The Social and Economic benefits of Lisbon

I have written a piece for the Ireland for Europe Blog.

By Paul Walsh

Patrick Paul Walsh

B.A. (N.U.I.), M.A. (DUBL.), M.ECON.SC. (N.U.I.), Ph.D (L.S.E.).
Government of Ireland, Marie Curie and IZA Fellow

Patrick Paul Walsh took up the Chair in International Development Studies in School of Politics and International Relations on July 1st 2007. He received a Ph.D. from the London School of Economics and Political Science in 1994. During 1992-2007 he worked in Trinity College Dublin. He left Trinity College Dublin an Associate Professor, College Fellow and Dean of Social and Human Sciences. He was a Visiting Professor at K.U. Leuven during 1997-1999 and a Research Scholar in the Department of Economics, Harvard University, during the academic year 2002-2003. His professional activities include being Editor of the Journal of the Statistical and Social Inquiry Society of Ireland. He is on the Standing Committee for Social Science in the European Science Foundation. He coordinates UCDs HEA-Irish Aid Programme of Strategic Cooperation 2007-2011. This Programme runs a flagship UCD "Sandwich" Ph.D. in Global Human Development, among other things. He also chairs a TCD-UCD Masters in Development Practice that is part of a Global Network based at the Earth Institute at Columbia University and funded by the MacArthur Foundation. He is on the management committee of the UCD Geary Institute. Amongst other publications he has published in the Economic Journal, Journal of Industrial Economics, International Journal of Industrial Organization, Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, Journal of Comparative Economics, Review of Industrial Organization, and the Economics of Transition. His current research in East Africa concerns itself with Household Socioeconomic outcomes in the EARNEST HIV/AIDS clinical trials, food security and election outcomes in Malawi 2009, and IRCHSS Patterns of Post-Conflict Resolution.

32 replies on “The Social and Economic benefits of Lisbon”


I thought this was a very reasoned and intelligent article. You clearly have a far better understanding of Lisbon than I do so may I ask a question?

Is it true that there is some form of future ‘self-amending’ of this treaty/ self-amending mechanism within the Lisbon treaty wording and that it’s possible for the EU to bypass Ireland and its referendums (that may block the way) in future?

It’s not a loaded question. I’m just trying to ascertain the facts. I’ve seen this argument brought up on more than one occassion as a reason to vote no (ie we would not get a referendum on major future EU changes that our constitution might otherwise have allowed us to have).

I am an American expat turned Irish citizen, and have been here none years. I like the idea of the European Union, and agree (sometimes strongly) with many of the stated principles. I have had to catch up on the details of EU membership, and of the workings of the Irish state. Below are somewhat general impressions I’ve developed. I don’t know how accurate they are, and they are not all Lisbon-specific (though they might have pertinence anyway). I present them for context of discussion, an outsider’s initial impression.

1) Ireland seems not to share wholeheartedly in the human rights ethos of Europe at large (abortion, children, and women specifically). I have not read in full Ireland’s constitution, but I believe that the Catholic Church had at least some affect on Ireland’s outlook in this regard.

2) The EU itself seems rather schizophrenic sometimes. Much like the tension between the UN’s Assembly and Security Council (and how this tension circumscribes the UN’s effectiveness), I see something similar between the Commission and the Parliament. Personally, I think that once you have these smaller groupings with accentuated power, you are already drifting away from democracy, unless these smaller groupings are elected at large rather than appointed. So you can probably imagine my opinion of an appointed “President.”

3) (more of an aside really) Even knowing how cumbersome and problematic it would be, I would still like a facility for EU-wide referenda.

4) The No-vote people contend that Ireland would lose control of its taxation scheme. I am not sure this is true, but if it is, I am not seeing how the Irish Government has been any better than the EU in general. I have seen enough evidence that low corporate taxes are not helping either the exchequer or, frankly, to retain companies. I have also seen evidence that contests (not the same as refutes) the notion that companies are impressed by low corporate taxes, at least not in isolation. Also on the subject of taxes: I remember some McCreevy fella lowering tax rates back in the earlies noughties. Back then it made me think “Um, why are you doing this at the same time that you are complaining about lack of money in education and health care?”

5) The No-voters also seem to have a problem with the EU’s record on worker rights. I know very little about this. I will just say that other EU countries seem to have better worker protections than Ireland, although Ireland’s are worlds better than the States’. In their defence, the EU’s “statements” on workers’ rights don’t always match the rulings of the EU Court, which sometimes does not seem to uphold them. More schizophrenia? I do not have any examples to hand, so again, please keep in mind my ignorance in this regard.

6) I don’t like the format of “Vote for the Treaty and then we will attach protocols for your concerns.” Those protocols will have to be ratified as well, I believe (if I’m wrong, speak up) by 26 other countries. We have not been told when this might happen. Excuse me, but that is certainly not “guaranteed.” Is it likely? Maybe so. But don’t call it guaranteed because it ain’t. I also believe that there is a chance that the EU Court (them again) could rule that any of those protocols are against EU rules? I Could Be Wrong ™!

7) I also don’t think it’s very democratic that most countries’ populations didn’t even get to vote on the treaty. Their parliaments did. That’s just wrong.

But I am liking the EU’s foreign policy, worker/human rights, climate change stances much better than where I come from. Nothing is perfect, and if ever the world needed a foil for the sociopathic tendencies of my old country’s government and corporate leaders, it be right now.

Once again, these aren’t assertions, they are impressions. I am trying to form more concrete opinions. Yall are purty smart here, so I look forward to comments and corrections.

Great post . Now get ready for the flames….The fervor, to put it mildly, of the anti-lisbon side, is truly….impressive…thats the word.

I will vote Yes to Lisbon but only in a gut feel sort of way that it’s the right thing to do.
What is amazing really is except when there are referendums no one discusses the EU at all. Once upon a time the Irish Times did reports on the European Parliament. Now you see or read nothing in the mainstream media.
Maybe we need a “What have the Eu ever done for us….?”

The problem with referenda on complicated subjects is the vast majority of the population don’t understand them. Last time the slogan was “If you don’t know, vote no” and the complaint afterwards was Lisbon wasn’t explained properly. I consider myself to be pretty well informed but I would still have difficulty explaining what Lisbon is about. It is not always a good thing even in a democracy to ask the general public their view all the time. Nothing would get done.

@ Brian Lucey

Nama is bad enough…I hate to think how hard it will be to keep this debate civilized

@ Stuart
Well that’s the problem no body is explaining what it really means. The referendum commission booklet that has dropped through letter boxes is a waste of paper. Why can’t Lisbon be explained to the voters? Why can’t the commission do a booklet that really tells people what it means and what will happen after it is ratifitied. If ordinary people can’t understand it there is even less chance that the politians can. On all sides of the debate there is an effort to misinform.

“Maybe we need a “What have the Eu ever done for us….?”

Hie thee to Electric Picnic:

“Friday (6pm): “What Has Europe Ever Done for Us?” hosted by David McWilliams with Martin Territt, Director of the European Commission in Ireland; Joe Higgins, MEP; Patricia McKenna, People’s Movement; and former rugby international Denis Hickie. – Plus Best of Doris/Magee Films”


Thanks for link. I’m very pro Europe, I was thinking of a large portion of the population who may have a more hazy idea of how good the EU has been for Irish Economic fortune. After all how many of the US multinationals would have located here if we were not in the EU. I don’t see too many people mentioning this. The farmers see the cheques so they know which way they’re voting but few others seem to realise how much we have to be grateful for.

Guys, could some of you look at something for me on this issue. I read the thumbs up from the Impact Union on Lisbon released in July and then I read a statement with thumbs down from the Union Unite the other day. To me one seems to be for it while the other seems to be against it for the same reasons. The kernel of both arguments seem to stem from the same ultimate point…can someone tell me how they are so far away with their recommendations?

To me, we objected to this the last time and went back and asked for more. We essentially got more and now there are still the same objections. How can this be? Europe is one of the key factors, in my opinion, to get us out of the mess we are in and was one of the key factors in how we had the years of progress prior to the real property madness. I really find it difficult to take seriously some of the anti-Lisbon lobbyists. Am i now in an Ivory Tower too?????


The problem some of the Unions have with the European court of Justice is that it is not pro worker enough. Decide for yourself, how close to Marx or Lenin does any particular union sound. The closer they are, the more likely they will be to vote against Europe any further powers.

Many of the Unions see the EU as only being supportive of big business, which is not true. Here in Ireland they fail to take account of the improvements in workers rights gained through membership of the EU.

At the end of the day, individual governments will still have a veto on Union membership, strike legislation etc…

Lisbon will not change that.


The article by Paul is a very precise and accurate reflection on the EU, and benfits to Ireland to date.

I would expect more social cohesion to come in the years ahead with or without Lisbon. I particularly like the Citizens initiative. I am not sure that the EU realise just how effective/thorny this will prove for them.

On the economic front, the EU has been very good for Ireland in the past.
From my own study of the treaty, the only likely change as a result of Lisbon being adopted will be in the voting regarding the EU budget, and the ECB actually becoming a part of the Union.
There is nothing for Irish farmers to fear in the CAP being reformed…France will not let that happen anyway.

Lisbon is more about cleaning up and streamlining the administration.

Lisbon may be NAMA’ed – any vote at this time gives people an avenue to vent anger. Lisbonising NAMA could exaserbate this

@LD “To me, we objected to this the last time and went back and asked for more. We essentially got more “.

I have no axe to grind with the Lisbon treaty, will probably vote yes…… but….. I think there may have been an element of ‘madey-uppey’ in what we went back to ask for. The government assured the electorate that the items they wanted the guarantees on were to counter the main reasons the No vote won (neutrality, abortion, etc.) last time.

This may have been a bit of a con job as there were no real public consultations on this (what the real reasons were).

It was more a case of ‘look, we have made up some reasons why you didn’t vote yes and now we are going to make it look like we are going back to the EU to tell them to give us guarantees – the EU already having given Biffo the wink before the so called negotiations began.

Am I being cynical? Possibly. Possibly not. It’s what I hear and the sources aren’t bad. Too many people mouth off when they are drinking alcohol.

One of the things that is most frustrating about how the EU works is that almost nothing it does is ever perfect.

With startlingly few execption, every Commission proposal starts out better than it ends up being by the time it gets passed into law.

This is truly teeth-grinding, until you realise that the process of passage into law has actually taken that proposal past the directly elected democratic representatives of 500+ million EU citizens and the democratic goverments of 27 Member States.

Seen this way, the fact that ANYTHING at all comes out the other end seems utterly remarkable to me, considering how hard it is to select a DVD with more than two people in the video shop.

The fact that we have a working acquis communautaire and 65 years of peace on what was formerly the most bloody and viscious continent in the world; the fact that after the cold war we absorbed the post-communist Central European corridor (more or less successfully) and avoided a macro-political instability that easily could have plunged the world into another world war; the fact that the common market actually works and lorries and cars drive over Schengen borders as if they never existed; is all utterly mind-blowing.

What the EU is really bad at is blowing its own horn. We even got rid of our anthem, for crikey’s sake!

And yet it is truly the greatest achievement of humanity in the 20th Century. Perhaps ever.


The term ‘self ammending’ was coined by the No camp in the 2008 campaign. Basically they falsely claimed that if Lisbon were ratified there could be no more referenda because the treaty provided for future revisions without even asking the member states. But here is my summary of how Lisbon ammends article 48 of the Treaty on European Union (Maastricht)

1.The Ordinary Revision Proceedure

For any proposal to increase or reduce the competence of the Union, the European Council will convene a special Convention (with members of natioanl parliaments, governments, eu commission, eu parl, as for the agreement on Lisbon itself) or for small changes in competence it may, if the Eu parliament agrees, merely agree on a meeting of representatives of the governments of the members states. When either the Convention or conference of gov reps agree a set of changes these can only enter into force AFTER BEING RATIFIED BY ALL THE MEMBER STATES in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements.

2.Simplified Revision Proceedure

This is where the Council of Ministers (acting unanumously) can change certain policies of the Union. They can also change areas of decision from unanimity to veto. These areas cannot include defence matters.

This mechanism CANNOT be used to add competence to the union.

In order for this change to come into force the EU parliament must agree and ANY national parliament can block it.

@Graham Stull

The EU is right up there at the top.
The US Constitution is fairly impressive but it was written by a fairly homogenous group.
The Roman Empire was a staggering achievement (apart from the odd bit of Christians and Lions) but it was imposed by the victors.

The EU was created by nations who slaughtered one another since the Romans left until 1945. The Single European Market, free movement of capital and labour, the Euro and Schengen are staggering achievements.

Reading the origin of the lisbon treaty, it cannot be compared to the US constitution.
It seemed to ‘enshrine’ historical power structures within nations.
The Lisbon treaty deserves poor marks as a treaty.
All problems flow from this.


Raising the moral hazard of a re-referendum on a treaty that effectively hasn’t changed might seem old, but that doesn’t change the idea that this is still a core motive of voting against the Lisbon Treaty.

Some might believe that “No = No” is mearly ideological rant, however the concequences of the concessions made to the more “practical” camp by having a re-run of this referendum will be harmful to any democracy. It results in kleptocratic arrogance from politicians that will most certainly be decisive in other issues (e.g. NAMA, blasphemy law), which many people who are ultimately in favour of another vote on the Lisbon Treaty might not immediately see.

It sets a dangerous precedent that cannot easily be reversed.


I see your argument about devaluing democracy. But I don’t believe it is a serious danger.

First, it is not setting a precedent. We’ve voted more than once on other issues (PR, Divorce, Nice).

Second, many of the issues which concerned people last time were spurious in that they are not really affected by Lisbon (e.g. abortion, where the Irish position is protected in existing treaties and Lisbon leaves untouched). Decisions made in ignorance or based on misinformation are a more dangerous distortion of democracy than asking people twice.

Third, if people are more informed this time round, if they still feel Lisbon ammends the treaties in ways that will harm not improve our interest then they can still vote no.

Fourth, if this time round it fails, don’t expect to be asked again next spring. I think it will certainly plunge the EU into disarray. The ratification process will be stalled again on reform after a decade and the conservatives in Britain are baying to sink the whole reform project. (For euroskeptics this is fine, but for anyone who believes rejecting Lisbon might lead to a better outcom, they might be in for a surprise). But domestically, a second rejection would make it politically impossible to come back again and ask a third time. The question would have to be very different.

So I don’t believe the second asking on Lisbon is harmful.


I am afraid I have to disagree with most of your points.

To your first point I argue that the revoting on referendums IS the precendent that now has been set. In effect, Irish referendums have lost their democratic function by politicians ignoring their outcome. Another good example to this from abroad is the fact that the Dutch and the French have decided to withdraw the option of referendum after the European Constitution was rejected by a large majority of voters. This is a very technocratic, and everything but democratic thing to do.

To your second point I argue that in a democracy nobody has wrong vote. From your point of view the people have been misinformed. However, this is not for a small group of, say, politicians to decide. This is part of the kleptocratic arrogance I am talking about. Many people who voted no had very valid reasons for doing so.

Your third point can be argued by the fact that once the treaty has been approved by the public, we have reached a point of no return. There will very likely be no referendum on reversing the treaty if the majority regretted voting in favour of it. No referendum will be held on this. In theory this means that a referendum can be held

(i continue from the previous post)

held indefinitely until the situation arises (such as a financial/economic crisis) where people will be sufficiently scared/misinformed to vote in favour.

To your fourth point I argue that the EU will not fall into disarray. The union is strong enough to withstand this resistance. I believe it will instead mould the EU into an institution which will be more favourable to Europeans in the long run, as politicians will also realise that they will have to engage more with their consituents in the future. This in turn will improve democracy.
Furthermore, many acts of the Lisbon Treat have already been implemented and will probably not be reversed if the treaty is voted down (something I personally find pretty scandelous, by the way).

Any country that continues to ignore its constitution is a country that will fall in disarray.


On the point of reholding the referendum you finish by saying:
Any country that continues to ignore its constitution is a country that will fall in disarray.

How are we ignoring our constitution? The other day a supreme court justice ruled that it was not unconstitutional to put the same question to referendum twice.

Which provisions of the treaty have been implemented?

Admittedly the last part is my own personal view of constitutions of countries being hollowed out/parts ignored/undemocratically amended through current domestic and international pressure (however I do concede that Ireland has a better reputation of upholding its constitution than many other countries)

As for your second question I will refer you to some of sources:

Virtual MEPs:,_2009

And not to forget, Sarkozy’s actions during Russia’s Georgia campaign shows post-lisbon treaty foreign policy attitude (

Aside from the above, I invite you to refute the core principles I mentioned in my previous post. I am always open to all ideas 🙂

Regarding the article I would point out that it is not the things which we agree on with fellow memeber that are affected by new voting rules but rather the things which we disagree on….

There a number of issues regarding the lisbon referendum [as opposed to the treaty itself] which concern me. Firstly, an argument which is often implicit in pro-‘yes’ articles is that we should vote ‘yes’ because the EU HAS been good for us. This implicitly restates the referendum as being pro or anti- the EU. In effect then a ‘no’ vote is no longer considered a vote for the status quo but rather a vote against the EU. This is often followed by a statement of how reliant on the EU we are.

Secondly, many people voted ‘no’ orginally due to a feeling that they were not fully informed. The booklet explaining the treaty this time is the size of an instruction manual that may come with a phone yet the useful information it contains can be written in a single paragraph [pretty much just the lines about voting rights].

Thirdly, while misinformed voting the first time round may provide a rationale for rerunning the refernendum, instead of tackling this properly instead we have some amendments to alleviate some [perjhaps unwarranted?] concerns.

It is very likely that many people will vote yes due to the current economic climate which the treaty has little relevance too [in fact our diminished voting power could be seen to be more of an issue given that our economic importance is greatly diminished now] and this seems to be actively encouraged by statements like those from senior members of Intel and ryanair etc. I vaguely recall that a survey of reasons for voting against the treaty was carried out after its rejection – I would like to see one carried out afterwards in the event of a yes vote to ascertain how important the economic climate was! A recurring problem with referendum is that they express an opinion at a given point of time and so may be easily biased by external concerns – probably compounded by having asymmetric re-runs too.

Finally, I would say that I am neither pro- nor anti- the treaty per se. Hoewever the yes campaign seems to be typified by scaremongering and a ‘trust us – no need to know about it’ attitude, while the ‘no’ campaign also seems to be adopting a scaremongering and partial disinformation campaign. I suspect the treaty will be approved but that the decision will be largely independent of it’s contents. That for me is the worrying thing – the willingness of a significant proportion of people to vote for a change over the status quo in the absence of a clear understanding of the issues involved….

I have read in detail the Referendum Commission’s leaflet on the Lisbon Treaty. To be fair to them they have put it in reasonably plain language what is quite a technical area.

Seb & Tony.
After the last referendum many people said they voted no because they didn’t understand what they were voting for.
That suggests a rerun is reasonable where a better effort is made to explain the Treaty. I don’t see it as a “moral hazard”
They can still vote no.

If they tried a third time after 2 No’s then I would agree

By the way in the leaflet:
Page 25 says “Certain decisions will continue to be made unanimously – they include decisions on defence and taxation”
So we can’t be outvoted on these. Pretty clear to me.

Page 24 says if we don’t vote Yes on Lisbon then the number of EU Commissioners must be reduced below 27 due to previous Treaties which we ratified.
Pretty clear also.

The bit about power to change treaties without a referendum is explained on page 9 & 10.

Most people won’t even read the leaflet and will still say nobody explained it to them

“Most people won’t even read the leaflet and will still say nobody explained it to them”
bit like NAMA so…

@ Graham Stull

I agree.

Perfection will never be found in multilateralism and the European Union is the most successful example of multilateralism in the history of the world.
As for perfection in Ireland, what a brass neck we have, from the pyre of the wreckage of the best opportunity ever to put the Irish economy on a sustainable basis, to dare lecture the rest of Europe.

As for social policy and the impact of Europe, in an area where the EEC/EU did not have a role, it took a brave Corkwowan to take a case against the contraceptive importation ban law to the Supreme Court.

Credit to the judiciary but it took 20 more years of politicians malafustering, including a taoiseach voting against his own government’s bill, to modernise the law.

Bill Hobbs
You are right and indeed I suggested it first! A shame as Lisbon is well negotiated and could help reward the Germans for sending us mercedes instead of panzers.

On the periphery and an island away, Ireland will be forever a niche not a market. But we have been well paid. What we need is a convincing margin in favour, but with NaMa, maybe a no vote is the best?

The government still seems to be absorbing where Ireland now is? Time for a permanent commission into corruption. No lawyers except in court!


I accept that many people might have felt misinformed, would that have led to a majority of yes voters? How well more informed is the public this time round? Whose right is it to judge how misinformed the public is?

By your notion we should perhaps abolish the political EU based on the principle that voter turn-out has been progressively lower ever since the elected Commission was formed, for a large part because people have little connection with european representatives and have little idea what they it is that they are actually voting for.

I understand that you are approaching this from a practical perspective, but do you no see that practical results are governed by principles we are currently violating by holding another referendum?

“for a large part because people have little connection with european representatives and have little idea what they it is that they are actually voting for.”

I happen to agree with you here. The last European elections had nothing to do with Europe. No one reports on Europe, no one seems to care.

But voting twice on something doesn’t really upset much in my view. As someone else pointed out we’ve done that before. Basically you’re suggesting once something is voted on we can never vote on it again.

I do see a problem facing us for all future referenda on Europe. Ireland seems to have come to the point of “thus far and no further”. I can see every new treaty plagued by the neutrality, abortion, tax issues. It poses a problem for Europe too as around 4% of its population can hold up progress and reform. It would be like Long Island vetoing everything in the US.


I do not disagree that voting twice on something is objectionable. However, a vote against the will of people in government should be an incentive for change, not an incentive to repetition. This is my primary problem with the Lisbon referendum, European and national politicians refuse to be shaken up by a No-vote and stubbornly refuse to change direction on essential issues in the Lisbon Treaty and European policy in general. This is a dangerous course that will ultimately have devastation concequences for Europe and democracy. Unhappiness leads to worse if not understood.

Concerning the 4% you refer to, perhaps you should rephrase this. A direct democratic vote on very important and decisive legislation is given to only 4% of Europeans. If given the choice, the Irish vote in the previous referendum is not even representative of the Europe-wide vote: most other member countries would vote even stronger against the treaty, as France and the Netherlands have shown.
You could argue that the argument above should perhaps not be included in this debate. This does not take away from the fact that the Irish people have a very valid right to decide their own level European integration. Do you not see that the lack of engagement, catering and accountability of governments and European politicians towards European citizens actually stimulates reactionary voting on such memes as “thus far and no further”? That the only progress we are making is reforming Europe to a far more technocratic entity, where democracy is being taken away?

You call further integration progress and reform. Reform it might be, but concerning progress I personally wouldn’t refer to centralising power. Localised politics is what kept the USA and Europe strong for many centuries.
We can fundamentally differ on this, but that is for another debate.

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