The only sane course is to say No to this undemocratic formula
OPINION:The Lisbon Treaty is anti-democratic and so is the way it is being ratified, writes DECLAN GANLEY
SIXTEEN MONTHS ago, Ireland was the most popular nation in Europe. As news of our No vote spread, we were cheered across the continent. Bouquets of flowers were handed in to startled receptionists in our embassies. Crowds waved “Thank you Ireland” placards.
Europeans felt that we had cast proxy ballots for them. We had voted as they would have voted – or, in the cases of France and the Netherlands, as they had voted. We had, as they saw it, sided with the peoples of Europe against undemocratic elites.
Unsurprisingly, those elites were less pleased. Danny Cohn-Bendit, the “Red-Green”’ MEP, declared it scandalous that a million Irish people should vote for half a billion Europeans – though he reacted with horror when I suggested that the answer was to give the half billion their vote, too. Nicolas Sarkozy, the president of France, exploded with anger, declaring that the Irish were “bloody fools” who had been “filling their faces at our expense for years”.
I can understand Sarko’s tetchiness. He admitted that the French people, too, would vote against Lisbon. And that, in a nutshell, is what is wrong with the Lisbon Treaty: it is anti-democratic, both in its contents and in the means by which it is being ratified.
I’m a committed European who wants to see this union strengthen and succeed. EU membership has been good for Ireland, and we need to keep it that way, which is one of the reasons that I oppose Lisbon’s dilution of our voting rights and reduction of our voice in Brussels. But no pro-European can be happy about a Brussels elite that advances by stealth, that swats aside dissent, that resents the electorate, that ignores referendums when they go the “wrong” way.
That, though, is exactly what we’re getting. Do you really feel that you know what’s in the Lisbon Treaty? Have you tried to read it? If not, don’t feel bad: that’s how it was designed.
The architect of the European constitution, the former French president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, admitted with admirable frankness that the only change made to that document when it became the Lisbon Treaty was that its text was scrambled to make it deliberately unreadable. Yet we have a line-up of politicians and assorted hangers-on telling us to vote for a treaty that most haven’t read themselves and that I expect many of them would vote No to if they understood what is actually in it.
As one of the few people who has ploughed through the texts of the rejected European constitution and its clone, the Lisbon Treaty – with matchsticks propping up my eyelids – let me tell you that there’s a lot in there that we ought to be seriously concerned about.
It’s worth noting that there’s not one law that could have been made under the draft EU constitution that cannot be made under Lisbon. There’s the dissolution of the European Communities established since the 1957 Treaty of Rome, replaced by the union given “legal personality” and making us citizens of itself “in addition to” our member state citizenship. There’s the reassertion by this new union of the “primacy” in all areas of its laws over Irish law.
There’s the transfer of decision-making power to Brussels in more than 60 key areas of sovereignty. The creation of the unelected European president who will speak on behalf of us all as newly minted union citizens. There’s the establishment of a common foreign, security and defence policy, complete with embassies, diplomatic staff and an EU foreign and security minister.
There’s the creation of a European system of criminal justice, including a pan-European magistracy and a European Public Prosecutor (based, naturally enough, on the Roman law they use on the Continent, not the common law we use in Ireland).
There’s the surrender of multiple national vetoes. The Charter of Fundamental Rights is made legally binding. It opens swathes of our life to the whims of activist Euro-judges, on everything from family law to employment and tax policy. All in a place where you have to be unelected to be able to initiate legislation (only the commission can initiate).
Then, there is a mechanism known as the “ passerelle” or “passageway” that allows the EU to annex new areas of policy by a simple decision of the Council of Ministers, with no need to refer back to the national parliaments or get a treaty change – let alone call a new referendum. That’s why we christened it the “self-amending treaty”.
In other words, if we vote for this treaty, we write a blank cheque: they can change the deal and they don’t actually haveto come back and ask us. Think they will?
So Ireland would give up all this and more and in return we get: nothing we don’t already have. This is the definition of a bad deal. Only what we tolerate for political leadership in this country could come up with such a poor trade. If you’re selling (or should I say “pooling”) sovereignty, at least get something for it. Of course, the pro-treaty people don’t talk about these things. The last thing they want is to get drawn into a discussion about what Lisbon actually contains. They’re much happier with bland slogans about Ireland being strong in Europe (How? How does halving our voting strength while doubling Germany’s make us stronger?), or trying to scare the daylights out of you by pretending it’s got something to do with the economy.
When Ryanair’s often admirable Michael O’Leary was asked at a Yes campaign press conference to give a single example of something in Lisbon that would make things better than they are now, he replied, crossly, “I’m not going to get into explaining the European treaty, go read it yourself”. This from the man who once described Brussels as “the evil empire”. Then again, Michael needs Brussels to lift its block on his takeover of Aer Lingus. No wonder he’s funding a Yes campaign.
Similarly with Intel’s Jim O’Hara: the money his company is contributing is nothing compared to the billion euro fine imposed on it by Brussels, against which it’s appealing. In an effort to curry favour with the Brussels unelect, private enterprises are being reduced to benefice-seeking courtiers.
So it goes on. Brussels-based lobbyists, who are not required by law to register their interests, are firehosing money at the pro-treaty side; Irish MEPs and Eurocrats are campaigning frenziedly for the system that pays their salaries and expenses.
Of course, most advocates of Lisbon are not financially compromised.
All I’m saying is that we should take with a pinch of salt arguments from those who plainly have a personal stake in the project.
Ireland did well, not only because of EU subsidies (which are now, in any event, coming to an end), but because we attracted business to these shores with low taxes and light regulation.
That had nothing to do with Brussels. On the contrary, the EU’s response was to tell Charlie McCreevy (then the minister for finance) to raise taxes – or, in their weird phrase, end “harmful tax competition”. You don’t need me to tell you that the last thing we need is to allow our economy to be regulated by those who resented our success in those years.
The Yes men emptily tout this is about jobs, the economy or our place in Europe. Last week in the pro-Brussels Financial Times, their former Yes advocate Wolfgang Munchau wrote: “This is a pre-crisis treaty for a post-crisis world . . . I, too, find the treaty increasingly hard to defend with a straight face”. A Wall Street Journaleditorial said “Mr Lenihan is peddling phantom terrors to scare the Irish people into voting Yes . . . Preying on . . . fears, in fact, seems to be the chief strategy of the Yes campaign”. It also said “No sane businessman is going to mistake a No vote on Lisbon with a decision to pull out of Europe”.
Mr Justice Frank Clarke of the Referendum Commission called them on the “jobs” bluff last weekend. The main Yes argument has been eviscerated; they’ll just be the last ones to admit it.
Before you vote, ask yourself whether there is a single line in the Lisbon Treaty that would make you or this country, economically or otherwise better off. Are you prepared to pass a point of no return and hand over substantial powers to an undemocratic Brussels forever?
Are you ready to let down hundreds of millions of Europeans who would vote No if they had the chance? Do you want Ireland to roll over and reverse its democratic decision?
We made our choice last year, we made the right choice and we made it on behalf of every European who believes in democracy and freedom. If we caved in now, what would it say about us as a people?
The union does need a new constitutional arrangement; it needs to become a serious world leader, but this can only be built on the bedrock of democracy, something Lisbon, in its content and application, ever so gently euthanises. The only sane course is to say No to this undemocratic formula and send them back to the drawing board. We can function perfectly well under the Nice Treaty for now and we keep our commissioner under the 26+1 arrangement. Let’s have a 25-page constitution/treaty for this union that everyone gets to vote on. History will thank the Irish for it.
And if you’re wondering why our leader Brian Cowen is still running from a debate, perhaps it’s because the points above, and more, are finally dawning upon him.
Declan Ganley is leader of the Libertas group which is campaigning against the Lisbon Treaty