Wednesday, June 4, 2008

A Tale of Two Cities

On July 1, 1940 the French Parliament and government assembled in Vichy, a city in the center of France, which was used as a provisional capital. Pierre Laval and Raphaël Alibert started persuading the Senators and Assemblymen, to vote full powers to Marshall Phillippe Pétain. They used every means available: promising some ministerial posts, threatening and intimidating others. The charismatic figures who could have opposed themselves to Laval, Georges Mandel, Edouard Daladier, etc., were on board the ship Massilia, headed for North Africa. On July 10, 1940 the Parliament, composed of the Senate and the National Assembly, voted by 569 votes against 80 (known as the Vichy 80, including 62 Radicals and Socialists), and 30 voluntary abstentions, to grant full and extraordinary powers to Marshal Pétain. By the same vote, they also granted him the power to write a new Constitution.

On 13th January 2008, the representatives of 17 member states of the European Union met in Lisbon to sign the Treaty bearing the name of that city (to which my sympathies go out). Ostensibly the treaty entailed Prominent changes in the Treaty of Lisbon include the scrapping of the pillar system, reduced chances of stalemate in the EU Council through more qualified majority voting, a more powerful European Parliament through extended codecision with the EU Council, as well as new tools for greater coherence and continuity in policies, such as a long-term President of the European Council and a High Representative for Foreign Affairs. In practice what we are seeing is history repeating itself. Once against national parliaments were and are being asked to surrender their powers to an all-powerful, unelective elite. Once again those who dare to stand up to the great and the good are threatened, bribed or promised patronage in the pan-European equivalent of Vichy. Kites are flown about who may be in with a shot of becoming President of the European Council, a post specifically created by Lisbon.

As the Irish people prepare to vote next week on the Lisbon Treaty, let us pause to think of past experiments in the surrender of national sovereignty to unelective institutions, ostensibly in the name of peace (as also claimed by the Vichy collaborators of 1940), and let us recall too the calamitous consequences those decisions had for millions of Europeans. Let us reflect on the price France and Europe and millions of their peoples paid for this terrible mistake, and let us reflect too on the tremendous sacrifices made by many tens of thousands of Irish people, generation after generation, who gave their lives for the freedom we - for now - enjoy. Let us not be bullied into repeating the mistakes of history. Say no to Lisbon, and yes that Europe will continue to be a democratic union of independent nation states - not a European empire trampling democracy under the jackboot of totalitarianism embodied in this Treaty. Let us stand with the peoples of France and the Netherlands in defence of the democracy they expressed in 2005 by rejecting the EU Constitution - which Bertie admits is 95% the same as the Lisbon Treaty.

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