Worried their country would compromise its independence, Irish voters rejected the Lisbon treaty in a referendum last week.
This was a serious setback for further integration of the EU. I wonder what insights the “internationally orientated” government of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) will derive from this important development.
The EU has continuously worked to expand its territory and deepen the power of the EU bureaucracy. This has worried a lot of people in EU states who feel they never see the benefits of this growth.
Although unresolved problems — such as employees feeling threatened by cheap labor from eastern European member countries and rapid price increases resulting from the introduction of the euro — are closely related to people’s everyday lives, the bureaucrats in Brussels don’t appear concerned with these issues.
Instead, top officials criticize the public for not supporting the ideal of a united Europe and blocking the progress of integration with referendums.
This gap between high-level political operations and public opinion only widened further after France and the Netherlands voted against the EU constitution in their respective referendums in 2005, essentially killing plans for a European constitution.
The EU leaders hoped to resuscitate the plan and push through a mini-constitution in the form of the Lisbon treaty. They wanted to avoid putting the treaty to a referendum in member countries, instead asking parliaments to pass it.
However, they were hindered by Article 46 of the Irish Constitution, which says: “Every proposal for an amendment of this Constitution shall be ... submitted by Referendum to the decision of the people.”
And so Ireland was the only EU member country that turned to its citizens fairly and held a referendum.
The Lisbon treaty thus stumbled over yet another referendum, inspiring a lot of unhappy Europeans who think that the EU equals Brussels and the euro. It was heartening for those who have doubts about the shrinking independence of member states and about giving over some of their countries’ national rights to the EU bureaucracy.
Most EU member states rely on referendums to decide on their country’s relationship with the EU — like whether the country should join the union, use the euro or ratify the EU constitution — in order to obtain the full authorization of the public.
Although Ireland has greatly profited from EU subsidies in the past, the Irish public blocked the Lisbon treaty in a referendum just as it blocked the Nice treaty in 2001.
Ma promoted an EU-style union with China during his election campaign, but now that he has entered office, he is adopting a two-handed strategy, sidestepping the issue of Taiwanese sovereignty when talking to China while wishfully thinking that he can leave it to China to fix Taiwan’s economy.
I hope the Ma government will learn from Ireland’s example.
Steve Wang is a director of the European Union Study Association.
Translated by Anna Stiggelbout
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