Tuesday 23 April 2019

Mad? I'm fuming at the lies they spin

Alan Ruddock

In its editorial yesterday the Irish Times suggested that only a madman would vote No to the Lisbon Treaty. Are we out of our collective minds, it cried, for contemplating rejection? And then it told us why we should vote Yes: Lisbon will make Europe more efficient. The Irish Times was echoing the standard cry of the Yes campaigners: only loolahs, malcontents, hard-core lefties and religious loons would consider kicking Europe in the teeth, and they've all been anti-Europe from the very beginning. And it continued, too, the inherent contradictions of the campaign: the treaty is just a bit of administrative tidying up, but if we say No the sky will fall on our heads.

Garret FitzGerald carried on the theme, arguing that it would be really silly to annoy all those European politicians who have worked so hard to deliver this treaty. Europe, he explained, as if speaking very, very slowly to people with learning difficulties, is a complicated place and only people like him really understand how it works. If we don't scratch backs and network, those other Europeans will be very nasty to us and will punish us.

It is certainly true that the No campaign contains a number of loolahs and unpleasant people, but that does not make a No vote in itself mad. It is unusual and uncomfortable to be in the same camp as Sinn Fein, right-to-life bigots and assorted lefties, but that, too, is a cross that many of us will have to bear on Thursday.

The great and the good have lined up to tell us how crazy and irresponsible it would be to say No, and to a man and woman they have invoked history, implied that this is a referendum on our membership of the European Union and pleaded with us to just tug the forelock, accept that whatever comes out of Brussels is in our best interests, and ignore the small print.

The great and the good know what's best for us, and we should just trust them and move on.

Well I can't. I do not trust them. I cannot stand being patronised, threatened, bullied and lied to, all at the same time, especially when the people doing the bullying have not bothered to read and understand the very document that they are trying to ram down my throat.

That is reason enough to vote No, and it is why so many people have turned against the Lisbon Treaty in the past few weeks. We are being browbeaten, and we do not like it.

The timing, too, is unfortunate. When Brian Cowen became Taoiseach last month he announced that the most urgent and important task he faced was winning a Yes vote for the Lisbon Treaty. It was not.

His most urgent and important task was getting to grips with the crumbling Irish economy, not serving up the Irish people on a platter for his European peers.

But he chose Europe over Ireland and his government has been diverted from its real job ever since. Public sector reform? Let's appoint a task force and park those decisions until the autumn. Economy on the brink of recession? Never mind, there's a budget due next December and we'll worry about it then. Europe, not Ireland, is our most urgent and most important assignment.

And so Cowen has thrown himself into the Lisbon "debate", snarling at his political opponents for not pulling their weight and threatening his own parliamentary party with political exile if they dare to break ranks.

So desperate is he for a Yes vote that he bows down before the farmers' blackmail and now tells his TDs that they are personally responsible for delivering the vote in their constituency, or else. That sort of energy and commitment, if directed at something useful like the health service, might actually deliver results, but the full wrath of Brian Cowen is being directed instead at us.

That, however, is not a reason to vote No.

We might dislike Cowen's tactics and despair of his refusal to actually govern, but if Lisbon were an inherently good idea, we should park those reservations to one side and vote for it.

So is it any good? Its proponents claim it will make Europe more efficient, but do not tell us what that means, or whether that is a good thing.

Does efficient mean that the European Commission will no longer tolerate fraud? Will Europe's legion of parliamentarians account for the money they receive from the European taxpayers? Will whistleblowers be encouraged, or will they continue to be fired and victimised? No. Efficient means that Europe will be able to make more laws more smoothly, and fewer commissioners will sit around the table. It means that we will have a European president, chosen by the elite, not the people, and a European foreign minister, similarly untouched by popular democratic mandate.

We lose our European Commissioner for five out of every 15 years because, we are told, there just are not enough jobs to go around for 27 commissioners, and this from a government that employs 20 junior ministers.

Our voting strength decreases and Europe is allowed to exert far more control over our laws because many more areas are opened up to qualified majority voting (QMV), meaning that we can no longer veto laws that we do not want. Or, to use FitzGerald's argument, by losing the power of veto in so many areas, we lose a critical bargaining chip in all those cosy European negotiations. It was important to appease everyone when the veto was around, but with QMV the voice of small nations is quieted.

Not all of this is bad. There are areas of policy where Europe will deliver better law than our own legislators, and there are areas where we will benefit because one country can no longer veto a proposal that would have benefited us, but that is not the point. An increase in "efficiency" is not the same as an increase in democratic accountability and it certainly does not mean that Europe will start to spend its money wisely.

The Yes campaigners highlight the increased powers that will be enjoyed by the European Parliament and greater powers of scrutiny for national parliaments.

Neither proposal is reassuring. The European Parliament exists to create an impression of democracy, but is so large, so unwieldy and so lacking in real power that it is a sham. No Irish person, other than the immediate family of an MEP, could feel any connection with it.

Cowen tells us that Lisbon is as good as it gets, but I cannot accept that.

He tells us that our economy will be imperilled if we vote No, but that is nonsense (it is already in danger, and he is doing nothing about it). He claims that we will be turning our back on Europe and will suffer for it, but that, too, is nonsense. France, Holland, Sweden and Denmark all prosper within the Union and all have said No in the recent past to either a European treaty or the euro.

Voting No sends a message to Cowen and to Europe, and it is an important message for all politicians to digest.

Do not take us for granted, and do not treat us like fools. Next time -- and be assured, there will be a next time -- deliver a treaty that is readable, accessible and understandable.

Then explain why it is necessary, show what it will achieve and put it to the vote across Europe, and not just on this small island. That, more than anything, would convince me that a new treaty was worth voting for, because it would demonstrate that every European political leader was prepared to stand and be counted.

For now they hide, hoping that we can be arm-twisted into supporting something that they know many other European states would reject.

The only logical conclusion is to vote No, in the hope that this exercise in sham democracy gets roundly defeated on Thursday. Mad? I don't think so.

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