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A Tale of two letters

by Frank Schnittger Wed Jul 9th, 2008 at 07:28:34 AM EST

Two letters in today's newly subscription free Irish Times nicely encapsulate the current debate on the Lisbon Treaty referendum in Ireland.  One, whilst expressing equanimity as to the outcome, lambastes the No campaign for blaming all of Ireland's ills on the EU, arguing we have have very much been the authors of our own current misfortunes.  The second, from the No side, mysteriously blames everything on the Nice Treaty, without giving a shred of evidence to support this contention.  Interestingly, its author gives his address as New York.

It is tempting to adopt an almost wholly psychologistic interpretation of the Lisbon Treaty referendum outcome.  Times have turned hard very suddenly in Ireland with record rises in unemployment, public sector deficit, inflation, and record declines in house building (down 50%), share prices (down 50% since the beginning of the year), house prices and consumer sentiment.  

Younger Irish voters have known nothing but the Celtic Tiger boom years and all of these phenomena are new and disconcerting for them.  There is no point in reminding them that the 1980's were far worse and that the EU has been responsible for much of the economic and social progress since.

The hunt is on for a scapegoat and what better scapegoat than an external bogeyman? Otherwise we might just have to take some responsibility for our own fate.  If this line of argument is correct, then the no vote was a protest vote against the Irish political establishment - seen as almost indistinguishable from the EU project - against everything that has gone wrong in recent times.  It is a child's angry cry for attention and solace, not an adult's taking of responsibility for what has happened and must be made happen in the future. It is a petulant refusal to grow up and take our place as positive contributors to the greater world. It's about me, me, me.

Discuss.


Aftermath of Lisbon Treaty referendum - The Irish Times - Wed, Jul 09, 2008

Madam, - Fintan O'Toole's column of July 1st, drawing together Bertie Ahern's new office furnishings and the seven-year jail sentence imposed on a long-time drug-user, is a stark reminder that the eventual outcome of the Lisbon Treaty referendum may not be all that important for Irish society. Our present state is due far more to our own social and political decisions, and our political apathy, than to any diktat of the European Union.

In the referendum, No campaigners warned that our tax regime would be changed to suit the needs of the big four - Germany, France, Britain and Italy - and that Irish taxpayers would suffer accordingly. But it was Irish banks and builders, aided and abetted by our own political system, that created the grossly imbalanced economy which is now tottering into recession. We were warned against becoming an economic minnow in a European super-state, but we have long since voluntarily become an economic dependency of the United States and are now painfully at the mercy of US investment decisions. No campaigners also warned against the lack of accountability at the heart of "Super Europe". But here at home we have had 10 years of tribunals investigating corruption and other crimes and all we got was a platform for apparent perjury and plutocratic amnesia. Charlie Haughey prostituted our political system and was rewarded with a State funeral. Only one politician, and not even one shady businessman, went to jail - yet our prisons are full of petty offenders and fine-defaulters.

No campaigners warned against the loss of our cherished neutrality, the militarisation of Europe and the spectre of our young people being conscripted into an EU army. Yet for several years, the Irish electorate has tolerated the use of Shannon Airport to support the illegal, immoral and ultimately futile US invasion and occupation of Iraq. And for 30 years the Irish public remained largely silent in the face of an un-mandated war waged by Sinn Féin/IRA, all allegedly in the name of our Republic. A peculiarly Irish concept of "neutrality".

No campaigners warned against the importation of promiscuity, prostitution, euthanasia, etc, if Lisbon was ratified. But it wasn't "godless Europe" that imported the very high level of child sexual abuse that has been prevalent for generations, nor the alarming levels of elder abuse which have recently been highlighted.

No campaigners warned against Ireland losing its "sovereignty" in a new EU super-state and the concentration of power in an unelected Brussels bureaucracy. But it wasn't the EU that over the past several general elections has created a de facto one-party state, with little or no prospect of dislodging Fianna Fáil from permanent power. It was our own electorate - and recent opinion polls indicate on-going support for this arrangement.

No campaigners warned against our "national identity" being swallowed up in a gigantic super-state. Our identity in the Irish Republic used to be, by and large, Catholic, nationalist, GAA-playing, Gaelic-loving (but not speaking!), monogamist, sexually conservative. It wasn't a godless Europe that eroded these core values: we voluntarily and very rapidly gave them up to become fans of "European" soccer stars, Spice Girls and Sugababes of various flavours, Boyzlife and Westzone, Hathy Yoga, Tarot Cards, Hello magazine - you name it! Our "identity" is now truly catholic in the original sense of the word.

And so it goes. It's high time for Irish voters to realise that much, if not most, of our destiny still lies in our own hands. - Yours, etc,

JERRY CROWLEY,

Belgrove Lawn,

Dublin 20.

**

Madam, -- I am mystified by The Irish Times's continued support of the Lisbon Treaty, as I am by the apparent acceptance of President Sarkozy's intent to "resolve" the Irish problem.

There is no problem. The Irish people looked at a treaty that was unreadable and unread by many of those who supported it - this in a context where the common citizen is seeing widespread, profound and uniformly negative effects from the Nice Treaty - and they very rationally voted No.

The absurd reiteration that Ireland is the "only" country to balk is simply a product of the fact that it is the only country where the people had the right to a say. Had the other EU countries had the opportunity, without doubt the Irish would not be alone in their response.

Far from this being an Irish "problem" needing resolution, this is a moment where Ireland has raised a vital question on whose interests the EU is to serve. Sarkozy's reaction gives a very perturbing indication of the answer to that question. - Yours, etc,

GREGORY GRENE,

Madison Avenue,

New York,

Display:
When I attempted to submit this Diary I got an error message "Please fill in a value for the following fields: topic" however no topic field is visible.  I eventually resolved the problem by putting the word "Ireland" into the polls box even though I had not intended adding a poll.  Are we currently testing a beta version of ET with some tagging functionality being added?  If so we need to add an explicit "Topic" box.

"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 Jul 9th, 2008 at 07:32:11 AM EST
I just did a test diary to see if I could replicate the problem and it posted just fine.  There's no beta version and to my knowledge no changes made recently that would have led to that; I think one of the other FPers was experimenting with the CSS script affecting comments earlier, but it shouldn't have affected the posting of diaries.  And as I said, I posted a test diary without a problem.

What browser are you using?  Anyone else having similar issues posting diaries?

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Wed Jul 9th, 2008 at 10:50:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Firefox vers. 2.0.0.15

"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 Jul 9th, 2008 at 11:32:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sometimes that happens, I don't know why, but I tend to encounter that problem when posting on the FP, not with diaries.

I deleted the poll.

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jul 9th, 2008 at 10:51:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks

"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 Jul 9th, 2008 at 11:33:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
By "topic" Scoop means the options in the pull-down menu in the middle of the top line of the page. It displays "Diary" by default, but has a list of topics like International, Energy, Europe (indicated in this case). These can be used as tags when running a search with the Scoop search function.

Normally, however, Scoop accepts the generic "Diary", and your diary was posted under that "topic". (A lot of diaries are posted under the default "Diary", so searching with topic tags is pot luck...) Why Scoop got temperamental on you is hard to say. Mysterious ways etc...

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Jul 9th, 2008 at 11:29:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think Frank accidentally clicked on the pull-down menu and set it to "Everything" - because that's then you are prompted for valid topic.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Jul 9th, 2008 at 11:47:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The only way I've found to reproduce that error message is when "Everything" is selected in that topic box:

Why there's an "Everything" that doesn't count as a topic is truly beyond me ;)

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Jul 9th, 2008 at 11:54:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Good detective work and possibly the reason.  At some point I wondered what that selection box was for and may have clicked on it - although I don't recall seeing those options and certainly don't recall selecting one.  This looks like redundant functionality at the moment, although presumable would come in handy if we ever had separate diary streams for different languages or topics.  

"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 Jul 9th, 2008 at 12:08:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
PS - if that is the case it surprises me that putting "Ireland" into the poll box appeared to solve the problem.

"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 Jul 9th, 2008 at 12:10:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Probably it sprangf back to "Diary" upon re-load, and putting "Ireland" into the poll box did nothing.

At any rathe, "Everything" seems to be a SCOOP sectioning feature unused on ET, so I simply deleted it from the topics.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Jul 9th, 2008 at 12:29:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
should prevent the problem re-occurring so.  Thanks.

"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 Jul 9th, 2008 at 12:52:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Ireland has a magic of its own?
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Jul 9th, 2008 at 05:02:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm gone with the faeries....

"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 Jul 9th, 2008 at 06:14:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
..profound and uniformly negative effects from the Nice Treaty - and they very rationally voted No.

It would have been interesting if he would actually have told us what this negative effects are and how  they are related to the Nice Treaty.

by rz on Wed Jul 9th, 2008 at 09:16:30 AM EST
Not to speak of the fact that voting 'no' retains the Nice treaty, so to argue it is rational because of the ill effects of the Nice treaty requires some justification.

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jul 9th, 2008 at 09:21:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Such sweeping assertions without any specific justifications have been characteristic of the No side.  Basically anything you were unhappy about could be blamed on the EU/Brussels bureaucrats/Irish Government/political establishment/Lisbon Treaty and now the Nice Treaty.  Take your pick.  If they wanted it, then this was a good opportunity to give them a good kick up the backside by voting no.

"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 Jul 9th, 2008 at 09:50:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If they wanted it, then this was a good opportunity to give them a good kick up the backside by voting no.

That is actually a good point. In my opinion it is also important that people feel that they can give "the elites" a kick without any negative consequences for Europe, because "the elites" will drive forward the European Project anyway. This has the double effect of people feeling powerless, but also don't feel any responsibility.

by rz on Wed Jul 9th, 2008 at 10:02:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The NO side succeeded in portraying a No vote as a vote for the status quo, with no negative consequences, and thus a risk free way of giving the elite a kick up the back side.  Sinn Fein explicitly campaigned on the basis of negotiating a better deal for Ireland - I.e they were not against the Treaty per se - just that they would be better at negotiating a deal more favourable to Ireland's interests.

It is the job of an opposition party to hold the Government to account - and implicitly or explicitly claim that they would do a better job if given the chance.  In this case the fact that there is no prospect of Sinn Fein being in Government in the foreseeable future also relieved them of the responsibility and risk that they might actually end up having to do so and deliver on their promise.

My guess that -after a lot of huffing and puffing - a new referendum will be held next June at the same time as the EU Parliament and Local Government elections.  This will have the effect of:

  1. Increasing turnout still further
  2. Allowing negative sentiment to be expressed in terms of who is elected to the Parliament and local councils - mid term elections are a traditional vehicle for protest votes that don't actually change the Government.
  3. The negative consequences oh a second NO vote will be much more clearly spelled out - e.g. a two speed EU, enlargement without Ireland into the first tier, a sense of being left behind and no longer at the heart of the project.

By next June  the national economic situation will be much more serious still.  People will start to fell nervous that perhaps we need the EU to be more effective and dynamic after all - and have mnuch less faith in Ireland's ability to solve its problems on its own.

The incoming EU Parliament could be elected with a specific mandate to review the "democratic deficit" within the EU and perhaps write a new simplified constitution with greater direct electoral accountability throughout the EU.

After all, the left component of the NO vote often wanted greater EU integration not less - and complained that the EU wasn't doing enough on the environment, human rights etc.

So one strategy could be to split the left and right components of the NO vote by allowing this to become a possibility in a future Treaty.  The problem is that the Right/nationalist component of the NO vote probably outnumbered the left component by (say) 5:1, and so long as the debate is conducted on purely nationalist terms, the EU ideal just cannot win.

"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 Jul 9th, 2008 at 10:25:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The NO side succeeded in portraying a No vote as a vote for the status quo, with no negative consequences, and thus a risk free way of giving the elite a kick up the back side.

And is that wrong?

I am more concerned with people who would argue that the vote was really a vote on EU membership.

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jul 9th, 2008 at 10:56:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Migeru:
I am more concerned with people who would argue that the vote was really a vote on EU membership.

There has been quite a lot of comments which (whether those making it realised it or not) actually questioned Ireland's membership of the EU per se.  Thus Dana Rosemary Scallan and others argued that the NO vote reaffirmed the primacy of Ireland's constitution over that of the EU.  As an unpublished letter of mine pointed out - and as a letter published today pointed out - the Irish constitution lost this primacy when we joined the EU - and thus to oppose Lisbon on this basis is actually to oppose the EU membership per se.

I think this is in fact exactly how the Government will play any re-run of a referendum - as a referendum on continued membership itself - and thus seek to bully the electorate into accepting Lisbon for fer of losing membership altogether - something 90% of people don't want.

Of course this is a demagogic tactic, and one I do not support, and it will probably have mixed results and negative long term consequences.  However my suspicion is that a Cowen Government with a Roche minister for European affairs will resort to such a tactic - and use fear of losing everything has a goad to force people into voting yes.

Having said that there has also been a fundamental dishonesty on the NO side - some of the No campaigners were against the EU per se but couldn't say so because they knew they couldn't win on that basis.

A lot depends on what "Europe" is on offer at the time of any future referendum.  If the other 26 Governments make it clear that they are moving ahead on Lisbon leaving Ireland on its own in a shell "Nice EU" you wouldn't see the Irish electorate for dust in their rush to embrace the Lisbon EU.

The real question is: What choice will the electorate be offered? Will the status quo be an option - if so, it will always be the soft option for many.  The question is whether the other 24-26 Governments be prepared to give a veto to a small minority or whether they will forge ahead with a new Lisbon based EU of their own.

As usual I expect that issue to be fudged.  The other 24-26 will not want to be seen to bully Ireland, and will seek to preserve a sense of collegiality.  But what writing will Irish people be reading between the lines?

"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 Jul 9th, 2008 at 12:00:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thus Dana Rosemary Scallan and others argued that the NO vote reaffirmed the primacy of Ireland's constitution over that of the EU.  As an unpublished letter of mine pointed out - and as a letter published today pointed out - the Irish constitution lost this primacy when we joined the EU - and thus to oppose Lisbon on this basis is actually to oppose the EU membership per se.

I would actually be interested in knowing how that argument goes, because the EU remains, constitutionally, an intergovernmental treaty organization. Sovereignty is (so to speak) jointly and severally (emphasis on the severally) with the member states. I don't know that any other EU member state goes as far as Spain in allowing the transfer of competences to the EU

Section 93
1. Authorization may be granted by an organic act for concluding treaties by which powers derived from the Constitution shall be transferred to an international organization or institution. It is incumbent on the Cortes Generales or the Government, as the case may be, to ensure compliance with these treaties and with resolutions originating in the international and supranational organizations to which such powers have been so transferred.
but sovereignty remains with the Spanish people and the government cannot enter into treaties that contradict the constitution.

The primacy of national constitutions has never been in question and I challenge you to quote an EU document that contradicts me on this.

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jul 9th, 2008 at 02:12:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There have been previous letters to the Irish Times by European law experts on this topic, but unfortunately the new irishtimes.com site design seems to make it impossible to view previous editions.  The thrust of their argument, if memory serves, is that every treaty transfers or pools some sovereignty to the high contracting parties or to the institutions they thereby set up.

Of course the Irish people retain sovereignty in those areas not pooled or transfered and any new treaty, transfering/pooling additional powers, has to be ratified by referendum.

Each referendum is on a specific amendment to the Irish constitution and so it could be argued that the Irish constitution retains primacy insofar as it codifies what powers are transfered. However these amendments generally just refer to the transfer of powers "as provided for by the Lisbon Treaty".  So who is the final arbiter of what that Treaty entails?  My understanding is that it is the European court - but I stand to be corrected on this.

Where this gets tricky is if a dispute arose, between Ireland and the EU, on e.g. standardising the basis (as opposed to the rate) of corporate taxation.  Which court would have the final say - the Irish Supreme Court or the European Court - as to whether competence in this area had been transfered?

It gets even trickier if the EU were to decide that e.g. "abortion services" are covered by the services directive, and should therefore be freely available in all member states.

To my knowledge no such dispute has ever arisen and I am not personally competent to give an opinion on this - although it was raised as an issue during the Lisbon campaign by the NO side who argued that it could allow abortion into Ireland by the back door - particularly as the European Court is seen as an activist body keen to extend the remit of European law.

This is where a codicil or protocol stating explicitly that the provision of e.g. abortion services in Ireland is Governed by Irish law might be helpful in allaying fears of "EU law scope creep"

Of course, if you did include such a protocol us libruls would have to vote against...:-)

"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 Jul 9th, 2008 at 03:04:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The negative consequences oh a second NO vote will be much more clearly spelled out

While it is necessary to do this, it should be done in a very careful way, otherwise it will just harden opinions.

I think that it is time that finally anti-Europe talk is followed by anti-Europe action. A prime example for this are the British Tories. They bitch day and night about the EU but in the end Cameron has not really made clear where he stands. To give voters a clear choice he should state clearly that he intends to withdraw Britain from the Union.  

by rz on Wed Jul 9th, 2008 at 10:57:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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