Lisbon Essay (5): It’s NOT the economy, stupid…

The debate on LIsbon has been plagued by a plagued of red herrings, argues economist Stephen Kinsella. Not least of them that somehow a yes or no to the treaty will result in economic penalties, one way or the other. In fact, the government’s focus on its so-called concessions may be serving to further confuse an already bewildered Irish public. Simply put, he argues that the question being asked by Lisbon is whether Ireland continues on a journey it first undertook back in the early 1970s, or not. But whichever they choose, the days of endless credit, full employment and powerful economic growth are over. And, argues Stephen, the Irish public should refuse to listen to anyone who claims that either option is a viable way to bring back to the Celtic Tiger.By Stephen Kinsella

Both sides of the Lisbon debate will use the spectre of Ireland’s uncertain economic future to alloy the public’s fear of a sustained economic downturn to their cause. This is wrong.

Lisbon has nothing to do with the current Irish economic situation, nor does it directly provide any help for or hindrance from a viable recovery in the short to medium term.

The Treaty is a series of amendments to existing treaties designed to enhance the 60- year old dynamic of European integration. It will simultaneously shore up the details of actually running a supranational organisation with more than twenty constituent countries. It contains amendments and clarifications on almost any issue either side wishes to subject to public debate.

The dust storm of confusion we’ve seen both last time out, and this has its origin partly in the multifaceted nature of the treaty (and the beast it proposes to govern); and the need for both sides to polarise the debate in order to gain support from electorate.

Yet, in effect, it simply forces a bewildered public to shut down rather than evaluate whether to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

Last time round, that confusion resulted in a resounding ‘no’ vote for the referendum. This time round, the treaty is the same, word for word, as before. But there are now legal guarantees in place addressing many of the body-public’s concerns over neutrality, the right to life, taxation, and so forth.

The existence of these legal guarantees however, rather than adding clarity, have added yet more complexity to the question. Now that the public must decide on just how binding these guarantees are; they serve only to add another dimension of confusion and contorted debate for the pundits and the chattering classes to chew on.

Frankly, it would be much simpler for both sides to use the fear generated by an entirely domestic economic meltdown to their advantage, and force that fear on the people in order to gain the upper hand in the debate.

Those who want a ‘yes’ vote will point to the EU’s role in providing our infrastructure, underpinning our agricultural sector, and allowing access to the world’s largest marketplace.

Those who want a ‘no’ vote will spend time arguing that Lisbon is bad for worker’s rights, exposes the Irish worker to potentially proscriptive changes in their minimum wage, and so on and so on.

None of which has anything to do with getting Ireland’s domestic economy out of the doldrums right now. Ireland’s economy has a list of problems as long as your arm: we have an damaged banking sector, a bloated public service, constrained credit markets, increasing levels of unemployment, domestic consumption is dropping precipitously, we are in a deflation, and our government is borrowing to run the state on a weekly basis. Voting ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on Lisbon will change none of these facts, either now or in the near future.

The decision the people must take is what the role of the EU in their lives will be. The Lisbon treaty is a further step on a long road towards political and economic integration. Europe began walking this road in 1946. Ireland began walking the road of every closer union with Europe in 1973. The Lisbon referendum represents a clear choice on whether to continue on that road, or not. Let the people decide. Both sides should refrain from trying to woo voters by invoking the tantalising possibility of a return to prosperous days of the Celtic Tiger.

Lisbon, yes or no, just won’t help.

Stephen Kinsella is a lecturer at the Kemmy Business School at the University of Limerick and has run his own blog (stephenkinsella.net) for four years. He was one of 46 economists to have recently signed a petition

Tomorrow Dr Brian Crowe argues that a No vote in Ireland’s referendum creates a novel opportunity for the UK and Ireland to work together to reshape the way the European Union works for and to its various peoples…

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