Commentary

Voting until They Get It Right in the European Union

When it comes to the European Union, any vote to increase authority in Brussels is viewed as final. Any vote against consolidating power is treated as merely temporary.

The Lisbon Treaty is the perfect example of such a power grab. Among other things, it shifts responsibilities from national parliaments to European parliament, reduces the number of areas where unanimity is required (eliminating national vetoes), creates a president as a person (as opposed to rotating presidencies for nations) and creates a foreign minister to push a continental foreign policy.

In June 2008, Ireland voted against the treaty. Since the agreement requires unanimous support, the referendum theoretically killed the attempt. However, the European elite insisted that Ireland vote again. Dublin will hold a revote Oct. 2.

Democracy doesn’t mean drowning out the voices of those who would be forced to live under the government.”

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are unwilling to debate popular dissatisfaction with a consolidated government. Hans-Gert Poettering, the last president of the European Parliament (EP), even advocated locking out anti-federalists: “I think it is very important that the pro-European MEPs cooperate well so the anti-Europeans cannot make their voices heard so strongly.”

An Open Europe poll from 2007 found that roughly 75 percent of Europeans — with a clear majority in every nation — wanted to vote on any new treaty transferring power to Brussels. Lisbon likely would fail in about half of the EU member states.

No wonder former French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing, who played a leading role in drafting the original constitution, opined about the need “to avoid having referendums.”

Spanish EU Commissioner Joaquin Almunia claimed that it’s not “very democratic” to hold a referendum on complicated issues like the Lisbon Treaty. German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble declared, “A few million Irish cannot decide on behalf of 495 million Europeans.”

Some Treaty advocates proposed throwing Ireland out of the EU or relegating the country to associate status. Most, however, preferred to pressure Dublin to hold another poll.

To sweeten the pot, so to speak, other European governments have promised several future concessions. Yet last December, Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin said, “We will not be asking people to vote on the same proposition.”

What Dublin received, however, was the promise of future action, not present amendments. To Irish Socialist MEP Joe Higgins, the guarantee process is “an elaborate charade.” Similarly, explained Open Europe’s Lorraine Mullally, “Despite lengthy negotiations and lots of superficial statements about ‘respecting’ the Irish ‘no’ vote, not a single comma has changed.”

Regardless, if it doesn’t succeed the second time around, threatened one German Socialist MEP, Ireland will face “isolation” and “second-class” status. British MEP Daniel Hannan wrote of an Irish friend who told him, “We didn’t fight off the might of the British Empire just so as to be bossed about by the Belgians.”

Moreover, the Czech and Polish presidents have to yet to sign off on the agreement. If Britain’s Conservatives come to power before the Lisbon process is completed, they are likely to reverse the Labor government’s ratification.

Oxford professor Timothy Garton Ash wrote in the Guardian of “the essential grandeur of this project we call the European Union, where nations born in so much blood work together freely in a commonwealth of democracies.”

He’s right, but his argument actually works against the Lisbon Treaty, or at least the current ratification process. Democracy doesn’t mean drowning out the voices of those who would be forced to live under the government.

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.