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.

1 comment:

Lighthouse said...

An Irish Bedtime Story for all Nice Children and not so Maastricht Adults

The Happy Family

Once upon a time there was a family treaty-ing themselves to a visit in Lisbon.
On the sunny day that it was they decided to go out together.
Everyone had to agree on what they would do.
"So", said Daddy Brusselsprout "Let's all go for a picnic!"
"No", said Aunt Erin, "I don't want to".
Did they then think of something else, that they might indeed agree on?
Oh yes they did?
Oh no they didn't!
Daddy Brusselsprout asked all the others anyway, isolating Erin, and then asked her if instead, she would like to go with them to the park and eat out of a lunch basket....

Kids, we'll finish this story tomorrow, and remember, in the EU yes means yes and no means yes as well!