This is big for us on this side of the Pond. Ireland is the only member state of the European Union that has had a referendum on the Constitution for Europe Mark II, known as the Lisbon Treaty. In the other states, governments and legislatures ratified with no reference to whether people want to have this far-reaching and complex document imposed on them. The reason for that is simple – just as two years ago in France and the Netherlands, so this year in Ireland, when the people are given a chance to vote on a further step towards the creation of an integrated European state, they tend to say no.
We are still waiting for the official result but the government has conceded and the spin has begun. We shall hear a great deal about people not really voting against the Lisbon Treaty but on many other subjects. Whenever people vote the “wrong” way, they apparently do not intend to do so; they are merely misguided or have misunderstood the subject.
The big question is what will happen now. According to EU rules every treaty has to be ratified by every signatory state. Clearly Ireland will not be able to ratify the Lisbon Treaty. Strictly speaking that should mean the end of it and the still incomplete ratifications, such as the British one (the Bill is still in the House of Lords, waiting for the Third Reading) should now stop. The EU may decide to make some cosmetic changes and insist that Ireland vote again. This has been done before but not recently, as it is becoming a high-risk game. Or there may be a Declaration that gives Ireland a special status at the level of the Nice Treaty that the country finally agreed to after two referendums, the second one conducted in a very dodgy fashion. That, one must assume, is legally challengeable as it breaks the EU’s own rules. So we wait.
Pleased though we are, it has to be said that this is not the end, or the beginning of the end or, even, the end of the beginning (to misquote Churchill’s famous pronouncement). There is a long way to go before we can restore any semblance of democracy to European countries.