Three reasons to say No

The outcome of the Irish referendum on the Lisbon treaty, 2 October, remains uncertain. In the Sunday Business Post, veteran journalist Vincent Browne calls for a No vote, not on points traditionally associated with those hostile to the controversial treaty, but on the centralisation of powers, particularly those of foreign policy, that would follow with ratification.

Published on 16 September 2009 at 12:03

The deceivers are out again. “Ireland needs Europe”, “Yes to Jobs, Yes to Europe,” pro-Lisbon posters declare. Taoiseach Brian Cowen says the other EU member states would inaugurate a ‘‘two-speed Europe’’ if we voted No again. ‘‘It’s in Ireland’s interests to be at the core of Europe”.

He and others rage about disinformation in last year’s No campaign side about conscription, abortion and tax. Those messages may have been bogus, but so are those from the Yes side. What has the treaty to do with whether Ireland needs Europe or not? The false implication is that, if we vote No again, we will be rejecting not just the treaty, but the EU. What has “Yes to Jobs, Yes to Europe” to do with Lisbon? Again, it is a sham message suggesting that, if we vote No, we will be voting against jobs and Europe.

The myth of a two-speed Europe

On the two-speed threat, it’s impossible for the EU to change the rules and opt for an inner core to proceed towards further integration, leaving an outer core in a slow lane. It cannot be done, not without us voting Yes to a treaty approving it. The main point of the Lisbon Treaty was to streamline decision-making in the EU at a time when it was becoming so large that the old decision-making mechanisms were too cumbersome to work effectively – or so it was thought.

There was also a concession to concerns about the democratic nature of the EU. National parliaments were given a role on EU legislation, and the European Parliament was to be given more competence. But we now find, after five years of working with the old rules, that the EU works just fine and those earlier apprehensions were misplaced. As for the democratic issue, the main problem remains. The Council of Ministers, the main decision-making body, is unaccountable.

The changes also proposed the end of the circus of the rotating presidency, where every member state gets the EU presidency for six months. 27 member states means that every state has to wait 13-and-a-half years to get its six months of power. There are obvious logistical problems with this, and some states are better at hosting the presidency than others. Also, there was the “problem” of member states attempting to run their own agendas while they held the presidency.

A single foreign policy would have led to Iraq

It seemed sensible enough to end that and have just a single presidency – a single president of the European Council holding the position for five years. Allied to that was the idea of having just one person representing Europe on foreign affairs. It seemed better than having three people – a commissioner; the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy; and the foreign minister of the country that holds the presidency. But these “sensible” ideas have dangers. The rotating presidency, while messy, did decentralise power in the EU from Brussels. A five-year president, by definition, would have to be the creature of the large powers (Germany and France) and would pursue their agenda. If we’d had a single foreign minister, expressing a single voice on EU foreign policy at the time of the 2003 Iraq invasion, we would all have been embroiled up to our necks in that criminal enterprise – not necessarily militarily, but politically.

So where is the case for the treaty? It boils down to us not annoying our partners in the EU at a time when we need their forbearance to ensure the ECB continues to give us credit. But is it really true that the ECB would withhold funds from us as a penalty for voting No again? And doesn’t it say something about the case for voting Yes that it degenerates into blackmail and nothing else?

Mumbo jumbo

There are strong reasons to vote No. First: the Lisbon Treaty is a con job, deliberately constructed to deprive electorates in other member states from having a say on the changes it proposes. A redraft of the EU constitution that was rejected by the French and Dutch, it was reformulated in unintelligible mumbo-jumbo to allow governments in these and other member states to argue that there was no need to have the electorates decide; parliamentary endorsement would suffice. Now the Irish electorate is being asked again to vote for a treaty that is unintelligible. On that basis alone, we should vote No.

Secondly: for the first time, the treaty incorporates into the EU’s institutional structure the European Defence Agency, whose primary role is to help the European armaments industry prosper – in other words, to assist in the refinement of the instruments of killing. EU fans often tell us how the organisation ensured peace in Europe for 50 years. How, then, can the incorporation of the dogs of war into its institutional structure be justified? Thirdly and lastly the treaty seeks to centralise power in the EU. We should not have that.

Referendum campaign

Ganley reloads

Will Ireland say Yes or No to the troubled Lisbon Treaty on October 2nd? Opinion polls have been contradictory to say the least. On 4th September the Irish Times sent the EU into shock with the revelation that only 46% of the electorate intended to vote Yes on referendum day. A little over a week later, a Sunday Business Post poll announced a somewhat different result, with 62% in favour of the text. No doubt it is on the findings of the former that Declan Ganley has once more re-launched himself into the anti-Lisbon fray after his failure to win a seat in June’s European elections and subsequent withdrawal from political life. The Libertas leader explained his return has been prompted by the “fallacies” propagated by the Yes side, and has warned that the treaty spells “catastrophe” for the nation’s already troubled economy. The consensus, however, is that Ireland will seek shelter from the crisis in the bosom of the EU. As Simon Tisdall in the Guardian notes, Ireland’s recent “transformation from Celtic Tiger to timid puss” means that “europragmatism is likely to trump euroscepticism this time round.”

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