Let All Of Europe Have A Referendum On The EU

Great Britain will hold a referendum on the EU in 2017. This is a good thing, but the rest of us Europeans should be given a chance to express our views in a referendum as well.

The EU rapidly evolving towards an ever larger superstate under insufficient democratic control. The British referendum opens a window of opportunity to do something about this. We need a new basic treaty for the EU to replace the current Lisbon Treaty. The new treaty needs to be adopted in a referendum, to give it democratic legitimacy.

The Pirate Party does not have a ready-made proposal for what this new treaty should look like. Instead, we have a proposal for how it should be adopted to get democratic legitimacy. If we can agree on the rules of the game first, it will get easier to have a constructive discussion about the contents of the new treaty later.

We propose the following process for adopting a new basic treaty for the EU:

  • A proposal for a new treaty is drafted, and all EU citizens get to vote in a referendum if they think that the new treaty is good enough to serve as the foundation for the EU in the future. The referendum should be held on the same day all over the EU according to the principle of one citizen, one vote, regardless of which member state they live in. Holding a common referendum in this way reduces the risk that the process is held hostage by any member state for purely nationalistic motives.
  • Once the new treaty has been adopted in the big pan-European referendum, each country will decide if they want to be members of the EU according to the new treaty. This decision can be made either in the national parliament or by a national referendum. Countries that don’t want to remain members can take a step back, and just have a free trade agreement with the EU, like Norway or Switzerland have today.
    If we can agree from the outset that this is how the new treaty will be adopted, the treaty will automatically have to live up to certain minimum standards.

It will have to be understandable, so that citizens can know what they are voting on in the referendum. It will have to be democratic, so that citizens want it. And it will have to respect the subsidiarity principle and not move more power than necessary to Brussels, so that the member states will want to be part of the new EU.

Who drafts the treaty will be of less importance with this procedure. No matter who does the drafting, the rules for adopting the new treaty will ensure that it is understandable, democratic, and only gives the EU as much power as people really want it to have. Any proposal that fails to live up to this is doomed to be rejected by the citizens and/or member states anyway, so even presenting it would just be a waste of time.

Hopefully, there will be many different proposals from different political parties and other actors. Then we could have a broad debate about what kind of EU we want in the future.

Britain will have its in-or-out referendum in 2017. The EU has until then to shape up, if it wants Britain to remain a member. But this is a good thing for all European citizens, not just the Brits. In the rest of Europe we are an additional 450 million citizens who also want a more democratic EU. To get this, we need a new treaty.

It is excellent that prime minister Cameron and Great Britain has put pressure on the EU by giving a date for the British referendum. That gives us a concrete timeline to work with, and opens a window of opportunity for reforming the EU to make it more democratic, more transparent, and generally more sensible.

The first step towards such a new treaty would be to decide that it will have to be adopted in two steps, first in an EU-wide referendum, and then by each of the member states that want to remain a member. This will ensure that the new treaty has proper democratic legitimacy, and is acceptable to a majority of the citizens.

It will also set the stage for a proper discussion about what we want the EU to be — and not to be. This is a discussion that we really need, and which is long overdue. The plans for a British EU referendum in 2017 has opened a window of opportunity for all of Europe.

This is an opportunity we must seize.

This article was originally published at MEP Christian Engström’s blog.


  1. k0nsl


    I think such a referendum would show a resounding “NO!” if the people were given a chance to vote. They were tricked into EU with promises high and low.


    1. Per "wertigon" Ekström

      This is very true.

      However, if such is the case, then the EU has failed to do it’s job properly. IF the people say no, that is a testament that the current EU needs a major overhaul.

      Therefore, we break it apart and put it together again – this time with a common goal, common guidelines, sane democratic structures and common sense. 🙂

  2. Anonymous

    nice thoughts, Christian. exactly why it wont go anywhere. you should know that the last thing any politician wants to hear are sensible suggestions and options, particularly when they can easily remove the ‘incentives’ that are frequently given or offered, mostly from the likes of the entertainment industries and big pharma companies! also dont forget, if there were any threat of something like this getting any traction, the USA would be threatening all countries with God knows what sanctions for contemplating something that didn’t help USA specific companies (much like the threats that are issued now by the USTR!)

  3. Pieter

    The problem with a referendum is always that in practice it’s a vote of confidence on the current government (just look at the votes on the European constitution in France and the Netherlands). And David Cameron’s call for a referendum is also a very blatant attempt to pacify the eurosceptic wing of his party (and damage control w.r.t. UKIP).

    I agree that the EU should become more democratic. However, I fear that a referendum in each country will break the EU even further, because it is at heart not a constructive political tool: a “yes to the EU” vote will not change anything for the better, while a “no” vote will throw everything into disarray. To expect that a more democratic EU will emerge from such chaos is political naivety.

  4. RRG

    I don’t really see how the EU could get more democratic then it is now, to be honest. The only real representative-democratic framework that could be significantly preferable to the current system would probably be a Condorcet-elected (hopefully with Schulze method) presidential base, but most Europeans wouldn’t understand it, and they’re definitely not ready to accept significant direct-democratic checks, however much the PP’s push for it. Removing the influence of national governments via the CotEU wouldn’t be accepted by said governments, and really, I doubt that would even be a good thing. The EU gains a lot by being at least somewhat aligned with the national directions.

    I suppose you could give the Europarl and/or the CotEU the power of legislative initiative. Maybe weaken/eliminate the Commision’s (or new equivalent’s) power in the legislative process. Those might help slightly, but probably won’t change things all that much.

    Maybe the EU could leapfrog most national systems democracies by demanding absolute transparency in everything done by every elected official, ie always-on Glass-hangout-streams or equivalent. That might actually have a chance of gaining widespread support, but this applies just as much to the governments each country.

    In the context of the individual EU countries and their states, the EU is pretty democratic. You have a proportionally elected parliament, a council filled with delegates of locally elected officials, and an executive branch appointed by and accountable to those who have been directly elected. Certainly not optimal, but all this talk about the EU being not democratic is rather overstating the issue.

    1. Per "wertigon" Ekström

      The problem here is easy.

      In most nations in Europe the lawmaking process is defined in two parts; the deciding part (parliament) and the executive part (the ministry, chosen directly from the parliament).

      So our ministers are chosen directly from parliaments in normal democratic fashion, whom are chosen by the people. Besides this, ANY member of the parliament have the right to propose a new law. It does not have to be accepted, but it is possible.

      Now the EU works a bit different.

      First, the executive branch – the commission (or is it ministry? I forget) – is not chosen by the European Parliament. It is instead appointed by the national ministries in the member states. Therefore the “boss” of the commission is not the parliament, which is normal, but all the member states ministries.

      Second, a member of the European parliament (MEP) is not allowed to propose any directives whatsoever. They are, however, able to propose amendments and changes to directives asked by the commission.

      This all but guarantees that the European Parliament have very little power, which means bad laws will and can get passed down to the member states. Therefore, both of these needs to be fixed. Everything else can with time be changed for the better. But these two system flaws must be fixed, else the EU will in time either dissolve or turn into Oceania 2.0.

  5. Max Pont

    Christian Engström is usually a fantastic politician but I think that he is dead wrong about this. I do not in any way recognizes the legitimacy of the EU and would NEVER accept that for example Sweden should be forced to accept a new EU treaty based on votes from French, Spanish, German, etc, voters.

    National exit referendums are a great idea but there is no way I would accept or comply with a decision that would subjugate my own country to the EU monster based on a 51% majority from foreign voters.

    The EU is sham democracy. It is entirely built on the idea that whenever a national 51% majority hands over power to the EU it is irreversible and set in stone forever. Once given away the right to national self determination in a certain area can NEVER NEVER EVER NEVER be taken back by the national voters.

    1. Per "wertigon" Ekström

      The process the pirate party is suggesting is based on a two-stage process;

      1. First we fix the EU
      2. Then every member country may choose whether they wish to join this new EU.

      So, either Sweden accepts the new EU treaty because we choose to accept it… Or we exit the EU. Simple as that.

  6. […] Let All Of Europe Have A Referendum On The EU […]

  7. Anonymous

    I’m no expert, but does Norway and the EU really have a free trade agreement? The trade between Norway and Sweden seems to be anything but free to me…

    1. Anyone

      both Sweden and Norway are part of the Schengen treaty

  8. richardamullens

    There’s a lot that’s good in the EU:

    Freedom to work and live anywhere in Europe.
    Reciprocal healthcare.
    Freedom to study anywhere.
    No borders – Schengen – for those in it.
    Interdiction on bank charges for transfers of money in the Euro Zone. (Britons still get ripped off)
    Human rights laws that limit what our politicians can do.
    Standing together against American GM food
    Airbus, Ariane, Galileo

    Then there are some bad things:

    European Address Warrant
    lobbying by multinationals (bans on agricultural chemicals to leave the way open for “Roundup”)
    No doubt others

    But so far we have defeated some of the interests – Software patents, Acta (or was it Sopa)

    1. richardamullens

      The EU also fights against actions like Microsoft embedding its media player with Windows

  9. Elisabeth


    Meanwhile in the Netherlands:

    We want it now!! Not in 2017!

    citizen initiative.

    40000 SIGNATURE!

    Our Citizens for a referendum to ask so that we can vote on the (creeping) transfer of powers to the EU is less than a month old and already support the 40,000 Dutch!

    That is great news and we are everyone who has supported us very grateful.

    The House is now legally obliged to have to bend over. But they can this initiative disregard. Therefore, we will continue this campaign so that we are stronger!

    And call everyone you know in order to do the same!

    Transferring new powers to EU
    must not without a referendum!

  10. Ivan Vučica

    Almost a good proposal.

    Except for one thing. The second proposed point says it’s okay for a national parliament to decide whether to stay in EU or not, and all but equates the parliament vote with a referendum. A parliament vote is not enough.

    Almost all national parliaments would vote for staying in the EU. It’s in politicians’ best interests to stay in.

    A referendum is a much better solution, and I see no reason why this rogue sentence found its spot in the proposal.

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