It’s quite likely that Emmanuel Macron will use the European elections to ask voters to have their say on various domestic issues covered as part of the “great debate” he recently initiated. But this is risky business.
The debate itself was opened in response to the ‘yellow vests’ unrest and is subject to a controversy of its own. But holding a referendum coinciding with the European elections in such a key country like France is more than hazardous, even for Macron himself.
In France, interest in the EU elections is already very low, and a referendum would eclipse it completely. Referendums are also highly unpredictable, by their very nature (think Brexit, for example).
In referendums, people give an answer to a question different from the one that is asked. Besides, there is no momentum in Europe to hold referendums. One doesn’t conduct a referendum in times of crisis, such as the yellow vests upheaval.
It’s hugely misguided to imagine solving this crisis with a referendum. David Cameron should not have held such a fateful referendum in the midst of the worse refugee crisis the EU has ever seen. In the Netherlands, in 2016, voters also rejected the EU association deal with Ukraine.
France hasn’t held a referendum for 14 years. In 2005, the referendum that rejected the new European constitution during Jacques Chirac’s tenure was a shocking setback not only for the French but for Europe.
Romania is a more recent example. Out of self-interest, the then president, Traian Basescu, called a referendum on reforming the parliament and reducing the number of MEPs. It coincided with the 2009 presidential election.
This may have helped him win the election with a razor-thin margin (50.33% to 49.66%). The referendum was validated and 78% voted in favour of the reform. But it was never implemented, due to boycott by the political class.
The next referendum was held in 2012 with another purpose: to impeach Basescu.
It failed, but not because people supported him. Almost 89% actually voted for impeaching Basescu, but the 50%+1 threshold was not met.
On the day before the vote in parliament, the referendum law was changed to enable an impeachment referendum to be valid if a majority of voters voted in favour, but Brussels cried foul and Basescu survived.
Such interference from Brussels could not have happened in the case of the Brexit referendum, but that’s another story…
Remember the old adage, ‘those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it’? Well, according to the French press, Macron could ask his compatriots if they want to reduce the number of MPs in the Assemblée Nationale. Why are bad examples always so contagious?
By Alexandra Brzozowski
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And congrats to Jean Letitia Saldanha who is the new boss over at Eurodad! Good luck in the adventure ahead.
Look out for…
The informal meeting of EU Justice and Home Affairs Ministers in Bucharest, Romania.
Views are the author’s
[Edited by Sam Morgan and Zoran Radosavljevic]