Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Ireland Votes On Lisbon Treaty

Emotional Blackmail At Its Finest?

We in Ireland will be at the forefront of Europe for one day tomorrow as we vote on the Lisbon Treaty. No other country in the EU has had or will have a public referendum on the issue. On 12 June Ireland will be a bellwether for all of Europe.

So what's it all about? Why are posters lining our streets threatening us with doom and gloom? Here I will naively attempt to explicate matters.

The Treaty has been worked on for seven years in an attempt to streamline EU processes. It's long and complicated and requires a Masters in European politics to understand fully. (I do not exaggerate.)

I have a copy of it and let me say that if you suffer from insomnia it's just the ticket. I will try to summarise here, using various secondary sources for guidance. If you are a fast reader you'd better get started... the full text is 336 pages.

What The Treaty Says

The European Central Bank and the Euro become official. I'm not too sure how unofficial they are now; Euro buy me pints and the bank tells me how much interest I can charge on overdue bills. This change seems largely semantic.

The European Council is made a distinct body from the Council of the European Union (confusing terms, huh?). The European Council have no executive or legislative power and can meet in private; the Council of the European Union are the legislative branch of government, made up of various ministers, and will (for the first time) be obligated to meet in public whenever anything important is going down. This change seems healthy.

The European Commission is the executive branch of the EU. Currently each member state has a commissioner. In order to streamline the workings, smaller nations will have Commissioners on a rotating basis in blocks of five-year terms. Ireland will go from having a Commissioner all the time to having one only 10 years out of 15. This is a sticking point. If this wasn't in here a lot of "No" votes would become "Yes".

The term of the president of the The European Council will increase, to avoid the civil servants having to teach newbies the ropes every six months.

The limit on the number of member states is removed, allowing the EU to expand to more countries. I have long been saying that Canada should join the EU; now maybe that will be possible.

Two current posts are merged to create a single foreign affairs position. Whatever.

A new allowance is made for citizens' petitions to the EU, although these require 1 million signatures, something not so easy to achieve in smaller countries. But I'm all for citizens' rights, no matter where you place the apostrophe.

The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union is made binding. Before it was just seen as a good thing.

A new declaration on climate change is included. All this tells us is that the ministers had a screening of Gore's film.

Instead of requiring unanimity, The European Council will use a voting procedure that works on a majority of members and a majority of population. This I am not so sure about, but it does seem to preserve a democratic process.

The powers of the European Parliament would be increased somewhat. But since they are elected this is not damaging to democracy.

There is some call for a common EU defence agreement but this would only happen if everyone votes for it. I'm not getting paranoid about this any time soon.


If That's All It Says Why Is Everyone So Upset?

The campaign around the referendum has been full of denunciations on both sides. While all the major political parties are in favour of the Treaty, about the only reason they seem to present for adopting it is that it will "make things more efficient". Whenever I hear language like that I remember that the most efficient form of government is a dictatorship. Often what is best for the preservation of individual and collective rights is less efficient government, one which acknowledges the knotty truths of human interaction.

Paired with this carrot the "Yes" side have a stick: vote against the Treaty and Ireland will be marginalized in Europe. Since there is absolutely no provision or mechanism for this to happen, this threat is a hollow one indeed. In my eyes this diminishes the legitimacy of the "Yes" side considerably.

On the "No" side we have Sinn Féin, who are ultra-nationalists living some time in the past (as much as several lifetimes). They have been against every single EU link; indeed, they seem to dislike any relationship Ireland might have with the outside world. This despite how much the connections have improved Ireland, both financially and otherwise. I say this in all integrity, having befriended at least one poet of strong Sinn Féin tendencies.

One of the grass-roots complaints is that the Treaty would allow abortion. For those that don't know, Ireland has long had a ban on abortion, encouraging pregnant mothers (generally young and unwed) to flee to the UK and elsewhere for medical procedures. I have a pet theory that this Not In My Back Alley attitude drove airline ticket sales to the extent that budget airlines like Ryanair became viable. My theory on how this ties in with the rather Draconian Ryanair baggage policy I leave for another article. (Non-Irish readers are now thoroughly confused, no doubt.)

In any case I can't seem to find anything in the Treaty that would threaten local abortion laws. And apparently neither can the Catholic Church.

The various socialist and workers' parties are against the Treaty. Here is what the Socialist Party has to say on the issue. Though I am sympathetic to their concerns for increased militarisation and diminution of workers' rights, their argument on the first point is pure hypothesis and on the second an extrapolation based on one court decision that was largely technical in nature. Besides, such efforts would be best directed closer to home. Domestic companies currently exploit migrant workers, Lisbon or no.

Likewise I am in agreement with the Socialist Workers' Party's opposition to warmongering, but find their statement that the Treaty "commits the EU to establishing a common defense at some point in the future" to be wrong. Future votes would have to occur in which any country can say "no". Furthermore they write that "Articles 28 and 188 of the treaty explicitly advance the project of a more militarized Europe" but these articles are on different subjects. Either I'm reading the wrong document or they are.

Instead, it is Article 42 that is the "Provisions On The Common Security And Defence Policy". But that states that unanimity is required for any decision, and that such actions shall be in line with the United Nations Charter. So nothing much new there.

Some of the persuasion tactics used by the "No" side get much worse. Out in the country I have seen posters saying "People Died For Your Freedom". This is taking emotional blackmail to an unbelievable level. How stupid to these people think we are? (Answers on a postcard to the usual address.)

I must however commend organisations like Libertas for two things: keeping the idea of debate alive in this country and providing the text of the Treaty instead of hiding it away. Their "8 Reasons to Vote No to Lisbon" is the most cogent summary I have found.

Any Conclusions?

I am still deciding how my anarchist leanings and dislike of statism and centralisation mesh with the nationalist versus supra-nationalist bent of the EU. I can see why Ireland would be disappointed by losing representation in the EU but is it not fairer to award greater representation to larger population? Many of the other fears (of militarisation for example) are just that... fears with very real groundings in the way the world works, but very little relevance to this particular Treaty.

It's all so complicated. But I hope this article has helped clarify some of the main points.

Please make your best choice and vote one way or another. Apathy suits no-one.

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1 comment:

Shay said...

Good summation Robin - very fair!

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