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Monday, August 17, 2009

What's the question?

As another yes campaign group launches in Ireland, we're struck by the overriding focus on Ireland's EU membership as a talking point.

As Bruce Arnold pointed out this morning in the Irish Independent, Ireland's membership of the EU is not in question. And yet, short of good arguments in favour of the Treaty, it is what most of these campaigns have chosen to focus on, safe in the knowledge that the prospect of sitting alone in the Irish sea, having been slung out of the EU for having the cheek to vote no a second time, is a fairly frightening scenario and one that will scare people into voting yes.

But it's dishonest in the extreme, not to mention hypocritical. So many of these websites talk about the need to "fight the lies" and focus on what's in the Treaty. And yet, they quickly run out of arguments about the detail and revert instead to a song and dance about what Ireland has gained from being in the EU up to now - as if that had anything at all to do with it.

The fact is, that yes, Ireland has done well out of the EU since joining, like most (if not all) member states. But, despite what the desperate 'yes' campaigners will have you believe, this is not about showing appreciation and reverence to our nice leaders in Europe for all their kind benevolence and patience over the past 30-odd years.

This is about the kind of Europe we want to see in the future - it is about the boring detail of the text that is in front of us - about questions like do you want to see a single EU President and a Foreign Minister? Do you want your country's government to lose its power to veto decisions it doesn't agree with in everything from criminal justice policy to employment to sport to foreign policy? Do you want EU governments to be able to change the text of the Treaties in future without the kind of public debate we are currently having? Do you want the European Court of Justice to have the final say over decisions relating to criminal justice? Do you want to give the green light to a system of government which ignores its own rules and discourages direct democracy? Etc etc etc.

Take Pat Cox’s Ireland for Europe website, for instance ("We're stronger in Europe" - as if anyone at all is suggesting otherwise). It has around 20 short videos on why people will be voting Yes, with at least half of them purely about the benefits of Ireland's EU membership, rather than what the Treaty is actually about. (On a side note - one of the people speaking out is the campaign director of Women for Europe - it seems that despite the plethora of websites there's quite a small pool of campaigners, with some having their hands in several of the 'yes' pies - for example, Ireland for Europe's Chief of Operations Andrew Byrne is doubling up as the Chief Executive of Generation Yes... Business for Europe is run by Ireland for Europe, etc).

What none of these sites tell you, is the political (and legal) reality if Ireland chooses to stick to its first legitimate answer and vote 'no'. Rather than Ireland being booted out, or denied EU farm subsidies, or generally languishing on the sidelines of the world for ever more, the Czech and the Polish Presidents will simply refuse to sign the Treaty (as they are chivalrously waiting until Ireland gives its consent), and shortly afterwards, there'll be a British election (there has to be one by spring next year), likely to be won by the Tories, who will then also put the thing to a referendum here (they have explicitly promised to do so, if the Treaty is not already in force).

As the British would be likely to vote no (with a brand new government campaigning against), this would cease to be Ireland's problem and would well and truly be Europe's problem. That is, the people we pay pretty good money to sort these things out. No-one would be kicked out the EU, and the thing would rumble on just as it did after the French and Dutch 'no' votes. The sky wouldn't fall in, and the EU would still have the ability to find ways to cooperate on climate change, international crime, and all the rest of it. If you don't believe that, if Lisbon really is the be all and end all in European cooperation - then how on earth have they already managed an Emissions Trading Scheme, a Climate Action and Renewable Energy Package, complete with Directives on biofuels and renewables, and a European Arrest Warrant, for instance?

With only weeks to go, it's time for the 'yes' side to ditch its lazy reliance on the tired, worn out and utterly irrelevant 'in/out' arguments if it is going to live up to its word and engage on the real issues at stake.

2 comments:

Graham said...

I was going to ask what was in it for the people running the yes campaigns but looking at the 'about us' pages on each site pretty much says it all.

Panta Rei said...

RE "What none of these sites tell you, is the political (and legal) reality if Ireland chooses to stick to its first legitimate answer and vote 'no'. Rather than Ireland being booted out, or denied EU farm subsidies, or generally languishing on the sidelines of the world for ever more, the Czech and the Polish Presidents will simply refuse to sign the Treaty (as they are chivalrously waiting until Ireland gives its consent), and shortly afterwards, there'll be a British election (there has to be one by spring next year), likely to be won by the Tories, who will then also put the thing to a referendum here (they have explicitly promised to do so, if the Treaty is not already in force)"


Good point

There's all this talk going on about how "we must stay in Europe" etc: It's a vote on a Treaty, not on membership (though that might be an idea too)!

To be pro-Europe is of course to be against the EU - it doesn't mean having to be devoid of positive European ideas:

A radically different EU would not have a Commission and would be run on democratic lines with independent nations cooperating on cross-border issues.
The roots of people democracy balanced by state democracy (as in the USA with the House of Representatives and Senate) is already there, with, respectively, the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers.

http://ceolas.net/#eu1x