European Affairs

The prepared remarks of his presentation follow.


I am speaking here today in a personal capacity, as a former Irish politician who was involved in the drafting of the EU Constitution, which was the precursor to the Lisbon Treaty. EU institutions, including the European Commission, are currently reflecting on the Irish vote. Ratification of the Treaty is proceeding in all the other 26 Member States.

As will be clear in my remarks, I am able to offer no easy solution. But I believe it is really important to focus on the fact that the EU continues to function well under existing Treaties.

What was the background to the Lisbon Treaty? How did we get here?

In December 2001, in ongoing preparation for the 2004 expansion of the European Union from 15 to 25 Member States, EU leaders launched a Convention on the Future of Europe to conduct a broad consultation on the reforms needed to adapt the EU’s institutions and streamline the decision-making apparatus for a much larger membership.

The Convention, involving the main stakeholders in the debate, produced the EU draft Constitution, which was signed by EU Heads of State and Government in 2004 and had to be ratified by all the 25 then Members before it could come into force. It decided to present a consolidated draft Constitution, containing numerous practical reforms, to be ratified as a single whole. This approach had many advantages but its disadvantage was that it raised the stakes, turning many practical questions into a single, potentially existential, one.

When a majority of the voters in both France and the Netherlands voted “No” to the draft Constitution in referenda in 2005, EU leaders declared a “period of reflection.”

During that period of reflection, not many new options were publicly canvassed. In fact there was very little real reflection. Obviously a great deal of emotional and intellectual investment had gone into the compromises contained in the draft Constitution. So there was a reluctance to abandon, or even significantly to change its content. Eventually it was decided to go ahead with most of the content of the Constitution, but to change it into amendments to the existing Treaties.

This meant converting the draft EU Constitution, which was a single readable and consolidated text, into a lengthy series of amendments to the existing Treaties, all of which remained in force. In other words, a readable document was converted into something much less readable, because the amendments could only be understood by reading the texts being amended, and that too involved a series of cross references to a series of other Treaties.

Even though the institutional change in the Lisbon Treaty would have increased transparency, the actual text by which this was to be done was far from transparent to the general reader.

This made it much harder to explain the Treaty to Irish electors. It facilitated scare-mongering by those advocating a “No” vote.

Why did Ireland have a referendum, when nobody else had one?

Ireland had to have a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty because the legal advisors to the Irish Government were of the opinion that parts of the Treaty constituted an amendment to the existing Irish Constitution in that they reduced Irish sovereignty. Only some parts of the Lisbon Treaty did so. Most of the material in it did not.

The Irish Constitution may only be amended by a referendum. Most other European countries have arrangements which allow their constitutions to be amended by extraordinary majorities in parliament. That option does not exist in the Irish Constitution, which was approved by the people in 1937 and has been in operation ever since.

Any change to the Irish Constitution to allow it to be amended without a referendum would itself have to be first approved by the Irish people in a referendum. Getting a majority for such a proposal would not be easy. Voters would not easily be persuaded to give up a right which they have enjoyed for over 60 years. The fact that several other EU Member States freely chose to have referenda on the EU draft Constitution has also legitimated referenda as an acceptable means of deciding big European questions (France, the UK, Luxembourg, Spain and the Netherlands all had, or said they would have, referenda on the Constitution).
I was very disappointed by the decision the Irish people took not to allow the Irish Government to ratify the Lisbon Treaty, which it had previously signed on their behalf. 53.1 percent of the Irish people voted in the referendum that would have permitted ratification. Of those, 53.4 percent voted “No”, and 46.6 percent voted “Yes.”

I will first explain the reasons for my disappointment with this decision of the people.

Let me say that I believe that, just as it is possible for politicians to make mistakes; it is also possible for electorates to make mistakes, too. Both are human. To say that one accepts a decision that is made democratically, does not imply that one should not be willing to try to have that decision changed at a later opportunity. I have seen many election results in my career that I accepted without particularly liking them, and that did not prevent me from seeking a different result on a later occasion, when the circumstances were right.

I believe that the biggest loss for the European Union that may arise from Ireland’s failure to ratify the Lisbon Treaty is in the area of the fight against cross-border crime and terrorism. At the moment decisions in this area have to be taken by unanimity among 27 countries and measures that are delayed by this include the EU-U.S. Extradition and Mutual Legal Assistance Agreements, which were concluded in 2003 and are still not ratified by all 27 Member States, the European Evidence Warrant for obtaining objects, documents and data for use in criminal proceedings or the draft Decision on the stepping up of cross-border cooperation, particularly in combating terrorism and cross-border crime. By introducing majority voting, the Lisbon Treaty would have equipped the European Union with much better decision-making capacity in this vital area, although some could also argue that the stronger role of the European Parliament might sometimes make it harder to reach consensus.

In modern Europe, virtually every crime has a cross-border dimension. It may be fuelled by a need to pay for illegal drugs that have been imported from another country. It may involve the use of a weapon or explosives imported from another country. The proceeds of the crime may be lodged in secret bank accounts in another country and the crime itself may involve stealing from other countries electronically or otherwise. The same factors apply in the case of terrorism. It also usually has a cross-border dimension.

The Lisbon Treaty would have equipped the police, the prosecuting authorities and the legislators with a European framework that would have been sophisticated enough to battle against the increasingly sophisticated criminal terrorist networks that are causing so much hardship to Europe’s citizens. I regret that this strong and populist case for the adoption of the Lisbon Treaty could not be much made in Ireland because, for reasons I do not understand, both Ireland and Britain reserved to themselves complicated rights to opt in or out of the obligations of this part of the Treaty.

Another very important loss as a result of the possible eventual non-ratification of the Lisbon Treaty would be that the European Union will not get greater legal capacity to act in the area of energy policy. Irish voters today are deeply concerned about oil prices and the impact that these prices are having on the prices of other necessities including food. The Lisbon Treaty would have equipped the European Union with a better legal base, to move forward more aggressively in promoting energy supply security in Europe and in ensuring solidarity between European countries so that no country could be the subject of blackmail because it was unduly dependent on a particular energy source.

A third reason for my disappointment is that the Lisbon Treaty would involve a step forward in the democratization of the European Union. As it stands, the European Union is the only multi-state democracy in the world. This is because the European Parliament is the only directly-elected, supra-national parliament in the world that makes legislation that is binding in all the countries represented in the Parliament. In other international organizations, the decision-making is exclusively diplomatic, but in the European Union, because it has a directly elected parliament, the decision-making is democratic as well as diplomatic.

The Lisbon Treaty would have brought this democratic trend further. It would have allowed the European Parliament greater decision-making powers in a range of areas, including the Common Agricultural Policy and cross-border crime, which it does not have now.

The national parliaments of the 27 Member States were also to get a bigger input. They were to have been consulted on whether a newly proposed EU law was a subject that ought to be dealt with at European level, or ought to be left to the Member States or local government. This is what is known as the issue of subsidiarity. They were also to have a say in whether the proposed EU legislation was proportional to the problem it was trying to solve. Was it using a hammer when some softer instrument might have sufficed to achieve the desired goal?

The involvement of the 27 national parliaments in this advance vetting of EU legislation would have served a number of important purposes:

  • It would have alerted public opinion in the 27 States to EU proposals in good time. Rather than hearing about these proposals, as is often the case at the moment, after they have already been enacted, national public opinions would have been alerted to them through their national parliaments, before they were even considered by the European Parliament or the Council of Ministers. This would greatly enhance the debate about the proposals. It would also give national parliaments a sense of “ownership” of EU laws.
  • The European Court of Justice would also have been involved in adjudicating on questions of subsidiarity and proportionality and this process would have developed a better case law of the appropriate limits of EU legislation. Even here in the United States there are still debates about whether something should be done at federal or at state level.
If ratified, the Lisbon Treaty would bring into effect a fairer system for distributing seats in the European Parliament based on a transparent and easily understood principle – degressive proportionality. It would prevent the membership of the Parliament growing too big, and thereby losing effectiveness as a deliberative body.

It would establish transparent and clear basis for distributing votes in the Council of Ministers between Member States. This (double majority) approach would have been automatically adaptable to changes in the population, and in the number, of Member States in the EU and would have avoided unnecessary haggling every time either of those changed significantly.

The Lisbon Treaty would equip the EU with greater powers to deal with cross-border health threats. We are all aware of the risk that a drug resistant strain of influenza could spread from animals to humans. Millions of people’s lives would then be at risk. In a Europe in which people routinely pass from one country to another, individual Member States will not be able on their own to cope with global health threats such as this. Some of the actions that would have to be taken to prevent the spread of influenza from one country to another might have to be quite severe. If such measures were to be taken at the EU level, and were to work, it is important that there be a sound legal basis for such decisions. The Lisbon Treaty would have given the EU such a legal basis.

Some have argued that, until the Lisbon Treaty is ratified, no further enlargement of the EU can take place. In legal terms, this is not the case. The Nice Treaty can be adjusted by accession treaties to accommodate new members without fundamentally changing it. Of course, some Member States might decide that they do not want further enlargement unless Lisbon is ratified, but that is a political choice.

The Lisbon Treaty would enhance the EU’s ability to act together internationally. The Lisbon Treaty would give the European Union a single legal personality encompassing the functions of the EU across the board. This single European personality would have been able to conclude treaties with other international actors on a sound legal basis. At the moment the European Union can only conclude such treaties in regard to some of its functions, but not all. This disability puts EU negotiators at a disadvantage in international negotiations and the Lisbon Treaty would have removed that disadvantage.

The Treaty would also have ensured that, in future, the foreign policy of the European Union would be conducted on the basis of very clear, legally binding, objectives contained in the Treaty. These objectives include supporting democracy, the rule of law, human rights and the principles of international law. They also commit the European Union to the purposes and principles of the UN Charter, and to fostering sustainable economic, social and environmental development of developing countries, with the aim of eradicating poverty.

The Lisbon Treaty would also have established a new office of full-time President of the European Council and a High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. The rotating six-months presidencies of Member States would have continued in all the other Councils of Ministers, but the new President of the European Council would have acted as chair of European Council meetings of heads of government, and the new High Representative would have chaired all the meetings of the EU Foreign Ministers.

Ending the rotating presidency in these two Councils will greatly enhance continuity of decision-making, although it may reduce the sense of ownership of the EU felt in the countries holding the Presidency.

Under Lisbon, the President of the European Council and the President of the European Commission would continue to have had a role in foreign policy along with the High Representative, who would also be a Vice President of the European Commission.

In its foreign policy action, the three leaders mentioned above would be assisted by a new External Action Service. It is argued by many that this would have given enhanced coherence to the European Union’s external representation. One ought to point out, however, that foreign and defense policy decisions would have continued to be taken on a unanimous basis amongst all 27 Member States.

Some concerns have been expressed that the collegiality of the European Commission might have been affected by the fact that one of its Vice Presidents was also to be a servant of the Council of Ministers. Concerns have also been expressed that the work load of the new High Representative on Foreign Affairs and Security Policy would have been very heavy in that he/she would have had to attend Commission meetings every week as a Vice President, chair Foreign Affairs Ministers’ meetings in the Council, represent the EU in dozens of meetings with third countries and also travel the world to meet counterparts and become familiar with problems. On the other hand, the fact that the High Representative would formulate proposals would add to the coherence of EU thinking on foreign and security questions.

One of the issues that was raised by those who supported a “No” vote in the Irish referendum was that the Lisbon Treaty would have reduced the period during which Ireland would have had one of its nationals as a member of the European Commission from 100 percent of the time as at the moment, to 66 percent of the time. In part this arose from a misreading of the Treaties. The Nice Treaty, now in force, already requires a reduction in the number of Commissioners below the number of Member States. The Lisbon Treaty does provide for the 66 percent formula, but it also allows the European Council unanimously to alter that and theoretically to restore the 100 percent formula. So those who wanted a Commissioner all the time would have had some chance of getting their way if they voted “Yes” to Lisbon, but none by voting “No” because “No” leaves Nice in force.

A final structural reason to be disappointed about Ireland’s decision is that it makes it seem more difficult for the EU to amend its Treaties in future. Rejecting an EU Treaty for a second time makes Ireland a “stumbling block,” which is not a comfortable position for either Ireland or the EU to be in.

What does the Irish result tell us?
 Some poll analysis has been done in Ireland since the 12 June Referendum of the views of those in Ireland who voted “No.”

Apparently, young people voted “No” by a margin of 2:1. A slightly larger majority (56 percent) of women voted “No.” Large numbers who said they did not understand the Treaty (22 percent) tended to vote “No.” The next largest group was those who said they wished to “protect Ireland’s identity.” Only six percent gave Irish neutrality as a reason, the same percentage as those who gave keeping a Commissioner and lack of trust in politicians as their reasons for voting “No.” More than 70 percent of those who voted “No” thought that a new replacement Treaty could be renegotiated with relative ease.

The high “No” vote amongst young people is particularly disappointing, as they are the best educated section of the population. Clearly, more work needs to be done in explaining in schools how the EU works. I am told that many women voted “No” because they feared that Irish military neutrality would be compromised, even though there is no foundation for this fear.

If one compares the constituencies in Ireland that voted “No” with those that voted “Yes,” one sees that upper income urban and suburban constituencies tended to vote “Yes,” while lower income or rural constituencies tended to vote “No.” This breakdown reflects some of the divisions seen in other countries, where those with lower incomes tend to feel more vulnerable to globalization and those with higher incomes tend to support it. European integration is identified, in the minds of some Irish people and of people in other European countries, with globalization, although the EU is in fact a means of controlling globalization. In a sense, many who voted “No” wanted things to stay just as they are now, something that is impossible in real life.

47.9 percent of electorate did not vote and a higher turnout on the “Yes” side might have been achieved if the Referendum had taken place on the same day as local and European elections when individual candidates of the “Yes” parties would have been mobilizing their voters more fully.

Some might ask why Irish people, who have gained more from the EU than the citizens of any other EU State, would be inclined to vote “No” to the Lisbon Treaty. It is indeed true that Ireland has gained disproportionately from the EU. Not only did EU membership provide an essential part of the basis upon which Ireland was able to attract foreign investment, but it also involved huge net transfers of money from other EU Member States to Ireland over the past 35 years. This happened under EU agricultural, regional and social policies. The particular makeup of the Irish economy – and especially its big temperate-climate agricultural sector – made it eligible for more categories of EU support than any other Member State. Naturally, Ireland availed of these policies, even though not all of them had been put there to benefit Ireland as such.

It is beyond doubt in my mind that the majority of those who voted “No” were not voting against the EU. In fact 89 percent of those who voted said they supported Ireland’s continued membership of the EU. They saw themselves as voting simply against a particular set of Treaty changes that were put to them in a single document, to which they only had an option to say either “Yes” or “No”. They were not offered any choices among the various proposals in the Treaty, but they did sense that they were being asked for their opinion on the package, and that their opinion would be taken seriously.

A Eurobarometer poll carried out in spring of this year in all EU Member States bears out the thesis that the “No” vote did not represent hostility by “No” voters in Ireland to EU membership.

Fifty-two percent of Europeans have a positive view of their country’s membership of the European Union. Twenty-nine percent believe EU membership is neither good nor bad, and only 14 percent believe it is a bad thing.

But this poll shows that 73 percent of Irish people are positive about Ireland’s EU membership. Only in the Netherlands do voters have a more positive view of their country’s EU membership (75 percent) than the Irish do.

Eighty-two percent of Irish voters said their country had benefitted from EU membership. The next most positive finding on that question was in Denmark (77 percent). In some countries only 36 percent of the electorate believed their country had benefitted from EU membership.

The Eurobarometer survey asked Europeans what were the issues that they felt should be dealt with at EU level, rather than at the level of individual States. Fighting terrorism (79 percent), protecting the environment (71 percent), promoting research (70 percent) and defense and foreign affairs (64 percent) came out at the top of the list of things people felt should be dealt with at EU level.

Trust is a very important ingredient in politics. It is interesting to note that on average 50 percent of Europeans said that they trusted the EU institutions, whereas only 32 percent said they trusted their own national governments. The highest levels of trust in national governments were recorded in Cyprus, Finland, Malta and Spain. In Ireland trust in EU institutions is above average – 62 percent; whereas only 37 percent say they trust their own national government.
It is interesting that in the three EU Member States where trust in the EU institutions was lowest, the level of trust in their own national governments was even lower still. This could imply that intergovernmental EU decision-making is not necessarily the best way to win trust in EU decisions!

The survey also examined attitudes to globalization. The most positive view of globalization in Europe is to be found in Denmark (78 percent), followed by Sweden (64 percent) and the Netherlands (63 percent). On average, 41 percent of Europeans have a positive view of globalization. In Ireland, only 34 percent have, and in France only 25 percent, which may help explain recent referenda results in both countries, although the Netherlands’ case points in a different direction.  An important question is whether Europeans believe there is such a thing as common European values (as distinct from common Western values).

The highest rates of belief in distinctly European values are found in the Netherlands (63 percent), Belgium (58 percent), Sweden (54 percent), France (52 percent) and Germany (51 percent). The average is 44 percent overall.

The lowest levels of belief in the existence of distinctly European values are found in some of the countries who have recently joined the EU, which is understandable. But only 36 percent of people in Ireland believe in the existence of distinctly European values, which are even less than are the case in the UK (39 percent), and this contrasts sharply with the high level of belief in EU membership in Ireland. This would suggest that belief in EU membership in Ireland may be based more on perceived economic benefits than shared values. This is an issue that would need to be addressed by those in Ireland who favor deepening Ireland’s integration in the EU and I believe it is a significant factor in the “No” vote.

For my part, I believe the development of shared European values is just as important as developing shared economic interests, and it involves a philosophical, emotional and cultural reflection, rather than a purely materialist one. I believe the EU needs to develop a shared European patriotism, if it is to maintain full solidarity amongst all its members for the remainder of the 21st century. That dimension was neglected in the debate on the European Constitution and Treaties.

What is going to happen now?

The Irish “No” vote is a problem, but it is not a crisis. The EU is continuing to function, and to function remarkably well, under the pre-existing Treaties. Many feared that when the EU enlarged to 25 members in 2004 that there would be institutional deadlock, arising from the unwieldy size of the membership. It is fair to say that most of those fears have not materialized at all in the past four years.

Areas where the EU is “on the move” include: energy and the environment; the Single Market (especially financial services and food law); more rigorous competition, state aids and infringements policies; expanding the euro zone to include Cyprus and Malta from January 1, 2008; direct taxation (with a steady flow of European Court of Justice (ECJ) rulings on the relationship between national tax policy and EC fundamental freedoms as well as technical progress on the common consolidated corporate tax base); a series of initiatives in justice, freedom and security (reflecting the priority given by all Member States to the fight against terrorism, international crime and migration policy), environment, external relations; and active discussions for new framework agreements with the EU’s main international partners, frequently based on bringing partners closer to EU law and practice.

The Commission, the Council of Ministers and the Europe Parliament continue to make decisions and to do so with relative speed. The EU is sometimes represented by too many players at international meetings, but these players know their roles and this has not proved to be a disabling problem. I do not believe that the Irish Referendum will or should delay work on EU defense issues which are authorized under existing Treaties. This is driven by strategic and financial considerations that are unaltered by the vote on 12 June.

It is important to stress that the EU will continue to be a very busy organization in the months ahead. It is playing an active role in concluding the World Trade talks. It is in the process of adopting radical and far-reaching proposals on climate change. It is highly efficient in protecting consumers and promoting competition. And in all these matters, it is cooperating closely with partners, such as the United States. All this will continue, while the issues arising from the Lisbon vote in Ireland are examined.

In seeking a solution, EU leaders will look at the context, methodology and format of the presentation of the Lisbon Treaty in Ireland. They will want to ensure that all the downstream implications and risks of any solution they might propose are fully faced up to by everyone in advance.

What are the options now?

I have identified four possible options. None of them is easy. All are, in fact, quite risky.

1. Will Ireland be asked to vote again on the same text?

Some are suggesting that the Irish people might be asked to vote again on the Lisbon Treaty in its present form, after all the other 26 Member States have ratified it, but with some “clarificatory” political declarations.

Those people in Ireland who voted “No” because they say they did not understand the Lisbon Treaty might understand it better, or have it better explained to them, in a second referendum campaign. Some concerns might be set aside. But Irish people might argue that their original decision was not being taken seriously if they were simply to be presented with the same document in the same format again, especially if the question was put to them only a short period after their earlier decisions and without a new context or new arguments.

While I believe that the full content of the Lisbon Treaty would, if understood, be accepted by the Irish people, I am not sure that presenting it in the same form a second time is necessarily the best way to achieve that. An issue that would have to be faced would be what would happen if the answer was “No” a second time. Everybody would need to think very carefully about that question, including what one would say in advance, and what the answer would mean for the EU as a whole.

EU leaders will need to consider if they want to adhere to the existing, long established firm legal and political commitment whereby all States must ratify an EU Treaty if it is to come into effect, or whether they want to create a new precedent in which that might be no longer the case.

The Brussels-based Centre for European Policy Studies recently suggested that, without waiting for a second referendum, the other 26 Member States might ratify the recently published consolidated version of the Lisbon Treaty, which Ireland could not sign because of the Referendum result, a situation which would, in effect, create a new European Union, of which Ireland would not be a part.

If Ireland votes “No” a second time, it is possible that a proposal of this kind might gain support. The other Member States will need to think very carefully indeed about establishing such a precedent. Many of them might not be happy with the idea that, in future, non-ratifiers of future Treaties will be liable to be excluded by such a device. If that precedent were to be established in Ireland’s case, it would become much more difficult for the remaining members to negotiate future treaties and bring them to the ratification stage.

2. Can the Lisbon Package be renegotiated?

Some in Ireland are suggesting that the Lisbon Treaty be renegotiated, or that the powers in the Lisbon Treaty might be used to meet some of the Irish concerns. For example, some say that each Member State might be granted a Commissioner all of the time. As I explained earlier, that can legally be done by unanimous agreement under the Lisbon Treaty. But recent EU experience shows that, if you open one part of a treaty or a treaty package for one Member State, other Member States will demand that other aspects be reopened to meet their needs too. Even a slight amendment of a protocol to the Lisbon Treaty, or the text itself, would require that all of the States who have already ratified the Lisbon Treaty present the revised Treaty to be ratified all over again by their parliaments. Going through a process of ratification again would be exceptionally difficult for some other EU Member States.

3. Could the Lisbon Treaty be approved in segments?

Some of the content of the Lisbon Treaty does not have to be in Treaty form at all. It is simply organizational material that has no effect on the sovereignty of individual Member States and might be implemented by ordinary legislation or administrative action. The material that does require Treaty amendment could then be identified separately.

Some might argue that, at 51 years of age, the European Union is now mature enough to amend its treaties – which are already effectively the EU’s “constitution” – in the same way that states amend their constitutions. States rarely seek to amend their constitutions by presenting a single, very long text containing dozens of different constitutional changes in one document, and then asking that everything be approved as a package, on the basis of a simple “Yes” or “No.”

They usually present constitutional changes individually to their electorates or their other ratifying authorities and allow them to vote on each one individually. A number of constitutional amendments might be presented in a package, and some might be contingent on others, but the electorate or ratifying authority would generally be given individual choices. That makes the task of the electorate easier and avoids easy misrepresentation.

Such an approach might make sense as a means of going forward with those reforms in the Lisbon Treaty that do require Treaty amendment. That would also involve a lot of new work, and would mean going back to those who have already ratified to present some of the material in a different form. Again, this would be exceptionally difficult to contemplate for some Member States and would involve prolonging debate about institutional reform of which they are already tired. It would also imply that Member States might “pick and choose” differently, thus adding to the complexity of the way the EU operates. But, on the other hand, it would avoid turning a series of practical reforms into a single, potentially existential, question. It would make it more difficult to misrepresent what was being proposed.

4. Could the issue be dealt with in the next Accession Treaty?

Some of the urgency behind the Lisbon Treaty is related to the need to accommodate a larger number of Member States in the EU.

Another vehicle for introducing the Lisbon reforms, or most of them, would be to include them in part of the next accession treaty for a new member, e.g. Croatia. This treaty would in turn have to be ratified by all the existing members.

This would link the reforms to a concrete case. A referendum on new accession will occur in some countries anyway, so some of the issues will be revisited then anyway. But again it would involve re-ratifying the Lisbon material with all the difficulties that entails.

Could further enhancement of EU-wide democracy be part of a deal to solve the overall problem?

One of the difficulties faced by those of us who campaigned for a “Yes” vote in Ireland was that, while the Treaty contained many good individual ideas, there was no one big democratic idea that grabbed the imagination of the electorate. There was no signature, or bumper sticker, issue that summed up for the general public what the Treaty was about.

The additional powers for the national parliaments, the citizens’ initiative and the extra powers for the European Parliament were all, of course, valuable and important ideas in themselves, but they did not add up to a really big saleable democratic idea. I believe it would be possible to make a package of Lisbon Treaty-based reforms, however presented, much more attractive to electorates, if an additional element of further direct democracy was added. Many already complain that there is not a European demos and say that that is why the EU often gets bogged down in compromises between individual countries. A European demos will never come about by accident. It will only come about, if it is created.

Let me suggest one way in which a European demos might be created. In addition to the electorates of each Member State voting directly for the members of their national delegation in the European Parliament, I believe we should allow the people of Europe as a whole to vote, in a single Europe-wide election, on the question of who should be the President of the European Council or the President of the Commission. That would not increase the legal power of either office, but it would provide a channel for voters all over Europe to vote together on the same day as Europeans, rather than just as members of national constituencies. A direct election of an EU President, and the election campaign for such a post, would create a real European demos. A European demos would gradually build a collective EU public opinion, and that in turn would make amending EU treaties much easier in future.

Another way to create a European demos would be to allow a portion of the European Parliament’s MEPs (say 10 percent) to be elected at large throughout the whole EU, rather than, as at present, have all MEPs [Members of the European Parliament] elected from national constituencies.

There is life after Lisbon – and for the European Union this is still a good life. I keep reminding people how much has been achieved in such a relatively short time – just 50 years. I doubt if the founders could have ever foreseen that their initial idea of a European Community would eventually turn into a 27-strong Union, with free movement of people and goods, its own currency and shared successes in so many areas. The Irish “No” to the Lisbon Treaty has not changed any of that. The EU has hit bumps on the road before, but we keep going as we strive to grow bigger and stronger and to continue our unprecedented democratic and voluntary integration experiment. In an increasingly globalized world, the European Union is more relevant than ever today and I am happy to note that both Europe and the rest of the world are a better place because of it.

Ambassador Bruton then took questions.

Which parts of the Lisbon Treaty make it an issue of Irish sovereignty requiring you to actually have this referendum? Secondly, in Denmark, the country I represent, the way we got around our “No” in 1992 was to get some opt-outs. This would certainly not be something I would recommend, but are there particular issues that might be relevant for such Irish opt-outs?

In my view, Ireland already has more than enough opt-outs on all of the issues that were raised in this campaign. In fact, I’d like to see Ireland get rid of some of those opt-outs because I think they have a negative psychological effect on Irish attitudes towards Europe.

Among the issues in the Lisbon Treaty that touch on sovereignty and require a referendum, I think the proposed shifts to qualified majority voting (QMV) would be in that category. I don’t think the changes in the composition of the Commission or other organizational changes make that much difference.

There is a moot point as to whether the EU’s taking on new competencies would be something that would have an effect on sovereignty. So it would be well worthwhile, I think, to have a test case on that before the Irish Supreme Court.

But certainly I think the QMV things would be critical. And as I said, I think they’re the most important and most valuable part of the treaty, much more so than some of the things that got more notice.

Thank you for your very insightful explanation of the psyche of the Irish people. I wanted to ask you about the perception that some Irish people tend to look at the EU through their wallets rather than through their hearts or their minds. That, of course, is a concept that we Americans understand perfectly. If there were a second referendum and the volume of discussion about Europe without Ireland rose, would the Irish people think with their wallets the second time around and say, “I don’t understand it, I don’t necessarily agree with it, but I’m economically better off because of it” – and vote “Yes”?

I think anyone who is persuaded of something against their will isn’t persuaded at all. Coercion is not a good means of achieving desirable election results. That’s another reason why I don’t think that strategy would work apart from some degree of natural closeness with Americans that Irish people have in some ways. It’s probably true every people feels that they have some particular sort of stubbornness built into their genetic makeup. The Irish certainly believe that and would react very negatively to this half-mercantile, half-bullying approach [from the outside] to how they might vote.

I think there’s another factor. While Ireland has been benefiting enormously from EU membership since 1973 in terms of prosperity, partly due to the success it has got within the EU, Ireland is now reaching the point where far from getting money, it will actually be contributing money to the EU. So the argument might not work quite so well.

In my view, it’s an approach to be avoided, at all costs. I’m a little bit worried that the logic in some things that people are saying now, is somehow leading inexorably in that direction, without people really thinking through whether they really want to go there. That’s one of my reasons for saying that all of the four options that I put forward are actually bad options. We may have to pick one of them but I think we want to be very, very careful in thinking through the implications of any of the options – specifically, what we would plan to do if the option we chose goes wrong.

We cannot afford to travel in hope anymore. We’ve got to travel in knowledge of where we’re going to reach and we’ve got to game-plan the whole thing fully, working back from the worst possible outcome to the best possible outcome, and seeing what would happen in between.

The Netherlands, the country I represent, also voted down the treaty in an earlier referendum, so I feel your pain. I was wondering, among your “No” voters, which sort of feeling is stronger: Their negative attitude in their “No” about the referendum or their overall positive opinion about the EU? France’s President Sarkozy has said that at the end of his EU presidency this year, he might have found a way out. If he proposes a political deal of some sort, would that create resentment among the Irish voters or would they welcome such a political deal, given the fact that they are in favor of EU cooperation?

All other things being equal, I think the Irish people’s overall appreciation of the value of the EU – to them and to Europe as a whole – would win out. The Irish do appreciate the EU, maybe not as much as others do, but they do appreciate it as something good for Europe as a whole.

But a lot depends on how things are approached. What are the psychological circumstances in which this is presented? If a more favorable psychological climate can be created, I think it should be one in which Irish voters will look again at the Treaty and see in it things that they didn’t see before, and appreciate the significance of some of the things that are in it in ways that they didn’t appreciate before. They would feel they are doing that of their own free will, in an atmosphere where their judgment is being respected and will be respected whatever decision they take. But that requires enormous care, not just on the part of the Irish government. What is said by other statesmen in Europe or in any other part of the world about this issue will, within a few seconds, be relayed in Ireland and is capable of being misinterpreted in Ireland. So this is going to require a lot of careful thought.

I think it can be done. And one of the options that I suggested can work, but it’s important whichever of them is taken, that it’s done in the right set of circumstances, which I described as best I could.

In this country, as you know, immigration is a hot-button political issue and looking across the Atlantic, we have the impression that it’s true there too. We read about immigration from new member states to more prosperous EU countries, including newly prosperous countries like Ireland. Has that affected Irish attitudes and Irish perceptions of the EU?

The Irish economy has continued to grow fast up to the last year, partly thanks to the arrival of Europeans from other EU countries who have come to work in Ireland in significant numbers. Immigration from other EU countries peaked in 2004. That has been vitally important in keeping the Irish economy going forward, up until last year, and people have a very positive view about it. Remember, Polish people coming to Ireland are not immigrants: they’re Europeans going to live in another European country. And I think that’s the way they are seen in Ireland.

There are in Europe as a whole, however, concerns about immigrants from non-EU states arriving in Europe with very little means or the skills for supporting themselves. That is creating problems for those countries. One of the reasons I’m sorry about the Lisbon Treaty it that it would have given the EU stronger powers to act in the area of common policies on immigration and refugees.

I don’t think that that part of the Lisbon Treaty was one that had any influence on the vote in Ireland. And I think it’s going to be difficult to reach agreement on at least some of these issues whether we have the Lisbon Treaty or not. But, no, I don’t think it was a factor in the outcome, politically speaking.

Ambassador, I was taken with your discussion of the degree and manner in which the Irish shared European values. I wasn’t entirely clear whether you were saying that they do, in fact, share European values, but don’t recognize it. Or they don’t and that their values should be shaped in that direction. If the latter, how one might go about doing that?

That’s a very acute question. I think most people don’t talk about values all the time, and it’s mainly elites who appreciate value-type discussions. When you think of it in this way, it’s possible that it is not as important as it seems when one focuses on one question in the Eurobarometer poll where Ireland seemed to give a rather unusual answer. When it asked Irish people, do they believe that there are distinctly European values, and they got a lower proportion saying “Yes” than in other EU Member States, that may be due to the fact that so many Irish people look not only to Europe, but also to America, where so many of their relatives live, in determining what they feel comfortable with and what they think is their “value system.” There is no other country in Europe, apart from Germany, that has as many “cousins”, so to speak, in the U.S. as the Irish do. So, I think some Irish poet described the Irish as having a “transatlantic mind”, and that may have colored their answer to the values question. That is quite compatible, in my view, with the Irish being supportive of European values because really there isn’t that much difference fundamentally between the values being promoted by the EU and the values of the United States – some differences of emphasis perhaps, but not fundamental differences.

The more interesting question, I think, is a possible emotional reality that suggests that Irish people possibly haven’t emotionally identified sufficiently with the EU and don’t quite have the sense of ownership of the overall project that they ought to have. And that’s the thing that Irish politicians need to address in a very serious way if they want Ireland to be a fully comfortable member of an evolving EU.

Can I follow up on that? To what degree do you see Brussels’ role in helping define that European common ethos?

I think it’s probably going to be something influenced, in part, by people who are not involved in politics. The Pope (both the current one and his predecessor) has made very strong calls in favor of European integration. Europe’s bishops virtually endorsed the Lisbon Treaty, and I think the same applies in other churches as well. So those who concern themselves with values and with questions of how you express your identity without disrespecting someone else’s – the leaders in these sectors need to be more vocal on this issue in Ireland. The Irish Catholic bishops issued a good statement which wasn’t an outright endorsement of the Lisbon Treaty, but it came very close to it.

But in Ireland, just as in other countries, there are fundamentalists who believe, you know, that the devil is conspiring to bring us all down and that, for some of them, he lives in Brussels [laughter]. People of those types did have some impact, unfortunately, in the campaign, but it was not something supported by mainstream churches.

I would like to congratulate you because I remember in the aftermath of the “No” vote in my country, France, there was no authority from the EU really ready to speak up. One of the reasons why the French people voted “No” was that politicians during the campaign for the referendum gave bad examples about globalization. In addition, some politicians in France argued for “No”. If they had behaved differently, we would have got a majority.

I took part in the referendum campaign in France on that occasion, and the difficulty is, I guess, that if the politicians appear to be all on one side, voters feel that it is a conspiracy. On the other hand, if the politicians are on opposite sides, it can confuse people just as much.

I think the interesting thing in the French case is that those who led the “No” campaign haven’t actually profited by it in their subsequent political careers. So I don’t know that one can draw any conclusion that people who may have supported the “No” campaign, like Sinn Féin, in Ireland are going to benefit particularly from that.

It was a very bitter campaign in Ireland. A prominent leader, canvassing for the treaty, told me that he experienced jostling and sort of – well, not actual violence, but threats of violence – of a kind not experienced since the height of the famous hunger strikes involving the IRA. Why I don’t know: I really can’t understand why some of these groups, who are opposed, were so angry.

One of my worries, I have to say, about some of the thinking being advanced at the moment – to the effect that the Irish might be asked to have another referendum next spring – isn’t to do with objections in principle to such a course, but rather with the tactical reality that Ireland may be in much worse economic condition by spring 2009 than it was in June 2008. Of course, it may be different again by spring 2010: Ireland may be in much better condition by then: I think it has a pretty resilient economy. But at the moment, there is a housing bubble being deflated, and people in Ireland are going to be very angry in spring of 2009.

I’m of a generation of Irish people who knew both good and bad times. But many of the people under the age of 35 or 40 in Ireland have never known anything but continuing prosperity, until this year. And they’re not going to be in great humor about it next spring. So, some of this irrational anger that was present last June may be even more acute next year.

I wonder if you have sensed, you and your colleagues, any slowdown in momentum, any new dimension of skepticism in dealing with Americans and other people with whom the EU works as a result of the disappointment and with the failure to ratify in Ireland.

No, I think, in fact, the EU has a more favorable view of the United States than it had a year ago, by a considerable measure. This is due to a number of factors. The outreach by the current administration, but also the election campaign here in the United States, which has presented the U.S. in a much more vibrant, democratic light than Europeans might have seen it previously. So I think the willingness on the part of the Europeans to cooperate with the United States, will be strong.

The EU has a lot of powers under the existing treaties to do work on defense and security issues with the U.S. Maybe not as many powers it might have if the Lisbon Treaty were in force, but still quite considerable powers. And I think the European Union should be persuaded to use those powers to the fullest.

As this is the last question, may I compliment The European Institute on your work, on the way in which you make Europe known here, on the very high quality of your publications, which I find extremely informative and useful.

This article was published in European Affairs: Volume number 9, Issue number 3 in the Fall of 2008.