Lisbon Essay (2): Nothing to Loose but a Mildly Social Democratic Reformist Opportunity…

Lisbon does strange things to what stands for an ideological split in Irish politics. On one hand, it splits the Left and and the Right. And on the other it has welded a huge super alliance between all the mainstream parties. In the second of our Lisbon Essays, Michael McLaughlin argues that that is partly due to the nature of the political character of the Union: it’s effectively an ongoing compromise between the Christian Democrats and Europe’s Socialist parties. Below the fold he lays out what he believes is in it from a worker’s point of view:By Michael McLaughlin

One of the more genuine civil society groups to emerge from the Trade Unions is The Charter Group. As the names suggests they see the legal status Lisbon proposes for the Charter of Fundamental Rights in the Treaty as a major step forward for workers.

Not a great victory for the workers as they march across Europe; yet not a charter for neo liberalism either. Just a step forward.

In fact, it is rare for the language of left or right to predominate in the basic law of any state. Most independent academics note that the history of the EU has been one of a compromise between the forces of Christian Democracy and Social Democracy: a compromise, which secured a single market combined with a high degree of social protection.

In terms of Ireland, practically all socially progressive legislation has emanated from Europe, such as equal pay, maternity leave, the working time directive etc. Yet it is not the various treaties per se that deliver these measures into law. Rather it is the political make-up of the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament, which decides this agenda even if the Treaty is a prerequisite to make it possible.

With Joe Higgins now in the campaign as an MEP, I suspect we may hear lot more about these issues. He has argued that Lisbon is a “charter for neo liberalism and privatisation”. Recently, at the National Forum on Europe, I invited Joe to do a search of the PDF of the consolidated version of the treaty to find the word privatisation.

Guess what: it’s not there!

Now competition is and always has been a competence of the EU (think airlines, telecoms what we paid years ago and what we pay now). This is the power that allowed the EU fine Microsoft, one of the largest corporations in the world!

In actual fact, Lisbon changes little in this respect. So if people are opposed to EU competition policy they need to start the campaign to repeal the current treaties, which effectively means leaving the EU.

However there are new provisions in Lisbon relating to workers rights and various progressive issues. And the Charter is the most obvious. It is now given the full legal force of treaty law.

I will try to avoid over egging my argument here. The charter is deliberately limited to the EU institutions but also, importantly, to the member states when they are implementing EU law.

The other major area of controversy and debate in this area is a series of recent European Court of Justice rulings on issues of workers rights. Here Higgins and Coir would both have us believe that our entire system of social protection will be removed. Yet all these cases were taken under the treaties as they stand today.

Of course it is not even true that the current treaties led directly to these cases (For Ruffert, Laval, Viking and Luxembourg: see the Charter group’s case file).

In truth, it was the transposition of the Posting of Workers Directive into domestic law that gave rise to the problems in mainly Scandinavian countries who have different systems of labour market regulation. Ironically, it is Ireland’s legally enforceable minimum wage is one of the reasons why the same rulings could not have been made in relation to similar cases here!

So then the question is whether such rulings are more or less likely under Lisbon. Certainly the elevation of the Charter to the same level as the treaty suggests things will change if Lisbon is passed. It also provides for the EU to accede to the European Convention on Human Rights: a very progressive legal instrument.

The Treaty also contains, for the first time ever, a commitment to public services (Art 14 TFEU & Protocol on Services of General Economic Interest) and full employment (Art 3 TEU). These were both key demands of the left in the European Convention, which drew up the previous Constitutional Treaty. So all in all Lisbon is one of the most progressive treaties that the EU has produced.

Maybe some people just need to look at it in a little more detail.

The guest writers of the Lisbon Essays are by invitation only. But if you have something of importance to say and would like to write for us, or see someone else in particular writing for us, then drop me a line: mick.fealty@gmail.com

  • Jim McConalogue

    I strongly disagree – the Charter Group of trade union activists is arguing for workers to support the Lisbon Treaty in Ireland’s October referendum, but their framework and evidence is perplexing. It has generally put forward the view that Europe has been of enormous benefit to workers and the treaty would further improve workers rights. If you look at the context of this debate, Ireland needs to consider carefully the negative impact Lisbon will have on workers rights.

    First, the treaty is a new European Constitution, which by law, will have superiority over the Irish Constitution. If it is accepted, the Irish people will give up their constitutional rights under the Irish Constitution and be subject to very different constitutional arrangements under the European Constitution. This creates a new context – a new European Union, under which workers rights will be placed.

    Second, the Charter of Fundamental Rights, attached to the treaty, rolls back workers’ rights by failing to include a clause requiring the recognition of trade unions.

    Third, ordinary Irish people would be denied their basic rights in the workplace. For example, the European Court of Justice, basing its judgements on the Charter, had recently ruled against Swedish workers’ rights. In the ‘Vaxholm case’, the Latvian company Laval wanted to use Latvian workers in Sweden but would not agree to Swedish pay and conditions. Swedish unions opposed this treatment. The European Court ruled that the union could only act to ensure the Swedish minimum wage was paid and go no further. Other Swedish agreements could not be imposed. It puts pressure on Irish workers to accept minimum wage levels or risk losing their jobs.

    At a time when about 450,000 Irish people are unemployed, crushed by cuts, taxes, mortgage payments, on top of public bank-bail-outs, the politicians who brought this upon Ireland are also asking for trust over the issues of workers rights in the treaty.

    It is odd, then, that some groups are using those European Court of Justice decisions as evidence for a Yes vote. It is also worth noting that a No vote to Lisbon could be used to obtain a social Protocol which would outlaw these unjust verdicts of the EU Court.

    Fourth, Lisbon puts the competition rules of the EU market above the right of Irish trade unions to enforce pay standards higher than the minimum for migrant workers – so whilst it reduces the power of Irish labour, it reinforces the power of migrant workers. The Lisbon treaty allows big business to import cheap labour and undercut Irish workers, in much the same way as it has done in labour disputes in the UK and the Nordic countries.

    This comes at a time when Finance Minister Brian Lenihan has said, massive and uncontrolled immigration of EU labour into Ireland helped to cause the economic crash. Overseas workers now make up almost 20% of Ireland’s unemployed.

    Fifth, I am glad to note that, in recognition of these aspects of the treaty, the Technical, Electrical and Engineering Union (TEEU) will now be calling for a No vote, stating that its opposition to the policy of the European Court of Justice in interpreting the law in this area was done in “a manner detrimental to the long-term interests of our members”.

    In short, Lisbon would be bad for workers rights but it is for the Irish people to decide whether to reject this Treaty again.

  • Mack

    Jim –

    This comes at a time when Finance Minister Brian Lenihan has said, massive and uncontrolled immigration of EU labour into Ireland helped to cause the economic crash.

    Do have a link for this statement? Seems completely divorced from reality, though I wouldn’t put it past him to have said it..

  • Jim McConalogue

    Yes, certainly – it was Today FM. In relation to the construction boom which fuelled the Irish economy, the government agreed to allow unrestricted immigration from EU member states into Ireland. According to Minister Brian Lenihan, this policy added to the overheating of the economy (Today FM, 25/06/09).

  • Mack

    Jim –

    Fourth, Lisbon puts the competition rules of the EU market above the right of Irish trade unions to enforce pay standards higher than the minimum for migrant workers

    You may not be aware, but the Irish government recently awarded the contract to build a new barracks for the Irish Defence Forces to a firm from Northern Ireland. The firm was able to undercut southern Irish firms because it pays it’s workers less than half (on average) the union agreed minimums in Ireland (Republic).

    This is the case today. Lisbon makes no difference.

    http://sluggerotoole.com/index.php/weblog/comments/you-couldnt-make-it-up2/

  • Jim,

    If it is accepted, the Irish people will give up their constitutional rights under the Irish Constitution and be subject to very different constitutional arrangements under the European Constitution.

    This is a gross distortion. EU treaties do not replace national constitutions.

    Second, the Charter of Fundamental Rights, attached to the treaty, rolls back workers’ rights by failing to include a clause requiring the recognition of trade unions.

    The law is cumulative. If the EU treaties are silent on a matter, then national law will continue to apply. Rights guaranteed by Lisbon are in addition to rights guaranteed by national law.

  • Mack

    Andrew –

    EU treaties do not replace national constitutions.

    While I am generally pro-Lisbon, just on this particular point – the Lisbon Treaty does give EU law primacy over Irish law (including the Irish constituition) in those areas in which Ireland has delegated competency to the EU. Of course, EU Law derives it’s primacy over the rest of the Irish Constituition from one particular article which the Irish people could change (revoke) at any moment they choose (and enter into negogiations under Article 49 of the TFEU to modify the terms of their membership of the EU)..

    The proposed Article 29.4.11 from 2008 –

    Article 29.4.11:
    No provision of this Constitution invalidates laws enacted, acts done or measures adopted by the State that are necessitated by the obligations of membership of the European Union referred to in subsection 10 of this section, or prevents laws enacted, acts done or measures adopted by the said European Union or by institutions thereof, or by bodies competent under the treaties referred to in this section, from having the force of law in the State.

    Of course EU law was always supposed to have primacy anyway (in the Spirit of the EU, if not in the actual letter). What this should mean now is that the EU can evolve itself without neccisitating an Irish constituitional referndum each time.

  • Mack

    Michael –

    But not the ability of the government to implement a directive that contravenes the Constituition without putting it to the people first.

    Not that is neccessarily a bad thing (if the people object they can always throw the government out and revoke Article 29.4.11), so it just makes things more efficient. Unless I’m missing something?

  • Big Maggie

    Jesus, has the word “loose” completely taken over from “lose” now? I come across it being used by people who really ought to know better.

    But to the issue. The Irish are the final bulwark against federalization. If they don’t stand firm then Nineteen Eighty-Four is not too far distant. Time we all woke up before we sign away our freedoms and sovereignties to unelected quangoes.

  • Mack

    Big Maggie –

    Lisbon is wee buns compared with the formation of the Euro.

    If they don’t stand firm then Nineteen Eighty-Four is not too far distant

    Care to elaborate?

  • Big Maggie

    Mack,

    “Care to elaborate?”

    With pleasure. Europe could become an Oceania pitted against an Eastasia as in Orwell’s book. We’re already some ways down to road to losing our individual rights and sovereignty. Last year’s so-called Treaty was simply a European Constitution in sheep’s clothing. Let’s hope the Irish electorate won’t be fooled as so many other nations were.

    Here’s what could otherwise come about, according to Philip Jones:

    “The EU will take ownership of Police, Military, Nuclear Weapons, Currency Reserves and North Sea Oil as outlined in the Treaty document. Serving members of our Police and Armed Forces will be required to take an oath of loyalty to the EU. Refusal will result in dismissal. The EU will have complete control of all military matters, equipment and facililties.

    “Political parties will be abolished, phased out or realigned. Only Pan European parties will be allowed. Independence parties will effectively be outlawed as under the 1999 ruling of the European Court Of Justice (case 274/99), it is illegal to criticize the EU. (Even before the Irish Vote, News from Brussels indicates that plans are afoot already to eliminate any ‘Eurosceptic’ groups within the EU Parliament). The EU will have the legal right to close National Parliaments and Assemblies.

    “Many people will be made unemployed as the EU rule of ‘retraining’ at a citizens own expense becomes universal (including the purchase of a Certificate confirming said retraining). Hundreds of thousands of small businesses will be forced to close due to the enforcement of endless numbers of impracticable and unworkable EU regulations.

    “Around 107,000 EU laws will criminalise many, as adherence to this amount of legislation is impossible. We will be subject to frequent fines and even arrest as a result of what will be our inevitable ignorance. Take the following as examples: From January 2006, it became illegal to repair your own domestic plumbing, electricals or even your own car. If you buy a boat over six feet long, built after 1999, you will be required to pay the equivalent in Euros of £4000, or face six months in prison. As the EU ‘Police State’ flexes its muscles ever more, each of us will live under the fear and threat of arrest or prosecution for any one of a myriad of offences, even minor ones.

    “The Large Corporations will do well of course, utilising massive immigration from within and without the EU, paying minimum wages to immigrants at the expense of the indigenous population, thus forcing salaries downwards. Futhermore, these Corporations will have a near Monopoly on employment (along with Government), and will be able to dictate conditions and terms of employment withour fear of contradiction.”

  • Mack

    Big Maggie –

    Except for most of it is nonsense 😉

    The EU will have complete control of all military matters, equipment and facililties.

    Nope. Ireland retains complete control of all military matters, equipment and facilities.

    “Political parties will be abolished, phased out or realigned

    Paranoid conjecture.

    Many people will be made unemployed as the EU rule of ‘retraining’ at a citizens own expense becomes universal

    Other people do not pay for your retraining in Ireland today. This is pure drivel.

    Hundreds of thousands of small businesses will be forced to close due to the enforcement of endless numbers of impracticable and unworkable EU regulations.

    We’ve had EU regulations for a long time, care to compare and contrast the Irish economy pre-Europe to that post-EU membership. Far from costing jobs, I submit to you it has helped create hundreds of thousands of jobs.

    Around 107,000 EU laws will criminalise many, as adherence to this amount of legislation is impossible

    It would really depend what the law relate to. If there were 107,000 laws for standardising products and services across the EU would be very difficult for an EU citizen to break any of them, and if even if they did, it may not be criminal offence.

    “The Large Corporations will do well of course, utilising massive immigration from within and without the EU, paying minimum wages to immigrants at the expense of the indigenous population, thus forcing salaries downwards.

    Wrong, paranoid and deluded (all at once ;-)) .Ireland retains opt-outs on EU immigration law. We can set our own economic policy. See comment above to Jim – there is nothing stopping countries hiring cheaper workers abroad. But once they’ve moved here, why would they work for less than the going rate? They don’t need a visa, they can just switch jobs?

    And completely missing the benefits of increased trade, increased wealth production, bigger markets with less barriers, and even where labour becomes cheaper it should result in a lower cost of production and thus cheaper products and services for workers.

  • Mack

    Ireland retains opt-outs on EU immigration law. We can set our own economic policy.

    Sorry, we can set our own immigration policy. We’ve had about 400,000 new immigrants in the last 7 or 8 years. Wages rose during that period, such that Irish net wages are the second highest in Europe.

    http://www.finfacts.ie/biz10/Rumuneration2008.pdf

  • Mack,

    the Lisbon Treaty does give EU law primacy over Irish law (including the Irish constituition) in those areas in which Ireland has delegated competency to the EU.

    That’s not the point I was arguing.

    Maggie,

    Here’s what could otherwise come about

    Translation: here follows a selection of one man’s paranoid ramblings.

  • I honestly believe some of those who are involved in the yes campaign would sell their own souls if it meant an extra shilling. Not one of you will go near the fact that this treaty will expand the gaping hole that is the democratic deficit within the EU.

    We could start with the proposal for an unelected president and Foreign Minister. Step forward and justify this please.

    As a worker I find it amusing that those who have spent much of their careers attacking our rights and living standards suddenly step forward as our guardians.

    For me it is enough to see who lines up in support of the treaty, i e the very same politicians who allowed Neo liberal economics to all but destroy the economies of the EU.

    If a well known terrorist sells cigarets out of the back of a lorry, one would have to be especially dim not to conclude the money will go to para-militaries. If the mainstream parties sell the EU treaty, one does not have to be a rocket scientist to realize it will mainly benefit the multi nationals whose interest these politicos represent.

    To hold a second referendum only a year after the Irish people decided this issue at the ballot box, is so typical of the absolute contempt these ‘yes’ people have for the democratic processes.

    Whilst they are forever gassing on about democracy, as soon as it produces a result they dislike, they manipulate it in the most shameful and blatant manner. Not once in the last year, has a sizable section of the Irish electorate called for a second referendum,

    Instead of expressing ‘concern’ for workers rights, perhaps Michael could tell us why he is prepared to pour excreta all over there democratic rights.

    more on this here,
    http://www.organizedrage.com/2009/08/2009-irish-referendum-reject-lisbon.html

  • Big Maggie

    Mack,

    A little unwise to dismiss Mr Jones’s article as “nonsense”. We’ll take your rebuttals one at a time, beginning with this one:

    “Ireland retains complete control of all military matters, equipment and facilities.”

    According to Article I-41 (3) of the proposed Lisbon Treaty, member states ‘shall make civilian and military capabilities available to the Union for the implementation of the common security and defence policy. This is an obligation, not an option.

    The noose is tightening: “Furthermore the article states that member states ‘shall undertake progressively to improve their military capabilities’. Again not optional but obligatory when the Treaty is signed.

    “Crucially though, this is given effect in the treaty by the establishment of a European Defence Agency (EDA), which is charged, inter alia, with identifying operational requirements and, promoting measures to satisfy those requirements.

    “Despite the [EU] constitution not having been ratified, this agency is now in place, and this week [22 January 2005] we have also seen another piece of the jigsaw puzzle locked into place: the European Security Research Advisory Board, which will assist the EDA in its work. The noose is tightening.”

  • Mack
  • Mack

    Big Maggie –

    Also see proposed change to constituition

    Article 29.4.15:
    The State shall not adopt a decision taken by the European Council to establish a common defence pursuant to —
    i. Article 1.2 of the Treaty referred to in subsection 7 of this section, or
    ii. Article 1.49 of the Treaty referred to in subsection 10 of this section, where that common defence would include the State.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twenty-eighth_Amendment_of_the_Constitution_of_Ireland_Bill,_2008

  • Big Maggie

    Mack,

    With respect you’re missing the point. It won’t matter what amendments are made to the Irish Constitution. Those obligations Brussels is trying to push through will override them.

  • Mack

    Big Maggie –

    The constituition still has ultimate legal primacy. The amendments to the constituition give Lisbon legal force not vice versa. Article 29.4.11 gives EU Directives extra protection (from a simple constituitional challenge) but that extra protection is still derived from the constituition.

    At the end of the day, what we’re actually voting on is an amendment to the Irish Constituition – the Dail will ratify Lisbon (or otherwise). We’re not abolishing the constituition, we’re amending it in part to facilitate Lisbon and to streamline our interactions with the EU..

  • anony mouse

    Interesting that the word “privatisation” is not in the Lisbon Treaty, isn’t it?
    I wonder why that would be?

    Oh, the word “competition” is in there. So publicly provided services will now have competition.
    Just how stupid do you think people are? We are well aware that one of the reasons that the public health care system in the south is so bad is because of this self-same “competition”.

    Did the railways in Britland improve or disimprove after “competition” came in? What about their water services?

    And I’d say you could think of a few other examples yourself.

  • Mack

    anony mouse

    Ever wonder why the standard of living in Soviet Russia was so far below that of the West?

    By the way, what drove European air-fares down?

    Why is Irish electricity so expensive?

    What happened insurance costs when new competitors were introduced?

    Why are there so many free services on the internet?

    What drives technological innovation?

    Why can a patient be seen in under an hour at a SwiftCare clinic but take the best part of a day under the Irish public health system?

    Monopolies are scourge and facilitate the price gouging of consumers, and lax standards in customer service..

    Incidentally, The Lisbon Treaty promotes competition across all sectors (in particular within the private sector). Ever wonder why prices are so high in Ireland? What happened to prices in grocery stores once customers headed north?

    You can introduce competition without privatisation (see Bord Gais and the big switch competing with the ESB – reducing costs for consumers)…

  • “Interesting that the word “privatisation” is not in the Lisbon Treaty, isn’t it?
    I wonder why that would be?

    Oh, the word “competition” is in there. So publicly provided services will now have competition. ”

    Interestingly when the EU wants to give something a treaty basis like climate change or employment policy it gives it a treaty article, simple as. I know Joe Higgins and co think there is a conspiracy to bring things in by the back door. If you are that way inclined then you have to explain why the back door methodology applies solely to this area and not any other?

    Mack has ably covered the respective issues between competition and privatisation…bus services in the republic for example plenty of private vs public with both of them regularly complaining which must be a good sign

  • Brian MacAodh

    MickHall

    Well said.

  • Michael

    I think you would agree that politicians and politics these days has a poor name amongst the majority of the European Unions population. This is nothing to rejoice about as until someone comes up with a better idea, the democratic process is our best option if we wish to change peoples lives for the better.

    When people see a second referendum less than a year after the first, which rejected the Lisbon Treaty, hundreds of thousands, if not millions of voters will understandably conclude, there is no point in voting as when you do, the politicians just ignore the results and repeat the exercise until they gain a result which is to they’re liking.

    You as a ‘yes’ supporter can talk all you wish about public/private, etc. But until you openly discuss the EU democratic deficit you are part of the problem not part of the solution.

    I have asked you clearly how can an unelected EU president and foreign minister be justified [Lisbon sets these unelected posts in stone] No reply from the Yes campaign. Thus people like myself, who are sympathetic towards the idea of the EU, will vote no, and say not a step further until the democratic deficit is dealt with.

    Joe Higgins and co are absolutely correct to think there is a conspiracy to bring things in by the back door. One does not have to look at the sleight of hand competition laws etc, for there can be no better example of this conspiracy/collusion than this referendum.

    It was concocted out of no where by the EU Brussels bureaucracy and Europe’s political elite and for no better reason than they did not like the result of the 2008 referendum. This fact is undeniable, there was no ground swell of opinion in Ireland demanding a second referendum, indeed most had accepted the result and hoped the EU would accept the democratic will of the people.

  • Big Maggie

    Mickhall,

    It was an interesting exercise to watch the six o’clock news bulletin on RTÉ today. They gave so much airtime to the Yes-vote lobby yet the No-lobby’s spokesman could barely utter a single sentence before the clip was curtailed. I believe he represented a group called “Core” but it all went too fast for me.

    I’d understood that RTÉ is subsidized by the Irish taxpayer, hence must be impartial. Has this changed? Orders handed down from Brussels again?

  • Neville Bagnall

    @Mickhall

    It’d be great if the Council President and Foreign Minister were directly elected. It would create a pan-european polity, and do more to bring about a European Federation than any other single act. Which is precicely why it won’t happen. Because the Council (i.e. the governments) wants those two posts to be subservient to the Council. If they were directly elected, they’d have an independent mandate. They could say “In the name of the European peoples who elected me, I propose the following…”. When they are Council appointees, they have to do what the Council says. Appointed posts are about keeping ultimate power in the hands of the Council. Its about keeping the states sovereign.

    Lisbon makes 3 significant (and some other) changes that redress the democratic deficit.

    – Enhanced role for national parliaments.
    – More (and more consistent) co-decision between Council and Parliament
    – Public plenaries for Council decision making.

    It may not seem like much, but the European Parliament for one has made hay of much less. The democratic credentials of the European Institutions are precicely the instruments that decrease national sovereignity. The more democratic they are, the less powerful the Council and the less sovereign the states. Because popular democracy trumps member state confederacy. Its why the USA went from a confederate style constitution in its early years to the federal constitution we’re familiar with.

    Since the convention, Europe has made multiple attempts to pass the will of the convention members. At each failure they have trimmed back or tweaked the convention outcome in the hopes of getting it passed. The Irish guarantees are the latest. The significant change in them is the Commissioner, because everthing else was already a political (and in most cases, legal) reality.

    Why are they so determined to pass the convention outcome? Because starting again with a new convention means it could be 15-20 years from the agreement of Nice in 2001 before it is replaced, and Nice was seen as so inadequate, the convention was set up to replace it before it even came into force. We’re stuck with it, and its being operated, but only on the expectation that it’ll be replaced.

  • Neville Bagnall

    I agree completely with you viewpoint about why the Council President and Foreign Minister will not be directly elected. As I said in my post it is time we said this is not good enough.

    What is happening now is the worst of all worlds, the council is masquerading as a font of democracy when it does all in its power to restrict democratic accountability.

    What is happening and what you are willing to support; is more and more power is being given to unelected officials, indeed it is worse than that as a second referendum in just over a year proves.

    If elected officials had to stand over that decision to call a second referendum, do you really believe there would have been a second referendum? (come on voters get off your lazy bums and vote again, your first vote was not to my liking)

    The reason the EU has never gelled in the UK is because various governments have been able to keep it at arms length due to the democratic deficit. It is time this stopped as it is doing enormous harm to the EU project.

    I think you are mistaken in your belief that if Lisbon goes down it will be 15 years before we get offered an alternative, if so; so be it, but if Lisbon goes down I would bet my pension there will be another on the table within 3 years.

    We are either for democracy or not, there is no half measures, and half measure is what you are asking us to accept. In the real world and especially with the current crop of politicos, half measures is what it says, i e, short changing the people of the EU.

    It is time to be honest and straight, fix the democratic deficit and we can then move forward, and with a strong argument for the EU within our knapsack. As things stand vote no!

    You mention the US federal constitution, indeed, I have read it, why would I, or any true democrat, accept Lisbon, a will of a wisp document, when I have seen the real think.

    Best regards

  • Neville Bagnall

    “If elected officials had to stand over that decision to call a second referendum”

    The elected officials of this country have to stand over it. And it is rightly an element of the debate. If they had refused to hold another referendum, Lisbon would have fallen. But there was one significant change they could get without renegotiations and they went with it and some restatements and clarifications. Time will tell if it was the right decision or the waste of 18 months.

    “I think you are mistaken in your belief that if Lisbon goes down it will be 15 years before we get offered an alternative, if so; so be it, but if Lisbon goes down I would bet my pension there will be another on the table within 3 years.”

    I dated that 15 years from the agreement (not ratification) of Nice – so 2016. Here is my thinking:
    Lisbon is the child of the Constitution which is the child of the Convention. Its been shaved to the bone.
    There will be an argument for another convention rather than an IGC. (I’d support that argument, but I won’t go into that now)
    A convention will likely take 2-3 years, probably more because Iceland, the Balkans, Turkey and maybe some of Russia’s neighbours will be involved.
    That would normally be followed by an IGC, but now we’re into the timeframe for another round of enlargement and new elections. So my guess is the IGC will happen after the 2014 elections. Then ratification has to happen, and given our record, getting 29+ states to ratify without a second IGC is going to be tough. So, 15-20 years from Nice.

    “We are either for democracy or not, there is no half measures”

    There are always half measures. We do not have a democracy, we have a parliamentary democracy. We hand off control to elected representatives who hand off control to an executive. If we had a democracy Brian Cowen would not be Taoiseach today. And don’t get me started about the Seanad.
    America does not have a democracy, it has a Federal Republic. The US President isn’t even elected by the people. The cabinet is full of unelected appointees.
    In some European countries you don’t vote for individuals, you vote for parties.
    Nearly everywhere parties have more effect on who becomes Premier than the electorate.

    A Council President appointed by the ex-officio Council, and a Commission President elected by the Parliament after consultations with and nomination by the Council isn’t that bad for a confederation and a work in progress.

    “You mention the US federal constitution, indeed, I have read it, why would I, or any true democrat, accept Lisbon, a will of a wisp document, when I have seen the real think.”

    Because the US Federal constitution would never pass a referendum. No vetoes? Every decision subject to a simple majority vote? No guaranteed seat at the cabinet table? No veto on constitutional change?

    Europe isn’t ready for federalism, indeed its not even truly ready for confederation, neither emotionally, politically nor institutionally.

    We’re stuck with a confederation for now, and probably for decades. The peoples of Europe complain endlessly about the democratic deficit, yet pan-european politics does not exist. We can’t even agree on what’s most important. The French think its workers rights, the Dutch immigration, we think its the Commission. When given the choice between democratic or inter-governmental rules we demand the protection of inter-governmental. We all want opt-outs and special cases. We say one thing, but our actions belie our words.

    I think I’m a true democrat, and I’ll take Lisbon as the slightly more democratic next step to a truly democratic EU.

    I’m also enough of a historian to recognise the wisdom of a slow evolution of European politics, with plenty of checks and balances rather than a sudden revolution no matter how democratic, or how much I’d like to see a truly pan-european polity.

    At the risk of fulfilling Godwins Law, there is a reason the Germans dislike plebiscites.

    I do share your frustration though. I hope (and think) all who view themselves as both (insert nationality) and european do. Whether they come down pro or anti Lisbon.

  • Neville

    Thanks for your thoughtful reply, I respect your views, for like you I too believe in the EU project, however I feel we must differ over Lisbon. Although my being in the no camp does not make me feel comfortable with some of the company I keep, but then I suppose that is true of both camps.

    If you have the time, I would be interested in your opinion of the [seemingly] continuos enlargement of the EU. Will there come a time when the EU says enough, or can you foresee its continuos expansion, perhaps eventually even taking in all the countries that surround the Mediterranean sea?

  • Well it wasn’t concoted out of nowhere, there was an IGC and several summits

    You beleive it is all a conspiracy then fair enough, question is do the electorate beleive this is significant numbers or is it other issues that animate them

    Neither the EU President (Council or Commission) or High Rep are elected at the moment. I think one of them should be but thats arguing for more and deeper integration, not less.

    If the people are unhappy with a second referendum they need to punish the parties who voted ot have one and reward those who didn’t want one, no sign form opinion polls or recent elections that is happening.

  • Michael

    I fear people may express there dissatisfaction in the worst way of all, by abstaining.

  • Neville Bagnall

    Mick,

    and you for the interesting debate.

    I certainly believe the EU can enlarge some more.
    All the EFTA countries are viable candidates, the Balkans look increasingly viable, Turkey, and many of the East European countries are making good progress.
    Most African countries have a major barrier preventing membership – the requirement to be democracies.

    Interestingly another area with which the EU has enhanced trading relationships fairs better in this regard. The Caribbean.

    However there are limits to both the rate of expansion and integration possible with a confederation structure. The eastern expansion has already strained it quite considerably, and if not for the historic circumstances, it might have been better to have taken it more slowly.

    Also, while expansion adds extra burdens for Union, for the applicant States the hurdle is even larger and grows more daunting decade by decade. The acquis has been 50 years in construction now, and for an application to assimilate all that law and practice in a relatively short time is a daunting burden. The evidence of that is in some of the backsliding visible in the newer members. Not that older members don’t exhibit the same problem from time to time.

    So, if the Union is to continue to expand I expect longer processes and new mechanisms to allow applicant countries to have negotiating and monitoring rights before full membership.

    However I think another mechanism is also worth considering.

    Lets say a number of Caribbean States were interested in membership.
    Rather than start them all on the process resulting in another big bulge accession, they could form their own Union along the principles of the early EEC. The EU and this Caribbean Community would form an enhanced trading block and association similar to the EEA/EFTA, lets call it the CEFTA.
    As the CC developed CEFTA would be responsible for ensuring that CC and EU principles, rights, obligations and laws remained compatible. With that oversight and the European project as a model the hope would be that the CC would develop faster than the EEC did into a full Union and catch up with the EU. As it made progress some of the compatible laws could be merged and have CEFTA wide application. The final step should be obvious, the transformation of CEFTA, the EU and the CC into a common EuroCarribean Union (ECU).

    If an African Community formed and joined, CEFTA would become CEAFTA, and at some point change from being an association of the EU, CC and AC into an association of the ECU and AC.

    At every point the participating parties should be able to say “So far and no further”, or “I want out”, for instance the EU might split at the point of ECU formation making a CEAFTA composed of ECU, AC and rump EU.

    Note that while the Unions can pursue “Ever closer union”, the Associations role is only to encourage harmonisation of the approaches. So if one of the Unions develops a new framework for (lets say) public service broadcasting, the other Unions would either adopt a compatible framework, negotiate with the other Union for changes to the original framework to keep them compatible or adopt a compatible framework with side agreements.
    In other words the Associations do not originate legislation.

    For whatever its worth, thats my thinking on enlargement.