Friday 18 July 2008

No to Lisbon .. or something

I just took a brief look at the eurobarometer surveys taken after the referenda on the constitutional Treaty in France, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Spain. The first thing I noticed was the difference between their reasons for voting No and the reasons Ireland voted down Lisbon. The top reasons in the Irish case, according to the eurobarometer, were:

Ireland ( No 54 % / Yes 46%)
1. Not enough info
2. Protect Irish Identity
3. Protect Neutrality
4. Do not trust our politicians
5. Retain commissioner
6. Protect our low tax

For France (No 54% / Yes 46% )
1.Economic situation in France / Jobs / Relocation
2.High unemployment in France
3.Economically, the text is too liberal
4.Opposes the President and Parliament of France
5.Not social enough

For Luxembourg (Yes 56.5% / No 43.5%)
1.Employment / Relocation
2.Economic situation in Luxembourg
3.Not social enough
4.Goes too far too quickly
5.I oppose Turkish entry
6.Too complex
7.lack of info

I added 5 and 6 here because the percentages of respondants who mentioned these remained high, at 17% for both.

Netherlands ( No 61.6% / Yes 38.4% )
1.Lack of information
2.Loss of sovereignty
3.Opposes national government and parties
4.EU too expensive
5.I am against integration

Spain ( Yes 77% / No 23% )
Unfortunately the eurobarometer on Spain didn't give the reasons for voting No.

One thing that stands out is the predominance of economic issues in the French and Luxembourg results. Obviously the backdrop there was critical. The social / liberal issue came up in both of these countries as well. The social option wasn't presented to Irish voters, though there was an 'other' option and it was hit in 14% of all No responses. However, it is to be presumed that the drafters of the poll listed the 15 or so issues that were to the fore in the campaign. The Irish results stands out too for the importance of the lack of information. These polls are only a snapshot and of course other surveys with different methodology produce a different take. Nevertheless, it is safe to say that economic issues were highly important in France and the Luxembourg while they weren't in Ireland. The Commissioner issue became big in our campaign and it gets a mention - though both this and the tax were each only mentioned in 6% of responses. Commissioner aside, institutional issues don't feature that much anywhere.

You can go through as many permutations as you like, but the main reason I checked was to see if there was any commonality between the Irish No and the others. More specifically, I wondered if the other No voters were raising similar concerns to the Irish voters. And basically, the answer is no. The only real commonality I see is between the Irish and the Dutch case - where the top reason was lack of information. This was also significant in the spanish campaign in the sense that the low turnout (42%) was mainly due to lack of information.

The fact that economics was behind the French and Luxembourg votes too was interesting. Certainly in the French case their economic malaise was very hard to pin on the EU. Much of their problems are home grown.

Clearly there is a huge communication gap. The workings of the EU and its contribution to the plus and minus side in each country are poorly communicated and as a consequence poorly understood. True, bridging this gap won't be easy, but the issue needs to be addressed.

Incidentally the eurobarometer survey summary after Nice I had this to say about knowledge of the EU amoung Irish people :

"an index of knowledge of the European Union and its institutions shows a rather sorry
picture - 63 per cent score zero, 25 per cent score 1, 10 per cent score 2 and a mere 2
per cent score 3"

I wonder how much that is change!

Certainly, it is very hard to have a debate about changes to EU institutions and policies if you don't know much about them to begin with.

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