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20 August 2009 Edition

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Labour & Lisbon

By Eoin Ó Broin 

It seems that the Labour Party is in a bit of a pickle. Their dilemma is how to make something out of nothing.
In June 2008 party leader Eamon Gilmore said “the Lisbon Treaty is dead” and “the result of the referendum must be fully respected”. He went on to argue: “It would be entirely wrong, inappropriate, and counter-productive for the European Union to proceed on the basis of any settlement that does not fully respect the voice of the Irish people.”
In December 2008 during a debate on the future of the Lisbon Treaty Gilmore told the Dáil that “there is a very real concern among working people that the way has been opened for an undermining of the levels of pay and working conditions” and that “these issues must be satisfactorily addressed before the holding of another referendum”.
Unfortunately it now appears that Gilmore’s definitive response to the defeat of the Treaty was not motivated by a desire to respect the democratic will of the electorate and that his understanding of the phrase ‘satisfactorily addressed’ is different to what you would find in any dictionary.
The Labour leader is a canny politician who clearly had an eye to the next election. Knowing that a majority of Labour Party supporters voted against the Lisbon Treaty, his lament for the dead treaty and his demand for action on workers’ rights was about settling his own electorate rather than respecting their opinion or addressing their concerns.
Like Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Greens, the Labour Party was always committed to a rerun of the Lisbon Treaty.
But Labour has a problem. A June 2008 survey by Millward Browne revealed that 40% of those surveyed listed workers’ rights as a ‘significant’ reason for voting no. Many of these people were Labour voters.
So what has changed since last June that should makes these people reconsider their original decision to vote no?
Writing in the Irish Times earlier this month Labour spokesperson on Europe Joe Costello TD argued that while ‘the substance of the treaty remains the same...the proposition before the electorate on 2 October is substantially different from what the electorate voted on in June 2008.’
The Dublin Central TD argued that among other things a Solemn Declaration on Workers’ Rights was “vital new matter, additional to what was on offer” before.
Unfortunately the truth is a little different.
The wording of the Solemn Declaration is purely aspirational, and commits the EU to no action whatsoever.  It does nothing to reverse the series of recent judgments by the European Court of Justice undermining workers’ rights. It provides the EU with no new instruments to promote or protect workers’ rights. It will not be added as a protocol to any future EU Treaty, and therefore will have no meaningful legal status.
To put it another way, the Solemn Declaration is an attempt to make something out of nothing. Hardly a reason to change your mind on the Treaty now is it?

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