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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Generation Yes: Insulting your intelligence

For all its claims to want to 'Fight the Lies', the 'Generation Yes' campaign in Ireland is making some very bold claims which don't stand up to scrutiny (surprise surprise).

The latest one is that "the Lisbon Treaty will stop human trafficking and drug smuggling into Ireland." That is a pretty strong statement, which the Irish media should surely be investigating very closely indeed. The claim comes complete with a 1 minute video which tells us about the horrors of these crimes to a backdrop of moving music, and a claim that "The Lisbon Treaty is a direct response to these grave problems".

It points to Article 83 TFEU, proabably in the hope that no-one will bother to go and read it. What this article does, is allow the EU to adopt "minimum rules concerning the definition of criminal offences and sanctions in the areas of particularly serious crime with a cross-border dimension resulting from the nature or impact of such offences or from a special need to combat them on a common basis."

It lists the areas of crime concerned as "terrorism, trafficking in human beings and sexual exploitation of women and children, illicit drug trafficking, illicit arms trafficking, money laundering, corruption, counterfeiting of means of payment, computer crime and organised
crime", but notes that the Council may at a later date add to this list.

This is an extremely important article in the Treaty, and one of the most contentious of all. It is not, as Generation Yes quite shockingly states, a magic potion to end the evils of international organised crime. This video is easily worse than any of the attempts by various anti-abortion campaigners who were accused of sensationalising the debate out of all proportion. Playing on people's emotions in this way is highly suspect.

When considering how to vote on this Treaty, people need to take a sober look at the issues, and not be scaremongered one way or the other. Who, for example, would really argue against putting an end to human trafficking and drug smuggling? Nobody. But to suggest otherwise and to pretend that this is the crux of the issue is convenient for 'Generation Yes' and allows them to distract people from the very important detail of the Treaty - particularly on the issue of justice and home affairs - the rights of criminals and so on - which truly go to the heart of most people's political views.

Let's take a look at those important details. Article 83 allows the EU to set “rules concerning the definition of criminal offences and sanctions”, by qualified majority voting. It is intended to prevent criminals “shopping around” for countries where their activities will carry the lightest penalties. The list of crimes over which the EU can harmonise sentences was supposed to limit the EU to dealing with cross-border crimes, but the vaguely-defined categories such as “organised crime” and “corruption”, is likely to enable the EU to rule over a wide variety of offences (see here for how previous attempts to combat 'serious' cross-border crimes with the European Arrest Warrant have had a horrible spillover effects and unintended consequences). As noted already, the list is also designed to be expanded over time, as a clause allows EU leaders to add to the list of crimes on which the EU can legislate.

The real question Irish voters must ask themselves on this issue is do they really want the EU to determine Europe-wide minimum prison sentences, and by a majority vote? What if you disagree to the length of times the (unelected) Commission believes certain criminals should get? Why should the Commission even have a role, instead of just individual national governments? And how, exactly, will minimum rules put an end once and for all to human trafficking and drug smuggling, as the Generation Yes website explicitely claims?

The European Commission has already begun to propose EU-wide minimum standards. When he was EU Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner in January 2005, Franco Frattini called for minimum prison sentences of five years for gang members and a minimum of ten years for gang leaders. He has argued that he will not prescribe the sentences member states’ justice systems should set because “the method I prefer is to indicate minimum and maximum, a range leaving Member States free to harmonise”. He claimed that, “We cannot live without a European definition of what is a criminal organisation and trafficking in human beings.”

It's worth noting that the UK Government opposed giving the EU this power to set minimum sentences when the Constitution (which later became the Lisbon Treaty) was first being negotiated. In an attempt to change the wording of the text, then-Europe Minister Peter Hain wrote:

“Framework laws on substantive criminal law must not require the imposition of mandatory minimum penalties. We hope that the Treaty would exclude the possibility of measures requiring all Member States to impose a minimum penalty of at least x years on anyone convicted of a crime.. irrespective of the circumstances or any mitigating factors.”

Not only that, but Open Europe can reveal that the Irish Government, and specifically Ireland's very own Dick Roche, who as Europe Minister is now fighting tooth and nail to get Lisbon passed in order to save face in the EU Council, was himself dead against these provisions when they were first proposed back in 2001.

Looking at his proposed amendments to the original Constitution, he didn't want the EU defining criminal offences and sanctions, he didn't want such things to be decided on by majority voting instead of unanimity, and he didn't want to make it possible for the EU to expand the list of crimes that would be affected.

He told the Convention on the Future of Europe:

"Given the sensitivity of the issues involved, this is an area where unanimity should be the general decision-making procedure. The Article should make it explicitly clear that mutual recognition is the principle underpinning the Union’s work in this area. The existing language of Article 31 TEU should be used. The second indent is too widely drafted. As fraud against the Union is a serious crime it is already covered by the first paragraph."

See here too for another instance where Dick Roche reiterated that there should be no majority voting in the area of criminal procedure "because of the particularly sensitive nature of this area." Oh, and here - this time he said: "In our view, unanimity is the appropriate decision-making procedure for the more fundamental aspects of judicial cooperation."

While we're at it, we should also note that articles 82 and 83 also allow the EU to set common rules concerning legal procedures in criminal cases. This means that EU rules, decided by QMV, could determine the rights of criminal suspects and control the admissibility of evidence in Court. There is also a provision for EU rules to cover “any other specific aspects” of legal procedure if EU leaders so decide.

One problem with this proposal is that it would no longer be possible for voters in individual member states to alter the balance of the legal system between the rights of victims and suspects’ rights. For example, if EU rules were to set the balance in such a way as to favour protection for suspects, voters in any one member state would not be able to vote for a policy which would make it easier to secure convictions. The rules could only be changed subsequently if the majority of other members agreed.

The over-simplification of such important issues by slick 'yes' campaigns is (excuse the pun) criminal. To follow the logic of Generation Yes's argument, people voting no must be against putting a stop to organised cross-border crime. Do they honestly think the Government was arguing against this when it tried to remove the clauses from the Treaty? Do they honestly believe the Government saw these articles in the Treaty as an opportunity to "stop human trafficking and drug smuggling into Ireland", and said, no, hang on a sec, we don't agree with that? Come on, people, get real.

Just like the embarrassing and patronising 'Women for Europe' campaign, the shameless Generation Yes should be avoided by anyone with the ability to think for themselves.

To be fair, we should probably throw the anti-democrats over at 'We Belong' in with that too - especially after reading in one of the Irish paper's Saturday supplements a couple of weeks ago that some of the people working on the campaign are so plugged in to what's going on they didn't actually even vote in the first referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. We think that says a lot.


Anonymous said...

I like the way you spend the first two thirds of your article expanding on the reasons to vote yes in the video. It kind of falls down a little bit when you turn to pure conjecture in the last third. Combatting cross border crime requires cross border solutions- and for that, states need to work together to decide what constitutes a offence- especially in important areas like "terrorism, trafficking in human beings and sexual exploitation of women and children, illicit drug trafficking, illicit arms trafficking, money laundering, corruption, counterfeiting of means of payment, computer crime and organised crime" that states cannot combat alone. Continuing without Lisbon gives licence to criminal gangs. Your article gives a lot of strong reasons to vote yes and a couple of really weak ones to vote no.... OOPS!

Open Europe blog team said...

"Combatting cross border crime requires cross border solutions" - can you explain, Anonymous, precisely why solutions can't be found without the Lisbon Treaty?

Isn't that exactly what the European Arrest Warrant proposed to do? We've managed that without Lisbon. Do you not think it important that decisions as crucial as the criminal justice system are made as close to the citizens as possible?

This is about maintaining a careful balance between democracy, accountability and civil liberties and giving authorities the power to combat crime. Many people are understandably very worried that the Lisbon Treaty is part of a wider trend against individual freedoms - that is not something that should be dismissed.

"Continuing without Lisbon gives licence to criminal gangs" - yes, we're sure that criminal gangs around Europe will be rattling in their boots at the prospect of the Lisbon Treaty coming into force. What an amusing image!

John McClane said...

"Combatting cross border crime requires cross border solutions"

It doesn't. It needs a strong police force in each country at the borders and internally to catch those who've managed to get through countries that don't have them.

Continuing with Lisbon gives licence to political rip-offs and MEP scams.