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25 June 2009 Edition

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LISBON 2: Brian Cowen and that 'Decision of the Heads of State'

The emperor’s new clothes

Sinn Féin Dáil Spokesperson on European Affairs

THE most important thing to note from last week’s Council of Ministers discussions in Brussels on the Lisbon Treaty is that nothing of substance took place.
Yes, we have an ‘international agreement’ on neutrality, taxation and ethical issues to be lodged at the United Nations. Yes, we have the ‘promise’ of a protocol on these same issues to be attached to a future accession treaty (for a country and on a date yet to be decided). And, yes, we have a ‘solemn declaration’ on workers’ rights.
But have we any changes to the text of the Lisbon Treaty itself?
Will any aspect of the treaty’s implementation in Ireland or across the EU be altered by this ‘international agreement’?
Have the substantial concerns of the electorate on issues such as Ireland’s loss of influence, militarisation and neutrality, workers’ rights and public services, international trade agreements, nuclear power, and the developing world been addressed.
The straight answer to all of these questions is ‘No’.
Brush aside all the meaningless rhetoric about ‘legally binding guarantees’, the ‘Decision of the Heads of State’ agreed last Friday is nothing more than a series of clarifications of some aspects of the Lisbon Treaty.
It does not alter the text of the treaty in any way. Nor does it change the impact that the treaty will have on Ireland.
So when we come to vote on the Lisbon Treaty in October of this year, we will be voting on exactly the same treaty, with exactly the same consequences for Ireland and the EU, as we did on 12 June 2008.
But surely this cannot be? Has the Government not secured ‘legally binding guarantees’ that will be enshrined into international and eventually EU law? Will these ‘guarantees’ not safeguard Irish neutrality and tax sovereignty? Does the ‘solemn declaration’ not signal the EU’s intent on protecting workers’ rights?
Again the answer to these questions is ‘No’. Like the emperor parading naked in public, the Lisbon Treaty has no new clothes, yet the courtiers and ministers marvel aloud at its non-existent new apparel.
Let’s take each in turn.

The Decision of the Heads of State agreed last Friday in Brussels says:
‘The Lisbon Treaty does not affect or prejudice Ireland’s traditional policy of military neutrality.” This tells us that Irish troops can only be sent abroad with the consent of the Irish Government in the Council of Ministers and the Oireachtas.
Sinn Féin never disputed this fact. Indeed, the Lisbon Treaty is very clear in this regard. However, neutrality is not only what you do with your troops – it is also about the alliances you form, what you do with your resources, and what other member states do in your name.
The Lisbon Treaty makes clear its intent when it states that there shall be a common defence. In expanding the scope of permissible military missions it demonstrates its desire to move beyond peacekeeping and civil reconstruction. In reasserting the compatibility of EU foreign and defence policies with those of NATO, it reminds that the emerging EU common defence is clearly aligned. Provisions for Permanent Structured Co-operation create the real possibility that wars we do not support will be fought in our name and with our resources. The mutual defence clause creates obligations incompatible with any internationally-recognised definition of neutrality.
Anyone in any doubt about the implications of the Lisbon Treaty for Irish neutrality should read the exchange of views in the opinion section of the Irish Times sparked by Dublin City University academic Karen Devine from the 25 November to 24 December 2008.

Again, the Council decision tells us nothing new. Under the Lisbon Treaty, any move to a common corporation tax system across the EU would require a unanimous vote at the Council of Ministers. Anyone who read the Treaty could tell you this.
Sinn Féin’s concern on taxation rests with Article 48 of the Treaty. This article allows the Council of Ministers, by unanimous decision, to alter the text of existing EU treaties.
Today, if the EU wanted to agree a common corporation tax system, they would have to do so as part of a broader treaty revision process. This would require both unanimity at Council and ratification in each member state, including a referendum is this state.
However, Article 48 allows the Council of Ministers to make significant changes to the treaties by unanimity but without recourse what some see as a cumbersome (read ‘democratic’) process of negotiation and ratification.
So Lisbon does not affect our tax sovereignty but it makes it easier for the Council of Ministers to make the change in future, and without the inconvenience of a referendum.
Both Fine Gael and Labour are already on record as supporting some form of corporate tax harmonisation, while Fianna Fáil, despite their assurances, couldn’t be trusted on this or indeed any other matter of importance.

Finally, with respect to workers’ rights and public services, the very fact that this issue is being treated differently, in the form of a non-legally-binding declaration demonstrates that, fine and solemn words not withstanding, there is neither the political will nor the intention to alter the current direction of EU policy and European Court of Justice decisions in this regard.
Or, to put it another way, the ‘Solemn Declaration on Workers’ Rights’ is more like an election promise by a Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael politician the week before polling day: laced with false sincerity and destined to be forgotten the moment the ballot boxes are closed.
 There are also a large number of issues which the EU leaders studiously chose to ignore last Friday. No mention of the reduced influence of smaller member states as a consequence of the new voting arrangements at Council.
No mention of the 60 or so member state vetoes that will end.
No mention of the controversial changes to international trade negotiations that were opposed by farmers and trade justice groups alike.
No mention of the opening up of vital public services such as health and education to the vagaries of the market.
But we secured a permanent Irish Commissioner, the Government will insist. Again, unfortunately not true. The agreement by the Council of Ministers on this issue is more like a stay of execution, promising a Commissioner for an unspecified time. Unless the this issue is written into an EU treaty, the likely outcome is that the reduction in size of the Commission envisioned in Lisbon will be delayed five years until the next European Parliament elections in 2014.
When the electorate rejected the Lisbon Treaty by 53% in 2008, they gave Brian Cowen and his government a strong mandate to secure a better deal for Ireland and the EU. But, just like his mismanagement of the economy, Brian Cowen dithered and delayed and did nothing, leaving us with another fine mess to get ourselves out of.
When the emperor’s chosen tailors promised a new suit of clothes, they assured the king that they would only be seen by the great and the gifted. While the king and his admirers colluded with the fraud, the plain people of his kingdom had the wit and the courage to see the sham for what it was. Sound familiar?


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