168. The role of referendums in the EU attracted
relatively little interest during our inquiry. The point was strongly
put to us that the principle of subsidiarity applies here: it
is up to individual countries to decide whether to have referendums
or not. Indeed in some countries they are unconstitutional.
We consider here just two questions: how the EU should respond
to negative referendum results, and the possibility of Europe-wide
169. Some referendums on EU matters affect directly
only the Member State holding the referendumfor example,
referendums in Member States with an opt-out from the euro on
whether to adopt it. Others, such as the Irish referendum on the
Nice Treaty, potentially impose a veto on what others may do.
In such a case there are only two possible responses:
- The result, even if in a relatively small country
on a low turnout, can be allowed to act as a veto over what the
EU as a whole may do;
- The country concerned can hold the referendum
again, possibly after concessions have been made.
From a democratic point of view, neither option is
at all attractive. However, where turnout is low, we do not dissent
from the practice of holding a referendum again.
170. The possibility of national referendums taking
place throughout the EU on the same day on major Treaty changes
(and perhaps on other issues) is of some interest. Professor Bogdanor
argued that Europe-wide referendums 'might ... do a great deal
to overcome the sense of alienation and remoteness felt by many
Europeans', and 'would be an explicit recognition of the principle
of the sovereignty of the people'.
A simple majority overall would certainly not be appropriate.
Other than for major Treaty changes, provision could be made similar
to qualified majority voting in the Council, so that not every
Member State would have to vote 'yes', but a certain proportion
of Member States or the total population or both would have to
do so. However, as Lord Norton indicated, such referendums would
be seen by some as a method of overcoming the opposition of majorities
in individual Member States, turnouts might be low, and citizens
might feel less 'connected' to the EU than if they voted in purely
Since unanimity would be needed for such a Europe-wide referendum
to take place, many Member States have no tradition of holding
referendums, and the result might not be accepted in countries
which voted differently from the majority, we regard the idea
as impracticable for the foreseeable future. The same applies
to the proposal by the Foreign Policy Centre for the holding of
referendums as a result of citizens' initiatives.
305 Ev 94; Q. 276; Ev 16. Back
Ev 7. Back
Ev 16-17. Back
Q. 91. Back