ungrateful Paddys Irish voters did it again: Voted to no a European treaty.
With a turn-out of 53,1%, 46,6% voted yes to the Treaty of Lisbon while 53,4% voted no. (Official data here)
The problem now is a) Why did the Irish vote against the treaty and b) What does this mean for Ireland and the EU?
With regard to question a) the immediate answer is likely to be that the voters voted on something else than the issue – political scientists have a term for this: the second-order election problem -, but there is a couple of problems here:
a1) This isn’t the first time the Irish have stopped (at least momentarily) an EU treaty. It happened in 2001 and even if the turn-out was a pathetic 34,8%, the politicians should have learnt their lesson by now.
a2) This isn’t the first time, the present treaty has hit a serious bump in the road: I’ll leave aside the legal niceties and note that the French rejected the treaty in its original form in 2005 (Y: 45,3%, N: 54,7, T-O: 69,3%) as did the Dutch a couple of days later (Y: 38,5%, N: 61,5%, T-O: 63,3%). This treaty systematically fails at referendums.
It will be interesting to see a breakdown of the numbers, but generally there seems to be some clear dimensions in the voting in all three countries: Class and urban-rural divisions play a role here1 – the urban middle-classes are pro-Europe, the working-class and people from rural areas are more likely to be Euro-sceptic.2
b) is trickier and political scientists in general are bad oracles but I’ll try some observations:
b1) The obvious strategy will be to make this “the Irish problem” in order to contain the damage in the short run. I’m not sure that this is the best road to take in the long run as there are misgivings about the EU out there.
b2) Ireland and to a certain degree Denmark has provisions for mandatory referendums, while there is a strong push for a UK referendum on Europe by anti-EU groups. This could stop formal institutional development and push the cooperation into transnational policy-networks that are more flexible but also more difficult to control.
b3) Denmark has a couple of issues on the agenda – the Maastricht opt-outs and the future of Anders Fogh Rasmussen. I’m sure that it would be possible to hold referendums on the opt-outs under the present Nice Treaty but it may look odd politically. On the other hand, it might theoretically be easier to keep the referendums as referendums on Justice and Home Affairs and Foreign and Defence Policy. My guess is that we will be a bit wiser in early July or August.
Declaration of interest: In case anybody out there wonder, I’ve voted in the Danish referendums in 1986, 1992, 1993 and 1998 as well as the Swedish referendum in 2003. I voted yes all of the times even if I had and have some reservations about the economic conception behind the ECB’s brief.
Update: Professor Richard Sinnott, author of a standard volume on Irish electoral behaviour, has this analysis in the Irish Times. He points to two factors affecting the vote: a) a lack of confidence in people regarding their knowledge of the issues and b) national identity.
How would this
… it is evident that running an integrationist referendum in a political culture in which almost two-thirds of the electorate feel themselves to belong exclusively to a certain national identity (in this case Irish) is never going to be a walkover.
apply in the Danish case?