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LTE: Changing hearts and minds

by Frank Schnittger Thu Jun 25th, 2009 at 01:03:17 PM EST

EU participation an ongoing evolution - Letters, Opinion - Independent.ie

Thursday June 25 2009

About the only remaining argument against the Lisbon Treaty the 'No' campaigners have left is that they dislike being asked to vote on the same treaty twice.

But we have also voted in referendums on proportional representation, divorce and the Nice Treaty twice, and voted no less than four times in abortion-related referendums.

In fact, we seem to be making a habit of revisiting the same issues to be sure, to be sure.

Politics is an ongoing process of change, not a once off, once and for all exercise. So the 'No' campaigners had better get used to it.

Many of them have campaigned against every European treaty referendum since our accession into the EU in 1973. They have become creatures of habit and will no doubt oppose the next treaty (likely to be the accession of Croatia) as well.

We cannot have too much democracy, consultation and participation in the ongoing evolution of the European Union.

Let us rejoice that we have the opportunity to vote when so many have not, both inside and outside the European Union. But let us also not be afraid to change our minds and amend the Constitution if circumstances warrant it, as we have done on no fewer than 23 occasions before.

Our Constitution is a living document, and is the better for those amendments.

Frank Schnittger

Of course there are many valid arguments against the Lisbon Treaty.  Many would say it doesn't go far enough in reforming the EU and preparing it for an expanding membership.  But the NO campaigns in Ireland (for they have little in common with each other) have been more or less boxed into a corner by the Government and EU Council systematically addressing many of the arguments they made the last time around.

As An Taoiseach, Brian Cowen wrote in yesterday's Irish Times:
Why we must deliver a resounding Yes to Lisbon - The Irish Times - Wed, Jun 24, 2009

Our EU partners have addressed our concerns and we must reassert our solidarity with them

AT THE European Council in Brussels last week, the EU member states agreed to give Ireland legally binding guarantees in response to the concerns of the Irish people in relation to the Lisbon Treaty.

Going to Brussels, I had two clear aims. Firstly, I wanted clear legal guarantees on the issues of tax, neutrality and our constitutional protections on the right to life, education and the family. Secondly, I wanted an explicit commitment that these legal guarantees would, at a future point, be given full treaty status, by way of a future protocol.

Both of these aims have been met in full. I am confident that we now have a solid basis to return to the Irish people and to ask them again for their approval for Ireland to ratify the Lisbon Treaty.

I do not underestimate the scale of the challenge. I understand that, for many, absorbing a complex legal document is difficult, and I accept that we must do better this time around in explaining it in clear terms. I recognise, too, that from time to time people can find certain aspects of EU policies and regulations frustrating. Above all, I know that the forces that have always opposed our membership of the European Union since 1973 will once again seek to confuse and mislead the electorate.

Already they are trying to dismiss the significance of last week's achievements. Their accusations that the outcome of the summit was a pre-cooked charade are wrong and highly insulting to our EU partners.

Many member states struggled with Irish reluctance to sign up to what they see as a necessary updating of the union's rulebook. Some were alarmed at being asked to agree guarantees on issues not even mentioned in the Lisbon Treaty. Others, perfectly legitimately, did not wish to reopen their own democratic ratification processes.

Despite these misgivings, our EU partners listened carefully to us, and to our proposals about how our concerns might be addressed. Now they have responded substantively to those concerns, with legal guarantees which ensure that:

- Ireland retains control over our own tax rates;

- Ireland's traditional policy of military neutrality will not be affected by the Lisbon Treaty; and

- The treaty will not affect the protections in the Irish Constitution on the right to life, education and the family.

They have also reaffirmed the importance of workers' rights and public services where, far from being a negative force, the EU has brought about many positive changes over the years. Interestingly, when the No side quote last year's research showing that workers' rights was a big concern for the public, they omit the fact that many people cited progress in this area, including commitments in the Charter on Fundamental Rights, as a major reason why they voted Yes to Lisbon.

Last week's agreement is not the action of a union that cares little for the interests of the citizens of its member states. Rather, it demonstrates the capacity of the union and its member states to work, patiently and constructively, towards consensus and solutions to problems. And above all it represents a very positive response from our partners and a significant achievement for Ireland.

Focusing on last week's outcome risks losing sight of a major element of the overall response to Irish concerns: agreement last December to return to one commissioner per member state if the Lisbon Treaty enters force.

The fact that retaining a commissioner was considered important by so many Irish people reveals, I believe, an underlying appetite for connection with, and influence in, the affairs of the European Union.

None of this will, of course, prevent the No campaigns from introducing new arguments against the Lisbon Treaty.  But so far most of their bile has been directed at the alleged arrogance of the Government and the EU Elite for not taking the Irish No last time around for a final answer.  Hence my LTE above - to highlight the fact that Referendums in Ireland are often not the final answer on anything.

My letter also seeks to highlight a second point - that the popular engagement encouraged by repeated referenda on the same or similar topics is an important part of popular democracy and government legitimacy in Ireland - something which has so far prevented an economic catastrophe turning into a political catastrophe - with riots in the street, racial pogroms (such as the one directed against Romanians in Belfast recently), and government repression the likely outcomes.

So rather than seeing the requirement for repeated Irish referenda on EU issues as a problem, we should see it as a positive way of encouraging wider education, participation and engagement.  Of course a similar process in other Member States (e.g. the UK, France, the Netherlands) might lead to a more negative outcome) and we then have the much more difficult scenario of one member state having a veto on the development of the Union as a whole.

Perhaps the next EU Treaty should address this thorny issue full on and provide for a scenario whereby all future EU Treaties will have to be approved by popular referendums throughout the EU, but that a 60% majority of all voters and at least a 50% majority in 75% of all member states will be sufficient to secure the ratification of a Treaty.  That way greater popular participation and engagement is secured without (say) Malta having a veto on what 90% of the population of the EU as a whole actually need and want.

What is clear is that the current system of ratifying new EU Treaties is all but broken.  Popular engagement is declining, and the EU has been all but paralysed in recent years.  It is this meta problem which needs to be addressed if the EU is to regain the ability to respond dynamically to the challenges in the world ahead.

No doubt such a change (the 60/75% rule) would be resisted tooth and nail by nationalists, eurosceptics, and those who want to destroy the European project because it will diffuse power much more generally throughout the Union, and increase its legitimacy by encouraging wider popular engagement.  But who can doubt that the global challenges of war, climate change, financial regulation and corporate governance to not need a more concerted and dynamic European response?

The EU either needs to improve its popular legitimacy, or it will die.  And it doesn't have a lot of time left to make the choice.

The EU Treaty ratification process
. 1. Is fine the way it is 0%
. 2. Should require a referendum in each member state, with all members having to agree 0%
. 3. Should require a referendum in each member state, with 75% of members having to agree 75%
. 4. Should require a simple majority of voters within the EU as a whole 0%
. 5. Some other new system is required - please specify in comments 25%

Votes: 4
Results | Other Polls
but the Irish Independent has been publishing every letter I send them often as the featured letter in bold print - including quite long ones like this - whereas the Irish Times virtually never publishes the same letters.

I'm quite happy about this as the Indo has a much wider circulation and is a lot more influential in mainstream Ireland.  But it does puzzle me as the Times likes to parade itself as Ireland intellectual "paper of record" and tend to look down on the more populist Indo (also available in Tabloid format).  Most of my letters involve at least some argument and I don't do smart ass 2 liners which the Times likes to publish.  

The indo is also home to Bruce Arnold, Chief Political Correspondent and fawning biographer of Declan Ganley.  Perhaps they are supporting my pro-Lisbon line by way of compensation!

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Jun 25th, 2009 at 10:19:17 AM EST
Europe opposes Lisbon - McCreevy - The Irish Times - Fri, Jun 26, 2009

The European Union's Lisbon reform treaty would have been rejected in most countries had they followed Ireland's example and held a referendum on it last year, EU Commissioner Charlie McCreevy said today.

Mr McCreevy drew criticism last year for saying just weeks before Ireland's referendum that he had not read the entire treaty and did not expect "any sane, sensible person" to do so in their free time.

Ireland will hold a second referendum in early October after winning guarantees on issues of main concern for voters including abortion, taxation and military neutrality.

A clear majority of voters now support the treaty but the Government has vowed to run a much more vigorous campaign than last year to rule out the possibility of another rejection which it says would completely marginalise Ireland in the EU.

"When the Irish people rejected the Lisbon treaty a year ago the initial reactions ranged from one of shock to horror, to aghastness and temper and vexation," said Mr McCreevy, the EU's Internal Market Commissioner.

"On the other hand, I think all of the politicians of Europe would have known quite well that if a similar question had been put to their electorate in a referendum the answer in 95 per cent of countries would have been 'No' as well," Mr McCreevy told a meeting of accountants in Dublin.

Britain's opposition Conservatives said earlier this year they wanted a referendum on the treaty, which is designed to streamline decision-making in the 27-member bloc and which still faces political and legal hurdles in Poland, the Czech Republic and Germany.

Chances of a more lively pro-treaty Irish campaign got a boost this month when Nobel Prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney, Ireland soccer captain Robbie Keane, U2 guitarist the Edge and film director Jim Sheridan teamed up to support the new "Ireland For Europe" campaign.

Ireland has also received a guarantee that all member states would retain their right to a European commissioner after the current executive's term runs out at the end of October.

Mr McCreevy, a former minister for finance, has said he would retire from politics at that point.

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Jun 26th, 2009 at 11:30:52 AM EST
Think he's looking for a gig in a nice think-tank with a big budget?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Jun 26th, 2009 at 11:39:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Dunno - something part time that doesn't take him away from his ranch and the racecourses too much anyway.  I think he's just trying to live up to his straight talking shtick.  At one level you could say his remark is probably true, although it does rather ignore huge pro-constitution majorities in referenda in Spain and Luxembourg.  

I don't have opinion poll data for the other 25 members but I suspect the 95% against figure is typical McCreevy over-speak.  However what is remarkable is the timing.  He must have known that his remarks would become the rallying cry for the NO campaign in the same way as his remarks in the last campaign were.

Perhaps he should say whether he is personally pro- or anti-Lisbon - and if so why - not that he has huge political credibility in Ireland now anyway.

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Jun 26th, 2009 at 11:52:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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