EU Law Essay - The Lisbon Treaty | Critical Essays

EU Law Essay – The Lisbon Treaty

EU Law Essay – The Lisbon Treaty

This essay seeks to investigate the reasons why French and Dutch voters rejected the European Union (EU) Constitution in 2005 and why Irish voters returned a no verdict regarding the Lisbon Treaty during their referendum in 2008.  Finally, a look at what will this mean for the future development of the EU.

The EU has run so far on a series of treaties: ‘Paris (now expired), the two Treaties of Rome, the Merger Treaty, the Single European Act, Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice’[1].  National governments, and indeed their citizens, have been unwilling to accept the EU as a new level of governance and therefore have stopped short of creating a full EU constitution.  However, due to the difficulty in managing the integration of 15 member states plus 12 candidates including many Eastern European countries, a draft EU Constitution was drawn up in 2004.  As well as amalgamating existing legislation from the preceding treaties, the EU Constitution included, ‘an elected president of the European Council, a foreign minister for the EU, a limit on the membership of the European Commission, a common EU foreign and security policy, and a legal personality for the EU, whose laws would cancel out those of national parliaments in areas where the EU had been given competence’[2].  The constitution had to be ratified by all members in order to take effect, but French and Dutch voters both voted no in national referendums in May and June 2005 respectively.  This halted the process until the constitution was repackaged as the Lisbon Treaty with some alterations, mostly to incorporate new members, in 2007[3].  Unfortunately, this time it was rejected by Irish voters in June 2008 in the only referendum to be held on the Lisbon Treaty within the EU jurisdiction[4].

French and Dutch turnouts at the polls were roughly three times the numbers normally present for EU elections – 70% in France and 63% in the Netherlands.  The French no camp won by a 10-point margin and the Dutch by 62% to 38%[5].  In Ireland, supporters of the Lisbon Treaty lost by 53.4% to 46.6%[6].

Unlike the founding fathers of the US who wrote a clear, easily readable short list of ideals, the EU Constitution consisted of 485 pages of highly complex legal terminology which even the lawyers had trouble deciphering[7].  Joan Burton of the Irish Labour Party cited this as the key reason for the Irish no vote and said that, ‘the treaty had been too obscure and had confused and frightened voters… thousands and thousands of people couldn’t even understand what the treaty was about’[8].  Richard Bruton, deputy leader of Ireland’s main opposition party, Fine Gael, felt the blame lay with the lack of clarity over tax issues.  Many Irish businesses were worried that the EU would impose a possible tax harmonisation ending Ireland’s low capital tax status that would jeopardize Ireland’s flourishing economy, the so-called Celtic Tiger[9].  In addition, where the US constitution was ambiguous and open to interpretation, the lawyers constructing the EU Constitution wanted to leave no room for doubt in any area of the legislation[10].

Etienne Chouard, a school teacher from Marseilles, summed up his reasons for saying no on his website etienne.chouard.free.fr as follows:

‘1.        A constitution has to be readable to permit a popular vote; this text is unreadable.

2.         A constitution doesn’t impose a political ideology; this text is partisan.

3.         A constitution is revisable; this text is locked in…

4.         A constitution protects people from tyranny through separation of powers; this one doesn’t have real checks and balances and separation of powers.

5.         A constitution is not handed down by the powerful; it is established by the people themselves, to protect them from arbitrary power, through an independent constitutional assembly elected for the purpose and disbanded afterwards; this text entrenches European institutions designed 50 years ago by the men in power.’[11]

According to Christopher Caldwell, senior editor of The Weekly Standard, Chouard managed to; ‘convince his countrymen almost single-handed’ that politicians were trying to pull a fast one by holding these referendums[12].  This was echoed by Holland’s Justice Minister, Mr Van Bommel, who felt that the people were ‘angry at the government for the fact that they [were] insulting their intelligence’[13].

In both France and Holland, one of the principle reasons why the people rejected the document was in order to voice their opposition to the present governments.  France’s Socialist Party leader, Francois Hollande, blamed Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, by exclaiming, “The rejection of this treaty is above all a rejection of the government”[14].  In the Netherlands, the issue of the Iraq war fuelled dissent amongst the general population.  George Galloway, the British MP who campaigned tirelessly against the war, felt that leaders who were in power during 2003 were beginning to pay the political price for their compliance[15].

Many French and Dutch voters were very worried about the speed of integration from Eastern Europeans, but were particularly concerned about the possibility that Turkey might join the EU.  Points raised included the inevitable surge of cheap labour into Western Europe threatening the survival of national businesses and causing a hike in unemployment.  There was also the sensitive issue of whether Turkey’s large Muslim population would make the struggle for European cultural cohesiveness even more difficult.  In Germany, Prime Minister Edmund Stoiber expressed similar misgivings by saying, ‘The European Union is not capable of accommodating itself to Turkey nor is Turkey capable of accommodating itself to the European Union’[16].  Two incidents in the Netherlands preceded the referendum which made the historically very liberal Dutch society start to question the compatibility of western culture and Islam.  Firstly, the assassination of the far-right leader Pim Fortuyn in May 2002, although his killer turned out to be an animal rights activist, and more importantly the murder of Theo van Gogh, a Dutch filmmaker, by an Islamic radical in November 2004[17].  This second incident sparked a nationwide debate regarding the threat to freedom of speech posed by immigrants who held different beliefs[18].  This contributed enormously to the no campaign[19].

Europe saw a large rise in nationalism during the build-up to these referendums with support for far-right parties gathering pace.  Indigenous Europeans felt that their culture was being stripped away by the EU and by the rise in immigration.  During the 1980s, both Charles de Gaulle and Margaret Thatcher thought that the EU was best served by member states retaining their power to veto any legislation felt to be a threat to national interests[20].  However, this EU Constitution would have removed the right to legislate from all members and given it instead to the Euro MPs[21].  A total of 40 vetoes would be scrapped outright should the Lisbon Treaty come into effect[22].

Geert Wilders, a former liberal who defected to form his own right-wing party in the Netherlands was also against Turkey’s accession due to the large weight their votes would hold: ‘a large country like Turkey [would] have in terms of voting weight more influence on Dutch legislation than the Netherlands itself’[23].  Likewise in Ireland, anti-abortion campaigners, Coir, came out against the treaty due to fears the EU might remove the Irish ban on abortion, despite assurances from the Irish government that this could not happen[24].  This loss of national sovereignty became known as the EU’s democratic deficit.  Although not only would the national governments have lost the power to govern themselves, there was also a large gap between the will of the people and their leaders.  For example, in the Netherlands, 85% of legislators were staunch defenders of the EU Constitution yet 62% of Dutch voters had said no[25].  In a democracy leaders are supposed to carry out the wishes of the people not the other way around![26]  Somewhat ironically, the firmest proponents of democracy who stood out against the Constitution/Treaty have come from the far-left and far-right parties[27], who traditionally have been in favour of a more dictatorial way of governing[28].

The Irish no campaign was lead by a group called Libertas, headed by multimillionaire Declan Ganley[29].  This group had support from across the political spectrum including the Catholic far-right, Sinn Fein as well as the far-left[30].  There was also support in France from a wide variety of groups including Communists and right-wing parties[31].  Interestingly, what many voters in Ireland were not aware of was Declan Ganley’s ties to the neo-conservatives in the US.  His company, Rivada Networks, had strong links to the American Military Complex and had been trying to secure telecoms contracts in Iraq.  The Irish Times did an exposé on Ganley outlining his aspirations for the EU.  He said he wanted Europe to take a pan-European approach, be pro-US and to elect a US-style president who would back the US foreign affairs policy.  It was in the interests of the US to have Europe divided as many people were looking towards the EU to provide a counterweight to the US, Russia and China.  In more affluent areas where the Irish Times is read many more people voted yes in the referendum.  In short, the US financially backed the no campaign in order to produce a divided Europe, and indeed they succeeded[32].

The non-ratification of the Lisbon Treaty by any member state was going to pose a difficult situation for Brussels.  Following the Irish vote, opinion was divided as to how to move forward: whether to respect the Irish wishes and not ratify the Treaty as per Article IV section 447[33]; or whether to try and persuade the Irish voters to change their minds and run a second referendum; or indeed whether to simply carry on without the Irish[34].  There has been talk of a two-tiered Europe over the past few years, mainly centred on the question of newer members’ abilities to meet certain economic and cultural conditions in relation to more established states[35].  However, perhaps a two-tiered Europe will emerge between those who ratify the Treaty and those who do not[36].  Caldwell’s opinion is that, ‘The EU’s attempt to bind itself constitutionally into an ever closer union has, for the foreseeable future, failed’[37].  However, McCormick disagrees and believes that, ‘as the external borders of the EU settle down and attitudes towards integration change, the agreement of a permanent document is all but inevitable’[38].

In conclusion, the French, Dutch and Irish voted no over issues of national sovereignty and the retention of democracy, in particular women were worried about the dangers of federalizing Europe.  However, the US Administration was concerned that a strong Europe would surpass them on the world stage and so chose to mount their own black propaganda campaign against the Irish by pretending to support their interests under the guise of Declan Ganley[39].  Perhaps, in the words of Geert Wilders, ‘This is the beginning of the end of the European super-state’[40].  Nevertheless, while Europeans’ eyes were focussed on the increasing might of the EU, they failed to notice the elephant in the room.

 

Bibliography

BBC News (20 May 2005) ‘Dutch ‘No’ camp takes strong lead’, BBC News.  Available at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe4565811.stm [accessed 06/03/2009]

BBC News (30 May 2005) ‘French say firm ‘No’ to EU treaty’, BBC News. Available at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/4592243.stm [accessed 06/03/2009]

Brugha, C. (November 2008) ‘Why Ireland rejected the Lisbon Treaty’, Journal of Public Affairs, 8, pp.303-308

Caldwell, C. (13 June 2005) ‘Why Did the French and Dutch Vote No?’, The Weekly Standard, 10 (37)

Dalrymple, T. (15 November 2004) ‘Why Theo Van Gogh Was Murdered’, City Journal. Available at http://www.city-journal.org/html/eon_11_15_04td.html [accessed 17/03/2009]

EUbusiness.com ‘French ‘no’ delights Dutch opponents of the EU constitution’, EUbusiness.com. Available at http://www.eubusiness.com/Netherlands/050530144615.3bm0fgm5/ [accessed 06/03/2009]

Heywood, A. Political Theory: An Introduction (3rd edn.). Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke & New York, 2004

IBEC ‘Why is business supporting the Lisbon Reform Treaty?’, IBEC. Available at http://www.ibeclisbon.ie/Sectors/Lisbon/LisbonTreaty.nsf/wvPages/eu+membership+benefits+business+is+supporting?OpenDocument [accessed 18/03/2009]

McCormick, J. Understanding the European Union: A Concise Introduction (4th edn.). Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke & New York

McDonald, H & Stratton, A. (13 June 2008) ‘Irish voters reject EU treaty’, Guardian. Available at http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/jun/13/ireland/print [accessed 03/03/2009]

Peterkin, T. (13 June 2008) ‘EU referendum: Ireland rejects Lisbon Treaty’, Telegraph. Available at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/2122654/EU-referendum-Ireland-rejects-Lisbon-Treaty.html [accessed 03/03/2009]

Waterfield, B. (13 June 208) ‘Lisbon Treaty resurrects defeated EU Constitution’, Telegraph. Available at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/eureferendum/2123045/EU-Treaty-Lisbon-Treaty-resurrected-defeated-EU-Constitution.html [accessed 03/03/2009]

 


 

[1] McCormick, J. Understanding the European Union: A Concise Introduction (4th edn.). Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke & New York, p.70

[2] Ibid., p.65

[3] Ibid.

[4] Peterkin, T. (13 June 2008) ‘EU referendum: Ireland rejects Lisbon Treaty’, Telegraph. Available at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/2122654/EU-referendum-Ireland-rejects-Lisbon-Treaty.html [accessed 03/03/2009]

[5] Caldwell, C. (13 June 2005) ‘Why Did the French and Dutch Vote No?’, The Weekly Standard, 10 (37)

[6] McDonald, H & Stratton, A. (13 June 2008) ‘Irish voters reject EU treaty’, Guardian. Available at http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/jun/13/ireland/print [accessed 03/03/2009]

[7] McCormick, J. Understanding the European Union: A Concise Introduction (4th edn.). Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke & New York

[8] McDonald, H & Stratton, A. (13 June 2008) ‘Irish voters reject EU treaty’, Guardian. Available at http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/jun/13/ireland/print [accessed 03/03/2009]

[9] Ibid.

[10] McCormick, J. Understanding the European Union: A Concise Introduction (4th edn.). Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke & New York

[11] Caldwell, C. (13 June 2005) ‘Why Did the French and Dutch Vote No?’, The Weekly Standard, 10 (37)

[12] Ibid.

[13] BBC News (20 May 2005) ‘Dutch ‘No’ camp takes strong lead’, BBC News.  Available at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe4565811.stm [accessed 06/03/2009]

[14] BBC News (30 May 2005) ‘French say firm ‘No’ to EU treaty’, BBC News. Available at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/4592243.stm [accessed 06/03/2009]

[15] Caldwell, C. (13 June 2005) ‘Why Did the French and Dutch Vote No?’, The Weekly Standard, 10 (37)

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Dalrymple, T. (15 November 2004) ‘Why Theo Van Gogh Was Murdered’, City Journal. Available at http://www.city-journal.org/html/eon_11_15_04td.html [accessed 17/03/2009]

[19] Caldwell, C. (13 June 2005) ‘Why Did the French and Dutch Vote No?’, The Weekly Standard, 10 (37)

[20] Heywood, A. Political Theory: An Introduction (3rd edn.). Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke & New York, 2004

[21] Caldwell, C. (13 June 2005) ‘Why Did the French and Dutch Vote No?’, The Weekly Standard, 10 (37)

[22] Waterfield, B. (13 June 208) ‘Lisbon Treaty resurrects defeated EU Constitution’, Telegraph. Available at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/eureferendum/2123045/EU-Treaty-Lisbon-Treaty-resurrected-defeated-EU-Constitution.html [accessed 03/03/2009]

[23] EUbusiness.com ‘French ‘no’ delights Dutch opponents of the EU constitution’, EUbusiness.com. Available at http://www.eubusiness.com/Netherlands/050530144615.3bm0fgm5/ [accessed 06/03/2009]

[24] McDonald, H & Stratton, A. (13 June 2008) ‘Irish voters reject EU treaty’, Guardian. Available at http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/jun/13/ireland/print [accessed 03/03/2009]

[25] Caldwell, C. (13 June 2005) ‘Why Did the French and Dutch Vote No?’, The Weekly Standard, 10 (37)

[26] Heywood, A. Political Theory: An Introduction (3rd edn.). Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke & New York, 2004

[27] Caldwell, C. (13 June 2005) ‘Why Did the French and Dutch Vote No?’, The Weekly Standard, 10 (37)

[28] Heywood, A. Political Theory: An Introduction (3rd edn.). Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke & New York, 2004

[29] Peterkin, T. (13 June 2008) ‘EU referendum: Ireland rejects Lisbon Treaty’, Telegraph. Available at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/2122654/EU-referendum-Ireland-rejects-Lisbon-Treaty.html [accessed 03/03/2009]

[30] McDonald, H & Stratton, A. (13 June 2008) ‘Irish voters reject EU treaty’, Guardian. Available at http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/jun/13/ireland/print [accessed 03/03/2009]

[31] BBC News (30 May 2005) ‘French say firm ‘No’ to EU treaty’, BBC News. Available at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/4592243.stm [accessed 06/03/2009]

[32] Brugha, C. (November 2008) ‘Why Ireland rejected the Lisbon Treaty’, Journal of Public Affairs, 8, pp.303-308

[33] Caldwell, C. (13 June 2005) ‘Why Did the French and Dutch Vote No?’, The Weekly Standard, 10 (37)

[34] McDonald, H & Stratton, A. (13 June 2008) ‘Irish voters reject EU treaty’, Guardian. Available at http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/jun/13/ireland/print [accessed 03/03/2009]

[35] McCormick, J. Understanding the European Union: A Concise Introduction (4th edn.). Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke & New York

[36] IBEC ‘Why is business supporting the Lisbon Reform Treaty?’, IBEC. Available at http://www.ibeclisbon.ie/Sectors/Lisbon/LisbonTreaty.nsf/wvPages/eu+membership+benefits+business+is+supporting?OpenDocument [accessed 18/03/2009]

[37] Caldwell, C. (13 June 2005) ‘Why Did the French and Dutch Vote No?’, The Weekly Standard, 10 (37)

[38] McCormick, J. Understanding the European Union: A Concise Introduction (4th edn.). Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke & New York, p.72

[39] Brugha, C. (November 2008) ‘Why Ireland rejected the Lisbon Treaty’, Journal of Public Affairs, 8, pp.303-308

[40] EUbusiness.com ‘French ‘no’ delights Dutch opponents of the EU constitution’, EUbusiness.com. Available at http://www.eubusiness.com/Netherlands/050530144615.3bm0fgm5/ [accessed 06/03/2009]

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