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23 April 2009 Edition

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• This news feature is funded by the European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL)

New EU report on Lisbon most arrogant yet


LATE last month, a majority of Irish MEPs adopted a report that Dublin MEP Mary Lou McDonald branded as “the most obnoxious and arrogant report yet to come out of the EU since the Irish people rejected the Lisbon Treaty last year”.
She was responding to the EU parliament’s adoption of the Report on Active Dialogue with Citizens on Europe presided over by Hungarian Socialist Party MEP Gyuli Hegli, who was rapporteur of what is a controversial report for those who supported a ‘No’ vote.
Not surprisingly, Irish Labour MEP Proinsias de Rossa, Marian Harkin, Fine Gael’s Gay Mitchell, Jim Higgins and Avril Doyle and Fianna Fáil’s Eoin Ryan, Liam Aylward and Seán Ó Neachtain all voted in favour of the report. Brian Crowley, Alan Burke and Mairead McGuinness were absent from the vote. Mary Lou and Independent Kathy Sinnott voted against the report.
Mary Lou McDonald criticised those MEPs who supported the Hegyi report, which she described as anti-democratic with a shameful inference that anybody who voted against Lisbon is politely labelled as ignorant.
The report blames workers, women and people who live in peripheral areas for daring to criticise the EU whilst in the same breath pays lip service to the need for the EU to listen more to member state citizens.

 Speaking from Strasbourg, Mary Lou challenged every Irish MEP who supported this report “to justify their position to the Irish people.
“This document contains fine words about involving citizens in decision-making processes yet fails to see the irony when it in tandem insults the people for making a decision contrary to the parliament’s.”
It is worth noting to An Phoblacht readers some of the most obnoxious conclusions within the report.
In the first few pages of the report it states:
“After the rejection of the Constitutional Treaty in France and the Netherlands, 53.4 per cent of the Irish people voted in a referendum against ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon and whereas people with an inadequate understanding of European Union policies or of the treaties are more likely to oppose them.”
It’s really kind of hard to figure out on what basis our Hungarian friend came to this conclusion. There have only been five referendums held in the EU on the EU Constitution/Lisbon. Spain and Luxembourg voted ‘Yes’ but Ireland, France and the Netherland voted ‘No’. It is also worth remembering that, in 2004, Denmark, Ireland, Portugal and Britain all committed to holding referendums on the EU Constitution but quickly backtracked on their promise following the Dutch and French rejections of the treaty in 2005.
When the Lisbon Treaty reared its ugly head, those member states that had previously committed to referendums all decided to go the parliamentary ratification path with Ireland being the only exception. No thanks to our government, of course, but to a lone citizen, Raymond Crotty, who in 1987 secured Ireland’s right to a referendum via a court case which established that significant changes to EU treaties required an amendment to the Irish constitution which can only be done by way of a referendum before it can be ratified by the state.
The report also “recalls that surveys show that the less educated and less affluent a Union citizen is, the more likely he or she will be to oppose further European integration, which indicates that the European idea, in spite of all previous efforts, mainly reaches the well-educated, wealthy segment of European society; regards active dialogue between the European Union and its citizens as essential so as to realise the principles and values of the EU project, but recognises that the communication has not so far been very successful.”

 And after insulting low-income and middle-income voters throughout Europe, the report then seals its deal by:
“Pointing out that a majority of women voted ‘No’ in the most recent referendums on the European Union: 56 per cent in France (Eurobarometer Flash 171), 63 per cent in the Netherlands (Eurobarometer Flash 172) and 56 per cent in Ireland (Eurobarometer Flash 245); believes that one of the factors behind the ‘No’ vote was the lack of involvement on the part of European institutions in the policies which directly affect women and which underlie the ongoing lack of equal opportunities for men and women, such as policies on reconciling work and family life or dependency support.”
Hello, EU, the people are calling.
We rejected Lisbon because it is an attack on workers’ rights and public services. It takes decision-making even further away from member state citizens. We do not like the EU’s emerging foreign and defence policy agendas nor its promotion of free trade over fair trade. Both policy directions are contained within the Lisbon Treaty.

Mary Lou McDonald wrote last year in an Irish Times ‘Head to Head’ debate with Foreign Affairs Minister of State Dick Roche:
“The high-handed and arrogant approach of the Government over the last six months shows a complete lack of respect for the democratic will of the people.
“Re-running the referendum on the Lisbon Treaty would be a denial of democracy. It is no different to a defeated government re-running a general election in the hope that the voters would change their mind.”
It appears it’s not just the Irish Government who are high-handed and arrogant.


EU failing to face up to failed policies


SPEAKING during a recent parliamentary debate in Strasbourg on last month’s EU Council summit conclusions Mary Lou McDonald MEP pertinently asked her assembled colleagues if the common refrain that EU leaders must now learn the lessons of the economic crisis was a genuine statement.
Some member states are paying a little more attention to the need to rebuild economies on the back of employment.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier proposed a European Pact for the Future of Employment during the March Council summit. He called for  “national measures to be bolstered by joint European action”.
In particular, he said it was crucial to safeguard jobs in Europe. The pact states that “Jobs must be the EU’s top priority. All European programmes should be examined to see how employment opportunities can be safeguarded or created in the short term.”
Similar to Mary Lou McDonald’s proposals on job creation the Germans’ Employment Pact looked to alternative and renewable energies, expanding broadband and getting credit to SMEs. Interestingly, though, one of the ten employment pact proposals included the need now for “progress in the harmonisation of corporate tax”.
The Irish Government has always insisted that there is no real drive in the EU to deliver a Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base (CCCTB) throughout Europe yet at every turn and opportunity its EU counterparts are calling for it. It will be interesting to see how the Government proposes to ‘legally’ protect Ireland from CCCTB when it eventually publishes the Lisbon 2 guarantees. 

Humility and a reality check by European leaders is what the people need at this time.
Deregulation, privatisation and an unfettered open market have fundamentally undermined economies throughout Europe and continue to force millions of workers on to dole queues. In Ireland, such policy making was expressed through an inflated market, a golden circle of politicians, bankers and property developers.
Ireland and Europe need a new treaty for a new time. Ireland also needs new political leadership at the helm to deliver the type of change necessary to turn around this country’s fortunes. And, in equal measure, Europe needs new political leadership within the Commission.
Taoiseach Brian Cowen recently indicated his support for the reappointment of Commission President José Manuel Barroso. Not a surprise really. Both leaders are intent on forcing through the Lisbon Treaty. And the stakes are high. If the Lisbon Treaty re-run referendum falls this autumn, then both Cowen’s and Barroso’s positions will be untenable.


De Brún calls for local action on EU plan to boost construction industry and climate aims

ENERGY efficiency and renewable energy investments in the housing sector are to be eligible for EU financial assistance in all member states. The European Parliament has voted to allow member states to reprogramme their Structural Funds Operational Programmes to include energy investments in the housing sector.
Bairbre de Brún MEP has urged government departments to grasp the potential of the EU’s changes to the rules on EU funding for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. The move forms part of the EU’s plan to counteract the economic downturn.

 Speaking as the MEPs overwhelmingly backed the move to allow energy-efficient renovations of low-income housing to qualify for EU funding, de Brún said:
“I hope this move by the EU will allow the use of these funds to part-finance a programme of energy efficiency renovations which can provide a boon to our construction industry saving jobs while at the same time playing a part in meeting our climate change obligations and tackling fuel poverty.
“Those who live in low-income homes are more likely to suffer disproportionately as our economy shrinks while at the same time are less likely to have the resources to renovate their housing without financial aid. If used properly, this scheme could help alleviate the worst effects of fuel poverty across the north of Ireland.”
The move, having been approved in Brussels, it now needs the regional and national authorities to act swiftly to accommodate the new situation in their planning.




Government shuts down Forum on Europe


ON 2 APRIL, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Constitution published its first interim report on Articles 46 and 47 of the Constitution, which oversee ‘Amendment of the Constitution’ and ‘The Referendum’ process itself.
Last year, the committee, chaired by Fianna Fáil TD Seán Ardagh, undertook a review of the constitutional framework governing the constitutional referendum process in Ireland. Its first port of call was the role of the media in the referendum process.
One of the key recommendations to come out of the report is a proposal for new broadcasting legislation, which the Committee hopes will negate the legal obligation of broadcasters to ensure 50/50 representation of the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ argument in their referendum coverage.
The 220-page report states:
“The committee is conscious that an issue may be raised that this recommendation is constitutionally frail in the light of Coughlan [legal case taken by Anthony Coughlan which secured the 50/50 rule].
“While the matter is naturally not free from doubt, the committee has been advised that the constitutionality of any such legislation is more likely than not to be upheld.”
But shutting down campaigners’ access to the media is just part of the committee’s solution.
The report also states:
“There should be no reason, for example, why broadcasters should not be entitled (as they would in the ordinary way) to have regard to a range of diverse factors, including the relative strength of political parties as measured by voting percentages and Oireachtas membership...”

This report is just one prong in a determined effort by the Government and the two main opposition parties to restrict debate and decision-making on EU treaties to the four walls of Leinster House.
But for now the first casualty in the government’s post-Lisbon battle against those who dared have an alternative view on the direction of Europe has been the National Forum on Europe. Brian Cowen has shut it down. The forum was not a perfect space but it was the only place for civic groups to debate with Irish and European political elected representatives on the EU.
In his letter to party leaders in Leinster House informing them of his decision, the Taoiseach states:
“It is our view that the primary forum for debate on issues related to Ireland’s membership of the European Union should be the Oireachtas.”
This was a view echoed by Fine Gael TD Lucinda Creighton who welcomed Brian Cowen’s decision, saying the Oireachtas is the “appropriate” place for such debate.
Watch this space, readers.
The Government and the main opposition parties have their beady eyes on the prize   – making sure Lisbon 2 is the last European treaty we ever vote on.


What the EU can do for you

MEPs Bairbre de Brún and Mary Lou McDonald have a number of tools at their disposal to enable activists and citizens to influence the decision-makers in Brussels and Strasbourg and means of accessing information from the European Union.

Parliamentary questions
Our MEPs can submit written or oral questions to both the European Commission and the European Council of Ministers on any European issue.
In the past, this facility has been used to attack the failure of the Irish and British governments to meet the environmental standards laid down at EU level or to quiz the Commission on issues such as GM foods or EU battle groups.
Delegations to Brussels/ Strasbourg
Each MEP’s office is also entitled to host a number of delegations to Brussels or Strasbourg.
These delegations fit in with particular campaigns of the MEPs and are compatible with the platform of empowering people the MEPs were elected on.
Members of such delegations can lobby the European Commission, MEPs, NGOs, etc, directly as well as learning how decision-making happens in the EU.

The EU Parliament has a Petitions Committee whose job is to assess petitions that citizens of any member state lodge on any issue related to the EU or EU law.
The committee analyses each petition and, if it deems the petition admissible, it can launch a number of actions such as visiting the area of the citizen or inviting the citizen to the parliament to outline their case.

Access to EU information
The Sinn Féin delegation to the GUE/NGL team and the wider GUE/NGL group have access and knowledge on most technical or political EU issues and are available to support activists’ requests for information or expertise on EU issues.

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.

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