All eyes on Irish in key E.U. vote
In a referendum Thursday, voters could strike down a continent-wide treaty designed to boost Europe's clout.
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"If the EU continue to insist on speaking in this jargon that none of its citizens can understand, they are distancing themselves from the people they represent," she says.Skip to next paragraph
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Focus on individual citizen is lost
Terry Prone, director of the Dublin-based public-relations company The Communications Clinic, agrees that the Lisbon Treaty referendum is a microcosm of the EU's failure to communicate with a large number of citizens.
"The EU is supposed to be about the individual citizen," she says. "That has seriously gone by the wayside in communication terms."
The various entities advocating a 'yes' vote also haven't convinced voters. "Whatever they have published has tended to be as obscure as the treaty document itself," Ms. Prone says. "In contrast, the 'no' side were out early in the campaign with simple, frightening negatives."
The Referendum Commission intervened and contradicted some of these negatives, in particular, the issues of Ireland's constitutional position on abortion and low corporate tax rates, neither of which would be affected by the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, as claimed by opponents.
Lucinda Creighton, spokeswoman on European Affairs for the Fine Gael Party, which is advocating a 'yes' vote, says that the 'yes' campaign had to continually rebut false allegations from the no camp, which prevented it from getting its own message across.
But she agrees that the campaign hasn't always explained the treaty well. "It is bizarre that 96 percent of the members of the Dáil [the Irish parliament] are in favor of the treaty, yet the political parties have not been able to get this voting base on board," she says.
In addition, major trade unions, farmers organizations, industrial agencies, and newspapers are campaigning for acceptance, but voters seem to be reacting against the establishment.
"It is a tendency in society in general," says Dr. Barrett. "We saw something similar happening in France [during the 2005 EU constitution referendum], where the two largest political parties recommended a particular course of action, but the electorate went a different route. The same thing happened in the Netherlands."
Should it be a public vote?
"A question mark has to put over whether the Lisbon Treaty is a suitable issue to be voted on directly," says Barrett. "The argument in favor is that it is a very important matter, but the argument against is that casting an informed vote should be left to the legislature, as other member states have done."
"Treaties are designed for parliamentary ratification, not referenda," agrees Ms. Creighton.
But Libertas, a pro-European organization campaigning for a 'no' vote, claims that it is essential that people have this mandate.
"These major decisions shouldn't be made at such a remove from the citizens," says executive director Naoise Nunn. "Eighty percent of national domestic legislation derives from the implementation of EU directives and law, therefore issues like the treaty are enormously important to our day-to-day lives."
In public opinion surveys such as Eurobarometer, Irish citizens generally exhibit pro-European attitudes. "But people are suspicious that the [treaty's] language is vague," says Mr. Nunn. "There is a sense that it is happening too fast and that the political elite isn't bringing the citizens with it."