Archive for the 'Politics' Category

Jun 12 2008

Lisbon And Me – The Exit Poll

Published by under Blog,Politics

Tom Raftery is conducting a mock exit poll here. Head on over and register your vote.

Previous Posts

6. Lisbon and Me – My Final Decision?

5. Lisbon and Me – Roche’s Reactionary Rant

4. Lisbon and Me – Consequences

3. Political Apathy and a Yearning for Change

2. Lisbon and Me – Deciding The Future

1. Lisbon and Me

6 responses so far

Jun 09 2008

Lisbon And Me – My Final Decision?

Published by under Blog,Politics

It’s few weeks (May 16th) now since I began researching the Lisbon Treaty and its ratification’s repercussions on the Irish Constitution, on the lives of the Irish people and, most importantly, on my life.

I do not envy political analysts and journalists who have to cover these things. I guess, like anything else, if you are passionate about it, you will find it interesting, you will find it exciting and you will find it easy to comprehend. I am not a political analyst. I am the common man, trying to understand this major change to Europe and I have struggled.

My Struggle

I began by gathering information from a number of sources: the Referendum Commission’s website and handbook (the latter being a useless waste of paper – it doesn’t even have the referendum’s date on it); the websites of the Yes campaign (Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, Labour, etc.); the websites of the No side (Sinn Fein, Libertas, etc.), I talked with friends who were in favour of it; I spoke with friends who were against it. Ultimately, it was clear that very few people had all the answers I sought, so I tried to summarise the Treaty in one succinct post. Now, any regular reader will know that I don’t really do brevity, but in this instance I really tried to chop it all down into small easily digestible pieces. It was impossible and while my post Lisbon and Me has gained a lot of hits and some favourable comments, I don’t feel I was able to do any better job that the many sources I had consulted.

I progressed with my research and asked more questions and very quickly began to veer towards a No vote. Once the pendulum swung that way, I made a concerned effort to seek answers and explanations from the Yes camp, so I didn’t blindly vote with my gut instinct. No one has been able to give me a sufficient reason to vote Yes. I even consulted the good people in the European Union House on Dawson/Molesworth Street who have some lovely hand-written signs pleading with people to go in and ask them questions. They were understandably biased towards a Yes and after speaking with them, I began to have even more adverse feelings for the Yes campaign. I asked why I should vote Yes, but they seemed to be throwing facts and figures at me that were aimed at telling me why I should not vote No. What’s the difference? I was looking for honest and solid explanation as to why the Treaty will be good, but they just wanted to tell me why voting No would be bad.

And that seems to be the consensus approach of all the Yes campaigners. Rubbish the No-sayers and hope propaganda and scare-mongering will secure ratification. Not that the No campaign has been any better. The approach of the No campaign has been to rely on people’s disinterest in gaining information and preying upon that, or to shout down the Yes campaigners and make outlandish claims about abortion, unemployment, high taxation, neutrality and war.

Exercise Your Franchise

And yet, I have settled on a decision. Firstly, I will definitely vote on Thursday. I don’t like the argument “I don’t understand it, therefore I won’t vote on it”. Saying that is the equivalent of saying, “I don’t understand it, therefore my vote won’t matter, I don’t matter”. If your opinion is that you don’t understand the Treaty, then have that opinion heard and vote No. This may result in the Treaty being sent to us again for another referendum, but maybe the powers that be will make a greater effort to educate the common man the next time around. Not voting will mean your opinion and your lack of understanding is irrelevant.

I Will Vote No

I will vote No for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that the electorate has not been given a clear picture of what is involved in changing our Constitution. This is the fault of the Referendum Commission and the Government. I am one of the people who confidently voted in the current government and I feel let down by this debacle.

Secondly, the Yes campaign has been unable to convince me that the Treaty is a good thing. I have received vague answers which only serve to convince me that many of the Yes campaigners do not fully understand the Treaty themselves. Even the sections I am in favour of, seem to baffle some of the Yessers I have spoken with. Much as I am irritated by the poor campaigning by the No side also, it is not their job to do the convincing. Many of those calling for a No vote are merely seeking to maintain the status quo. If the Treaty is not ratified, we will not be kicked out of the EU, we will not be fined, we will not feel the mighty hammer of France and Germany down upon our figurative brows. A vote No, is a vote to keep things as they are.

Now, I am a liberal and very much in favour of progress and change to further this progress, but change for the sake of change and change without fully understanding the outcomes of those changes is stupid and irresponsible. A vote for No will allow time for understanding of what changes are proposed. It will allow time to fully appreciate what positive progress is required and what we need to do to achieve it.

Voting No is not anti-Europe. Some of the Yes campaigners are actually suggesting this is a referendum on Europe as a whole. It is not. I am very much pro-EU and I believe that future prosperity for out little nation can only come in partnership with the EU, but partnership is very different to being one nation. The Treaty is a step towards a Supernation ruled predominantly by the European Parliament. The EU Constitution was defeated in France and the Netherlands, and the Lisbon Treaty is a watered down version of this Constitution (this is stated by many members of the Yes camp and by many EU Ministers). A No vote will not remove us from Europe. We will still continue to benefit from our close ties and trade links.

I am still not happy with many aspects of the new voting systems to be introduced by Lisbon. The Yes group makes a great fuss about unanimous decisions being required for all major issues which will effect Europe as a whole and Ireland in particular. But these unanimous decisions are not decisions made by the people, they are made by the government and we live in a country where the two main parties, the two largest parties, who are in opposition to each other, have such blinkered pro-Europe stances that it must raise some alarm bells every time a major vote on Europe arises.

At Last, A Conclusion

I am not trying to convince anyone to vote No. I am simply laying out my reasons for doing so. This referendum is a perfect example of bad bureaucracy in action. It has been a shambles from day one and no side can claim any moral high ground. The Yes group have been inefficient have been saying nothing quite loudly. The No campaigners have focused on false-prophet issues such as abortion and neutrality, which are not directly effected by the Treaty and have failed to put up a convincing argument, relying instead on the nervous nature of the electorate.

So, has everyone else made up their minds? How will you be voting?

Previous Posts

5. Lisbon and Me – Roche’s Reactionary Rant

4. Lisbon and Me – Consequences

3. Political Apathy and a Yearning for Change

2. Lisbon and Me – Deciding The Future

1. Lisbon and Me

20 responses so far

May 21 2008

Lisbon And Me – Finian McGrath Gives It To The President

Published by under Blog,Politics

It seems the No campaign has finally got legs, a voice and a brain at last. I can understand how some can see the No campaign as nothing more than a few archaic parties more interested in putting a lid on this thing called the EU than in deciding what is best for this country. It is clear that many of the No campaigners are going about things the wrong way entirely (Sinn Féin and Libertas, I refer to you here), but that doesn’t mean they are ultimately wrong on Lisbon.

Finian McGrath, TDIndependent TD, Finian McGrath, yesterday sent a letter to President Mary McAleese asking for her to call a Council of State to decide on the constitutionality of the Lisbon Treaty. Being that I am not a political aficionado, I didn’t know this was an option open to us. McGrath is suggesting that the Treaty goes against Article 9 of our own constitution, which states that fidelity to the Nation and loyalty to the State are fundamental political duties of all citizens. According to McGrath,

The Irish people need clarification on this matter. Lisbon would establish a supra-national European federation for the first time, and in effect establish a new State.

And it would seem that adding Article 28.4.11 to our Constitution would put EU Law and EU Treaties ahead of our own Constitution. We have already said No (Update: I refer here to Europe having said ‘No’. See comments below) to a Europe wide Constitution and we should now say No again, to this watered down stepping stone towards a single European State.

The President is put in a difficult situation here. Entertaining Finian McGrath’s request could send out a message to the People that Lisbon is unsound and could sway the vote towards a No, and this is not the job of the President’s Office. However, ignoring or rejecting his request sends out a clearer message that the President is endorsing the Treaty. It will be interesting to see what twist this takes in this ongoing saga.

Either way, McGrath is to be commended for being the one of the first people in the No campaign to do something constructive and criticise the Treaty not because it is too pro-Europe, but because it may be against our Constitution and ultimately anti-Ireland.

There is no reason why we can’t be loyal Irish people and also be part of Europe, but supplanting our Irish pride with a blind faith in Europe is not the way forward.

Side note: Bruce Arnold today replies to Minister Roche’s article in yesterday’s Independent. He rebukes everything Roche said. I don’t have much more to say on this except that the pair seem to be playing a bit of a tag-you’re-it game. They both made good arguments, while attempting to change the focus onto something their side can campaign for. Roche was right yesterday regarding the issue of taxation. Arnold is right today on the issues of the pressures the EU would be able to exert if the Treaty is ratified.

Previous Posts

5. Lisbon and Me – Roche’s Reactionary Rant

4. Lisbon and Me – Consequences

3. Political Apathy and a Yearning for Change

2. Lisbon and Me – Deciding The Future

1. Lisbon and Me

3 responses so far

May 20 2008

Lisbon And Me – Consequences

Published by under Blog,Politics

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:

Article 29.4.11

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.

Article 29.4.12

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?

Article 29.4.13

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.

Article 29.4.14

The State may agree to the decisions, regulations or other acts under:

  1. Article 1.34(b)(iv)
  2. Article 1.56 (in so far as it relates to Articles 48.7 of the Treaty referred to in subsection 4 of this section)
  3. 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?
  4. 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),
  5. Article 2.144(a),
  6. 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
  7. 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.

Constitutional Consequences

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.

Previous Posts

3. Political Apathy and a Yearning for Change
2. Lisbon and Me – Deciding Our Future
1. Lisbon and Me

11 responses so far

May 18 2008

Political Apathy And A Yearning For Change

Published by under Blog,Politics

In my hours and days of infiltration into the quagmire of Europe’s Lisbon Treaty, I, very early on, found myself asking, “Why should I bother?” Why should I bother spending hour upon hour of precious drinking time trying to educate myself in the ways of the force farce EU. The political landscape of Ireland and Europe was never a vista I cared to gaze upon. In fact, at 26 years of age, the general election of 2007 was the first time I exercised my franchise. I don’t think I was even registered to vote until last Summer.

I am the last generation who will live to remember the recession of the eighties – having to wear clothing that was stitched and sewn back together so much that there were more patches that original material; that one chocolate bar a week I would get after Mass every Sunday with my 20 pence pocket money; the depression on the face of my father when he lost his job in the factory. And if I’m completely honest, most of what I remember from that time is from the beginning of the recovery, the birth of the Celtic Tiger – my mother would scrimp and save hard so not be seen to have poorly dressed children; that one chocolate bar a was supplemented by the three hundred more my Granny would give me during the week; and one of my strongest memories from the late eighties was the relief and joy on the face of my father when he got his factory job back.

My generation and the generation running behind me in their Gucci runners and BT2 retro range of attire, really only know the good times. We didn’t need to know about the politics behind our money for mobile phones and holidays in Torremolinos. There was no reason for us to understand why our clothes cost more than our parents’ first house – there was always more money available. And why should we care what that funny little man, Bertie Ahern, did with a few grand back in the nineties?

The photo of Bill Clinton bringing the hands of Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat together is the first recollection I have of politics. We had to do a report on it for school (I was probably in sixth class, maybe 12 years old). The only reason I remember it is because I got a prize for it for my own illustration of the historic moment declaring peace in the middle east. I’m glad that all went so well.

After that, I have fleeting recollections of discussing abortion around the time of one of the referenda, I’m sure I made some flippant comment on the second Mary in the presidency, I may have paid brief attention to the Good Friday Agreement, but overall, looking back across my life, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a far greater feature.

And I’m not alone. There are very few people of my age group who are avidly involved or even vaguely interested in politics. Why should we? We’re too wrapped up in our four nights out a week, our new apartments, our three week tours of Italy (taking in Sicily if we have time).

Well, we may have only known the good times, but the times they are a-changing.

In this last year, conversations around the table in the pub have ceased mentioning the huge increases in our parents’ house prices. No more do we drivel on about SSIA’s and new cars. Instead, the whisper of recession is heard. Job losses are no longer fun breaks before trying new careers and increasingly we hear of relief when a friend has found a job after looking for weeks or months. These are still lighthearted conversations – no one is truly worried (I say this as I shift nervously in my seat).

Maybe it is time our generation peaked out from under our sun beds and took note of what our elected officials are doing with our lives.

So, what have I to gain from being well informed on all things dull and dutiful (apart from material for a few lengthly blog posts)? I will gain focus and understanding of what is being done with my taxes. I will begin to see the true state of our health service. I will gain some comprehension of the anger that older generations have towards politicians who talk and talk, but don’t provide concrete answers.

Perhaps, one of us or some of us will gain enough interest to stand up and say “enough is enough”. Perhaps someone will ask questions of the government that have never been addressed before. Perhaps, a young person with fresh ideas will rise from the aged political ranks and give new direction to a country that is in need of more than a figure head. Perhaps someone will emerge as a leading light. We need a leader.

3 responses so far

May 17 2008

Lisbon And Me – Deciding The Future

Published by under Blog,Politics

Following on from yesterday’s post, I’ve heard a few arguments at this stage from both sides and I’m currently erring towards a ‘No’ vote for a variety of reasons. Some of these reasons may seem on the face of it to be slightly invalid, but if you hear me out, I’d like to explain my current thinking.

Firstly, it’s worth pointing out that there are reasons to vote ‘Yes’. Much of the Treaty is nothing more than a bureaucratic exercise to rename some judicial bodies and combine a bunch of already agreed upon charters and treaties. Much of the Treaty is about improving efficiencies of government and ease decision making. So, on the outset, a simple tick in the Yes box seems logical. In fact, it may be argued that Ireland is the only country required to hold a referendum because of our own bureaucracy and the need to reword our own bit of paper – the constitution.

But then remember, Ireland is the only country that is sending this Treaty to the people. We, as a nation, are the only people who have been given the opportunity to fully read, discuss, debate and either accept or decline this set of rules and systems, that is the closest thing to a Europe wide constitution that we are likely to see for the foreseeable future. Surely we owe it not just to ourselves but also to our European neighbours to, at least, make an informed decision.

So, my first reason for voting No is that the electorate is currently ill-informed and a better effort over a longer period of time should be made to make sure that every single person who ticks Yes or No truly understands what they are saying Yes or No to.

I can already hear the ‘Yessers’ condemn me. “It is up to the individual voter to inform themselves on what they are voting for” and “The only reason people don’t understand is that they are too lay to read and ask questions”. Well, I have made serious efforts to inform myself, I am neither stupid nor lazy, and yet I am still concerned and in need of some further clarifications.

And considering it is only a month to the referendum, why are we only receiving the Commissions pamphlets this week (the only unbiased piece of government literature and it doesn’t even give the date of the referendum!!!), why is the Rock the Vote campaign only kicking off now, why is there an endless barrage of posters and ad campaigns pushing us to say Yes, when there is so very little information regarding the consequences of the ratification of the Treaty. I can now happily say that I understand what changes will be made to both our Constitution and to the make up of the EU, but what influence will the Lisbon Treaty have on my life, if it is made law? I’m still not sure.

I consider myself an intelligent person, reasonably well-educated and informed on current affairs, but I, after many hours of research, am unable to ascertain what the big changes will mean to my daily life. Indeed, Mr Doyle asked a number of questions yesterday:

Nope, I still don’t get it, despite how well you’ve explained it Darren. I don’t see why we need it or how it will benefit us or indeed Europe.

Europe has undeniably been good to us and I hate the feeling that because of that we should vote yes.

What I’d like to know is:

Will it mean a better education system where schools are better funded, teachers better trained and more facilities provided?

Will it mean a better health service with shorter waiting lists, less bureaucracy and more availability to people of all financial situations?

Will it mean a better police force, helping to prevent random crimes, racist attacks and the like and to cut down on the amount of drugs in the country?

Will it mean social workers get more help, training and resource to deal with the problems in working class areas?

Will it mean higher levels of pensions for OAPs and people on invalidity pensions, and help unemployed people get training and skills that they need?

Will it improve the standard and quality of living?

Until I get an answer to those I’m not going to vote either way. I’ve read the literature and still can’t see the benefit.

As Elly then pointed out, these issues have nothing to do with the Treaty, they are our own government’s responsibility, not Europe’s. If someone as savvy and informed as Darragh is asking questions about areas that the Treaty has no influence on, then clearly the Referendum Commission has not sufficiently done its job.

To be clear, the Treaty will not effect –

  • harmonisation of direct taxes
  • our neutrality
  • our stance on abortion
  • our childcare system
  • our healthcare system
  • our responsibilities to the elderly
  • our system of education

So my second reason, an extension of my first, even if everyone is given a detailed breakdown of the 294 page document, even if Dick Roche goes around to each voter in Ireland and explains which treaties will be amended, what Articles will be removed and what will be brought it, even if every single person knows what the wording is inside and out, how will anyone know what ultimate influence the EU Reform Treaty (it goes by that name too) will have on their lives and the lives of their children.

Truthfully, I wonder if any of the ministers know what effect it will have in the long term. Are the EU Ministers just putting together this document of reform in order to simplify their lives and remove many of the headaches and much of th paperwork they must endure by sticking to the rules which we currently have. If this were the truth and they admitted it, I’d be more inclined to vote Yes, because at least then I’d be making an informed decision.

The other side of the coin, however, is the No campaign is very poor. Sinn Fein and Libertas’ arguments are invalid and Europhobic. There is ample evidence that the EU has been a fantastic thing for our country (but that is not a sufficient ‘Yes’ argument) and saying No to Europe in its entirety is ignorant of the truth. So, I await a good argument from the No side as much as the Yes.

I expect that through my own research and discussions, I will ultimately be swayed towards ratification of Lisbon, but am I being naive in throwing down the gauntlet to both sides of the debate and asking them both…convince me.

I’ll keep you updated as to where my loyalties lie, as they undoubtedly seesaw from Yay to Nay. Today it’s a No; tomorrow, who knows?

Previous posts:

Lisbon and Me

7 responses so far

May 16 2008

Lisbon And Me

Published by under Politics

I admit it, I confess, I throw my hands up in the air and openly reveal that I do not understand a thing about this Lisbon Treaty vote. In recent days it is a topic that has come up in conversation quite a bit and when asked how I’ll vote, I’ve laughed, shrugged and said I’ll vote whatever way Lottie tells me to vote. I then quickly change the subject.

Funny and silly as it may sound, I realised that unless I made a conscious effort to find out more about this Lisbon thing, then I probably would just blindly follow my better half’s lead.

Little Lisbon Learning Day

So, today is my Little Lisbon Learning Day. I will find out what it’s all about and I will try to write about it in such a way that other complete political Luddites like myself can understand.

Where to begin? The Referendum Commission’s website? Fianna Fáil’s pro-Treaty site? The Libertas NO Site? The Wikipedia? Should I just go have coffee with someone who can explain it to me? Should I get Dick Roche on the phone?

Sarah Carey made a throw-away post a few days ago about not being around to vote on the treaty and I was all set to make a funny retort when I saw the comments ahead of me. Pete had asked what the Treaty was all about and Sarah gave a lengthly, informed and intelligent response, which I found quite helpful (further evidence that when you reply to a comment on your blog, you are not just replying to one person). A debate was sparked in the comments section of the post and I was quickly in over my head.

Sarah begins…

Here’s the deal: The EU is enlarging, so the old rules about decision making and some of the institutions don’t work so well any more. e.g vetos apply to practically everything; EVERY country is entitled to a commissioner; lots of people want to enable the EU to adopt a common position on criminal matters and foreign policy. There’s also more pressure to make the EU “more democratic” and really just work more efficiently.
SO the Lisbon Treaty is a series of amendments to various treaties and institutions.

Consulting other sources, such as the Treaty’s own website and the handbook that circulated, I found myself understanding the content, I could see what each bit meant and did, but I still found it baffling overall. And I doubt I’m the only one in this position.

It’s clear that the Treaty is about change. If ratified, our constitution will change; the powers that the EU have and can exert will change; the make up of the European Parliament will change; the way decisions are made will change; and there is emphasis on things that will not change. But to understand all these changes, we must first ask WHAT are we changing. I think here is where the problems begin for the layman and the Lisbon Treaty. The majority (I’m guessing) of people do not full understand what the EU is, what it does and what it already has the power to do. So, I’m first going to look at the current situation.

(As I raft through the Amazon river of information, I am already regretting taking this on)

The EU is governed at present by The European Commission, The Council of Ministers, The Parliament and the European council (which is made up of each of the European heads of State, led by a President). Laws are made by a process of co-decision, where the Commission proposes laws and policies, which are discussed by the Council of Ministers and the Parliament, before being decided upon jointly by the Parliament and the Council. The process differs for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, which is decided upon solely by the Council.

So what will change? Firstly, there will be a nifty bureaucratic name change. The standard co-decision process will be called the “Ordinary Legislative Procedure” and the decision made by the Council alone will be made under a “Special Legislative Procedure“. But what’s in a name, right? The important part is in the changes and the extensions to powers proposed to the “Ordinary Legislative Procedure”, which I will come to shortly.

European Commission

Charlie McCreevyThe Treaty will change how each governing body in the EU will operate. At present, each member state appoints a Commissioner to the European Commission (at present ours is Charlie McCreevy). The Treaty proposes to change this to allow just two-thirds of member states to nominate a Commissioner for each term (of 5 years) on a rotating basis. Simply put, this will mean that each member state will have a Commissioner for 10 of every 15 years. I can understand how this apparent reduction in individual state powers could be a point of controversy. A lot can happen in 5 years – think back to five years ago and look at the changes that have occurred both on the Irish stage and on the European and worldwide stages between then and now. In addition, one commissioner will hold the position of High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

Council of Ministers

The most significant proposed change to the Council of Ministers is in voting. At the moment, some decisions must be made unanimously while others are made by Qualified Majority Voting. According to QMV, each member state has a fixed number of votes. The number allocated to each country is roughly determined by its population, but progressively weighted in favour of smaller countries. When this voting system is used, no one country has a veto over the issue being debated. QMV is currently used when voting on issues relating to competition rules, consumer protection, environment and judicial co-operation in criminal matters. It is proposed to apply QMV to a number of new areas – these include energy, asylum, immigration, judicial co-operation in civil matters and sport.

At present, for a vote to pass under QMV, 74% of the total weighted votes are required. Under new proposals, this drops to 55%, i.e. 15 of the 27 member states, and those 15 states must represent 65% of the EU population. This may sound like the larger states can band together to overrule the QMV, but there is a provision which requires at least 4 member states to oppose the decision, preventing 3 of the largest states from blocking rulings of the QMV.

The new Treaty will make this system of qualified majority voting the norm when decisions are being taken, except where the EU Treaties require a different procedure (e.g. a unanimous vote). The literature is at pains to point out: Important policy areas for Ireland such as taxation and defense will continue to require a unanimous vote.

The Treaty also changes the arrangements for the Presidency of the Council of Ministers. At present the Presidency of the Council changes every six months. In the future, the Presidency will be provided by a team of three Member States working together over an 18-month period, except for the Foreign Affairs Council which will be chaired by the High Representative. This is designed to increase the coherence and efficiency of the Presidency.

European Council

At the moment, the European Council is chaired on a rotating basis by the head of Government of the Member State holding the six month Presidency of the EU. The Treaty would allow for a two and a half year EU Presidency, the holder being elected by QMV by the European Council. The President, who can hold the position for a maximum of two terms, would chair and co-ordinate the work of the European Council and will continue to be responsible for major policy decisions. In addition, all legislative meetings of the European Council must be open to public viewing.

European Parliament

Click for larger imageHere is where we return to the Ordinary Legislative Procedure. The Treaty proposes to extend the powers of the European Parliament into areas such as agriculture (which seems to be causing some consternation in Ireland), asylum, immigration and judicial co-operation. The number of MEPs would be permanently reduced to 750, in addition to the President of the Parliament. The Parliament also gains greater powers over the entirety of the EU budget, having joint decision with the Council rather than having to present it to the Council for approval.

(Are you still with me? It truly is a huge amount to wade through and I’m beginning to see how people could be frustrated by the lack of transparency in the 294 pages)

Individual National Parliaments

By today’s rules, the national governments have no direct involvement in decision making. Under Lisbon, the Governments will have 8 weeks after the publication of a legislative proposal to vet the proposal and offer an opinion.

Things get a bit foggy when looking for information on the Power to Change Treaties. There is so much divisiveness on the subject that it is hard to find an unbiased explanation other than that of the Referendum Commission’s booklet.

At present the Treaties governing the EU are amended only by the Member States agreeing to an amending treaty which must then be approved by the Member States in accordance with their own constitutional traditions…for example in Ireland, a referendum may be required.

The Lisbon Treaty now proposes to give the European Council (Heads of Government) the power to propose changes to certain parts of the governing Treaties. Any such changes cannot increase the competence of the EU. Any such proposals must be agreed unanimously by the European Council. This means that any national government may veto such a proposal. If the European Council does agree a proposed change, then in order for it to come into effect, it must be ratified by the Member States in accordance with their own constitutional traditions. This may require a referendum in Ireland as happens at present.

The EU has the competence to decide policies and make laws only in those areas which are set out in the treaties. The Lisbon Treaty would specify who has the power to do what by listing the areas in which:

  • the EU has exclusive competence – this means that the decisions must be made at EU level and not at national government level;
  • the EU and national governments have joint competence;
  • the national governments have exclusive competence but the EU may support and help to co-ordinate.

The Lisbon Treaty would give the EU joint competence with Member States in a number of new areas including energy and aspects of the environment and public health. It does not propose to give the EU any new exclusive competence.

This is such a contentious issue that I’m not going to offer my own opinions on it just yet. I want to keep this piece an unbiased as possible, and truth be told, I am still making up my mind on the whole thing. It is, however, worth pointing out that if the Treaty is ratified, there are a number of areas in which Ireland will be able to opt out, such as judicial and policing issues (known as the “Area of Freedom, Security and Justice”) and there are a number of issue that will not be affected by the Treaty at all, such as Ireland’s neutrality.

Charter of Fundamental Rights

The Charter of Fundamental Rights lists citizens’ political, social and economic rights. It is intended to make sure that European Union regulations and directives do not contradict the European Convention on Human Rights which is ratified by all EU Member States (and to which the EU as a whole would accede under the Treaty of Lisbon). In the rejected EU Constitution it was integrated into the text of the treaty and was legally binding. The Lisbon Treaty refers to it and raises it to the same legal standing as the main treaties.

Lisbon and (a very tired) Me

So, there it is, there is the information. There is more in it, but I think I’ve covered the important parts. There are sections which talk about minor changes (e.g the renaming of the Court of First Instance to the General Court, and the declaration that the euro is the official currency of the EU) but the essence is laid out above. I’ve made no arguments in favour nor against the Treaty. I am close to deciding whether to go Yes or No, but am still reading and listening to arguments.

A ‘Yes’ vote will change the Irish Constitution, ratifying the Treaty. Assuming all other EU countries accept the Treaty, it could come into effect early 2009. A ‘No’ vote will keep everything exactly as it is, our constitution will remain unchanged and the EU will be unable to adopt the Treaty, as it required agreement from ALL member states.

I will follow up this post with my own opinions, decisions, questions and ideas on the Treaty and I look forward to hearing what other people have to say.

Thank you for bearing with me throughout.


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