Vote ‘Yes’ or the economy gets it

Officials are using financial threats to get the right result in the second Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

Tim Black

Tim Black

Topics World

‘Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black’, declared car-maker Henry Ford a century ago. With such an attitude to consumer choice, he would surely appreciate the European Union’s shameful parody of democracy: this October, as the Irish prime minister Brian Cowen revealed yesterday, the Irish people will once again be asked to choose whether or not to ratify the de facto EU constitution known as the Lisbon Treaty. Or, as Mr Ford would have it, they will be allowed to vote any way they choose just so long as it is ‘yes’.

The Irish electorate ought to be familiar with this simulacrum of democracy, having rehearsed the charade once before. On 12 June last year, 53.4 per cent of them voted against the treaty. That is, a greater percentage of Ireland’s electorate chose to reject the Lisbon Treaty than proportion of Americans voted for Barack Obama. There is rightly no question of asking Americans to have another go in order to get the correct result. Yet, in the second Irish referendum on 2 October this year, that is exactly what the Irish are expected to do.

Of course, Irish leaders and EU officials have indulged in a little repackaging of the treaty. This, it was decided at an EU summit in June, amounts to ‘legal guarantees… that certain matters of concern [abortion, neutrality] to the Irish people’ would ‘be unaffected by the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon’ (1).

Unfortunately for those in the EU-dependent Irish establishment, hoping to show off the fruits of their hard-bargaining diplomacy, there was little real change to the treaty itself. After all, any substantial alterations would require re-ratification by other EU member states and that is not something the EU could countenance, given how unpopular the institution is in Western Europe. Little wonder that the presidency notes from the summit state that ‘[the legal guarantees] will clarify but not change either the content or the application of the Treaty of Lisbon… the text of the guarantees explicitly states that the Lisbon Treaty is not changed thereby’ (2).

Or as The Economist baldly put it: ‘The Lisbon Treaty has not changed since Irish voters decisively rejected it a year ago.’ (3) One might add that it has barely changed since the French and Dutch electorates rejected its earlier incarnation four years ago.

So, while the EU makes apparent concessions to Ireland, the Lisbon Treaty still gives the EU its own unelectable, unaccountable president, and will continue to intrude yet further into areas of policy once the preserve of national government, from security to the economy and trade. The effect is profoundly undemocratic; people are yet further estranged from decisions that, no matter how removed they seem, will continue to affect their lives. Moreover, once ratified, the EU constitution becomes self-amending, permanent. Effectively, national political elites need never ask those over whom they rule for their consent to EU governance ever again, leaving the EU to forge its policymaking, legislating path perpetually beyond the purview of the people.

Despite the talk last June of ‘respecting’ the Irish people’s decision (see After the Irish ‘No’ vote: pathologising populism, by Frank Furedi), the European political elite seems intent on making the fecking feckless electorate go through the entire rigmarole again, presumably until they make the right decision. It is a democratic Groundhog Day of which President Mugabe would be proud.

In the eyes of the EU and its allies in national political elites, then, the demos features as little more than an obstacle to be overcome. As James Downey wrote in the Irish Independent at the time of last year’s referendum defeat, ‘All of the [‘No’ campaigners] should have been swatted away weeks ago by the forces of the establishment’. For those who work at the heart of EU, as one Brussels official felt irritated enough to reveal, the Irish people simply did not understand the bribe: ‘Ungrateful bastards. After all the money you got.’ (4)

Such coercive sentiments have persisted. Just last month as part of the star-studded but politically threadbare Ireland for Europe campaign, the poet Seamus Heaney nodded his approval: ‘There are many reasons for ratifying the Lisbon Treaty, reasons to do with our political and economic wellbeing.’ (5) While Heaney’s appeal lacked the sweary finesse of the Brussels official, his point was similar: the Lisbon Treaty is the only option if the Irish want to keep receiving money from the EU. Irish PM Brian Cowen echoed Heaney: ratifying the Lisbon Treaty was ‘intrinsically in our national interest’, he said, before alluding to the catastrophic alternative: ‘[Without EU membership] Ireland could not survive the current economic crisis.’ (6)

So there you have it. Either vote to ratify the Lisbon Treaty, or vote for the economic and political equivalent of Hell and Damnation. Which, as turkeys who choose to vote on Christmas know, is no choice at all.

Paradoxically, with yet another referendum in the offing, it can appear like a surfeit rather than a deficit of democracy. But democracy, if it is to have any content, must be more than the means through which the general will is expressed. Giving people lots of opportunities to change their minds – until they do the ‘right thing’ – is not democracy in action. For democracy is not just about reaching a decision but acting upon it; it is not just about registering votes but adhering to the aspirations that those votes express. Just as an individual’s decision is not actually a decision unless it decides a course of action – that is to say, determines an individual reality – so a decision arrived at democratically has to be allowed to determine a political reality. ‘No’ ought to have been allowed to mean ‘no’.

As the scandalous, electoral machinations of the EU, aided and abetted by their desperate supporters in the Irish elite, show, democracy is everywhere and nowhere these days. For EU officials, the demos is little more than an object of elite disdain and Mafioso-style coercion and bribery. The people can choose any future they want, so long as it is bleak.

Tim Black is senior writer at spiked.

(1) The Lisbon treaty and Ireland, The European Commission, 7 July 2009

(2) Lisbon guarantees are worthless, Irish Examiner, 29 June 2009

(3) Lisbon’s last hope, Economist, 25 June 2009

(4) See After all the money you got. Ungrateful bastards, by Kevin Rooney, 16 June 2009

(5) Arts and sport stars join broad coalition for a Lisbon Yes vote, Irish Times, 22 June 2009

(6) Yes vote ‘intrinsic to our interests’ – Cowen, Irish Times, 25 June 2009

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics World


Want to join the conversation?

Only spiked supporters and patrons, who donate regularly to us, can comment on our articles.

Join today