10 January 2002 Edition

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The future of the EU


Before Christmas in Belgium, two important conferences on the EU were held. One, the Laeken Summit, received much publicity. The other, a smaller affair, was held in the European Parliament in Brussels and received virtually no publicity.

"The future of Europe - democracy in danger" was its title and it was hosted by the EDD and SOS Democracy groups of MEPs. Irish speakers included Patricia McKenna and David Trimble, but by far the most extraordinary, though honest, contribution of the day came from German MEP and leader of the European Federalists, Jo Leinen. He said that the European integrationist project would not be delayed by Ireland's rejection of the Nice Treaty, saying something to the effect that 'we will not allow the future of Europe to be stalled by 40,000 voters' [the number of votes he thought was between the No and Yes vote, it was in fact 76,017].

This attitude, and the slavish attitude of Brian Cowen and Bertie Ahern in announcing that a rerun of the Nice referendum, underlines the contempt for the democratic process which many EU bureaucrats, commissioners, heads of governments, national ministers and parliamentarians have. The rejection of the people's decision about Nice in June last year lies at the heart of what is referred to as Europe's democratic deficit. If the bureaucrats, the EU commissioners, the prime ministers and ministers of the EU cannot abide by a democratic vote, what hope is there that the other areas of democratic deficit will be addressed - the lack of accountability of the EU, its members, its institutions, its leaders and its architects?

While most accept that the EU can enlarge, regardless of Nice, and that many of the other issues in the Nice Treaty can in fact be readdressed in the Convention on the Future of Europe under former French President Giscard d'Estaing, why are Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen still insisting on rerunning the Nice referendum? If this Convention is to have any semblance of being a consultative convention, a democratic convention, then Nice should be scrapped and another treaty formulated when the results of the Convention are presented.

Despite the Convention's drawbacks and the perception still that it has a predetermined agenda - an EU constitution - the Irish people and hopefully all the EU electorate will have the opportunity to accept or reject it in national referenda.

In January, the National Forum on Europe will travel around the country to give people an opportunity to address the many issues of concern regarding the EU. People should avail of these opportunities to put forcefully the case that No means No. Ideas and opinions on the future direction, make-up and Ireland's relationship with Europe should also be presented to the Forum.

There will be a lead off speaker in each venue and then it will be open to the public. Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD will be the main speaker in Monaghan. Each meeting will also have a panel with representatives from the national forum - some Sinn Féin panel members have still to be confirmed. The following are the details:

Monday 14    8-10pm    Tower Hotel, Waterford
Wednesday 16    8-10pm    Tullamore Court, Tullamore    Aengus Ó Snodaigh
Friday 18    8-10pm    City Hall, Limerick    Cllr. Martin Ferris & Anne Speed
Monday 21    8-10pm    Athlone Institute of Technology
Wednesday 23    8-10pm    Central Hotel, Donegal    Alderman Sean Mac Manus
Friday 25    8-10pm    Hillgrove Hotel, Monaghan    Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD
Monday 28    8-10pm    Artane/Beaumont Family Recreation Centre, Dublin
Tuesday 29    8-10pm    County Hall, Tallaght, Dublin    Aengus Ó Snodaigh & Mary Lou MacDonald

March 15    Gaeltacht mini-Forum    Na Forbacha

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