Though the early polls have been positive I am getting a sense that the No side may picking up some momentum as we near the May 31st polling date for the Fiscal Stability Treaty Referendum.
One of the main grounds for this sense of foreboding may indeed be the May polling date itself. I fear having the poll this early may prove the biggest threat to a Yes outcome for three reasons:
1. It allows no side to raise the prospect of a second referendum later in the year. The more astute and sophisticated side of the No campaign is starting to run an argument that goes as follows: We have voted twice on the last two EU treaties.In each case we have come back with a better deal the second time. This Treaty does not come into force until January 2013. We have the time to Vote No now and use the following months to go back and get a better deal and then Vote Yes later in the year. A late September polling date would have denied this argument to them
2. This Sunday see’s the first round of the French Presidential Elections, The Second roubnd of voting will be two weeks later at the beginning of May. While Sarkozy has had a good campaign to date and has closed the gap in the first round the polls there still suggest that Francois Hollande will win the Second Round by approx 55:45.Hollande is standing on recovery platform that rejects Sarkozy’s austerity plan and talks of renegotiating the Fiscal Compact,
While this position may be dismissed as a Gallic version of Gilmore’s “Frankfurt’s Way or Labour’s Way” – ie a promise that sounds good in the campaign but doesn’t survive past polling day – it does look like Hollande is serious. His determination to imeddiately set out a renegotiation the Fiscal Compact to include a growth programme, Euro Bonds etc has probably been strengthened by the attempts of Merkel and other Centre Right EU leaders to snub him.
We will be going to vote during the first days of a Hollande presidency, the background noise to ouyr vote to pass the existing threaty will be his moves to renegotiate that very treaty – almost making a farce of that vote. The politically astute move for our Government would have been to hold off until September and see if Hollande will make a difference.
3. The one great lesson learned from previous referenda, particularly NIce I & II and Lisbon I & II is that the public needs a longer run up/lead in period to tease out the issues. The traditional three or four week campaign has been found to be insufficient, particularly in the absence of “on the ground” campaigns.
Though polling day is about six weeks away there is little sign of that debate is starting yet. Will the Refendum Commission have the time to do the job? Based on the last referendums, it would certainly appear not. The Tanaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs had a thirty minute slot on RTE 1 last Saturday where he could have used 5/6 miinutes to explain why voting Yes is important. He didn’t. He chose instead to just give the poll a passing reference, 125 words in a script over 3100 words long. “referendum” featured only once in his script.
While the timing of the polling day is just one factor, it may prove a crucial one. The Treaty should stand or fall on its own contents alone. I am on record here as having my own qualms about the Treaty (see my post here on why I will be a reluctant Yes voter). The debate will be essential. This vote is not like others, we do not have a veto, we cannot delay or deny the progress of this Treaty by our vote alone. The EU has been horrendously slow to act to save itself from the start of this crisis. It has chosen the path of half measures over swift decisive action – usually at the behest of a Franco-German leadership that put domestic political considerations ahead of pan european ones. But we should not be blind to the developing EU real politik.
The appointment of Simon Coveney and Joan Burton as the Fine Gael and Labour campaign directors somehow does not imbue one with a sense of confidence. Coveney’s nomination does echo Charlie Haughey’s appointment of Paddy Lalor as Fianna Fáil national director of elections – a move that spurred the late Frank Cluskey to comment: “There’s confidence for ya”