Monday, May 19, 2008

Govt website and the McKenna judgement

Since the 1995 McKenna Supreme Court ruling, the State has not been permitted to preferentially use taxpayers' money to fund one side or the other in a referendum campaign. Under the Coughlan ruling, equal airtime must be allotted by the State broadcaster (RTE) to both sides in a referendum campaign. The basis for these rulings was the Constitution's protection of 'equal treatment before the law'. It is arguable that this has led to more of a tendency for the Irish electorate to reject proposed Constitutional amendments in recent years - for example the 2002 Abortion amendment that aimed to close what Fianna Fáil regarded as the "loophole" whereby the risk of suicide was interpreted by the Supreme Court in the 1992 X Case as constituting grounds for an abortion. Whatever ones views on the individual no votes in referenda passed, few would seriously question the necessity of such constitutional protections to ensure a richly funded government could exploit its considerable resources to drown out opposition to its preferred Constitutional amendments in referenda.

It is with alarm then, to discover that the Department of Foreign Affairs is running a blatently biased website - ostensibly to inform the public of the contents of the Lisbon Treaty - which is in fact responsible for promoting blatent "yes" campaign propaganda - paid for with our taxpayers' money of course. The site is loaded with positive reviews of the Treaty. For example. listen to a few of these gems:

"The Reform Treaty is designed to make the European Union function more effectively and democratically so that it can better serve the interests of the people of Europe. It responds to the needs of today’s European Union with its increased membership....The Treaty does not fundamentally alter the relationship between Member States and the Union. It strikes a good balance between the need for sustainable economic growth and competitiveness on the one hand, and the need for social justice and inclusion on the other."

"The Union’s institutions are overhauled to enable it to meet the challenges of the future. Changes include:
a High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy who will bring greater coherence to the Union’s approach to foreign policy;
a full-time President to the European Council to coordinate and chair EU summit meetings;
a greater role for national Parliaments in the Union’s activities;
a new voting system in the Council of Ministers to make decision-making more efficient. "

"The Reform Treaty is designed to revitalise the European Union. The current structures of the EU were designed for a Union with much fewer Member States. Like any organisation that has grown in size, its arrangements need to be updated so as to allow it function more effectively and more democratically.
There is also a need to give the EU a clearer voice in world affairs so that it can address such issues as climate change and the fight against poverty and injustice."

This is simply not true. The current institutional arrangements that govern the EU derive largely from the Nice Treaty, which abolished 38 national vetoes, changed the voting-system, and abolished the second Commissioner of the Big States. The arguments about more effective decisionmaking we are hearing now are little more than rehash of those used to justify the Nice Treaty's ratification. I, for one, voted for Nice on the basis that it was intended to "streamline" the EU's institutions with a view to making a 27-member EU function more effectively. So it is then with astonishment that I hear the same arguments being rolled out again, and the myth repeated that the present EU structures have been set in stone from the days of just 6 member states in 1957. This is just straining credulity and insulting the intelligence of the electorate, since we have had 6 referenda on EU treaties and ratified the treaties of Rome, Maastricht, Amsterdam, Nice and the Single European Act. The EU's institutions have repeatedly evolved as new members joined, so don't fall for this hogwash about greater 'efficiency' to 'meet the needs of a larger EU'. They are ludicrous assertions.

The claims that the new voting-arrangements are about making decision-making "more efficient" are disingenuous. They invoke a spectre of institutional gridlock in the present 27-member EU. But this spectre is a myth. A recent study by Helen Wallace at the London School of Economics found that "the evidence of practice since May 2004 suggests that the EU’s institutional processes and practice havestood up rather robustly to the impact of enlargement.” "In early 2007, a report by the Science-Po University in Paris showed that new rules have been adopted 25% faster than prior to enlargement and that the Nice voting arrangements were generally seen to be working well. So don't fall for the fine words of the elites who are pushing a Federal European superstate via Lisbon.

On the areas where Qualified Majority Voting (QMV) are extended, the Government's website states:

"The Treaty does not involve changes in areas of sensitivity to Ireland such as taxation and defence. Unanimity is preserved for all decisions in these areas. This means that all Member States must agree to any new proposals in these areas. There will be an increase in the number of areas in which decisions can be taken by Qualified Majority Voting (QMV). Most of these are of a technical character or relate to areas where the union has only limited competence. Examples of new areas where QMV applies are: the procedure for entry into the euro; administrative cooperation; internal EU financial regulations; humanitarian aid operations; and police cooperation (where Ireland is not obliged to take part but has the right to participate in individual measures). "

Which conveniently excludes mention of other policy areas like energy, tourism and sport, culture and the statutes of the ECB/EIB/ECJ which are surrendered. The latter could lead to Ireland's automatic representation on some of these bodies being ended in the same way that we are losing out automatic right to a Commissioner under Lisbon. The former could lead to nuclear-power being forced on Ireland - there are powerful nuclear-industry lobbies in the UK, France, Germany and Sweden among other member states. We could even lose control of Irish language policy, tourism and sports policy under the extensions of QMV. Dail Eireann will be reduced to a mere county council of a Federal Europe with the Taoiseach being a mere Lord Mayor of Ireland. This stuff may merely constitute 'technicalities' to the Government but to the people of Ireland, they constitute a ceding of sovereignty which were hard fought for over hundreds of years, and consequently which should not be just handed over so slavishly without something substantial in return.

But there is nothing in return. Our voting-weight on the Council of Ministers is more than halved from 2% to 0.9%. We lose our automatic right to a Commissioner - so crucial at a time when Tax Commissioner Laslo Kovacs is pushing hard for destination-taxes (better known as CCCTB) that would force companies exporting from Ireland to pay most of their taxes to the countries of sales-destination of their exports. In the past the Commissionership of former Agriculture Commissioner Ray McSharry was crucial in obtaining structural funds and agricultural-subsidies for Ireland. Even now, Commissioner Charlie McCreevy is fighting the good fight against the tax-base harmonisation plans of Kovacs. If Lisbon passes, there won't be any Irish voice on the Commission 1/3rd of the time. Before you enter the polling-booth on June 12th, think carefully about whether all the above concessions are worth handing over in return for nothing. Because that is what is happening. And if I were in the "No" campaign, I would be talking to my lawyers about that website if I were them.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Free Europe? Vote YES or NO at