Thursday, April 30, 2009

Comment: Should Gordon Brown Hold a Referendum on the Lisbon Treaty?

Bit of debate on Etan Smallman's blog here.

Gordon Brown promised a referendum on the EU Constitution. The Constitution was rejected in referenda in France and the Netherlands. It was then re-drafted as the Treaty of Lisbon. Is Gordon Brown still obligated to give the UK a referendum? Are the EU Constitution and the Treaty of Lisbon really that different?

My comment:

They’re about 90% the same (if not more). All references to states or constitutions removed (no mention of national anthems or flags, etc). Some stuff was shifted around from the main body into annexes (no practical difference in doing that, as it’s still legally binding, but makes it less obvious)

I agree that if you make a promise for a referendum on the constitution, it should still apply to Lisbon. I have no polling data at hand, but my gut tells me it would fail.

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Michael said...

Referendums are problematic because so many people refuse point blank to make even the most cursory effort to educate themselves about the content of the treaties. When the Lisbon referendum was held here in Ireland the government sent leaflets to every home, established helplines and websites, and made the full text available in every library, yet I lost count of the number of conversations I had with people who complained that "they never explained it to us".

This doesn't excuse the democratic deficit and public relations failures of the EU, but I genuinely think it's time for academics and politicians to start talking honestly about the chronic and arrogant lack of engagement on the part of much of civil society.

The Irish debate degenerated into specious scaremongering on both sides, (e.g. a significant percentage of people voted no because they believed their children would be conscripted into a European army)and I would expect this to be repeated if a vote were held in Britain, given the current climate.

Josef Litobarski said...

Hi, Michael!

I agree with you in part, but I'm not so sure it's arrogant to fail to engage with a set of institutions that are so complicated they require a university degree to understand properly. :D

The EU is (I think I'm safe in saying this) the most complicated system of government on the planet. It grew organically this way partly as a compromise between the supranationalists and the intergovernmentalists. But it was also designed this way on purpose, because the EC/EU's architects had seen what populist politics led to in the 30s and they wanted a more elite-led system of governance.

The EU has to strike a balance. It needs to reform. But it also desperately needs the legitimacy of the European people. It's not enough (in my opinion) to say that people voted "no" because they didn't understand the EU. If that's indeed the problem, then it's up to the EU to simplify, not for normal people (who don't have the luxury of studying EU politics for a living) to sit down and read through pages and pages of dull treaty text.

Not sure if you agree, but that's my take!

Tom Christoffel said...

Hello -
Google’s Blog alert sent me to this post because of the term “regions.” This discussion should be useful to subscribers of Regional Community Development News, so I will include a link to it in the May 13 issue. The newsletter will be found at Please visit, check the tools and consider a link. Tom