On the Irish referendum on Lisbon Treaty

The refusal of the Lisbon Treaty on Friday by an Irish Referendum stalls the progress of the EU process. The treaty is probably not dead yet, but it is in grave condition. The rejection of the treaty by popular vote made me think again about the merits of representative  vs. direct democracy.

In my opinion, that Lisbon Treaty is something that should not be presented to popular vote. Like many other legislative initiatives, it is too complex for the general electorate to form and express an educated opinion. That is the whole point of electing representatives: People you trust to make the best decisions on behalf of you.

When the US formed their system of representative democracy (which after WWII was successfully exported to Germany) the lack of communication technology might have been the major reason to have representatives elected and sent to Washington. However the major benefit of this system lies in the fact, that electing specialists that have the education and oversight to make the right decision in the long term – even if initially unpopular – will lead to superior decision.

I personally do not trust the general electorate – this might be called elitist. I  think elites are a good thing. As long as they are based on merits and are open.

Coming back to the Lisbon Treaty. The EU seems to be in a catch 22 situation. The current rules of the Nizza Treaty from 2001 are not suited to operate an enlarged EU that accepted 12 (!) new member states since 2004. So the system needs to be fixed. In the current situation, individual voters are concerned by the structural problems of the EU and the unclear impact the EU has on their personal lives. In the past 4 years, any referendum that was posted failed, blocking the way to fix the current situation.

One could argue that if the general electorate does not want the EU, it should be wrapped up. Why don’t we just shut it down for good? Well, the general electorate has no clue. One could point to the fact that the usual European way of conflict resolution (killing each other) has been replaced over the last 50 years with the peaceful institutions of the EU. One could point to the benefits that a stable common and strong currency is providing to Europe’s economy. One could point to the improved ways of doing business in a common market without customs duties and harmonized laws and regulations. One could point to the freedom of residence allowing any EU citizen to live and work (and locally vote) anywhere within the EU. And so on…

I am convinced: none of the above would have been achieved if placed in front of a popular referendum. People should vote for those representatives that they feel represent best their values and personal believe. Those representatives will make complex decisions. And the Lisbon Treaty should not be placed in front of the general electorate in any of the member states.


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