Lisbon Essay (20): After eight years of intense political negotiation it is time to move on…

Margot Wallström the current Vice-President of the European Commission lays out her case for Lisbon. In particular she notes the high level of distrust lingering in some circles with regard to the changes agreed (ie Ireland’s right to a commissioner, and the legal guarantees), but argues that these are political decisions the unbinding of which would have severe political consequences for whomsoever tried to do it. She also argues that whilst the dangers of a race to the bottom are real, the co-option of the charter of fundamental human rights means that Lisbon bolsters the social Europe model rather than binds it to corporate interests. Last of all, she argues that the EU cannot afford the kind of prolonged navel gazing that the Eurosceptics would like to see it plunged into were Lisbon to fail, because “the world is changing too fast”.
By Margot Wallström

Thanks for the invitation to contribute to the debate.

I want to make one thing very clear at the outset: The decision on how you vote is your decision and yours alone. The Commission’s position on the Treaty is public and published here but as Vice-President of the Commission, you have the right to hold me accountable and I’m happy to set out some facts.

First, why should the Irish vote on the same text they rejected last year? Well, there is a different deal on the table now. Your government spent several months analysing the reasons why people voted No and then spent many more months negotiating with the other 26 Member States of the EU to see if Irish concerns could be accommodated or fears assuaged. The other 26 countries have now agreed to legally binding guarantees which will enter into force at the same time as the Treaty. And yes, they are legally binding.

One very important change has also taken place: thanks to the Irish, if the Lisbon Treaty comes into force every country will have a Commissioner. Long before the first referendum I had argued against reducing the size of the Commission. I know we all represent European and not national interests but I believe it is vital when proposing legislation to have someone from each country around the table. Ironically, a Yes vote this time is the only guarantee that Ireland will retain its Commissioner .

I was slightly taken aback by the level of distrust in some quarters when in Ireland recently. An interviewer on local radio suggested to me that the 27 Heads of State might unanimously renege on their decision to have one Commissioner per Member State. Why on earth would they do that?! It’s almost insulting to think a Swedish Prime Minister would do such a thing and for an Irish Taoiseach to do it would surely be political suicide.

And when has the EU ever tried to impose conscription, abortion, euthanasia or a minimum wage on Ireland? The Lisbon Treaty has nothing to do with any of these things and the very idea that such claims get credence in some quarters disturbs me. I have come to expect it in some parts of the EU but not in Ireland.

Ireland has been an example and a model to all of the countries, including my own, which have joined the European Union after you. You have consistently and successfully shown how smaller countries can punch above their weight and how the EU can benefit small countries. If Ireland votes No again there will be no legal consequences of course but I can tell you that a lot of Europeans will be asking what’s happening with Ireland.

And on an issue close to my heart: worker’s rights. As a social democrat who has defended these rights for my whole political life, can I say this: We absolutely have to avoid the kind of race to the bottom that could destroy the European social model. But the new Treaty will help us to do that because the Charter of Fundamental Rights will be a legally binding part of it. John Monks, the Secretary General of the European Trade Unions, agrees with me. Would the trade union movement across Europe support the Treaty if it was a step backwards for social rights?!

National sovereignty was raised in one of the debates I took part in. So which countries in the EU want to give up their sovereignty? Certainly not mine. Or any others I can think of. The Lisbon Treaty has nothing to do with a European Superstate. That is for conspiracy theorists. It is an agreement between 27 sovereign states to pool a little bit of that sovereignty in all our interests.

And that is the whole point of the EU. Together we have to find the best way to recover from the economic crisis, to reach a deal on how to fight climate change, to find the best ways to deal with rising levels of migration, and to play our part in resolving conflicts and crises on our borders. And we will only be able to achieve these things if we work together, as 27 countries with 500 million citizens.

I believe that the new Treaty will help us to achieve this. It is designed to ensure that we can work more effectively, more efficiently and more democratically to deal with the problems that can’t be solved at national level.

Whatever you decide to do on October 2nd, I, for one, will be relieved that the institutional debate will be over, for good or for ill. After eight years(!) of negotiations we have too much on our policy agenda to deal with today and we cannot afford to waste precious energies on moving the institutional furniture around again. The world is changing too fast.

The whole of Europe will be watching your decision on 2 October because it will affect us all. Use your vote.

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  • zeleneye

    “Whatever you decide to do on October 2nd, I, for one, will be relieved that the institutional debate will be over, for good or for ill.”

    That is not true. If Ireland votes no again there will be more bloody hand wringing and head scratching. More newspaper articles about “Europe in crisis”. There will certainly be more institutional debate because some of the changes in Lisbon are essential and will need to be made…whether through Lisbon or something else. There is much I don’t like about Lisbon but I would certainly agree with the analysis that 8 years of anoraky institutional wrangling is more than enough.

  • Greenflag

    Excellent balanced comments by Margot Wallstrom above . She need not worry about the result . It’ll be a 2 to 1 Yes vote if not more .

    Meanwhile back at the ranch the NO campaign of Mr Ganley has come under fire for ahem ‘foreign relations’ of the financial kind .

    Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan has called on Declan Ganley to confirm that a London-based hedge fund said to be backing his campaign does not have a vested interest in a No vote.

    Speaking at a news conference this morning, Mr Lenihan said he found it curious that a hedge fund backer would have a direct interest in goings-on in Ireland.

    He said it was clear that a No vote would break confidence in Ireland.

    It was, he claimed, ‘disturbing’ that Mr Ganley’s only declared backer would be an organisation that did not have Ireland’s best interests at heart.

    Well said Mr Lenihan and about time!

  • “fears assuaged”, it’s a point often overlooked but while the fears of some people about abortion, conscription etc were genuinely felt they weren’t based on anything that was in the Treaty.

    That is where voting again even if nothing at all had changed with regard to the Treaty would be reasonable once the reasons for those fears had been addressed. Like it or not, but some people did think abortion, conscription etc were in play with Lisbon. And while those people were certainly a minority of the No side, if they were even 10% of the no side then addressing their fears and changing their minds (5.3%) would be enough to turn the national vote from a No (53/47%)into a Yes (47.7/52.3). That is democracy.

  • Let’s Talk in materia.

  • Dave

    She starts off with a few ‘untruths’ so let’s address them in turn:

    Despite the European Commission proclaiming that it is not the “policy of the European Commission not to interfere in internal elections or referenda in Members States” here we have the Vice-President of the European Commission interfering in an internal referenda in a Member State. This is reprehensible, and it is not the first time that she has displayed contempt for long-standing conventions in the Irish referendum. The last time was when she interfered for the express purpose of trying to bribe the Irish people with ECB support for bankers by claiming that the ECB would inject “an enormous amount of money” (which, of course, would have to be repaid by Irish taxpayers). She also reprimanded the Irish Commissioner Charlie McCreevy for “his loose tongue” in stating that 95% of EU Member States would have rejected the Lisbon Treaty if the EU had not prevented the citizens of those states from voting on a document that alters their fundamental constitutional, civil, political, human, economic and national rights.

    Despite her bogus claim that the people of Ireland have “the right to hold [the European Commission] accountable” for how they have destroyed the Irish economy, the European Commission is not elected by the Irish people and it is not in any way accountable to them.

    “First, why should the Irish vote on the same text they rejected last year? Well, there is a different deal on the table now. Your government spent several months analysing the reasons why people voted No and then spent many more months negotiating with the other 26 Member States of the EU to see if Irish concerns could be accommodated or fears assuaged. The other 26 countries have now agreed to legally binding guarantees which will enter into force at the same time as the Treaty. And yes, they are legally binding.”

    More lies. The Irish people will be voting on exactly the same treaty that they rejected last year. The only reason that they are forced to vote again is because the EU has refused to accept the outcome of a free and fair referendum. This contempt for the democratic process is something they have in common with Zimbabwe.

    Here you see how she subverts democracy in what she hopes is her innocuous school matronly manner. It is neither normal nor acceptable that the result of a democratic poll should be “analysed” by those on the losing side of the poll and a pretext invented whereby the poll can be overturned and re-run until a result in returned that is desired by said losing side. Who would tolerate this degradation of democracy if an incumbent government in a general election decided that the people had ‘misunderstood’ one or more of a few hundred policy issues in a manifesto and used this trick as a pretext to re-run the election until the incumbent government was successful? No one tolerate this abuse of the democratic process, so why do we tolerate it from the EU? Is it because Ms Wallström doesn’t look like Robert Mugabe that she can get away with acting like him?

    The so-called guarantees are not legally binding on the EU. Why? Because the EU is not a signatory to them. So, although they may be “legally binding” (but in no way enforceable) on the 27 individuals who signed them, they are not legally binding on the EU. Also, these ‘guarantees’ address what the government “analysed” was the reason for the rejection of the treaty, so they have no legitimacy being pure invention to serve the express purpose of a forced re-run and a distraction from the concerns that are curiously unaddressed by them.

    “One very important change has also taken place: thanks to the Irish, if the Lisbon Treaty comes into force every country will have a Commissioner. Long before the first referendum I had argued against reducing the size of the Commission. I know we all represent European and not national interests but I believe it is vital when proposing legislation to have someone from each country around the table. Ironically, a Yes vote this time is the only guarantee that Ireland will retain its Commissioner .”

    Ireland can only “suggest” a Commissioner with the EU having the right to veto any Commissioner who is not a total sycophantic europhile. In addition, Ms Wallström’s fellow Swede, Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, admitted that the Lisbon Treaty is not necessary for Ireland to retain a Commissioner. The Nice Treaty allows for 26 Member States to keep a Commissioner. If 26 Commissioners were rotated among 27 Member States that would mean one state would have to be offered a compensatory office instead – the High Representative for Foreign Affairs is what Fredrik Reinfeldt suggested.

  • Dave

    [b]Continued[/b]

    At least she is honest enough to admit that the Commissioner does not represent the national interest of the country that “suggests” him, but it is apparent that it should be fraudulently presented to the people that he does – in order, of course, for it to be ‘reassuring’ for nations to see at least ‘one of their own’ determining their internal affairs rather than to see their internal affairs being determined by foreign nations.

    “I was slightly taken aback by the level of distrust in some quarters when in Ireland recently.”

    I know. However did they get the impression that the EU is run by a bunch of crooks? The European Court of Auditors declared your accounts to be riddled with fraud and errors for 14 years in a row.

    “The Lisbon Treaty has nothing to do with any of these things and the very idea that such claims get credence in some quarters disturbs me. I have come to expect it in some parts of the EU but not in Ireland.”

    No one claimed these were in the treaty: they claimed that the ECJ (which interprets the treaties) could impose them. A major fraud that is ongoing in Ireland is to refute claims by saying they are not in the treaty as if this straw man diversion addresses what is possible under the ECJ.

    “Ireland has been an example and a model to all of the countries, including my own, which have joined the European Union after you. You have consistently and successfully shown how smaller countries can punch above their weight and how the EU can benefit small countries.”

    Here is a good comment from a recent editorial in the Wall Street Journal: “It is popular in Brussels to attribute Ireland’s remarkable decade-long growth spurt to EU largesse. The Irish themselves know better, or ought to. Ireland sucked on the teat of EU regional aid for two and a half decades without discernible effect. By the mid-1980s, it was still a poor country by European standards, but it was also facing a budgetary and debt crisis. It was only when it started on a campaign of supply-side tax cuts slashing marginal rates along with capital gains and corporate income-tax rates that the economy took off.”

    “If Ireland votes No again there will be no legal consequences of course but I can tell you that a lot of Europeans will be asking what’s happening with Ireland.”

    Oh dear… aren’t you clever about how you word your threats? You are very careful to point out that there can be “no legal consequences” if a country rejects the treaty under the Unanimity Rule – we cannot be thrown out of the EU for exercising a democratic option even if that is the instinct of fascists within the EU – but you make your threat in the form of unwritten consequences. Basically you are implying that you and others of your ilk can act with vindictive malice toward Ireland if Ireland does not kiss EU arse and it will all be done within the law.

    Why should a nation derogate its sovereignty to an agency that has such other contempt for democratic process? The Irish people would be utter fools to trust those who threaten them.

    “National sovereignty was raised in one of the debates I took part in. So which countries in the EU want to give up their sovereignty? Certainly not mine. Or any others I can think of. The Lisbon Treaty has nothing to do with a European Superstate. That is for conspiracy theorists. It is an agreement between 27 sovereign states to pool a little bit of that sovereignty in all our interests.”

    There is no such thing as “pooled” sovereignty. This is just a quaint term that the EU has invented to disguise the fact that sovereignty is transferred via a treaty from the national government to a supranational government. Sovereignty is not pooled, it is given away. The Irish people should not be fooled by this propaganda. In return for giving away 100% control over their sovereign power to make laws in their national parliament to the EU, they are getting 0.8% ‘power’ to make laws in the EU parliament. That 0.8% is what they will have reduced their 100% to by ‘pooling’ it.

  • Dave

    [b]Continued[/b]

    “And that is the whole point of the EU. Together we have to find the best way to recover from the economic crisis, to reach a deal on how to fight climate change, to find the best ways to deal with rising levels of migration, and to play our part in resolving conflicts and crises on our borders. And we will only be able to achieve these things if we work together, as 27 countries with 500 million citizens.”

    The EU is the cause of Europe’s problems, not the solution to them. The (former) Vice-president of the European Commission, Gunther Verheugen, admitted in an interview in the Financial Times in October 2006 that EU red-tape now costs European business €600 billion a year. He also said that the benefits of the EU’s Single Market only amount to €160 billion a year. In other words, EU bureaucracy adds €440 billion a year in additional costs to European business.

    He argued that if could cut EU red-tape by 25% that European business would save €150 billion a year in unnecessary costs, making them more competitive in the global marketplace. That is true. However, if you cut the EU and allowed those states to trade freely with each other, then European business would save €600 billion a year.

    The EU is killing Europe. According to its own statistics, the EU’s share of world GDP will have dropped from 27% in 2000 to a mere 15% by 2018. That is a 45% fall in less than two decades. That is a disaster. Those countries that do not have mountains of EU red-tape to contend with such as the USA will hold their share of global GDP to 2018 while the Pacific Rim countries are dramatically expanding their share of it. The reason the US will grow its share of global GDP to 2018 while the EU’s will decline by 45% is the same reason that the Pacific Rim countries are growing their GDP: they’re not tied up in red-tape that costs them 600 billion euro a year and makes them uncompetitive and unresponsive to global trends.

    The EU is a ship that is sinking fast. Europe cannot afford this playground for career politicians.

  • 0b101010

    Very thin on any solid reasoning, but strong on name-calling and peer pressure.

    I have come to expect it in some parts of the EU but not in Ireland.

    Ireland has been an example and a model to all of the countries, including my own, which have joined the European Union after you. You have consistently and successfully shown how smaller countries can punch above their weight and how the EU can benefit small countries. If Ireland votes No again there will be no legal consequences of course but I can tell you that a lot of Europeans will be asking what’s happening with Ireland.

    “Hey, Ireland, why won’t you take a puff? What’s happened to you? We thought you were cool. Go on, the rest of us are doing it.”

    That is seriously the argument for the Lisbon Treaty coming from the Vice-President of the European Commission.

    The Lisbon Treaty has nothing to do with a European Superstate. That is for conspiracy theorists. It is an agreement between 27 sovereign states to pool a little bit of that sovereignty in all our interests.

    The Lisbson Treaty has everything to do with a European Superstate… the existing one it is supposed to codify: with its own supranational citizenship, central bank, judicial system, parliament, president, foreign minister and defence agency.

    There is no such thing as partial sovereignty that can be divided and pooled. Either a nation holds its own sovereignty or it doesn’t.

    Calling people names seems like a poor strategy.

  • Dave

    I totally agree, 0b101010. It would be easy provide a long list of prominent EU federalists, but after 3 posts already, I’ll stick with short ones:

    “The European Union is a state under construction.” – Elmar Brok, Chairman of the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs

    The Constitution is the capstone of a European Federal State. ” – Guy Verhofstadt, Belgian Prime Minister, Financial Times, 21st June 2004

    “The EU Constitution is the birth certificate of the United States of Europe. The Constitution is not the end point of integration, but the framework for – as it says in the preamble – an ever closer union.” – Hans Martin Bury, the German Minister for Europe, debate in the Bundestag, Die Welt, 25 February 2005

    Obviously Ms Wallström beleives that the above EU federalists are “conspiracy theorists.”

    The more serious issue is that she is violating Irish sovereignty and Irish law by campaigning for a Yes vote on behalf of the European Commission in an Irish referendum.

    She is also acting illegally under European law since the European Commission has no function whatsoever in relation to the ratification of new Treaties in Member States – only with treaties that have already been ratified in Member States.

  • Wilde Rover

    Margot Wallström,

    “Whatever you decide to do on October 2nd, I, for one, will be relieved that the institutional debate will be over, for good or for ill. After eight years(!) of negotiations we have too much on our policy agenda to deal with today and we cannot afford to waste precious energies on moving the institutional furniture around again.”

    Eight years? Is that a Freudian slip?

    2001 was when Valéry Giscard d’Estaing led the drive for an EU constitution, a constitution subsequently rejected by the French and the Dutch electorate.

    The repackaged version was rejected by the Irish electorate and yet here we are again.

    “The Lisbon Treaty has nothing to do with a European Superstate.”

    It seems the architects of this new state have no problem with it being a State of Fear.

  • 0b101010

    Yet there are those today who want to scrap the supranational idea. They want the European Union to go back to the old purely inter-governmental way of doing things.

    I say those people should come to Terezin and see where that old road leads.
    – Margot Wallström, 8 May 2005

    Terezín (aka Theresienstadt) was a Nazi concentration camp in what is now the Czech Republic. At least she’s toned down the rhetoric these days and isn’t publicly claiming that a second refusal by Ireland to amend its constitution would lead to a modern holocaust.

  • Wilde Rover

    Ob101010,

    Good find.

    Although, “Vote Yes, You Nazi F@£kers” would have been an entertaining poster.

  • zeleneye

    Wilde Rover – 8 years is no Freudian slip. Everybody knows that what is know the Lisbon treaty is a convoluted version of what the Convention was tasked to produce. The first convoluted version was the constitution. That then got hacked into the Lisbon treaty. Nobody denies that. Some of the things proposed in Lisbon will have to be adopted no matter what.

  • Wilde Rover

    Zeleneye,

    “8 years is no Freudian slip. Everybody knows that what is know the Lisbon treaty is a convoluted version of what the Convention was tasked to produce.”

    The reason I used Freudian slip is because of the following quote.

    “The Lisbon Treaty has nothing to do with a European Superstate.”

    Lisbon is a rehashed version of a rejected constitution of a superstate.

  • Ritengo che questa sia un’ottima idea. Sono d’accordo con te.