is that the electorate may say "Yes, we are sure" and then the course is set.

And you are welcome regarding my other response. Anyone willing to fight the good fight deserves whatever little input I can give.

by det on Thu Aug 28th, 2008 at 07:53:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not sure I agree with your "accumulation of bile" theory with respect to the EU.  There have always been opponents of the EU  and a degree of nationalism is there either overt or below the surface in all EU members.  This time we have them a critical mass by posing a spectacularly inappropriate Referendum question which required an understanding of a 300 page document that even many political leaders have not read.  We often buy stuff without reading the fine print, but that's not generally a good principal to amend your constitution on.

I'm also not sure that the reverse psychology of posing a referendum question that you want to lose is a good idea.  I don't think anyone campaigned on the basis of wanting to be excluded from anything (even if that is what they privately wanted) but rather under the illusion that the current status quo is tenable indefinitely until such time as someone (e.g. Sinn Fein) can negotiate a better deal for Ireland.

The political and legal question here (under existing international law and Treaty obligations) is whether Ireland  can stop the 26 other members proceeding to implement aspects of Lisbon by joint agreement under the Nice enhanced cooperation provisions and with Ireland effectively opting out. Certainly it makes a mockery of the NO camps protestations that they are supporting European democracy by preventing the settled will of 26 democratic Governments being implemented.

We insist on the Unionists sharing power with Sinn Fein in the North.  The EU is also a power-sharing agreement between 27 Governments which depends on good relationships and good will being maintained.  People understand this.  Once it is clear that there is no question of a significant re-negotiation of the Treaty - then people will have to decide whether sticking to our Nice status quo is worth the cost of pissing of the other 26 Members.  Given that people barely understand the difference between Nice and Lisbon in the first place, that should be a no brainer..

Vote McCain for war without gain

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Aug 28th, 2008 at 04:30:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for this very thoughtful response.


You need to spend more time thinking about this from a perspective that does not pre-suppose a positive view of the EU.

All surveys show that that the vast majority of Irish people take a very positive view of our membership and saw the Lisbon referendum (as you say) as a no-risk way of keeping things the same as opposed to voting against the EU.

The many contradictory strands of the No campaign all claimed to support the EU (they couldn't afford not to) but then proceeded to support anti-EU positions which far exceeded anything in Lisbon itself.

*. Libertas adopted a British style Eurosceptic approach arguing for an economic rather than a political Union together with populist waffle about a lack of direct democracy which doesn't exist anywhere outside Switzerland

*. COIR opposed the liberalising agenda of EU human rights based social and employment legislation from a traditionalist Catholic background (without identifying it explicitly as such)

*. Left-wing opponents criticised the EU for its lack of intervention in Irish affairs - the environment, social legislation, economic equality etc. - a position directly contradictory to all the above

*. Sinn Fein did what they always did in Northern Ireland - overnegotiate so much that agreement breaks down - and then have to come back later and accept a lesser deal.  Far from being able to negotiate a better deal from the EU by our rejection, we have hugely damaged our negotiating position.  This is slowly being understood more generally.

*.  Traditional Nationalists would oppose the loss of national Sovereignty embodied in the EU forgetting that that was primarily conceded in 1973 and that all treaties involve a loss/sharing of "sovereignty" in that sense.

My "strategy" - as you put it - would expose the actually rather limited nature of what Lisbon is really about.  Those that continued to oppose it (as all the above undoubtedly would) would be exposed as opposing not just Lisbon and its limited impact on Ireland, but many much broader aspects of the EU itself such as the liberalising, human rights based, social, environmental, consumer, and regulatory frameworks associated with a much larger economy/polity.

It would also highlight the fact that all these reforms were achieved in partnership with, and because of the support of our fellow members of the EU - a support which we are putting in jeopardy by undermining the expressed will of 26 member Governments (and effectively supporting the sometimes tiny opposition party opposition to Lisbon in those member states).  Do you make friends with your partner Governments by questioning their legitimacy and supporting their adversaries in their domestic politics?

Whether we like it or not, a second Referendum would be a referendum on our continued membership of the "top tier" or "inner circle" of the EU.  Some - a very few - actually want this, believing that this would allow Ireland to return to conservative catholic/rural/local community/xenophobic values - and rejecting the liberalising, secularising, cosmopolitan, globalising trends they associate with modernity and the EU.

But they would be a small minority - less than 25% of the electorate -and the exposure of the NO position as leading towards such an outcome would force the remainder of the NO vote to abstain or even change their minds.

Vote McCain for war without gain

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Aug 28th, 2008 at 04:05:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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