McKenna's case not a Euromyth

 

Answering Euromyths is almost an industry in the Commission. They range from rules on the curvature of bananas to the directive harmonising the size of condoms.

And some myths seem to have the longevity of genetically modified vegetables. No matter how much exposure they get and how much the Commission mythbusters try and flatten them they bounce back.

That is the case with one of the great quotes from the former President of the Commission, Mr Jacques Delors, cited on every No platform from Donegal to Waterford during the Maastricht referendum and now resuscitated for Amsterdam.

Mr Delors is supposed to have supported proposals to reinforce the defence dimension of the EU with the contention that Europe had to prepare itself for the resource wars of the 21st century. This is wonderful ammunition for those who would portray European integration as being driven by a secret imperialist agenda, hell bent on plundering the Third World of its raw materials.

The trouble is that Mr Delors never said any such thing, as his staff in the Commission insisted in a press release in 1992.

In a statement last night, Mr Delors said the quote was "completely unfounded. Never, either during my time as President of the Commission or since, have I put forward this, or a similar proposition".

And, despite repeated requests to those who use the quotation - notably never between direct quote marks - no-one has been able to substantiate the source.

That is not to say that it is not legitimate to believe in imperialist plots - Europe's history is littered with them - but simply, that enlisting Mr Delors to prove it will not wash.

And while we're in denial mode, let me also report that the spokeswoman for the Commission President, Mr Jacques Santer, has formally denied that any Commission official lobbied the Irish Government over the date of the referendum on Amsterdam (supposedly to pre-empt the Danes who vote on the 28th). It is to be hoped that this currently popular myth will now die unless substantiated by some hard evidence. Fat chance!

Another Euromyth that also has to be nailed is that every word emanating from the lips of that self-confessed arch-troublemaker, Patricia McKenna MEP has to be taken with a pinch of salt. Take the matter of her recent complaint about the £150,000 of EU money received by the European Movement (EM) for an information campaign in the runup to the referendum.

The money is strictly conditional on its not being used for the purpose of advocating any particular outcome to the vote.

The EM appears likely to be able to prove its claim that its partisan billboard advertisements are paid for by an entirely separate source of funding. Its audited accounts will certainly clear the matter up and any misapplied EU money will be recoverable by the Commission.

It is on slightly shakier grounds when it asserts that it meets its obligation of impartiality by organising public meetings at which the No case is represented either from the platform or from the floor. The floor is hardly parity of esteem.

And the European Movement is on even shakier grounds in asserting that the publications it has funded from the grant, a series of questions-and-answers booklets in Irish and English, are merely informational.

Mr Alan Dukes TD, chairman of the EM, in responding to the McKenna claims this week insisted that "our question-and-answer publication does not advocate a Yes vote in any part of the text".

True, but there are many ways to skin a cat.

Take the publication European Common Foreign and Security Policy Your Questions Answered. Its text, although not containing a call for a Yes vote, consists of a series of assertions and categorical responses to questions that leave the reader with few doubts about what he or she is expected to do.

The pamphlet asserts the "necessity" of beefing up the Union's security capacity after the Yugoslav "failure".

"The ambition of European foreign policy was not matched with success," it insists. Whose ambition? Certainly not those who fear Europe's "imperialist" intentions. Their fears are not mentioned.

And "the new powers assigned to the EU by the Amsterdam Treaty do not in any way affect Ireland's traditional policy of military neutrality as there are no provisions in the treaty for a mutual defence commitment". In any way? Indeed?

Are we talking legally or politically? In both cases there is an argument put up by those who oppose the treaty that the treaty does indeed take Ireland further down the road towards a collective defence or a European Army.

They may be wrong, but this is the main argument in this State against the treaty and it finds no articulation in this pamphlet. And must we accept a definition of neutrality that is limited to the idea of excluding mutual self-defence agreements?

In my view that definition certainly helps to focus the debate - but the pamphlet simply takes the definition for granted. It is as if there is no other possibility.

I could go on. The highlighted quotes from politicians are all without exception from supporters of the treaty, the pamphlet fails even to acknowledge concerns about the nuclear-deterrent-based strategy of the Western European Union . . . .

Ms McKenna says this is clearly advocacy and it is difficult not to take her point while acknowledging that the EM's crime is probably more one of omission than a deliberate attempt to thwart the funding purpose.

But the row serves well to show the pickle we have got ourselves into through the Government's unduly restrictive interpretation of the McKenna judgment.

Far better just to give money to each side of the argument to publicise their case and let the public judge them in the raw, than to force political opponents into artificial straightjackets of supposed objectivity or to inflict on the rest of us the inanity of the Referendum Commission's advertisement campaign.