by Frank Schnittger
Wed Feb 20th, 2008 at 04:15:19 AM EST
Avid readers may recall some correspondence I published at the end of the comment thread to my diary on European Tribune - Interview with Dick Roche: Irish Minister for European Affairs. The correspondence was with Naoise Nunn, Executive Director, of a self styled "Citizen's Think Tank" called "Libertas" which has achieved some media prominence in Ireland for its campaign against the Lisbon Reform Treaty and which plans to drop a leaflet in every home in Ireland outlining its opposition to the Treaty.
I never got a response to my final (previously unpublished) e-mail to Libertas, so I am publishing the correspondence here in full the hope of eliciting a response. For an organisation which criticises the EU for a lack of transparency, we really do have a right to a greater degree of transparency in those who set themselves up as as better equipped to advise us on our European future than traditional political parties which they criticise as "legacy organisations".
(Full disclosure: I should add that I have no personal interest in this matter whatsoever. I am not a member of any political party but am a constituent of Dick Roche as a member of Parliament and have had some prior dealings with him on local community development matters. I have had more recent discussions with him with a view to encouraging Dick to host a blog on ET on the Lisbon Treaty on behalf of the Irish Government - something which I hope will happen shortly. If it occurs I will also invite Libertas to participate.)
In European Tribune - Interview with Dick Roche: Irish Minister for European Affairs
I had written as follows:
Quote: "Libertas is a very strange organisation with a well design website with almost no content but which appears to suggest that they are major players in the EU Energy Policy development space - including having acted as "advisors" to several Governments. It is run by three people, the principle one being Libertas President Declan Ganley who apparently has about 40 websites and a large number of companies and business interests in Russia, Albania, and Eastern Europe. He apparently set up the first emergency mobile phone mast in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina struck - thus making a significant contribution to the relief effort. David Cochrane, of Politics.ie is also said to be involved.
My attempts to contact Libertas staff have so far failed. However I am amazed at how such an apparently small group can achieve "Think Tank" status in the Irish media. I am thinking of setting up a Think Tank myself as it seems to be the best way of garnering quite a lot of free MSM publicity.
Libertas.org - Home
| Thursday, 10 January 2008|
Naoise Nunn Executive Director, holds a bin as Libertas President Declan Ganley disposes of the Green Party`s 2007 manifesto calling it a sham,while holding a Libertas leaflet,which will be printed for every home in the country and will outline arguments in favour of the treaty,with a point-by-point rebuttal to each of them.At the Photocall Mr Ganley said Libertas had taken the decision in reponse to Environment Minister John Gormley`s decision to limit the role of the referendum commission on the Lisbon Treaty - Photo:Leon Farrell Photocall Ireland
Libertas President Declan Ganley will this morning announce that the organisation will fund an information leaflet for every home in the country to replace the leaflet that would ordinarily have been circulated by the state-funded referendum commission.
Funding is clearly not a problem for Libertas. Quite why an organisation which claims to have acted as an adviser to European Governments should oppose the EU Reform Treaty is less than clear. Hopefully I will be able to find out more on my return. Perhaps other readers here may be able to contribute other pieces to this mysterious jig-saw".
I then went on holiday , where I received the following e-mail which sparked the following correspondence:
Date: Sun, 20 Jan 2008 17:10:16 +0000
I just read your article on your Blog regarding the Lisbon Treaty and associated issues.
I'd be delighted to answer any questions you have about Libertas and our opposition to the Lisbon Treaty and clear up some inaccuracies in your piece. I got the message that you called the office on Friday but didn't manage to return the call successfully. I think it's unfair to catagorise us as a "shadowy" organization on this basis.
Feel free to call or email any time and enjoy Lanzarote in the meantime!
I responded as follows:
Sent: 22 January 2008 16:14
I will obviously be happy to clear up any factual inaccuracies in my piece. I used the term "shadowy" because I could find none of the usual attributes of a "Think Tank" on your site - e.g. a list of distinguished scholars, lists of publications in peer reviewed scholarly journals, lists of scholarships endowed etc.
I also found it strange that you would appear to criticise the EU for a lack of accountability and transparency and yet I could find no information of your funding or membership on your site. Indeed what is your democratic legitimacy? IT is all very well to criticise our political,parties as being "legacy organisations", but at least they do have varying degrees of a popular mandates and are therefore legitimate actors on our political stage.
On what basis does Libertas claim to have a mandate - democratic or scholarly - from which it can it can claim to speak to the Irish People by way of a leaflet in every home claiming to debunk the considered views of most of our our Government and Opposition parties?
Are the Irish electorate not entitled to know in whose interests you are acting, in that you can hardly claim to be acting on behalf of the Irish electorate or a large part thereof.
Sent: 22 January 2008 17:26
Libertas was established just over a year ago as a "citizens' think tank" which sought to break the mould of traditional think tanks by pursuing activity that spoke to the European public as opposed to engaging in closed academic debate and publication. Our founding members are listed as signatories to the Libertas Charter which is on the website. They include a wide range of people from across Europe including an MEP, a number of senior constitutional lawyers, academics, professionals and PAYE workers and the president of one of Ireland's foremost academic institutions, Professor Roger Downer amongst others. Late last year, having read and analyzed the Lisbon Treaty in detail and realized the manner in which it was to be brought into being across Europe, we decided that we must oppose it. At this point, we changed our focus to become a campaigning organization with a small but broad starting base of Irish citizens from which to build a campaign against the Treaty.
Our funding as a think tank was provided by its founder members, including Declan Ganley. However, as a campaigning organization and a Standards in Public Office Commission-notified third party for the purposes of the referendum campaign, we are bound by the Electoral Acts which specify that no one person or body can make a donation in excess of 6,348 to us (that includes Declan Ganley). We are therefore now funded by donations from our supporters, many of whom have made their contributions online. Our funding is subject to statutory obligations which we will honour fully. It is a shame the same cannot be said of the European Union whose own auditors have refused to sign off its accounts for the 13th year in a row.
We are campaigning for a No vote in the referendum on the Lisbon Treaty for reasons that are well-outlined on our website and in our media appearances. We are as entitled as anyone else to become involved in the political process unless one is of the view that only "State-approved organizations" may express a political opinion. There is no hidden agenda or conspiracy and we are not a "front" for any shadowy organization. We are a group of regular Irish people with centrist political views who are broadly supportive of the concept of the European Union. We believe, however, that it requires radical reform not envisaged in this Treaty, about which we have grave reservations. We are democratically entitled to promote our arguments against the Treaty to the electorate so that they can decide for themselves.
Libertas has never claimed to advise European governments nor has it done so. The Energy Initiative, details of which are posted on our website, is an on-going project aimed at European energy self-sufficiency which involves a number of MEPs, economists, scientists and business people seeking to develop a proposal which was welcomed by EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs and which we hope will be presented to the European Parliament during its discussion on the second phase of the ETS.
Your claim that the Government and Opposition have a "considered view" on the Lisbon Treaty does not stand up - I can guarantee you that 90% of our elected representatives have not even read the document and everyone is being encouraged to sleep-walk into this whole new dispensation for Europe.
Here's a key quote from Michael Connarty, the pro-Treaty chairman of the UK Select Committee on European Scrutiny from last night's Lisbon Treaty debate in the Commons:
"The role of national Parliaments will be massively diminished. In fact, as recently as December it was suggested by European parliamentarians from a number of parties at a Future of Europe conference, that our Parliaments' role will be to try to influence the European Parliament, so that it can make the appropriate amendments to what comes out of the Council"
It suits national politicians to vote for this treaty because it means less work for them. When issues like water charges arise again, they can simply shrug and say "nothing to do with me, boss - that's a matter for Brussels".
At the most fundamental level, constitutions (and there is no doubt this is one) are designed to protect citizens from the excesses of Government. Sadly, the Lisbon Treaty demonstrably protects the political elites and bureaucracies against the irritating demands of citizens for democracy. Who's is working for who here?
My final response, to which I have received no reply:
Sent: 30 January 2008 19:35
Many thanks for your reply and my apologies for not responding sooner. As you know I have been away.
I find the concept of a "citizen's think tank" vaguely amusing, implyng as it does, that other think tanks are not made up of citizens. It is hard to escape the obvious conclusion that it is simply a badge of convenience to cover up the fact that there is no substantial body of reserach to justify the claim to be a think tank of any kind. In fact my blog, which I only started last month, probably has more substantive content than the Libertas site. The fact that the media reports which you cite make reference to a "Think Tank" rather than a "citizen's think tank" seems to confirm the evasiveness of that claim.
The least I would expect of a "campaigning organisation" is a point by point substantiation of the claims it is making by reference to the relevant sections of the Treaty. Instead you quote an obscure English parliamentarian. Why should we take him as our authority on the Treaty even if he does claim to be pro-treaty? (I would prefer a properly evidenced anti-Treaty argument by an anti-Treaty activist - or is their no need for evidence on a "citizen's think tank?")
I can find no list of signatories to the Libertas Charter on the website. The Charter is in any case quite a general aspirational document which does not imply either a pro- or anti view of the Treaty. Give me the Charter of Fundamental Rights contained in the Treaty anytime!
You state you are "now funded by donations from our supporters" - does that include all your start up finance - including the development of your website? How many of Declan Ganley's many companies have contributed? Will we know the details of your funding at the same time as your leaflet drop - i.e well in advance of the referendum?
Your "Energy Initiative" appears to be entirely irrelevant to the EU Reform Treaty and appears to be included only as a means of providing some spurious authority and much needed content for the site. If you truly were a Citizen's Think Tank - where are the blogs, online discussion groups, and articles by a wide range of "citizens". Or is it a Citizen Kane Think Tank, with Declan Ganly playing the role of Citizen Kane?
There may indeed be some very good grounds for opposing the Treaty, and I have myself argued that it is gravely deficient in a lot of ways. However I can see no substantive case being made for this on your site. It seems like a vanity project for a very few well funded individuals who take the rest of us citizens for fools.
Again I have to ask the question: In whose interest are you acting, and what is your signed up membership - and have they all explicitly agreed to oppose the Treaty?
Of course you have the right to oppose the Treaty if you so wish. No one is denying you that. It is your claim to speak with some knowledge and authority, and with a greater legitimacy than "legacy organisations" such as political parties which is being questioned. Why should anyone take you any more seriously than the average argumentative type in a pub? What right have you to stuff my mailbox with junk mail? Why should anyone be bothered to read it? You haven't made your case.
Dick Roche was accused of "spreading lies about Libertas" at a subsequent public Forum on Europe meeting by a prominent Libertas staff member who thought Dick had left the meeting. When the Chair asked Dick to respond, Dick challenged Libertas to provide evidence of same. When no evidence was forthcoming, Libertas was forced to withdraw the claim.
So I again offer this Challenge to Libertas: Respond to the points made in my last e-mail. Which of the above comments are untrue? On the The European Tribune you have the right of public reply, something which I note is absent on the Libertas website.