Vote No to Lisbon Treaty and reject European federal state


Lisbon would turn Ireland into a province or region of an EU superstate and make us citizens of it first rather than of our Republic, writes ANTHONY COUGHLAN.

THE PUSH to turn the European Union into a superpower with many of the features of a federal state goes back to the second World War, when the continental imperial powers - France, Germany, Italy, Holland and Belgium - experienced the trauma of defeat and occupation. After 1945 they found themselves much diminished in a world dominated by the US and the Soviet Union.

One response of their political elites was to decide that if they could no longer be big powers individually on their own, they would seek to be a big power collectively.

The Lisbon Treaty is the constitutional culmination of the federalist project which has been the political dynamic of European integration ever since the Schumann Declaration of 1950 proclaimed the European Coal and Steel Community to be "the first step in the federation of Europe".

The EU commemorates that declaration on May 9th each year - Europe Day. Fifty years later, in 2004, Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt proclaimed the EU constitution to be "the capstone of a European federal state".

When the French and Dutch rejected the EU constitution in their 2005 referendums, the prime ministers and presidents decided to give the EU the constitutional form of a federation indirectly rather than directly. This the Lisbon Treaty does by amending the two existing European treaties instead of replacing them entirely by a formally titled constitution. But the legal-political effect is the same.

The first sentence of the amendment which the Government is asking us to insert into the Irish Constitution provides that the State may ratify the Treaty of Lisbon and "may be a member of the European Union established by virtue of that [Lisbon] treaty".

This sentence shows that the European Union which would be established by the Lisbon Treaty, although having the same name, is constitutionally and politically a different union from that which we are currently members of, which was established by the 1993 Maastricht Treaty.

The second sentence of the constitutional amendment would then give the constitution of this post-Lisbon union supremacy over the Irish Constitution: "No provision of this [Irish] Constitution invalidates laws enacted, acts done or measures adopted by the State that are necessitated by membership of the European Union referred to in subsection 10° of this section, or prevents laws enacted, acts done or measures adopted by the said European Union or by institutions thereof, or by bodies competent under the treaties referred to in this section, from having the force of law in the State."

This post-Lisbon EU would have the constitutional form of a supranational European federation - in effect a state - in which Ireland and the other member states would have the constitutional status of provincial or regional states. From the inside the union would look like something based on treaties between states. From the outside it would look like a state itself. This constitutional revolution in both the union and its member states would be brought about by four legal steps which are set out in the treaty, as they were in the previous EU constitution.

Firstly, Lisbon would give the post-Lisbon union full legal personality separate from and superior to its member states, so that it could act as a state in the international community of states, sign treaties with other states in all areas of its powers, have its own political president, foreign minister (high representative), diplomatic service, embassies and public prosecutor, and make most of our laws.

Secondly, Lisbon would abolish the European Community which we joined in 1973 and which still exists as part of the present EU, and replace it by the new union. Thirdly, it would give the new union a unified constitutional structure so that all areas of government would come within its aegis either actually or potentially. The only major feature of a fully developed federation which the EU would then lack would be the power to force its member states to go to war against their will.

Finally, Lisbon would make us all real citizens for the first time of this post-Lisbon union, rather than our being notional or honorary EU "citizens" as at present. One can only be a citizen of a state and all states must have citizens. As real EU citizens we would owe it the duty of obedience to its laws and loyalty to its authority over and above our obedience and loyalty to Ireland and its Constitution and laws.

We would retain our national Irish citizenship, but our new dual citizenship post-Lisbon would not be citizenship of two different states, but of the federal and regional/provincial levels of one state, as is normal in such classical federations as the US, federal Germany, Switzerland and Canada. The Irish Constitution would remain - just as the various states of the federal US still retain their constitutions - but it would be subordinate to the EU constitution.

One indicator of the constitutional change which Lisbon would bring about is that Members of the European Parliament, who under the present treaties are "representatives of the peoples of the member states brought together in the Community", would become "representatives of the union's citizens" in the post-Lisbon EU.

Another is that the European Council, the summit meetings of prime ministers and presidents, would become an EU institution for the first time, legally bound to forward the interests of the union, not of the national governments or electorates concerned, so that its acts or its failing to act would be subject to judicial review by the EU Court of Justice.

Couple these constitutional changes with the power-political changes which Lisbon would bring about and it is clear that the Lisbon referendum confronts us with a momentous choice. The most important power-political change is that Lisbon would base lawmaking in the post-Lisbon union primarily on population size. This would double Germany's relative voting strength on the Council of Ministers from its present 8 per cent to 17 per cent. It would increase the voting weight of France, Britain and Italy from their present 8 per cent to 12 per cent each and it would halve Ireland's weight from 2 per cent to 0.8 per cent.

As well as being deprived of a voice on the EU Commission, the body which proposes all EU laws, for five years out of every 15, a little noticed feature of Lisbon's provisions is that when it comes to Ireland's turn to have a commissioner, we would lose the right to decide who he or she would be. Henceforth Ireland would be able to make "suggestions" only, for the new commission president to decide.

It is surely a major historical moment by any standard: this attempt to turn four million Irish people and nearly 500 million Europeans into real citizens of a real EU federation, without most of them being aware of it, and without any but us Irish being allowed to have a direct say on it.

If Lisbon is ratified it is bound to lead to major democratic reactions across Europe when people discover that their national independence and democracy have been filched from them. That is why the best course is for us to vote No for our own sakes and for Europe's.

Anthony Coughlan is secretary of the National Platform EU Research and Information Centre -