Welcome to the new version of European Tribune. It's just a new layout, so everything should work as before - please report bugs here.

On Liberty and Libertas - Can I be a "Think Tank" too?

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I never got a response to my final (previously unpublished) e-mail to Libertas, so I am publishing the correspondence here in full the hope of eliciting a response.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

Libertas to fund information leaflet on treaty for every household
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".

Endquote

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

Dear Frank,

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!

Kind regards,

Naoise.


I responded as follows:

Sent: 22 January 2008 16:14

Dear Naoise,

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.

Sincerely,

Frank


Libertas responded:

Sent: 22 January 2008 17:26

Dear Frank,

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?

Kind regards,

Naoise Nunn

Executive Director

Libertas


My final response, to which I have received no reply:

Sent: 30 January 2008 19:35

Dear Naoise,

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.

Frank Schnittger

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.

Display:
I have just received an e-mail response from Libertas to which I have responded as follows:
Many thanks for your reply.  As you may know I published a story on this on the European Tribune this morning before I got this, and also had a letter published in the Irish Times today which mentions you in passing.  I will publish your response on the European Tribine to enable any debate to take your views into account.

Kind Regards,

The Libertas e-mail responds to the last e-mail in my diary on a point for point basis and so I will bold their comments on my e-mail below for clarity.

Frank:Many thanks for your reply and my apologies for not responding sooner.  As you know I have been away.

Naoise Nunn, Chief Executive, Libertas:No problem - hope you had a good break.

I find the concept of a "citizen's think tank" vaguely amusing, implying as it does, that other think tanks are not made up of citizens.

You are entitled to be amused although yours is a facile suggestion. The obvious point is that most think tanks involve academics talking to one another rather than to ordinary citizens we aimed to operate differently.

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 research to justify the claim to be a think tank of any kind.  

There's nothing "obvious" about your conclusion; we have a full-time staff of two, we have been operating from a standing start for just over a year and if you took the time to look, we have quite a bit of discussion on our website. We have also commissioned an index of MEPs' performance and worked on our energy initiative.

In fact my blog, which I only started last month, probably has more substantive content than the Libertas site.  

It doesn't

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.

It doesn't confirm anything other than that is what the media have chosen to refer to us as

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.  

We have extensive analysis on the website at www.libertas.org and will shortly be publishing the economic arguments for rejecting the Lisbon Treaty in pamphlet form.

Instead you quote an obscure English parliamentarian.

The chairman of the European Scrutiny committee is hardly "obscure" - and he's Scottish.

Why should we take him as our authority on the Treaty even if he does claim to be pro-treaty?  

I never suggested we should; it was one quote in an email to you

(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?")

There are 12 pages of properly evidenced anti-Treaty arguments on our website and there will be more - the campaign road is a long one

I can find no list of signatories to the Libertas Charter on the website.  

Agreed, it has been removed - people can sign up to it as they wish

The Charter is in any case quite a general aspirational document

Is that a problem? Should we not aspire to anything?

which does not imply either a pro- or anti view of the Treaty.

Why should it? It was drafted before we came to a view on 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?

Yes

How many of Declan Ganley's many companies have contributed?

None - he has contributed personally

Will we know the details of your funding at the same time as your leaflet drop - i.e well in advance of the referendum?

We will comply with our obligations under the Electoral Acts and in accordance with the Standards in Public Office Commission just like everyone else. I presume you asked Dick Roche to publish a list of the members of Fianna Fail; reveal whether they supported or opposed the treaty and exactly how much they received in donations and from whom?

Your "Energy Initiative" appears to be entirely irrelevant to the EU Reform Treaty

It is part of our work as a think tank - developing an initiative which harnesses the best of the EU for the benefit of its citizens in a way they can readily appreciate.

and appears to be included only as a means of providing some spurious authority and much needed content for the site.

The Energy Initiative pre-dates the development of our website

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?

They're here www.libertas.org

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.

Indeed, it is deficient enough to vote No.

However I can see no substantive case being made for this on your site.

Again, the arguments are at www.libertas.org and more will be published shortly

It seems like a vanity project for a very few well funded individuals who take the rest of us citizens for fools.

I don't understand how you could catagorise this as a "vanity project". Whether anyone involved is well-funded or not is irrelevant to the debate. It is the Government which is taking us citizens for fools by asking us to vote for this Treaty on the basis that "Europe has been good to Ireland" - no one disputes that and we're not advocating withdrawal from any aspect of the current dispensation

Again I have to ask the question: In whose interest are you acting,

We're acting in the interests of citizens who are concerned by the growing unaccountable shift in power from national governments to Brussels; we are concerned at the diminution  of Ireland's influence in Europe through the loss of a commissioner for 5 out of every 15 years, the loss of the right to nominate that commissioner, the relative reduction in voting weights, the loss of an MEP and the surrender of 68 vetos in areas such as immigration, energy, the environment, transport and the appointment of the (unelected) president and minister for foreign affairs of Europe. Significantly, the Common Commerical Policy will mean the EU can strip the IDA of the tools it has had to bring foreign direct investment and jobs to Ireland

and what is your signed up membership - and have they all explicitly agreed to oppose the Treaty?  

We do not publish a list of our members - does Fianna Fail? Not all our supporters oppose the Treaty though most do.

Of course you have the right to oppose the Treaty if you so wish.  No one is denying you that.  

Gee, thanks!

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.

We've read the Treaty. We don't claim any more legitimacy than anyone else who has read it. Your quote of "legacy organizations" is a reference Declan Ganley made in an interview a couple of years ago referring to the European Parliament groupings of political parties.

Why should anyone take you any more seriously than the average argumentative type in a pub?

Because we're read and studied the treaty, we've had legal advice from some of Europe's top constitutional lawyers and we've published many of our initial views on our website and articulated them in the media

What right have you to stuff my mailbox with junk mail?  

We'll take you off the mailing list

Why should anyone be bothered to read it?  

Because they should be fully informed of the cons of this Treaty as well as the pros which will be argued by the Government and other main parties.

You haven't made your case.

I think we're making some very good arguments and it's early days yet!

Kind regards,

Naoise.

Having looked at Libertas website again, I stand by all the comments I have made above. However I will let interested readers check out the site and come to their own independent view.  Most of the responses seem facile or claim an equivalence with Fianna Fail which has historically been THE Governing party in Ireland and regularly gets 40% of the vote.  No doubt Libertas will claim the credit and an equal mandate if the "No" vote reaches a similar figure.

Having claimed Libertas has no responsibility for the media description of them as a "think tank", Naoise then argues that the "Energy Initiative" is documented on their website is part of their work as a "think tank"!  It seems clear where the media got that idea from.

"It's a mystery to me - the game commences, For the usual fee - plus expenses, Confidential information - it's in my diary..."

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Feb 20th, 2008 at 08:52:42 AM EST
I would say yes - you can be a think tank too!

As I see it the think tank concept is to establish an academic front for other organisations. The beauty of it is that it is quick to set up and quick to dismantle (should the academics fail to realise who they serve). Much easier and safer then building up actual academic institutions for which there are rules and regulations.

So I am delighted that the term is diluted by people establishing themselves as think tanks. We can all be our own think tank.

A vote for PES is a vote for EPP! A vote for EPP is a vote for PES! Support the coalition, vote EPP-PES in 2009!

by A swedish kind of death on Wed Feb 20th, 2008 at 10:24:17 AM EST
With the information provided by Libertas I do not see them as shadowy. They are new and unestablished but basically they are like any other NGO participating in the debate about the constitution and follow the same rules on campaign donations. Right?

A vote for PES is a vote for EPP! A vote for EPP is a vote for PES! Support the coalition, vote EPP-PES in 2009!
by A swedish kind of death on Wed Feb 20th, 2008 at 10:27:24 AM EST
My shadowy comment related to their claims to be a think tank with widespread political and popular support.  Even after all my correspondence I still do not know how many signed up members they have 10, 100, 1000?  Who knows?  And it is unclear what "membership" constitutes and signs you up for if it is not explicitly linked to opposition t the Lisbon Treaty.

I had a letter published in the Irish Times today which sums up part of my problem:ireland.com - The Irish Times - Letters

Madam - Ita McCormack (February 14th) is under the quaint delusion that letters in The Irish Times are published on merit, regardless of the title or prestige of the signatory. From experience, I can share with her the real guidelines which must be followed:

1. Never criticise The Irish Times itself. 2. Do not depart too far from the "dominant narrative" as contained in Irish Times Editorials. 3. Never antagonise the Letters Page editor by demanding a right of reply when you are criticised by name on the Letters page. 4. Sarcastic or silly one-liners have priority. 5. If writing a longer letter on a more serious and necessarily complex subject, always lend your letter some spurious authority by signing it as President of the Lesser Spotted Bumpkins Society or some such worthy organisation, or by claiming to be a "think tank" such as "Libertas", which is anything but a think tank as a simple perusal of its website will confirm.

Failing the above, write instead on some serious online forum which is not limited to contacts of the small-minded coterie which now runs The Irish Times and seeks to pass itself off as a serious forum for open debate. Most of us have long realised that it is anything but and have moved on the bigger and better things elsewhere. - Yours, etc,

FRANK SCHNITTGER, Red Lane, Blessington, Co Wicklow.

The Irish Times edited out my reference to the European Tribune in the last paragraph.  Presumably they don't want to give any publicity to the competition!

"It's a mystery to me - the game commences, For the usual fee - plus expenses, Confidential information - it's in my diary..."

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Feb 20th, 2008 at 11:06:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The Irish Times edited out my reference to the European Tribune in the last paragraph.

I'm shocked.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Feb 20th, 2008 at 11:07:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm shocked they published at all.  I have had occasion to write to them several times in the past year on serious issues including Irish Times misrepresentations of organisations I do voluntary work for and none were published.  I also think I pissed off the Letters page editor when I complained he didn't publish my response to a letter criticizing me by name.  The old fashioned "right of reply" no longer seems to apply.

Unfortunately they can now feel all self-congratulatory for publishing a critical letter - whilst leaving the more serious stuff on the editing floor.

"It's a mystery to me - the game commences, For the usual fee - plus expenses, Confidential information - it's in my diary..."

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Feb 20th, 2008 at 11:20:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm catching this a bit late, but wanted to say it anyway!

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun Feb 24th, 2008 at 09:12:59 AM EST
Thanks.  Dick Roche seems to have gone to ground - so I doubt the blog will happen.  Once he said he would get "clearance" I feared the worst - as a civil servant or PR officer if you can do something, and you will get 10 reasons why you can't.

"It's a mystery to me - the game commences, For the usual fee - plus expenses, Confidential information - it's in my diary..."
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Feb 24th, 2008 at 01:07:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]


Display:
Go to: [ European Tribune Homepage : Top of page : Top of comments ]

Top Diaries