Lisbon Essay (29): It is Ireland’s credibility that’s at stake…

John O’Farrell picks up on Heaney’s focus on the word ‘credit’ (nó creid as Gaeilge), and reckons that the poet has put his finger on what’s at stake for Ireland in the referendum when he argued that a No vote will mean that it will be “up to our EU neighbours – not us – to decide how we will be treated in the future.” It’s a theme taken up previously in LE17 and LE13. O’Farrell argues that even though the Lisbon Treaty may be the production of many many committees, and has turned out as ‘triple tripe’, it is Europe’s best answer to Kissinger’s famous question of who to speak to when he calls Europe. Ireland will have to take is own chances, if the rest of Europe refuses to dance to its chosen music…
By John O’Farrell

Finally, the unacknowledged legislators have chipped in with their two cent. Asked by The Observer if Europe was as important for him culturally as it was economically, Seamus Heaney said: “I think it’s slightly more important, not only in terms of culture but in terms of credit, in terms of meaning.”

In terms of credit, in terms of meaning, the result of the second referendum on Lisbon will have profound implications for Europe’s soft power as a global player and even harsher implications on Ireland’s soft power. As Derek Scally, in the service of pointing out the obvious notes, “if Ireland votes No a second time, it is up to our EU neighbours – not us – to decide how we will be treated in the future.”

Ireland thrived in the polished corridors of the EU’s institutions for three decades by ruthlessly exploiting every foreign cliché about the Irish. We grinned and bore it as they sympathised about our backwardness and poverty and emigration. We nodded sagely as they assured us that they would do all that they could to help with the ‘situation’ up north. They joined in the ‘craic’ and tapped their toes to our ballads and cried at our poets.

We used our special relationship with the Brits to schmooze the continental powers on their behalf and translated back to the old imperialists what exactly ‘the frogs’ and ‘eyeties’ actually meant when they spoke that euro-babble that remained gobbledegook to the mandarins of Whitehall.

While the Brits sent second raters to keep an eye on things, the Irish sent the brightest of their civil servants, people who could understand the Delphic layers of the Bureaucracy and shone among the Anglophone pen pushers in the Berlaymont. They parlayed Berlay-speak. We told the money people exactly what they wanted to hear and we reaped the rewards.

It was more than Structural funds which flowed in as a result of their masterful exercise in soft power. During the remarkable period in which Ireland received over 40% of all US investment into the entire European Union, the same attributes of charm and pluck and strategic intelligence worked on the Americans as well as it did on the Germans and the Belgians and the other states, large and small.

It was as if Ireland understood better than anyone else (with the possible exception of Luxemburg) the import of Henri Spaak’s 1963 quip. “In Europe today,” said the wartime Prime Minister of Belgium, “all countries are small countries, but some don’t yet realise it.”

Those who think that a small state with less than one per cent of the EU’s population can say ‘eff off’ to 26 democracies who have ratified the Lisbon Treaty, mostly over stuff which is not in the Treaty, and get away easily, is missing something important. Before you can say ‘bully’, this is not that the elites in Brussels, even the Irish cohort, who will make us suffer and take their roads back. It is simple human nature.
It also forgets another basic fact.

The Lisbon Treaty is, in all essentials, the same thing as the ill-fated EU Constitution which (to declare my conflict of interest, I campaigned for) was initiated many moons ago in response to the attacks on the West on September 11th 2001. The forum which set up the Constitution was tasked with coming up with an answer to Henry Kissinger’s question about who he should call when we wanted to speak to ‘Europe’. It was also intended to be a simple statement to the peoples of Europe as to the aim and mission of the EU project.

And then it expanded and sub-claused when competing diplomats got around the table with their national agendas, hobby-hats and foibles. Which is what makes it unreadable to the masses and provides a paradise for the green crayon brigade.

In terms of meaning, it is triple tripe. It is impossible to summarise in one sentence, or one page, why we need it, or to oppose it. Therefore, it is easier to fret about how this or that obscure addendum or annex will enslave us all (except the elites, of course).

Soft power works in different ways. It is the mood music, not the libretto, which seduces. Tomorrow, the voters of Ireland will play their tune. If the rest of Europe accepts or declines to dance to our choice, it is their choice entirely.

John O’Farrell writes in an entirely personal capacity. You can pick up the rest of the LIsbon Essays here