Ministers' meeting a charade, says new MEP Higgins


LISBON TREATY:MOVE OVER Declan Ganley, the No to Lisbon campaign has a new champion in Brussels.

Incoming Socialist Joe Higgins MEP marked his arrival yesterday in typically eloquent fashion, describing the EU summit as an “elaborate charade” and accusing Taoiseach Brian Cowen of “throwing dust in the people’s eyes” by peddling worthless guarantees.

Displaying some of the rhetorical skills honed during his years as a TD in the Dáil, Mr Higgins told an audience at The Centre think tank “not a comma” would be changed in the Lisbon Treaty before the Irish people were forced to vote in a second referendum.

“What is at question here is the right of the Irish people to say No,” said Mr Higgins.

He was speaking in the course of a two-hour debate on Lisbon which featured the pro-treaty German MEP Elmar Brok.

When tackled by an European Commission official about the public’s lack of knowledge about Lisbon and the tendency to use referendums to beat the Government, Mr Higgins did not yield any ground.

“It is highly arrogant in the level of some in the EU to say the Irish people didn’t know what they were voting for.

“We had several months of debate on the matter. The results weren’t in before they were arranging a second referendum,” he said.

Waving a copy of the treaty before the audience, he alleged that public services such as education and health could end up being privatised if the treaty came into force.

“The decision moves from unanimity to qualified majority voting under Lisbon,” said Higgins, demonstrating that he may be the new kid on the block but that he knows his Eurojargon.

This claim drew a robust response from one of Ireland’s most senior commission officials, David O’Sullivan, director general of the commission’s trade directorate.

“Nothing in the treaty changes the way the EU approves a world trade deal,” said Mr O’Sullivan.

“I fundamentally disagree with you on that. I am sorry,” replied Mr Higgins, who later told The Irish Times he would be joining the European United Left group in the parliament. “I don’t much like the name. It sounds like that sticky stuff on the ground ,” he confided.

So will he lead the No campaign in a second referendum?

“There are lots of different groups who will oppose the treaty,” said Mr Higgins.

He also stated that the demise of Mr Ganley meant a narrower range of issues would define the debate.

At the end of the debate, Mr O’Sullivan made another valiant attempt to change Mr Higgins’s mind about the treaty. But this Socialist wasn’t for turning.

He is due in Strasbourg for the first session of the new parliament on July 15th.

The second round in the Lisbon bout starts there.