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The Irish referendum on Lisbon will not be a walkover

In the last edition of "The Spectator", Daniel Hannan says that the vote on the Lisbon Treaty is not in the bag for the ‘Yes’ camp, which has no argument to offer. Meanwhile, the ‘No’ campaign is gaining ground every day. In Brussels, even the smuggest fonctionnaires are starting to look uneasy. After the French and Dutch ‘No’ votes of 2005, EU leaders determined that there should be no more plebiscites. But there was one vote they couldn’t cancel: Ireland’s national constitution requires referendums on any cession of sovereignty. And so, in three weeks’ time, three million Irish voters will cast proxy ballots for 500 million unconsulted Europeans, determining whether the EU gets the Lisbon Treaty, née European Constitution. The ‘Yes’ side is well ahead in the polls — with 35 per cent to the ‘Nos’ 18 per cent (47 per cent undecided) according to the last survey - but that’s not how it feels. The pattern of all previous Euro referendums has been for the ‘Nos’ to surge in the final week. (‘If you don’t know, vote no!’ is a pretty knockdown last-minute slogan.) While the betting is still on a ‘Yes’ - just - Irish Euro-enthusiasts feel jumpy and baffled. They struggle to explain what is happening and ask - for it is human nature to place yourself at the centre of the universe - how their countrymen can have drifted so far from them.

Their bewilderment is understandable. Pro-Treaty forces - if I can use that loaded term in an Irish context - enjoy every conceivable advantage. The newspapers are unanimously in favour of Lisbon. So are all the parties except Sinn Féin. The Greens, traditionally Eurosceptic, have joined the government and so switched sides, confirming the rule that no party is ever anti-Brussels while in office. The main business organisations - as against actual businesses - have lined up behind the ‘Yes’ campaign, ensuring that it has almost all the money. It should be a walkover. But the Euro-integrationists are taking no chances. There is a danger that the vote might become a referendum on Bertie Ahern, who has been accused of corruption. What with the EU accounts having not been signed off for 13 years, the last thing the ‘Yes’ side wants is a campaign about what the Irish call ‘gombeenism’ (very roughly ‘sleaze’). So Bertie was persuaded to step aside, ensuring that the vote will be held during the honeymoon of his successor, the Euro-fanatical Brian Cowen, known to his detractors as ‘Biffo’: Big Ignorant F***er From Offaly.

To be absolutely certain, Euro-enthusiasts also changed the law. Until 2001, Ireland had exemplary rules on the conduct of referendums, providing for every household to receive a mailshot setting out the case for either side. But, following the ‘No’ to Nice, this rule was repealed, allowing the ‘Yes’ side’s massive financial advantage to tell. A consequence of this alteration, of course, is that all Irish referendums - not just those to do with Europe - are now open to bias. Thus does the EU serve to vitiate democracy within its member states.

All in all, Irish ‘ayes’ should be smiling. But, from the moment the campaign began, things went wrong. First, a French minister announced that her government, which currently holds the EU presidency, planned to harmonise business taxes around the EU. ‘Yes’ campaigners were horrified: Ireland’s economic miracle owes a good deal to the fact that its corporation tax is 12.5 per cent, as against 27 per cent in the UK, and far higher in many Continental countries. Ireland’s Europe minister, Dick Roche, called his French colleague’s remarks ‘untimely, unhelpful and inappropriate’. Significantly, he didn’t call them ‘untrue’.

With spectacular clumsiness, the EU decided to shelve the plan until after Ireland had voted - a fact that was then leaked. This was to set the pattern for what followed. Again and again, Euro-integrationists postpone some contentious measure until after the referendum and then - where but in Brussels? - write a memo explaining the need for secrecy. I am looking at one now. It proposes the creation of common policies on justice and home affairs which, however, are not to go live until the ‘Yes’ vote is in the bag. As the ‘Yes’ side is floundering, the ‘No’ coalition is, for the first time, getting its act together. In the past, it was made up of anti-abortion campaigners, peace activists and Republican hardliners. Now it is also full of articulate youngsters centred around a slick think-tank called Libertas. Meanwhile, Irish farmers, once a reliably pro-EU constituency, are getting tetchy. Last week, with lordly insensitivity, Peter Mandelson told agrarian leaders that they had got their facts wrong. You can imagine how that went down.

‘Yes’ campaigners are unwontedly defensive and reactive. Their speeches are all about what the Lisbon treaty won’t do. It won’t change Ireland’s abortion law, they say. It won’t affect our neutrality or harmonise our taxes or hurt our farmers. Even if all these contentions were true, they would hardly add up to a case for voting in favour. Pushed for a positive argument, the ‘Yes’ side falls back on: ‘The EU has been good for Ireland.’ Yeah, but that’s under the current deal, cry their opponents - so why are you boys trying to change it?

To which there is no good answer. Irish Europhiles, like their British counterparts, have always sold the EU in economic terms. To be fair, this made more sense in Ireland than in the UK. Early Irish referendums were won by reminding voters that, for every pound they paid to Brussels, they got six pounds back. From next year, though, Ireland will be a net contributor. The EU is no longer seen as a source of prosperity. Rather, it is viewed as sluggish, overtaxed and jealous of Ireland’s competitive edge. It is too late for Irish Europhiles to draw on some reservoir of Euro-sentimentalism - a small price for stopping wars, blah blah. It takes decades of propaganda to make people fall for that.

What will happen if there is a ‘No’ on 12 June? On one level, surprisingly little. EU leaders will conclude that there is no prospect of getting their project past the peoples, so they will simply enact it. Indeed, to a large extent, they have already done so. Most of the policies and institutions that would have been authorised by the Constitution/Lisbon Treaty have been implemented anyway: the Charter of Fundamental Rights, the European External Action Service, common rules on immigration, a pan-European magistracy. With a bit of lawyerly creativity, Eurocrats will be able to get 95 per cent of their constitution this way.

As for the remaining 5 per cent - chiefly the new voting weights, the smaller Commission and the single presidency - these will be agreed at a miniature inter-governmental conference in a year or so. We shall be told that there is no need for any referendums, since the changes represent a rearrangement of the furniture, not new powers for Brussels. If the legal consequences of a ‘No’ vote are limited, however, the political consequences would be huge. The integrationist project would have been delegitimised. It would be clear that the EU couldn’t carry public opinion anywhere, not even in the state it once regarded as its most loyal daughter. Euro-apparatchiks would struggle on for a bit, rather as Eastern Europe’s leaders did after the Prague Spring. But any hope that they might one day win a mandate would be gone. So enjoy this referendum: either way, it’ll be the last one we get.

Dit artikel van Daniel Hannan verscheen ook in The Spectator.

Meer artikels van dit Brits Europarlementslid op

6 Reacties:

At 17:42 Larry Hayes said...

The EU elites try to hide the significance of the Lisbon treaty (EU Constitution 2.0) by making it unreadable. The Lisbon Treaty establishes the same EU Constitution that was rejected by the French and Dutch referendums in 2005. This violates the principle of unanimity, where all Member States must consent to each treaty.

Only Ireland will have a referendum. The other 26 Member States will ratify the treaty in parliament without asking the people. They know that the people or Europe don't want the constitution and that's why they don't ask us in form of a referendum. It's quite simple, the only way to get that totalitarian constitution threw is by not letting the people vote on it! It's on the people of Ireland to safe the people of Europe from this communist scheme, the people or Ireland will have to chance to stop the totalitarian EU constitution by voting against it like the voters in France and the Netherlands already have done 2 years before!

Go Ireland, save Europe!

At 19:54 Michael H. said...

Vincent, of course I have respects for your opinion on EU issues, but frankly, I think this treaty is a sure move in the right direction: it will reduce the democratic deficit in the EU and make it more accountable, it also provides for the protection of public services (not welfare state services, rather core competences of the state like security and justice services) for the first time.

In no way I can see this treaty as an end but as a means to an end, with the additional powers granted to the parliament I'm sure MEPs will push for more. And in the end, Europe will indeed be a better place than today. I hope the Irish vote yes.

At 22:35 Ian McClellan said...

I am sceptic on the whole issue of putting this Treaty to a vote by referendum. I am not sure a No vote would make any differance to the outcome of the implementation of the Treaty. If people recall the appalling way in which the Irish electorate were treated, when they rejected the Nice Treaty once, and was then held again until the Government got the correct result, or the Dutch and French referendums in 2005, or the Danish referendum on Maastricht in 1992. Yes votes are seen as popular consent, while No votes are treated like "abnormalities" able to rectify by the use of even more propaganda or pressure.

As seen all over Europe, democracy is dead, we are living in a dictatorship. It seems only people like Mr. De Roeck and ourselves can see through the veil of deciet and lies. As Aldous Huxley said, in referance to those apathetic pro europeans and unawakend 'We love our slavery' would be an apt reflection upon them.

At 12:40 Vincent De Roeck said...

De Nederlandse Europajournalist Paul De Hen schreef vandaag een ironische impressie in Elsevier over de gang van zaken in Brussel tijdens de Europese topbijeenkomsten. Alle "grote" politici uit Europa waren er gisteren andermaal present op de Raad van Ministers, maar van echt werk was geen sprake. Ambtenaren en diplomaten hadden alles op voorhand al onderhandeld en beschreven, en zelfs met het fiat van de Raad van Ministers komt er geen schot in de zaak. Deze maandelijkse topbijeenkomsten kosten handenvol geld, hebben ogenschijnlijk geen enkel nut want alles van enige waarde wordt tussendoor door Eurocraten of vanop afstand door de nationale administraties afgehandeld, en dienen volgens Paul De Hen uitsluitend voor netwerking. Volgens hem zijn de grootste (de enige?) winnaars dan ook de horecazaken in Brussel en de denktanks die van deze lege bijeenkomsten gebruik maken om evenementen met deze politici te organiseren. Om van de rotverwende EU-politici en de almachtige lobbygroepen natuurlijk nog maar te zwijgen.

Het doet deugd om eens te grasduinen in de Nederlandse berichtgeving over de Europese Unie, want in tegenstelling tot de regimepers in Belgenland, durven de Nederlandse media nog wel degelijk kritisch zijn tegenover hun eigen overheid én vooral tegenover het Berlaymonster, de allesvertrappelende en ontzaglijk veel geld opsouperende Europese superbureaucratie.

In België worden Europese zaken systematisch uit het politieke én maatschappelijke debat geweerd. Een slecht geïnformeerd burger is een slaafs én gehoorzaam burger. Een onwetend burger ligt immers niet wakker van het enorme democratische deficit in Europa, of van de superlonen van de 54,000 ambtenaren bij de Europese Commissie, of van de structurele fraude en corruptie binnen de EU-financiën, zoals blijkt uit het feit dat de Europese Rekenkamer al 13 jaar op rij gewoonweg weigert om de EU-boekhoudingen af te tekenen wegens vermeende wanpraktijken met Europese overheidsgelden.

En zelfs vandaag, één jaar voor de verkiezingen, wordt de EU in de pers doodgezwegen, of nog erger soms, opgehemeld. Onze vrijheden worden door Europa te grabbel gegooid en als makke lammeren worden wij, als vrije burgers, naar de slachtbank van Europa gebracht, en we beseffen het niet eens. Hopelijk beseffen de Ieren wel hoe belangrijk hun stem zal zijn in het EU-referendum volgende maand. Zij kunnen "no" stemmen in naam van alle Europeanen die de kans om ja of neen te zeggen, nooit gekregen hebben.

De EUSSR is daar. Nancy Sinatra had gelijk, ware het dan in een totaal andere contekst: "These boots are gonna walk all over you!"

At 16:14 Willy De Paepe said...

Groot gelijk Vincent, maar zo vrij is het bij onze noorderburen nu ook weer niet. Ze hadden een referendum, akkoord, dat was wereldnieuws, en de regering legde zich daar OGENSCHIJNLIJK bij neer. De verworpen grondwet werd in een nieuwe verpakking gestoken, tegelijk kreeg Nederland een paar hoge postjes, en... een nieuw referendum werd verijdeld. De koek wordt nog altijd verdeeld zoals de bobo's daarover beslissen. De quote van onze Limburgse Gouverneur Steve blijft meer dan ook overeind : 50 + 1 = De Baas. Als er beslist wordt dat de burger moet zwijgen, dan zwijgt de burger. Zullen de Ieren daar verandering in brengen ? We hopen het.

At 17:59 Anoniem said...

May I ask why our Belgian friends decided to post in Flemish, so our English speaking friends could not read it?

And polease... don't come me with Babelfish translations, they are unreadable by nature.

Did anyone notice the name of the second - English - poster? Seems we have a wizard amongst us ;-)

As for the subject: I'd vote "NO" again, if only my "democratically elected" governement would let me, but here more than ever "If you keep 'em poor, I'll keep 'em dumb" goes.

I am for an united Europe, but do we really have to give up our identity for a mass identity? DO we really have to say "Yes" to a treaty that in one stroke would make all local governments superfluous? I don't think so, with this 'treaty' things are going - and uncontrolled by those who it concerns - too fast, way too fast.

I too hope the Irish will say "Nay" to this treaty.

A Dutchman


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