The EU’s Democratic Deficit and Repeated Referendums in Ireland


The European Union (EU) was initially conceived by political elites—prime ministers or foreign ministers such as Konrad Adenauer, Winston Churchill, and Robert Schuman—but the project required public buy-in in order to be fully codified in domestic political institutions. In some countries, such as Ireland, this institutional codification required that the public explicitly endorse key EU treaties in referendums. In this research project, we focus, in particular, on the Irish experience in ratifying the Treaties of Nice and Lisbon—treaties that enabled the EU’s institutional expansion.

We examine how the rejection of these treaties in referendums was framed and countered by Irish and European political leaders. It explores the implicit political concepts used by leaders as the planned and mobilized support for the previously rejected treaties in repeated referendums. These repeated referendums were successful in both cases, and the treaties were ratified. We also consider the extent to which the planning of these repeated referendums were reflections of and contributed to the EU’s democratic deficit, where popular preferences have difficulty in being reflected in political institutions.

The importance of the dynamics studied in this project became even more clear after the 2016 Brexit vote, where 52% of UK voters opted to leave the EU—with some voting to leave explicitly citing issues regarding the democratic legitimacy of EU institutions. In the case of Brexit, a repeated referendum was not held, perhaps because doing so would have reinforced the very sense of democratic deficit that contributed to the “leave” result in the first place.


Connor T. Jerzak. The EU's Democratic Deficit and Repeated Referendums in Ireland. International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society, 27(3): 367-388, 2014.
  title={The EU's Democratic Deficit and Repeated Referendums in Ireland},
  author={Jerzak, Connor T.},
  journal={International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society},

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