A big step backwards for Europe

And so the electorate has spoken. It’s a resounding ‘huh?’, with misunderstanding and misinformation carrying the day by a 9% spread. The clearest message to emerge even at this early stage is that Lisbon has split along class lines, with the middle classes backing it and the working classes roundly rejecting the treaty.

The shock waves are being felt, not just across the 27 EU states, but right around the world. Ireland, with 0.8% of the EU population, has derailed a treaty that has taken the last seven years to painstakingly construct. The ‘no’ camp covered a spectrum of rejectionist positions, from abortion, homosexuality, immigration and even euthanasia.

These ‘social’ issues were seamlessly wedded to concerns about militarism, an EU army and Irish boys being drafted to fight in distant wars. On top of that a shoal of red herrings large enough to solve the EU fisheries crisis were unleashed on everything from corporate tax rates to the price of petrol.

I wrote on the eve of the poll in the Irish Times in favour of a ‘yes’ vote, on the grounds that if you’re concerned about climate change, the EU is your only man, and Lisbon simply has got to be carried. Guess I got my answer.

The army of straw men constructed by Libertas, Coir, Youth Defence, Sinn Fein and assorted others in the ‘no’ camp brilliantly befuddled the electorate and left the ranked masses of the major political parties chasing shadows and back-peddaling instead of leading the campaign from the front.

Novice Taoiseach, Brian Cowen certainly handed the ‘no’ lobby a 5-10 point head start with his bad tempered verbal assault late last month on the Opposition parties for not, in his view, doing enough to secure the treaty. Funny, that’s what I thought the government’s job was.

This left a lot of Opposition party workers in particular feeling sore and sorry for themselves, and not exactly in a mood to go that extra mile to save Cowen’s blushes in the event of his being humiliated over Lisbon.

Declan Ganley of Libertas was sounding understandably chipper as the result became clear, and absolutely refused to rule out he or his party getting involved in Irish domestic politics in some shape in the future. Should he choose this route, he may come to learn the lesson so painfully administered to Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein last summer.

The lesson is of course that thanks to our contrary nature, we Irish will vote for most anything on two legs – the more bizarre, the better – in a referendum, European or local election, but that don’t mean those same folk won’t get a whipping when people really get serious about their vote in a General Election. Just ask the omni-present Mary Lou McDonald.

Ironically, Declan Ganley may find that taking a wrecking ball to the European Union is in fact a lot simpler than taking a seat as a TD down in Limerick. For starters, demagoguery doesn’t play well domestically; it’s far easier to demonise those faceless folk in Brussels than the guy who lives in the constituency and knows people intimately.

There’s no question but that those same faceless EU types who pumped around €60 billion into this virtually failed State of ours and helped drag us off our knees are feeling just a little sore at the rank ingratitude that this slap in the gob betrays. Democracy is one thing, and in moderation, a fine thing, but the notion that the 100,000 majority against Lisbon can shut down the political evolution of a union comprising almost half a billion people smacks of hubris on our part.

No offense, we are to the European project what Dustin the turkey is to the Eurovision – a sideshow, at best. Our European neighbours used to be quite proud of how the union had taken a basket case economy attached to a socially calcified society and turned it into a modern success story. Problem is, that’s not how we saw it, or chose to see it.

Climate-wise, the EU played a blinder in the Bali negotiations late last year, leading the charge towards binding commitments on CO2 reductions. Turning this into a new post-Kyoto international deal is the job of the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in 2009. Our rejection of Lisbon diminishes the likelihood of the EU being able to continue to exercise strong leadership in this area. It creates acres of wiggle-room for the doubters, the nay-sayers and the ever-present sceptics.

ThinkOrSwim is a blog by journalist John Gibbons focusing on the inter-related crises involving climate change, sustainability, resource depletion, energy and biodiversity loss
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9 Responses to A big step backwards for Europe

  1. ciaran says:

    Why is Lisbon such a big deal, surely it’s possible to have a Europe of Soveriegn Nations with each nation maintaining it’s own rights and laws developed by their respective Governments. Certainly there is a case for a european commercial union if you are a fully committed capitalist. On the other hand why is it ok for the oil industry to keep increasing the price of oil while the EU keep calling for workers wage restraint without calling for capitalists restraint on profits, after all no one would need a pay increase if the cost of living was kept under control. Multiple of billions of Euros and Dollars could be saved to help the poor and low paid sectors world wide if this phoney divide caused by politicans and war mongers was stopped. The arms trade and the illegal drug trade are in my opinion made of the same cloth. Politicians just put their particular design on it. The same could apply to health services if insurance companies paid for health checks before people have to go to hospital but of course you only qualify for cover if you make it to hospital, can you imagine the cost saving to all if insurance was calculated on a health check once a year instead of the cost of hospital stay to have a health check when it may be too late for a cure. The idea that one must loose certain rights rather than gain more benifits to comply with some people’s notion of a proper life style leaves me wondering. So why can’t the EU get the Irish list of fears and write them into any future Treaty or Constitution and do the same for all other Nations, then have a general election across all countries on the same day then you could let the majority rule. M.E.P.’S could then be the real representatives as I always thought the were meant to be. We might even be given the Name of the President of the EU who would be legitamised by DEMOCRACY.

  2. John Gibbons says:

    Ciaran, I suspect if your suggestion of getting the Irish to write out our ‘list of fears and write them into any future Treaty’ were brought to fruition, this would be a long, rambling, bizarre, disjointed list riddled with unreconcilable contradictions.

    If you then got the other 26 States to do the same, and then somehow tried to marry that lot into a single document, it would probably be three foot thick and meaningless. A lot of the rights and protections that Irish people today enjoy, from women’s rights to workers rights, rights for minorities, environmental laws, all flowed from the big bad EU.

    Is the narrow, insular, patriarchal nationalism of Ireland in the 1950s era really where you want to go? (of course, lot of people in Ireland would, it seems). Re. the oil industry keeping increasing the price of oil, why do you think this is happening now? Why then weren’t they doing this, say 10 years ago, when oil was 15 dollars a barrel?

    Could this perhaps have something to do with supply and demand, rather than jus conspiracy? (yes, of course the oil companies shaft people, especially people in the countries where oil is extracted, but that’s a separate issue.)

  3. Tom Ahern says:

    I was a “yes” voter in the referendum, but as the week has passed I am getting more pleased that the “no” campaign won out! I am utterly surprised at the reaction of statesmen and other persons in power around Europe. It looks like we did not have a choice at all. A main point leading up to the referendum was that it could not go ahead without all countries ratifying it – now that seems to have changed. They say they will go ahead without us anyway. Why should 3m people from any country prevent it going ahead – this is another statement I have heard. Surely this is breaking all the rules even before it begins. What would happen a couple of years down the road, when we would have to decide on some Euro decision, it looks like we would have no say whatsoever.
    I hope that some of the other countries that have not yet decided will read between the lines and think again.

  4. maria dollard says:

    i can respect people who voted no or yes from an informed point of view. however we have no real basis of dealing with these issues because of all the people who voted on the basis of “not understanding”. With rights come responsibilities. we all had a duty to inform ourselves properly regarding issues that were of concern to us. i was so annoyed with people who said they were too busy to read about it! this infantile attitude sickens me. i hear this morning it may go to another referendum in the spring. look at all the hospitals and schools that are crying out for funds but we can throw around millions because a few are too apathetic and lazy to participate in democracy.
    i am twice as annoyed at the morons we elected who openly told voters they didnt know what it was about either. let me remind these people that they are handsomely paid to explain these things to us. a few years under dictatorship might wake us up.

  5. Letitia Campbell says:

    As a No voter who knew very well what I was doing, I am becomming more and more tired of the atttitude taken by Yes voters, Irish and European politicians and media pundits since the referendums.

    Most of these people are well aware that if every country held a referendum there would be many more No votes, which is why they did not allow their citizens to vote for Lisbon.

    People voted No because they believed there would be a loss of democracy, increased militarisation, a threat to Irish neutrality and because while most people may support the economic side of the EU, they are not in favour of a political EU superstate.

    As for the funding received from the EU, I think that has been well paid for by our fishing industry in the years since accession. The bad deal done by Irish politicians in 1972 has resulted in our fishing waters being reduced to a minimum and fish now being dumped back into the ocean because of quotas etc.

  6. John Gibbons says:

    I have to agree very strongly with Maria Dollard’s comments above. I too absolutely respect people’s right to choose which way to vote, but it’s simply not good enough for people to make no effort to acquaint themselves with the issues and then whinge about the fact that they don’t understand it.

    On the other hand, our Commissioner, Charlie McCreevy’s ham-fisted admission of his own ignorance of the detail of the Treaty strongly suggest that if we were to lose our permanent Commissioner, it would be little loss indeed.

    Not sure I’d go along with Marie on wanting a few years under a dictatorship, however. That’s a path our transAtlantic cousins have begun to nudge dangerously towards in the last half a dozen years, and it has absolutely nothing to recommend it. Look at the state of North Korea, or the thug dictatorship in Burma. Ireland is far from perfect, but it’s still a million times better than that lot.

  7. ken smith says:

    re EU Treaty,

    Having lived in Germany for the past 2 months. Friends and acquaintances here were totally amazed at the outcome of the Irish referendum, not to say aggrieved, having, as the ordinary German sees it, funded Ireland’s move from poverty to being a wealthy nation. Much of the present infrastructure which is the back bone of country’s economic growth has come about as a result of large scale investment from the EU. As for the farming community, does anyone remember milk churns at the end of the borreen, the fields left uncultivated. How many of the less well off, have been assisted in getting into the workforce by doing a FAS course, funded in a large part by the EU and from the German point of view by them.

    In Germany, people feel when Ireland’s support was needed the Irish turned their backs on those who came to their aid financially, in their time of need. The Irish are no longer seen as good European citizens, playing their part in build it’s negotiating strength on the world stage, but people who take all that is given to them then turn their backs when their support is needed.

    Ken Smith, Leer, Ostfriesland, Germany.

  8. democrat says:

    “Ireland, with 0.8% of the EU population, has derailed a treaty that has taken the last seven years to painstakingly construct”

    Well to be a bit more accurate, the Irish people, the only section of the EU population given a direct vote on it, have rejected the dressed down EU Constitution which the French and Dutch rejected in the past.

    Why can’t you accept that a majority of the Irish people have the good sense to require that the structures by which they are governed must be democratic and oriented towards peace? You’re the one with the shoal of red herrings. Here’s another:

    “Our rejection of Lisbon diminishes the likelihood of the EU being able to continue to exercise strong leadership in this area. ”

    You’ll have to explain this, not just assert it. Not adopting the Lisbon Treaty means no change in existing EU powers and structures. The existing Treaties are the basis for current EU climate change action. How will not changing the current situation in fact change the current situation in such a way as to reduce EU’s action on climate change?

  9. John Gibbons says:

    Democrat, in true democratic tradition, we shall have to agree to differ. In my view, and the view of many others, Lisbon vitally stitches in a commitment to address both climate change and energy policy in a way that existing treaties simply don’t allow. That’s the factual position. Whether you agree with it is a separate matter.

    To me, it’s self-evident that Lisbon places these two issues at the core of future EU decision-making and policy formation and it’s tragic if Ireland’s “no” is allowed to unhinge this.

    Re. your opening comments on our direct vote, do you suggest that we should go all the way and abolish Dail Eireann and have mob rule via an endless series of referenda being hijacked by one pressure group after another to decide, for instance, what level tax should be at?

    We live in a representative democracy, we elect a government in our name to deal with complex political issues, many of which are well beyond being explained in a catchy one-line slogan on a poster or in a Declan Ganley soundbite. Many of our European neighbours let their democratically elected goverments decide on Lisbon.

    Are you seriously suggesting these people are somehow less politically advanced than us, or is it that they have already copped from bitter experience that governance via referendum is a recipe for extremism and chaos?

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