Vote No to the Lisbon Treaty
By Fintan Lane (ISN)
On 12 June, you are expected to endorse a treaty that you probably haven’t read or, if you did, probably couldn’t decipher. The Lisbon Treaty, in the words of the Belgian Foreign Minister (23 October 2007), was designed to be ‘unreadable’ and ‘unclear’ in order to slip it past a bewildered public. It reads like legalistic gobbledygook. In fact, the Lisbon Treaty is a very carefully crafted redraft of the EU constitution that was rejected by the electorates of France and the Netherlands in 2005. According to Bertie Ahern, 90% of the EU constitution has been retained.
Here’s how democracy works in the EU. Shaken by the democratic defeats at the ballot box in 2005, a group of eurocrats set to work on finding their way around public scepticism and the widespread opposition to the drift towards a European superstate. How could democracy be thwarted? How could the people be circumvented? The result was the Lisbon Treaty, the beauty of which is that, by removing references to flags, emblems, constitutions, etc., the eurocrats were able to avoid having it voted on by the peoples of Europe – everywhere except Ireland, that is. In the Irish Republic, due to a legal case taken many years ago, the government is obliged to submit such major treaties to a referendum.
So, the eurocrats are almost home. All they need now is your acquiescence. They have undermined democracy, they have the establishment parties in Ireland in their pocket and they have a cleverly constructed treaty that could be bottled and sold as a sedative. The voters’ role, apparently, is to do as we are told. Like ‘good Europeans’.
Mmm, yeah, right…well, let’s hope that that’s where this con job finally runs aground.
Like many on the left, the ISN is campaigning for a ‘no’ vote and is affiliated to the Campaign Against the EU Constitution (CAEUC). We are asking people to reject the cynical anti-democratic maneuverings of the eurocrats and their allies in Ireland. How can one possibly trust people who so openly dismiss the expressed will of the people of France and the Netherlands? Despite their rhetoric, these people are not democrats.
Of course, as an advocate of participatory democracy, the ISN is hardly likely to smile on the institutions of the EU. To be frank, we see the EU as primarily an economic power bloc rather than, as we’re repetitively and yawningly asked to believe, an entity constructed to ensure ‘peace’ in Europe. In reality, economics, and the self-interest of the European business elite, have always been at the heart of this project. It is not focused on the needs of the working people. For that reason, the ISN is no friend of the EU. However, we believe there are also two very specific reasons why this particular treaty should be rejected.
* It will undermine workers’ rights and assist privatisation
Trade unions such as the TEEU and Unite (ATGWU) have called for a ‘no’ vote because they believe that this treaty would endanger workers’ rights and could add momentum to the drive to privatise key areas of the public sector. These trade unionists are right to be fearful.
Neo-liberalism is currently the dominant political ideology in the corridors of European power; it is an ideology that Fianna Fáil and the PDs happily adhere to. The neo-liberals argue for a ‘free market’ economy without ‘distortions’. In other words, the market rules and everything should be open to competition, including hospitals, transport, schools, and other social services. It is this regressive, right-wing ideology that is behind the Europe-wide drive to privatise large swathes of the public sector.
The dirty paw marks of neo-liberalism can be seen all over the Lisbon Treaty, which is why groups such as the Irish employers’ federation, IBEC, are vigorously in favour. Indeed, in one of its less guarded moments, IBEC admitted in April, in its submission to the National Forum on Europe, that it supports a ‘yes’ vote because ‘the Lisbon Reform Treaty creates the legal basis for the liberalisation of services of general economic interest (Art. 106). A yes vote for the Lisbon Treaty creates the potential for increased opportunities for Irish business, particularly in areas subject to increasing liberalisation, such as Health, Education, Transport, Energy and the Environment.’ Indeed. Plenty of muck once they get their snouts in the trough. By ‘liberalisation’, of course, they are referring to ‘privatisation’.
In short, IBEC believes its members will gain from the further privatisation of the public sector across Europe and it is certain that this treaty facilitates such a development. And, of course, IBEC is correct. Key articles in the Lisbon Treaty are all about enshrining neo-liberal principles within the legal framework of the EU. Article 3, for example, would give the EU ‘exclusive competence’ in ‘the establishment of the competition rules necessary for the functioning of the internal market’. As UCD sociologist Kieran Allen has pointed out, ‘This means that they can override national governments who take measures to “distort” the internal market.’
Public services would be at risk all over Europe, including in Ireland. Do you really want Ryanair running your local hospital?
In addition, the Lisbon Treaty supports the ‘right’ of big business to use cheap labour, driving down wages in states such as Ireland. Competition is king as far as the eurocrats are concerned. A recent European Court of Justice ruling in favour of a company called Laval allowed them to employ Latvian workers in Sweden at rates below the established Swedish standards. This encourages a race to the bottom in terms of pay and conditions.
* It will lead to the further militarisation of Europe
There can be little doubt at this stage that, unless checked, the EU is incrementally moving towards the creation of a federalised superstate. This won’t happen tomorrow and it is not the central objective of the Lisbon Treaty. However, the inclination in this treaty is towards greater centralisation, less democracy, and the enhancement of the EU’s military capabilities.
The Lisbon Treaty includes an explicit call on member states to increase their military spending (Article 27). It makes this call in the context of seeking greater cooperation with NATO, a nuclear-endowed, aggressive military alliance, backed by George W. Bush and other war-mongering reprobates. Protocol 4 of the treaty insists that ‘a more assertive [European] Union role in security and defence matters will contribute to the vitality of a renewed Atlantic Alliance.’
A more ‘assertive’ role in ‘security and defence matters’? What are they on about? Well, a clue can be found in the development of EU Battle Groups, which the Irish Republic is already supporting. An EU Security Strategy has indicated where this might be leading: ‘Our traditional concept of self-defence…was based on the threat of invasion. With…new threats, the first line of defence will often be abroad…we should be ready to act before a crisis occurs.’
Sound familiar? Yes, this could have come directly from the Pentagon. It is a doctrine of pre-emptive war of the type that has been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of men, women and children in Iraq and Afghanistan. Is this a direction in which we want to see the EU go? Clearly not.
The Lisbon Treaty, if passed, would encourage and facilitate the growth of militarism in Europe. Anybody looking back at the horrors of war and genocide in twentieth-century Europe should recoil at such a development – and should vote ‘no’ to this regressive treaty.