by Frank Schnittger
Fri Jan 18th, 2008 at 08:28:37 AM EST
The public debate on the EU Reform Treaty is beginning to heat up in Ireland with public apoplexy at the prospect of Le Pen and UKIP leaders coming to Ireland to take part in the debate. Desperate to try and paint themselves as the voice of progressive anti-globalisation and popular democracy, the Anti-EU Reform Treaty parties and lobby groups are horrified that their cause might be sullied by the presence of such a revanchist old guard nationalist figure.
The Green Party is due to hold their National conference to decide on whether to support the Treaty tomorrow and former Green MEP Patricia McKenna has neatly summarised the case against:
ireland.com - The Irish Times - Thu, Jan 17, 2008 - Lisbon Treaty should not be given the Green light
The Green Party must say No to Lisbon because of the contempt the political elite is showing for the people, writes former MEP Patricia McKenna .
The Lisbon Treaty, like previous EU treaties, includes many proposals which are worrying for Green Party members.
The most obvious ones are the further militarisation of the EU, the power grab by the bigger member states, the further centralisation of power without true democratic accountability or control by elected representatives either in the European Parliament or national parliaments, the threat to "Social Europe", the lack of a requirement for UN mandates for EU military actions and the creation of a de facto state.
But on this occasion perhaps the most glaring concern of all is not just the treaty alone but the contempt shown by the political elite of Europe towards the citizens of the member states, and the refusal to give them a say on the future direction of the EU.
So on the one hand, anti-EU Reform campaigners claim to be speaking on behalf of other EU member state citizens who may be against the Treaty but who have been deprived of a direct say on the matter by their Governments' decisions to ratify the Treaty directly without popular referendum, and on the other hand they are horrified that anti-EU politicians from other member states might seek to join in the debate!
Talk about trying to have it both ways! How inconvenient that Le Pen and other opponents of the Treaty would like to actually speak on behalf of some of those "disenfranchised" European Citizens.
It is amazing how upset people can get about a College Society doing what College societies are supposed to do - create some controversy, expose their members to some different points of view, and give them the opportunity to learn to think for themselves.
ireland.com - The Irish Times - Fri, Jan 18, 2008 - Le Pen invitation to UCD debate criticised
UCD has strongly criticised its own Law Society for inviting the far-right politician and Holocaust denier Jean Marie Le Pen to a debate on the Lisbon Treaty.
"This is an ill-judged flight of fancy by a student society and we don't expect that the talk will take place," a UCD spokesman said yesterday. He did not rule out college authorities moving to prohibit the attendance of Mr Le Pen at the UCD campus in Belfield.
The UCD Law Society, which is run by students at the college, has asked Mr Le Pen and his National Front colleague French MEP Bruno Gollnisch to speak at the college in late March or early April ahead of a referendum.
Both men are avid opponents of the EU, which they argue undermines national sovereignty and boosts immigration.
Mr Le Pen is a controversial figure in France where he founded the vociferously anti-immigration Front National party in 1972. He has been successfully convicted in both France and Germany for making comments that "minimised the Holocaust".
Ciarán Ahern, auditor of the UCD Law Society, defended the invitation on the basis that both are prominent opponents of the Lisbon Treaty.
"We are charged with promoting free speech within UCD. We certainly don't want to give a platform to xenophobes but it should be up to their opponents to defeat their arguments in debate," said Mr Ahern. Their attendance was not yet "set in stone" as neither had yet accepted the society's invitation.
A spokesman for Mr Le Pen told The Irish Times last night that neither he nor Mr Gollnisch had yet made a final decision on whether to attend. He said they were both eager to come to Ireland to take part in the debate but they wanted to consider how it would affect the No campaign.
There was a generally negative reaction yesterday to the decision to invite Mr Le Pen.
Minister of State for European Affairs Dick Roche said: "He belongs to another age, as do his Eurosceptic opinions. Sadly, Le Pen is not the only person on the No side that is intent on misrepresenting what the EU Reform Treaty is about."
Sinn Féin MEP Mary Lou McDonald said Mr Le Pen's attendance would damage the No campaign. "If Mr Le Pen really wants a No vote in this referendum then the best thing he can do is to stay away," she said.
Libertas, a think tank opposed to the Lisbon Treaty, also criticised the invitation to Mr Le Pen as "a fairly pathetic attempt by a student society to get publicity for itself on the back of the forthcoming referendum campaign."
The UK Independence Party (UkIP) has also decided to campaign against the Lisbon Treaty in the upcoming Irish referendum. The party's national executive council decided last Friday that it would "actively assist the Irish campaign for a No vote", according to a note published on the far-right wing party's website.
Ukip leader Nigel Farage told The Irish Times yesterday that some people in Ireland may take umbrage at English people telling them what to do, but he said some members of Ukip would go to Ireland during the campaign.
The Leader in today's Irish Times captures the issues well:
ireland.com - The Irish Times - Fri, Jan 18, 2008 - Green stance on Lisbon Treaty
A lot hangs on tomorrow's vote by Green Party members on whether the party should support the Lisbon Treaty in this year's referendum campaign. Although the issue did not form part of the coalition bargaining last year support for the treaty is a fundamental part of the Government's programme. This has been acknowledged by the two Green Ministers and Oireachtas members who are in favour of the treaty, together with most of the party's elected representatives throughout the country. Their political credibility will be tested by the decision.
While it is very much part of their party's ethos to have such an open democratic debate it remains to be seen whether the leadership can carry the party base with it, as it did so effectively on the decision to enter government. A two-thirds majority is needed at this convention for the party to support the treaty. Its leaders are confident of carrying an absolute majority with them, less so of reaching that threshold. That is why there are three options before the members: a Yes, a No and an intermediate position which would allow the Ministers stay in government even if the party remains opposed or unmandated so that members may campaign either way.
In fact this is much more than a question of leadership alone, since on both questions there has been a genuine development of attitudes among Green Party members, resulting in a different approach to exerting political influence. The logic of their willingness to enter government differs from that of constant opposition, as was seen in the overwhelming majority with which that momentous decision was carried last June. The argument that the Green agenda is best pursued in office where it can influence national policy on climate change, environmental conditions and sustainability applies equally well to the Lisbon Treaty, which is intended to enhance the European Union's capacity to deal effectively with these issues at international level.
Whether that argument will carry at tomorrow's convention remains uncertain. For years the Greens have been critical of successive EU treaties on the basis that they depleted state sovereignty, diminished Ireland's neutrality and reduced democratic participation. This put them in line with similar Green parties in the UK and Scandinavia. Each of these positions is contested by more Europhile Greens elsewhere in continental Europe who say their values are much better served by a stronger and more democratic EU capable of dealing with inherently transnational issues like growing economic interdependence, global warming, development and insecurity. In many ways the Irish Greens are evolving towards the second of these positions.
The Greens' political commitment and energy are needed by the Government if the treaty is to be passed. Rejecting it would have heavy costs for this State. A comprehensive effort is needed to raise knowledge and awareness of the treaty from its present lamentably low level, allowing an informed debate on its merits to take place.
The reality is that the vast majority of those opposed to the EU Reform Treaty were, if they were old enough, opposed to Ireland's entry into the EU in 1973 in the first place, and have opposed every EU related referendum since. Some are old guard Irish Nationalists, some are neo-liberal business interests, and some, like Sinn Fein, are seeking to re-invent themselves as the voice of a younger working class nationalist socialism opposed to big business and big government in general.
Long used to acting as a pressure group in Opposition, many Green Party members are still adjusting to the compromises required by being a minor party in a coalition Government. Their support for the official Government policy of supporting the Treaty cannot be taken for granted, especially by the required two thirds majority, even if to defeat it were to embarrass their own Ministers in Government.
The prospect of having Le Pen and UKIP activists on your side must be truly galling for those opposed to the Treaty in what is in many ways a very progressive Party.