Wide span of “judgments”, absence of official views on mending ways

The first official reaction following the announcement of the disappointing result of the Irish referendum came on June 13th 2008, from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Foreign Minister (and former Romanian permanent representative to the EU) Lazăr Comănescu stated that it was “the option of the Irish electorate and has to be respected as such”, while also expressing his trust that “as shown in other moments, the member states together will find the best way for continuing the consolidation of the European construction”[1].
 
Somewhat more surprisingly, the positions subsequently expressed by other top-level Romanian officials were equally optimistic and deprived of concrete suggestions as to the solutions available for breaking the deadlock. Before leaving for the Summer European Council on June 19th, President Traian Băsescu declared to the press that he does not see the situation engendered by the Irish rejection as a “crisis”, but merely a “difficulty”, and expressed his belief that the European Summit will “find solutions in order for the Lisbon Treaty to enter into force before the European Parliament elections of June 2009”. Prime Minister Călin Popescu-Tăriceanu’s remarks on the subject sounded slightly more concerned. He first briefly touched upon the issue at the opening of the Cabinet meeting of June 18th, stating that “the Lisbon Treaty should not be abandoned” and elaborated a bit more two days later, at the end of the meeting of the European Liberals (ALDE), when he acknowledged that the decision of the Irish people generates a “complicated and delicate situation”, before going on to state his hope that the Irish government will come with solutions for overcoming this stalemate.[2]
 
A common feature of all the statements coming from the highest-level official circles is the absence of any concrete suggestion or proposal concerning the ways by which the situation created by the Irish ‘No’ vote can be unblocked.
 
On the opposition side, the most substantial reaction came from the MEPs representing the Social-Democratic Party (PSD). Unlike the positions summarised above, the statement of the Romanian Social Democrats, issued on June 14th, made some sharp and controversial judgments. Most of them referred to the outcome of the Irish referendum as such, the message of which “cannot be understood and, hence, cannot guide future political actions as long as the arguments for the negative vote had nothing to do with the content and the objectives of the Treaty and, on the other hand, Ireland used to be one of the main beneficiaries of European policies”. Furthermore, it was said that respecting the option of the Irish people “cannot be equated with the defiance (sic!) of the wishes of the citizens of the other member states”.[3] Even more interesting, if not outright provocative, were assessments going beyond the strict Irish context. It was thus mentioned that the episode has demonstrated once again that “direct democracy cannot ensure the progress of the European process”, hence the conclusion that “European integration is a process which has to be led politically by the elected representatives of the European citizens”. Moreover, taking the precedents of the French and Dutch referenda as arguments, the Romanian Social Democratic MEPs drew the conclusion that “the attempt to integrate ambiguous popular wishes in the European treaties only leads to documents even more difficult to understand by European citizens and more distant from their genuine European expectations”. This analysis was completed with concrete solution proposals fully coherent with its content, hence no less prone to controversy:
 
·              a continuation of the ratification process by all member states which have not completed the procedure;
·              a call on the European Council to devise measures allowing for “the European integration process to continue without Ireland”, which might entail the possibility that this country’s relation “with the EU” continues on the basis of an adapted version of the Nice Treaty, while the “countries having ratified the Lisbon Treaty will act on the basis of this Treaty”;
·              the Irish government should organise a new referendum, but this time the “central question” asked should address the option of the Irish people “between staying in the EU in the context of the Lisbon Treaty or exiting the Union”.
 
Four days later, on the occasion of the European Parliament’s plenum debate devoted to the preparation of the European Council in the aftermath of the Irish referendum, the most prominent member of the Romanian part of the PES group, Adrian Severin, added some interesting perspectives. Drawing a comparison between the reluctance to admit new EU members and the eagerness to accommodate the idiosyncrasies of existing ones, he called it „unproductive and unsustainable to treat the eurosceptics better than the euroenthusiasts”.[4] Echoing the view already expressed in the joint statements of his Romanian fellow members of PES, he went on to state that whereas „the Irish people should take as much time as necessary in order to reflect on its European future”, they ought to „use their own time and not the others’ time”. Therefore, he concluded, „an interim status for Ireland within the EU, letting the European integration progress with fewer states involved, must be considered”.
 
It is difficult to assess to what extent the comprehensive positions expressed above are indicative of the one held by the Romanian Social Democratic Party (PSD) at large. On the one hand, the leadership of the party was too immersed at that time in internal debates (and even feuds) triggered by the outcome of the recent Romanian local elections to take the time for articulating an official party position on this topic. On the other hand, notable Social Democrats made statements pointing in a different direction. Thus, former Prime Minister and PSD top leader, Adrian Nastase, expressed the view that the other member states should have withheld their ratification procedures until after the Irish referendum, because “the very moment that a defection arises, the process becomes meaningless”.[5] The divergence between an absolute deference to the Irish preferences and their almost complete disregard is obvious and very wide, hence the conclusion that the actual position of PSD is difficult to ascertain at this point in time.
 
In the aftermath of the Irish referendum, the Romanian media carried out numerous discussions and analyses devoted to this subject. Given the difficulty of summarizing such a large number of views, preference was given to those opinions expressed by authors who are both notorious and have a career path that brought them close to the domestic decision-making processes.
 
A very pessimistic account of the vagaries of the Lisbon Treaty’s ratification was given by a columnist of the weekly “Dilema Veche” (and former Secretary General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs), Sever Voinescu. In his view, the negative Irish vote represents the answer given by “one of the most robust democracies of the world” to politicians who are “misleading their electorates […] because they know their projects do not meet the acquiescence of citizens”. Voinescu held the view that nothing was learned by the “European political elite” following the failure of the Constitutional Treaty and, in order to avoid its re-occurrence, recourse was made to a “cheap trick”, ratification by Parliaments alone, that is. The author went on to castigate the “irresponsibility” of those who are pushing for the continuation of the ratification process as if the Irish referendum were a small incident, prone to subsequent correction, and firmly placed himself in the camp of those who think that the “Treaty is dead” and what has to be done is “returning to the drawing table and devising something different”.[6]
 
A similar view, but deprived of the same categorical conclusions, was offered on June 24th in the daily “Cotidianul” by a local political analyst with a long tenure in the Romanian NGO environment, Cristian Parvulescu. While equally laying the blame on the “politicians who destroyed the prestige of Europe”, Parvulescu went on to substantiate this accusation by linking its substance to the contradiction inherent in “emphasising the inter-governmental arsenal and privileging technical aspects, while at the same time attacking Europe on almost any topic simply in order to obtain a larger domestic room for manoeuvre”. His conclusion is that, following three popular ‘Nos’ in three years, the “European machinery […] will be hard to restart”.[7]

A more balanced view was offered by former Presidential Advisor and current MEP (ALDE group), Renate Weber.[8] While not outright disavowing the referendum as a ratification tool, she made the pertinent remark that the progress of European integration was made possible, among other things, by the courage of visionary leaders to make decisions involving their own countries’ future without popular consultation and sometimes even against the leanings of the public opinion, yet those decisions proved to be beneficial in the long run. Weber further deplored the “stupid lies” (relative to, e.g., abortion and neutrality) which lured the Irish “naysayers” and expressed her belief that, should the Irish people realise “what they lost by voting against, they would themselves ask for a remake of the referendum”. Concerning the potential solutions to the problem raised by the Irish rejection of the Lisbon Treaty, Weber strenuously disagreed with the ideas revolving around the exclusion of Ireland from the “mainstream” EU, primarily because of fearing that this would signify the “beginning of the dissolution of the Union”. Finally, a word of criticism was addressed to the Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen, who belatedly endeavoured on the occasion of the Summer European Council to work for devising a solution, whereas the pre-existence of numerous indications signalling the imminence of a ‘No’ vote should have triggered a more timely mobilisation of the Irish government for the purpose of sketching a ‘Plan B’. 
 
Expected consequences
 
Surprisingly, especially against the background of moderate official reactions to the Irish ‘“No’ vote, the most categorical assessment of its implications came from President Traian Băsescu who, in his statement made at the closure of the June European Council, asserted that “for all practical purposes, the Union cannot continue to function on the basis of the Nice Treaty”.[9] The few arguments offered in support, however, do not seem to warrant such a radical conclusion: the fact that it is “extremely difficult” to carry out new elections for the European Parliament since the Lisbon Treaty would have changed the allocation of seats; and, more importantly, the fact that no institutional allowances exist for taking on board new members, such as Croatia or various Western Balkan countries.
 
For Renate Weber (MEP, ALDE group), the Irish referendum will trigger a 2-3 years delay in the ratification process, thus rendering the Lisbon Treaty inapplicable for the election of the future European Parliament and for the designation of the future European Commission. Weber also expressed the view that there might be, in anticipation of the application of the Lisbon Treaty, a “voluntary” implementation of its provisions by the EU Council, in the sense of taking into account the consultative opinion of the European Parliament, in areas where the Lisbon Treaty prescribes the co-decision process, as if it were binding: “a sort of de facto co-decision”.[10]
 




[1] Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs: press release, 13 June 2008.

[2] Cotidianul, 21 June 2008.

[3] See: http://corinacretu.wordpress.com/2008/06/16/europarlamentarii-psd-despre-referendumul-din-irlanda/ (last access: 22 August 2008).

[4] See: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//TEXT+CRE+20080618+ITEM-002+DOC+XML+V0//EN&language=EN&query=INTERV&detail=3-081 (last access: 22 August 2008).

[5] Gardianul, 19 June 2008.

[6] Dilema Veche, 19 June 2008.

[7] Cotidianul, 24 June 2008.

[8] See: http://www.hotnews.ro/stiri-opinii-3394934-buturuga-irlandeza-carul-uniunii-europene-1.htm (last access: 22 August 2008).

[9] See: www.presidency.ro/pdf/date/8900_ro.pdf (last access: 22 August 2008).

[10] See: http://www.hotnews.ro/stiri-opinii-3394934-buturuga-irlandeza-carul-uniunii-europene-1.htm (last access: 22 August 2008).