Let us support democracy and reject EU superstate

Thu, Aug 13, 2009, 01:00

OPINION:A long Irish tradition favouring neutrality and independence should encourage us to vote No in second vote on Lisbon, writes ROGER COLE

FOR GENERATIONS some Irish people have fought for Irish independence, democracy and neutrality, while others have fought for imperialism. The second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty is just another battle in this conflict and, whatever the outcome, the struggle will continue.

In 1790 in response to a potential war between the Spanish and British empires, Theobald Wolfe Tone wrote a pamphlet The Spanish Warin which he advocated that Ireland should remain neutral. He stated:

“We should then look to our own internal resources, and scorn to sue for protection to any foreign state; we should spurn the idea of moving as a humble satellite round any power, however great, and claim at once, and enforce, our rank among the primary nations of the earth. Then should we have what under the present system we never shall see, a national flag and the spirit to maintain it.”

Tone went on to found the United Irishmen and sought to establish an independent Irish republic.

Other Irish people did not agree, supported imperialism and, with the help of the British union, crushed the United Irishmen. Then, in exchange for exceptionally large suitcases stuffed with cash, they voted to abolish the Irish parliament and support a common foreign security and defence policy within the union.

For decades the Irish political elite gave their total support to the imperialist tradition. Daniel O’Connell supported the Opium war on China, Isaac Butt supported the Crimean War and John Redmond backed the 1914-18 imperialist war to the hilt.

The Young Irelanders and the Fenians maintained the United Irish tradition. When one of the greatest of the Fenians, Michael Collins representing the Republic established 90 years ago, agreed to sign a treaty with the British union, he did so on the grounds that it was a stepping stone to that Republic, not a road back to a new empire. Eamon de Valera, in proposing the adoption of our own Irish Constitution ensured all power derives from the people, which is why we are having the referendum, continuing that tradition.

The Peace and Neutrality Alliance (Pana) in advocating that the EU should be a partnership of independent democratic states, legal equals without a military dimension, and opposing the Lisbon Treaty, are just maintaining the tradition of Tone, Connolly, Collins and de Valera.

But the imperialists defeated in November 1918 just waited in the long grass for their time to come again. With the British union in decline, they simply transferred their allegiance to the emerging EU superstate or “empire” as EU president José Barroso calls it. As we watched the Eurocorps (an EU/Nato military force) raise the EU flag at the opening of the European Parliament, the symbolism of an EU militarised superstate for the “European people” was overwhelmingly obvious.

This is the parliament that voted not to respect the sovereignty of the Irish people and is becoming more and more irrelevant to the peoples of the EU. Participation in elections to the parliament has fallen from 63 per cent in 1997 to 43 per cent in 2009. The peoples of the EU, the Irish, the French, the Dutch, the British and many of the other peoples of the EU just do not want Barroso’s empire.

The EU political elite, having had their EU constitution defeated by the French and the Dutch, just renamed it the Lisbon Treaty, made sure the other peoples of the EU could not vote, and simply expected the Irish people to roll over and die last year.

It was a big mistake. We voted with the French and Dutch. This referendum is not an Irish battle. It is a European battle fought on Irish soil, a battle between the peoples of Europe that support democracy and the elite of Europe that want an empire.

Undeterred by Irish democracy, the elite are simply forcing us to vote again on exactly the same treaty.

That’s their plan. But plans don’t always work. The Germans have come to the rescue. Their constitutional court has ruled that the German parliament should have the final say on EU law, that the German court should have the final say on the interpretation of EU law as it applies to Germany, and that the German army was the army of the German people and cannot be sent abroad without the agreement of the German parliament. The court was essentially making the case that the EU should be a partnership of democratic states, which is what Pana has campaigned for. We just also want it not to have a military dimension, or at the very least, that Ireland opts out of the militarisation process.

The EU political elite supports the treaty because it continues to transfer power away from the people and their own national democratic institutions to themselves and their institutions, the Council of Ministers, the European Court of Justice and the parliament. The German court decision has stopped the elite in their tracks and driven yet another stake through its heart. The second No vote in Ireland will complete the job.

What is needed then is a new treaty that would reflect the aspirations of the kind of Europe the people want via a new convention with representatives elected specifically for that purpose. Pana. as a founder member of the European Peace and Human Rights Network, is part of the European peace movement and would welcome such a process. We have continually advocated a social Europe, a green Europe, instead of a militarised neo-liberal superstate, values that are enshrined in the Lisbon Treaty.

A new convention could draw up a new treaty reflecting our values of a democratic, social and demilitarised Europe.

But will the Yes side, this alliance of born- again Redmondites and William Walker socialists, win? They have terminated Irish neutrality by turning Ireland into a US aircraft carrier. They have destroyed the Irish economy with their commitment to neo-liberalism. They have abolished the National Forum on Europe because they lost the democratic debates it organised. They have ignored the Irish Supreme Court McKenna judgment and seek to destroy the Irish Supreme Court Coughlan judgment. Their corporate media, especially the RTÉ talk shows since last year, have provided little more than a sustained diatribe against Irish national democracy. In such circumstances, it would not be surprising if they win.

But on our side we have democracy. We have the memory of generations of struggle for our national independence. We have the support of the peoples of Europe. If the rich and powerful win then all we will get is more of the same, more wars, and more neo-liberal economics. We need to win. We need to build a new Europe, a democratic Europe, a social Europe, a demilitarised Europe, and a partnership Europe. The only way we will get it is by voting No on October 2nd.

Roger Cole is chair of the Peace and Neutrality Alliance – www.pana.ie