Issue 2 - 2024 200dpi

25 October 2007 Edition

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











EU Constitution renamed


TO THE SOUND of clinking champagne glasses, people across Europe discovered they had a new EU Treaty. The giddy relief of the EU leaders meeting in Lisbon last weekend was evident.
And why wouldn’t it be? Have they not succeeded in pulling an act of blatant political fraud? They have renamed their constitution a “reform treaty” and they have persuaded themselves and the mainstream media that there is no need for a referendum.
The voters across Europe know what they want. According to a poll in the Financial Times, some 76 per cent of people in Germany want a referendum, as do 75 per cent of people in Britain, 72 per cent in Italy, 65 per cent in Spain and 63 per cent in France.
But they can’t have it because (according to the British, French and Dutch governments) the Treaty is fundamentally different to the Constitution. They can’t have it because (according to the governments of Spain and Luxembourg) the Treaty is essentially the same as the Constitution. Could it just be that the EU elites are afraid to let the people form their own judgement on the issue?
As the leaders gathered in Lisbon, on 18 October, it was clear that the whole thing was a rubber-stamping exercise. There was never any real prospect that anything substantial would be changed. The leaders (or their predecessors) had already decided in 2004 what they wanted – the EU Constitution. The rebranding and remarketing job had been pretty much done by the time they arrived in Lisbon. So, bar a few bells and whistles, the EU leaders had got what they wanted – the Constitution, renamed and without the need for awkward referendums. Apart from in Ireland, that is.
Meanwhile, the Taoiseach has accused other EU leaders of “running away” from holding referendums. Naturally he is feeling uncomfortable about being the one who will be blamed for stalling the whole process if the vote goes against him in the referendum to be held next year. Needless to say, he is also trying to neutralise one of the problems a lot of people have with the Treaty/Constitution – the fact that people in other countries are not being allowed to vote on it this time, particularly those who voted ‘No’ in 2005. Bertie will shrug his shoulders and say he did his best to ensure other countries have referendums as well.
And where were the public watchdogs as this elaborate piece of theatre unfolded?
The mainstream parties had decided that the issue was the Irish opt-in/opt-out on the areas of law and justice. The mainstream media were happy to oblige. So we had a phoney war about a single issue.
Where were the searching questions from the press about the requirements on member states to increase their military expenditure? Or about the obligation to support military action to “preserve the interests and values” of the EU (or how “interests and values” have been used in the past to justify many an imperial adventure)?
Where was the analysis of the fact that the EU will be obliged to make its foreign and security policy compatible with that of NATO (without knowing what that policy will be in the future)?
Where were the questions about the obligations on member states to diminish public expenditure, or on the restrictions on governments’ ability to improve public services?
Where was the issue raised about the shift in power to the bigger countries from the smaller countries?
In short where was the debate on the substance of the Constitution/Treaty?
They were nowhere to be seen.
Speaking from Lisbon, Mary Lou McDonald MEP said:
“Rather than prioritising Ireland’s interests in the area of neutrality, sovereignty and social provisions we see the Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny monopolise the Inter-Governmental Conference with a single issue.
“Opting out of new structures in the pact relating to judicial co-operation, criminal matters and police co-operation is just one, albeit important, element of the overall debate.
“Cynically, of course, this suits both party leaders. They can fight over the judicial and security opt-out in the media playground knowing that such tomfoolery will divert attention away from the substantive content of the Treaty of which they both fully endorse.
“Why are both leaders not using their respective positions in Lisbon to defend Irish neutrality to be enshrined in the Treaty? Why is the Taoiseach not fighting hard for an Irish opt-out from making any financial contributions to the European Defence Agency or any other area of military expenditure?
“Would their collective hot air not be better spent on securing an opt-out from provisions in the Treaty that restrict state aid thus allowing member state governments some leniency to intervene to save domestic industries in crisis.”
In the meanwhile, speculation has moved on to who will be the (unelected) President of Europe if the Treaty comes into force. Bertie is talking up his own chances, probably as a way of convincing people to vote for the constitution/treaty. And Tony Blair is the favoured candidate of French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

‘Debate’ underway on Reform Treaty in Leinster House


BEFORE the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) in Lisbon last weekend, Leinster House last week had its first chance to debate (or rather make statements) on the Reform Treaty which has replaced the EU Constitution, in theory at least.
Coming days before the conference and in the absence of any EU affairs committee, the discussion was a pathetic attempt at covering over the fact that the Irish Government was setting out to Lisbon to discuss the nuts and bolts of a treaty before the Oireachtas had had any chance to debate what the Irish position should be.
There were moments of unreality throughout, including Dermot Ahern’s assertion:
“The 2005 referendum results in France and the Netherlands meant that the Constitutional Treaty could not be ratified in its original format. Yet there was no desire to go back to the drawing board and start a fresh negotiation that would quite likely have eventually produced broadly similar results.”
Glossing over the French and Dutch ‘No’ votes – which apparently don’t constitute a “desire to go back to the drawing board and start a fresh negotiation” – Ahern went on to set out the Fianna Fáil/Green Party Government’s line for the IGC. He argued that little has changed in terms of EU competencies before going on to list out ten policy areas (including sport and tourism) where sovereignty would be relinquished to the EU.
Similarly, the Treaty was said to be good for small nations despite the new areas where the veto has been surrendered and the dilution in favour of bigger states within the new Qualified Majority Voting system.
Plenty to latch onto for the ‘opposition’, surely?
Fine Gael and Labour, in turn, stated their support for a document described by Joe Costello of Labour as “the most outlandish, unintelligible document imaginable”. Both parties concentrated their fire on the Government’s decision to opt-out of certain justice-related aspects of the Treaty. Falling head-first and together into this little trap, the two parties lambasted the Government for a minimal opt-out achieved and ignored the substantive issues of sovereignty, neutrality and the increasing democratic deficit in how the EU makes its decisions.
So Leinster House was subjected to a mock fight over an opt-out. Fine Gael took the biscuit with their attack on the opt-out with Enda Kenny labelling the government “Euro-sceptic”, saying: “Because Ireland has effectively declared its Euro-scepticism, when we get down to negotiating on real issues of national importance, such as corporate tax rates, we will not have the same back-up and support from our European colleagues as we received previously.” Dry arguments over common law systems and civil law systems and, at one stage, Roman law systems ensued.
It was clear as day that little or no difference exists between these three parties on the substantive issues in the Reform Treaty.
The position of the Green Party is officially undecided but recent statements from leading members suggest that the party will row in behind Fianna Fáil in calling for a ‘Yes’ vote. The Greens have, up to now, campaigned against every other EU Treaty and will have to explain why this Treaty built on all the others they rejected is acceptable if they come out in favour of it.
The only non-Government speaker to address the broader implications of the Treaty was Sinn Féin’s Aengus Ó Snodaigh. Ó Snodaigh rounded on the Government as it is “dragged along on the coat-tails of European federalists”.
Challenging the dominant attitude of uncritical scrutiny in the chamber, Ó Snodaigh questioned the logic behind the moving of competencies to the EU level and away from local democratic control. The Dublin TD also sketched out the trend towards militarism in the EU with Ireland’s involvement in ‘Partnership for Peace’ and EU battle groups. The acceleration towards a common foreign and security policy goes hand-in-hand with the erosion of Irish neutrality and with this Treaty.
Ó Snodaigh spoke in favour of a more social Europe again connecting the right-ward lurch in EU economic policy with the Treaty. The dismantling of social protection systems through privatisation and liberalisation was leading to a regression in levels of social cohesion and environmental sustainability.
Ó Snodaigh concluded with a call for a proper debate after the IGC when we know the final shape of the text. The omens for a real and honest debate do not appear too good based on last week’s Leinster House ‘debate’. 

‘All government policies need to be disaster-proof’ — Bairbre de Brún MEP


BAIRBRE DE BRÚN MEP, a founding member of the new ‘Legislators’ Network for Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction’, has warned the Assembly, the British and Irish governments and the European Commission that all policies need to withstand the challenges of climate change. This summer’s news about floods, droughts and fires have made it clear that climate change makes it ever more urgent to ensure that our policies need to be disaster-proof.
Speaking at the launch in the European Parliament in Brussels, Sálvano Briceno, Director of the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, said: “It is not the earthquake that causes so many deaths; it is the badly constructed buildings falling on people.” Mr Briceno called for an integrated EU response to disaster reduction.
The cross-party, international initiative will unite parliamentarians who see that, in addition to bringing down the emissions that cause climate change, the world also needs to adapt to the change that will come about because of what we have already done. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently confirmed that risks from natural hazards such as floods, droughts, earthquakes and fires will continue to increase in the coming decades and cost lives and livelihoods.
Bairbre de Brún said:
“All investments and policies in Europe should be ‘disaster and climate proof’. We have recently seen a stark example of a lack of local disaster-proofing in County Antrim where a housing development, built on a flood plain, has experienced repeated serious flooding, making homes uninhabitable. We have to ensure that preventative measures are in place and that protection structures are well maintained. We also need to have strong policy controls on where building takes place.
“EU aid should be designed in a way that will withstand the increased risks of storms, floods and other extreme events. This is important within the EU but it is equally important for EU aid to developing countries.”
Bairbre de Brún concluded:
“While much political attention is rightly focused on bringing down the emissions that cause climate change, we also need to work on adapting to climate change. Even if we succeed in Bali in December in agreeing strict emission reduction standards, we will still need to deal with changing climate conditions for decades to come. We need to be prepared.”
De Brún promised to push this theme in her work as a member of the prestigious European Parliament Committee on Climate Change, whose job it is to propose policies at an EU level to tackle climate change.

What they are saying about the Treaty


‘90% of it is still there... These changes haven’t made any dramatic change to the substance of what was agreed in 2004 [in the original Constitution]’
— Taoiseach Bertie Ahern


‘The substance of the constitution is preserved. That is a fact.’
— Chancellor Angela Merkel


‘Only cosmetic changes have been made and the basic document remains the same [as the Constitution].’
— President Vaclav Klaus


‘We have not let a single substantial point of the constitutional treaty go.’
— Prime Minister Jose Zapatero


‘All the symbolic elements are gone, and that which really matters is left.’
— Prime Minister
Anders Fogh Rasmussen


‘The elements of substance of the Constitutional treaty are preserved.’
— Prime Minister
Jean-Claude Juncker

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