Irish No Vote - EU Leaders Must Act Like Leaders
On Thursday of last week, the voters of Ireland sent waves of discomfort and confusion through the ranks of the EU establishment in Brussels.
They voted a resounding 'no' to the ratification of the treaty which replaced the earlier constitutional treaty, which was rejected by French and Dutch voters.
Well, some will say, it was Friday the 13th after all - so what can you expect but bad news? But it's arguably likely that the same result would have occurred whatever the date of the vote.
The EU bangs on all the time about championing the cause of democracy, the popular vote and the involvement of the electorate in decision-making. It's time for the EU to put its political will where its mouth has been. It's time for it to not only listen to the people, but to be seen to be listening to the people.
Some important lessons need to be drawn from this experience. If the European experiment is to succeed in the long-term, Brussels Eurocrats cannot afford to play disingenuous games with the outcome of this vote by, for example, trying to change the rules of the game after the outcome has been decided.
The first and most obvious lessons is this: people should not be expected to vote for something which they do not understand and which has not been explained to them. It amazes me that the doubtless intelligent people who fill positions within the EU Council and Parliament cannot grasp that European citizens are themselves intelligent people who won't simply 'take their medicine' when it is offered.
This treaty was, of course, the EU's second-best option to begin with. This so-called "amending treaty" replaced the relatively clear language of the draft constitution - which was a huge volume - with all kinds of tangled legalese that even lawyers, apparently, have had trouble understanding.
The fact that Ireland's leaders did not explain the treaty's contents to their people may be a result of the fact that they didn't understand themselves. Or, if one wants to read a more sinister motive into this, because they did understand them and felt the people would like the treaty even less if it were explained to them.
Secondly, once and for all Eurocrats must learn that there is no place for arrogance in a democracy. Again, this vote reveals the huge chasm that exists between Brussels and the citizens of Europe; citizens the EU machine is meant to represent and serve.
And when the interests of the elected do not match those of the electors, it is the former who must shift position!
Europe has achieved much in its first 50 years of existence - not least the peace it has brought and the greater opportunities for trade and wealth creation. However, the structure of the EU is still evolving and in the decades ahead, the biggest question for the 'New Europe' will be whether it moves closer to becoming a super-state, a United States of Europe, or remains a confederation of true nation-states.
The voters must be engaged at every step in this process.
Europe's politicos must now decide whether to truly heed the voice of the voters, or to continue to try to foist upon the people something the people clearly don't want. Only the French and Dutch had the chance to vote on the constitution last time, because EU law stated that every member state must approve it.
These two groups - groups with a great deal already invested in the development of the EU - rejected it out of hand. And there's a good chance that other groups in Europe would have rejected the same treaty if given the chance to vote on it - in Britain for example.
Instead of abiding by the rules and declaring the constitution a dead issue and going back to the drawing board, the EU cynically took the plate back to the kitchen and simply rearranged the food before bringing it out once more.
Let's hope that Europe's political leaders will this time act like leaders and, having heard from their electorate - not once, but three times now - take defeat as an opportunity to reflect, focus and re-appraise their goals for the Union. They must ensure that their plans for Europe are not out of step with will of the people.