Whichever way Britain votes today, the referendum will be —according to a EurActiv.com tally— the 29th such EU plebiscite in the 43 years since the UK joined the EU.
And, as the first time a big country and major economy within the EU has considered asking for a divorce, it’s probably the most significant of all of them.
Some of them have been extremely close, some of them have been extremely obscure (Denmark voting on the unified patent court?), but perhaps none have been as nail-biting as this one.
The tally? So far it stands at 18 “wins” for the EU, and 11 “losses”, a record somewhat skewed by Ireland being forced to vote twice on the Nice and Lisbon treaties until it gave the ‘right’ answer.
With two convulsive, even tragic, referendums in the UK —Scotland voting on independence in 2014, and the UK-wide Brexit vote— some in Britain may be feeling referendum fatigue.
They’re not alone. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Wendesday (22 June) told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that he was “basically not a big fan of referendums,” adding that “voters can easily be misled by sideshows.”
Here, then, is a brief chronological history of those referendums so far:
- 1972: WIN. Denmark votes 63.3% in favour, 30.7% against, in a referendum to join the then EEC (on a turnout of 90.1%!).
- 1975: WIN. Britain votes 67% to 33% to remain in the then EEC (on a turnout of 65%, for reference.)
- 1979: LOSS. Greenland voted to leave the then EEC after having been first granted home rule from Denmark.
- 2000: LOSS. Denmark votes not to join the euro, with 53.2% of Danes against, on a 87.6% turnout.
- 2001: LOSS. Ireland votes 53.9% against adopting the Nice Treaty, 46.1% in favour, on a turnout of just 34.8%.
- 2002: WIN. Asked to vote again on the Nice Treaty, the Irish now vote 62.9% in favour, 37.1% against, on a 49.5% turnout
- 2003: WIN, WIN, WIN, WIN, WIN, WIN, WIN, WIN, WIN: Malta, Slovenia, Hungary, Lithuania, Slovakia, Poland, Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia all vote to join the EU, with majorities ranging from 53.6% (Malta) to 92.5% (Slovakia).
- 2003: LOSS. Sweden votes against joining the euro by 53.2% to 46.8%, on an 81.2% turnout.
- 2005: LOSS, LOSS, WIN, WIN. France (54.9% to 45.1%) and the Netherlands (61.5% to 38.5%) vote against the proposed European Constitution, whilst Spain (76.7% to 23.3%) and Luxembourg (56.5% to 43.5%) voted in favour.
- 2008: LOSS. Ireland (again) voted against ratifying the Treaty of Lisbon, by 53.2% to 46.4%.
- 2009: WIN. Ireland (again) voted again on ratifying the Treaty of Lisbon, this time agreeing by 67.1% to 32.9%.
- 2012: WIN. Croatia votes to join the EU, by 66.3% to 34.7%.
- 2012: WIN. Ireland – again – votes, this time to endorse the European Fiscal Compact, by 60.3% to 39.7%.
- 2014: WIN. In perhaps the most obscure referendum of the lot, Denmark votes to endorse the EU’s Unified Patent Court. By 62.5% to 37.5%.
- 2015: LOSS. The Greeks, under Alexis Tsipras, held a snap referendum on whether to accept the EU bail out conditions. They voted ‘no’ by 61% to 39% – but then accepted even the bail out conditions anyway. So perhaps this should really count as a ‘win’…?
- 2015: LOSS. Denmark – again – voted on whether to turn their opt-out from Justice & Home Affairs issues into an opt-in. They voted 53.1% to 46.9% against – i.e: to keep the opt-out.
- 2016: LOSS. Denmark – yet again – voted against accepting the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement by 61% to 39%, in a non-binding referendum – the first since the country introduced a 2015 law allowing citizens to mount a referendum if they could gather a petition of 300,000 names demanding one.
- 2016: LOSS. The Netherlands rejected the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, by 61% to 38.21%. The referendum was seen as a barometer of anti-EU feeling and dealt an embarrassing blow to the government in charge of the rotating EU presidency.