Up the Rebels!

by John O’Sullivan

Ireland seems to have voted a convincing No — by about 54 to 46 percent — to the proposed Lisbon Treaty that would have moved the EU even closer to being a fully-fledged state with its own foreign minister and “common foreign policy” on top of citizenship, flag, anthem, etc., etc. The Lisbon Treaty is almost identical to the European Constitution that was previously rejected by the French and Dutch electorates in referenda two years ago.

Under the EU rules rejection by a single state is supposed to doom a treaty, let alone a “constitutional treaty.” Hey, but what’s a constitution between friends? Or even acquaintances? All that happened two years ago was that the Constitution was re-packaged as a Treaty with minor cosmetic changes such as re-naming the EU Foreign Minister a “High Representative.” The European Diplomatic Service went ahead despite the absence of any legal basis for it — so did a multitude of other EU institutions such as a defense procurement agency and, come to think of it, an entire Euro-defense structure.

So everyone now expects that Europe will find some way to ignore the voters yet again — Gordon Brown has even telephoned Nicholas Sarkozy to reassure him that the British government will press ahead with its own ratification of the treaty despite the fact that it is now technically dead. How to solve the larger problem? Well, Ireland might be asked to think again; it’s standard EU procedure to keep asking the same question until the voters finally give the right answer. But the Irish were asked to hold a second referendum only a few years ago. True, they then came up with the answer the Eurocrats wanted. But most observers seem to think that the Irish, notoriously difficult customers, might not be prepared to submit a second time.

Besides, this way of treating democracy is getting a little embarrassing. The French and Dutch electorates, having rejected the treaty the first time, were simply not allowed to vote on it a second time. Almost every other country confined its endorsement to parliamentary ratification even though massive constitutional change and a significant loss of sovereignty (both of which usually require a two-thirds majority in democratic organizations) were mandated by Lisbon. And the Eurocrats tried an end run around national political resistance by insisting that although treaty ratification was not legally binding on governments, it was nonetheless “politically binding”–a hitherto unheard-of concept.

For some years now European officials have conceded that the EU has a “democratic deficit.” But they have treated this acknowledgement as a kind of solution in itself — “hey, we’re worried about this, we don’t like, it’s not a good thing”– and moved on to other topics. If the Irish decision is simply brushed aside as the previous French and Dutch rejections were, then we will have to come to terms with the fact that the EU is not merely undemocratic but anti-democratic in practice and in principle. What will that mean for U.S.-EU relations?