How can normal citizens be able to have an opinion on this treaty? Is it not too complicated and should it not be left to parliamentarians to make the best decision?
Citizens don’t have to know all the details. They must know the main big lines and major issues. These can be cleared through the media and on the voting advices given by political parties and civil organisations during the campaign period up to the referendum. Citizens, like politicians, then decide on the basis of fundamental political (really moral) convictions that they have about what is right and wrong. Most parliamentarians also do that. Most of them never read European treaties. MP’s are generalists who have to make decisions on dozens of issues every day. They are busy with other things and trust the few MP’s in the parliament who have specialized in European affairs, as well as external experts such as academics and lawyers. Citizens and MP’s are in the same boat here. Research among Californian referendum campaigns has shown, by the way, that people with ‘encyclopedical knowledge’ on a subject vote only 3% different than people who only use ‘shortcuts’ (i.e. media reports, advice from experts and civil organisations, etc.)1
Besides, governments can do a lot to inform people in the case of a referendum. They can send the text of the treaty to the voters, produce voter booklets wi. Political parties and civil organisations can speak out, and the media will naturally give information from both perspectives, as their customers demand this and they are also divided between the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ camps. But citizens will only be interested to inform themselves and debate, if they will have a real choice and this choice is respected.
1 - A. Lupia (1994), “Short-cuts versus encyclopedias: information and voting behaviour in California’s insurance reform elections”, American Political Science Review 88, p. 63-76
The answer was provided by Arjen Nijeboer, co-author of the book "Direct Democracy - Facts and arguments about the introduction of initiative & referendum" which you can download in DA, DE, EN, FR, NE, SK language here
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