Lisbon is Dead

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June 23, 2008 8:54 | by Brian Denny

Brian Denny reflects on the night when Ireland said No to the EU

The historic rejection of the Lisbon Treaty by Irish voters should, under the EU's own rules, mean that the repackaged EU constitution is dead.

The ratification process should cease immediately and the whole EU constitutional, state-building project should be scrapped.

That was the message coming from estatic no campaigners at the Dublin count the day after the vote and by democrats across Europe. The no side had taken on the country's political elite and the Irish media and had won convincingly. In a high electoral turn-out, 33 out of 43 constituencies voted no.

As soon as the ballot boxes were opened the 'tallymen' knew the government had lost their battle to sell an unloved and unwanted treaty. Yes side activists had seen enough by 11am and were fleeing the count in droves.

Three countries - France, The Netherlands and now Ireland - have rejected the EU's neo-liberal and anti-democratic constitutional project.

It was clear that the Irish were speaking for hundreds of millions of Europeans who were denied such a vote.

As French President Sarkozy acknowledged before the vote at a meeting with MEP group leaders: "France was just ahead of all other countries in voting No. It would happen in all member states if they have a referendum. There is a cleavage between peoples and governments".

That does clearly seem to be the case.

During the long wait for the final confirmation for a no victory at Dublin Castle, Sinn Fein MEP Mary Lou McDonald had no doubts why so many turned out to reject Lisbon.

Ireland's loss of power in Europe, loss of neutrality and the lack of information.

"A number of yes campaigners openly admitted that they hadn't read the treaty and wouldn't say what was actually in it but told people to vote for it anyway.

"People don't appreciate being treated like their stupid," she said.

Explaining the massive no vote in working class areas, Communist Party of Ireland general secretary Eugene McCartan pointed out that people simply didn't want to live in a militarised superstate that threatened democracy, sovereignty and workers' rights.

"Recent rulings by the European Court of Justice represent a direct threat to trade union rights by giving employers superior rights that outlaw strike action and minimum wage agreements.

"People were clearly concerned at the race to the bottom in terms of wages and conditions and the privatisation of key public services demanded by this treaty," he said.

After the result was declared, a visibly shaken Taoiseach Brian Cowen appeared to the media, solemnly declaring: "the will of the people as expressed at the ballot box is sovereign.

"The government accepts and respects the verdict of the Irish people," he said. This was a magnanimous gesture but that may be all it is, a gesture.

Furious federalists were already showing their usual contempt for democracy by ordering another vote or threatening to throw the 'ungrateful' Irish out of the EU.

Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso declared that "the 27 member states signed the treaty" hinting that it was Cowen's problem not the EU's.

"As I understood from my conversation with Prime Minister Cowen, he also believes the treaty is not dead," he said.

The Irish leader can't have it both ways. He must decide whether he aligns himself with his own people and tells the EU that Ireland cannot ratify Lisbon or align himself against the Irish people and force a re-run of the referendum.

Patricia McKenna, former Green Party MEP and no campaign People's Movement chair, immediately said that the latter path was 'unacceptable'.

"There is no possibility of an agreement without Ireland unless Brian Cowen and the government gives the EU the signal that they can carry on regardless and that they, the Irish government will agree to this hijacking of the EU," she warned.

Whatever way it goes, problems are mounting up for the federalists.

The British government is coming under pressure to halt its own farcical ratification process, which involved scrapping its election promise to hold a referendum.

Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen has already hinted that he may scrap planned public votes in September on adopting the euro and abandoning the country's opt-outs from some EU rules.

Danish voters turned down the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 but approved the charter after being forced to vote again a year later with several opt-outs. They also rejected euro membership in a 2000 vote.

In fact, when Brussels puts its anti-democratic plans to popular scrutiny they usually lose. The Swiss rejected EU membership by a huge vote in 2001 as did Norway in 1994, Sweden rejected euro membership in 2002 and Ireland rejected Nice in 2001, only to be forced to vote again a year later to reverse that decision.

For the Irish establishment to force another repeat vote is a risky business indeed.

Like Chinese leader Zhou En-Lai's assessment of the French Revolution, it's still too early to say what the full impact of the Irish decision will be.

The referendum campaign has given activists renewed confidence and belief that they do have the power to oppose the EU's neo-liberal juggernaut.

What was once the political elephant in the room in labour movement circles that was never discussed may now be on every trade union conference agenda.

As the proud and personable People's Movement secretary Frank Keoghan told a cheering crowd in a Dublin pub late on Friday: "We are now a national movement and part of a growing international movement, we are not going away and we'll be ready".

Brian Denny is secretary of Trade Unionists Against the EU Constitution, a British organisation. This article first appeared in the Morning Star. Citizens of the UK who agree that the Lisbon Treaty ratification process should be halted can sign a petition to the Prime Minister at http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/Abandon-Lisbon/