Senator Pascal Donohoe,
The Sub-Committee on
Ireland’s Future in the European Union
3rd November 2008
Submission to: The Sub-Committee on Ireland’s Future in the European Union
Selective Democracy is No Democracy!
The Workers Party believes that the very name of the Sub-Committee, and also its terms of reference, reflect a mindset which we reject.
Why is there a need to debate Ireland’s future in the EU? Why does the exercise of the democratic right to reject a proposed change to our constitution cause Ireland to face challenges? In our view the shoe is on the other foot. A small elite within the EU, without reference to the vast majority of the 500 million people in the 27 member states, have twice attempted and failed to fundamentally change the structures of the EU as only adopted six years ago in the Nice Treaty. It is this elite which faces a challenge – how to bring forward proposals for change that will be democratically accepted by all the peoples of the EU in national plebiscites.
Analysing the challenge?
Ireland has adopted every treaty from the Treaty of Rome to the Nice Treaty and all the countries of the EU operate under the rules as set down in Nice. These rules are quite explicit. The existing treaties can only be changed or replaced by the unanimous adoption of that change by all the member countries.
When France and Holland rejected the Draft EU Constitution the reaction of both the national governments and the EU institutions was much different from the reaction when Ireland rejected Lisbon. When France and Holland rejected the draft constitution the EU did not threaten those countries with isolation; did not threaten them with expulsion to a slow lane; or did not insult their people by demanding that they vote a second time and reverse their original decision. Did the national parliaments of those countries set up subcommittees to “analyse the challenges facing France/Holland in the European Union following the rejection of the Draft EU Treaty”? No, none of the above happened – instead the EU had a “period of reflection” for two years. Unfortunately this period was used not to consult the people on what they wanted but rather to cobble together a treaty that could bypass the popular vote in all but one country. The people who have the problem; and the people who should now be reflecting on their future, is that coterie of bureaucrats and politicians who attempted to foist the Lisbon Treaty on the peoples of the EU without any democratic mandate.
The Irish people could not be bypassed. We were asked in a referendum on 12th of June 2008 to approve changes in our Constitution to allow for the ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon. A majority of voters cast their votes and a majority of those who voted chose to reject the Treaty of Lisbon and withhold consent for the changing of the Irish constitution. That is the legal and constitutional position. Under Bunreacht na h-Éireann the Irish people are sovereign, they cannot be overruled by the parliament and all power rests in finality with the people (use wording in the constitution). So for legal purposes the Lisbon Treaty is dead since its own “rules” state that it must be ratified by all member states before it can come into effect.
The Irish government has made it clear that it accepts the verdict of the Irish people. However this “acceptance” has been qualified by statements from various government ministers, including the Taoiseach, that the Lisbon Treaty must come into force. Thus the scene is set for a conflict between the legislature and that sovereign mass – the people. The Constitution, as we said, is clear on which of the two is the final arbiter of such matters. Thus the Workers Party believes that any attempt to disregard the verdict of the Irish people, decided democratically in a referendum 175 days ago amounts to no less than an illegal assault on the Constitution itself and the sovereignty of the people.
One thing that all sides in the Lisbon Treaty agree on is that there is a disconnect between the institutions of the European Union and the people. We believe that this is due to the democratic deficit and the sense among the people that the EU is not listening to them. In this atmosphere we would urge those who are demanding a second Irish referendum on Lisbon to realise that to do so will only widen the gulf between ordinary people and the EU institutions by giving the voters a clear message “We don’t care what you think, we are proceeding with or without your consent”. This is hardly a recipe for addressing the concerns of the Irish people, or indeed for those hundreds of millions of EU citizens who have not been consulted on the Lisbon Treaty.
The Workers’ Party rejects and takes exception to the notion that the Irish people were somehow misinformed about the intentions of the Lisbon Treaty. The fact is that over many months approaching the June 2008 referendum the Irish people were bombarded by the well-oiled propaganda machine of the European Union and dissenting voices allowed in the media were largely confined to those with the most frivolous and obtuse objections. The radical left in particular was all but blacklisted from the media and our own party received a derisory 17 seconds of national television coverage during the entire campaign – that consisting of a commentator speaking while the voice of our spokesperson was muted.
We also reject as blatant nonsense the notion that the No side had an organisational or financial advantage during the referendum. The Yes side had all the organisational advantages. They chose the date for the referendum; they chose the members and terms of reference of the Referendum Commission; they chose not to make copies of the treaty available to the people; they chose the wording of the referendum that would be placed before the people. The Yes side had the vast resources of the three government parties, the two biggest opposition parties, employers, farmers, and indeed many trade unions at their disposal. The national media were overwhelmingly on the Yes side – indeed how the lack of balance in some papers was not an embarrassment to the editors is a mystery. Furthermore the Yes side, especially the EPP and the ESP, made very cynical use of taxpayers’ monies through the resources made available to political groups in the European Parliament. The No side had to fight an uphill battle – which it triumphantly did.
Certain EU Policy Matters
The Sub-Committee is further tasked to: “consider Ireland’s future in the EU including in relation to economic and financial matters, social policy, defence and foreign policy, and our influence within the European institutions”. While the various sub sections will be dealt with individually there is one overriding principle that we adopt in our analysis. That principle is the principle of democracy.
The EU is a profoundly undemocratic institution. The institutionalised and unchallengeable power of the Commission is at the heart of this problem. Despite some window dressing neither the successful Nice Treaty nor the rejected Lisbon Treaty addressed this blatant lack of democracy. Further, the locking-in of failed Thatcherite economic dogma in both the Nice and Lisbon Treaties severely curtails the political control which any future progressive or non-neoliberal governments could have on the economic policy of the EU. Before there can be any meaningful debate on specific policy matters the democratic deficit must be addressed. The commission, as it presently exists must be abolished, and the democratic institutions of the EU brought to the forefront. A democratic EU parliament must control the decision making process with the EU. We recognise that Ireland would have a very tiny voice within that parliament and that is why we believe that the national parliament, rather than the EU Parliament, should have control over economic and financial matters, social policy, defence and foreign policy.
When the Yes side is promoting its agenda it likes to state that “Ireland boxes above its weight” within the EU. We reject this as nonsense. We were not even invited to the meeting in Paris where the major EU players decided on policy to deal with the present crisis of capitalism. We have no input into G7, G8, IMF or World Bank decisions. We have 1% of the population and 1% of the economic activity of the EU and our influence reflects this reality.
The fact that from time to time certain individuals from Ireland receive top jobs within the EU structures should not be misread as Irish influence. The EU, like any powerful elite, is always prepared to promote and reward those who best serve its interests. Whether that person happens to be from Leitrim or Latvia is irrelevant to the powerbrokers of the EU.
It is the essence of democracy that a nation should control its own economic and fiscal policy. The EU has greatly eroded this control and Lisbon proposed a further erosion. The ECB is deliberately set outside of any democratic control either on a national or EU basis. For the last five years the ECB, for example, has set interest rates to suit the German and French economies with no regard to Ireland’s needs. The very low interest rates, (coupled with criminal tax incentives), are the twin causes of the huge property bubble which fuelled the dying years of the Celtic Tiger and eventually led to its demise. Now the solutions which the ECB is proposing are again geared to suit the German rather than the Irish economy.
We reject the role of the EU in promoting and prescribing a privatisation agenda for the EU. While this policy has met an enthusiastic response in the PD/FF/GP coalition here it is profoundly undemocratic and anti-people. The extent of that policy as seen in several ECJ judgements, as well as the clear intent of the Commission to relentlessly expand this policy, greatly worries the Workers’ Party. The White Paper from the European Commission last November (2007) on services of general economic interest (SGEIs) – or public services – is quite clear: “... In practice ... the vast majority of services can be considered as ‘economic activities’.” The Workers’ Party does not accept that it is the role of the EU Commission to tell the Irish people that we must privatise our health services, our water services or our waste disposal services.
For over 40 years the military landscape of Europe was dominated by NATO and the Warsaw Pact. Two huge armed alliances – each justifying its existence by the existence of the other. The Warsaw Pact collapsed almost twenty years ago but yet NATO continues to exist. Not only has it continued but it has enlarged and expanded and set itself new tasks and targets. While many EU countries have always been individually members of NATO it is a most disturbing development over the last decade that the EU, qua EU, is becoming institutionally closer a to NATO. Indeed it is quite explicit that EU Battle Groups, and the EU Rapid Reaction Force are integral to the N ATO.
The Workers’ Party believes that this is a most serious and negative development. The EU is not under military threat and the possibility of an invasion of the EU member states is less likely now than at any time in the last 1,000 years. Therefore we believe that the EU should not be involved in NATO, should not be involved in resource wars beyond our borders; should not be involved in adventurism to bolster big-oil; should not be involved in the USA’s proxy wars in Africa or Asia; and should totally reject talk of a “war of civilizations” as promoted by the Bush / Blair axis. The Workers Party was therefore most concerned with the provisions for increased military spending as set out in the Lisbon Treaty and also we were most concerned with foreign policy implications of the creation of an EU Foreign Minister, even if with a pretend title. We believe in the policy of independent positive neutrality; in full engagement with the UN; in the rejection of military alliances; and in the redeployment of resources away from military projects to health and humanitarian projects.
We believe that the EU could be a positive force within the UN and the world generally. However we believe that the dominant forces within the EU are wedded to the US military; to the neo-liberal concept of economic development with its negative implications for developing countries; and to the concept of defending “our vital national interests” when in reality it means destabilising or invading other countries so we can have cheap oil or other natural resources. We believe Ireland should stand for a positive world role for the EU but we have seen no sign that any government over the last twenty years is prepared to take on that role.
The EU is operating under the rules as set out in the Nice Treaty and any change will need all 27 member-states to agree. Ireland is the only country where the Lisbon Treaty / Draft EU Constitution mark II was placed before the people in a democratic plebiscite. It was clearly rejected by the Irish people. This should place the Irish government in a uniquely powerful position. Instead the Irish government, and indeed most of the parliamentary opposition, have reacted as if we should be ashamed of our democracy. Sadly we believe that the formation of this sub-committee by the Oireachtas is an example of the government’s refusal to defend our democracy.
The Irish people and the 500 million citizens of the 27 member-states deserve a democratic and open EU. The Oireachtas should be promoting democracy not trying to find methodologies and arguments to negate our democracy. The clear lesson from the people of France, Holland and Ireland is that we wish for an EU of the people and not an EU of the elite. Had the subcommittee that brief, rather than the one it has, it would much better serve the Irish people.
Central Executive Committee
The Workers' Party