Wednesday, June 18, 2008

O referendo irlandês

That’s why they call it ‘democracy’ no Crooked Timber:

There’s been a lot of outrage expressed by other Europeans (...) at the Irish vote on Lisbon. Some of this seems fine to me – obviously it is perfectly reasonable to feel annoyed, or even angry, when people vote for what you feel to be the wrong option. Some of the anger, however, seems to me to rest on an unjustified implicit or explicit belief that the Irish were somehow obliged to vote Yes in the referendum. Below the fold, I lay out all the serious reasons I can think of for why you might think the Irish were positively obliged to vote Yes, and why I don’t think that any of them hold


(1) The ‘pacta sunt servanda’ argument. This claims that because Ireland has signed an international agreement, it must ratify it. When I was thinking possible claims through last night, I thought that this argument was probably too weak for anyone to advance in debate. I was wrong – according to the FT this morning, Giorgio Napolitano, the Italian president has opined that “Now is the time for a courageous choice by those who want coherent progress in building Europe, leaving out those who, despite solemn, signed promises, threaten to block it.” This is nonsense. States frequently sign treaties that they then can’t ratify because of domestic opposition. At most, there is an obligation on the Irish state to make its best good faith efforts to secure ratification. As it happens, the main party in the Irish government did make extensive efforts to get the Treaty passed. These efforts weren’t wonderfully competent; but they obviously were sincere. But in any event, there is no obligation whatsoever on Irish voters (or voters elsewhere, if they get a choice) to rubber stamp decisions that their government has agreed to in the IGC - the idea behind a free vote, after all, is that you actually have a choice, and the idea behind separating initial signing of a Treaty and ratification thereof is that not all treaties signed by international negotiators will be agreeable to the folks back home.

(2) The ‘selling out the European demos’ argument. Here, the claim is that Ireland owes an obligation to the European people (or, to use the term beloved of academics, the European demos) to go along with its collective choice and ratify the Treaty. This lies behind the claim that a minority of a minority of a minority has blocked the vote and its variants. The problem with this line of argument is twofold. First – there is a nearly-unanimous scholarly consensus on the ‘European demos’ – unfortunately that consensus suggests that the beast doesn’t exist. Academics happily waste reams of paper arguing about what it would look like if it did exist, or how one might best coax it into existence &c, but nobody serious thinks that it is already out there. So, the claim that Ireland owes it to the demos to vote yes is effectively a claim that Ireland should vote yes to help push along a political process that may, or may not, bring this mysterious creature into the realm of being. This is pretty weak beer. The second problem with the European demos style of argument is that European politicians, for all of their claims on behalf of the Plain People of Europe, seem remarkably averse to asking aforementioned people what they actually want, for fear that they would give the wrong answer.

(3) The ‘as long as it doesn’t frighten the servants and horses’ argument. This is most concisely and elegantly stated in the recent work of Andy Moravcsik, who claims that most of the work that the EU does is the kind of policy that you see being delegated to specialized entities in the member states, so that no-one should feel too worried about what form delegation of powers to EU entities should take, and that consulting the voters about it is a serious mistake. More generally, many people argue that people should delegate the discussion of detailed questions of institutions and policies, such as those involved in EU Treaties, to political elites who can understand them much better.

The problem with this set of claims is that the issues of EU Treaty change seem technical, but in fact involve deep seated constitutional change. In other words, they define many of the basic parameters in the member states in a very intimate way, determining which issues are handled by markets, which by member states, which through EU decision making, and which through supranational judges. Many democratic states, including Ireland, require referendum approval for constitutional changes – those which don’t usually have some kind of supermajority requirement for change to go through. Unless you believe that people shouldn’t have a direct voice in shaping the political system they live under (or, like Moravcsik, you believe that welfare state reform etc require that people need to have the hard choices made for them by others), you shouldn’t agree with this argument.

(4) The ‘eaten bread is soon forgotten’ argument. Here, the claim is that since Ireland benefited from various financial transfers from the EU when it was poorer, it should shut up and go along with the Treaty now. It is certainly true that Ireland benefited significantly from regional aid and structural funds in the past, although the economic consequences of this were rather less important than many Continental Europeans might like to believe. But the claim that this creates a specific obligation on Ireland to accede to the Treaty is about as credible as the mutterings from warbloggers about how France’s failure to go into Iraq demonstrated its ingratitude for WWII. The benefit and the purported obligation aren’t obviously connected. I think that there would be a far better case for this argument if, say, Ireland, was trying to reduce regional aid now that it was a net payer rather than beneficiary thereof – but regional aid is not the issue under discussion.

Alguns comentários dos leitores:

1. There should also be an argument of the following form: the EU cannot (really cannot as opposed to will not) do X, which is clearly a good thing to do, unless the treaty is ratified.

The trouble is the Yes campaigners really don’t seem to have anything to insert in place of X to make this argument. That’s their biggest problem I think. It’s all very well to say that the text needs to be long and boring, but surely there must be some simple reason why it’s needed in the first place?

2. Slightly OT question: How much do you think voters felt obliged to vote No because they saw that theirs was the only referendum, and therefore the only opportunity for an electorate to stop the technocrats? That is, loyalty to a perceived anti-Euro demo, the reverse of your #2. And how legitimate is that logic?

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