Poland may soon join Ireland as the only EU members to hold referendums on the new Lisbon Treaty, the latest attempt to ram through a European "Constitution." If it does, euroskeptics will cheer and europhiles howl.
Plebiscites are rarely justified or necessary. Governments routinely sign treaties and make other decisions on behalf of citizens. Yet the Lisbon Treaty is a case apart because of the way it has been presented. Born as the EU's Constitution, the original document was put up for a vote in various EU countries, where it was roundly rejected by the French and the Dutch.
Anywhere else, that would be the end of the story. Not in Europe, which decided it would be stuck in "crisis" without the document's key provisions. So a new "reform treaty" was drawn up and signed last year in Lisbon. Though the failed Constitution's most overtly state-like elements such as an EU anthem were dropped, it remains a transformative treaty. It establishes the EU as a legal personality for the first time, creates new or enhanced offices to represent the bloc globally and significantly changes the ways decisions are made.
Only this time around, the voters are to be shut out. Britain promised and then withheld a referendum. The French and the Dutch won't get a second chance to vote "no," as they did in 2005, or yes. Only the Irish are being given a chance to express their views at the ballot box.
And now, possibly, the Poles. A referendum in Poland, however, would have far more to do with domestic political gamesmanship than with the EU. The opposition Law and Justice Party led by former Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski is threatening to block approval in Parliament -- likely leading to a popular vote on the treaty -- if certain conditions are not met regarding Poland's sovereignty. A parliamentary vote is expected within the next week....
With all the effort put into avoiding referendums, it's hard to escape the conclusion that EU politicians are trying to pull a fast one on their voters. On the one hand, they're selling Lisbon as a grand reform treaty that propels Europe out of the malaise that followed the French and Dutch no votes. On the other, they say the treaty is a small tightening-up exercise that doesn't require a return to the ballot box. Which is it?... Should Lisbon be rejected in Ireland or Poland, EU leaders and Brussels insiders will proclaim yet another crisis for Europe. It couldn't happen to a more deserving bunch.
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