The Lisbon Treaty No Vote - A Defeat for Imperialism

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December 9, 2008 15:15 | by Roger Cole

The decision of the Irish people to reject the Lisbon Treaty was a historic victory for democracy and a defeat for Imperialism. It was a rare breath of sanity in a world dominated by neo-liberal militarists. The Peace & Neutrality Alliance played a key role in achieving that victory, not just in the few months of the debate on the treaty but also in our sustained campaign since our foundation in 1996 against the decision of the Irish political elite to destroy Irish Independence, Irish Democracy and Irish Neutrality and integrate Ireland into the EU/US/NATO military structures in order to ensure Ireland's full and active participation in the resource wars of the 21st century. The defeat of the EU/US/NATO axis, is the only and absolutely inevitable consequence of these wars.

PANA's decision to hold a major conference in December 2004 in an effort to bring together all the progress forces to fight the proposed EU Constitution covering the issues of democracy and neo-liberalism as well as militarisation led to the formation of the Campaign Against the EU Constitution within which PANA operated during the Lisbon Treaty campaign. This broad based campaign played a key role in this great victory

One of the more interesting incidents in that campaign was an editorial in the Irish Times which attacked our use of a pamphlet by Theobald Wolfe Tone called, " The Spanish War" which had been written by Tone in 1790 in which he advocated Irish Neutrality in a potential war between the British and the Spanish Empires.

It had in fact been printed in 2006 to mark our 10th anniversary and launched appropriately enough by Jack O'Connor, the President of SIPTU, as the founder of his union, James Connolly, has established the Irish Neutrality League in 1914.

The point being of course, is that PANA did not lick its support for Irish Independence, democracy and neutrality off the stones. There is a long and deeply rooted commitment to these values that stretched back to Wolfe Tone through to James Connolly, to the foundation of the state in 1919 and beyond.

This year, for example marks the 150th anniversary of the foundation of the Fenians, December marks the 90th anniversary of the historic vote when the people voted for Sinn Fein and January next year will mark the establishment of the first Dail of the Irish Republic.

Yet the reality is that while we belong to a tradition that stretches back to Tone, the Irish advocates of the treaty belong to an equally long Imperialist tradition also deeply rooted in our history. It includes people like Isaac Butt and John Redmond. What they sought was Home Rule within a centralised, militarised, neo-liberal Superstate called the British Union.

A recent example of the continuation of this tradition was the decision of the Irish Times and the Royal Irish Academy to publish a book on the 1914-18 Imperialist War entitled: "Our War". Since the Irish Times supported this war using this title accurately reflects their support for Imperialism, continued in their support for this treaty. However the reference to 'Our War' was clearly meant to apply to all Irish people and not just the Irish Times. This is a concept that PANA totally rejects. It was not Pearse's war. It was not Connolly's war. It was not De Valera's war. It was not Collins' war. It was not our war. However now that the British Union is a pale shadow of its former glory, The Irish Times has transferred it allegiance to the new Superpower, the European Union.

What The Irish Times and the advocates of the Lisbon Treaty want is Home Rule within a centralised, militarised, neo-liberal Superstate called the European Union; a European Superstate allied to the US and committed to imperialist resource wars. In an emerging European Superstate dominated by states such as Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Portugal and Spain, that also have even stronger imperialist traditions, this is hardly a surprise.

Unfortunately for them, the warmongering neo-liberal imperialist leaders of Fianna Fail could not get their own supporters to vote for the treaty, as De Valera is their hero. The Fine Gael party could not get their supporters to vote for it because their hero is Michael Collins. The Labour Party could not do so because their hero is James Connolly. Even the Green Party leadership could not get their voters or even their party to agree to a militarised Europe after spending decades advocating a Green Europe. The Irish people, except those in the six counties that were not allowed to vote, voted no, and if they had been allowed to do so, the no vote would have been even greater.

Since the referendum the Irish political elite has sought to cope with their defeat by spending over €160,000 commissioning a research company to find out why people voted no. President Sarkozy visited Ireland after it was widely reported that he had said the Irish will have to vote again, a concept that is continually repeated by the neo-Redmondites despite the fact that a public opinion poll showed that if we were forced to vote again, the no vote could increase to over 60%. A more recent opinion poll suggested they yes side could win. The question asked however while accurate, was misleading, implying the treaty would be modified, that is changed, to take into consideration the concerns of those who voted no. But if it was changed it would be a new treaty. If it changed to take into considerations our perspective, PANA would campaign for a yes vote to such a new treaty.

Another idea being continually floated is that the Dail should simply ignore the sovereign will of the Irish people and vote it, or parts of it through regardless of the consequences. The elite are also appear to be seeking to destroy the McKenna and Coughlan Irish Supreme Court judgements. A Dail committee on Europe had hearings where so far, the vast majority of those invited to address it were yes campaigners and it supported such moves.

But the Lisbon Treaty and the militarisation of the EU is only a small part of a bigger picture. The NATO/US/EU axis continues its Imperialists wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine and its threat of war on Iran. The axis also threatens Russia with its decision to build missile bases in Poland and the Czech Republic and expand the war to Pakistan.

Then there was the decision of Georgia to bomb and invade South Ossetia leading to a war with Russia. The Georgian leadership had invested heavily in military expenditure purchased from the US that wants Georgia and the Ukraine to join NATO. The Georgians appeared to believe that they would have the support of NATO. But the US is already militarily over stretched in Afghanistan and Iraq and was in no position to take part in a proxy war with Russia. The war also showed that apart from some skin deep agreed positions by the EU to support Georgia there was nothing the EU elite could do. The reality is there was no widespread popular support for yet another war, especially with Russia, in the states of the EU, or even the US, and they knew it. The people have had enough of war and militarism. Nevertheless this defeat could turn out to be a turning point in world history.



The election of Obama shows clearly that the opposition to Imperialism has taken root not only in Europe but also in the US because a major component of his coalition was the American Peace Movement which now has to continue the pressure to ensure that the "Change" motif really does mean a rejection of the Imperialist neo-liberal ideology that has dominated the US for decades. It will not be easy and some might say it cannot be done, as another part of his coalition continues to support Imperialism with a "human" face.

PANA has built up some links with the American Peace Movement and in the years ahead we have to continue to deepen those contacts. Their struggle against Imperialism is our struggle, and we have to seek to make these links stronger.

However overshadowing everything has been the massive economic crisis brought about by the dominant neo-liberal economic and militarist ideology.

The Irish Government which has to tell the rest of the EU elite what they intend to do with the Irish people at their meeting in December, have become very unpopular as a result of the massive cuts they have implemented as a consequence of the crisis caused by the neo-liberal economic policies they implemented. They lost the referendum in the first place because the people did not trust them, and if they come back and force the Irish people to vote again on the exactly same treaty they might not have a snowball's chance in hell of winning and they know it.

Also, immediately after the referendum result was announced, the Labour Party leader, Eamon Gilmore declared that he accepted the decision of the people. While it is true there was overwhelming support for the treaty by virtually the entire party leadership, Labour voters voted no by a decisive majority. Eamon Gilmore's credibility would be greatly damaged if he changed his mind. While there are factions in the party in favour of Ireland's integration into the Superstate, after the no vote they will find it very difficult to restore their status in the party, so it is very unlikely the Labour Party will campaign for a yes vote in any second referendum.

Fine Gael leaders are the most ideologically committed to the European Empire and in the course of the debate on the treaty its spokespersons made it clear that they would be willing to fight and die for the EU. But Fine Gael is a broad coalition some of whom identify with John Redmond, the Empire Loyalist and others with Michael Collins, the Irish Republican. That so many Fine Gael voters voted no to the treaty, suggests that the Collins tradition is very strong and there would again be a lack of support for a yes vote in any subsequent rerun of the treaty, especially if Fianna Fail were still in power. Fine Gael supporters are in no mood to give Fianna Fail another dig out.

Therefore there is a very strong case to be made that the treaty is dead and will stay dead. When the EU Council of Ministers met on the 11th of December, PANA and CAECU will hold a mock "funeral" to give it a decent burial and all are welcome to give it the send off it deserves.

Nevertheless the Fianna Fail Government is under strong pressure from the rest of the EU elite to hold another referendum and even though they know they might be defeated, it looks like they will agree to hold one in 2009, so we need to ready. We can be absolutely sure that these neo-Redmondite Imperialists will fight the dirtiest most vicious campaign ever. They will make Karl Rove look like a pussycat. So we should be prepared.

They might hold it in March 09 before the EU Parliament elections or they might wait until the autumn. One thing however is clear and obvious. The elections to the EU Parliament or the local elections in June are not, under any circumstances whatsoever, a sort of proxy vote for another Lisbon Treaty. In voting for candidates many people will stay loyal to their party candidate even though they disagree with their party on the treaty.

Part of that preparation for an actual referendum is that PANA has to spell out what it wants as an alternative to the treaty.

PANA's vision of the future of Europe has been clear and consistent. We seek a Partnership Europe, a Partnership of Independent Democratic States, legal equals, without a military dimension.

PANA, as a founding member of the European Peace & Human Rights Network is, and sees itself as, a pro-European organisation. Since our foundation we have built up links with peace groups all over Europe as well as the United States and throughout the world. Our vision of Europe is a vision of a Democratic Europe and we belong to its democratic tradition.

We have consistently advocated that in any new treaty, a Protocol, which would be a legally binding part of the treaty, similar that that which already applies to Denmark, that would exclude Ireland from involvement with or paying for the militarisation of the EU, would be included.

PANA needs to state again that any new treaty should include such a protocol.

Nevertheless we also want much wider changes to the Lisbon Treaty and we would also seek to ensure that the new treaty containing such changes be approved by way of referendum in all the other EU states as well as Ireland.

The proposed job of a permanent EU President and a Permanent EU Minister for Foreign Affairs and the creation of a EU Diplomatic Corp should be deleted. PANA's position is that the EU should be a Partnership of Independent Democratic States, legal equals, best expressed by a six-month rotation process by which each state in the EU holds these positions in turn.

The European Defence Agency or more accurately described, the European War Agency should be abolished, and its assets should be transferred to a European Climate Change Agency with its central role being to ensure the technology now committed to military development be transformed into technology committed to the development of green energy production, for example, by helping to build massive solar energy farms in the Sahara and wave energy farms along the Europe's coastline united in a single grid. The obligation for EU states to build-up their military capacities would be replaced by a commitment to build up its social infrastructure in health provision, transport, education and social housing.

This is a key demand. The US global sales of military hardware increased from $12 billion in 2005, to $32 billion in 2007. In fact the US spends more money on its military than the rest of the world combined, which goes a long way to explain why the "richest" country in the world have 45 million of its people with no health care. Yet the vision statement of the EDA says:

"If Europe is to preserve a broadly based and globally competitive military it must take to heart that the US is outspending Europe"

In short, the EU should also export more weapons, which will encourage more wars. This is the future of Europe supported by the advocates the Lisbon Treaty.

The Petersberg Tasks and the EU Battle Groups provisions would be abolished.

The Structured Cooperation provisions would be abolished. The concept that a number of EU states operating within the EU structures should be able to create their own mini-military alliance is utterly bizarre, as any wars they became involved in would inevitably affect all EU states.

The mutual Solidarity and Mutual Defence clauses should be abolished. A Partnership of Democratic States does not mean or should it mean that there are or should be any mutual defence implications between the states involved. If states wish to do so, they should do so outside the context of the EU.

The EU should terminate all its relations with the nuclear-armed military alliance, NATO.

In the broader context, while Ireland is not a member of NATO, PANA cannot just ignore the continuing survival and growth of NATO. The main advocates of the EU integration process is led by an EU political elite that is also committed to the NATO expansion process, so the expansion of NATO and the militarisation of the EU are just opposite sides of the same coin. PANA has over the years built up strong links with other peace movements throughout the world but particularly with British CND, which is one of the largest and most important peace movements in Europe.

They seek to ensure the abolition of NATO and PANA needs to work closely with them in that process. The reason given for the establishment of NATO was that the Soviet Union was going to invade Western Europe. Far from fading away after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, NATO has rapidly expanded. It is now the greatest danger to world peace. We should fully support calls for the abolition of NATO and support the European wide demonstration against NATO in Strasburg on the 4th of April 2009.

The OSCE as the regional body recognised as such by the UN should call a major conference to negotiate a European Security Treaty to address all the security concerns of the states in the OSCE, a key and inevitable consequence being the abolition of NATO.

PANA has always focused on the United Nations as the institution through which Ireland should pursue its security concerns. The United Nations is the only inclusive global body committed to collective security. It should be the only such body and NATO should be abolished. The United Nations needs to be funded in an effective manner. It's Security Council needs to be reformed to ensure it reflects the 21st century rather than the mid 20thcentury.

The real issues facing the world are global, whether they are global warming or global poverty. The message of the transformation of swords into ploughshares or missiles into solar farms is more valid today than ever. Those of us involved in PANA are not idealists.

Studies by UMASS-Amherst have shown that while $1 billion creates 8,535 jobs if spent on military production, the same amount of money spent on home weatherisation creates 12,804 jobs or 19,795 jobs if spent on mass transport systems.

We are the realists, we are the people that seek to ensure humanity survives and prospers. All the neo-liberal militarists offer is war and destruction. The fact that they dominate the corporate media and the mainstream political parties needs to end if humanity is to survive into the 22nd century.

PANA only makes sense as an alliance if it is, and sees itself as being part of a global movement. In that context the victory of the Irish people when they defeated the Lisbon Treaty was not just an Irish victory in a battle fought on Irish soil, it is not even just a victory of a European battle fought on Irish soil, it was a victory for humanity. We now need to seek to ensure that the coming 2nd battle of Lisbon is won more decisively than the first. But we can only win if the peace movement in Europe and throughout the world support us, as we need to support them in their struggles for peace and social justice.

The year 2009 marks the 90th anniversary of the establishment of the 1st Dail and its struggle against an earlier centralised, militarised neo-liberal superstate, the British Union. Now at the start of the 21st century the struggle by the forces of Irish Democracy, Irish Independence and Irish Neutrality against Imperialism continues. This time the stakes are even higher. Another victory would be an enormous victory for the global peace movement.

Next year also marks the 6th anniversary of start of the US's Imperialist war on Iraq. PANA held its first demonstration at Shannon Airport in May 2002, and we have taken part in many such demonstrations since then. We will organise a demonstration at Shannon Airport on Saturday 21st of March. We should also hold a peace conference and invite peace movements in the cities that have a direct flight into Shannon Airport to attend. It would clearly demonstrate that our struggle against war has support throughout Europe and the United States.

The withdrawal of the military forces of the EU/US/NATO forces from Iraq and Afghanistan and the withdrawal of its ally Israel to its 1967 borders would provide a major step towards global peace and allow all of humanity to concentrate on the real threats to the world, hunger, the lack of social justice and global warming. These are the real issues.

Finally let me quote from Padraigh Pearse and his views on the then dominate Irish political elite;

"The men who have led Ireland for the last 25 years have done evil, and they are bankrupt. They are bankrupt in policy, bankrupt in credit, bankrupt now even in words. They have nothing to propose to Ireland, no words of wisdom, no counsel of courage. When they speak they speak only untruth and blasphemy. Their utterances are no longer the utterances of men. They are the mumblings and the gibbering of lost souls."

Roger Cole is Chair of the Peace & Neutrality Alliance This is a speech he gave to PANA's Annual Conference on 29th November 2008