Friday 20 March 2009

Referendum Strategies

EUobserver has reported that the Irish Government isn't being firm about the date of the referendum, to say the least. I'll take this opportunity to outline my thoughts on setting the date.

1. The guarantees must be agreed on, and have been laid down in writing. The polls showing a swing in favour of the Treaty ask questions based on the assumption that satisfactory guarantees will be, well, guaranteed. To put the Treaty to the vote without anything to show for the reviews and negotiations of the last year would be a major political weakness. The Irish people need to be offered something new, even if I don't believe the guarantees are necessary, apart from the one on the status of the Irish Commissioner.

2. There needs to be a clear run up to the election. All pro-Lisbon parties need to work together effectively in the next referendum - this means there needs to be a clear start, and a joint campaign launch. Keeping the date unclear could be damaging to the coherence and unity of the pro-Lisbon side even if it's intended to weaken the anti-Lisbonites.

3. Rule out May and June - and therefore April too. May and June will be taken up with the EP elections, and it will just be providing free publicity to the anti-Lisbonites to bring up the issue so powerfully so close to the elections. A win for anti-Lisbon candidates will strengthen the anti-Lisbon position when it comes to the referendum. For reasons of giving a good run up to the vote (and the reasons in 1 & 2), this also excludes April as a possible referendum month.

4. A good run up is needed. (Linked to 2) Obvious, in my opinion. The case for needs to be made clearly, and the contra side needs to have enough space too. There should be no snap referendum, like last time. A "no means no" and "they're bullying us" doesn't work quite so well if there's a good run up and a long debate. A longer debate would draw out more practical questions and get past all the knee-jerk no-ism. At least, that's my theory.

5. It should be as soon as possible, provided that the conditions above are met. July or August would be good, in my opinion. The government can be punished in the local and European elections, which may clear the political air of the need to punish the government (though I wouldn't underestimate this government's ability to enrage the public). The political air needs to be as clear as possible to ensure as reasoned a debate as possible.

So for me, July-September (and maybe October) is the best window of time for the referendum, depending on the political conditions. That's my current thinking, anyway.


  1. The draft conclusions of the European Council contain one sentence on the Irish prime minister informing the rest. Meagre, if nothing more is said, because if the Lisbon Treaty enters into force a number of practical questions need to be solved, which requires preparation of which we have seen nothing.

    The membership of the Commission needs treaty level change if and when the Treaty of Lisbon enters into force. If it doesn't, then the European Council has to decide on how to reduce the Commission under the Treaty of Nice.

    As far as I understand, the other assurances have all been politically agreed. How much preparatory work is needed to call them a declaration (or even one which would be turned into a protocol in a later accession treaty)?

    I get the feeling that someone is playing for time.

    The Czech Council Presidency may or may not be cooperating wonderfully, but it has kept postponing ratification at home with new excuses weekly.

  2. And the Czech government has postponed it yet again because of the US-Russia situation.

    I understand that there is no need for the guarantees and that they have pretty much been decided on already, even if the wording itself has not been laid out. However, my point was on the political viability (for the pro-Lisbon side) of holding a second vote before getting the text of the guarantees, and I think that to do so would be a grave political error.

    Legally, it doesn't make any difference, and all that's needed for the one guarantee that matters, on the Commission, is effectively a political agreement to vote for a certain agreement under the legal instrument already provided in the Treaty. Still, it would not be a good strategy to rush the vote. People will be hard to convince because of the "but we've already voted" factor, and something new must be produced, and politically, it needs to be as tangeable as possible.