EU leaders will never consult us again

Daniel Hannan, who predicted the Irish ‘No’ vote in this magazine, now says that the EU will simply implement the Lisbon Treaty and never risk a referendum again

18 June 2008

12:00 AM

18 June 2008

12:00 AM

Daniel Hannan, who predicted the Irish ‘No’ vote in this magazine, now says that the EU will simply implement the Lisbon Treaty and never risk a referendum again

By ten o’clock on Friday morning, it was clear that the ‘No’s had it. Ireland’s Europhiles were struggling even in their affluent strongholds within the Pale. In the rest of the country, they were being pulverised.

A jubilant ‘No’ campaigner rang me from Galway, his words tumbling over each other. ‘It looks like a high turnout, too,’ he exulted. ‘The Eurocrats won’t be able to just carry on as if nothing has happened.’ Oh yes they will, I told him, sadly. They did when the Danes voted ‘No’ to Maastricht. They did when you boys voted ‘No’ to Nice. They did when the French and the Dutch voted ‘No’ to the constitution. Just you watch them.

We didn’t have long to wait. Even before the result had been declared, José Manuel Barroso, the President of the European Commission, announced tetchily that the ‘No’ vote wouldn’t solve the EU’s problems, so ratification would continue.

During the referendum campaign, Mr Barroso had declared that Brussels had ‘no Plan B’. Many Irish commentators innocently took this to mean that, in the event of a ‘No’ vote, the Lisbon Treaty would be dropped. But what Mr Barroso actually meant was that Plan A would be bludgeoned through, with or without popular consent.

Every EU leader outside the Czech Republic has since confirmed that ratification will continue. Some accompanied their declarations with heroic sophistry. David Miliband argued that Britain ought to ratify the treaty because it was up to Brian Cowen, not him, to pronounce it dead. Nick Clegg announced that his MPs and peers would connive at this revolting necrophilia because doing so would give Britain a stronger voice when it came to discussing where the EU should go next.

Others complained of Ireland’s ingratitude. ‘We think it is a real cheek that the country that has benefited most from the EU should do this,’ said Axel Schäfer, SPD leader in the Bundestag.


Yet others moaned that the little countries were getting uppity. Daniel Cohn-Bendit, leader of the Euro-Greens, snarled: ‘It is not truly democratic that less than a million people can decide the fate of nearly half a billion Europeans.’ Spot on, Danny. So how about letting the other half-billion have referendums, too?

Then there were the attempts to claim that the Irish had misunderstood the question. The Vice-President of the Commission, Margot Wallström, plans to run some Eurobarometer opinion polls to find out what the Irish were really voting against. Let me help you with that one, Margot: they were voting against the Lisbon Treaty. The giveaway was the ballot paper, which asked people whether they wanted to amend the constitution so as to, you know, ratify the Lisbon Treaty.

This is the same Mrs Wallström, incidentally, who, three years ago, opined at the Theresiendstadt concentration camp that ‘No’ voters risked a second Holocaust. Well, three countries have since voted ‘No’ and, so far, there have been no pogroms, no special trains, no invasions of one EU state by another.

My favourite was the reaction by the President of the European Parliament, the amiable Hans-Gert Pöttering. ‘The ratification process must continue,’ he declared, because ‘the reform of the European Union is important for citizens, for democracy and for transparency.’ Got that? The reason the EU is tossing aside the verdict of the Irish people is for democracy.

Listening to these statements, it suddenly hit me that the speakers didn’t expect to convince anyone. They were simply giving the party line, with all the perfunctory woodenness of Brezhnev-era officials.

Last month, when opinion polls were showing the ‘Yes’ side ahead by 35 points to 18, I wrote in this magazine that the sceptics would surge in the final week and that, following a ‘No’ vote, the EU would press ahead regardless. I likened the EU’s leaders to the apparatchiks of the Comecon states who, having given up on persuading their electorates, sought compliance rather than consent, acquiescence rather than approval.

Several people emailed me to complain that it was a tasteless parallel: the EU, after all, was an association of democracies. True. No one is suggesting that Brussels is about to take away dissidents’ passports or throw sceptics into gulags. But Euro-federalists, like Cold War communists, believe that their ruling ideology is more important than either democracy or the letter of the law. Eastern Europe’s leaders justified themselves on grounds of anti-fascism: when others had collaborated, they had resisted Hitler. Eurocrats use a similar excuse (see Mrs Wallström’s comments, above). Small wonder that the communist parties of the former Soviet-bloc states led the campaigns to join the EU.

If you think I’m being too harsh, watch what happens next. First, there will be an attempt to bully Ireland into falling in line. Ratification will go ahead everywhere else in the hope that the Irish will obligingly lie down. When this fails — and, as an Irish friend put it to me during the campaign, ‘sure we didn’t fight off the might of the British empire just to be bossed about by the Belgians’ — the EU will simply implement the Lisbon Treaty.

To a large degree, this has already happened. One of the most contentious proposals in the text was the creation of a European foreign minister with attached embassies. Listening to the arguments of both sides, you would never guess that this is already in place. The EU’s diplomatic corps — the European External Action Service — was brought into being two years ago. Go to any non-EU country and you will find an EU mission that towers over the national legations.

As with foreign policy, so with the other institutions that were established in anticipation of ‘Yes’ votes: the European Armaments Agency, the Human Rights Agency, the External Borders Agency. None of these has a proper legal base, but no one is proposing their abolition.

Lisbon would have made the Charter of Fundamental Rights directly justiciable, opening swaths of national life to the rulings of Euro-judges, on everything from family life to strikes. The Commission, the European Parliament and the European Court of Justice (ECJ) have all declared that they will treat the Charter as if it were already legally binding, even though three electorates have now rejected the treaty that would have authorised it.

The great bulk of Lisbon can be implemented through lawyerly creativity. And any disputes will ultimately be settled by the ECJ, which rarely lets the letter of the law stand in the way of deeper integration. Virtually the only things that can’t be shoved through in this manner are the new rules on representation in the Commission and Council. My guess is that these will be agreed at a miniature inter-governmental conference next year, possibly tacked on to Croatia’s accession treaty, since the increase in member states from 27 to 28 will require a rejigging of voting weights. We shall then be told that, since these are changes within EU institutions, rather than net transfers of power to EU institutions, there is no further need for referendums.

The leaders of the EU, in short, have resolved never again to consult their peoples. Public opinion, in their eyes, is an obstacle to overcome, not a reason to change direction. See whether I’m proved right. And then tell me whether my parallel with the apparatchiks is far-fetched.

Daniel Hannan is the Conservative MEP for South East England and blogs every day at www.hannan.co.uk.

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Show comments
  • Anonymous

    Watching this sorry spectacle, I’m getting increasingly certain that this is going to go down in a huge, uncontrollable mess 🙁

    Am reading The Great Deception by Booker & North, and am urging anyone interested in the European Union and its flaws to do likewise. We need some basic human sanity and integrity to get through this.

    I’m really sad to say this, as I used to be a staunch believer in the European Union for 30+ years. But once I started investigating the system, my confidence plummeted. The behaviour concerning Constitution/Lisbon is the last nail in the coffin – I have nowhere in the EU system to place my confidence. Just ain’t there.

  • Anonymous

    For the ‘what to do’ thing, I propose two main strategies:

    – Expose the flaws and corruption of the system to (justly) undermine public confidence. That might trigger a much-needed reform. Or it might not.

    – Establish informal networks outside the EU system. Bloggers are doing that on a small scale already, at places such as Brussels Journal and Gates of Vienna. More is needed.

    – Find and promote decent politicians with integrity and common sense. They exist.

    I’d prefer a fundamental reform over abolishing the system, and am hoping that a concerted effort to achieve this can be made. But my own take of the mutual confidence among the top EU politicians and civil servants is so negative that I doubt it will be possible.

  • Anonymous

    While Donna technically as a point that Hannan and the Conservatives ought to work for an exit, I believe the better option, for the moment, is to stay in.


    Because there’s another 26 friendly countries also mired in EU totalitarianism and corruption. We need to work together to expose the crap.

    The result may then be a honest, deep-reaching reform.

    Failing that, standing together to expose the faults of the system might minimize the need for dramatic revolt in the end.

    But I do agree that it might come to this.

  • cuffleyburgers

    Mr Hannan

    I’ m sure you’re right, the question is, what the hell can we do about it?

    Peaceful means seem to be failing. Can we not find a billionaire benefactor to fund some high profile court cases contesting the fact for example of the additional spending on organizations that have no legal right to exist?

  • Dwight Vandryver

    Quite so, but at a personal level, does it matter? We were not consulted over the Iraq war, the hunting and smoking bans, eco-towns, fuel duty escalator, detention without charge, ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, and a whole host of other matters that do or could affect our daily lives. The argument goes that we elect representatives to implement our will by the “democratic process”, and by so doing, our MPs will decide what is in the “national interest” and what is best for us. Judging by the opprobrium that has been poured on Westminster recently, clearly the process is not working. Since Westminster ignores us and it defers to the European Union anyway, it makes no difference whether we are being treated as pawns in a game by Westminster or Brussels. Arguably, sovereignty is merely a state of mind, an illusion not a reality, the product of an “island mentality”. If the English Channel did not exist, most would be pro-European. So, let us embrace the Pan-European state to come because life for the individual cannot be any worse than it is now, and could be very much better.

  • Charles Smyth

    When you elect others to do your will in competition and conflict with others of a similar mentality, you must, on that basis, accept the deficit of democracy. I’m very happy with the EU. It makes my day lovelier 🙂

  • Denis Cooper

    If it were actually true that come what may they’d just carry on and implement the Lisbon Treaty, then clearly there’d be no point in resisting it. Or, indeed, in resisting anything else that they wanted to do.

    Fortunately, it is not true.

    Some of the proposals included in the Lisbon Treaty can be pursued under the present EU treaties, and some can be pursued outside the EU treaties, but some cannot be pursued, legally, unless the Lisbon Treaty comes into force.

    And this is where we need a fighting fund, to haul British government ministers and officials up before British courts every time they allow the EU to break its own law, given that EU law is part of British law by virtue of the European Communities Act 1972.

  • Bob Grundy

    I have a simple question that I am sure the EU have not (or maybe have) thought about.
    It is this “what happens when the talking stops?”
    When no amount of argument against this new EU empire works….what is left for the majority of ordinary people to do ?
    It does seem that the only way to get what you want is by direct action, this is a fact in the world in 2008, be it right or wrong.

  • Charles Smyth

    I would contend that the majority of ordinary people are very happy with the EU, as is frequently demonstrated by the fact that, those with a legal complaint which has not been resolved to their satisfaction in the UK, and elsewhere, are off like a shot to the European court. Same with claims for subsidies, etc. It seems to me, at least, that it is only contrarians with zero imagination or foresight, but with the possibility of personal gain, have a bellyache about the EU.

  • RespectnJustice4all

    Dangerous stuff. Why would anyone give away his or her rights of self-determination? Or, allow themselves to be dominated by foreigners? What if they are corrupt? It makes our Govts. even less accountable. And, if we are prepared to let them remove habeas corpus and constantly bombard us with wrongful propaganda (which is also “illegal”) we will certainly very soon end up with a corrupt dictatorship “dressed up as democracy”. In addition it can be foreign controlled by faceless people. The situation is critical and difficult as the masses are hoodwinked with propaganda and, these recent “anti-terror laws” can very easily totally silence dissent and debate. As in the past things will worsen incrementally. “Crooked media” with silence and misinformation is the key to all this madness as I see it. The sidelining” of the Justice system,”, removal of habeas corpus, and “paper trails” for voting verifications, ridiculous economic & foreign policies and you name it. The PS can’t help as they generally stay silent to keep their jobs.
    So just who or what is behind these utterly mad policies? I’m putting my bets on the “offshore Banking boys” and their financial interests in other industries eg domestic banking, media, military supply & oil and, other industries. I suggest you do some research into the activities of the Trilatoral Group, or Bilderberg Group, or Carlyle groups.

  • Charles Smyth

    The vote is easily enough checked nowadays by simply setting up a website under a trusted party. It would be similar to the US candidates’ campaign websites where one can enter electoral register details. This information can then be compared to the official declaration. Significant inaccuracies can then be challenged. Like the vote itself, this would be a voluntary procedure.

    Bilderberg is a private meeting which does not make the details public. If anyone has a problem with this, they can set up a similar group and become the basis of their very own conspiracy theory.

    Without great care, democracies always descend into dictatorships, it’s an inherent pitfall, but not necessarily an inevitable outcome.

    The PS is not properly effective because making it more effective than it currently is would make it operate in conflict with government’s social policies and legislation. You can’t have it both ways, RespectnJustice4all.

  • jon livesey

    Some of the calls for “direct action” may seem a little quixotic, but the recent history of Europe makes for interesting reading.

    In the last two centuries, wars apart, Europe has experienced two years of very significant disorder, when the establishment was physically challenged by direct citizen disorder and civil disobedience – to put it no stronger.

    These years were 1848 and 1968, and the big picture in each case is states across Europe trying to continue with business as usual, but in the end being forced to compromise with demonstrators and resistors.

    In 1848, autocrats were forced to grant constitutions, and in 1968 leaders like de Gaulle were forced out of office.

    There are two curious sidelights here. First, in both 1848 and 1968 the UK was far less affected by disorder than the rest of Europe, and needed to change less. Second, over the decades follwing 1848 and 1968, most of the concessions that states had made to their citizens were gradually withdrawn and the status quo ante restored.

    I don’t think that Lisbon is going to lead to blood in the streets, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised by another 1968, but this time led by small shopkeepers and businessmen, not students.

    It’s what happens after another 1968 that should concern us.

  • PoliticiansStink

    What is so disheartening is that none of the three main political parties adequately represent the very large number of EU-sceptics. EU-scpetics, (whether they be right or wrong), in our first-past-the-post, 2 horse (+ the no-hoper LibDems) electoral system have no effective voice. That’s a disgrace. I don’t know the answer. When are the next EU elections? Would a large swing to UKIP make the tories rally to the cause? I doubt it.

  • Dwight Vandryver

    A previous posting asks: “Why would anyone give away his or her rights of self-determination?”. Let us take a fanciful analogy from the film “Terminator”. You may recall that in an effort to more efficiently safeguard the population from attack, politicians and engineers built Skynet, an autonomous system designed to react without human intervention. Once it was realised that the machine had a different agenda from the one intended, it was too late to “pull the plug”. The actual attack on us today in a global economy is economic from the emergent nations, such as China and India. Europe’s politicians devised a machine, the European Union, that would be sufficiently strong to compete. It, too, would be autonomous, unanswerable to the politicians who created it. But just like Skynet, the EU has a different agenda, and the time has passed when it might have been dismantled. Therefore, the EU has become unstoppable, and the democratic rights of the individual have been lost. In exchange for this, collectively we must demand a bigger slice of the EU’s economic cake for ourselves. And, who knows, we could all be better off.

  • Charles Smyth

    Any member-state that wishes to leave the EU can simply vote for that outcome. However, this is about as likely as UKIP winning the general election. This is simply because enough voters are gaining from the EU. Only a very small number of UK voters are complaining about the EU. Ireland voted ‘no’ to Lisbon, but did not vote to leave the EU. They might be ‘fools’ in Sarko’s eyes, but they aren’t that foolish.

  • d george

    I totally agree with the person who wrote in The DAily Telegraph the other day. that EU “democracy” is about on the same level as in Zimbabwe but without the violance — so far — surely the British public, who are NOT stupid, will some day revolt , –they always do -at the eleventh hour

  • Allen Williams

    The EU is a modern form of empire and as such is unsustainable. Like all empires’ before it the EU will eventually collapse; the only questions are when and how.

  • David C Ashworth

    Democracy no longer exists in the EU. What little semblance we have experienced over the past decades, is being taken away from the very people who are supposed to decide their own destiny.
    The UN had a mandate to allow “Self determination for all peoples.” Unfortunately, it does not apply to the people of the EU where the so called “Leaders” berate the likes of Zimbabwe, Iraq, Burma, China and others for not having democratic societies and yet, they steal the rights of the European people.
    The words of a Beatles song come to mind.
    “Beware of greedy leaders who take you where you shouldn’t go. Beware of liars…………..”
    Our fathers and grandfathers must be rolling in their graves at this treachery. Brown, Blair et al, should be interred in the Tower of London for the rest of their lives for treason, along with many from other political parties who are complicit in these acts.

  • mitch

    Im sadly convinced your right but it will be renamed the lisbon accord or agreement so no vote required.As for me I will fight them forever.

  • Roger Inkpen

    Yes, what’s strange about this obsession with pushing through the Lisbon treaty is that another will be needed for Croatia to join. Presumably Ireland will still have to vote on this, so why hold a second referendum on Lisbon?

    I suspect the EU will merge the two, perhaps with the odd concession to the Irish: better farm subsidies and regional funding (with a threat to withhold if No is the answer). Gordon Brown (who I am led to believe is our Prime Minister) has suggested David Davis’ by-election is a waste of public money. Wouldn’t he agree that a second vote by the Irish would be a greater waste of public money?

  • Demetrios Hadjinicolaou

    Bravo, Mr Hannan; you have spoken the truth. You are an honest, brave, freedom-loving man, therefore, your place is not in a perfunctory party, like the “Conservative” one. Frankly, I believe you should join the BNP. Then you could effectively fight for referendums, for both British- and European-level issues.

  • Eurosceptic

    Forgive me for a rather poor analogy here. Much as I applaud the Irish ‘No’ to the Lisbon Treaty, isn’t the problem here that they’ve left it jolly late to start saying ‘No’ to the EU ?

    Yes, I know they said ‘No’ to the ‘Nice Treaty’ once and had to go away and come up with the right answer. But having already implemented the Euro, well..

    It is rather like a man who is not entirely 100% percent whether he wants to marry his girlfriend, but gets engaged anyway. She then announces that she is expecting his baby…

    When the child has started school seems rather late in the day to be having ‘cold feet’ about whether to get married – although of course not a reason to go through with something which would be a disaster for all concerned.

    But a bit [a lot?] more euroscepticism far earlier in the day might have helped their cause.

  • Donna Walker

    If your comments are correct Mr Hannan, then the Conservatives should be proposing that the UK leave the EU. Otherwise you are complicit in the EU elites’ destruction of democracy.

  • S.Petersen

    Daniel, I agree with your article and also your depressing predictions. But what can we do about it? How does it make you feel as an MEP that the steamroller is pusing on regardless?

  • SD

    It is interesting that the EU have tried to use the small population of Ireland as a tool to say that a minority shouldn’t influence the rest of Europe. Firstly, the EU stated before the referendum that the Lisbon Treaty could only be ratified if ALL member states approved, and secondly, Ireland is a nation state in its own right, no matter what size its population is. Even if the population were just 100, it still has nation status, or are the EU jumping the gun by referring to overall collective population size and therefore looking at the whole continent as one country already?

  • Corban

    Let me offer an answer to much asked question “what can we do about it?”

    We can take up arms, and overthrow the EU government, and any national government that stands in our way, by force.

    That is the only option left on the table when talking has run it’s course.

    Of course, this will not be easy, as our governments have been taking weapons out of our hands for years, whilst at the same time increasing their own arsenal. But with some co-ordination, and at considerable cost, we could do it.

    The time is not right yet. But I predict that within the next 20 years this is exactly where we will be.

  • Patrick King

    A Europe wide campaign at grass roots level needs orchestrating on the issue of ‘non democracy’, or totalitarianism practiced by EU ministers. It is searingly sickening that, with massive US help, we held at bay and finally defeated USSR totalitarianism. The pre-eminent isssue or question to be put to the electorates of European countries on
    the EU is ‘Do you want Freedom in a genuinely democratic EU or Subjugation by what are essentially socialist self-serving Czars? Some international Euro Sceptic please step forward.

  • Roger Mortimer

    Perhaps the Eurosceptic group within the EP should title itself the Movement for Democratic Change?

  • ian skidmore

    what is the evidence for saying the British public is not stupid?