Wednesday, June 11, 2008

to lisbon or not to lisbon

so tomorrow ireland, alone in Europe, will get to vote on the Lisbon Treaty, a major development in the government of the European Union. This is very important, so i felt it was worth writing about here.

the most important thing is - VOTE. whichever way you want to go, go out there and vote. don't 'abstain' (another word for letting others make your choice for you) and don't spoil your vote - this simply doesn't count and doesn't get counted in any meaningful way. the only way to have an effect is to show up and pick a side.

I'm willing to admit that my own feeling and it's been getting stronger by the day is to vote no.

i should state that i am very much pro-Europe. it's great that ireland is part of the EU and it's done many great things for ireland, i also believe we have a responsibility to help others inside (and outside) the union, i want to see a better and stronger and more amazing europe - i just don't think that this document is the way to do it.

my main reasons are that:

we are the only people, the only country in the all of Europe that is getting to vote on this extremely important piece of legislation. to me, this shows frankly a total lack of regard for or interest in anything resembling a real democratic process, by those currently managing what we term 'europe'. yes the parliaments will get to ratify it in most other countries but on something of this magnitude the actual people should have a direct say. their politicians have not been mandated for something of this permanence and importance, something that changes constitutions and national laws, in more significant ways that the previously existing laws. we are being given this choice because of our legal system, we should use it.

this is the EU constitution in another form. when it was phrased as a constitution, other countries, notably the french and dutch, had to have a vote on it, by law. so did some other countries. the french and dutch, given the choice, voted no in 2005. the constitution was thus defeated as it had to be passed unanimously. the constitution has now been expanded and reformed into this treaty. however as it's no longer termed a constittuion, only Ireland gets to vote on it. this is entirely wrong in my view. it seems probably that the french and dutch might vote no again given the choice, but that choice is being denied to them presumably because their leaders (who encouraged and assumed a yes vote in 2005) are worried they'll vote the wrong way. we have the chance here, let's use it to say that people should be given a more democratic role in the europe we want.

few people seem to be talking about the real reasons this treaty is dangerous. from the commentary i've read, including direct quotes from the document and the material in the government handout, this is massively about enshrining neo-liberal economic policies, already strongly present in the EU, in an even more powerful way. there is a lot about enforcing competition, the market economy, 'price stability', trade, removing any 'barriers' to trade, the power of the european central bank and very little about workers rights, environmental protection, social policies such as health, education or benefits.

It is moving towards less and less democracy which for all its faults i believe is the best system we have. it gives more power to the unelected, unaccountable european commission and less to the european parliament, which is at least directly elected by the peoples of europe. i'm not concerned about Ireland losing 'our' commissioner, the point is that the commission should not have the power it has already, much less should it be given even more. also the power on crucial issues such as international security and, even more importantly, trade, as well as many other issues, appears entirely unchangeable and many other issues will be locked into a system that will be very difficult to change.

as far as i understand it, this constitution in all but name has no systems for revision or change built into it. unlike most constitutions which can be revised, this cannot be, at least the central articles which cover many of the key issues above are 'permanent'. we have to have a treaty which has systems for alteration built into it. it has to be possible, given enough people, to change the constitution. otherwise we are locking into something for decades, possibly centuries, just because it's what we think in 2008. again this is incredibly undemocratic.

this is not mainly about local politics in ireland, even if "all politics is local." this is not about the local issue. it is about what kind of europe we want to have, and be part of as european and global citizens. the fact that the credible opposition in ireland appears small, barring the rank and file of labour and greens and some good individuals, should not be a deterrent. the lack of a decent opposition in this country in general is a huge problem, we've appear to have been lulled into complacency and docility by money in our pockets. there is a big need for some decent group to articulate an alternative to the problems and the dissatisfaction that many people here feel, and that movement has not yet really established itself, despite some promising but partial efforts, there is a lack of vision.

i disagree with many of the (frankly anti-social, xenophobic or fear-mongering) arguments some individuals on the no side are putting forward. i don't care about our tax status or holding onto some disproportionate power compared to our size. i do care about increased military spending (required of all members), the power of NATO (the declared agent of 'common defence'), the lack of democracy, the unchangeable nature of this decision, the power given to business compared to workers or the disadvantaged, the treatment of health and education as commodities, more power going to the unelected Commission, and, most importantly, the fact that no involvement of citizens and people is being called for or demanded europe-wide.

considering the local side for a moment, there is an important consideration about distrusting what the government is trying to push, especially considering its scandals in recent months, and its record on previous treaties, notably Nice. another key issue is, if this is so important, why has more effort not been made to explain it to the only people who'll get to vote on it? the declared policy, both in europe and from the irish government has been 'make it obscure and impossible to understand and they'll vote yes'. if it is so good it should be easy to show that it is, and the government and europe should have the respect for irish people to explain that. they should also have to explain it to the other 450 million or so citizens of europe, but they're not even bothering to do that, those others are not being given a say and they deserve one. the onus of proof is on the yes campaign, not the no campaign. instead they have deliberately aimed for obscurity. i think crucially this seems to indicate that the europe they want to shape has no space for people in it, doesn't care about what people think and will do whatever it can to prevent them having a say. this is not the kind of europe i want.

i have also tried to wade through the official explanatory leaflet. even as someone with a reasonable education, it is fairly impenetrable. one of the most important sections, on page 3 'what happens if you vote yes, what happens if you vote no' is ambiguous. what happens if you vote yes is written as definite, this will happen etc, what happens if you vote not, totally unclear, will it pass, will it fail, it 'may not'. why has it used may rather than will? in this case linguistically it should use will not, following on from 'the Constitution will not be changed'. this is a failure of explanation and on this basis and its many other examples we should be voting no because we are not being given even reasonable information on which to make this decision.

finally, at the least, the precautionary principle should apply here. we should not do something that is serious, long-term and extremely important for many aspects of our lives if we have little or no clue about it., as many people feel. it makes more sense to say no, and have another chance later. if we're convinced at a later date, or if changes are made, then we can vote differently. but if we say yes now to something that is so important, when we're either concerned or not sure, there is no chance to say no later. this is the last chance for all of europe if we vote yes, if we vote no there is a chance for a different and better europe, and one that others actually have a say in.

i love this country for all its faults and i love europe, let's move it towards the way we want it to be.


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