By Daniel Hannan
This is becoming like the closing scenes of Terminator. However many times you kill the European Constitution, it keeps lurching to its feet again. Blam! Fifty-five percent of French voters say “Non”. Zap! Sixty-two percent of Dutch voters say “Nee”.
But the automaton keeps advancing, its flesh burned away, its charred metal skeleton stamped with the words “Lisbon Treaty”. Then – pow! – 53 percent of Irish voters vote “No”. The machine is briefly swallowed by orange flames. Then, after a short lull, the red lights go on in its skull and, once again, it starts clawing its way forward.
Shortly before Ireland voted, the president of the European Commission, José Manuel Durrão Barroso, warned electors that there was no Plan B. Irish commentators innocently took this to mean that, if the treaty was rejected, it would be dropped. What Barroso in fact meant, as is now clear, is that Plan A would be resubmitted over and over again.
This is how EU leaders invariably behave after a “No” vote. They machine-gun out a couple of platitudes about listening to the people, then carry on regardless. For them, public opinion is an obstacle to tear aside, not a reason to change direction.
Their desire for a second Irish referendum next autumn isn’t really to do with voting weights or numbers of commissioners or extensions of majority voting. Many of the provisions of the Lisbon Treaty can be – indeed, have been – implemented in anticipation of formal ratification.
For example, the European elections on June 4 will be fought on the basis of the number of MEPs that would have been authorised by Lisbon, not the ones provided for by the current treaties.
No, this is about keeping the project going – a project from which millions now earn their living. The EU employs more than 170,000 officials, on handsome and largely untaxed retainers.
And for every formal Eurocrat there are dozens of fellow travellers: the Europe officers retained by every local council, large corporation and NGO. Their salaries might not be paid directly by Brussels but their livelihoods depend on the process of integration.
And so they have convinced themselves that voters are suffering from what Engels called “false consciousness”: that they secretly want their leaders to disregard their votes and push ahead with deeper integration.
If you think I exaggerate, consider these words, spoken to the Czech President last week by Brian Crowley, leader of Ireland’s governing party, Fianna Fáil, in the European Parliament: “All his life my father fought against the British domination. Many of my relatives lost their lives. That is why I dare to say that the Irish wish for the Lisbon Treaty.”
Disregard the curious way in which Crowley equates his father’s campaign for national independence with his campaign against it. Ignore, too, the anachronism: since Crowley’s father was born 13 years after independence,
Focus, instead, on the extraordinary presumption: “the Irish wish for the Lisbon Treaty”. So much for the referendum result. Crowley believes he knows the voters’ desires better than they do.
Will a second referendum succeed? Irish politicians think so: they calculate that the financial crisis has changed the mood,
They might have spotted that euro membership exacerbated their crisis by artificially fuelling the boom. They might even notice that the people telling them to vote “Yes”, in Dublin and in Brussels, are the ones who presided over the breakdown.
An opinion poll in The Irish Times last month showed the Pro-Treaty Forces (if I might use that loaded term in an Irish context) four points ahead. Then again, they were 18 points ahead at this stage last time, and still got thumped.
Received opinion can be woefully wrong.
Two weeks before the last referendum, I urged readers of my Telegraph blog to bet their shirts on a “No” vote, at odds of 7–2. In the event, the “Yes” side was so complacent that the bookies had already started paying out the wrong way before polling stations closed.
I won’t repeat that advice, for one reason. The consequences of a second “No” for Brian Cowen would be disastrous: he would have to resign, and would go down in history as the Taoiseach who wouldn’t take “No” for an answer.
If, after the European elections next year, the polls are still looking dicey, my guess is that Cowen would find a way to push the treaty through by a combination of parliamentary ratification, executive fiat and judicial activism. But he won’t abandon it: that would be unthinkable.