Nice Dissent From Ireland
December 11, 2000, an important European Treaty was nearing
completion. On this day, the political leaders of the European
Union were gathered in secret meetings in the city of Nice
to reach agreement on the Nice Treaty. The Treaty was agreed
to by the European leaders, who were securely hidden from
the presence of tens of thousands of uninvited protestors,
and now had to be signed by representatives of the 15 member
The Foreign Ministers of the 15 member states signed the Nice
Treaty during a ceremony on February 26, 2001. All that was
left at this point was ratification by each country. This
would not be a difficult process, since 14 of the 15 countries
of the European Union could ratify the Treaty through parliamentary
approval alone. So, the Nice Treaty was quickly ratified by
the great majority of member states (the Treaty is still being
reviewed within the Belgian Parliament). There was just one
small obstacle remaining and this was the Republic of Ireland.
The ratification of the Nice Treaty required an amendment
to the Irish Constitution, which therefore needed the approval
of the Irish people in a referendum set for June 7, 2001.
The Irish establishment supported the Treaty, as defeat in
the referendum would pose a serious threat to the political
and financial leaders of Ireland. Fianna Fáil and Fine
Gael, the two largest political parties, urged the Irish people
to pass the referendum. Political leaders of other European
countries advised the Irish to do the same. The Catholic Church
told its members to pass the Treaty. The leaders of the major
trade unions encouraged their workers to accept the Treaty.
The national media provided its support from day one. Economic
and financial experts warned of the dire consequences of rejecting
the referendum, stating that Ireland needed the Treaty—the
Irish people should do what they were being told.
But they didn’t. Despite the determinations of every
elite section of Irish society, the Irish people voted 54
percent to 46 percent against the Treaty. The result was an
enormous success for grassroots activists throughout the country
and proved their campaign struck a chord with the Irish people.
As for the supporters of the Treaty, no time was wasted in
attacking the Irish vote. The mass media throughout Europe
labeled Irish voters as “mad” and “selfish.”
The Catholic Church and trade union leaders were publicly
humbled and questioned the public’s decision.
Irish political leaders are calling a second referendum on
the Nice Treaty asking voters to change their minds in the
October general election. The reaction to the Irish rejection
of the Treaty shows that dissent from the European Union’s
planned development is unacceptable and analysis of the Nice
Treaty illustrates exactly what this development entails.
Before Irish voters made their decision in June 2001, two
central themes dominated the public debate on the Nice Treaty,
European enlargement and Irish neutrality. Supporters of the
Treaty stressed the importance of European enlargement and
guaranteed the continuance of Irish neutrality. They explained
that the Nice Treaty would amend previous treaties and allow
more countries to join the European Union. This would occur
without any threat to Irish neutrality. Groups opposed to
the Treaty, including the Green Party, Sinn Féin, Socialist
Party, Socialist Worker Party, Workers Solidarity Movement,
and other Anarchist Groups, PANA (the Peace and Neutrality
Alliance), and AFRI (Action From Ireland), agreed that the
Nice Treaty is indeed about enlargement, as it hopes to increase
the power of larger countries over smaller countries within
the decision making process of the European Union. The European
Union is currently made up of 15 member states: Austria, Belgium,
Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy,
Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and the
United Kingdom. Supporters of the Nice Treaty have claimed
that several more countries are expected to join and that
Nice allows enlargement to occur. This is only partly true
and was used during public debate as a distraction from the
real issues of enlargement.
It is true that Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia,
Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovakia,
and Slovenia are all countries that are currently in accession
negotiations with the EU. Turkey has also been given candidate
status within these negotiations. However, the first difficulty
with the enlargement argument arises with the conditions of
the Amsterdam Treaty, ratified in 1998. The Amsterdam Treaty
provided for the addition of five more Member States to the
European Union. In an interview with the Irish Times,
the EU Commission president, Romano Prodi, stated: ‘Legally,
ratification of the Nice Treaty is not necessary for enlargement.
This does not mean that the Irish Referendum is not important.
But, from this specific point-of-view, enlargement is possible
Technically, the European Union already has the legal framework
to expand. It has had this ability since 1998, yet no country
has joined since the Amsterdam Treaty. The Nice Treaty amends
the Amsterdam Treaty by increasing the number of countries
allowed to join the European Union, but most importantly,
it amends the conditions under which the enlargement would
take place. The Treaty primarily performs institutional changes
within the EU, insuring that larger countries will maintain
and gain power when new countries join. The first example
of this occurs within the Council of Ministers. Presently,
each member state is allocated a number of votes roughly based
on the member state’s population. The Nice Treaty adjusts
the present numbers and distributes more power upwards towards
the larger countries. The table below illustrates this change.
and other smaller countries like it will lose power. The same
change occurs within the European Parliament. Ireland currently
has 15 of the 626 members of the European Parliament. After
the Nice Treaty’s implementation, Ireland will lose 3
members, then having only 12 of 837 members of parliament.
The Nice Treaty will also change the operation of the European
Commission. Under Nice, the European Council will be able
to decide how many Commissioners there should be, when and
if the EU reaches 27 member states. The Nice Treaty further
states that there must be less than 27 Commissioners. Membership
of the Commission would then rotate among member states. Therefore,
smaller countries that hold their Commissioner crucial to
fair representation within the EU, like Ireland, would lose
their Commissioner for uncertain lengths of time.
The Nice Treaty prepares the European Union for a more hierarchal
and undemocratic system of operation. The assertion that the
Nice Treaty is designed primarily for the addition of member
states to the European Union is incorrect. Statements on enlargement
must be considered within the overall context of Europe, just
as the claims of Irish neutrality should be examined with
respect to certain developments.
second major theme put forward in the debate leading up to
the referendum was the issue of Irish military neutrality.
Supporters of the Nice Treaty state that Irish neutrality
remains genuine, since Ireland will not be part of any military
alliance after Nice. This statement was an oversimplification,
as critics of Nice were quickly able to cite history and the
implications of Nice to show quite the opposite.
It is true that the Republic of Ireland has always claimed
to be militarily neutral. This, however, is more in theory
than practice. Throughout history, Irish policy has always
favored the military program of the United States of America.
Most recently, Shannon Airport has played a crucial role in
this agenda. It was used as a stopover for the U.S. military
during the Gulf War and the Irish government recently gave
permission for the U.S. military to use Shannon Airport as
a stopover en route to Afghanistan. This decision was put
forward without consulting the Dáil or the Irish people.
The Irish government also continues to remain silent regarding
the recent targeting of Iraq.
It has become even more difficult for Ireland to claim neutrality
as several areas in Ireland are used in the production of
military components for the United States. Action From Ireland
has reported extensively on the Irish involvement in the international
arms trade. AFRI has listed more than a dozen companies located
in Ireland that produce goods for arms manufacturers. Most
of the companies produce “dual-use” technology,
which they sell to arms manufacturers, but some of these companies
produce “military goods,” which have no purpose
other than to be used as part of weapons systems.
More recently, Raytheon, the third largest arms manufacturer
in the U.S., maker of the Tomahawk and Patriot missile, announced
that it is setting up a plant in County Derry. The Derry plant
is said to be making hi-tech software, but it has recently
been given an 800 million pound grant by the British Ministry
of Defense. The irony of this little endeavor has us all scared.
Added to Ireland’s historical practices and current military
manufacturing, the Nice Treaty aims to further establish the
European Rapid Reaction Force. The RRF was first created by
the Amsterdam Treaty and is the foundation of a European Army.
It consists of land, sea, and air forces from EU member states.
The RRF is made up of a 60,000 strong force (with 200,000
plus in reserve) and will allow Europe to place an army into
a battle zone for up to one year. It is supposed to be capable
of operating 4,000 kilometers away from continental Europe—in
areas such as Africa and the Middle East. If this doesn’t
sound enough like a NATO force, there’s more. One of
the annexes of the Nice Treaty specifies that the NATO Secretary
General should attend EU Ministerial meetings and there should
be regular meetings between EU and NATO military committee
Historically, Irish policy has favored the United States military
project. The Irish government, without the approval of the
Irish people, entered the Partnership for Peace, a NATO front
organization. However, and this is very important, the Irish
people have never before agreed to be officially part of a
colonial power. The people of Ireland have seen, and continue
to see, the violence and destruction inflicted by colonialism.
The military project advanced by the Nice Treaty will irreversibly
change Ireland’s historical stance on colonialism. Europe’s
military philosophy behind the Treaty of Nice becomes even
clearer when considered with regard to its economic strategy.
issue left untouched by the national media in Ireland is the
neoliberal economic policy advanced by the Nice Treaty. Ireland
is no stranger to the push to privatize advanced by the EU.
Aer Lingus, the state-owned airline, and ESB, the state-owned
electric company, are facing pressure from the EU to privatize.
The Nice Treaty aims to facilitate the process of privatization
in Ireland and other member states.
European industry lobby groups campaigned to influence the
negotiations on the Nice Treaty well before the closed meetings
of December 11 took place. One of the main corporate demands
was for further centralization of the EU’s decision-making
on international trade, through changes in the EU Treaty’s
Article 133. The Nice Treaty will expand the European Commission’s
powers over WTO issues, by altering the voting procedures
of the European Union. The goal of the Commission was to get
full competence to negotiate on behalf of the EU and to introduce
qualified majority voting on the important areas where unanimity
Nice Treaty grants the EU the ability to quickly pass European
policy, without having to be concerned with public discourse.
By providing larger countries with more voting power, the
introduction of qualified majority voting will be able to
further suppress the opinions of smaller countries. In just
one treaty, the EU has eliminated the need for unanimity in
several areas of decision-making, and has allowed the larger
countries to dominate these areas. Although the European Commission
had also hoped to amend current investment and competition
policies to make negotiations on investment agreement easier,
the Nice Treaty signifies a great success for the European
It therefore comes as no surprise that the European
elite was angered with Ireland’s rejection of the Nice
Treaty. Since the public’s decision on Nice, the Irish
government has scrambled to find a solution to appease Europe.
But this has proven to be very difficult, as Europe will not
change the Nice Treaty for Ireland. The Irish government was
forced to find a way to offer the same referendum to the Irish
people, while claiming that it was different to the first
one. The result was predictable.
The Seville Declaration and Nice II
of the Nice Treaty, the sequel, are claiming that neutrality
has now been secured with the government’s National Declaration
at the Seville European Council on June 21, 2002. The Seville
Declaration states that Ireland will continue its policy of
military neutrality and that it will not be part of a European
Army. It also maintains that Ireland will make a sovereign
decision on whether Irish troops should participate in humanitarian
crisis management tasks mounted by the EU, based on the “triple
lock” of UN endorsement, Government decision, and Dáil
approval. Lastly, the Seville Declaration states that Ireland
will not adopt any future common defense policy or European
treaty that may threaten Irish neutrality without the approval
of the Irish people through a referendum.
As soon as these Declarations were made, many Irish people
could immediately recognize the lies. The Declarations say
there will be no EU army—but Ireland is already sending
850 troops, or 7.4 percent of its army, to join the Rapid
Reaction Force. Seville also promises a referendum if there
are further moves to a common defense force, but this has
been said before. In 1997, the government promised a referendum
before entering the Partnership for Peace and then broke its
promise. Furthermore, the Declarations do nothing to affect
the collaboration between NATO and the European Union.
The Seville Declarations are similar to the offers made to
the Danish people in 1993. Danish voters rejected the Maastricht
Treaty in 1992. They were then offered provisional opt outs
on issues on defense and the single currency. The Seville
Declarations offer much less to the Irish people, but the
Irish government is entering its second Nice campaign with
enormous effort to compensate. The government is producing
“information pamphlets” on the Nice Treaty, which
will be distributed to every household in the country at a
cost of 1 million Euro to the Irish taxpayer. The Labour Party,
the third largest party in Ireland, has now joined the government’s
campaign. The government will also continue to receive the
support of the same elite factions of Irish society that it
did during the first referendum.
Activists throughout Ireland will now face another powerful
opposition for the second Nice Referendum in October. The
smaller political parties and independent groups that fought
the first referendum, and are back once again for this one.
This second campaign has similar resources and will incorporate
the same strategy of grassroots organizing.
The story from Ireland provides insight into the direction
of Europe. That Ireland is the only country in Europe to hold
a national referendum on such an important Treaty shows the
EU’s distrust of public decision on European policy.
There is no doubt that Europe plans to develop into a more
militaristic and centralized world power and they will not
accept dissent from their plans. This October, the Irish people
have the chance to speak out against not only Nice, but also
the current European project. Things could get interesting.