Lisbon Essay (4): A ‘No’ would force powerful corporate lobbies to give way to real democracy…

This week we kick off with an argument from the Irish left, and from the only one of Ireland’s twelve MEPs that could be in the least described as ‘Eurosceptic’. In particular, Joe Higgins notes the proposal to work together to a far greater degree on a raft of what might classed as a common foreign policy (see also LE3 for David Steven’s arguments in favour), linking it to the encouragement of larger countries to form joint military forces. A No vote, he argues, would give way to wider reaching debate from which a real European democracy might arise…By Joe Higgins

Lisbon is not a minor ‘tidying up’ exercise to make the workings of the European Union more efficient. It encompasses far reaching changes which would seriously diminish the democratic sway of citizens of Member States.

The Lisbon Treaty substantially diminishes the democratic check which citizens in the EU can exercise over their own governments in relation to decisions taken by the European Council (Meeting of EU Prime Ministers) and the Council (Meeting of EU government Ministers) when they come to make important decisions.

It removes the veto of individual Member States in substantial areas of policy ranging from how public services and changes the way that a qualified majority could be reached.

For instance, proposed new legislation will be circulated to the parliaments eight weeks before it is put to the EU Ministers. The parliaments have no say in the substance of the new legislation but can tell the EU Commission if they believe it breaches ‘subsidiarity’ that is if it strays into areas that they believe they themselves should be dealing with.

And this provision will have no bearing on the majority of substantial areas where the EU has competence over and above Member States.

Lisbon hands far more power to deal with deficits and borrowing to the EU Commission and out of the control of individual Member States and their people. This can have far-reaching implications.

For instance, the Lisbon changes enshrined in the new Article 126(TFEU) gives the Commission the power to demand of the Ministers of Finance to ask the European Investment Bank to ‘reconsider its lending policy toward the Member State concerned.’

Harsh action against an individual state could only be blocked if there was a unanimous vote of the Ministers for Finance to do so. Otherwise the punishment could be meted out by a qualified majority.

A key instrument of the “race to the bottom” in workers’ wages and conditions has been the “Posting of Workers Directive”.

This directive deals with the rights of workers employed by a company in one European state but working in another state temporarily. In theory, it means that companies have to obey some standards and laws regarding workers’ rights in the country where they are working.

In the Ruffert case (see LE(2) for McLaughlin’s counterargument to this) it ruled that the State of Lower Saxony in Germany was breaking EU law when it insisted that a Polish subcontractor should pay Polish workers brought into Germany to build a prison, the same rate as local contractors have to pay according to negotiated agreements. The ECJ agreed that EU law allowed the Polish subcontractor to pay 50% of the usual rate!

The crucial point within the context of Lisbon is that giving The Charter of Fundamental Rights the same legal rights as EU treaties would change nothing as far as the ECJ’s rulings are concerned.

‘Member States shall undertake progressively to improve their military capabilities.’(Art. 42 TEU) This is a blatant call for more spending on armies and military hardware. But this drive towards militarization has to be seen in the context of very significant changes proposed in Lisbon to EU foreign policy. .

It will allow the most powerful military states in the European Union to set up military alliances among themselves ‘with a view to the most demanding missions’ This is to be known as ‘permanent structured cooperation’. (Art42 TEU)

In mandating these new ‘mini military alliances’, the EU leaders must act unanimously. However, once such missions are under way, their conduct will be under the control only of the participating states with other states excluded. (Art 6 TEU) However their actions will be in the name of the EU as a whole.

A ‘No’ Vote can be a new beginning. The Lisbon Treaty represents the aggressive, neo liberal agenda of the EU big business, military and political establishment. It is seriously damaging to the interests of the vast majority of ordinary citizens in the EU. That is why the Irish people should give it a resounding ‘No’ for the second time.

A second rejection would allow a more wide ranging debate to open up about what kind of Europe we want to construct in the next decades. If the majority of ordinary working people, the unemployed and thee youth actively joined that debate, a vision of a new Europe utterly different to the present EU can emerge.

That would be a Europe where the sway of powerful corporate lobbies, the military industrial complex and pro big business political parties would be forced to give way to a real democracy.

Biography: Joe Higgins is the Socialist Party Member of the European Parliament for Dublin. He was a Member of Dublin and then Fingal County Council from 1991 to 2003. He represented Dublin West in Dail Éireann for ten years from 1997 to 2007.

Tomorrow: Stephen Kinsella of the University of Limerick with It’s NOT the economy Stupid…

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  • Glensman

    The whole military aspect of this treaty makes me very uneasy. By what I’ve read above the likes of Britain, Spain and Poland could form a military alliance- attack another country and say it’s in the name of the EU… Doesn’t sit right.

  • Neville Bagnall

    “A second rejection would allow a more wide ranging debate to open up about what kind of Europe we want to construct in the next decades. If the majority of ordinary working people, the unemployed and thee youth actively joined that debate, a vision of a new Europe utterly different to the present EU can emerge.”

    If only. I applaud Joe’s optimism with regard to what will happen if we vote no a second time. But I look at the recent elections where right and centre-right parties increased their representation, I look to the polls in our eurosceptic next door neigbour, I look at the failed attempts to develop a pan-europe political space (either via traditional groupings or new parties) and I cannot see it happening.

    Most of what’s in Lisbon was agreed by about 100 elected representatives, over one and a half years at the height of European diagreement with globalisation and America. Does Joe really think, as he looks around the European Parliament, that another 18 months dating from next January will get us something better?

    There are hard won protections and commitments for workers in the treaty, and a foundation in the Charter for further achievements to be won. There are also hard won commitments and protections for business. We might not like that, but thats what happens in negotiations. The left will not win all the battles over workers rights, but Lisbon adds powerful weapons to our armoury. The battles will be fought anyway; I prefer the battleground of Lisbon to that of Nice.

    And speaking of battles, why must our neutrality be passive? Have we not spent 50 years participating in and endorsing military deployments in the name of peace? Why don’t we create a “mini-alliance” within the EU with the other neutral countries. An alliance for european soft power to counteract the militarists. Lets ensure that when the world thinks of Europe, it always sees an alliance for peace and the rule of international law and not just NATO.

    Joe rejects the importance of national Parliaments under Lisbon, but for the first time there will be potential for a conversation between the Parliaments of Europe and not just the Governments. Like all the changes to the institutions, it is incremental and like many before (EP approval of the Commission for example) its effects could be startling.

    Europe is a work in progress; before it is finished its effects will have transformed international law and politics, it already has to some extent. I don’t know its endpoint. Like our own society, there are positives and negatives. Each step along the way has also had its positives and negatives. The positives have outweighed the negatives, particularly in the long term. Lisbon is not the biggest step we’ve taken, but its the best those hundred elected representatives were willing to take together.

    Frankly, for working people right across Europe, Joe’s argument is making the perfect the enemy of the good.

  • Jamesy

    The Irish had real democracy when they were an integral part of the United Kingdom, even the founder of the United Irishmen William Drennan realised that. However true to form, the backward, blood-thirsty, gaelic Irish would always deny any sort of Unionist politics to Irish with progressive attitudes.

  • Big Maggie


    Are you sure you’re on the right thread? :^)


    “The whole military aspect of this treaty makes me very uneasy.”

    Here’s your sister. We have quite enough military adventures to be getting on with at the present time.

    If only a couple of other nations had allowed their people to vote all this might have looked very different.

  • “This is a blatant call for more spending on armies and military hardware. ”

    Yeah, but with the exception of the Dutch and the British (and maybe French adventures in Africa) it will all probably stay in storage. Wasteful, obviously.