Wrong question, right answer?

The Irish rejection of the Lisbon treaty is a serious problem for the EU. It should never have happened, on multiple levels, and for different reasons.

First, as I’ve already said, it was a stupid question to hold a referendum on. The vast majority of voters had little clue of what they were voting on. That’s no criticism of the Irish people, it’s the fault of the politicians who put the wrong question to them. In the context of such a question, “no” is indeed the rational answer.

Should there have been ratification of the treaty without any referendum? On the narrow issue of a single treaty, that would have been the most sensible course: we (the countries of the EU) elect governments to represent us, and take decisions on technical matters.

But on the broader issue of the cumulative weight of EU treaties over the 1990s and 2000s, the case is different. Clearly there are aspects of the EU that lack popular support, and if the Irish No vote can deliver a shock to the system where it is needed, that could be a Good Thing, despite leaving us in a deeply unsatisfactory state.

The EU’s problems are, at least in part, not of its own making. There’s a vicious circle around it and some members, notably the UK, tend to criticise its institutional failings but veto any attempt to fix it.

As for what they should do now, I don’t know. I’m no expert in anything relevant. But here are a few thoughts coming from ignorance:

  • The European Parliament is the one government institution with real democratic credentials, and with a track record that looks pretty good compared to national parliaments. It should be in charge of those matters of government that are legitimately the business of the EU (whatever they may be – that’s another question).
  • The Commission is a horribly politicised executive whose legitimacy is highly questionable. It should be replaced by officers appointed by, and accountable to, the elected parliament.
  • The Council of Ministers should be taken out of the EU altogether. Ministers of the different governments involved can meet up as and when they have cause, just as they do with their counterparts outside the EU.
  • As for the presidency, how about calling it a chairmanship? Political roles should come from the elected parliament.

Posted on June 16, 2008, in EU, politics. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Only somewhat related: I’ve said for years that the council of ministers is a very powerful upper house of a bicameral European Parliament. Once one realizes that, all kinds of arguments in favor and against the CoM comes readily into mind 🙂

  2. Aidan Skinner

    The terrifying thing is that a lot of people argue against giving the European Parliament more power because it is “too legitimate” and could usurp national parliaments which are less so.

    Which makes sense if you’re unwilling to articulate the end-state of the EU outloud – decisions being taken on a large (~500 million person) level by the EU as a whole, local (~10 million) decisions being taken on a regional (Scottish, Basque, Swiss canton…) level and national parliaments dealing with decisions that make sense being taken at the 10-50 million person level.

    This is not something that many politicians are, in Sir Humphreys words, corageous enough to do.

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