Electorate should not be blackmailed into voting Yes

Wed, Jun 25, 2008, 01:00

Treaty can be amended to avoid a crisis, but the Government will try to scare voters into ratifying Lisbon, writes Vincent Browne.

JUST WATCH it. We are being set up for an insidious piece of blackmail. The debate on the Lisbon Treaty will go on with the usual alarmism, wild exaggerations, gross misrepresentations, false choices and brazen lies until some time in early 2009 and then a blackmail card will be played. We will be told by political and legal heavyweights that a failure to ratify the treaty some time in the first part of 2009 will indeed cause chaos, will indeed bring the EU to a halt. And, for once the alarmism will be right.

Right because of the following. The Nice Treaty required the number of commissioners to be reduced below the number of member states. If that does not happen or if the treaty is not approved, which would amend that part of the Nice Treaty, then indeed there will be a crisis once the new EU Commission comes into office in the second part of 2009. The commission will be invalidly constituted and therefore any decision or initiative taken by this invalid commission will itself be invalid.

And because of the central role of the commission in initiating legislation and in overseeing a variety of functions, including competition policy, the EU will grind to a halt. This argument will be broadly correct, although its protagonists will be unable to resist the usual exaggerations.

But it will be the timing of this intervention that will be the more interesting. That card will not be played now, for playing it now would not work for a reason I will explain. Better leave it in abeyance to create for once, a genuine crisis, and then bludgeon the unsuspecting Irish electorate into compliance.

The reason this card is not a trump card now is simply this. If there is such an impending crisis unfolding in the second half of 2009, the reasonable and responsible response now would be to deal with it by way of a simple and uncontroversial amendment to the existing treaties to the effect: "that the number of commissioners shall be equal to the number of member states", or, if some have a difficulty with that: "that the number of commissioners shall be determined by the European Council acting unanimously".

The process of changing or amending treaties is a protracted one, taking several months, even up to a year. So, to avoid the crisis that is now obviously looming in the second half of 2009, unless, in the meantime the treaty is approved, this simple amendment should be initiated and ratified. It would require a referendum here, but that would hardly be a problem.

Almost certainly this initiative will not be taken. And it won't be taken because it is better to hold it in reserve, as a wicked little piece of blackmail, to brow-beat the electorate into a panic, thereby securing a majority in favour of the treaty next March or April.

However, notice should now be given to the Euro elite - how they hate that depiction! - that the blackmail won't work. That if they hold back from dealing with this impending problem until next spring, so as to intimidate the electorate into acquiescence, it will not work. Let the crisis happen and it will be the Euro elite's responsibility.

Aside from this impending blackmail, it is hardly surprising that as a prelude to intimidating voters into voting Yes in the next referendum on the treaty, politicians should grossly misrepresent the issues at stake, raise alarms and threaten perdition if their advice is not followed next time. But that reputable newspapers and commentators should also engage in a misrepresentation of what is involved, is, well, astonishing.

How, possibly, could journalists write that we are now faced with the choice whether we remain in the European Union or whether we vote Yes to the treaty next time? Or that we face a choice of being left behind, while the rest of Europe proceeds with the treaty, or we change our minds? Indeed, how does the media fall for the alarmist claim that Europe is in crisis because of how we voted, or that the rest of Europe's 500 million people are being held back because of the obduracy of one million Irish? There is no crisis, except in the minds of this self-important Euro elite that is frustrated in their designs by yet another electorate (essentially, the same proposition defeated now by the French, the Dutch and the Irish people). The European Union has been working fine over the last four years with 25 and then 27 member states under the existing decision-making mechanisms. There is no crisis, aside from the one mentioned above.

As for us being expelled from the EU or forced to leave, it can't happen without the Irish people themselves in a referendum voting explicitly for that to happen. Neither can the others proceed without us unless, again, the Irish people themselves in a referendum vote explicitly for this to happen. Nor can there be a two-speed Europe without our explicit approval.

We were assured solemnly that the Government and other governments "respected and accepted the sovereign decision of the Irish people" in voting No. How then is there any talk of another referendum? How can a decision be "respected and accepted" and then disrespected and not accepted? Another reason to vote No next time.