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Ireland: voting the “right” way

Charlotte Leskinen

October, 6 2009

On October 2nd the Irish went to the polls for a second time regarding the Treaty of Lisbon. This time the yes-side won with a convincing majority. However, one may ask is it legitimate to request a Member State to vote on the same issue until they get it “right”? The Czech euro-skeptic president Vaclav Klaus claims it isn’t. In fact, he is refusing to ratify the new Treaty even though the Parliament of his country has already ratified it. Is this any more democratic than submitting the Treaty for a popular vote twice, taking into account that when the Irish voted for the second time, they had been promised certain legal guarantees on issues such as abortion and taxation, so it was not technically exactly the same Treaty? What is more, the action brought by 17 Czech senators before the Czech Constitutional Court on the compatibility of the Treaty of Lisbon with Czech constitutional law is also questioning the compatibility of the Treaty of Maastricht and the Treaty of Rome. In other words, it also challenges the acquis communautaire which the Czech Republic approved when it joined the EU in 2004, so it seems strange to question the constitutionality of those Treaties five years after the Czech accession…

Although one may agree that the current institutional reform process is far from ideal and there is some political pressure to vote the “right” way, in a Union consisting of 27 Member States where any Treaty reform must be approved unanimously and ratified by all Member States, this “compromise” seems to be the only viable way as long as Member States are unwilling to move from unanimity to qualified majority on institutional reforms. The previous attempt to increase the democratic legitimacy of the institutional reform sadly failed in 2005 when France and the Netherlands voted “no” on the EU Constitutional Treaty, although that Treaty was not just a product of the so-called Brussels-elite but representatives from national governments and parliaments had also participated in its drafting. Moreover, it certainly was a lot clearer and better-drafted than the Treaty of Lisbon. But what matters in the end is that the Treaty of Lisbon will – provided that the Czech and Polish presidents eventually ratify it – finally enable the EU to move forward and, hopefully, to function at least a little bit more smoothly.

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