Why (Unpopular) Leaders Announce Popular Votes
Thomas König and Daniel Finke
IN THE SHORT PERIOD between the presentation of the European Convention’s ambitious constitutional proposal in July 2003 and the intergovernmental conference in mid-December 2003, at which political leaders were expected to sign the revision of the Treaty of Nice, an unprecedented number of eleven countries announced ratification of the constitutional proposal via popular vote. For political leaders these announcements constitute an additional means for influencing the bargaining outcome. However, in May and June 2004 the negative referendums in France and the Netherlands stopped the process and paralyzed the reform activities. Compared to the history of parliamentary ratification, which documents only a single case of rejection—the French parliament’s rejection of the European Political Community in 1954—the high percentage of previously negative referendums on European integration-related proposals (roughly 35 percent1) suggests that political leaders increased the risk of defection (voluntary or involuntary) in the ratification stage through their high number of referendum announcements. Hence, the decision of the political leaders to announce popular votes prompts questions about their capacity and willingness to promote a reform on which all of them had formally agreed at previous summits and on which their governmental and parliamentary delegates had agreed in the European Convention. The basic question therefore is not whether but why political leaders were willing to risk ratification failure by announcing referendums.
1 The list of previous negative referendums: France (constitution, 2006); Netherlands (constitution, 2006); Denmark (Maastricht, 1992; European Monetary Union, 2000), Ireland (Nice, 2001); Norway (membership, 1972, 1994); Greenland (1982); Sweden (European Monetary Union, 2003). The list of previously successful referendums: Ireland (membership, 1972; Single European Act, 1987; Maastricht, 1992; Amsterdam, 1998); Denmark (membership, 1972; Single European Act, 1986; Amsterdam, 1998; Maastricht, 1993); Ireland (Nice, 2002); France (enlargement, 1972; Maastricht, 1992); United Kingdom (continued membership, 1975); Austria, Sweden, and Finland (membership, 1994); Luxembourg and Spain (constitution, 2006); Malta, Hungary, Slovenia, Lithuania, Slovak Republic, Poland, Czech Republic, Estonia, and Latvia (membership, 2003).