Saying No would give us great leverage in renegotiation of any subsequent treaty

Tue, Jun 3, 2008, 01:00

On the basis of a risk/benefit analysis, we should reject Lisbon, writes Kathy Sinnott

I HAVE WRITTEN many, many pages on the Lisbon Treaty over the past four years. I have at various times spoken of the risk of handing over increased control of our economy and resources when we rely heavily on them to pay for our social services.

I have pointed out that European competitiveness is not always the same as Irish competitiveness. I have spoken about the problems of giving wholesale power to the largest countries in Europe at the expense of the smaller countries and of the fact that we will be leaving the door ajar on issues such as euthanasia for the European Court of Justice to rule on.

I have talked about the tragedy of giving power over Ireland to Brussels within living memory of our forefathers' great sacrifices in gaining our independence.

I have detailed that the European Union is still run on a structure from the common market days which was only ever meant to administer trade agreements - and that, of the four primary institutions of the EU, only the weakest in terms of legislative power, the European Parliament, is directly elected.

But I have probably talked most about the EU's lack of democracy.

You cannot give the kind of power we are giving to the EU under Lisbon with only a token nod to democracy. Democracy means rule by the people and this isn't it. Europe will only really flourish where there is democracy, and this treaty is another move further away from it - not just for Ireland, but for all the nations of the EU.

It is axiomatic that to whatever degree you pool sovereignty you also give it away. This, the cornerstone of the Lisbon Treaty, is not being explained by those promoting it: the EU, most political parties and the Government. Due to their lack of forthrightness and their selectivity in promoting the treaty, they are reduced to obfuscation and reacting to the arguments of the No campaign.

You can forgive them their lack of clarity. Since the treaty is so unclear, they probably do not understand it very well themselves, which naturally makes it very difficult to sell.

To inform the electorate, I have placed the Consolidated Reader-Friendly Edition of the Lisbon Treaty in pdf form on my website. This version clearly marks what is added to the treaties by Lisbon and has an extensive index to aid all who want to study it and inform themselves. It can be downloaded at www.kathysinnott.ie

Recently, I have been thinking about why anyone in Ireland would want this treaty. I have spoken at many events at which those on the Yes side seem to spend their time arguing that Lisbon is not as bad as everyone says. They always go on to talk about the good things Ireland has gained from Europe and almost inevitably tell us we must vote Yes to be at the "heart of things" in Europe.

The Yes posters I see everywhere say "Good for Ireland, Good for Europe". But I keep coming back to the same prickly question. Why? Why is it good for Ireland? Why is it good for Europe? In answer, I see arguments for voting No everywhere, but where are the arguments for voting Yes?

There is a principle called the risk/benefit ratio. Using this tool, we can assess the possible risk that an action poses versus the benefit available.

If we apply this to the Lisbon Treaty we can see that whatever Yes supporters say there is substantial risk involved in a treaty this indecipherable - even if only from the inevitable clarifications that will be required of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). This is leaving aside all the other potential problems in the treaty.

So now we try to balance this against the benefit . . . what benefit? I have yet to hear a convincing argument for the treaty itself.

Continuing down this same path, I would encourage you to apply this same tool to voting No. What is the risk? If we vote No, things stay as they are. There is no change, no alteration of the status quo. Just like France and the Netherlands, who voted Non and Nee three years ago, we cannot be kicked out of Europe. And the treaty cannot go ahead without us.

And what is the benefit in voting No? We put ourselves in the driving seat in the renegotiation of the treaty which must inevitably follow. In the event of a No vote, we have minimal risk but maximum benefit. In the event of a Yes vote, we have maximum risk and very little - if any - benefit.

So even by risk/benefit analysis we should vote No. And, if we do, Europe will have to offer us serious incentives if it wants to pass the treaty. As the only obstacle to adoption, we will wield enormous leverage in any renegotiation.

So if we, as a people, do exercise our democratic prerogative and vote No, what should we ask for with this leverage? Real protection for farmers; restoration of our fisheries; a guarantee that the treaty will not supersede or negate the Irish Constitution; a guarantee against tax harmonisation of both rate and base; protections against ECJ judgments like Laval and Ruffert that would cause serious damage to workers; the freedom to make responsible but sensible regulations for businesses; direct election of commissioners; transparency in all work undertaken by the commission; and maintenance of the current favourable balance of voting strengths between big and small countries.

Or, much better, we could start from scratch and draft a new and understandable treaty which gives the EU real democracy and protects the sovereignty of nations: a treaty based on human rights which puts people above bureaucracy, which improves the European project rather than damages it.

These are just a few suggestions of what we might ask for in negotiations after a No vote. Any one of these would improve this hapless treaty and finally give it what it sorely lacks: a redeeming feature.

Kathy Sinnott is an MEP for the European constituency of Ireland South