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An outsider's view

Why does a German guy who lives in Brussels comment on the Irish referendum from Dublin?

Answer to the No-siders:
Sorry, but your vote also affects my life, wherever I live in the EU. We tried hard to get referendums in other EU member states, but eventually you're the only ones who will have a say on this treaty.

Answer to the yes-siders:
If you are in favour of Lisbon you are voting for more interference from bigger countries, for more harmonisation across the EU and less influence of small states. So you better get used to listening and learning from the big guys.

Yours

Thomas Rupp

co-ordinator
European Referendum Campaign

thomas(at)erc2.org


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If in doubt: Follow your feelings!

Dublin, 5 June 2008


Yesterday, on my way to a press conference, I was talking to a taxi driver. I would say this was the first completely politically uninvolved person I encountered during my stay. So, interested to know the opinions of different poeple, I asked him about the referendum and immediately hit upon some general confusion.

“I really gave up trying to understand, what this is all about”, he said. “I tried to understand the booklet published by the government, but gave up after the first page.” What he meant was the booklet published by the Referendum Commission an independent body, set up by the Referendum Act 1998. I did not have the feeling that this guy doesn't care. I just felt that he was quite overwhelmed with the task to build his own opinion. And he did not feel happy about it.

But the confusion went on: “I think in the end it does not matter whether we say yes or no. In the end referendums in the bigger states like Germany or France will make the difference. And France already said no to it, didn't they.” After some more Euro on the taximeter I realised that he did not know that the Lisbon Treaty in Germany and France already passed the parliaments and senates and that there will be no more referendums. He also mixed up the referendum on the EU Constitution with the ratification of the new treaty. He was very surprised when I told him that the Germans never ever were asked about anything concerning the EU.

“Eventually”, I said, “you will decide by following your feelings, won't you”. And he agreed. Then I tried to talk about the weather, but he still stuck to the point. I was somewhat angry, because it was obvious that the taxi driver wanted to understand what is going on. But there is obviously no single piece of information I can give in five minutes which will help him to make a decision with is level of knowledge. This is a pity because it shows, that this referendum, if the debate were organised properly, could have accomplished a great deal in bringing the EU closer to the citizens.

But if you follow the media coverage the level of debate is very low, not basic, but low. 65% of it includes the effort to defame the no-side and to position the yes-side as the do-gooders. Unfortunately for the yes side the very people who are claiming that the Lisbon Treaty is the best you can get for Ireland, are official politicians whose motives are doubted by ordinary people. As a shop owner told me the other day: “If the three major parties – who normally fight each other – all promote a yes-vote, something must be wrong.” And so he, as well as the taxi driver are going to vote no.

It was Vincent Browne, a journalist from TV3's Nightly News who made that point already in a debate in February with Fine Gael's MEP Gay Mitchell and no-campaigner Patricia McKenna. “The elite is in favour,” Browne said, “but there is contempt here for the ordinary people. You present them with a treaty they couldn't possibly understand. And you say they have got to vote for it.” Mitchell: “We are required to have this referendum...” - Browne: “You are not required to present them with a treaty they can't understand.”  

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