Reform in Ireland Can Start with a Yes to Lisbon…

Last year Naoise Nunn was one of a small but hard working Libertas team which basically took on and bested the Yes campaign over the first Lisbon Treaty Referendum. This year he is voting yes. The common motivation between this year and last is that he wants to see substantial political reform, both in Ireland and Europe. He explains below the fold:By Naoise Nunn

I campaigned against the Lisbon Treaty last time on the basis that a better deal was possible for Ireland. This time I am urging a Yes vote to lock in the better deal we got from our No vote. It’s basic, simple common sense. I am also calling for people to vote Yes to Lisbon because the Treaty represents some of reform we could badly do with at home.

The buses, taxis, offices, factories, hairdressers, waiting rooms and kitchens of Ireland are seething with anger about the state of the nation. Unemployment is rampant, net emigration has returned and women and men everywhere are finding it tougher and tougher to provide for themselves and their children. People feel a powerful and urgent need to give something or someone the lash and the Government, the builders and the bankers are natural and justifiable targets. What is not a natural or justifiable target for this anger is the Lisbon Treaty upon which we give our verdict on October 2nd.

We now require radical reform at every level of society to deal with our current crisis. We must either shake up or scrap those systems which have run this country up to now but are no longer fit for purpose. Legislation is too slow and lacks adequate consultation with those affected. Decisions made at national level have impacts at local level. Government and State bodies cost too much and lack transparency and accountability – we need only look at the disgraceful conduct of FÁS which has emerged. More importantly, we can’t seem to reach a consensus on what strategy will get us out of this mess.

It probably won’t at all surprise you to read that these problems have all in some way been faced by the European Union too. The difference to us though is that the European Union has found some sort of consensus on how to reform the way it does its business. It’s called the Lisbon Treaty and it aims to make Europe’s institutions more responsive to ordinary people, transparent and democratic. Lisbon also spells out strategies to address the challenges of energy security, climate change and globalisation which cannot be dealt with by countries acting alone.

Let’s be clear about this: Lisbon is no conspiracy being foisted upon the people. It was negotiated over seven years by the democratically-elected governments (and oppositions) of every single one of the 27 member states. It’s not perfect by any means but it is now the best deal possible for Ireland. It provides a platform for reform of the EU present and future. Furthermore, the economic circumstances in which we now find ourselves make the approval of the Lisbon Treaty the sensible choice for our future. It just makes plain common sense to give ourselves in Ireland – and in Europe – a platform for further much-needed reform.

The EU still has many failings in terms of communicating with the citizens of the member states. It must involve us more in the decision-making process. It must do better to give us a sense of ownership of the European partnership. My central point is that these and other problems can be much better addressed by a European Union reformed by Lisbon. The alternative is to struggle under the current state of uncertainty. At the same time, many of the criticisms made by eurosceptics are actually the failings of member states, some are exaggerated and others, to be frank, are just plain nuts.

The Lisbon Treaty is a complicated document but it must be so to reform the rules of such a unique and complex entity. The EU enables 27 countries to voluntarily co-operate in areas of mutual. Crucially, however it retains for each of those diverse countries the fundamental sovereign power to decide their own policy on issues of vital national interest.

There are many specific measures provisions in the Treaty which can give us in Ireland some inspiration for some of the reforms which would benefit this country. Specifically, it gives more say to the directly-elected European Parliament in making laws together with the European Council, made up of the relevant ministers from all the member state governments.

For the first time, the Treaty makes public and transparent the meetings of the European Council so that citizens can see how their own government ministers perform and arrive at their decisions. This means we can hold them responsible when they arrive back from Brussels.

The Treaty also introduces much greater powers for the Dáil so that TDs and Senators can judge on our behalf whether or not new EU laws are suitable for us. The new arrangements also give the EU new power to deal more effectively with the very real and present challenges of energy security, climate change and globalisation which simply cannot be tackled by countries acting alone.

There are also a number of aspects of the Lisbon Treaty which have been completely misrepresented and misunderstood. The European Commission does not make or pass any laws. It is effectively the civil service of the EU and can only propose laws which must then be amended, agreed or rejected by the ministers of the member state governments. Lisbon also gives the European Parliament more power to decide on laws in many areas.

The proposed President of the European Council will act as a chairperson and will co-ordinate summit meetings. That’s it. The post does not carry any executive power or legislative power and as such cannot be described as a “President of Europe” in the common understanding of that term.

The European Court of Justice has been used as a convenient bogeyman. No campaigners have claimed that its 27 judges (one of whom is nominated by Ireland) might interpret the Treaties to come to a wide range of imagined and highly improbable decisions such as allowing for the involuntary euthanasia of the elderly or the micro-chipping of children. The fact is that the ECJ can only make rulings on issues over which the EU has been given power voluntarily by member states.

In the area of ethical and family issues, for example, the Nold case found that the Court: “cannot uphold measures which are incompatible with fundamental rights recognised and protected by the Constitutions of those States”. This principle is reinforced by the Lisbon Treaty with protocols. It essentially means the Irish Constitution is untouchable. The European Court cannot interpret the Charter of Fundamental Rights in any way that would change this. Most importantly, the overwhelming experience of the ECJ is that it acts in a fair manner to balance the rights and responsibilities of member states and the EU institutions, principally for the benefit of citizens.

Like the EU, the Lisbon Treaty is not a conspiracy. It is a sovereign agreement by 27 very different member states to co-operate. They do so – we do so – in the firm belief that we must hang together or most assuredly we will all hang separately.

We must let our common sense and positive experience of Europe for the past 35 years inform our decision on Lisbon rather than the fearful, paranoid notions of what might happen in the future.

This time we have nothing positive to gain by voting No but by voting Yes we can lock in the concessions we won in that first No vote.

By ratifying Lisbon, we will also provide the framework and platform for further reform of those elements of the European Union of which many are critical.

We can confidently vote Yes for reform in Europe as the beginning of a process that can and should lead to real reform at home. In the words of Franklin D Roosevelt, preparing the American people for recovery from the depths of the Great Depression: “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”.

Naoise Nunn is an independent political consultant and producer of the monthly Leviathan: Political Cabaret series and the Mind Field spoken word arena at the Electric Picnic festival. He was executive director of Libertas until September 2008.

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  • Mark McGreg


    I know its probably playing the man but I can’t help but notice Naoise made very good arguments for whoever is currently paying his wages.

  • His new employer, John McGuinness TD, will be pleased with that one.

  • Mark McGreg


    There is a danger this could be derailed into playing the man not the ball but given Mick highlighted his past employment in part of the No campaign, making his well presented argument seem like a major shift, but didn’t mention his current role it seems fair that people are aware his employer has changed along with his argument.

    So people can now address the argument while being informed it may not be a profound shift and could just be a hired gun turning an undoubted political ability to where his pay-cheque demands.

  • Folks, it is on the record that I have worked with John McGuinness on and off in recent months but I am certainly not an employee of his or of Fianna Fáil’s. My reasons for changing my position on Lisbon are articulated clearly and honestly here and have nothing whatever to do with anyone paying me to do so.

  • Mark McGreg

    Right, now to have a look at the meat in Naoise’s well written piece (would we expect anything else from him?).

    The 1st seven paragraphs are pretty empty. It is Ireland needs change, the ‘change’ argument we’ve seen in numerous political battles of late. Nothing actually substantial until we get to paragraph eight except a call for change of the sort he claims Lisbon brings to Europe.

    These changes:

    More say to the Parliament
    You can see the minutes of the European Council
    Consulting national Parliaments
    Removing national vetoes in several policy areas

    These are Naoise’s arguments for endorsing the Treaty. All were there when he campaigned against.

    Not a very expansive argument for a Yes when you strip the ‘Change’ rhetoric and ignore the irrelevant stuff at the end on what the Treaty isn‘t.

    He was much more convincing when he was doing right-wing reasons for a NO.

  • Mark McGreg


    Good to see you here. Would you care to comment on my stripping your post back to your reasons to support the Treaty?

    I found the four listed above and they were all there when you campaigned so strongly against it.

    Or am I missing something?

  • Mark, it’s both content and context. The content of the new deal includes those positive aspects of the Treaty you’ve identified as well as the unanimous intergovernmental agreement to retain a commissioner per member state – an important link to the top table in EU politics. The context is that while it was healthy for Ireland to have a public debate on the Treaty – which was absent in other member states – and to vote No the first time in order to achieve a better deal, this time around the package on the table is the very best deal possible between the 27 member states and there is no strategic advantage in blocking the Treaty a second – and probably final – time.

    My personal difficulties with Lisbon had mainly to do with the unfulfilled promises of the Laeken Declaration for better democratic accountability and communication with citizens. This, I have realised is as much the responsibility of individual member states as it is the EU and, in any event, the Lisbon Treaty is the best realistically achievable platform on which these issues can be addressed.

    In the course of any professional campaign, one’s public positions harden in the polarised and polarising environment of a full-blooded battle. In the calm after the result, I reflected in a more reasoned manner on the pros and cons and came to my own inevitable conclusion that while not perfect, the Treaty took more steps toward reform of the EU than it did away from it.

  • Mark McGreg


    Well the Commissioner argument always seems a false flag – they aren’t meant to represent national interest. If they do, that’s a whole policy area controlled by a vested interest – hardly the reform you speak of. If they don’t it’s a red-herring argument from both sides.

    As for the ‘better deal’ – you haven’t articulated this. What is it, what did you get?

    Your final para is something I can fully understand. I’ve reassessed myself on other political issues but you seem to be presenting your previous views and current views as compatible – they aren’t.

    You seem to be arguing black is no white without explaining how anything other than your perception of tone shifted.

  • Agreed, the Commissioners do not represent the member states which nominate them. However, in the real politik of diplomatic affairs, they famously engage in debate on issues by referring to “the part of the European Union with which I am most familiar”. They and their staff can flag issues to colleagues in the Commission, the Parliament and the member states, More importantly, they give a powerful symbolic connection between the citizens and the semi-permanent top table in European politics. A significant number of member states were in favour of retaining a commissioner per member state and Margot Wallstrom herself was a supporter of that position for the reasons I outlined above. The question of the efficiency of a college of commissioners numbering 27+ has to be balanced against the significant ongoing problems of the distance felt by citizens between themselves and the European institutions. In that sense, the package this time around is a better deal. The guarantees also serve to assuage citizens that the institutions, particularly the European Court of Justice will not use its provisions to foist anything on Ireland. I accept that my public views then while working for an organisation can be viewed now as being incompatible with my personal views. I’ll just have to live with that.

  • Mark McGreg


    Sound. Don’t agree but I’ve teased out the contradictions and you’ve dealt with them as much as I’d expect.

    Was one of the better written essays and I’m happy to see it. Though I hope you have a terribly disappointed Saturday ;0)

  • Thanks Mark. It’s a relief to engage in rational discussion on the matter. I think that as well as the specific provisions of the Treaty itself, one just cannot ignore the context in which this is all taking place. Ireland needs to be seen as a positive contributor to the European project and retain or regain the ability we have always had to punch above our weight diplomatically. According to the letter of the law, that should not change if we rejected Lisbon gain but the reality is that it would diminish our credibility on a European and global level. I expect the Treaty to be approved by the Irish people on Friday, confirmed on Saturday and we can all get on with the business of making all our systems fit for purpose. N.

  • “The Treaty also introduces much greater powers for the Dáil so that TDs and Senators can judge on our behalf whether or not new EU laws are suitable for us. The new arrangements also give the EU new power to deal more effectively with the very real and present challenges of energy security, climate change and globalisation which simply cannot be tackled by countries acting alone.”

    National parliaments – whether as groups or individually – will have NO power to block or amend EU legislation during its passage. None. They will only have advisory ‘powers’, or as I call it “the power to ask”. Here is the detail of the provisions on this matter in the Lisbon Treaty.

    Under the Protocol on the Application of the Principles of Subsidiarity and Proportionality, each national parliament will have 2 votes in a sort of electoral-college. If one-third (25% in the case of certain aspects of Justice and Home Affairs) of all the votes of national parliaments (9 parliaments at present) agrees, they can object to draft EU legislation on the basis that it fails to meet the requirement of subsidiarity. The Commission is not obliged to review the draft legislation – though it “may” do so (bless ’em). If a majority of national parliaments makes such an objection, only then is the Commission obliged to review the legislation – but they are not bound to amend or withdraw the proposal. The so-called ‘red-card’ is that 55% of the Council or a majority of the European Parliament can force the proposal to be withdrawn by the Commission. But this too is worthless because, were opposition to the legislation so widespread, it would already stand no chance of passing into EU law in any case – even under the Nice arrangements. A blocking-minority under Qualified Majority Voting is 4 states including over 35% of the EU’s population, where all member states take part. Similarly, the Citizens Initiative (Article 11 TEU) can only propose legislation – it cannot force the EU to so legislate. A poor compensation for the removal of 50 areas of national sovereignty to Brussels through the loss of the veto:

    “Article 11
    4. Not less than one million citizens who are nationals of a significant number of Member States may take the initiative of inviting the European Commission, within the framework of its powers, to submit any appropriate proposal on matters where citizens consider that a legal act of the Union is required for the purpose of implementing the Treaties.”

  • Like the ‘powers’ for national parliaments, the Citizens Initiative is non-binding. It is another ‘power to ask’. Under King Louis XIV, members of the public could come to Versailles to petition their king, but that didn’t make the system democratic. It doesn’t go nearly far enough in terms of addressing the democratic-deficit. It is far outweighed, in terms of any positive impact on democracy, by the erosion of the national veto in 50 areas. Now you may argue that we have Protocol 21 allowing the Irish Government to optin-out on a case by case basis on Justice and Home Affairs. But we already have similar Protocols in the Amsterdam Treaty. What is changing with this referendum is that we are being asked to provide the Government/Oireachtas with the power – without a future referendum – to abolish the entire optout Protocol itself, which would mean Qualified Majority Voting in these areas, and increased interference by the European Court of Justice – a profoundly undemocratic body – to dictate justice (especially asylum) policy in this State.

    In that respect, I would refer to Paragraph 7(iii) of the referendum wording (28th Amendment to the Constitution Bill 2009, which would allow the Government/Oireachtas to abolish this optout Protocol 21):

    “The State may exercise the options or discretions—
    i to which Article 20 of the Treaty on European Union relating to enhanced cooperation applies,
    ii under Protocol No. 19 on the Schengen acquis integrated into the framework of the European Union annexed to that treaty and to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (formerly known as the Treaty establishing the European Community), and
    iii under Protocol No. 21 on the position of the United Kingdom and Ireland in respect of the area of freedom, security and justice, so annexed, including the option that the said Protocol No. 21 shall, in whole or in part, cease to apply to the State, but any such exercise shall be subject to the prior approval of both
    Houses of the Oireachtas.”

    Being reduced to a 0.9% population-weight, and having to get the agreement of 15 member state governments including 65% of the EU’s population to pass legislation is not my idea of Irish democracy. I believe that there is no such thing as a “European demos” – there are 27 separate ones. In that context, we are being asked to allow persons whom the Irish people do not elect (even when they are – as in the case of foreign MEPs and govts – elected by other nations) to have an 92.1% weighted-vote on EU law. Considering that under the proposed Article 29.4.6 of the Irish Constitution (similar in wording to the present Article 29.4.10) which gives EU law supremacy over national law and even the Irish Constitution, we are effectively being asked to give other member states carte-blanche to erode the Irish constitution in the 50 areas where the veto is gone under Lisbon.

    For have no doubt: If we vote yes, the Justice vetoes will eventually go – and perhaps in the short-to-medium – rather than longterm. I refer you to comments by then Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern on the plan to “review” the optout Protocol within 3 years, and by Fine Gael Deputy European Affairs Spokesperson Lucinda Creighton (on her blog on 01 April 2009) where she called for the outright abolition of that Protocol:

    “The Reform Treaty will also give full legal status to the Charter of Fundamental Rights. The Government has definitively resolved not to associate ourselves with a British Protocol on the Charter of Fundamental Rights. We see the Charter as an important statement of the Union’s values and are completely committed to it…We intend, in particular, to opt into future police cooperation measures. The aim is to retain our strong commitment to EU cooperation while giving ourselves options whenever our particular legal traditions may be called into question in an EU context. This in no way undermines our determination to press for effective EU action against serious cross border crime.”(Dermot Ahern, then Minister for Foreign Affairs) Division/irish times article on jha.doc&ei=UG5GSsT4KeWrjAfaoZVj&sa=X&oi=spellmeleon_result&resnum=1&ct=result&usg=AFQjCNFtQYM61tnhBGp07cxpXG40S7L3Qw

    “I urge the Taoiseach to reconsider the matter of justice and home affairs. This is too important for Ireland to opt out of and we must acknowledge that a mistake was made with that Cabinet decision. I hope it will be reconsidered in the context of the forthcoming Lisbon treaty referendum.” (Lucinda Creighton 01/04/09)

  • FT, while we’re in the business of declarations of interest, you might like to declare yours 😉

    To address your points, the provisions in the Lisbon Treaty are a compromise and, as such, imperfect. However, they represent an improvement on the status quo and give impetus to member states to progressively improve their procedures for oversight . There is an elaborate system of checks and balances given the wholly unique structure that this the EU. In reality, the progress of legislation in the EU is fundamentally a consensus-building exercise and national vetoes are very rarely used. Again, I would point to trusting in the common sense of reflecting on our essentially positive experience of the EU over the past 35 years over the paranoid and imagined fears of what might happen.

  • JL

    This contribution reads like the homework of a Leaving Certificate student. It is clear that the writer has as much grasp of how the EU functions now that he is advocating a yes vote as he had when he was advocating a no. None.

    The only value to be drawn from his current involvement is that it may help others to also change their minds.

    The question at issue is a simple one. How would a no vote improve Ireland’s current parlous situation? Answers on one side of the paper please.

  • Donncha,I have read the Treaty several times and understand how the EU works. I think it’s important in this debate to articulate common sense arguments to try and get the the heart of what is a very complex and legalistic text. If you can point to where you think my understanding – or communication of it – is lacking, I’d be happy to address it.

  • “In reality, the progress of legislation in the EU is fundamentally a consensus-building exercise and national vetoes are very rarely used.”

    The reason they are rarely used is that there is no point putting an issue to the vote when you know someone is going to use the veto.

  • “The reason they are rarely used is that there is no point putting an issue to the vote when you know someone is going to use the veto.”

    Which entirely proves my point that decision-making in the EU is almost always reached by negotiated consensus. It is not them and us. It is just us.

  • Vote NO, for all of us that was denied the choice.

  • Dave

    “It essentially means the Irish Constitution is untouchable. The European Court cannot interpret the Charter of Fundamental Rights in any way that would change this. Most importantly, the overwhelming experience of the ECJ is that it acts in a fair manner to balance the rights and responsibilities of member states and the EU institutions, principally for the benefit of citizens.”

    That is not true. Judgements of the ECJ become binding law on all Member States. If your bogus statement was true, it would explicitly mean that the Court could be determining EU law for all Member States on a case-by-case basis by a provision that is contained in the constitution of one Member State and that such cases would inevitably conflict with each other as different constitutions contain conflicting provisions. Since you placed such an emphasis on common sense, it’s a shame that you didn’t use it. It would have told you without any further knowledge required that your statement must be false.

    Instead, the Court held in Nold v. Commission that the “constitutional traditions common to the Member States” (and not specific to any Member State) should be used as “guidelines” by the ECJ along with “international treaties for the protection of human rights on which the Member States have collaborated or of which they are signatories, can supply guidelines which should be followed within the framework of Community law.”

    The ECJ has always held that EU law always takes precedence over national law, even when the latter consists of a fundamental rights provision contained in a national constitution, striking down provisions of national constitutions that conflict with EU supremacy. In fact, fundamental rights in EU law only exist when declared by the ECJ on a case-by-case basis so these rights only exist when upheld – or not, since the Court has the sole right to interpret them and to “subject [them] to limits” as justified by “the overall objectives pursued by” the EU.

    Ireland is also inserting an explicit declaration of the supremacy of EU law over the Irish constitution in the 29th amendment, so there should be no doubt whatsoever that EU law will take precedence over Irish law wherever a conflict arises between Irish law and EU law – and that expressly includes the constitution itself.

    The idea that the ECJ is impartial is pure fantasy and shows dangerous ignorance. It has a constitutionally binding obligation under its charter to promote “ever-closer union” between Member States, so it must rule in favour of whatever will increase the competency of the EU. As former German President, commented, the ECJ acts “not as part of the judicial power but as the legislature.” Demark, Austria, and France have also turned their fire on this biased court in recent years.

    Former German President Roman Herzog is also a former president of the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany and a chairman of the convention drafting the European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights, so he, unlike you, knows what he is talking about:

    “Judicial decision-making in Europe is in deep trouble. The reason is to be found in the European Court of Justice (ECJ), whose justifications for depriving member states of their very own fundamental competences and interfering heavily in their legal systems are becoming increasingly astonishing.”

  • Dave

    Incidently, here is a good story about [b]EU clientelism[/b] and [b]EU cronyism[/b] on the Open Europe blog:

    [i]In an extraordinary admission today Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary confesses to his real motives behind his €500,000 campaign for a ‘yes’ vote in the Irish referendum on Friday.

    He said: “One of the reasons that I am campaigning for a ‘yes’ vote is that our Government is incompetent, yet I need to persuade them to sell me Aer Lingus.” Funny that. In June 2007 the European Comission blocked a bid by Ryanair to purchase rival airline Aer Lingus on competition grounds.

    And in a clear conflict of interest, the EU Transport Commissioner Antonio Tajani spent six hours last week campaigning aboard a Ryanair flight alongside O’Leary.

    Don’t expect the Irish media to jump up and down about this though. If Declan Ganley had let slip that he was campaigning for a ‘No’ vote for some similarly dubious reason, all hell would of course have broken loose.[/i]

    Low standards in unaccountable places.

  • Dave

    Here is the actual judgement in Nold v. Commission ECJ Case 4/73:







    You have either misunderstood or deliberately misrepresented the judgement. The ECJ is not required to uphold a particular provision of a constitution of a Member State but rather it has an obligation to “draw inspiration from constitutional traditions of Member States” (plural) and from other documents and treaties that are common to them all (such as ratification of UN Human Rights treaties) in ascertaining the value of the disputed fundamental right.

    The ECJ also has the right to curtail whatever fundamental rights it sees fit “in accordance with the public interest” and the “overall objectives pursued by the Community.” In other words, your fundamental rights are subject to the discretion of the EU.!celexplus!prod!CELEXnumdoc&lg=en&numdoc=673J0004

  • Dave

    Typo: “The ECJ is not required to uphold a particular provision of a constitution of a Member State but rather it has an obligation to “draw inspiration from constitutional traditions [b]common to[/b] the Member States” (plural)…”

  • In the prevailing context, the actual content of Lisbon does not matter.

    What matters is that were Ireland to say NO, the markets would be spooked, and they would send the cost of Ireland’s debt through the roof, thus exacerbating a downward spiral towards a depression.

    There is of course no option for Ireland vis a vis coming out of Europe and going it alone, as the markets would simply attack its currency and it would be forced to put interest rates up to 20% to defend it, thus triggering the aforementioned depression.

    Regardless of the pontification of some and the notion that Lisbon will herald a fair social and democratic Europe, the truth is that Ireland has no option but to say Yes. Not to do so would be economic suicide.

  • “Dave”, The ECJ only acts on Community Law. National courts refer questions of EU law to the ECJ. However, it is ultimately for the national court to apply to resulting interpretation to the facts of any given case.The treaties charge the ECJ with ensuring the consistent application of EU law across the EU as a whole, in an attempt to avoid different national courts interpreting and applying in different way.

    The court also acts as arbiter between the EU’s institutions and can annul the latter’s legal rights if it acts outside its powers.

    The supremacy of European Law over national law (in the application of European law) to which you refer has been part of European law since the Treaty of Rome in 1957.

    What specific ECJ cases cause you so much concern? What specific elements of Bunreacht na hÉireann do you think are under threat? What cases support your theory that the ECJ is not impartial and is pursuing a power-grab. What conspiracy do you believe to be afoot and what is your evidence to support this?