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Tuesday, 19 June, 2001, 12:58 GMT 13:58 UK
Should EU referendums be banned?
There was never any serious doubt that the French National Assembly would approve the Nice Treaty, but members displayed a marked lack of enthusiasm for it.
This disinterest was also reflected in the Irish referendum five days ago where only a third of the electorate felt moved to take part. Those that did, rejected the treaty altogether.
Was the electorate insufficiently informed? Was it unconvinced that their vote has any meaning in EU circles?
Should all countries ask their peoples on each step forward in the European project? Or should referendums on European issues be scrapped?
For this debate we brought together Doris Kraus of the Austrian daily, Die Presse and the MEP for the Danish Social Democrats, Helle Thorning-Schmidt.
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
I feel sorry for the Eastern European states who are keen to join BUT the Irish vote must be taken seriously. The EU claims to be a democracy - it must act like one. Schroeder's remarks about voting until you vote wisely should set alarm bells ringing all over Europe. I am very keen on the EU but demand democracy. The Irish are smart people - don't underestimate their opinions Mr Schroeder.
The low turnout by Irish voters does not invalidate the results ... otherwise, perhaps, we should say that Tony Blair's recent victory is invalid! And, of course, it is entirely appropriate that any constitutional changes are voted on by referendum.
No matter how much information is supplied and explained the population of any given country, on the whole, are ignorant of the complexities and ramifications of such huge international issues. The best one can hope for is that those who are representing us are well informed, forward thinking people who wish to agree the best possible solution for those they represent whilst attempting to achieve the end goal. Simple!
I have one word to say - DEMOCRACY. The principle of democracy states that the people should make the decisions. Brussels have yet to learn this theory.
The violence in Sweden was totally unjustified and counter-productive. Nevertheless the anti-democratic clique who have been driving "EU" integration are largely to blame. They have ignored the wishes of the people of Britain and Europe. They have created an "EU" which the ordinary punter can only influence by violence. I expect to see much more of the same.
With the lack of democracy in the EU, referendums in individual member countries will give individuals more of a say. It will also improve information about the decisions being made as proponents and protagonists put forward their cases to win votes.
It would help greatly if more (or even all) member countries held referendums on the larger issues.
In America, any change to a state's constitution requires the approval of the people of that state. Referenda are a vital check upon legislatures and governments which can vote against the popular will on one subject just because they have the support on other subjects (for which they were elected).
Steve Frank, USA
The people of Ireland have voiced their opinion. The people of France had theirs voiced for them. Isn't that how the old Soviet Union used to make policy?
EU referenda provide very good examples of European citizenship and European democracy to East Asia, a place where democracy is new/ignored. People in our region still have no or little chance to show their viewpoints. Don't ban referenda please, otherwise we in the Far East will suffer as a result.
It's one thing to give the people a voice, but quite another to let them vote on the intricacies of complex legislation. That's the reason why we elect representatives to Parliament - the experts to vote on our behalf. Democratic representative government, not referenda, is the answer to Europe's democratic deficit problem.
Alexander Crawford, US
Our experience in the U.S. is that the smaller the referendum, the more effective it is.
It does seem strange that France and Germany are "reassuring" other countries about the results of a peaceful vote in Ireland. Invalidating a democratic vote by any means for any reason is hardly reassuring!
Some decisions are better made by those with a greater insight and knowledge in the best interests of those who know little or nothing.
Moshe L, UK
Quite the opposite, I believe we need more referenda.
After all, the only ones who are afraid of democracy are those whose views cut against the will of the people.
It seems to me that there are a lot of these sinister individuals in the EU, and it's about time we were allowed
to express our dismay at the path down which they have been leading us. Perhaps then we can smash the
delirious dream of a federal Europe and instead aim for the much humbler but far more noble target of
co-operation between mutually respecting independent nations.
The European experience suggests that countries with a referendum are more conservative, more opposed to political change than countries without a referendum. Switzerland is a case in point: not before the 1980s did women have the vote in all twenty-six cantons. Matters are not helped by asking people to vote on issues that they do not fully understand, such as complicated international treaties. When a European treaty is put to a referendum and accepted, the margins tend to be minimal (the Maastricht treaty, 1992, France). Majorities rejecting a European treaty tend to be rather greater. This suggests that people simply do not understand the issues but are frightened of anything new.
I guess the electorate was uniformed if you didn't like the outcome of the referendum. If you want to know how your people think on issue then this process is perfect.
The EU is already undemocratic. To move towards a more powerful set of institutions without asking the people whether it is what they want would be fundamentally wrong. To suggest that the people are not capable of understanding the arguments is dangerous and authoritarian.
08 Jun 01 | Europe
The Irish conundrum
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