Voters in the United Kingdom are set to vote remain or leave on June 23 – a momentous decision that could not only change the face of modern Europe but have far reaching global consequences.
But before the critical Brexit campaign, European countries have opted for the referendum route to decide issues of national importance.
1. Greece rejects bailout conditions
Greek Prime Minister Alex Tsipras took the surprise decision of holding a snap referendum, asking voters to decide whether to accept or reject the terms of an international bailout for his debt-ridden country. On July 5, 2015, 61% of Greek voters resoundingly rejected the austerity measures that accompanied the bailout package, sending Greece back to the negotiating table and fuelling doubts over its stay in the eurozone. This was the only referendum in modern Greek history that was not concerned with the form of government.
2. Scotland decides against becoming an independent country
Scotland has long grappled with the question of becoming an independent country and exiting the United Kingdom. On September 18, 2014, the question was put to vote through a referendum, with then Scottish first minister Alex Salmond batting for independence. But Scottish voters rejected the demand, with 55.3% voting “no”. The referendum witnessed a record turnout of 84.6%, the highest for any such vote in the UK.
3. Referendums for the formation of the European Union
The history of the European Union is littered with referendums. The Maastricht Treaty of 1992, commonly called the pillar of the EU as it led to Europe’s integration and the creation of the euro, was ratified only after multiple referendums by member states. Denmark and Ireland held two referendums each before the terms of the treaty were accepted by their people. In September 1992, a referendum in France only narrowly supported the ratification of the treaty, with 51.05% voting in favour.
The same fate befell the Treaty of Lisbon in 2007, which amended two treaties that formed the constitutional basis of the EU. The treaty was signed by member states on December 13, 2007 but did not come into effect till 2009, because the Irish electorate rejected it in 2008. They reversed the decision through a second referendum in 2009, after securing a number of concessions.
4. Northern Ireland chooses to remain a part of the United Kingdom:
In 1998, Northern Ireland held a referendum to gauge public support for the Good Friday Agreement, an important political development. The agreement spelt out the region would remain part of the United Kingdom until a majority of the people of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland wished otherwise. A decisive 71.1% voted in favour of the agreement, while a simultaneous referendum held in the Republic of Ireland produced an even larger majority of 94.4%.
The 1998 vote built on the sovereignty referendum of March 8, 1973, when Northern Ireland first decided to remain a part of the UK and not join the Republic of Ireland.
5. Independence referendums
The borders of Europe, as we know them today, have been determined through referendums. Many European countries gained their independence from colonial powers by holding public referendums. In 1905, Norway decided to become independent from Sweden. In 1918, Iceland voted to secede from the state of Denmark.
Watch | Why India doesn’t want Brexit