June 17, 2008 | Commentary on Democracy and Human Rights

Ireland Saves Europe From Itself

Thomas Cahill's history, "How the Irish Saved Civilization" may require a second volume after last Thursday's historic Irish referendum. Ireland's rejection of the Treaty of Lisbon was a seminal moment in the modern history of Europe, when brave Irish voters spoke out in defense of the nation state. The result was a humiliating rebuff for the cloistered Brussels political establishment which had sought to force a hugely controversial treaty upon 490 million Europeans without a popular vote. It was a stunning demonstration of democracy triumphing over an Orwellian vision of Europe dreamed up by often faceless unelected officials callously indifferent to the views of the ordinary man on the street.

Ireland was the only country in the European Union to hold a referendum on the EU Reform Treaty, with 53.4 percent of voters saying "No";. The fact that no other country in Europe was willing to defy Brussels and allow a vote on the issue is a damning indictment of the inherently undemocratic nature of the EU. There can be little doubt that if similar votes were held elsewhere there would be an overwhelming rejection of the Treaty, from London to Stockholm.

The Treaty, a reheated version of the European Constitution, which was originally rejected by voters in France and Holland in 2005, is a blueprint for a European superstate with major implications for the EU's 27 member states. It has all the trappings of supra nationalism, creating an uber-government including an EU foreign minister and permanent president as well as an EU diplomatic corps and pan-European magistracy. If enacted it would threaten the very fabric of the transatlantic alliance, from the Anglo-American special relationship to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, as well as a host of major bilateral relationships between Washington and European capitals.

The Treaty's defeat should be celebrated by all who believe in the principle of national sovereignty and the right of individual peoples to shape their own future. It should be warmly welcomed by the United States as a sign that the spirit of freedom is still alive and well in Europe. It is in America's interests to have a Europe of sovereign states that can work together with the U.S. when and where they choose to do so, without being subject to dictats from Brussels.

It is an illusion to think of Europe as one monolithic political or economic entity. Europe is a continent of multiple languages, cultures and interests, within it numerous close American allies from Britain to Poland and Denmark. The idea that Washington is better off having one telephone number in Europe to call for support in a crisis is a foolhardy illusion that bears no relation to reality, and is a recipe for inaction and paralysis.

Historically -- with the war in Iraq being the most recent example with 12 of the then 25 EU members in favor of the U.S.-led intervention and 13 against -- Europe will always be divided on international matters. If Washington had to deal with just one foreign policy chief in Europe, he would likely be a limp-wristed anti-American bureaucrat whose position bore no bearing to the views of many of the countries he purported to represent, and whose approach to fighting terrorists and rogue states reeked of appeasement.

Despite the emphatic rejection of the Lisbon Treaty by the people of Ireland, unelected European bureaucrats are already feverishly working to keep the Frankenstein-like project alive. European Commission President Manuel Barroso has already insisted that other EU member states push ahead with ratifying the Treaty even though the Irish have rejected it. In practice, the Treaty cannot come into force unless every EU country has ratified it, and without Ireland's consent the Treaty is dead. The Commission's nefarious strategy though will be to try to isolate Ireland and pressure it into voting again and again until it votes Yes. The United States, Great Britain and other allies in Europe should call upon EU officials to respect the decision of the Irish people, and abide by the democratic process.

It was former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who famously declared "that such an unnecessary and irrational project as building a European superstate was ever embarked upon will seem in future years to be perhaps the greatest folly of the modern era." Clearly, millions of Irishmen and women agree with the Iron Lady, and have voted in favor of liberty and self-determination in Europe. It is to be hoped that the great British public will follow their example and demand their own referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, a popular vote that will surely once and for all drive a stake through the greatest threat to national sovereignty since the Second World War.

Nile Gardiner is the Director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at the Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Nile Gardiner, Ph.D. Director, Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom
The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom

First appeared in Human Events