Second Lisbon vote confirms voters' fears


Ignoring the result of a referendum is evidence of a democratic deficit at the heart of the EU

IT’S BEEN a deplorable beginning to 2009 with job losses bringing the total number of unemployed to almost 300,000 – the highest in almost 20 years. The taxpayer is being called on to rescue the banks, no one can get credit, we’ve crashed hard into a recession, and economists are forecasting that unemployment will rise to 12 per cent next year.

In the midst of this meltdown what are our political representatives doing? Scheming to try to pass a second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. The Government’s decision to bend the knee and drag the country through another vote came as no surprise. It is unfortunate that Brian Cowen has never indicated that he might have the character or the desire to insist that the EU would respect the Irish vote. He has thrown away an opportunity to make the EU a more democratic, less federalistic union for all.

Democracy and transparency aside, the Government is making a serious gaffe in underestimating the resistance to a second vote on Lisbon. And resistance is growing, since, by insisting on a second vote, the Taoiseach has confirmed what many felt to be true: the people are no longer the decision makers in an increasingly undemocratic EU.

Both Government and Opposition have utterly failed to grasp the deep unease felt by the electorate at this democratic deficit in Europe. The disconnect between the people and the EU elite has been the source of growing resentment since before the first referendum on the Nice treaty. People feel increasingly cut off from the hub of power in Brussels. Writing in this newspaper following the June referendum, Damian Loscher, managing director of TNS/mrbi, said that their polls showed that voting No because of a perceived loss of power and identity jumped in order of importance from fifth to second at the same time the No vote was surging.

This was certainly what Cóir canvassers repeatedly heard on the doorsteps. Many voters complained that it didn’t seem to matter what the electorate thought – and that the right of the people to decide was being gradually diminished.

Millward Brown’s research for the Government post-Lisbon confirmed that resistance to excessive EU regulation was a significant factor for No voters. It was a solid reason for rejecting a treaty that benefited the larger member states at the expense of smaller countries. Yet the Government and its EU counterparts simply don’t seem to understand that a sure-fire way of making voters feel alienated is to refuse to accept the decision made when the majority voted No.

The current economic climate is also causing Irish people to question the previous disastrous negotiations undertaken by Irish governments with the EU – such as the deal which lost us more than €200 billion in fishing rights and destroyed what should be a thriving Irish industry. Concerns are also being raised about the damage caused to our economy by our handing control of our interest rates and our currency to the European Central Bank.

A fundamental problem with the EU is that it no longer adheres to the vision of democracy espoused by Lincoln as “government of the people, by the people, for the people”. It’s more like a government of the people by those who think they know best. The union is set on a course which diminishes the sovereignty of each nation state by giving increasing powers to EU committees, councils, and courts, and by offering an EU constitution to supersede our own.

That’s also the fundamental problem the Government has with selling the Lisbon Treaty – it has no benefits for the ordinary voter; the whole point of the treaty is to give EU institutions more power.

Following the European summit in December it looks likely that we will be offered non-binding assurances on contentious issues such as abortion and neutrality. But these assurances will not change or improve the Lisbon Treaty a jot, and will not be legally binding.

The Government has decided that its first obligation is not to the Irish people but to the unelected elites in Brussels and the Government members want this treaty passed at all costs. They may yet regret that they made their loyalties so obvious.

Richard Greene is spokesman for Cóir, one of the groups campaigning against the Libson Treaty