May 20 2008
I’ve detailed the meaning of the extensive language in the Lisbon Treaty, I’ve given my opinion regarding the poor campaigning on both sides of the argument. Now, I plan on doing something neither side seem willing to do. I want to discuss the consequences and repercussions of saying Yes or No to this treaty.
So, what happens if we say Yes?
So, what happens if we say Yes? Initially, not very much apparently. Most of the changes proposed won’t come into effect until 2014 and, as suggested before, much of what will change will be bureaucratic in nature: name changes and voting numbers. So, why do we need a time consuming referendum?
Something I neglected to discuss in my article explaining the Treaty was the immediate change that would occur to our own Constitution. The changes include the deletion of Article 24.4.9, which states:
The State shall not adopt a decision taken by the European Council to establish a common defense pursuant to Article 1.2 of the Treaty referred to in subsection 7° of this section where that common defense would include the State.
Now, that sounds to me like they are paving the way for a joint defense force for Europe, of which Ireland will be a part, except for the fact they are inserting a whole new Article (29.4.15) with virtually the same wording. Further evidence of the stupid bureaucracy surrounding this entire endeavour.
The problems begin in the rather long winded and confusing insertion of Articles 29.4.11, 29.4.12, 29.4.13 and 29.4.14 which says the state agrees to a whole bunch of stuff, none of which is detailed in the changed Constitution, merely referred to by Article numbers.
Here’s the wording of the articles – feel free to skip down to the explanations:
No provision of this Constitution invalidates laws enacted, acts done or measures adopted by the State that are necessitated by the obligations of membership of the European Union referred to in subsection 10° of this section, or prevents laws enacted, acts done or measures adopted by the said European Union or by institutions thereof, or by bodies competent under the treaties referred to in this section, from having the force of law in the State.
This article gives constitutional backing to the supremacy of EU law which has been laid down by the European Court of Justice. Surely, this is the most significant of changes. While it may not state it in definitive terms, this section seems to be conceding that EU Law overrides the Irish Constitution. I am not a legal mind, but that if that is even inferred here, then here is a conclusive argument for the No campaign. The Irish Constitution must come first. If it is not the supreme and final point of law in our state, then it is not worth the paper it is written on. This is my new reason for calling for a No vote.
The State may exercise the options or discretions provided by or under Articles 1.22, 2.64, 2.65, 2.66, 2.67, 2.68 and 2.278 of the Treaty referred to in subsection 10° of this section and Articles 1.18 and 1.20 of Protocol No. 1 annexed to that Treaty, but any such exercise shall be subject to the prior approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas.
Articles 1.22 and 2.278 of the treaty provides for Enhanced Cooperation among groups of Member States. This is not huge on the detail but it could be argued as a good thing by the Yes side – it may help reduce friction between nations and nationalities. It could lead to harmony between different ethnicities, religions and other groups. The No side could see this as a small step towards that Common Defense thing that we are so strenuously trying to avoid.
Article 2.64 deals with a myriad of issues mainly Security, Discrimination, Enhanced Cooperation and the role of National Parliaments. Article 2.65 deals Policing, border checks and Asylum. Articles 2.66 and 2.67 deal with Judicial Cooperation in Civil and Criminal Matters. Article 2.68 deals with Police Cooperation, and seeing as there is enough difficulty getting our police force to cooperate with our neighbours up North, I don’t see this Article being anything other than a publicity stunt.
This amendment will basically allow Ireland to participate in schemes in these areas, when it so wishes, and opt out when it does not suit. This, on the whole, may seem positive, but with the two major political parties in this State trumpeting a pro-Europe stance, I can’t see us opting out very often, can you?
The State may exercise the option to secure that the Protocol on the position of the United Kingdom and Ireland in respect of the area of freedom, security and justice annexed to the Treaty on the European Union and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (formerly known as the Treaty establishing the European Community) shall, in whole or in part, cease to apply to the State, but any such exercise shall be subject to the prior approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas.
This allows us to opt out (which has the same flaw as the Article above) in the areas of freedom, security and justice, but if our Constitution is being overridden by EU Law, I can already hear the debates in the European Courts.
The State may agree to the decisions, regulations or other acts under:
- Article 1.34(b)(iv)
- Article 1.56 (in so far as it relates to Articles 48.7 of the Treaty referred to in subsection 4 of this section)
- Article 2.66 (in so far as it relates to the second subparagraph of Article 65.3 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union), Are you lost yet, because there’s seven in total?
- Article 2.67 (in so far as it relates to subparagraph (d) of Article 69A.2, the third subparagraph of Article 69B.1 and paragraphs 1 and 4 of Article 69E of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union),
- Article 2.144(a),
- Article 2.261 (in so far as it relates to the second subparagraph of Article 270a.2 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union), and
- Article 2.278 (in so far as it relates to Article 280H of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union),
of the Treaty referred to in subsection 10 of this section, and may also agree to the decision under the second sentence of the second subparagraph of Article 137.2 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (as amended by Article 2.116(a) of the Treaty referred to in the said subsection 10), but the agreement to any such decision, regulation or act shall be subject to the prior approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas.
Article 1.34(b)(iv) deals with the European Council should decide that the Council should use Qualified Majority Voting in areas not specified by the Treaty. This is only an issue if you have a problem with the changes to the QMV. Personally, I am fine with it – it gives smaller states a higher weighting than the larger states, so their voices will not be lost in the din.
Article 1.56 deals with further revisions to the Treaties. This is a little grey for me as it seems to be saying that this Treaty cannot be revised without a referendum (in Ireland’s case), but from my reading of the Lisbon Treaty itself, Europe will (if ratified) have the power to make changes to any Treaty without the need to go back to the people. They will simply need agreement from each member state’s government. I would like this clarified, but I have not been able to find clarification.
Articles 2.66 and 2.67 are mentioned above and relate to Judicial Cooperation. Article 2.144(a) changing the Legislative procedure to “ordinary legislative procedure” by decesion of the European Council. is similar to the change to the QMV – it is down to personal reservations about changes to decision making procedures. Article 2.261, 2.278 and 2.116(a) deal with procedures and rules regarding the allocation of budgetary powers and are more clerical issues.
So, this is why it is clearly more than a simple Eurocratic exercise. The consequences of our changing the Constitution may not be immediately apparent, but our constitution is one of the strongest and most envied across the world. We should be very careful and well informed about every single change we make to it. We are, each of us, guaranteed so many rights and freedoms by our Constitution. The Americans have such pride in theirs and it’s odd that we do not have similar feelings towards ours.
And a No vote?
And a No vote? What will happen if we vote no? Will the rest of Europe wage war upon our defection? Or will they breathe a sigh of relief that the one and only stopgap (the Irish Referendum) remaining between the safe and sturdy status quo and the untried and untested Eurostate, has stood up to the seemingly inevitable?
It’s not that simple. The reason this treaty is so confusing and divisive is that no body can sufficiently explain the repercussions of either outcome. The consequences of ratification may not be seen for many years from now. By 2014 the political landscape of Europe could look very different. The current downturn in the economy and the rise of a number of new political leaders throughout Europe (our own Brian Cowen, Britain’s Gordon Brown, France’s Nicolas Sarkozy and even Germany’s Angela Merkel (elected Nov 2005)) make the future impossible to predict.
A No vote will invoke the political ire of many though. This is clear. Internally, Fianna Fáil will look very egg-faced if they fail to return a Yes. Indeed, Fine Gael lead figures, with their 5 MEP’s having a significant interest in a Yes verdict, will try their best to make it look at though they were not the ones who failed, and instead blame the Government. And with a Government in place pushing so hard for a Yes vote, in a country that votes No, tensions, mistrusts and paranoias will abound. An article about the bias evident in the Referendum Commission suggests that there is pressure coming from on high to push the Yes vote. How worrying it will be for the current government if we say No.
And externally too, this Treaty has already cost a lot of time and money Europe wide. 13 of the 27 European governments have already accepted the Treaty, seeing as no other country requires a referendum allowing the people to choose for themselves. Remember, we are the only people who have the opportunity to vote on this – we should be proud of our democracy. So, the political repercussions of a No vote on the European front is much harder to predict. Again, there may be relief from countries such as the UK, who are controversially not holding a referendum, and the Czech Republic, who are still trying to decide if the Treaty abides by Czech law.
Too Much, Too Quickly
The Treaty is too much too quickly. I would like someone to explain to me why so much has to be pumped into this one (exceedingly long) document. Surely, a phased introduction of many of the measures (many of which would not require a referendum) would make more sense and would allow people time to understand a smaller, more manageable proposal down the line. Enda Kenny was very fond of saying something didn’t smell right when Bertie’s Mahon problems came to light, but with this Treaty, Enda, something does not smell right. To use two wonderful words that are often bandied about by politicians trying to sound important – there is far too much manipulation and obfuscation here. There is nothing straightforward about this and if we are being asked to make changes to our Constitution, then we need to be sure, beyond reasonable doubt, that we are doing the right thing. Well I, for one, still have doubts. My No stance is still in place. I am still awaiting a decent argument from the Yes side.