Press "Enter" to skip to content

Why the Irish vote really matters

On October 2nd the Irish electorate will be pressed into voting again on a treaty that they rejected as long ago as last year. There have been no changes to the Lisbon Treaty itself as, indeed, there was little to distinguish it from the treaty establishing a constitution for Europe that Dutch and French voters rejected in 2005.

It should also be noted that there have been, save for the Supreme Court’s 1987 requirement of the Irish Republic, no other referenda in Europe to obtain the consent of 375-million otherwise eligible voters. If one similarly factors in the dismal percentage turning out to elect the current European parliament then before one begins to debate the details of the new social contract — and there are some few hundred pages of such — one has to acknowledge both the democratic deficit and the moral hazard.

Tony Benn was quite right when he asked last year, “There is a case for a fully federal Europe. But surely those who take that view should, as democrats, want to win a majority for it in a referendum”? Benn’s plainspoken position contrasts starkly with the rhetoric of Nicolas Sarkozy who told a meeting of members of the European Parliament “that in voting ‘no’ to the European Constitution, the French people were not expressing a rejection of Europe but rather their heightened expectations of Europe”. Sarkozy summarily turned-a-no into-a-yes and ratified the repackaged Lisbon Treaty sans la volonté des personnes.

What has basically been “agreed” — unless the Irish scupper it and thereby give succour to the rearguard actions of the British and the Czechs — is a Europe in which every European will have effective additional citizenship.

The EU’s most significant institution will continue to be located in the European Commission which consists of a commissioner from each member state chosen by the president of the commission who in turn is elected by the European Council — consisting of the heads of the 27 national governments — and then endorsed by the European Parliament — which similarly sanctions the final composition of the commission. Under Lisbon the post of commission vice-president, a de facto foreign minister, will also be created, and the council will elect a once-renewable, two-and-half-term, president of the EU.

In this system, then, only Parliament is directly elected by the voters and has largely supervisory functions. In effect, the executive and the legislative are further fused into a troika of leadership-appointed-leaders in the council, the commission, and the subject relevant ministers from each member state that constitute the council of ministers. This is evidently a very thin form of representative democracy — some would say tokenistic — even if one factors in the use of degressive proportionality and qualified majority voting that will give countries with the biggest populations greater representation (something I would argue should but doubtlessly wouldn’t ever be countenanced by these self same parties in the UN and other fora). Indeed, a Statewatch report published earlier this month found that in the last Parliament (2004-2009) “over 80% of new measures were agreed in closed ‘trilogue’ meeting with the Council”.

The treaty will also further the EU’s exclusive and shared competency across cultural, economic, environmental, human rights, immigration, justice, labour, monetary, foreign, and security policy, etc. This is to say that a process begun in prior treaties, and continued in Lisbon, is slowly but surely relocating sovereignty within an embryonic European state.

Moreover, it gives this new order both a specified capitalist character “in accordance with the principle of an open-market economy” (underscored by rulings of the European Court Of Justice) and an unambiguous militarist imperative that compels member states to “undertake progressively to improve their military capabilities”.

Article 42 goes on to institutionalises the military-industrial complex by making the European Defence Agency (EDA) an official organ of the EU, mandated to implement “any measure needed to strengthen the industrial and technological base of the defence sector”. What that means is that taxpayer’s money will have to — as a solemn constitutional undertaking — be spent on armaments research, and it’s taken as read that this refers to drones and other forms of robotic warfare because it’s a priority stated as such by the EDA (British Aerospace and Thales, who formed part of the working group that drafted the defence and security clauses of the EU Constitution, should be well pleased for, in one of its strategy documents, the agency tells Europeans “it must take to heart the facts that the US is outspending Europe six to one in defence RD”).

Over and above increasing sales to “export customers” Lisbon’s militarism also has a predetermined foreign policy trajectory. It allows the most powerful military states in Europe to form a “permanent structured cooperation” (note also: everything issuing from Brussels is tagged in terms of “convergence”, “interoperability” and “synergy”) that will be used in a variety of missions embracing “the fight against terrorism, including by supporting third countries … in their territories”. Significantly the treaty demands that member states, “shall support the union’s external and security policy actively and unreservedly in a spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity and shall comply with the union’s action … [and] refrain from any action which is contrary to the interests of the union”. This is, in plain language, a death knell for an independent or even voluntaristic foreign policy.

In the abovementioned address Sarkozy said that the “institutional question [of the Union] has been settled” but by whom one asks?

Ireland once described by the New York Times as the “Wild West of financial capitalism” is in a state of shock as a result an implosion of debt of science fiction like proportions. Everyone, who isn’t a banker, is traumatised by cutbacks, job losses and wage cuts. In this climate, with the whole business, church, media, political, even trade union elite hysterically clamouring for a “yes” vote it would seem that the same people who voted “no” might be persuaded contrarily this year.

Never mind that this will be jumping from the frying pan into the sorts of fires — endorsed by the Irish Business And Employers Confederation and entrenched in Article 106 — that will liberalise health, education, transport, energy and the environment. Never mind that there will be no bail-out of jobs from the masters of deficit austerity in Brussels. Never mind that hardly anyone has even read the confounded treaty that’s constructed like a Rube Goldberg machine with hundreds of bridges created from appendices and protocols.

All of this — what Sarkozy termed “the grand vision” of the Europe Union — is being advanced without the direct expression of the will of the majority of people whom it claims as its citizens. European governments maintain that this is because the treaty is merely an amendment but taken either on its interminable own or, as a series of amendment treaties, the grandiosity of the mission creep is patently obvious.

Why the Irish vote really matters is, simply, because 373-million people’s votes really don’t!