Published on the Ireland for Europe Blog
Over the weekend, I looked back on the points Declan Ganley made at the launch of Libertas’s campaign two weeks ago.
As I watched this, I found that nearly every point he made could be disputed, if not refuted. Below is a critical analysis of his case.
He begins by stating that this is the same European Constitution that the French and the Dutch rejected, and that we rejected last year, ignoring the key symbolic changes made to the Constitutional text to remove the statelike trappings which were of such concern, and in the Irish case, it ignores the European Council of December 2008 to agreement to keep our Commissioner and the June 2009 agreement with the legally-binding guarantees.
He then says that the Lisbon Treaty is not about jobs or the economy, arguing that it would be a handicap to us, as we’re moving several key areas to be decided at EU level. He’s in a small minority on this. 90% of independent Irish economists in a recent Indecon survey, with no connection to the government, unions, employer groups or the media, believe a Yes vote is important for our recovery. This report looks at a number of reasons, mainly related to the effects of the perception of being eurosceptic on both funds from Europe and whether multinationals choose to locate here.
Mr Ganley goes on to disparage claims that decisions in the boardrooms of America would be affected by a No vote, citing The Wall Street Journal. But one Murdoch-owned newspaper is hardly enough to make that point. Fair enough, Mr Ganley would argue, he’s since made use of an article by Wolfgang Munchau of the Financial Times, who had strongly supported the Lisbon Treaty last year, in which he has become more critical of it. But whatever Mr Munchau’s criticisms, he is still ultimately in favour of the ratification of the Treaty.
But whatever the FT or the WSJ might say, surely the American Chamber of Commerce should carry more weight than opinion pieces, however highly regarded. They have clearly stated that they favour a Yes vote, citing 300,000 reasons to vote Yes.
Mr Ganley then claims that nothing has changed, citing Baroness Kinnock, who had said that the Treaty itself would not need to be re-ratified by the Houses of Parliament. True, the Treaty itself may not have changed, but each of the 27 governments are bound by the European Council agreement, which has been lodged with the UN, with the same status as the Belfast Agreement.
He complains about European bureaucrats giving information to Irish schoolchildren on the EU. It sounds here as if he’s complaining about them canvassing, which was unlikely, given the age demographic. More realistically, they were informing young citizens about their polity. This is typical of those on the No side, to give out that the EU is distant, but then continue to do so when it tries to connect with the people.
He then claims that tax harmonization is on the agenda. This is clearly false. Not only do we now have a clear guarantee on taxation, which has assured Sen. Shane Ross, who cited this as his main concern last year, but direct taxation is in no way, shape or form an EU competence. There is nothing the EU could do, no matter what the French or others want, to affect our rates of corporate or income taxation.
He then talks of empowering people who we can never vote out of office. But no one who is not elected and accountable to the people can make EU laws. The Commission, appointed by the Governments, may propose laws, but it is the Council of Ministers, and the European Parliament under Lisbon, which legislates.
He claims that Lisbon creates an unelected President of Europe. This is the President of the European Council, who is Giscard d’Éstaing’s words, acts more like a chairman than anything else. They would have no policy agenda, there’d be nothing to organize a 27-member popular election on.
More bizarrely, he criticizes the fact that the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy is also unelected. What country in the world elects its foreign minister? Were Micheál Martin, Hillary Rodham Clinton, David Miliband or Bernard Kouchner directly elected?
He makes a big deal of the fact that the EU is given legal personality and that we will become citizens of the European Union. That has been the case since Maastricht, so that is an objection to the position of the last seventeen years, not to measures in the Lisbon Treaty.
He claims that we don’t need the agreement on the Commissioner that comes into effect with the Lisbon Treaty, as the Swedish Prime Minister has outlined a 26 + 1 arrangement, giving the High Representative to the 27th country. This is not the position of Commissioner that was of such importance to us, and this agreement would only last till the next enlargement.
He goes on then to throw out the term democratic deficit, as if Lisbon exacerbates this. It doesn’t. Under Lisbon, we will have:
- greater scrutiny to national parliaments to make sure European institutions aren’t overstepping their remit
- the European Parliament having joint legislative powers and review of the budget
- the Citizens’ Initiative. Yes, the Commission doesn’t have to accept it, but we can’t even put something on the Irish Cabinet’s agenda
- the Council of Ministers voting in public
He dismisses the campaigns by Intel and Ryanair on the basis that they are merely trying the ensure that they will not receive further fines from the European Commission. Even if one were to take that view, it would be to ignore the fact that businesses of all levels are calling for a Yes vote. The members of the Small Firms Association and the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association have overwhelmingly shown support for the Treaty, while the main social partners ICTU and IBEC are supporting it too.
Mr Ganley might have strong business credentials, but we really should not take his word as our guidance on this matter on clear importance to our position in Europe and the wider world. He arguments do not stand up to scrutiny, and he has not addressed these areas of the debate.
In a previous blog, I looked at the improvements in the democratic character of the European Union which the Lisbon Treaty will introduce. Yet this week, we heard Declan Ganley again decrying the lack of democracy in the EU, ignoring these changes. He talks of the need for a 25-page constitutional document, overturning 52 years of negotiation by Treaty. This rejection of piecemeal change in favour of a fundamental overhaul deserves analysis in itself.
His 25-page document would turn the EU on an entirely new path, with very little relation in its institutions and structure to what exists at present. He expects us to ignore the 7 years of work which included a convention with parties across Europe and across the political spectrum, in government and in opposition, as well as contributions from civil society.
To recap on the changes Lisbon will introduce to make the workings more open and democratic:
- the Council of Ministers, which finalizes any EU legislation, will vote in public
- the Citizens’ Initiative will require the Commission to consider an application from a million citizens, a power far greater than exists nationally, where we cannot in anyway control the agenda of cabinet meetings
- national parliaments will review legislation after it is proposed by the Commission, and a sufficient number could veto legislation going any further
- our MEPs elected in the European Parliament will have an equal say with the Council of Ministers in making law
The Irish eighteenth-century philosopher and statesman, Edmund Burke, criticized the idea of a revolution upon a theory, arguing instead for institutional change by a steady and thoughtful process. In rejecting the moves towards open and democratic government in the Lisbon Treaty, Mr Ganley has fallen into this trap. Similarly, the twentieth-century philosopher Karl Popper praised the merit of piecemeal institutional change. Basically, we should ask where we should go from where we are now. It is very common to hear those on the No side talk in terms of “Another EU is possible”, rejecting any change that does not give it all at once, even if in their desired direction. This all-or-nothing approach is an unrealistic approach to diplomacy, and ignores our long-standing political traditions.
Remember, we should debate the Lisbon Treaty on the question of whether the changes it itself introduces are beneficial to the working of the Union compared to what exists at present. On these terms, Lisbon clearly brings the above benefits. Without Lisbon, we will not get these beneficial changes.
We hear a lot from those on the No side at every European referendum about the problem of the democratic deficit, meaning that decisions are made without reference to the people and without a sense of accountability. This is true to a certain extent in all democracies with policy formulated to a large extent by the permanent government of civil servants.
But they have a point. Since 1957, as it grew from six to 27 countries, it is unsurprising that this has become a concern. So the Lisbon Treaty addresses this.
Even at the moment nothing from the EU becomes law without the approval of those who are accountable to the people. The Commission, whose members are appointed by the governments, proposes legislation. The Parliament, elected every five years, reviews legislation. Then the Council of Ministers, made up of the ministers across the EU, finally agree that a provision can be made law. For example, if the Council is discussing the environment, John Gormley is there with other environment ministers.
Power to the Dáil and Seanad
Under the Lisbon Treaty, after the Commission proposes legislation, national parliaments of the union have powers of review. If 1/3 parliaments object, the Commission will have to review their proposal; if 1/2 of parliaments object, then can veto it before it goes any further.
National Parliaments may send to the Presidents of the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission a reasoned opinion on whether a draft legislative act complies with the principle of subsidiarity, in accordance with the procedure laid down in the Protocol on the application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality.Protocol on the role of national parliaments in the European Union
Power to the European Parliament
Then, instead of the European Parliament having only a consultative role, it will have an equal role with the Council of Ministers making law.
In future, the European Parliament will have powers equal to the Council of Ministers in many areas. Even regarding agricultural policy, which accounts for almost 40% of the EU budget, the European Parliament will be able to participate in the decision-making process. Furthermore, the EP will have a say concerning all aspects of the EU budget.Jo Leinen
German Socialist MEP
So our elected representatives, both in the Oireachtas and in the European Parliament will have a significantly increased voice in the process of EU law if the Lisbon Treaty is ratified.
Originally posted on Facebook
Those critical of the European Union often raise the question of the democratic deficit, meaning that decisions are made without reference to the people and without a sense of accountability. This is true to a certain extent in all democracies without an element of direct democracy, like the ballot initiatives of California. For example, the charge could at a push be levelled at the current Irish government, who are making decisions on circumstances that could not have been foreseen at the time of the 2007 general election, and it is almost certain that they would lose power at a general election held today. And in any state, policy is formulated to a large extent by the permanent government of civil servants.
Given the size of the European Union, a body of 27 countries, it is unsurprising that this has grown to the level that it has been raised as a concern. Among the many reforms of the Lisbon Treaty, there was a clear effort to address this. It is true at the moment that nothing from the EU becomes law without the approval of those who are accountable to the people. The Commission, whose members are appointed by the governments, proposes legislation. The Parliament, elected every five years, can review legislation, before the Council of Ministers, made up of the ministers across the EU, finally agree that a provision can be made law.
Under the Lisbon Treaty, after the Commission proposes legislation, national parliaments of the union will have powers of review. A number of one third of parliaments will have the power to require the Commission to review the legislation and if more than a half of parliaments raise an objection they will have the power to veto the legislation and prevent it going any further. Then, rather than the European Parliament having only a consultative role, it will have an equal role with the Council of Ministers in legislating.
So our elected representatives, both in the Dáil and Seanad and in the European Parliament will have a significantly increased voice in the process of EU law if the Lisbon Treaty is ratified.
And this is before mentioning the Citizens’ Initiative, under which a million citizens across the Union would have the power to require the European Commission to consider a item of concern. This is a power for the people far greater than exists at a national level, where ordinary citizens have no control over the agenda at cabinet meetings.
People are right to have been concerned about the democratic deficit, it showed a healthy concern and desire for accountability. But it would be irresponsible not to acknowledge these steps that were made to address these issues, and those seriously concerned about this issue should vote Yes to ensure that these new measures are implemented.