The Lisbon Treaty

Raymond Crotty, a Kilkenny farmer who had decided to study economics and become an academic and political activist, took the Irish government to court in Crotty v. An Taoiseach in 1987 to dispute the way in which Ireland was being assimilated into the European Union under the Single European Act. Due to Crotty’s successful legal action, a referendum must be held in Ireland each time there is a proposed change to the objectives or purpose of the European Union.

Crotty’s fight for Irish sovereignty has proven to be a very significant one, much to the dismay of certain European leaders. His victory ensured Irish people the right to vote on the Lisbon Treaty in a referendum on June 12. While the Treaty applies to all 27 countries in the European Union, it is only the Irish people who have been afforded the right to vote on it. Other countries within the European Union ratify the Treaty through parliamentary actions, which have already occurred in 23 countries, with the Italian government expected to soon follow.

Before the Irish electorate went to the voting booths, pressure was applied by both European political leaders and by the Irish establishment. A group that consisted of 95 percent of Ireland’s elected politicians, along with major industrial and labor groups, the largest farming organization, and other associations demanded a “Yes” vote. All Irish-owned newspapers also implored the Irish people to vote Yes. The Irish Times led with editorials such as “The Imperative is a Yes vote” and the Irish Independent carried an editorial titled, “We need to vote Yes.” After an Irish Times/TNS MRBI poll taken before the referendum suggested a possible No result, an Irish Times editorial reacted by asking, “Are we out of our minds?”

Many must have expected that such pressure would produce a resounding Yes outcome. But the Irish people responded to the political establishment and print media by rejecting the Treaty with 53.4 percent of the electorate voting No. An opinion poll taken after the referendum revealed stark class divisions, with the Irish working class strongly rejecting the Treaty in high turnouts.

Sinn Féin youth against the Treaty

The groups that campaigned to produce the rejection of the Treaty came from a variety of social and political standpoints. Left-wing groups, such as People Before Profit, Socialist Party, Sinn Féin, Workers Solidarity Movement, and the People’s Movement, attacked proposals within the Treaty. These groups were joined by right-wing groups such as Cóir and the newly formed Libertas party.

The Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Brian Cowen admitted that he hadn’t read the entire Treaty, while former Finance Minister and Ireland’s current European Commissioner Charlie McCreevy opined that “only a lunatic would read it.” The disjointed and confusing presentation of the Lisbon Treaty was different from the straightforward European Constitution published in 2005, which became a bestseller in France, allowing the French people to understand what they were being asked to vote on.

This comparison is significant. French voters rejected the European Constitution on May 29, 2005 with a turnout of 70 percent and Dutch voters soon followed on June 1. These rejections prompted the EU to postpone referendums in other European countries. However, these results did not discourage European leaders from pressing forward. While the Constitution requires popular approval by the electorate in most European countries, European Treaties do not. Rather than continue with the risky strategy of letting European people decide on the governance of Europe, the European political establishment designed the Lisbon Treaty to push through the reforms that the Constitution had hoped to implement.

The strategy behind the unclear presentation of the Lisbon Treaty was to encourage the people of Europe to believe that nothing substantially new would be included, merely procedural revisions to allow the European Union to run more efficiently. This claim was repeated throughout the campaign by the Irish political establishment and the Irish media. However, former Irish Prime Minister Garret Fitzgerald observed: “Virtual incomprehensibility has thus replaced simplicity as the key approach to EU reform. As for the changes now proposed to be made to the constitutional treaty, most are presentational changes that have no practical effect. They have simply been designed to enable certain heads of government to sell to their people the idea of ratification by parliamentary action rather than by referendum.” This strategy mostly worked for the proponents of the Lisbon Treaty, as other countries have been able to pass the Treaty through their parliaments. However, a poll on June 5 published in the Irish Times stated that the unintelligible text was why the Irish electorate were voting No and this was also the main reason given in a poll following the referendum.

The content that was retained from the European Constitution reveals not only dishonest and undemocratic practices of the European elite, but it also highlights the type of Europe envisaged by the political and business establishment. The proposals found within the Lisbon Treaty promote military proliferation, a more centralized and less democratic operation of European political institutions, and an increased incorporation of neoliberal philosophy and corporate influence in European affairs.



Military Proliferation and Irish Neutrality

The 1992 Maastricht Treaty hinted at developments that “might in time lead to a common defense.” This goal evolved further in the 2002 Nice Treaty with the establishment of a Rapid Reaction Force which now stands at over 60,000 soldiers. Further, the European Union agreed to the “Headline Goal” in 2003, which aimed to develop military capabilities by 2010. The Lisbon Treaty now seeks to integrate Ireland and other countries into a European military force. It also aims to increase military spending in each member state and to increase the ways in which military force can be applied.

The Lisbon Treaty also provides a more assertive definition of a common European defense by stating in Article 27 that, “The common security and defence policy shall be an integral part of the common foreign and security policy.” This development challenges the Irish claim to neutrality, which has been a dubious claim for several years. The Irish government allows the U.S. military to use Shannon Airport as a refueling point en route to Iraq and Afghanistan. Over 330,000 U.S. soldiers passed through Shannon in 2005 and recent investigations have revealed that 33 “extraordinary rendition” flights have also used Shannon Airport during the transport of CIA captives.

The Irish military is part of the Nordic EU Battlegroup, along with Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Estonia. EU Battlegroups are groups of 1,500-2,500 soldiers that can operate at least 6,000 kilometers from EU borders and are capable of being deployed within 15 days of agreement by the EU Council of Ministers. The Irish military have also participated in NATO-led operations, such as missions in Afghanistan. While these actions raise doubts over Irish neutrality, the Irish government claims neutrality is based on “non-membership of military alliances.” This interpretation, which permits the Irish government to take part in military actions and to support the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, would still require the Irish government to abstain from an EU military alliance. The Lisbon Treaty works to reduce the opportunities for the Irish government to abstain through Article 27 and a series of other measures.


One of numerous anti-Treaty protests

The Treaty requires countries like Ireland to participate in military expansion as a legal obligation. Article 28.3 states that, “Member States shall undertake progressively to improve their military capabilities.” The militarization of Europe is being promoted through a recently established institutional structure, the European Defense Agency (EDA), which was created in 2004 and still exists even without the ratification of the European Constitution or the Lisbon Treaty. The ratification of the Lisbon Treaty will ask member countries to develop national and European military capabilities and it will give the EDA a higher status by placing it into a European Treaty for the first time. According to Article 28A, the EDA will perform a number of tasks relating to the supervision of operational requirements and the participation in “defining a European capabilities and armaments policy.”

The Treaty also provides more reasons to justify military force and extends the types of activities the military can become involved in. These latter two provisions are justified under the now familiar cause of fighting terrorism. The Lisbon Treaty states that Member States will “act jointly in a spirit of solidarity” and “the Union shall mobilize all the instruments at its disposal, including the military resources made available by the Member States” to fight terrorism. This clearly provides the framework for a common military arrangement across the European Union.

Furthermore, Article 28B provides a list of activities that the EU military will participate in, including: “Joint disarmament operations, humanitarian and rescue tasks, military advice and assistance tasks, conflict prevention and peace-keeping tasks, tasks of combat forces in crisis management, including peace-making and post-conflict stabilization. All these tasks may contribute to the fight against terrorism, including by supporting third countries in combating terrorism in their territories.”

The Lisbon Treaty therefore provides a list of military engagements that can take place in areas outside of the European Union. The term “peace-making” clearly implies a more aggressive mission than peace-keeping, while some might attempt to define the current U.S. occupying forces in Iraq as “post-conflict stabilization.” The support of other countries in combating terrorism is presented in extremely vague terms, which would allow the EU to justify a number of military actions through the Lisbon Treaty. While the Irish military might not participate in certain European military missions, the government will still be involved in these actions through funding or other types of operational support. This effectively puts an end to any claim, regardless of how vague, to Irish neutrality.


European Political Institutions

One of the key selling points used by the supporters of the Lisbon Treaty was that it would allow the EU to operate in a more efficient manner. In fact, the Lisbon Treaty will eliminate the current rotating six month presidency and will establish a two and a half year presidential term, renewable once, for someone that does not hold national office (Article 9). While the president will be above national affairs, he/she will not be elected by the people of Europe, but by the European Commission. The efficiency of this measure is quite clear, as the EU won’t have to get mired in bureaucratic nightmares like election booths or national vote counts.

The Lisbon Treaty also attempts to elevate institutions other than the presidency above national interests. It creates the position of a new foreign minister, who will act on behalf of the European Union. Proposals put forward by the foreign minister at the request of the European Council cannot be vetoed by Member States and are instead approved through “qualified majority voting.” Countries like Ireland will have no other choice but to agree to these proposals if larger countries within the EU provide their approval.

Member States will lose political representation within Europe as the Lisbon Treaty changes the current structure of the European Commission, which has the responsibility of being an arbitrator between different countries and acting as a supervisor to the general operation of the European Union. Ireland will no longer have a permanent commissioner and instead only two-thirds of EU states will have a nominee on the Commission. This will change on a rotating basis while the other one-third of the EU will have no commissioner for the respective five-year sessions.

The internal affairs of each country will also be governed more at the EU level, as European countries will now only be allowed to “exercise their competence to the extent that the Union has not exercised its competence.” The EU will also be able to dictate decisions and policies to Member States in areas that were previously governed by national governments, and the ability of Member States to veto these EU judgments is removed in the name of efficiency. This “top-down” method of governance makes Article 32 a more worrying proposal. The Article will ensure that “The Union will have a legal personality,” which grants it the ability to sign up to international legal agreements and other aspects of foreign policy. This legal entity will produce greater disparities between the European people and European political leaders.



Neoliberal Philosophy and Corporate Influence

While the Libertas group and conservative commentators were worried that the Lisbon Treaty would prevent Ireland from maintaining the EU’s lowest corporate tax rate, progressive groups were focused on the neoliberal agenda. The Treaty requires the European Union to “act in accordance with the principle of an open market economy with free competition” (Article 98) and that when a country does not subscribe to these policies, “the Commission may address a warning to the Member State concerned.”

The application of these “free market” principles is found within Article 3, where the EU can make sure that “competition is not distorted” and can ensure that the EU has “exclusive competence” in “the establishment of the competition rules necessary for the function of the internal market.” According to Article 56, “all restrictions on the movement of capital between Member States and between Member States and third countries shall be prohibited.” Article 188 commits the EU “to the progressive abolition of restrictions on international trade and on foreign direct investment” and the EU pledges “the achievement of uniformity in measures of liberalization.” Furthermore, aside from aid that has a social character, “any aid granted by a Member State or through State resources which distorts or threatens to distort competition by favoring certain goods, shall insofar as it affects trade between Member States be incompatible with the common market” (Article 87).

The implementation of such principles within the European market has resulted in attempts to privatize more public services, and this would further drive down European wages. Public services such as energy, postal, telecommunications, transport, and water and sanitation have been transformed to allow more privatization throughout Europe during the last 20 years. The European Union now defines these activities as “economic services” or “services of general economic interest” rather than “public services.”

The Lisbon Treaty also introduces more opportunities for privatization, as Article 188c only prohibits the privatization of health and education “when these agreements risk seriously disturbing the national organization of such services.” Health and education were previously not part of the privatization of services, but this article removes that barrier and forces the member state to prove that the privatization of certain health or education sectors do not “disturb the national organization” of either sector. It is unclear how a state will prove the national organization is disturbed (high prices to citizens, multi-tiered health service, disparities in quality of education, etc.), which makes opposition to the privatization of health and education even more difficult.

The Lisbon Treaty provides a list of guarantees for the business community, but it does not provide the same level of assurance to public health when it states that countries should merely “take into account” levels of employment, social protection, and a fight against social exclusion (Article 9). The same is true with respect to other social services, as the Treaty states that the EU Council “may adopt measures concerning social security” (Article 18). While total control is given to ensure the harmonization of principles in the running of the market, harmonization of laws and regulations are ruled out in terms of cross border employment projects (Article 129) or cross border human health (Article 176).

The Treaty will ensure that the European Central Bank (ECB) can implement a series of policies without public or political pressure. Article 108 states that the ECB will not “seek or take instructions from EU institutions, bodies or any government.” The ECB therefore acts in an autonomous way and its central objective “shall be to maintain price stability” and to “act in accordance with the principle of an open market economy with free market competition, favoring an efficient allocation of resources.” The ECB therefore acts to reduce inflation, with no regard to employment levels and to limit the amount of public spending. These corporate-friendly policies are enacted at the expense of the common good, which makes the widespread distrust easy to understand.


Reactions to the Rejection of the Lisbon Treaty

Many wild stories were circulated soon after the Irish rejection of the Treaty. Arguments that stated that Ireland can be expelled from the EU or that the EU can proceed without Ireland are all unfounded, as articles within the Treaty on the European Union clearly indicate that none of this is possible. The No result been framed as a threat to Irish prosperity and goodwill and the No-voters have been defined as a threat to Ireland. Ireland’s top selling newspaper, the Irish Independent, published a front-page article that claimed to cite the findings of a European Commission poll, which allegedly revealed that one of the leading reasons why the Irish rejected the Treaty was due to “the huge influx of immigrants into the country.” When the complete findings of the poll were finally published, of the 14 reasons for voting No, “To avoid an influx of immigrants” made up just 1 percent of the reasons given by the 2,000 people polled.

The attack by the media was followed by derogatory reactions across the political spectrum of Europe. Despite Eamonn Gilmore, leader of the Labour Party, stating that “Lisbon is dead,” it is evident that Europe will not accept the Irish rejection of the Treaty. European Commission President José Manuel Barroso has said the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty must continue. Axel Schäfer, leader of the SPD Party in Germany, stated, “There is no other Europe than this treaty. With all respect for the Irish vote, we cannot allow the huge majority of Europe to be duped by a minority of a minority of a minority.”


July protest during French president’s visit

Schäfer, along with other European political leaders, attempts to frame the result as an example of “the cheeky Irish” not showing solidarity with Europe, while ignoring the fact that no other European electorate was allowed to voice its opinion on the matter. Polls taken throughout Europe have shown that other countries would also likely reject the Lisbon Treaty. If there were any instance of a “minority of a minority of a minority” duping anyone, it would be more accurate to view the small minority of businesspeople and politicians who wrote the Treaty as the con artists.

Europe’s current strategy in its reaction to the Irish vote is to seek ratification by the 26 other European countries in order to generate pressure against Irish voters in the lead-up to a second referendum. There is little doubt that the EU will tell Ireland to vote twice, and this time, the Irish will be expected to vote as they’re told to by the European elite. Reports are already surfacing that the Irish government will seek guarantees on taxation, neutrality, and abortion. It is also possible that a revision will be made to guarantee that every Member State has a permanent commissioner. None of these changes will address the more worrying and undemocratic aspects of the original Lisbon Treaty.


Sean Dunne recently finished a PhD at Trinity College Dublin and is now working on a book about the bottled water industry in Ireland. Photos are from Irish Indymedia –