The outcome of the Irish referendum has been described as very disappointing by the Maltese Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs as well as by the new 34 year old leader of the opposition Joseph Muscat (MEP, socialist group). Most pundits in Malta in the political sector and academic area are echoing José Manuel Barroso that the ratification process should proceed, and Ireland should eventually decide upon its future in the EU. Thus while the outcome of the referendum is regarded as a setback the majority believe that the ratification process should proceed nevertheless. Also of direct concern to Malta is the fact that without the Lisbon Treaty, Malta will not gain its 6th MEP like other small member states in the EU.
The government has repeated that while it will respect the Irish outcome, the process of ratification should proceed and then a decision be made on how to continue to proceed. Some pro-EU integration analysts have argued that perhaps the time has come for a two speed Europe to emerge – then once everyone, or at least the majority have ratified the treaty, the Irish can be given another chance to decide on their future.
Luxembourg parliamentarians approved the Lisbon Treaty with 47 votes in favour of the text of the treaty on May 29th. Three deputies abstained and one voted against the text. The grand duchy thus became the 15th member state to support the treaty. According to the speakers of the parties voting in favour, the treaty, “does not only reform the functioning of the European Union’s institutions and strengthen democracy, but also enables more efficient joint action. The treaty will also allow the European Union to face challenges relating to globalisation and environment.
The most important Lithuanian politicians declared their concern about the negative results of the Irish referendum. Chairman of the Committee on European Affairs of the Lithuanian parliament (“Seimas”), Andrius Kubilius, emphasised that the results of the Irish referendum might have a negative impact on the Lisbon Treaty ratification procedures in other EU member states, first and foremost in the Czech Republic. He claimed to be concerned about the further development of European matters. On the other hand he said that the negative Irish decision cannot be a handicap towards further development of the EU, for its further and deeper integration and enlargement. Both these elements are important to Lithuania. Shortly before the Irish referendum, with a fear that the Irish would vote ‘No’ for the Lisbon Treaty, one of the best know European Parliament members from Lithuania, Justas Vincas Paleckis, declared that in this case 4 million Irish people can prevent 496 million of the EU’s citizens from getting a new and much more powerful engine for the European Union.
Some of Lithuania’s politicians did not hide their surprise by stressing that Ireland is one of the EU member states that have profited the most from its membership in the EU.
The decision of the Irish voters not to endorse the Lisbon Treaty on June 12th 2008 had very minimal repercussions in Latvia, especially since other issues (these will be discussed later) have been of much greater concern to both the Latvian electorate and the politicians throughout 2008.
The Irish ‘No’ came more than a month after the Latvian parliament had approved the Lisbon Treaty. On May 8th 2008, 70 deputies voted for the treaty, three voted against it, while one abstained.
When the results of the Irish referendum were announced in June, most Latvians reacted with detachment. The topic was certainly covered by the media, but did not spark any heated or wide-ranging debates, even if a few eurosceptics insisted that the Latvian parliament had acted hastily, without adequately consulting the people. The prevailing attitude was an acceptance of the Irish voters’ right to express their opinion. Hardly anyone blamed the Irish for ingratitude to the institution widely considered as having been essentially responsible for Ireland’s economic upswing.
On June 13th 2008 Latvia’s Foreign Minister Māris Riekstiņš told journalists of the national news agency “LETA” that he respected the Irish voters’ decision and stressed that the explanations for such a decision need to be analysed carefully.
Immediately after the Irish ‘No’ to the Lisbon Treaty, the majority of the Italian political class expressed its disappointment for what is considered another failure in the European integration process. In a declaration made on June 13th the President of the Italian Republic, Giorgio Napolitano, affirmed that it is inconceivable that “the decision of not much more than half the voters of a country that represents less than 1 percent of the Union’s population can stop the necessary and urgent reform process.” This is the reason why Napolitano thinks that “the ratification process should go on” in order to obtain the 4/5 threshold required for the European Council to make its decisions. Other representatives of the Italian political elite share Napolitano’s view. Among them, Giuliano Amato, former Prime Minister, said that it is not possible to renounce ratification of the treaty because “a very small minority cannot be allowed to decide against the overwhelming majority of European citizens”.
As a result of the referendum in Ireland and the negative outcome, Ireland has entered a period of reflection, during which time the government has undertaken to produce an analysis of the referendum result. This study will be presented to members of the European Council, meeting in October.
In Hungary the Irish ‘No’ sparked the same old debate between eurosceptics and pro-Europeans as in every member state: namely, the former side, highlighted the EU’s internal problems (mainly lack of transparency and ‘too much power in Brussels’), while the latter perceived the outcome of the referendum as a shock (envisioning even the falling apart of the EU or the launch of Europe at several speeds and circles). Beyond this echo in the media it must be underlined that in Hungary all parliamentary parties are pro-European, and have supported the treaty practically unanimously on December 17th 2007 when it was ratified in the parliament. Being the first country to adopt the Lisbon Treaty, Hungary belongs to the majority of member states attaching distinguished importance to the document. On June 16th 2008, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Hungary issued the following statement in connection with the Irish referendum:
Hungary regrets the outcome of the Irish referendum held on 12 June 2008 but fully respects the opinion of the people of Ireland.
Nevertheless, almost two thirds of the member states have already ratified the Treaty, Hungary having been the first one.
The values and objectives of the Lisbon Treaty still remain important for Hungary and we believe that they are important also for the future of the Union.
The Irish ‘No’ over the Reform Treaty has created quite an impression in Greece, both among policy-makers and the public at large. Until the very last days before June 12th, the Irish vote was considered no more than a formality (as Greece was preparing to ratify the treaty with an overwhelming majority in Parliament). When the Irish ‘No’ was seen as a probable outcome, there had been a rather shallow public discussion about future implications and the speculation over the existence of a ‘plan B’.
The day after, there was the expected outcry of federalist circles against the Irish as well as dire predictions on their part as to institutional and political consequences of the ‘No’ vote, but voices raised in favour of somehow ‘excluding’ Ireland, were few. Finding a way out from the institutional impasse was viewed mainly as a challenge to the French Presidency.
On the other hand, in the press have been opinions interpreting the Irish ‘No’ as an inevitable consequence of the lack of communication of the European elites with wider audiences, as a side-effect of the opacity of the mechanisms constituting ‘Europe’.
Delay of the German ratification process
In the aftermath of the Irish referendum, the German government declared their determination to take a leading role in rescuing the Lisbon Treaty, promising to strongly support the French government in their efforts to press on with ratification. However, the government’s plans to serve as a model country were hindered by Federal President Horst Köhler’s decision to suspend the signature of the Lisbon Treaty and to wait for the verdict of the federal constitutional court (“Bundesverfassungsgericht”). The eurosceptic Left Party (“Die Linke”) and the Bavarian CSU deputy, Peter Gauweiler, had appealed to the court, claiming that the Lisbon Treaty would be inconsistent with the German constitution. The German government is, however, convinced that this is not the case and expects a positive verdict, stressing that Köhler’s decision is a “normal procedure” that does not imply any negative statement by Köhler himself.
The question of ratification of the Lisbon Treaty is particularly important in France since the French President Nicolas Sarkozy is viewed as the main promoter of this treaty. Its adoption has always been considered as a major political goal and after the Irish ‘No’ vote; the French leaders had no choice but to add the ratification issue onto the agenda of the forthcoming French EU-Presidency.
Overcoming the ‘incident’
As expected, Nicolas Sarkozy immediately reacted to the Irish ‘No’ to the Lisbon Treaty, by trying to minimise its impact. First, he tried to make Peter Mandelson, European Commissioner for External Trade, responsible for this failure. According to the French President, the way Peter Mandelson negotiated an agreement with the WTO pointlessly worried Irish farmers. Then, he qualified this result as an ‘incident’, arguing that the other European member states had to go on with their respective ratification process, in order to prevent this Irish incident from turning into a major crisis. For many observers (and especially for the large coalition against the treaty, composed of left-wing parties – LCR, LO, PC – and nationalist movements – MPF, FN) this reaction is more proof of the elite’s unwillingness to listen to the people’s opinion.