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Editorial: Lisb-ON

Lisb-ONThe Treaty is largely an exercise in housekeeping and democratisation, though it does not go far enough in countering the excesses of globalisation and includes some offensive provisions on defence and militarisation.

In this month’s edition we take a close look at the Lisbon Treaty, primarily through the eyes of former Supreme Court Judge, Donal Barrington and Socialist MEP, Joe Higgins – two of the most clear-minded campaigners on the issue.

Village considers that the Lisbon Treaty is largely about housekeeping and increased democratic accountability, reflecting a logical move towards political coherence and an upgrading to reflect the fact that there are 27 member states in an organisation that started with six. The rebalancing of the respective powers of Council, Commission and Parliament and of member states’ voting powers is fair and progressive. That the rebalancing is complex is unavoidable but has been cynically exploited by the “No” side.

The Treaty is not a charter for unbridled capitalism, for otherwise the likes of The Economist newspaper would not have consistently advocated its consignment to history; if anything, as is acknowledged in debates in the UK, it is a leftish document, necessary to counteract the juggernaut of homogenisation, globalisation and capitalism to which the EU and almost every other European (and other) government overwhelmingly subscribe. The juggernaut was created by other European treaties, especially perhaps the Single European Act of 1987, and by other tendencies in world affairs. There should have been a greater movement to question these forces. But they rooted long ago and Lisbon, with some notable exceptions, counterbalances them. Certainly it does not go far enough in this but, in an organisation that moves in increments, that is not an argument to vote against this treaty, it is an argument for a further, and even better, treaty.

Beyond housekeeping, Lisbon does create a number of new European political offices, which will finally make Europe look like a world power; and European citizenship. If the thrust of its activities is otherwise sound Village does not consider expanding the EU’s ambit and deepening its roots to be bad things – and there was much more symbolism and sweeping declaration in the ill-fated constitution from which prosaic Lisbon was eventually culled. Perhaps there is an argument for Ireland leaving the EU, though Village considers that on balance membership has been a good thing and leaving the EU would pose too many practical as well as symbolic difficulties. But there are few persuasive arguments against ratifying this particular Treaty. Certainly, not understanding the Treaty is no justification for voting “No”, however culpable the government’s misexplanations. For democrats to plead incomprehension of referendum issues is simply not acceptable.

In this edition we look at the impact of Lisbon on equality, the environment, workers’ rights, defence and foreign affairs. In these areas the EU has been an agent for progress and in most of them Lisbon will also be that. However,some of Lisbon’s provisions on defence and foreign affairs are incongruous and prejudicial. We cannot accept that it is acceptable to require member states to spend more money on defence. We do not consider it desirable to institutionalise, at Treaty level, the European Defence Agency with its agenda to strengthen the defence sector and help develop an EU armaments policy. It is also unsavoury, as Mr Higgins notes, that the EU will develop a military assistance role which, though it must originate in EU unanimity, may be pursued in particular cases in directions not originally foreseen, by participating countries (which may exclude Ireland) in the name of the EU. These defence and foreign affairs elements appear almost tacked on to what is otherwise an exercise with an interior logic. For those of our readers who are against any increased militarisation – albeit it that in this instance it does not detract from our hard-fought neutrality – this may be a reason to vote “No”.

A significant political issue is whether it is fair to judge the Treaty for what it has left out (for example on workers’ rights). Certainly from a Village perspective it falls very far short of forging an egalitarian Europe. But we are not asked to vote on whether it is perfect – rather whether it is a significant improvement on the current régime. We believe it is. Certainly if the Lisbon régime were in place and we were asked whether we would like (a return to) the current régime, we would have no doubt that Lisbon would be preferable. Nevertheless the Treaty should not be considered as a bare legal document, without a political context. It sends out a message by what it does not include and by what it does not rule out. For example on taxation – whatever the letter of the law of Lisbon and the European Council’s guarantee say about Lisbon making no difference, there is a real chance that the politics of Europe will result in France and Germany pressurising Ireland to increase its Corporation tax rate over coming years.

We acccept the point made by Prof Anthony Coughlan that media coverage has been biased in favour of the Treaty. In most cases this has been blatant. The first referendum on Lisbon was characterised by deception, primarily on the “No” side – led by Mr Declan Ganley’s now-defunct Libertas and the conservative, fringe group, Cóir. Still, the arrogance in many “Yes” quarters has been – indeed continues to be – counterproductive.

Of course the way Lisbon has been handled says a lot about democracy. Brussels has been shown really only to accept “Yes” votes on its treaties. The cynicism of the main Irish political parties in pretending that it was not always inevitable that we would vote again on the matter was depressing. It merits reflection too that a million Irish “No” voters have held up approval of a treaty agreed by the governments of countries with a combined population of 495m. It is also a concern that a majority of that 495m would clearly vote “No” to the Treaty, if asked. And what does it say about both democracy and us that so many voted “No” to the same treaty that a year later we will vote “Yes” to? Though the substance of the treaty is exciting, the handling of Lisbon, at home and abroad, has been a tiring and depressing exercise in the manipulability of the so-called democratic process.