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European Style: Nobody Loves It


Imagine a man on trial for his life. The jury brings in a verdict of not guilty, so the judge immediately invites counsel for the prosecution to complete his closing speech, and then the accused is found guilty and sentenced to death. The Irish rejected the Lisbon Treaty on 12 June by a large majority. The treaty cannot come into force unless it is adopted by all 27 member states of the European Union, but most European leaders immediately announced that the ratification process would continue, yet promised to "respect the will" of the Irish people (see "Ireland votes no"). Europe is used to attacks on the sovereign power of the people by their overlords. That is now its style, even if it likes to be seen as the kingdom of democracy on earth.

 

The Irish rejected a "simplified" treaty so big the prime minister, Brian Cowen, confessed he had not managed to read it cover to cover. A member of the European parliament said the Irish reminded him of a "people’s democracy". Another remarked: "It’s no accident that dictators love a referendum" (1) and the president of the European parliament, Hans-Gert Pöttering, concluded: "The Irish no vote cannot be the last word" (2). So there will be a second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty and possibly a third. Voting in Dublin will continue until the result is a yes, because that is what the other states want, those states where the electorate has not been consulted at all.

 

Blame the Irish! Ungrateful, selfish, working-class militants, incapable of the generosity and unselfishness shown by their rulers. Except when they vote them in and give them a mandate to carry out "bold reforms". No need for a second ballot then. The Irish are thoroughly European in that respect.

 

Something has gone wrong. The European style has been exported and sold on the strength of claims to peace, prosperity, justice and equality. It has produced charming posters with blue skies, loving mothers and happy babies; it has an army of journalists and artists campaigning for it; Europe is being created by symposiums and meetings. But nobody waves its flag. Its identity seems to be so insubstantial that all it can think of to put on its banknotes is the cost of living.

 

It talks about peace but prepares to join the US forces in dubious wars. It talks about progress but deregulates employment. It talks about culture but produces a television without frontiers directive that will result mainly in more advertising slots. It talks about ecology and safe food but lifts an 11-year ban on imports of US chickens washed in chlorine (3). It talks about freedom but adopts a shameful directive under which foreigners without the right papers may be held in detention centres for 18 months before being expelled, including minors and even unaccompanied minors.

 

Keeping Europe‘s promise called for harmonisation at the highest level: freedom, employment law, progressive taxation, independence. Instead, the gains achieved by the most advanced states have been diminished in the name of unification and we are left with extended detention, free trade and Atlanticism. This has produced the beginnings of a social Europe, the Europe that says no. Noting that in Ireland a majority of women, people under 29, and workers firmly rejected the proposed text, a columnist in The Economist observed that: "A 19th-century-style electoral roll, restricted to older, male property-owners, would have produced a handsome yes for Lisbon" (4). But what kind of Europe can we hope to construct if we go back to the property qualification?  

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(1) Jean-Louis Bourlanges on "France Culture", 22 June 2008, and Alain Lamassoure in Le Figaro, 16 June 2008.

 

(2) Le Monde, 17 June 2008.

 

(3) José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, explained that "it would be deemed incompatible with international trade regulations to bar these imports".

 

(4) The Economist, London, 21 June 2008.

 

 

 

Translated by Barbara Wilson 

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