The Treaty of Lisbon – Reasons for the Irish No Vote

Term Paper, 2009

19 Pages, Grade: 1,7

Ulrike Schneider (Author)



1. Introduction

2. The Treaty of Lisbon

3. Reasons for the Irish no - vote
3.1 Actual changes for the Irish people due to the Treaty of Lisbon
3.2 Insufficient information
3.2.1 Insufficient information about the EU in general
3.2.2 Insufficient information about the Treaty of Lisbon
3.3 Misleading information
3.3.1 Misleading information by “Sinn Féin” and “Libertas”
3.3.2 Misleading information by further groups

4. Conclusion


1 Introduction

It was June 13 in Brussels: on the computer screens live ticker were opened instead of files and directives. No one was interested in the news of the ongoing European Football Championship 2008 that people in Brussels normally were enthusiastic about during this month. This special day, everybody was focused on a map of Ireland showing the Irish counties which were step-by-step either coloured red or green. The staff and bureaucrats keenly commented on every change on the map. What was happening there?

The day before, on June 12, 2.8 million Irish voters got the chance to move the European Union one step further by voting in favour of the Treaty of Lisbon. Ireland was the only European country that allowed its citizens to express their opinion on the Treaty by means of a referendum.[1] Suspense was created by the fact that a non-ratification of only one country was enough to stop the whole treaty. Just a little more than half of the Irish people went to the polls so that eventually 860,000 no votes were enough to obtain a majority. Less than a million people were able stop a treaty which was supposed to make the EU and its institutions, regulations and law finally suitable for 27 member states and 492 million Europeans in a constantly changing world, facing new problems like terrorism and climate change. All member states of the EU had agreed on the Treaty of Lisbon and ratified it[2] as they thought the EU urgently needed a modernisation of the European Institutions. The Treaty of Nice, which forms the present basis of the European Union and goes back to the fifties, and the Treaties of Rome cannot meet this challenge anymore.

Ireland is regarded as one of the “winners” of the European Union. For years, it experienced sustained economic growth, full employment[3] and a rising GDP[4]. Then what could be the reason the majority of the Irish people voted against the Treaty of Lisbon or did not even go to the polls, instead of voting in favour of a treaty that would have improved the strength of the EU to which Ireland owes so much?

More and more, the European Union struggles with the increasing problem that it has to defend its acceptance to European citizens. People turn away from the Community because they have got the feeling that they are ill-informed and their interests are less represented on the European then on the national level. There are huge divergences in the ideas about the EU, the politicians and the citizens have which has lead to disenchantment with politics. This paper claims that the Irish people did not reject the Treaty of Lisbon itself but were simply not able to assess the advantages and disadvantages of the Treaty of Lisbon because of missing independent information.

The first part of this work will focus on the legal basis by presenting the most important amendments from the current EU and EC Treaties to the Treaty of Lisbon and the changes for the European Union and its citizens if the latter would have been implemented (2). With this in mind, the second part examines various reasons for the Irish no - vote as discussed in Ireland and in the European Union (3). This analysis is backed by a survey conducted shortly after the Irish referendum which asked 2,000 Irish for their reasons for voting against the ToL and a further survey of 2,101 adults which was conducted on behalf of the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs between July 24 and July 31, 2008. The conclusion will summarise all identified reasons and give an outlook on how the Irish government will proceed with the Treaty of Lisbon despite the no –votes (4).

2 The Treaty of Lisbon

The Treaty of Lisbon (ToL) would not replace the current EU and EC treaties but would be an amendment to the Treaty of the European Union (TEU) and the Treaty establishing the European Community, now called “Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union” (TFEU). The idea of a single foundational treaty was dismissed after the failure of the EU constitution referenda in France and the Netherlands in 2004. The referenda in 2007 was not about a constitution but merely another treaty which also did not contain any EU symbols such as a hymn or an official motto. Anything suspected of being a constitution was avoided. In this way, the mandatory referenda about a change in the constitution in some Member States could be evaded. Only Ireland needed to question its population concerning the ToL, otherwise there would have been a violation of the Irish Constitution.

To understand the discussions about the ToL one should know what it contains. These are the following main points[5]:

- The Charter of Human Rights would be legally binding.
- Citizens could participate in the European decision-making process by European Citizens’ petitions if they can present a petition signed by at least 1 million EU citizens from various Member States.
- The decision-making process in the Council would be determined by the double majority vote, a special form of qualified majority voting: Any decision taken by the Council needs the approval of at least 55% of the Council Member States which represent at least 65% of the EU citizens. This creates a balance between the interests of the bigger and the rights of the smaller and medium-size Member States.
- An extended scrutiny time for European legislation and the possibility of forcing the European Community to review or even withdraw European legislation would engage more the national parliaments.
- The European Parliament would be more powerful by extending the amount of EU laws which have to be co-decided by the European Parliament and the Council to 95 percent and by the ordinary legislative procedure which will be introduced in 2014. Furthermore, the European Parliament would elect the President of the Commission.
- The six months rotation system of the European Council President would be replaced by an election for a mandate for two and a half years. The European Council would be headed not by a single Member State but by three Member States at the same time as a “team presidency”.
- By merging the External Relations Commissioner with the CFSP[6] High Representative there would be the new post of the “High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy”, a kind of an EU Minister for Foreign Affairs.
- Further enlargement would be possible as the limit of 27 Member States which can be found in the Treaty of Nice would be removed.
- A membership withdrawal clause would make it at least theoretically possible that a Member State could decide to leave the European Union and resign the Treaties.
- The EU would obtain legal personality, i.e. it could sign international treaties and enter into international organisations as an independent legal entity.[7]

With most of these amendments listed above, it can be assumed that the Irish people could appreciate them and agree with the new Treaty. The challenge to convince the people to vote in favour of the ToL begins when one looks more in depth at how the information regarding the Treaty of Lisbon within Ireland was spreaded, which leads to the main part of this paper.

3 Reasons for the Irish no - vote

“Eighty percent of the no - voters said they supported Ireland’s membership of the EU, as did 98% of the yes -voters – reinforcing the argument that except for a small minority in the “no” camp, there is no doubt about the future of Ireland within the EU.”[8] The majority of Irish are pro-Europe. Why this stance could not be expressed in the referendum by voting in favour of it is an important question.

During a crisis meeting of the heads of states and governments a few days after the Irish referendum, even the Irish prime minister Brian Cowen faced problems defining what the crucial reasons for rejecting the Lisbon Treaty have been. It also is not easy to differentiate between all the reasons why the European Union faced this devastating result at the polls in Ireland: There have been various interest groups which influenced Irish citizens, historic episodes of the European Treaties like the need for a second referendum for the Treaty of Nizza, an anti-EU-atmosphere within the country in spite of the positive economic performance of Ireland in the last years, and psychological issues which linked the different reasons for the no -votes.

At the request of the EU representation of Ireland, from June 13 to 15, 2008, a “Flash Eurobarometer survey”[9] of 2000 randomly selected Irish people aged 18 and older was conducted via telephone. The main findings of this survey are: Those people who did not vote at all did so “due to a lack of understanding about the issues”.[10] The no - voters gave a wide spectrum of reasons on why they rejected the Treaty of Lisbon. Furthermore, the majority of both groups, the yes - voters and the no - voters, confirmed that the no-campaign was a lot more convincing then the yes-campaign.

I will pick up the most important of the manifold reasons given to vote no and try to analyse why Irish fears about possible disadvantages due to the Treaty of Lisbon arose.

3.1 Actual changes for the Irish people due to the Treaty of Lisbon

The intention of the Treaty of Lisbon was to make the EU more suitable for more than 27 Member States. Therefore, of course, with the ToL, there would have been changes within the EU and its institutions. These are facts which do not only concern the Irish but all European citizens. If there are unfavourable deployments, then they exist for all Member States and not only for the Irish people. A discrimination purely against the Irish cannot be ascertained.


[1] Both, the accession to the EC and amendments of the Treaties, demand an amendment of the Irish constitution (Irish constitution , Art. 29, section 4, number 3-11) which requires a referendum (Irish constitution, Art. 46, section 2).

[2] There is a still ongoing process of ratification in the Czech Republic and Sweden.

[3] For many years Ireland had an unemployment rate close to 4 percent which is regarded as full employment.

[4] GDP: Gross Domestic Product

[5] For further and also more detailed aspects, see e.g.: Fischer (2008)

[6] CFSP: Common Foreign and Security Policy

[7] Vertretung der Europäischen Kommission in Deutschland (2008)

[8] European Commission – Flash Eurobarometer 245 (2008), p. 9

[9] Eurobarometer analyses the public opinions in the EU by order of the European Commission.

[10] European Commission – Flash Eurobarometer 245 (2008), p. 2

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The Treaty of Lisbon – Reasons for the Irish No Vote
University of Hamburg
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Ulrike Schneider (Author), 2009, The Treaty of Lisbon – Reasons for the Irish No Vote, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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