Why Did Ireland Vote No to the Lisbon Treaty?

It is clear that the Lisbon Treaty has been decisively rejected by the Irish electorate.  The no vote appears especially strong in working-class and rural districts, but it is also significant in middle-class areas.

While non-economic dimensions are certainly important in explaining the outcome, several economics issues have also been quite central.

The most visible element has been the debate about the future of the low Irish corporate tax rate.  While the veto on tax rates is retained under the Lisbon Treaty, there was considerable confusion about the prospects for a common European-wide corporate tax base, not helped by the interventions of politicians from some other European countries.

It is also plausible that part of the No vote relates to a lack of comfort with the very high levels of immigration from the new members states over the last five years. While the immigration flows were broadly welcomed during the boom years, the current slowdown in the Irish economy means that there is greater competition for jobs and more pressure on wage rates in construction and services sectors,  which may have prompted an anti-Europe vote in some quarters.

Finally, it is striking that the enhanced protection for workers’ rights under the Lisbon Treaty may have prompted No  votes from both ends of the spectrum. From the left, there was a concern that the Lisbon Treaty was too pro-business and the protections for workers’ rights did not go far enough; from the right, the Lisbon Treaty may have smacked too much of a ‘European Social Model’  rather than the Anglo-American hybrid that is favoured by many in Irish business.

25 Responses to "Why Did Ireland Vote No to the Lisbon Treaty?"

  1. eparisi   June 13, 2008 at 10:07 am

    The fact remains though that Ireland was one of the major EU structural and regional funds receiving nations from 1973 until 2007 which also helped them achieve one of the highest per capita incomes in the EU. I’m sure other countries would have voted the same way if given the chance, but it’s the Irish that will most likely be stuck with the stigma.

  2. Anonymous   June 13, 2008 at 12:24 pm

    Merci l’Irlande !

  3. Paul Davis   June 13, 2008 at 1:02 pm

    Ireland was more than willing to take the money, but when it came to creating equal opportunities to all the european countries ( Corporate Tax ). This is how they repaid them, there’s alot of fear and mis-information going on here in Kerry, Eire. I have here a ‘No’ vote leaflet which was sent out, make no mistake, the politicians created a very one-sided view, the people had no idea what they were voting for. Ireland itself is becoming a hotspot of trouble, maybe it’s a good time to jump ship…

    • Anonymous   February 13, 2009 at 2:09 pm

      The cheek of you lot. We have been the back bone of europe for years, when everyone was coming to ireland for work there were no complaints. Ireland are independent since 1921 after 800 years of British dictatorship. It was assumed that we could not control our own country and suffered extreme inhumane acts by the british. We are a neutral country and will always wish to be!!!! We will fight with sticks,stones or whatever means necessary to protect our rights. One of those rights is our neutrality. This treaty has been written up by an elite to better this elite called the bilderberg group!! Our constitution is to be respected and we as Irish have every right to do so.. Read the 300 page treaty and witness what you are signing! It is undemocratic and a “NO” vote means “NO”. Why should we go to war against China to fight for Americans who will draw their allies, that is the british and ultimately, the rest of Europe if a war were to occur??? The answer is, ” we should be free to decide on a national level and not by a federal state that is the united states of europe” whether we do so or not!!!! where is the democracy there guys??

  4. Guest   June 13, 2008 at 1:46 pm

    Excellent instant commentary!

  5. BJ   June 13, 2008 at 3:13 pm

    Honestly, this is now the second time. Why don’t they just leave if everything is so AWFUL in the EU and let the rest of them move on – of course, after paying back all the cash with interest.

  6. bsetser   June 13, 2008 at 9:07 pm

    so there was a strong working class vote against european integration motivated by a desire to preserve the favored tax break of big us business (pharma, software, softdrinks, etc) … that almost cries out for more explanation.

  7. Philip Lane   June 14, 2008 at 2:26 am

    Bradfor a small open economy such as Ireland, the unions recognise that wages are a positive function of the total capital stock and so are in favour of capital-friendly policies; they also recognise that the Laffer Curve works in this case – Ireland collects a lot of tax revenue from the 12.5 percent corporation tax rate.

  8. Guest   June 14, 2008 at 3:40 am

    The campiegns of both the Yes and no camps was equally without much merit. Yet at the end of the day the fact that ONLY Ireland was voting, instead of all of Europe, may have been a larger effect than those outside of the country realize.Not to mention the lack of care by the EU in producing a readable document for the Irish public to consider or even the threats of "or else" coming from France and others may have led to a distinct and realized frustration by the public.

  9. Anonymous   June 14, 2008 at 7:35 am

    This blow is not just one against elitists from Brusselles but one against MASONIC CONSPIRACY. One world, one government, one religion, and so on. But this fricking GOD DAMNED BULLSHIT did not work. AND WILL NEVER WORK

  10. eparisi   June 14, 2008 at 9:11 am

    Lisbon Reform Treaty secures Ireland’s veto on tax – 13.04.2008http://www.ibec.ie/ibec/press/presspublicationsdoclib3.nsf/wvPCDCCC/48B82159CE2861668025742B004B573D?OpenDocumentIreland has secured veto power on tax issues so that’s not a valid argument.

  11. Ulrich Fritsche   June 16, 2008 at 11:51 am

    We should not blame the Irish people only. It is a fact, that the "European project" is stagnating, that a large proportion of the population in almost all countries see "Europe" or more specifically the EU bureaucracy as kind of bureaucratic hydra and indeed politicians all over Europa are playing this card.In that respect the Irish vote is as it is but politicians should not react as they tend to do (suggestions in Germany range from kicking-off the Irish people to ignoring the vote and proceed with the Europe of "two speeds") but instead taking this point seriously (I know that is wishful thinking…). At least I have the hope that some people understand that this is a difficult time for Europeans ….

  12. Irish Truth Teller   June 16, 2008 at 12:38 pm

    Fact. By allowing the EU fishing fleets acccess to Irish territorial waters for 35 years it is estimated that Irealnd has contributed €70 bn to the EU! We are net CONTRIBUTORS to the EU. Comprenez Vous? eparisi!

  13. eparisi   June 16, 2008 at 5:07 pm

    @Irish Truth Teller:Good to know that there’s grounds left for negotiation. But I’m not sure that’s the only problem. I agree with Daniel Gros that at this point the proper question to ask voters is whether they want to stay in by agreeing to a fundamental set of rules such as the Lisbon Treaty, or stay out. That’s a question that should be asked all voters, not just the Irish.http://www.voxeu.org/index.php?q=node/1238

  14. Anonymous   June 19, 2008 at 12:21 am

    Very interesting. Should I go back in my mind and recall some 50 billion (with B) euros that were flowing to Ireland so that they can afford—among other things—purchasing vacation properties on the Mediterranean? Uninformed people make mistakes. However, problem is that proper info by the government and EU was probably considered ‘propaganda’ and the local small interests were treated as valid opinions.I would like to see results of a new vote where one of points is readiness of Irish people to refund the monies received so far from EU.

  15. Anonymous   June 19, 2008 at 12:35 pm

    The Irish people have voted in favor of freedom over the increased socialist tendencies of the mainland. It’s unfortunate that the rest of Europe was not given a chance to vote on this treaty in referendum.

  16. jacqueline cotter   June 19, 2008 at 3:37 pm

    Three weeks before the referendum a man spoke on-air on a local radio here in Cork.He said that if we voted yes to the Lisbon Treaty it would allow homosexuals to enter schools and do workshops and presentations with kids.He was appalled that this might happen. He was a homophobic,ignorant idiot and used his fears and predjudices to scare the public. Judging by the texts that came in I suspect that many sceretly agreed and held his warped views. The NO campaign used many such arguments and spread lies, xenophobia and hatred to tap into peoples most basic irational fears.Hitler did the same with referendums in Germany and they haven’t held one since then.Referendums are often used by people to push agendas. Nothing is a simple yes or no.A referndum cannot speak for "the people", because "the people" of any country are so diverse it only ends up being a tyranny of the majority over the minorities. Hitler did that in spectacular fashion did he not.The people who voted no in Ireland on the back of homophobia and other hatreds ought to be totally and utterly ashamed.We need to pull together across Europe to tackle climate change,energy and food shortages. Voting no to Lisbon was selfish and ultimately a childish excersice, in my opinion.

  17. Concerned Irishman   June 19, 2008 at 7:29 pm

    As a European I feel that its important that we all have a say in how Europe proceeds. We are a democracy and have the right to decide our own destiny. I feel that all European countries should be able to have referenda as otherwise their governments would just vote yes to whatever reforms Brussels churns out. There is no way that ALL states would have approved the Lisbon treaty so people who have a problem with Ireland for standing up to our government should belt up. All these comments in the vein of ‘pay back all the money invested (in Ireland), with interest’ is pathetic and fascist. Don’t treat us like whores!We should not be bullied into accepting things that go against the democratic ethos. We said NO and many other countries would have done the same if they weren’t being ‘gagged’ by their governments who decide for them. Would the Irish government have given the thumbs up if it was up to them? Yes, of course. Like other governments who are supposed to represent their people, they would have done what they are told. No smoke and mirrors Brussels, don’t try to blindly lead us down the path of becoming the United States of Europe!

  18. Fog Light   June 21, 2008 at 10:11 am

    Remarks about the unrepresentative nature of the response to a referendum question would be more pertinent if it could be held that the people who voted for the politicians who dislike referendums did so, because of their dislike of this means, or for only that reason. Would it be possible also not to cite the monstrous dictators, who all wanted, if my memory is correct, to exercise a unified view of Europe and certainly not to take NO! for an answer?

  19. Guest   June 21, 2008 at 10:18 am

    I just don’t get why are all of the sudden the french criticizing Ireland for voting no to the same treaty that they themselves rejected. Lisbon treaty is the same document as the previous rejected constitution. Saying otherwise is taking people for fools. Welcome to sientific dictatorship in Europe!

  20. David McWilliams   July 1, 2008 at 9:57 am

    What makes a good European country? According to many of our European neighbours — specifically the French and Germans — Ireland post-Lisbon, can’t be regarded as a good member of the EU club because we are ungrateful and unpredictable.More egregiously, the spin is that the Irish people are in someway intent on blocking enlargement. The storyline continues that, given how much we gained from the EU, how could such a nation of malcontent ingrates deprive our eastern neighbours of their opportunity?Do you go along with that view? Certainly some of the crestfallen ‘Yes’ campaigners are using similar arguments, toeing the French line that "eaten bread is soon forgotten". How could we possibly trouser the cash and then give them the two fingers?It is easy to see the world this way, particularly if you regard politics as one giant inter-country game of treaties and committees. In this world view — one usually formulated by over-educated, risk-averse courtesans — people do not matter. The only thing that counts for the Eurocratic worldview is summits, leaders and the elite. But Europe is about more than countries; it is about people. It is about 400 million individual people whose ambitions, aspirations and lives can be improved by the opportunities that economic integration affords. If you take this people- centred view of things, it is interesting to contrast Doubting Ireland and Enthusiastic France. French politicians have conveniently forgotten that while they might hob-nob with their Polish counterparts, France does not allow Polish immigrants to work freely in France. So France talks the language of solidarity but freezes out the people that this very solidarity is supposed to help. What breathless hypocrisy!While France threw up barriers, Ireland on the other hand opened its doors to hundreds of thousands of ordinary Poles, Lithuanians and Latvians whose lives have been greatly enhanced by the opportunities we have given them. Ireland is a proper European partner to the Joe Soaps from Warsaw, Riga and Vilnius, while the French and Germans have closed their doors to them. This distinction between a Europe of the peoples — the Irish view — and a Europe of the elites — the old Europe view — goes to the heart of our differing approaches.So, for example, the French foreign minister claimed indignantly that over the 35 years of EU membership the Irish people have received €33bn in aid from the EU. This is true. But because Ireland, unlike Germany or France, allowed the people from the accession states to come and live and work freely here, we have given back to the East in wages and opportunities.Let’s do a little calculation. We have close to 300,000 immigrants working from the new accession states here. Let’s say they are on a wage between the minimum wage of €17,000 and the average wage of close to €35,000 a year. So let’s say €25,000. That’s a total wage bill of €7.5bn per year. As we are now going into our fifth year of open borders, it is likely that Ireland has put back more cash in the pockets of poor European immigrants in five years that the EU has given us in 35 years. We have also provided an open platform for people to come and go without recourse to registering with the local authorities or without the need to be monitored by identity cards. Furthermore, the Irish Ryanair, not the EU Commission, has been the single greatest force behind actual integration, flying the poor people of the East cheaply all around the Union. We’ve yet to see a low-fares French carrier demean itself to carry ordinary citizens to work. So, not only have we given hundreds of thousands of eastern Europeans a chance to fulfil the promise of the EU and have their children educated here, but given that the propensity to save is higher among immigrants than the rest of us, billions of euros earned in Ireland are likely to have been sent home to Eastern Europe to build opportunity there. Only Ireland, Britain and Sweden — the three countries most regarded as sceptical on Europe — have shown real, material solidarity with the poor of Eastern Europe. While the French, Germans and Italians might lecture others on being good Europeans, they don’t stick to the spirit of the treaties they sign.The question then arises again: which is the better European country; the one that blocks the freedom of mobility but accords to the fine rhetoric of the ‘grand projet’, or the one that allows free movement of people but might be more quizzical about the rhetoric?Go down to your local Spar or Centra and ask the Polish or Lithuanian working there (who would not be freely allowed to work in France or Germany) who has done more for them — France or Ireland? Also ask them, who made xenophobia part of the last referendum? It was in France not Ireland that the anti-EU vote made a big deal of the threat of the ‘Polish Plumber’. The ever-so-European French played the race card last time they voted with the ‘Yes’ side, ensuring the ‘No’ side that a ‘Yes’ vote would keep the Poles off French building sites.The problem for the elite is that Ireland has given back money to the EU, but just not to them. We have given the poor an opportunity to work which is precisely what an economic union is all about.Tomorrow morning, when Brian Cowen is facing the music and feels he is dealing with a meagre hand, he should remind his tormentors, such as former communist Mr Kouchner, that Ireland has given back to European workers in wages far more than we have taken in direct subsidies. Ireland is accepting in eight times more EU immigrants per head than France.There are many ways of looking at Europe. Some of our neighbours are ‘top down’ Europeans, pushing through treaties in parliament, not consulting their electorates. This makes them look powerful at summits.There are others who are happy to enhance ordinary peoples’ lives but have to face the electoral music at every turn. We are the ‘bottom-up’ Europeans — the more honest and less hypocritical EU members. If you want to see what European integration is for ordinary people, don’t watch the pomp and ceremony of the leaders’ summit tomorrow, go to the arrivals hall at Dublin airport.There, amid the stonewashed denims, shaved heads and East European biker jackets, you will see the true hope that Europe brings. It is a chance of a better life for the immigrants and their children. It is the chance to bring money home, to plan and to invest in the future. This is what Europe is all about.

  21. Philip Lane   July 1, 2008 at 2:44 pm

    David – excellent post – I hope you make these points in a wider-circulation format also!

  22. claudio petrachi   July 2, 2008 at 12:00 pm

    I’m Italian, and I just want to say: thank you David McWilliams for your post!Please, don’t think that "Italians" are the same of "Italian Goverment",I’m quite sure that there are millions of Italians with you (though nobody can hear their voices).In Italy we know very well what a fake democracy is, and we just don’t need another giant-one-party-state (as EU is going to be).What we all need, is a Europe made by Europeans.

  23. Anonymous   September 9, 2008 at 4:40 am

    David McWilliams congrats this is probably the best article I have read in a long time. We need more people like you in government (people who know what they are talking about).

  24. Guest   December 16, 2008 at 10:32 am

    Lovely stuff David. This is exactly why I voted no and will continue to encourgae family, friends and associates to vote no again when our so-called Irish Nationalist and Republican government put it to us again