The aftermath of the Irish referendum is potentially a fertile moment for Europe.
The Irish government seems to be clueless about how to proceed, reduced to pleading for extra time even beyond October 2008. But the referendum Catch 22 is set to remain, and nothing indicates that the ‘pro-European’ voters are going to become pro EU reform.
The vast majority of the EU member states is set to ratify the Treaty of Lisbon, which can be seen as a political statement on the necessity of reform.
But if the Irish want themselves and the rest of the EU stuck with the Treaty of Nice, as the crowning achievement of European integration, there is very little the other European leaders can do, presuming that they stick to the ‘liberum veto’.
We have an Irish Catch 22 and a European Catch 22.
What can be fertile about stalemate?
If political leaders have let their rules paint them into a corner with no or only limited room for manoeuvre, there are still people free to think and to speak.
Researchers, students, editorialists, columnists, bloggers and concerned EU citizens can discuss the challenges of European integration and the needed remedies against irrelevance, without pussyfooting.
Even if there seems to be little hope for effective cures in the short term, those interested in Europe’s place in the world can use the deep flaws exposed by the Irish referendum as a starting point for serious thought and discussion.
Here are some suggestions for further discussion:
1) National referendums on European level questions, and more generally the merits of representative vs. direct democracy.
2) The effects of EU’s treaty base and unanimous ratification.
3) Unanimous decision-making and the consequences of ‘liberum veto’.
4) The lack of democratic foundations and democratic legitimacy of the EU.
5) American and European experiences compared.
I wouldn’t go as far as to say that a weak European Union is in nobody’s interest. But it is not in the interest of us EU citizens.
One important reminder of that is James Rogers on Global Power Europe:
Read and reflect.