Ireland says "no" to the Lisbon Treaty


Corinne Deloy,  

Fondation Robert Schuman,  

Helen Levy


16 June 2008

Available versions :



Deloy Corinne

Corinne Deloy

Author of the European Elections Monitor (EEM) for the Robert Schuman Foundation and project manager at the Institute for Political Studies (Sciences Po).

Robert Schuman Fondation

Fondation Robert Schuman

Levy Helen

Helen Levy

A poll undertaken just before the election revealed that the Irish would finally say "no" to the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty for which they had been called to vote on 12th June. A majority (53.4%) voted against the European text in comparison with 46.6% who said "yes" to ratification. Most of the Irish decided not to vote on the issue since nearly one in two (46.9%) did not go to ballot.

A glance at how the votes were distributed across Ireland as a whole shows that voters living in the country tended to vote "no" whilst those living in the towns tended to vote "yes". Dublin was divided in two: the "no's" reigned in the West whilst the "yes's" took the majority in the East. In the constituencies of Dublin-South and Dublin-South-East voting was respectively 62.9% and 61.7% in favour. Nationally the only constituency to have done better was Dun Laoghaire with 63.5% in favour. However in the constituencies of Dublin-South-West and Dublin-North-West, the "no" rose respectively to 65.1% and 63.6% of the vote. The result was almost identical in Donegal (Donegal-North-East: 64.7% against and Donegal-South-West 63.4% against) and the constituency of Cork-North-Centre – 64.4% against). In all only 10 of the 43 constituencies voted in favour of the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty. It seems that the wealthy to middle socio-professional categories voted more in favour in comparison with the workers who voted "no". "The underprivileged probably felt threatened by foreign competition, a decrease in salaries, the danger of less social protection," analyses Ben Tonra, a specialist on European issues at the University of Dublin. "There was no strong idea to sell. The "yes" camp remained on the defensive," explains the academic who believes that opponents to the ratification of the treaty made easy work of a far reaching campaign that extended across the entire political scale, from unions to associations all of whom often share different interests.

"The rejection of the Lisbon Treaty is a major disappointment and a potential setback for the European Union," declared Prime Minister Brian Cowen (Fianna Fail, FF). "We shouldn't draw any hasty conclusions. The European Union has already found itself in this situation before and each time, thanks to discussion, it has found the means to move forwards. I hope we can do so again this time. It is now our duty to think about the consequences of this vote for Ireland so that we can move forwards and maintain the country on the path of progress. We shall take the time to explain this to our European partners and to the rest of the international community. We still share the goal of a Union that is adapted to this century," he added.

Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Fein (SF), the only party represented in the Oireachtas (Parliament) against the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty obviously rejoiced at the result. "It is the end of the Lisbon Treaty," he declared adding that the victory of the "no" was "the basis for renegotiation" of the text and he called on the Irish Prime Minister to go to Brussels to "achieve a better agreement."

For Declan Ganley, chairman of the Rivada Networks, a millionaire businessman and founder of the Libertas organisation against the text, and a leading figure amongst the treaty's opponents on 12th June "it is a great and glorious day for all Irish and all Europeans. It is a huge day for democracy. It is the third time that the same message has been sent by several million European citizens to the elite in Brussels which is not elected and which is not obliged to answer to anyone," he declared. MEP Mary Lou McDonald (GUE, IE) says that we are facing "a moment of political truth." "Do we listen to the people or not?" she asked addressing Irish politicians.

Ireland, which has been presented as a symbol of European success, which 35 years after accession has become the richest country (after Luxembourg) in the European Union in terms of GDP per capita (+10% in comparison with the average), has chosen to say "no". In spite of a dynamic economy, low unemployment and good public finances, the Irish are worried. Their country, which for many years received Union aid, is now a net contributor and it appears that the population is finally finding it difficult to accept that the situation will not always be to their advantage. Two slogans used by Libertas – "Europe was good for Ireland, let's not change anything" and "Lisbon. Good for them. Bad for us," are perfect illustrations of this state of mind.

Primarily the electorate demonstrated their disinterest, their fears in the face of European political integration, economic recession, and also their doubts about their government's ability to rise to the challenges of the 21st century and to ensure their future. The Irish "no" certainly reveals the concerns shared by many other Europeans.

However it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to provide an homogeneous response to those against the treaty, a mixed population, if we can speak of it like this, since it rallies those against abortion, the anti-liberals, farmers, and those, in spite of the guarantees they have been given, are still convinced that Ireland will be obliged to join NATO if the Lisbon Treaty is ratified; there are also those who fear the harmonisation of the taxation system (Ireland protects its company tax which has played a major role in its economic success and which at 12.5% is one of the lowest in the Union), etc .

Whilst the French and Dutch "no" in 2005 to the treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe put an end to the text's ratification the rejection of the text by the Irish should not lead to the same result. British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, reassured his European partners that he would complete the ratification process. The House of Commons voted in favour of the text and the House of Lords is due to examine the text on a third reading on 18th June. The Czech Republic, whose President Vaclav Klaus is extremely reticent about greater European integration may think twice before taking responsibility for stopping the ratification process of the Lisbon Treaty in spite of his declaration stressing that the Lisbon Treaty was "finished" after the Irish referendum and that it was "no longer possible to continue its ratification."

The ratification process should therefore continue.

During the European Council that will take place in Brussels on 19th and 20th June Prime Minister Brian Cowen will analyse the defeat of the "yes" together with the other Heads of State and Government. He is also due to put forward the solutions he has in mind to emerge from the crisis into which the Irish have plunged the European Union. After this vote Ireland may very well find itself isolated, if as planned, the eight remaining State who still have to ratify the text do in fact ratify it. Dublin will then have to position itself in the face of its European partners who are convinced that the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty is the only text capable of allowing the European Union to move forwards. "It is up to the Irish government to show how the crisis can be overcome," said Luxembourg Prime Minister, Jean-Claude Juncker.

The text submitted to ratification by the Irish is the result of long and difficult negotiations. This is why renegotiating it appears unlikely at present. The 27 Heads of State and Government will have to find a solution to adapt the treaty that might be presented again for ratification by the Irish electorate. On 19th October this led to the adoption of the Nice Treaty that had been rejected during a first referendum on 7th June 2001.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel published a joint release on 13th June. Regretting the vote on the part of the Irish they said "we have taken note of the democratic decision of the Irish citizens with all due respect even though we are sorry about this"; they called to continue the ratification process arguing that "the Lisbon Treaty has been signed by heads of State and Government from across the entire Union, " and that the "ratification process has already be completed by 18 countries [1]". Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel said they "were convinced that the reforms included in the Lisbon Treaty were necessary to make Europe more democratic and more effective and that they will make it possible to rise to the challenges that citizens are facing".

The President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso also said that "the ratifications that remain must continue," and show that "18 Member States have already validated the treaty and all those who have not ratified it yet will do so. There is a consensus in this direction." "This vote must not been seen as a vote against the European Union. I believe that the Lisbon Treaty is alive," he said.

Finally the Irish "no" will force France, which will follow Slovenia in the Presidency of the Council of the European Union on 1st July next, to review its projects, for example enhancing integration on a military level, and to dedicate itself, more than it had planned, to institutional issues.

Results of the referendum on the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty: 12th June 2008 in Ireland.

Turn out: 53.1%

[1] Hungary, Slovenia, Malta, Romania, France, Bulgaria, Poland, Austria, Slovakia, Portugal, Germany, Denmark, Lithuania, Latvia, Luxembourg, Finland, Estonia and Greece.

To go further

Elections in Europe


Corinne Deloy

16 April 2024

On 15 March, the President of the Republic of Croatia, Zoran Milanovic, announced that general elections would be held on 17 April. This election is the first in a series to be held in the country in ...

Elections in Europe


Corinne Deloy

9 April 2024

Peter Pellegrini (Hlas-Social Democracy) won the 2nd round of the presidential election in Slovakia on 6 April. The current President of the National Council of the Republic (Narodna rada Slovenskej r...

Elections in Europe


Corinne Deloy

23 March 2024

Surprisingly, Ivan Korcok, former Minister of Foreign and European Affairs (2020-2022), came out ahead in the 1st round of the presidential election on 23 March. Supported by Michal Simecka's Progress...

Elections in Europe


Corinne Deloy

12 March 2024

The Democratic Alliance, comprising the Social Democratic Party (PSD) led by Luis Montenegro, the Social Democratic Centre/People's Party (CDS/PP), a Christian Democrat led by Nuno Melo, and the Monar...

The Letter

European news of the week

Unique in its genre, with its 200,000 subscribers and its editions in 6 languages ​​(French, English, German, Spanish, Polish and Ukrainian), it has brought to you, for 15 years, a summary of European news, more needed now than ever

Versions :