European Societies’ Role and Effect Over the EU’s Deepening and Integration: A Brief Analysis of French, Dutch, and Irish “No” Votes
Societies have different structures shaped by their historical backgrounds and culture. Individuals in the same society share similar ideas, beliefs, and aims. Their motivations and goals are mostly sourced by similar reasons and motives. In 2005, France and Netherlands rejected the Draft Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe due to economic and social concerns. In 2008, Ireland rejected the Treaty of Lisbon because they wanted to protect the Irish identity and they lacked information about the Treaty. These referendums showed that the political elite and the public were not on the same page (Sap, 2007). The things that governments were hoping to achieve were not matching with what the public was hoping to stop. Therefore, European societies decided to use their power to say "no" to unwanted developments and decisions that their national governments were aiming to do so. By saying "no" to the Constitutional Treaty, European societies showed their governments and the international audience that they are not willing to continue with the deepening process of the EU and endangering their socioeconomic stabilities and watch their culture erode as a result of integration and globalization.
After the Treaty of Maastricht, citizens of the EU member states gained important rights and faced with changes and the same time. The concept of "European Union citizenship" legally emerged. They earned the right of free movement across the EU member states' borders, freedom of movement of capital, goods, and services was secured, and there was now a European Central Bank to decide upon common monetary and financial policies (Caporaso, 2005). A common currency was very good at first look but it was also a very dangerous implication for economies of different member states. Governments were aiming to increase their authority within the organization but European societies were aiming to protect their social structures and secure their national identities and values. Salient issues and national concerns like unemployment, education, immigration, military, and health were more important for citizens (Moravcsik, 2008). Societies were not enthusiastic about the EU deepening any further and bringing up new regulations. When the topic of establishing a common European Constitution came up, the Dutch society didn't see it as a positive development like the government thought they would. The referendum in the Netherlands on June 1st, 2005 resulted with the rejection of the Constitutional Treaty. As most of the European Union member governments did, the Dutch government failed to explain the Constitution to the Dutch society in a way that they would understand (Sap, 2007). Therefore, the concerns of the Dutch society about their national integrity and legitimacy increased. Even "the term 'constitution' had set the basic tone and aroused public interest" (Sap, 2007, p.159). When a treaty is reflected as a "treaty", it doesn't create a biased attitude within the society but when something is reflected and presented as a "constitution", the name frightens individuals. As Sap suggests, "A treaty binds sovereign states, but introducing a constitution treaty is a different matter." (Sap, 2007, p.159). A constitutional treaty meant to the Dutch society that the path to a federal order was coming into existence. Even though three out of four Dutch citizens were considering the EU as beneficial for the Netherlands, they voted "no" (Aarts and Kolk, 2006). This was a shock for the government because they thought that their ideas were shared with society. There were several reasons for the Dutch society to vote "no". They were unaware of the Constitution and its means, they were concerned about the economy, culture, and Dutch power in the EU (Aarts and Kolk, 2006).
Concerns related to the economy started with the introduction of the Euro. After the introduction of the common currency to member states, the Dutch people's spending power decreased (Sap, 2007). Together with the concerns about economic development and trade, Dutch society started to become suspicious. Therefore, when the time of the referendum came, negative perspectives about Euro were being more emphasized within the society and also the "no" wing. Like Aarts and Kolk emphasized, "The negative attitude toward the euro reflects a lack of confidence that the EU will foster economic growth." (Aarts and Kolk, 2006, p.244). Dutch society didn't want to risk their foreign trade because they knew that their economy was highly dependent on it and the EU wasn't allowing the Dutch to achieve their economic goals. Accepting a Constitution was going to mean that the deepening process of the EU was going to continue and with more members being involved in the freedom of movement and trade within the Union, new opportunities for trade and cheap labor were going to arise. Businesses were going to relocate due to lower spending and cheap labor in those newly added members' markets and this was going to cause further problems for the economy (Stefanova, 2006). Another reason for the Dutch people's "no" vote was about preserving their culture and prevent cultural erosion. Dutch society was concerned about globalization and its effects on societies. With so many different cultures being interrelated and combined through time, Dutch people were afraid about their language losing its role in their society (Aarts and Kolk, 2006). The other reason for Dutch people to vote "no" was about their lack of information about the Constitution and its meaning. The text was very long and had a highly complicated legal language already but the Dutch government failed to emphasize the role of the Constitution and how it would be beneficial in the future for the Dutch society. The "No" wing was working very hard on their campaign while the "Yes" wing was staying very passive. Due to this lack of knowledge, Dutch people didn't want to vote for something that they don't know or understand (Startin and Krouwell, 2013). The "No" wing was working very hard on their campaign while the "Yes" wing was staying very passive. Therefore, the factors that shaped the decision of the Dutch society were the fear of loss of sovereignty, the spread of integration and the economic problems that might arise afterward, and the lack of knowledge about the Constitution and its functions.
In France, the 2005 referendum also resulted with rejection. The Constitutional Treaty was assuring unlimited territorial expansion of the EU and the more the EU deepened, the more problems and threats were likely to occur (Stefanova, 2006). French people used the referendum as a tool to show their reaction to the decisions of the government and emphasize their dissatisfaction and disapproval. The French society was concerned about unemployment, the liberal stance of the draft, and the entrance of Turkey to the EU (Startin and Krouwell, 2013). Without achieving domestic stability and satisfaction, states cannot pursue their goals and foreign policy agendas. In the French case, just like the Dutch case, political elites were not on the same page with their people and French society decided to use their right to vote as a tool to show their dissatisfaction with their government and punish them in a sense (Startin and Krouwell, 2013) (Sap, 2007). French people were worried that the establishment of the Constitution was going to damage their economy and have negative effects on unemployment. Just like it was in the Netherlands, the involvement of new parties meant more opportunities for investors and cheap labor. As Stefanova emphasizes, "… the eastward enlargement was associated with perceptions of outsourcing of economic growth to the new members from Eastern Europe and further to the east." (Stefanova, 2006, p.252). This whole establishment process showed that the public concern about social welfare and stability was common among people and this was a very important issue for them as well. For French society, the text was too liberal for the already existing French economy and this was going to result in negative consequences for the French economy and unemployment levels. This concern over economic development led to other concerns in different spheres due to the spill-over effect and this emerged as a result of the society's re-emerging focus over national concerns, welfare issues, and their position within the EU (Stefanova, 2006). Turkey's entrance to the Union was also becoming a more serious threat to the welfare and economic stability of the societies. The Constitutional Treaty was opening the way for more members and this meant that more people would be coming to the member countries for job opportunities, education, or just to live in another place. The supporters of the "no" vote suggested that excess immigration was going to damage the welfare and economic structure of their society and create more unemployment due to immigrants' likeliness of taking away their jobs (Startin and Krouwell, 2013). Therefore, French society was aware that they had the ability to stop the deepening process of the EU by using their votes as a tool to give a message to their governments and the EU. Their concerns about the economy and unemployment were mainly motivated by the immigration problem and the fear of losing their French identity (Startin and Krouwell, 2013). The French society wanted to protect its own people and their welfare before the EU became involved in an adventure of deepening more because more members and more integration meant fewer jobs, a decrease in welfare, and a changed social structure that lacks French culture and identity.
In 2008, Ireland rejected the Treaty of Lisbon due to reasons like lack of information, and the fear of losing Irish identity. After referendums in France and Netherlands, there was already a crisis atmosphere within the EU, and Ireland rejecting the Treaty of Lisbon was the last thing that the EU would experience because even though this rejection was seen as the "Irish Problem", it was an EU problem concerning all parties (Curtin, 2009). The main reason for the Irish Society to vote "no" was related to the lack of information and knowledge about the Treaty. The text had a very complicated legal language and even some government members were not able to understand the Treaty. Therefore, instead of voting for something that they didn't understand and make sense of, Irish people decided to vote "no" (Curtin, 2009). Another reason for the "no" votes was about protecting the Irish identity. The Treaty was covering a very large portion of different legal spheres from taxes to abortion (Curtin 2009). Legal concerns like same-sex marriage, abortion, and workers' rights were controversial topics within the Irish society and they were against most of the new implications regarding the normalization of these topics and they thought that these new regulations and legal obligations were not suitable for the Irish society and against Irish identity (Curtin 2009). After the rejection of the Lisbon Treaty, Ireland was left with extreme pressure from other EU members because without Ireland ratifying the Treaty, it was not going to be applied due to the regulations emphasized by Article 48 paragraph 4 of TEU underlining that all members need to ratify the treaty for a treaty to be applicable (TEU, 2007). Therefore, the reason for the Irish society to vote "no" for the Lisbon Treaty was related to the lack of information and their concerns about protecting their national identity, values, and beliefs. They didn't want to vote "yes" for something that they didn't understand or know, they chose to stick with the already existing order. Instead of adopting changes within their legal systems, they decided that what makes a society a united entity was their values and beliefs and they wanted to protect their identity concerning their values.
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- Elif Biber (Author), 2020, European Societies’ Role and Effect Over the EU’s Deepening and Integration, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/987548