Probably. At this stage, fear (of the unknown consequences of a No vote) is the most powerful factor that will motivate people to go to their polling station to cast a Yes vote.
1. How much is the campaign before the referendum influenced by the current EU debate austerity vs. growth? Is it a crucial factor in the campaign?
2. According to polls the treaty will pass. Do you think it will pass or not, and why?
Katy Hayward, Lecturer in Sociology, Queen’s University Belfast
1. Politics in Ireland don’t typically fall along typical left/right lines, but the left/socialist wing (except for the left wing Labour Party, currently part of the governing coalition) is usually most prominent during EU referendum campaigns. The austerity/growth debate is not as well developed in Ireland as elsewhere; there are only minority parties – those these include the sizeable Sinn Féin party – that are arguing strongly in favour of a Growth policy. Otherwise, much of the population has become accepting of the Austerity line (this was accepted with the IMF/EU loan agreed in Nov 2010).
Having said that, the fact that the ‘Growth’ argument is increasing in profile and strength in Europe, particularly since Hollande’s election, and with uncertainty in Greece, has added an extra degree of uncertainty to the outcome of the election here. There was a lot of discussion as to whether the Treaty may be changed as a result of EU-level debates around this (though this has been categorically denied). I think that people feel that the EU context is more changeable and fluid than previously assumed and therefore that the decision in Ireland isn’t quite as black and white (i.e. ‘a vote No is to vote yourself out of EU favour and onto the EU’s margins’) as previously thought.
2. Polls suggest it will pass but this depends, as always, on mobilization of voter turnout. There remains a substantial ‘undecided’ vote and a widespread lack of clarity as to the content and implications of the Treaty – two factors which will mitigate against high turnout. At this stage, fear (of the unknown consequences of a No vote) is the most powerful factor that will motivate people to go to their Polling Station to cast a Yes vote.
Michael Holmes, Senior Lecturer, Department of Politics, History, Media and Communication, Liverpool Hope University
1. If I may distinguish two things, the “austerity” debate is absolutely central to the campaign, but the “austerity vs growth” debate somewhat less so.
The first part of this is a rather self-evident comment. The Fiscal Treaty itself would not exist were it not for the austerity programme. But in Ireland, public discourse has centred on the rights and wrongs of the banks, the developers, the bail-outs and the austerity measures for the past four years. Inevitably, therefore, the Fiscal Treaty campaign is also dominated by these concerns.
However, the debate about a concomitant growth strategy has had a lesser profile in Ireland than in some other European countries. This is in large part due to the government (both the current Fine Gael-Labour coalition and the previous Fianna Fail-led one) wanting to appear as compliant as possible with the demands of the ECB and IMF. The concentration therefore was not on calling for alternatives, but on emphasising how obedient Ireland was being. In addition, the government has been reluctant to raise the idea of a growth strategy for fear of alienating foreign investors (particularly but by no means exclusively from the USA), who might associate ‘growth’ with ‘increased taxation’. The desire to preserve Ireland’s very low rate of corporation tax remains a fundamental government policy.
Of course, the No groups in the campaign have tried to raise the issue of growth. And their voice was considerably strengthened by the success of Francois Hollande in France. This has undoubtedly changed the game. The government tone immediately softened, to saying that they were in favour of a growth strategy alongside the treaty. But they are still insistent that there cannot be any alteration of the treaty – that any growth dimension must be constructed alongside the treaty, not as a replacement for it or an amendment of it.
Thus, growth has become an issue during the referendum campaign, rather than having been central to it all along.
2. I think it will pass, though by a narrower margin than the polls are currently indicating. The Yes side has been ahead consistently in the polls, and by a reasonable margin. Although there are a lot of undecided voters, it would take a very considerable surge to the No side to bridge the gap. Such a surge is not impossible, just unlikely.
If it is a Yes outcome, it will not be a ringing declaration of pro-Europeanism. I have been startled to hear the number of strongly critical opinions being voiced about the EU – not just from political leaders, but also in the “vox pops” on radio. However, that criticism exists alongside a very great fear that Ireland really has no choice in this matter – however bad the austerity might be, however much people might want to give the EU a kicking, the reality is that the country is dependent on the goodwill of the ECB and IMF. Ireland has lost its economic sovereignty. In such circumstances, it cannot act as freely as it might like.
The No side is divided in two, a right-wing side that fears the Fiscal Treaty is a big step towards fiscal and political union, and a left-wing side that is concentrating on the social impact of austerity in the fields of education, health, jobs, etc. That division doesn’t really matter in terms of the referendum, with its simple Yes/No vote, but it does weaken the coherence of EU-critical voices outside the simplified framework of a referendum. And there is a binding element between the two sides in the form of sovereignty, even if the right and the left might interpret it slightly differently. The Sinn Fein party are adept at playing the sovereignty theme to both these audiences.
Frank Häge, Lecturer in Politics, Department of Politics and Public Administration, University of Limerick
1. Yes, the campaign is very much influenced by this debate. The no-side argues that the treaty would enshrine more austerity, while the yes-side argues that it is only through stability and certainty regarding access to funding for government services that we would attract more investment and therefore foster growth. Especially the no-side makes frequent references to what is going on in the rest of Europe (especially France, Greece and even Germany; both by the public and by government or opposition leaders in those countries) with respect to calls for growth policies.
2. So far, all the polls indicate that the treaty will pass by a relatively large margin (60% in favour vs. 40% against). However, a large proportion of the electorate is still undecided and people’s views can be quite volatile. In the last Presidential election (mainly a purely representative post), public opinion completely reversed during the last few days of the campaign. So while it looks like the yes-side has a comfortable lead at the moment, I would be hesitant to call the result of the referendum already.
John O’ Brennan, Director of European Studies, National University of Ireland, Maynooth, Director of the Centre for the Study of Wider Europe
It looks very much like the Treaty will pass. The weekend’s opinion polls showed a strong Yes lead of 7 to 10 percentage points. However, I would caution that one vital issue for the Yes side will be the turnout: in 2001 the then government lost the referendum on the Nice Treaty because of a very low turnout of less than 35%. The Yes side will probably need a turnout of at least 50% to be sure of winning. The polls demonstrate that the number of undecided voters remains very high and this could yet prove important in determining the result. So overall one can say that it looks like a Yes but with the caveat about turnout and important one.
The debate has been framed as Stability versus Austerity. The Yes side argues that a Yes is required to ensure the stability of the Eurozone and thus facilitate Irish economic recovery. The No side from the beginning cast the Treaty as the ‘austerity treaty’ and has run its campaign largely on this theme. The Yes side has only belatedly begun to talk about growth and only because the election of Francois Hollande proved a ‘game changer’ in the EU context. But in truth there has actually been very little dialogue about growth. The decision of the Yes campaign, led by government, to frame the Treaty as the ‘Stability treaty’ largely has governed the boundaries of the yes narrative and growth has barely featured in this. The No side, of course argues that growth is impossible if the economy is denied the oxygen it needs free of excessive debt targets. So the No side has also failed to engage with the growth agenda, mainly because it is not in its interest to highlight the kind of things Hollande is trying .
Maura Adshead, Senior Lecturer in Politics and Public Administration and Head of the Department of Politics and Public Administration, University of Limerick
1. In Ireland, all referenda campaigns have to be equally funded betweeen both sides, so even though all the main political parties are in favour of the fiscal treaty, there is equal weight given to the opposition (a technical group of independents, left and Sinn Fein members).
In this context, the current referendum is framed wholly and entirely as “austerity versus growth”. This is the slogan on many campaign posters and these are the only terms under which the Treaty is discussed. The main parties argue that signing the treaty will lead to growth and jobs, the no group argue that a vote for the treaty is a vote to put austerity into the constitution. Irish people are despondent. They do not believe that voting yes will improve the economy as the pro people say, but opinion polls all suggest that most people think we need to sign the treaty to stay in centre of Europe and keep our options for loans and finance open. Watching what is happening in Greece tends to convince most Irish people that voting No would be worse.
2. The treaty will pass. But the turnout will be low. Many who would normally side with mainstream parties will abstain rather than vote no. The no vote will be more active at getting its vote out. Most anecdotal evidence suggests that Irish people are voting yes – but reluctantly.
Neither sign has marshalled a particularly good campaign. Many in the no camp are against taxes (in a state with historically low taxes) and many also side with anti European and somewhat xenophobic parties in EU.