26 March 2009 Edition
• This news feature is funded by the European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL)
Ireland and Europe need a new treaty for a new time
BY SINÉAD MÁIRE NÍ BHROIN
TAOISEACH Brian Cowen last week attended the European Council summit of EU leaders in Brussels and was accompanied by Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan, Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin and Minister for European Affairs Dick Roche.
The Lisbon Treaty was bumped way down the agenda to allow the Council ‘focus’ on the global economic and financial situation. Energy, climate change and external relations were also discussed.
Throughout the Irish media it was reported that the Taoiseach would use the opportunity to update his European colleagues on the Lisbon Treaty and the development of the so-called ‘legally binding guarantees’ reportedly agreed at an EU summit held last December.
Dublin MEP Mary Lou McDonald reiterated her demand that the Government publishes the wording of the guarantees to be attached to the Lisbon Treaty when the Government puts the treaty before the people for a second time later this year:
“It is absolutely astonishing that Brian Cowen intends updating his colleagues in Brussels on the Lisbon Treaty and the development of guarantees for Ireland, yet feels no compulsion to extend the same courtesy to the Irish electorate.”
Despite repeated calls for the ‘guarantee wording’ to be published, the Government continue to drag their heels. Their silence can only suggest that the broader issues of the EU’s democratic deficit, its erosion of workers’ rights and public services, its emerging foreign and defence policy agendas, and promotion of free trade over fair trade remain outstanding. Getting the facts out there may well just provoke a debate the Government simply does not want to have this side of a European election.
Charlie McCreevy was also busy last week as he took part in a meeting of all 27 member state Commissioners to discuss a strategy for Ireland’s Lisbon Treaty re-run, due for later this year.
The Commission’s representative in Ireland warned those gathered in Brussels that the political and economic situation in Ireland could deliver a second ‘No’ vote. Despite recent polls showing a swing in support for the ‘Yes’ side, the Commission is now savvy enough to know that, in the absence of a public debate on the guarantees, opinion polls on Lisbon mean little.
However the Commission’s savvy does not end there.
Those heads brought together for the Commission’s ‘brainstorming’ session also discussed the €2m they intend to spend in Ireland on a pro-Lisbon advertising campaign in advance of the referendum re-run. Mary Lou called on Brian Cowen to “reject outright” the Commission’s plans for such an advertising campaign, adding:
“The Irish people don’t require the Commission’s propaganda; we just need the plain unvarnished facts.”
A spokesperson for Commission President José Manuel Barroso claimed that it is their intention to distribute “factual” information to citizens about EU policies and the Lisbon Treaty in Ireland and in other member states to allow a vigorous debate. What a load of codswallop!
If the Commission and indeed the Council or Parliament truly wanted a vigorous debate on Lisbon, or indeed the current direction of European policy, it would have not broken its back to ensure there would be no popular vote on Lisbon in member states following the rejection of the EU Constitution in the Netherlands and France in 2005.
So let’s call a spade a spade.
The Commission does not want to debate with us. It simply wants to swing us round to its way of thinking. Well, if last year’s debate was anything to go by, I suspect it will take a lot more than €2m to get Lisbon 2 through.
Speaking this week in Strasbourg during the parliament’s plenary session, Mary Lou McDonald pointed out “there also needs to be a collective reality check by all European leaders when discussing the recession and Lisbon”. The Dublin MEP said:
“It is the same kind of right-wing economic policies that led to the global recession – deregulation, liberalisation, and privatisation – that are within the Lisbon Treaty. Ratification of Lisbon would make matters worse, not better.
“The people of Ireland and Europe deserve better than the Lisbon Treaty. We need a new treaty for new times. Ireland’s place is firmly within Europe. The Irish people have been loud in their support for the European Union.
“The Irish people in their rejection of the treaty gave Europe a positive message. A message that European leaders are intent on ignoring but one that has gathered steam across Europe with ordinary people who share the Irish people’s vision.
“The people of Ireland want a different Europe. Member state citizens across the union want a different Europe. We want a Europe based on solidarity and fairness. A Europe of peace. A Europe that respects the right of each member state to make its own decisions on sovereign matters. One that prioritises workers’ rights and public services. A Europe of equals. This is the opportunity before us. The people are ready to take up the challenge – it’s time European leaders caught up.
“Ireland must remain at the heart of Europe. But we want a change of policy direction in Ireland and also in Brussels. The right-wing policies of Barroso and Charlie McCreevy underpin the current economic recession and arguably a change in policy also requires a change of Commissionership.”
In Dublin last week, Mary Lou McDonald referenced a quote by party colleague and Euro candidate Cllr Pádraig Mac Lochlainn made recently that perhaps best sums up why we need people like Barroso and McCreevy out of Europe.
Cllr Mac Lochlainn said:
“One of the cornerstones of Barack Obama’s successful campaign for the presidency of the United States of America was confronting the culture of vested interests and big business lobbyists in the corridors of Washington. Like Washington, the corridors of Brussels are packed with vested interests and big business lobbyists.”
We need a new treaty for a new time. We need new political leadership and new Commission representation for a new time.
De Brún’s delight at saving 600 Cookstown jobs
SIX-COUNTY MEP Bairbre de Brún has welcomed the securing of 600 jobs at the Vion food-processing plant in Cookstown, County Tyrone. The saving of the jobs follows intense lobbying by the MEP and others at EU level and at home.
The Vion plant and its workforce of 600 seemed destined to fall victim as a result of last December’s dioxin scare which hit Ireland’s pig-meat industry, but after mammoth work from the MEP and others the plant can continue to operate.
Bairbre de Brún raised this issue at the European Parliament on 4 February where she told MEPs:
“In a spirit of solidarity, the European Commission should consent to the co-financing of the necessary compensation needed for those affected. 2009 is set to be a tough year for all – let’s at least try not to makes things worse by ignoring the very real special circumstances which have left many in the food producing sector in difficulty through no fault of their own.
“Ministers in the Assembly in Belfast and in the Irish Government will soon produce an all-island animal health strategy. We also need an all-Ireland approach that goes beyond animal health and includes a single regulatory approach for the island. In other words, EU regulations should be managed and implemented on an all-island basis. All Irish farmers would gain from such a situation and the lack of duplication would increase the efficiency in which EU regulations would be monitored.”
During this period de Brún had contact from the Ulster Farmers’ Union and was also in contact with the Vion Cookstown company and with the European Commission, asking the Commission to address the gap in the Irish Government scheme and, if needs be, to put in place a similar scheme for the North to that established for the South. Following this she met with the Executive delegation when they visited Brussels for their meetings with Commissioner Fisher Boel.
These efforts, in conjunction with intensive lobbying by the Northern Executive and Agriculture Minister Michelle Gildernew in particular, led to the European Commission putting in place a similar scheme and allowed the Executive to allocate a £9.6m hardship package for processors and farmers affected by the dioxin scare and ensured that Vion survived and the jobs in Cookstown were secured.
Reflecting on the good news, Bairbre de Brún said:
“The Irish Government scheme did not cater for the estimated 4,000 live contaminated pigs that were sent to Vion pig processing plant, in Cookstown, in my constituency, during the period in question from 1 September to 6 December 2008. I am glad that the Executive and the Commission have been able to agree a scheme for the North. I am sure that, in these tough economic times, this will be welcomed by all in Tyrone and across Ireland.”
Ten thousand Catalans in Brussels
MORE than 10,000 Catalans marched in Brussels on Saturday 7 March in favour of self-determination. Cars, buses, trains and planes converged on Brussels, many coming from Catalonia and many from the Catalan diaspora across Europe.
The march, under the banner “10,000 to Brussels for self-determination”, came about as a result of Facebook discussion among Catalans as an initiative independent of any political party or organisation.
The idea of the initiative was to put the long-standing demand of Catalonia for self-determination on the international agenda by bringing it to Brussels and to the EU institutions.
The manifesto developed for the occasion stresses:
“We want to show the world that in Catalonia there is a conflict, a peaceful conflict.”
On the Thursday before the march the organisers met with representatives of different political groups in the European Parliament. Not a single Catalan MEP turned up to meet them, which caused some anger among the marchers on Saturday. The fact that Catalans cannot elect their own Members of the European Parliament (Catalonia is part of one big constituency of the whole Spanish state) is also frustrating for many Catalans.
Among other things the marchers were calling for is a Catalan government which will promote self-determination in order to be a state in the European Union with the same rights and obligations as the current member states.
As one of the marchers put it:
“Spain cannot be a democracy so long as it denies Catalans the right to self-determination.”
On 7 February, 10,000 Catalans came to Brussels to speak with one voice and to say:
“We want our own state. We want the independence of Catalonia.”
The work of MEPs
About the EU: A series of explanations about the EU in the run-up to June’s elections to the European Parliament
MEPs are elected by whichever system operates in their own country. In Ireland, this means on the PR-STV system, as in the Assembly or Leinster House elections there are five constituencies: Dublin, East, North and West, South and the Six Counties. Elections take place every five years on a set date.
Mary Lou McDonald was elected in Dublin and Bairbre de Brún in the Six Counties in 2004.
MEPs are supposed to represent the citizens who elected them by campaigning at an EU level on issues important to people in Ireland. They also have a legislative role in certain matters. Being elected to the European Parliament has allowed Bairbre de Brún and Mary Lou McDonald to bring issues such as collusion between state forces and paramilitary groups and demilitarisation to wider audiences and allowed them to develop alliances to help them achieve the aims set out in the platform they were elected upon.
These MEPs have met and lobbied numerous European Commissioners about issues such as Irish Ferries, the Peace programme, the future of Irish farming and the Services Directive, to name some examples.
MEPs are also capable of engaging with issues local or national politicians cannot engage with for various reasons and of becoming active in areas where movement has been weak or non-existent before.
Their membership of four parliamentary committees has allowed us to bring our republican ideals directly to EU policy-making.
Bairbre de Brún is a member of the Regional Development Committee, the Committee on the Environment and Public Health and the temporary Committee on Climate Change.
Mary Lou McDonald is a member of the Employment and Social Affairs Committee and the Committee on Civil Liberties.
Both MEPs are members of the GUE/NGL group in the Parliament. GUE is a French-language acronym for European United Left while NGL stands for Nordic Green Left.
The group has 41 members from 13 countries and 16 “delegations” (political parties). It is a confederal group which means there is no party whip and each party in the group votes as they see fit.
The NGL component is comprised of the Left Party of Sweden, the Finnish Left Alliance and the People’s Movement against the EU from Denmark. These parties share a critical view of the process of federalisation with the Sinn Féin delegation to GUE/NGL and the Socialist Party of the Netherlands.
An Phoblacht Magazine
AN PHOBLACHT MAGAZINE:
- The first edition of this new magazine will feature a 10 page special on the life and legacy of our leader Martin McGuinness to mark the first anniversary of his untimely passing.
- It will include a personal reminiscence by Gerry Adams and contributions from the McGuinness family.
- There will also be an exclusive interview with our new Uachtarán Mary Lou McDonald.