Will of People Ignored
When only 33 percent of Irish voters turned out June 8 to make their voices heard in the referendum on the Nice Treaty, it was clear that attempts of Irish and EU leaders to promote the merits of further EU integration and enlargement had fallen on complacent ears.
However, when 54 percent of those who did vote decided against ratifying the treaty (which was drawn up in Nice last December with the intention of making EU expansion into Central and Eastern Europe easier), the message was clear. Even with low voter turnout, this was an example of democracy in action. The Irish are the only ones in the EU whose constitution required that the treaty be put to referendum. (This begs the question—how many other countries, given the opportunity, would have joined the Irish in a no vote?)
The reaction to the Irish vote among EU leaders was one of unmitigated shock and horror. Since the Nice Treaty cannot become law without the ratification of all 15 EU member states, the Irish have consequently become the problem child of the EU, in need of correction. EU foreign ministers issued a statement following the referendum saying in effect that they would ignore the outcome of the Irish vote!
The EU foreign ministers wrote in a joint statement, “While respecting the will of the Irish people, the foreign ministers expressed their regrets at the outcome of the Irish referendum on the Nice treaty. They rule out any re-opening of the text signed at Nice. The process of ratification will be continued on the basis of this text and in accordance with the planned timetable. The other 14 states have said they are ready to help the Irish government in all possible ways to find a way out by taking into account the worries which the results of the referendum reflect, without re-opening the text of the Nice treaty.”
“By this statement, European leaders formally gave notice that they have abolished democracy. It is a long-established fundamental principle of democracies that governments are responsible to the people who elected them and to their representatives” (European Foundation Intelligence Digest, June 1-13).
Clearly, the voice of the people, exercising their democratic right to be heard, is not one that EU leaders are interested in hearing. Rather, the results of the referendum serve only as proof that the mind of the people must be forcibly changed through further “re-education.” Gunter Verheugen, the EU enlargement commissioner, insisted that “The outcome of a referendum in one country cannot block the EU’s most important project” (www.eubusiness .com, June 8). Even Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern stated, “I want to make it absolutely clear that, in my view, the no vote should not be interpreted as a vote against enlargement” (Agence France Presse, June 15).
The Irish referendum reflects as much on the political leadership of the EU as on the Irish people. Perhaps the populace of the EU do not care much for the institutions that are being formed to rule them. But do they care about the abolition of their democracies?