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Monday, August 24, 2009

Desperate times

Some interesting developments in Ireland over the weekend.

The 'Yes' side is due to outspend the 'No' side by 10 to 1 in the next referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. You will remember that last time around pro-Lisbon types cried foul when businessman Declan Ganley used some of his own money to campaign for a No vote, to try and counterbalance the public funds going into the 'yes' campaign. Several high-profile MEPs did their best to try and discredit him, claiming that the funds came from dubious sources. Don't expect them to ask any such questions about the hundreds of thousands now being poured into the 'yes' camp.

According to the Sunday Times, the 'yes' side will apparently spend at least €2.4m, compared with the No campaigners' €270,000.

€2.4m? That isn't even the half of it.

What about the salaries, building and operational costs of the European Commission delegation in Ireland?

Because, in case you hadn't heard, this body, paid for by taxpayers from across the EU, has once again weighed into the debate on the 'yes' side - this time a bit more publicly than usual. (It usually tries to operate a bit more behind-the-scenes).

According to the Irish Times the office "vigorously" rejected the arguments being made by the 'Farmers For No' campaign. It goes without saying that the Commission has absolutely no mandate to intervene in the politics of EU member states.

In a press release, Canon Ian Ellis, Editor of the Church of Ireland Gazette, responded saying:

"I was surprised that the European Commission entered the Irish debate on Saturday, commenting on the Farmers For No group's understanding of the treaty. Challenges made to whatever groups in the referendum run-up should be made by the Irish parties involved and should not eminate from the European institutions. Inevitably, there will be differences over the interpretation of the treaty, but it is not for the EU itself, or any of its institutions, to enter into what must now be an Irish discussion. Because the debate is about the nature of the EU, the EU must 'leave the room'."

Calling for a "clean" debate on the Lisbon Treaty, Canon Ellis added:

"It is not fair to suggest that the Lisbon vote is about being at the heart of Europe or about being good Europeans. That kind of moral blackmail is not 'fair play'. The referendum is only about the Lisbon Treaty and its provisions for the EU. Is this how the EU should be? That is the question for voters."

Hear hear.

Another eyebrow-raising development is that Fine Gael MEP Mairéad McGuinness has called on farmers to vote Yes, adding: "I would ask you to give the vote serious thought and perhaps to turn the radio off and not listen to all the argey bargey that is being said."

So now politicians don't want voters to engage in the debate, and instead switch off the radio? This speaks volumes about her lack of faith in the 'yes' side to say anything that will do their campaign any favours. Either that or a fear that the 'no' side might actually have a better argument. For all the money that's being spent, this does not show much faith in the quality of the campaigners, or the arguments for Lisbon (are there any?).

But back to what the Commission actually said. It seemed very angry in particular about the claim that the Treaty would make it easier for Turkey to join the EU.

According to the paper: "The commission was emphatic in saying that the treaty did not promote Turkey’s application to join the union “in any way”."

But hang on, Nicolas Sarkozy, Angela Merkel and others have repeated time and time again that the Lisbon Treaty is necessary for enlargement, going as far as to claim that future enlargement will be impossible without Lisbon (in a transparent attempt to win over people they perceive to be 'pro-enlargement' in the UK, Ireland and elsewhere).

Is the Commission now saying that Nicolas Sarkozy, Angela Merkel and all the other politicians who have made this claim and directed it at Ireland were lying? And if so, why did it never intervene and tell us that at the time?

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