Another Treaty That Won't Lie Down


June 19, 2008 9:03 | by Steve McGiffen

Steve McGiffen looks at the state of democracy after yet another European electorate gets the wrong answer.

The Irish government, obliged by its own national constitution to put the question of the Lisbon Treaty to the vote, will win little sympathy from its 'partners' in the European Union.

Those national leaders who did not dare to put the matter to the vote, and those who were bullied out of doing so by more powerful actors in the EU drama - the Commission and the big member states - will breathe a sigh of relief that they cannot be blamed for this farce.

When EU leaders gather for their regular summit meeting in Brussels at the end of this week, the Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen is going to have some explaining to do.

The instructions from Brussels were quite clear.

A second round of 'No' votes must be avoided at all costs.

You might compare the Taoiseach's position to that of a minor gang leader required to explain to a mafia boss why takings are down from his protection rackets.

He can whinge all he likes about constitutional obligations, but having caused this mess he will be expected to offer a feasible way out of the brown stuff into which the leaders gathered in Brussels find themselves sinking.

Of course, there is only one honest, democratic way out, and that is to abandon the whole project.

The constitutional position is quite clear.

The Lisbon Treaty, like the virtually identical Constitutional Treaty before it, is dead.

And yet what is almost certain to happen is that a set of clearly rejected constitutional arrangements will be imposed on the peoples of 27 countries.

Three countries which held popular votes have actually rejected one or the other version.

Only Spain and Luxembourg held referenda which resulted in approval, but what matters here is not the three-two scoreline.

The rules in the case of both the Constitution and the Lisbon Treaty were simple.

If one country rejected either, it fell.

Modern European politics is, however, a game which can be halted at any time by one team, the ruling elite, which can then proceed to change the rules.

It also gets to appoint the referee.

People voted against these treaties for a variety of reasons.

If Lisbon is imposed, small countries will lose power.

National institutions under democratic control, or at least influence, will see their powers transferred to unelected and unanswerable bodies.

National vetoes will disappear across a range of policy areas, so that ever more laws can be imposed which have the assent of neither the government nor the parliament of the member state involved.

A European army will be born.

And neoliberal economic policies which are good for no-one but multinational corporations and international criminals will be reinforced.

The Irish in particular could see much to alarm them in a treaty which would jeopardise their military neutrality, undermine their agriculture and allow unprecedented interference in their system of taxation, until recently an unquestioned national preserve.

Their reasons for voting 'no' are, however, their own affair.

As in other contexts, no means no, whatever motives may lie behind it.

Yet the Taoiseach has said only that there is no "quick fix".

He has also said that Ireland will do its best not to halt what he describes as "the ambitious project of EU reform".

European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso, meanwhile, has joined the leaders of many EU member states in refusing to declare the treaty dead.

The British government has said that the ratification process will continue.

So, you can vote Yes, you can vote No, but the process is more akin to a multiple choice test than an election, and don't worry, if you don't get the answer right the first time, you'll likely be given a second chance.

Similarly, depending on where you live you can vote social democrat, Labour, Christian Democrat, Liberal, Communist or for the Man in the Moon, but don't expect it to make any serious difference to the way in which your country is governed, the decisions your government takes, or life in general.

There are now only two sets of interests which really matter: those of multinational corporations and those, sometimes still slightly different, of the governments and political parties which now exist primarily to serve their interests.

This includes not just conservatives but Europe's social democratic and labour parties, most Green parties - our own being an honourable exception - and the whole ragbag of centre-left, centrist and right wing groups which are increasingly indistinguishable at the level of policy.

So, viciously anti-trade union labour rulings by the European Court of Justice go unchallenged by parties which were created by those same trade unions.

And the EU's 'flexicurity' proposals, which translate as flexibility for us, and security for them, are enthusiastically supported by parties built by working people to defend their interests

The European Union, which likes to present its opponents as narrow nationalists and backward-looking xenophobes, is dragging us back to a time before working people could demand, if nothing else, that they be treated with respect, paid a living wage, and allowed to organise in pursuit of their legitimate demands.

By imposing neoliberal economics on twenty-seven member states, the EU is making real international cooperation, of the kind needed to confront the crises facing us in a world increasingly spinning out of control, impossible.

The Irish people, like those of France and the Netherlands before them, have had the courage and good sense to vote to reject the heinous Lisbon Treaty and thereby give us a further chance to confront those who would deprive us of our rights and of our livelihoods.

This time we must seize it with both hands.

Steve McGiffen is editor of Spectrezine. This article first appeared in the Morning Star