Saturday, June 14, 2008

27 - 1 = 0

It's just as well an upside down tricolour (the normal distress mode) is not noticeable. Unfortunately the same can't be said for the EU flag!

What was the Lisbon Treaty?
It was essentially housekeeping to allow the Union to function effectively with 27 Member States. However, it also involved some changes which were significant enough for the Government to opt for a constitutional amendment in Ireland.

     Significant changes
  • rotation of Commissioners
  • voting base/shares in Council
  • move to QMV (integration of 2nd & 3rd pillars)
  • new procedure for amending the Treaty
  • incorporation of Human Rights Charter
  • strengthening of EU's legal personality
    Not in Treaty
  • abortion
  • direct tax harmonisation
  • mutual defence pact overriding "neutrality"
  • conscription
  • undermining of minimum wage

Who is to blame for Ireland's NO

Successive governments since 1972 who presented the EU as essentially a cash cow - from Paddy Hillery's "de CAP and de LONG RUNS" to de Nortside Teeshocks "LOONEYS 'N' LOO LAHS". It was too much of an effort (intellectually and otherwise) to communicate the broader motivation behind the project: prevention of war; more rational use of resources at a European level; counterweight to the USA; spread of democracy and rule of law within and without the Union (eg by promise of membership to the east), etc.

No surprise then that when a new Treaty doesn't bring more cash, and when we are turning into a net contributor rather than a net beneficiary, the people have no further use for the project.

The EU is frequently blamed for unpopular government decisions, instead of the rationale for the decision and its place in the overall project being put forward. We have, explicitly or implicitly, had a hand in every decision taken since we joined and it is irresponsible, and counterproductive in the longer term, to "blame" others. This contributes to the "them foreigners and us Irish" attitude which led to such posters as "No to Foreign Control" during the campaign being taken seriously. Divil the bit of "pooled sovereignty" in evidence when we're giving out about EU decisions!

There has surely been a serious "democratic deficit" in Ireland's involvement with the Union but most of this has been within the country and under our own control. In Council negotiations, for example, the Danes have for years been entering "scrutiny reserves" - these effectively meant that they were witholding consent to whatever proposal was on the table until they (government and parliament) had a chance to digest it and come to a considered view on it.

The Treaty was actually tackling what remained of a "democratic deficit" at the European level.

The YES campaign started too late. Instead of presenting a negotiating triumph to the public and forcing the opposition to challenge it, they let the opposition sow the seeds, largely unhindered, and were then on the backfoot defending the invisible.

The YES parties did not get the vote out. Much of the NO vote was, no doubt, an informed NO, but there were a lot of people who voted NO on the basis that they did not understand what was involved and were not prepared to commit to the unknown. The lackluster and defensive campaign of the YES side, combined with the usual complacency, meant that many of the potential YES voters stayed at home. Some voters stayed at home on the basis that the issues had not been sufficiently explained to enable an informed decision to be made. One of my intelligent relations fell into this category.

Other leaders across the EU who showed, or were reported without challenge as showing, their utter contempt for the democratic process, boasting of the obscurity of what was being put to the people, and, in some cases implicitly criticising the Irish decision to put the matter to a referendum.

All the elites for their complacency about Europe and their craven obeisance to an increasingly paranoid and immoral USA. The EU was supposed to be a counterweight to the USA in more than just economic terms but it seems to be knuckling under to the wilder demands of the current neo-con régime.

The actual loonies and loo lahs who blatantly lied their way through the campaign in a way reminiscent of the red scare tactics of the establishment in my youth.

At the beginning of the campaign I had more or less made up my mind to vote NO based on a sense of outrage at the sometimes dismissive and sometimes threatening attitude of those who would be leading us under this project if passed. On reflection, having read up on the Treaty (to a certain point), and given my broader empathy with the European project, I decided that voting NO would be cutting off my nose to spite my face so I voted YES.

There is an arrogance at the heart of the project which needs to be fought from within. It should not, however, put us off a project which is worthy in itself.

What are the consequences of the NO vote?

    for Europe

If matters remain as they are now, the project, in the longer term, stands a good chance of paralysis and increasing acrimony and even disintegration. It is worth remembering here that the gap between the elites and those they represent is widespread throughout the community. The French and the Dutch rejected the constitution. Other countries are not having referendums on the Treaty but the opinion polls do indicate a significant gap.

Alternatively, and most likely, some form of enhanced cooperation between the willing will emerge and the project will inch forward with Ireland on the sideline.

    for Ireland

However much we may try to console ourselves that we took a stand against the behemoth in the interest of the small folk, any political capital we had accumulated in Brussels, and further eastwards, and there was a lot, is now gone and we are likely to be increasingly effectively marginalised.

The rules as written will be observed, but as we often point out ourselves when boasting about how we punch above our weight, the real world also works on influence and alliances. We may now see that more clearly in operation from the outside. We have effectively deprived our oft lauded diplomats of that edge which they have used so well up to now on our behalf.

One of the first causes to suffer will be the ridiculous Irish language project which I have commented on earlier. This depended on goodwill, not only from the Commission, but from all the Member States. Stádas will now simply become Stad, cut off in its primeval prime.

This will likely be the least of our worries, however. The Government are now being sent back by the people to Brussels to "renegotiate a more favourable Treaty". It is hard to see how this can be done when all our concerns were actually covered in the one we have just rejected.

This is more than the rejection of a single treaty. It is a flock of political chickens coming home to roost.

I am reminded of an ancient German proverb which I was introduced to in the 1960s when we were still knocking at the door of the Common Market trying to get in. My failing recollection and ungrammatical German renders it thus:

Das Leben ist wie eine Hühnerleiter, kurz und beschissen.

Time to fly the coop!


Merry Loolah said...


You have covered most of it and I agree with you.

You forgot to mention that various Governments down the years, but FF in particular, have seen the EU as a chance to dish out political smarties at home rather than as an opportunity to contribute to the European project.

Also, during the Lisbon campaign, it seems that many political candidates used the posters to promote their own image rather than to inform or influence the voters on the issues at hand.

Do I hear the Eurocock crow thrice?

Póló said...

Good on ya, Merry.

It strikes me that I was too easy on the Commission in the original post. Over the years they have pursued some of their own wild ambitions to the detriment of the overall project.

I recollect a time when they wanted to be bankers (for the status, no doubt) when they already had the EIB, but rather than trying to extend its functions they tried to set up a banking side of their own. That caused a lot of problems for a lot of people and they had to face reality in the end and leave it to the EIB.

They also overdid the control function in areas such as regional funding. They eventually realised that they were imposing controls which were resource intensive to implement and then promptly dumped them on the Member States under the subsidiarity chapter of the Eurotheology handbook.

I'm sure we could go on and on, carefully avoiding mention of straight bananas and the handmade variety.

The proof of the pudding is that they are now trying to achieve a thing called "better regulation" in the course of which they are having to repeal a lot of their original rubbish and rationalise the rest of it.

So I don't think they are really in any position to be critical of the Irish NO to which they have made no small contribution over the years.

Froggle said...

We now have to put up with this idiot Frenchman telling us how to circumvent our constitution.

That is, apparently, how things are dealt with in France when the going gets inconvenient for the nouveau régime.

Póló said...

re my comment above on the Commission pulling in its horns, how's this for a bendy banana.

Póló said...

So, lack of knowledge and understanding of the Lisbon Treaty were the principle reasons for their vote, cited by those who voted no, according to a survey commissioned by the government.

It doesn't necessarily follow that, had they understood it better, they would all have voted yes, but there was clearly a potential yes vote out there which the yes side failed to deliver.

The results of the survey bear out the analysis in the main post above.

They are a damning indictment of an establishment, and more particularly a government, which is frighteningly complacent about the EU.

dancer said...

Lack of knowledge, definitely.
I wasn't one of those who believed rumours about abortion and conscription. But I am concerned about any further dilution of sovereignty and neutrality. And the never-ending push to turn the world into a handful of major power blocks.

But at the end of the day, I really had no idea what I'd be voting for (or against.) Hence I didn't vote at all.