“The Roman carnival is not really a festival given for the people but one the people give themselves. At a given signal, everyone has leave to be as mad and foolish as he likes, and almost everything, except fisticuffs and stabbing, is permissible. The difference between the social orders seems to be abolished for the time being.”
Goethe, “The Roman Carnival” in Italian Journey.
Various referendums to ratify European policies or institutions have been held over the last 15 years across the European Union. Their questions have differed and their answers have at times sharply divided national public opinion. The extent to which their results have been respected raises important questions regarding the legitimacy of European and national democratic practices.
A common feature of these referendums is that although held nationally – by and in Member States – they addressed issues that were both European and national and were able to influence EU functioning or decision making. Indeed, to date, the European framework does not allow Europe-wide referendums. And while the verdicts of referendums on joining, remaining in, or leaving the EU have been respected, the same cannot be said for referendums on deciding European policy.
Rejections expressed in referendums on European policy have produced two types of reaction from European institutions and other national governments. Either they lead to a partial renegotiation of the measure or the institutional reform concerned (on the points deemed contentious). This slight rewording is usually then put to another vote a few months later, either in another referendum (Denmark in 1992 then 1993, Ireland in 2001 then 2002 and 2008 then 2009) or put to parliament (2005 French referendum rejecting the Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe, later replaced by the Lisbon Treaty and ratified by France’s parliament in 2007, or the concessions made on EU bailout terms by the Greek government in 2015, which were approved by a parliamentary majority rather than a second referendum).
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