Explaining the Lisbon Referendum Vote

Last week saw the release of a major study (by a group of political scientists and economists, including this blog’s Kevin O’Rourke) of the factors that explain voting decisions in the Lisbon Treaty Referendum: you can read it here.  No doubt these factors will be closely studied in deciding strategies for the upcoming 2009 vote on the ‘modified’ Lisbon referendum.

4 replies on “Explaining the Lisbon Referendum Vote”

While the factors that influenced voter decisions in Lisbon 1 are interesting, all such studies are by now academic.

When it comes to Lisbon 2, the past really will be a different country and there is no way of telling what the public mood will be next October because there are just too many political and economic variables to be factored in. For example, what happens if the April 7 Budget fails, the Government comes crashing down, the international institutions suddenly cut off lending to any new hotch-potch administration on the basis of its perceived instability and political incoherence? In short, the country goes belly up bankrupt in the next six months?

As for the EU itself, a lot may have happened there too to threaten the existing stability of the current union – economic and political upheaval within the new 12; a perception of ‘poor show’ by the Germany and France at the forthcoming G20 in agreeing an international framework to counter the global crisis; even the viability of the euro itself should one or more EU countries declare bankruptcy in the coming months?

More and more the original Lisbon Treaty, which is the one we will be voting on again, looks like it was framed for a different European Union to the one we even have now, never mind the one we should expect to see emerge from the ‘Great Recession’ as they’re calling it. And that’s a problem for Ireland’s second vote, because it looks like the ‘left’, especially a currently resurgent and unashamedly populist Labour Party, are squaring up to campaign against Lisbon Round 2. Given that 55% of Labour supporters voted against the Treaty in the first referendum, a Labour-led surge of the left against the Treaty would have undeniable political force, even if it was cynically inspired by that party’s domestic political ambitions rather than any issue of principle, and may be enough to tip a second ‘no’ result.

It’s equally possible that things may appear much better for Ireland in six months time than they do now – i.e. we will have weathered the storm that must inevitably follow the Budget, the hole in the public finances will be plugged, depositors may have ceased moving their cash to safer havens somewhere else and the economy will be more or less back on track towards some sort of future stability.

But I fear that whatever track we’re on by October, the general stock of all the mainstream political parties, especially centre or right parties, will have fallen further and that in itself would increase the volatility of voting intentions on Lisbon 2.

So in terms of the economy, the question is what are the most likely scenarios come next October? In that context, what arguments on economic grounds should be made, pro- or anti-, in the forthcoming referendum? Here, as in the debate on the public finances over the past several months, our professional economists have a major contribution to make.

It’s true that the Lisbon Treaty was framed in very different circumstances and the Treaty does not make fundamental changes to the EU’s economic principles and policies.

The current turmoil makes it extremely difficult to anticipate the economic direction of the EU in the coming years but it is desperately important for Ireland that the EU responds effectively to the massive challenges facing Europe (the financial crisis is just one in a long list).

Our choice in October will be:
(a) kill the Lisbon Treaty (i.e. let David Cameron pull the trigger in 2010), or
(b) allow it to come into force this year.

From an economic perspective, if we chose (b) the EU’s institutional arrangements will be settled for some considerable time. EU leaders can work together on the economic crisis if they have the political will. If further changes are needed to the economic provisions of the Treaties (modify the “no bailout” clause?) that can be addressed more easily if the institutional framework is settled.

If we chose (a), the institutional framework will again become the first item on the EU’s agenda. The EU will be left with an institutional framework which all 27 governments will have acknowledged to be inadequate but which they will not be able to ameliorate. This would give a perfect excuse to those leaders who do not wish to share the burden of responding to the global crisis. The cracks which we can see in Europe’s approach to the crisis will become gaping holes.

Lefournier, Many thanks for interesting and helpful comment. Of course, it’s all up in the political ether again owing to developments in the Czech Republic, so we’re not the only ones in the ‘blame frame’ anymore.

It is clear to everyone that the future of Ireland does not, never has and will now ever depend on an ever expanding and increasingly irrelevant Europe. False dawns (like the Celtic Tiger) have not allowed any adequate provision for the rainy day when the rest of the world has its cyclical problems. Ireland – like a smaller version of the UK – simply has to adjust to live within its means. Parts of Ireland have survived and probably still will but go to Donegal and see the way in which the total and quite gross incompetence of Irish politicians has truly (not!) served the people.

There can be no benefit of any real value from supporting the quite silly EU Constitution. Let the word get out…


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