On 30 June the German Constitutional Court ruled on the compatibility of the Lisbon Treaty with the German Constitution. Ahead of the decision, the Institute for Free Enterprise in collaboration with Open Europe published a new poll which shows that 77% of Germans want to be given a say on the Lisbon Treaty in a national referendum.

Voters were asked:

“Do you think that German voters should be given the opportunity to have their say on the new EU Treaty in a national referendum?”

77.3% said yes, 20.7% said no, and 1.9% said they don’t know.

A representative sample of 1010 people of voting age (18+) in Germany were polled between 8 and 10 June by German polling company Psyma.

Open Europe Director Lorraine Mullally said:
“This poll clearly shows that it is not only the Irish who want to be consulted on the Lisbon Treaty. This Treaty transfers significant powers from the national to the EU level, and German voters want to be given a say.”

“Politicians claim they want to see more debate about the EU at national level, and yet they have conspired to deny voters a say on the Lisbon Treaty. Research shows that referendums on European issues significantly improve the public’s interest in and knowledge of the EU – so referendums should be encouraged, not avoided at all costs.”

“If politicians want people to connect with the EU, they should give them a say on the big issues like Treaty change. The public are crying out to be consulted – it is time to stop pretending that politicians know best, and inject some democracy into EU politics.”



There have increasingly been calls in Germany for a referendum on major EU issues, including on transfers of powers to the EU level.

The 2009 European election manifesto of the CSU party, which is part of the current governing coalition, said: “We want to connect citizens closer to important questions on Europe’s future by making more use of referendums in the decision making process. This will be the case, when important competences of the member states are transferred to Europe or when the European family is enlarged with more member states”.[1]

Bavarian Minister-President Horst Seehofer has said: “We want the population to be asked before German competences are irrevocably transferred to Brussels. The population should also be asked before more member states enter the EU.”[2]

Gesine Schwan, the Social Democrats’ nominee for the German Presidency has said: “a renewal of Europe is possible with referendums”.[3]

Silvana Koch-Mehrin, leader of the German liberals in the European Parliament, said: “Without a referendum in Europe the growing gap between the EU and its citizens will keep on growing.”[4]

Although the German Constitution only permits referendums at the local level, Article 146 suggests a referendum may be called if the constitutional order in the country is changed to the detriment of Germany’s constitution. According to German newspaper Suedeutsche Zeitung this means the Court could ask for a referendum on the Treaty.[5]

The German Constitutional Court is currently considering whether or not the EU Lisbon Treaty is compatible with the German Constitution. It is expected to rule in favour of Lisbon. However, German press agency DPA reported this week that “nobody expects a complete ‘No'” from the judges, adding that “a ‘yes, but’ is considered a possibility.”[6] During the proceedings several judges have made some very critical remarks about the Treaty. Reporting Judge Udo Di Fabio said: “One has to ask soberly: What competences are left with the Bundestag (the German parliament) in the end?”[7] He also bluntly asked “whether it would not be more honest to just proclaim a European federal state”.[8]

On the transfer of powers to the EU, he said: “Is the idea of going ever more in this direction not a threat to freedom?”

Judge Dietrich Murswiek said, “The Treaty cannot be understood by anyone”. He added: “It is a gigantic camouflage. Words evoking a European state are carefully avoided, just so that France and The Netherlands don’t start complaining that they are not allowed a referendum”.[9]

EU politicians talk a lot about wanting to “listen to citizens”, but are increasingly hostile to the idea of giving people a say on EU issues through national referendums. This is because they fear a growing tendency to reject further EU integration, as seen in the recent French, Dutch and Irish ‘no’ votes.Irish Europe Minister Dick Roche said in the aftermath of the Irish ‘no’ vote that “the first thing to learn about referendums – is to avoid them.”[10] Former Commission President Jacques Santer added: “A referendum is good for democracy; it is not always good for a country. We need to make a distinction between democracy and what is good for the country.”[11] The author of the original EU Constitution, former French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing, has explained the reason why it was renamed the Lisbon Treaty, saying: “Above all, it is to avoid having a referendum.”[12]

Ireland is the only country that has been allowed to vote on the Lisbon Treaty, despite a clear majority in favour of a referendum in every single EU country. A March 2007 poll of voters in all EU countries found that 75% of people across the EU want a national referendum on any new treaty which gives more powers to the EU .[13]

Research shows that referendums on EU issues result in significantly higher levels of interest in and knowledge about the EU. A 2007 report by Matt Qvortrup, Professor of Government at the Robert Gordon University, found that citizens’ knowledge about politics is higher in countries that allow more citizen participation. It found that according to polls taken in countries that have held referendums on European integration, such as Ireland, France and Denmark, respondents could answer twice as many questions correctly about EU institutions as could respondents from Germany, Italy and Belgium – countries that had not held referendums on the EU. In fact, a representative sample of Danish voters during the 1992 referendum campaign on the Maastricht Treaty showed they actually knew more about the treaty than the average backbench MP.[14]

Professor Qvortrup found that voters in Switzerland were more enlightened about the EU than their opposite numbers in Germany, despite the fact that Germany is a founding member of the European Communities, while Switzerland is outside the EU. Professor Qvortrup concluded that this is a more or less direct result of the frequent use of referendums in Switzerland.In the recent elections to the European Parliament, Ireland had one of the highest turnout rates of all member states, with a greater proportion of voters turning out in Ireland than in some countries where voting is compulsory – such as Greece. Turnout was 58.6% in Ireland, compared with an EU average of 43%.[15] It cannot be a coincidence that Ireland recently held a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.
Notes for the Editors
1) For more information, please contact Lorraine Mullally on 0044 207 197 2333 or 0044 7817 027911.2)
Open Europe is an independent think-tank calling for reform of the European Union. Its supporters include: Sir Stuart Rose, Executive Chairman, Marks and Spencer plc; Sir Crispin Davis, Former Chief Executive, Reed Elsevier Group plc; Sir David Lees, Chairman, Tate and Lyle plc; Sir Henry Keswick, Chairman, Jardine Matheson Holdings Ltd; Lord Sainsbury of Preston Candover KG, Life President, J Sainsbury plc; Sir John Egan, Chairman, Severn Trent plc and Lord Kalms of Edgware, President, DSG International plc.