Source: Sunday Business Post Date: 27 April 2008
Do you have any idea what you’re being asked to vote on in the referendum on the Lisbon Treaty?
Here we go again: it’s European déja vu time. Once more, we are facing into a monumental political decision that will define our democracy for generations to come. Once more, we are being reminded that we are only being asked because apparently our Constitution is tiresomely democratic. Once more, we have hardly any idea just what it is we are being asked to do.
Once more, we are being asked to trust those who apparently know better than us: the political classes and the ‘Eurotocracy’. In the meantime, as the argument rages on and on, don’t for God’s sake let anyone mention the European Constitution.
If you thought the Maastricht and Nice masterpieces needed a whole afternoon in a political seminar to understand, then try Lisbon. It is the Finnegans Wake of EU treaties, a masterclass in confusion and obscurity.
It would be funny if it weren’t so serious; indeed, were any student in Europe to submit the Lisbon Treaty as an academic political thesis, they might well be thrown out of their faculty.
Why is this? Why is it so beyond the literary abilities of our Brussels bureaucrats to produce something that is reasonably intelligible? The answer, I believe, is neither sinister nor conspiratorial as some have suspected, but rather more arcane.
Lisbon represents the final confused consensus of over 20 governments all seeking simultaneously to do two opposite things: to create a new governing structure for Europe, while at the same time covering their political backs.
Their agreement was the mere icing on an enormous cake of confusion which now threatens to collapse under the weight of its hundreds and hundreds of parliamentary drafts and redrafts. Is it any wonder how it tastes, given the number of cooks of this broth?
Here is a document of monumental confusion for a new European political experiment, which in itself reeks of monumental confusion. European federal state or European super-state or European union of states: basically, it’s whatever you are having yourself.
So, let’s start this whole debate leading up to our referendum by asking some leading questions. I won’t attempt to answer them myself for the very good reason that I don’t have all the answers, but apparently those who are recommending a Yes vote to Lisbon do.
1. Does Lisbon implement the 2004 EU Constitution indirectly, rather than directly? Does Lisbon in effect make us citizens of a supranational European Federation? While we would retain our Irish citizenship, would the rights and duties attaching to our EU citizenship have primacy over those of our national citizenship in any case of conflict between the two?
For example, look carefully at the wording of part of the amendment that we are being asked to accept: ‘‘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, or prevents laws enacted, acts done or measures adopted by the said European Union or by institutions there of, or by bodies competent under the treaties referred to in this section, from having the force of law in the state.” In other words, is this the moment when primacy passes from the Irish Constitution to the European version?
2.How can the total change in the EU’s qualified majority voting methods envisaged by Lisbon not diminish Irish ambitions? For example, when Ireland joined the EEC in 1973,we had three votes in the formation of European laws, as against ten each for the big states, slightly under one third the weight of the big boys.
Under the current Nice Treaty arrangements, we have seven votes as against 29 each, just less than one-quarter. Under Lisbon, Ireland’s vote would be based on relative populations: we would have four million people as against Germany’s 82 million, that is one-twentieth, and an average of 60 million each for France, Italy and Britain, one-fifteenth.
Under Lisbon, Germany’s relative voting weight vis-a-vis the other 26 member states would more than double, from its current 8 per cent to 17 per cent; France’s would go from 8 per cent to 13 per cent and Britain and Italy’s from 8 per cent to 12 per cent each.
Ireland’s voting weight would fall to one-third its present level of 2 per cent to 0.8 per cent. Ireland’s share in a blocking minority in Council of Ministers voting would go from its current 7.7 per cent to 2.4 per cent, while Germany’s would go from 32 per cent to 48 per cent.
3. Lisbon will reduce EU Commissioner numbers from 27 to 18, meaning that, for five out of every 15 years, there will be no Irish voice on the commission. Is this acceptable?
4. Lisbon envisages that, in future, countries can only suggest someone for membership of the commission, instead of proposing them, as is the case now. Is this acceptable?
5. Who can deny that Lisbon will utterly transform law-making in the EU? It envisages the EU- as opposed to the Dáil - making new laws in some 30 new areas, including civil and criminal law, justice and policing, public services, immigration, energy, transport, tourism, space, sport, culture, civil protection, intellectual property, public health and the EU budget.
There would be majority voting, too, by EU foreign ministers as regards implementation of decisions in foreign policy. Furthermore, under Lisbon, the Irish government has retained the right to opt into or out of specific EU laws or measures in the crime and justice area, in order to keep in line with Britain’s similar opt-out. However, the government has indicated its desire to opt in fully to EU crime and justice laws at the earliest opportunity and it states that, if Lisbon is ratified, it will review its position in three years.
Of course, there are other major questions, like the militarisation of the EU and the future power of the European Court as the final arbiter of our rights, as opposed to the current status of the Irish Supreme Court and Strasbourg.
Astonishingly, the Lisbon Treaty, which will so utterly transform EU citizenship, has sought no wider popular mandate other than a parliamentary one, with the sole exception of Ireland. So are we to be seen as Europe’s democratic saviours or as Europe’s political boot-boys?
As we ponder this truly unreadable document, why should we be treated with contempt by some Europeans for even pondering it? And, most importantly of all, could voting No to it be our attempt to save Europe from itself?
Finally, given that we have already rejected notions of ‘European constitutions’, what did Valery Giscard d’Estaing mean when he said: ‘‘The difference between the original constitution and the present Lisbon Treaty is one of approach, rather than content . . .The proposals in the original constitutional treaty are practically unchanged.
‘‘They have simply been dispersed through the old treaties in the form of amendments. Why this subtle change? Above all, to head off any threat of referenda by avoiding any form of constitutional vocabulary. . .But lift the lid and look in the toolbox: all the same innovative and effective tools are there, just as they were carefully crafted by the European Convention.”