There is a lot of talk about the vote on the Lisbon treaty and we are fast approaching the time of voting. I have been speaking to a lot of people about this matter and the opinions are greatly varied. However, it is very worrying that the proportion of people who still do not know what they are voting on is so large, and more worrying again is those who have selected their vote purely on party allegiance or anti-party politics.
I can vaguely recall a time in my life when all major political parties in Ireland were united on a single issue and the only snipes between them was that one was not pulling its weight enough to support the issue. No argument, no falling out – since when have the opposition and leadership ever agreed on anything? Which means that we have to ask questions. I vaguely remember agreement between a large number of political parties but when it comes to this matter I am also not surprised by it; any serious political party in Ireland is so freaked out by potentially upsetting the EU and being viewed as a backward member state that they will just nod along with any major EU suggestion. Please remember that our government hasn’t been so keen on issues like bringing VRT into line with the rest of the EU for the last many years so why should it suddenly be so prepared to accept everything else?
I’m in no way anti-EU, in fact I think that we as a country have benefited greatly since joining the union. However, the perception of what is ungrateful is very wrong here. Failing to ratify the treaty simply means that the EU will continue to function as is, Ireland will still be governed the way it is and will still be entitled to all the benefits that it has ever received from the EU. We will not lose out by failing to pass this yes vote. What does happen however if we vote yes is that we give away large aspects of our democracy, we vote yes to exclude Ireland from the EU Commission and we effectively vote in a self-modifying treaty that Ireland may never have a say in the direction of. It is only since I started looking into this treaty in detail that I have changed my vote from yes to no and the more I learn the more steadfast I become on that no vote. Here are three things you should be aware of, if you don’t already know:
- A yes vote for the Lisbon Treaty means that the make-up of the EU Commission will be irrevocably changed to include only 66% of member states as appointees within the governing body. These appointees will be rotated every 5 years but effectively this means that Ireland can potentially be excluded from highly important decisions on our own governance. The people of Ireland elected a government for the country, other governments do not know the importance of certain decisions for Ireland in terms of business and trade. It does not make sense for Ireland to dispose of its own ability to make or influence decisions that affect our future.
- Citizen’s initiative – our token acknowledgement of democracy. Citizen’s initiative is a clause in the treaty whereby a minimum of 1,000,000 people of voting age must get together and make a proposal to the EU on a matter that they feel deserves attention. Now with the exception of human rights there is very little that links all EU countries in a common vision, most countries want the best for themselves, not others. The chances of every single adult of voting age within Ireland getting together to bring matter before the EU is frankly highly imaginative but that is effectively what must happen if the Irish people are unhappy about something and we have no commission representation. Ask yourself how realistic this is.
- Tax harmonisation is something that is greatly favoured by the treaty. However, there is a caveat for certain tax categories that may be vetoed by the national government. In simple terms this means that things such as corporation tax may fall foul to harmonisation thereby removing Ireland’s competitive advantage to attract international companies and taxes such as VRT can be vetoed and still controlled at the national level resulting in even worse conditions for the Irish people. The majority of “yes” campaign posters out there at the moment are spattered with “vote yes for jobs”, if corporation tax is harmonised then it is very likely that jobs will suffer massively in the Irish market. We live in a time whereby many international companies are already pulling out in favour of cheaper labour markets, those that stay behind do so only for the tax breaks – remove the tax incentive and then the floodgates of the recession that we have been tentatively staving off for the last while will truly be opened. Ireland will then have the impossible task of having to crush its labour force into cheaper salaries, made impossible by the civil service and national pay deals that will bring the country to a standstill if revoked, and tackle the insurmountable problem with the cost of living in order to claw itself back into the market.
So please think before you vote. Any “yet to be defined” aspects of the treaty, of which there are many, are effectively putting a blank contract in front of you to sign. Would you sign a blank contract of work before commencing employment and have your employer fill out your duties later on?
Those of you who are voting yes because Sinn Féin have launched a “no” campaign, for shame on you. Not only are you a worthless factor of the democratic system, you are also a detrimental obstacle to independent thought and should do everyone a favour by abstaining from the vote rather than voting against another party that you don’t like, in a vote that has absolutely nothing to do with party politics. For anyone else, I will respect your vote/opinion as long as you came to the conclusion yourself and are not simply voting that way because your party said you should. Your party will not represent you in the EU when there is no Irish representation on the commission so do yourself a favour and think for yourself rather than letting your party dictate your involvement/opinion.
As an Irishman of the diaspora (all four of my grandparents were of Irish descent) I am vitally interested in the present and, especially, the future of my home land. This issue of the Lisbon Treaty frightens me to death! I’m afraid that too many of my brothers and sisters do not realize that the referendum on the Lisbon Treaty is in effect a decision equal to new elections in Ireland. The decision on ratifying the Lisbon Treaty is – upon transferring the current powers of the nation state of Ireland to the federal state in Brussels – it is a decision on accepting or rejecting the permanent construction of A NEW FEDERAL GOVERNMENT AND PARLIAMENT OVER IRELAND. To do so will be to utterly discard on the rubbish heap of history all the sacrifices of our ancestors, both the suffering against British oppression and the fighting for freedom in which so many lives were lost.
This is a crucial time in Irish history – a time when you/we will decide whether to march on under your/our own strength and character and leadership or to surrender your/our rights, lives, and fate to others who have, upon every past opportunity, either turned their backs on Ireland in her need or swooped in to take advantage of her riches. Which is exactly what is happening now. Ireland (God bless her forever!) has risen, by her own strength of character and moral fortitude and by God’s kind grace, far above her past of subjection and base poverty to a point where she is a jewel in the crown of Europe and the world. Ireland has earned all her scars and medals of valour and has come into her own – at last. (One might quote of Ireland as well, “Free at last, free at last! Thank God almighty, we’re free at last!”)
And now, in the time of finally enjoying the fruits of our hard-won, blood-bought freedoms and successes, Ireland considers handing over her self-mastery to yet another foreign dictator! God forbid it! Let Ireland be Ireland, not some small dot on the EU map. Let Ireland be Ireland, not another chattel within another kingdom – for such is the becoming EU/EC. Never forget the sacrifices made by our (OUR) grandparents for the possibility of self-rule for Ireland. We are Ireland! We are not Europeans – we never have been. We were at best pets, at worst slaves of Europeans. Ireland has suffered too long to throw away her freedom and self-sufficiency on yet another European master race. We are Ireland!
Look long and hard at America and learn from her mistakes. Under her own power, the United States stood together by choice. Today, we have given up the idea of mutually beneficial partnership among the member states and have become subjects to a dictatorial Federal Government who seeks to rip our choice from us – from freedom of religion to freedom of choice to freedom of speech. American is becoming what the EU would march straight into, from the beginning.
Ireland, my Ireland, whom I learned to pray for and to love from my mother’s knee and my father’s stories, remember the source of your strength in your tortured past – return to your faith and your moral sense of self. God lead you through 700 years of tribulation and abject slavery. Your/our sense of Irish identity apart from that of the rest of the world kept us unified and alive during years of deprivation and attempted genocide. Please, please, please don’t give all that up now for a new, stronger master.
We, the children of your diaspora, are counting on you to safeguard our heritage and our home. Guard and keep them from another outsider who seeks to steal and destroy our culture. We are counting on you. Please don’t let us down. Remain independent and free and self-governing. Please.
We are Ireland!
Heard an interview on the radio the other day where a worker union was saying no and the DJ tried to rile things up by asking how a union rep. can make the same decision as Libertas. So small minded.
I’d vote no simply because any further united Europe needs to be more democratic, not less. It will be difficult to change later on.
I am not allowed to vote though. I just hope those who do vote are informed. I’d rather someone voted yes because they were informed and understood the issues and disagreed with me than someone who voted no just because of their party or what their friends said. You can’t build a real democracy on uninformed folk.
Your third point is incorrect. The lisbon treaty does not have the potential to change or harmonize tax rates. Barosso and friends recently suggested they might change the tax BASE, which is not the same as rate. In either case, we retain a veto right over these DIRECT tax issues. Despite the self amending nature of Lisbon,direct taxes will not be changed because of this treaty- irish constitution would not allow it.
I do like your second point though. There are very few good NO arguments around, which is concerning as Lisbon ought to be debated thoroughly as you say. The Citizen’s Initiative is unrealistic, and underlines the lack of democratic connections between European citizens and what goes on at a macro level. Parliament does gain more power though, which might be a counter argument. But if we have to go door to door to get a truly democratic initative, then that is worrying.
Thanks for the comments folks.
@joe: I may be open to correction on this and if you can point me in the right direction then please don’t hold back in slamming me as I’d hate to become one of those who spreads the unfounded word. However, in relation to my point 3, perhaps my wording didn’t accurately describe the situation, but from my reading of the treaty and surrounding documentation it is possible that this will happen. Tax hamonisation is perhaps a bad term, chosen purely because it would get my point across to the majority of people who have heard it in the media recently. My take is that this “harmonisation” can effectively be brought about by the EU being able to deem Ireland’s low corporation tax rate as being unjustified in line with EU laws. It can do this by making the call that differences in taxation between countries in the EU are a barrier to free and unbiased competition within the EU. It doesn’t explicitly introduce a new tax rate for all member states as would probably be more descriptive of harmonisation but it does provision for such a ruling to be made. If I am wrong please set me straight, it is a big document and body of supportive text to fully understand in its entirety. 😉
1. Ireland will never be left out of a decision because the Commission only proposes and implements decisions. It is the Council of the Ministers where we actually make decisions and we can veto things proposed by the commission such as the WTO agreement. The problem with having a commissioner for every country is that you run out of meaningful jobs and duplication/fragmentation of responsibility occur.
2. The citizen’s initiative is not intended to be a means of representing a national interest because it must come from a “a significant number of Member States” and to suggest that people do not have common ideals is pessimistic. In fact the European Parliament works along idealogical groupings rather than national groupings. For example, many Europeans would be concerned about the Services Directive or the Nitrates Directive or EU involvement in the arms trade to certain countries. Again, it is the Council of Ministers where our national interests are represented and where our power to block/change decisions with a veto or a group of other countries.
3. The treaty changes nothing to the area of direct taxation and corporation tax is just that – a direct tax, which we can veto. “Turnover tax” is something like VAT.
Also via politics.ie and finegael.ie
“The European Court of Justice Judgements in cases C-338/01 and 533/03 found that the words ‘fiscal provisions’ in the Treaties cover all areas and aspects of taxation. Anything in the category ‘fiscal provisions’ under ECJ rulings then cannot be reviewed under the category ‘distortion of competition’. Therefore the court cannot rule that corporation tax ‘distorts competition’ because it has already ruled that corporation tax cannot fall under that category.”
Disclosure: I’m a member of Young Fine Gael too
Thanks for taking the time to comment in detail Joe however, I still remain unconvinced and it’s not pessimism.
1. My problem with the decrease in the number of commissioners is the lack of representation at this level. In much the same way that I wouldn’t be a fan of Waterford’s Minister but at the same time I’m happy that he’s there as I’d rather have somebody represent the county rather than nobody. I’ve heard the arguments for fragmentation of briefs and minor positions but frankly if the aim of the treaty is to reform then it is a task for the EU to ensure that this reform brings about equitable representation for each member state while not belittling any position within the commission. They have been working on this for over 10 years so it shouldn’t have been that hard to get right. It is my opinion only but a strong feeling that any reduction in representation is only a bad thing and I really cannot be in favour of it. Ministers in Ireland influence decisions and help to push agendas for their locality, commissioners are in a similar position and regardless of post I would rather Ireland had one.
2. The citizen’s initiative I thought was based solely on numbers rather than spread? If not, then democracy has suffered an even greater blow in this treaty than I previously thought. It’s bad enough that we evolve our power to the EU commission whilst not being able to do anything about it through our national elections never mind making it nigh on impossible to get a spread of EU states to form a solidarity over an issue that may be affecting the national progress/profit. As for people not having common ideals, well that’s not pessimistic and as a member of YFG you should surely understand that within the national radius never mind throwing other countries into the pot.
3. The new paragraph added to article 58 includes the text “considered compatible with the Treaties insofar as they are justified by one of the objectives of the Union and compatible with the proper functioning of the internal market”. The end goal in my opinion and that from the rumblings of many EU figureheads, for the EU, is to arrive at a full federal state with a common tax base and unilateral incentive to attract business investment to EU Inc. and dissuade any particular leanings towards one or other countries. Our corporation tax is something that has impact on our sister states because we win out in attracting investment. Taxes like VRT, VAT, etc only impinge upon the citizens of the country in which they are applied and as such cannot be deemed to be in contravention to EU harmony and functioning. I understand the rulings to which you refer, although I haven’t read the text on them, but we have a new set of law makers lined up and a self-modifying treaty on the table. I’m not saying that it will happen today or tomorrow but personally if this was a game of Sim-EU I’d be pushing harmonisation of tax if I was the evil overlord of the collective. It doesn’t make sense not to, if you want to be seen as fair and balanced towards all members.
Overall we’ll just have to wait and see I guess. The amount of people turning in both directions at the moment is confusing. Some are going yes to no and others are going no to yes; strangely enough of the people I have spoken to, those swinging to a no vote are doing so because of reading the treaty or supporting independent documentation while many of those swinging to a yes are doing so because they don’t want to be associated with the proverbial lunatic fringe or Sinn Fein. The irony was not lost on me. 😉 Cheers for the detailed comment though, all food is good for thought and while I’m fixed on a no at the moment I still need to be open-minded and read all that I can, until I cast my vote.
1. The Commission is not the cabinet, because the cabinet is effectively the decision making body of the government (like the Council of Ministers) while the Commission is like a high-level civil service. The Commission is subservient to the European Council and can be sacked at any time.
Also, every country will be in the same position as us – rotating commissioners (not losing a commissioner) and it must be seen as important for the running of the EU for France, Germany, the UK etc to also give up a full-time commissioner. Who gains from this? The EU as a whole imho
2. The citizens’ initiative is new. How can an additional element of democracy can be described as a blow to democracy? Examples of common ideals include the green movements, the socialist movements, Christian democrats and the liberals. I’ve personally been to party meetings in other states and met representatives in Ireland and found common ground with our sister parties. Granted, on some occasions, Irish MEPs will break with their European grouping on some issues but that is fairly rare.
3. In that very article, they say “The Council shall act unanimously on application by a Member State” which means we can veto any decision. Equally as there are some people that may want common tax rates, there are many other states, particularly the UK and Eastern European states that are just as keen as us to maintain independence and competition in the area of taxation.
Who is the overlord? In reality, the head of the European Commission doesn’t have that much power and nor does the country holding the presidency of the European Council. They are bound by the wishes of the member states and the hardest bargaining and negotiation is done at the Council of Ministers and the European Council.
As for the self-modifying bit (via http://www.lisbontreaty2008.ie/lisbon_treaty_changes_gov.html)
“The Lisbon Treaty now proposes to give the European Council (Heads of Government) the power to propose changes to certain parts of the governing Treaties. Any such changes cannot increase the competence of the EU. Any such proposals must be agreed unanimously by the European Council. This means that any national government may veto such a proposal. If the European Council does agree a proposed change, then in order for it to come into effect, it must be ratified by the Member States in accordance with their own constitutional traditions. This may require a referendum in Ireland as happens at present.”
@grizi: Again thanks for the follow-up Joe. However, I still don’t agree.
1. If the commission is truly as you describe then it would not function. The comparison to high level civil servants may be quite apt given that high level civil servants effectively run the politics of Ireland, at least. I just don’t see how any reduction in representation can do any good, irrespective of whether it is rotational or not.
2. I would describe it as a blow to democracy if we are currently voting on a situation whereby we evolve greater power to the EU which we cannot change at a national level by voting against the sitting government. It is a further blow to democracy if we have to look outside of our own governing forces to gain solidarity from other countries to support something that we believe in. While it is still technically power to the people, the power is an awful lot more difficult to seize than it currently is as we and the EU currently operate.
3. We can only veto if it is not in direct conflict with the functioning of the EU – which in terms of competition our lower corporation tax rate would be and currently is. If the purpose of the amendment in the treaty is to allow a veto on such anyway then the question must be asked as to why it was ever augmented to the article, if no change is brought about as such?
Ok overlord was a bad term to use. 🙂 I got stuck in my Sim-EU analogy. The EU is still in its infancy I guess, in terms of formalising structure and governance. This treaty is the first time that the people have had to decide whether or not we should elevate part of our governance to the EU parliament. Already we have seen in the same breath that this means a reduction in representation for member states, albeit a debatable point depending on your take on that issue. While perhaps minor enough, it doesn’t bode well for the future of the EU if reduction of representation and central governance is on the cards for something that is supposedly subservient to the demands of member states. Now, I’m in no way anti-EU, as stated in my post I think that the system has treated Ireland very well since our inclusion. My only problem is that this treaty is a very concrete finalisation of Nice and the other work over the last 10 years that gives much of our self-control away and potentially opens us up to a position whereby we cannot agree to EU positions and will start building up fines on certain things that have to be paid for by the tax payers because we elected to give away our power to abstain from such in the first place.
The self-modifying aspect does state as you say that decisions may require a referendum in Ireland. We had two on Nice so that the EU wouldn’t think that we didn’t want to play with them. That was the single biggest blow to democracy in this country that our governing powers would choose to reject the voice of the people and insult them by saying that they didn’t understand the treaty. The same people who made those statements are the same people currently telling us all to not bother reading the treaty and that it is a no-brainer, a yes is the only option and chaos will ensue if it is a no. I’ve read a large amount of the treaty and other documentation, my 3 points above are my 3 biggest problems but by no means my only ones. As I said, I’m not anti-EU but I really don’t think that this move is a good one for Ireland.
I won’t go into any more detail other than to say that
1. The Commission is too big. Ireland will still be represented in the decision-making Council
2. The citizens’ initiative sounds like a positive step
3. There is no threat to our corporation tax from this treaty. (in fact rejection of the treaty serves to justify a 2nd mini-EU)
I’d be interested to know which article suggests to you that we cannot veto changes to corporation tax. The ECJ itself has ruled that fiscal provisions cannot be overruled as distortion of competition under current treaties.