Thursday, 3 November 2011

Why referenda are a 'No-No' in the EU

I would commend this to you for your bed-time reading. Written in 2008, an extract to whet your appetite:
"Five years ago in a nondescript Brussels meeting room, in the dreary Justus Lipsius building, the leaders of France, Germany and Britain took some time out of a gruelling European Union summit for a trilateral meeting. Negotiations on a text that was later to become the EU Constitution were proceeding badly under the chairmanship of Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi in December 2003. The talks were to be completed, under the aegis of the Irish, the following June. Jacques Chirac, at that time the French president, was keen to sign up Tony Blair, the British prime minister and Gerhard Schröder, German chancellor, to ‘a pact between France, Britain and Germany under which none of the three countries would hold referendums’ 1. Chirac was worried that he had more or less promised the French people a vote on a future EU Constitution and, according to someone present in the room, ‘clearly wanted to get out of any such undertaking’ 2. But his plea for an anti-referendum pact fell on deaf ears. Schröder replied that Germany’s constitution specifi cally ruled out referendums, and Blair retorted that he currently had no plan to hold an EU vote. Blair’s u-turn on the referendum in April 2004, taken to wrong foot the opposition Conservatives 3, angered Chirac and pushed France into holding its own vote. By the beginning of 2005, up to 10 of the EU’s 25 countries were planning to hold referendums and the future of the EU Constitution looked uncertain. Destiny struck on 29 May 2005 when, after a vibrant national debate, French voters turned out in large numbers to reject the EU Constitution. Two days later the Dutch followed suite and the EU Constitution was doomed. Following emergency talks two weeks later, Blair, speaking in Paris, gave his assessment of the problem: ‘After these two No votes, let’s be very honest, if there was a referendum in most parts of Europe at the moment, the answer would be no’, 4. It was to be another two years, after a period of ‘refl ection’, before the EU dusted off the old Constitution to resurrect it, virtually intact 5, as the Lisbon Treaty 6. This time a new generation of EU leaders – headed by Gordon Brown 7, Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy – were to engage in an undeclared, but generally acknowledged, pact not to hold referendums on the new Treaty unless absolutely constitutionally required, meaning that only Ireland would vote 8. By January 2008, Brown, Sarkozy and Merkel had helped to dissuade José Sócrates, the Portuguese prime minister, from holding a referendum. Sócrates told Portuguese MPs why he was backtracking on earlier promises to hold a popular vote: ‘A referendum in Portugal would jeopardise, without any reason to do so, the full legitimacy of the ratification by national parliaments that is taking place in all the other European countries.’ 9 President Sarkozy, speaking at a private meeting of senior MEPs in November 2007, made it clear that he, Brown and others had reached a clear understanding on the referendum question. ‘France was just ahead of all the other countries in voting no. It would happen in all member states if they have a referendum. There is a cleavage between people and governments’, he said 10. ‘A referendum now would bring Europe into danger. There will be no Treaty if we have a referendum in France, which would again be followed by a referendum in the UK."
And no doubt Cameron is a fully signed up member - we now know Papandreou is!


Sue said...

Bloody fascinating and a real eye opener!

WitteringsfromWitney said...

First saw it just after I started blogging back at Christmas '09 and thought it worth another 'airing'....