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The Lesson from Lisbon: Civil Society not Political Parties

John FitzGibbon

The Irish government held a re-run of the Lisbon Treaty referendum in October 2009 and overturning the previous year's No vote, it was passed with a 67% majority. How was this achieved when other member state governments have been loath to hold referendums on the EU after the recent No votes of the 2000 Danish referendum on the Euro, and the 2005 French and Dutch referendums on the European constitution? This paper will argue that civil society groups played an important role in gaining public support for the Treaty. These groups tailored their arguments and campaign tactics to directly appeal to specific segments of Irish society that had voted No in the first referendum. They did this by emphasising how the EU, and by extension the Lisbon Treaty, had and would benefit them. The wider argument of the paper is that political parties and governments are not the most effective vehicles to put forward pro-European arguments to the electorate. Levels of party based competition are too high and public cynicism towards the political system too ingrained for this to happen. The lesson from Lisbon is that advocacy for the EU must be taken out of the hands of the politicians, and into the arms of specifically created civil society groups.

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