Treaty will give EU too much power

Tue, Apr 29, 2008, 01:00

OPINION:Lisbon should be rejected, according to Sinn Féin, and negotiators sent back to cut a better deal, writes MARY LOU McDONALD

IRELAND'S PLACE is in the European Union. Co-operation with our European partners is essential to meet the challenges of a changing world. We face a huge task in building a democratic Europe capable of meeting those challenges. The debate over the coming weeks is not about whether Ireland should play its role in the EU. That is a given.

You can support the EU and be against the Lisbon Treaty. You can support the EU and want democracy and accountability. You can support the EU and still believe that the Government should have negotiated a better deal for Ireland and the EU.

The Lisbon Treaty gives unaccountable and unelected EU officials greater powers, undercuts public services, does nothing to protect workers' rights, promotes nuclear energy, commits Ireland to a common defence and reduces our voice on the EU stage. It is bad for the developing world and offers token gestures of increased democracy to member state parliaments and citizens. That is why we in Sinn Féin believe the treaty should be rejected.

The Lisbon Treaty gives EU institutions too much power and is a bad deal for Ireland. Citizens of this State are being asked to give the EU additional powers across a range of issues involving international relations, security, trade and economic policy. It will remove vetoes in 68 areas, preventing the Irish Government from blocking laws that are not in Ireland's national interests.

The Lisbon Treaty proposes a reduction in the number of EU commissioners. The result is that this State will be without a commissioner on the body that proposes all EU laws for five out of every 15 years. When the commission is deciding on crucial issues Irish representatives will not even be in the room. This is a real concern for many, particularly the farming community.

Irish people are also being asked to vote for a 50 per cent reduction in our voting strength on the Council of Ministers. While we lose power Germany, France, Britain and Italy will each nearly double their voting strength.

This is very significant because the loss of an Irish place at the commission table and a weakened voting strength at the Council of Ministers is happening at a time when the EU has greater control over more policy areas. This could have serious consequences for Ireland in many sensitive areas of policy, including taxation.

Article 48 of the Lisbon Treaty gives the EU powers to amend its own treaties, without recourse to an intergovernmental conference or a new treaty. This would give the commission and council significant scope to acquire more powers in the future. Article 48 also provides for a shift from unanimity to qualified majority voting in a broad range of areas. Claims that the Irish tax system will not be interfered with by the EU because of current requirements for unanimity must be squared with the fact that the Lisbon Treaty specifically allows for the removal of these same vetoes.

If we hand this power away, Irish citizens will have to trust the current Government and their successors not to hand decision making over taxation to the EU. Already the EU Commission has drafted proposals for introducing a common EU tax base for company taxes, but has postponed its publication until after the Irish referendum. Does this instil confidence that the new EU powers will not be used to bring in EU tax harmonisation?

It is also worth noting that in December 2005 Labour MEP Proinsias De Rossa and the majority of Fine Gael MEPs supported the Bersani Report, which called for common corporation taxes.

Supporters of the treaty tell us that there is no threat to neutrality as a result of this treaty. This couldn't be further from the truth. The last decade has seen this State's neutrality systematically eroded through the use of Irish taxpayers' money to financially back the European Defence Agency, through involvement in the military alliance Partnership for Peace and through participation in EU battle groups and the use of Shannon airport by US troops on their way to war in Iraq. Just look at the record of this Government and also the position of the other parties. I believe that many Irish people would be concerned at Enda Kenny's comments at the launch of their document Beyond neutrality when he said: "Fine Gael does not regret the end of neutrality."

And the Lisbon Treaty goes much further. There is not one mention of the word neutrality in the treaty and no direct acknowledgment of the neutral member states. This is in marked contrast to the references to Nato obligations and Nato compatibility. The failure of the Irish Government to seek a specific reference to neutrality is very worrying.

The triple lock, whereby military interventions abroad require UN authorisation and the consent of the government and Leinster House doesn't prevent involvement in an EU common foreign and security policy, or the creation of an EU minister for foreign affairs who can speak on behalf of all EU member states or the establishment of an EU diplomatic corps.

It doesn't prevent Irish taxpayers' money being used for EU defence purposes. There are three specific clauses in article 28 which will result in more Irish taxpayers' money being spent on Irish and EU military capabilities. Unlike the Irish Government, the Danish government secured an opt-out from the European Defence Agency. There are many other causes of concern in relation to clauses which would have serious implications for the provision of public services and which fundamentally weaken the EU's commitment to tackling global poverty and inequality.

So, in examining the detail of the Lisbon Treaty we can only conclude that the treaty is a bad deal for Ireland and that this Government needs to be told to go back and do better.

A better deal is possible. If the treaty is rejected EU leaders will be brought back to the negotiating table. We then need to ensure that the three Government parties negotiate a better deal. The Government should secure:

• Ireland keeping a permanent EU commissioner and our voting strength on the Council of Ministers being maintained.

• A specific article recognising and protecting neutrality and opt-outs ending support for nuclear power, the European Defence Agency and other contributions to EU military expenditure.

• Working with other EU countries to strengthen democracy and create new provisions promoting public services.

• Specific protocols reserving this State's right to continue making its own decisions on taxation.

• Specific measures exempting health and education from privatisation.

• Specific measures promoting fair trade over free trade.

By rejecting this treaty Ireland can reopen the debate on Europe and ensure that a better deal is secured. Europe deserves better.

Mary Lou McDonald is a Sinn Féin member of the European Parliament for Dublin