Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Cameron must clarify referendum pledge

The fate of the EU's Lisbon Treaty is set to come to a head in just a few weeks time.

A repeat Irish referendum is due on
2 October and ratification by Germany is expected shortly afterwards.

EU pressure will then fall on Czech President Vaclav Klaus, who has indicated that he will hold out as long as he can before signing the treaty into law.

Here, continued vague statements from the Conservative party on whether they will hold the referendum promised for the Lisbon treaty or give people a say on an alternative don't lend credence to the party's idea of being seen as the next government.

So DM campaign director Marc Glendening has this week written to Conservative leader David Cameron, asking for clarity.


Dear Mr Cameron,

I am writing to you to try and ascertain what exactly is the current position of the Conservative party in relation to a referendum on the Lisbon treaty.

The consensus of opinion in the media and political worlds is that if, by the time the Conservatives form the next government the treaty has been ratified in all the other EU member states, you will drop the Lisbon referendum pledge.

Ken Clarke, appearing on the BBC's Politics Show on June 14, said that: "If the Irish eferendum endorses the treaty and ratification comes into effect, then our settled olicy is quite clear that the treaty will not be reopened."

A Tory Central Office spokesman was quoted as saying in response to Mr Clarke's that "There is no change to Conservative policy. As Ken Clarke explained, if the Lisbon Treaty is ratified and in force across the EU by the time of the election of a Conservative government, we have always made clear that we would not let matters rest there." This seems to implicitly confirm what Ken Clarke said.

When William Hague was challenged on Newsnight by Jeremy Paxman during the recent European parliamentary election campaign to say one way or the other whether the party would still adhere to the referendum pledge following a possible 'yes' vote in the second Irish referendum, and ratification in the other countries that have not yet done so, he refused to answer the question. He too fell back on the "we will not let matters rest" mantra.

However, in contrast, Dan Hannan MEP has said recently that he remains convinced that you are still committed to consulting the British people directly in a post-ratification referendum on the treaty.

The Democracy Movement is Britain's largest non-party pressure group campaigning against today's EU. We are increasingly being appoached by our supporters and members of the public, some of whom are supporters of your party, trying to ascertain what is now the party's true position on the Lisbon Treaty and referendum, due to its pivotal bearing on how they will vote at the next general election.

As things stand, we can only tell them that it looks as if, like Labour and the Liberal Democrats, you too will abandon your manifesto promise of a referendum. Beyond that, it is impossible for us to give a meaningful response to these enquiries, as the Conservative party is refusing to state a clear position.

Why not now end the damaging speculation that you are planning to drop the referendum commitment and state unequivocally that - regardless of whether or not the Lisbon treaty has come into legal force by the time you become prime minister, and in accordance with the "cast iron guarantee" to hold a referendum you wrote of in The Sun (26 Sept 07) - you will call a referendum within a specified period of coming into office?

Unless you are able to do this, the Democracy Movement and others will be forced to assume that Ken Clarke's above-mentioned endorsement of the status quo should Lisbon be ratified is the settled position of the Conservative party.

I look forward to your response.

Yours sincerely,

Marc Glendening
Campaign director

Please join in this quest for clarity from the party that looks likely to be our next government, by sending a version of this letter to your own Conservative MP or, especially, candidate hopeful of being elected. We would be very interested to see a copy of any reply you receive.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Stage set for repeat Irish referendum

Despite having widely dismissed the idea of a second referendum, Ireland's politicians have gone back on their word.

Perhaps the grim predictability of this situation is the reason that there's barely a whisper from the media about such extraordinary U-turns, threadbare justifications and little interest in confronting politicians with their previous statements.

Such as that of Irish EU Affairs Minister, Dick Roche, when shortly before the last referendum he wrote on his website; "The idea that we can reject this Treaty and have another Referendum as happened with the Nice Treaty is a dilusion. That cannot and will not happen."

As a demonstration of complete lack of respect for public opinion on the part of the political elite, coupled to the media's increasing failure to expose and confront such collapses of integrity, this situation is surely a perfect example of the vicious circle lying at the heart of the steady degradation of public faith in the political system.

Long saga

Last week's EU summit - together with Wednesday's announcement of the 2nd October as the date on which Ireland will hold a repeat referendum - has set the stage for the next big showdown in the saga of the EU Constitution / Lisbon Treaty.

It's worth remembering that this is a saga that goes all the way back to the Laeken Declaration of 2001 which, despite some commendable decentralising recommendations, gave rise to the highly centralising EU Constitution.

That Laeken proved not to be worth the paper it was written on when it came, subsequently, to the legal expression of how the EU would proceed is perhaps a useful example of how influential such 'declarations' by Europe's heads of state or government truly are over the EU's eventual direction.

Having been born, ultimately, of one worthless declaration by European leaders, it would be extraordinary if the Lisbon Treaty were approved by the Irish people on the basis of another.

Since Laeken, in a period when European countries have had many rather more pressing economic and social concerns deserving of their attention, huge amounts of political capital has instead been wasted by European leaders trying to manoeuvre greater power for the EU's institutions past a succession of reluctant peoples.

Before even looking at the tactics used, the potential progress in other economic and social areas that this elite obsession with the EU has cost should be considered a scandal in itself.

This is a saga of a treaty that, if today's political leaders had any respect for democracy, should have died many years ago.

Instead, their bizarre, antiquated obsession with a 1950s European State ideology apparently trumps all. When that seems even to include democracy, we enter very dangerous territory indeed.

Weak declarations

So back it comes again. Having been rejected overwhelmingly by the French and the Dutch, repackaged, rejected again by the only country given a say on the re-named version, now back it comes to Ireland accompanied by some 'declarations'.

Set out in the official conclusions of las
t week's EU summit, these declarations are aimed at addressing the concerns of just enough 'No' voters on such matters as Ireland's Commissioner, military neutrality, tax and policy on abortion.

Yet, as discussed in a previous posting, the Lisbon Treaty is not needed to ensure that Ireland retain a Commissioner. Not that Commissioners represent their country in any case, the terms of their office requiring that they commit to "acting in the interests of the Union as a whole and not taking instructions from national governments".

The declaration on neutrality is extremely weak, in that it only assures Ireland's right to choose the "nature" of its assistance to another country rather than whether the country wishes to take sides in a military incident at all.

Moves to harmonise business tax rates have long been on the EU agenda even without Lisbon. So the assurance that the Lisbon Treaty makes no change to the "extent or operation of the competence of the European Union in relation to taxation" rings more than a little hollow.

And according to the EU's own Eurobarometer poll, the number of people who voted out of concern over EU intereference in Irish family policy such as on abortion was very small indeed (2%).

That same poll showed that a far larger proportion of 'No' voters did so to "protect Irish identity" (12%), because they're against a unified Europe (5%), are concerned about the influence of big EU member countries versus the small (7%) or because they don't trust their politicians (6%).

But there's little that can be done to ameliorate the Lisbon Treaty's effects and buy off 'No' voters on these fronts, as all EU treaties are in fact specifically designed to steadily reduce the political identity and influence of Europe's nation states and advance in their place a single political structure in Europe for all major decision-making.

Critical or meaningless?

Depending on which country's politicians you listen to, these declarations are either of critical importance, change everything and justify a whole new referendum (Ireland).

Or are effectively meaningless, change nothing and there's no need for the treaty to be re-opened (Britain and other countries who have denied their peoples a say).

While current polls in Ireland show a majority now ready to vote 'Yes', that was also the case in the run up to the vote last time around.

It's also clear that many of the recent poll questions have been framed as to make anything other than a 'Yes' answer utterly unreasonable, designed as a political initiative to build momentum behind that view rather than to accurately measure it.

Legal questions

Currently the declarations have the legal force of an agreement between national leaders under international law. Yet what has been agreed by leaders can, in principle, be unpicked by leaders alone at a later stage. Long after people have voted, and beyond public control.

Declarations on this legal basis alone can offer little reassurance that they will be respected.

So the stated intention is - after the referendum - to give the declarations greater legal weight by attaching them as a protocol to the next accession treaty admitting a new country to the EU.

Croatia is often mentioned as the most likely candidate, but its membership talks are mired in difficulty over a border dispute with Slovenia and deadlines for joining seem to be disappearing ever further into the future.

There's also the matter that such an accession treaty will not appear until after June 2010, from which point the Conservatives may be in government and responsible for its ratification - Lisbon protocol and all. Whether such a treaty will gain majority support in Parliament at that time must remain a doubt.

So in addition to their limited relevance, whether these declarations will ever gain sufficient legal validity to justify the Lisbon Treaty being given advance approval must remain a significant concern when Irish voters once again go to the polls.