22 September 2009

Choose Lisbon (or else!)

I haven't been writing about Lisbon II that much because I must admit to being somewhat conflicted by it. With ten days to go until polling I am the closest thing to undecided that I have ever been in any election or Referendum.

For me Lisbon I was pretty clear cut, it was a constitution for Europe run by and for big business with no protection for the individual worker. While the Charter of Fundamental Rights does set out important tenets that will become enshrined in law, many of the references to workers' rights were and are essentially window dressing, non-binding and non-enforceable on any member state. This has remained unchanged in Lisbon II, all though the European Council declared in the aftermath of the last vote that it attaches a high importance to "Social progress and the protection of workers' rights", even the impartial guide to the vote produced by the Referendum Commission from which this statement is taken admits that "This European Council deceleration on workers' rights is a political statement. It is not legally binding" (downloadable from here, though it was also distributed by post to every household in the State).

So if the fundamental reason why I voted No the first time round remains unchanged in Lisbon II, why am I conflicted over voting No a second time?

Six months ago there was a joke doing the rounds about what was the difference between Iceland and Ireland (A: One letter and about three months). Six months on we're not doing a whole load of laughing and if anything are in a worse situation than our Nordic neighbours. The only thing that has saved our country from complete and utter collapse is the fact that our economy is not solely ours to ruin, without the Euro and the weight of the EU behind us the IMF would have been called in and we would be forced to sell off what little state services we have left at knock-down prices to the same oligarchs that drove us into this crises.

The fact is that thanks to criminal mismanagement of our nations resources by successive Fianna Fail governments and their funders in the construction and banking industries our country is no longer able to survive as an independent State. Within weeks of their collapse Iceland quickly abandoned their decades long antipathy towards EU membership and came knocking on the Brussels door with application papers firmly in hand. We would be insane to do anything right now that would jeopardise our own place within Europe.

When the citizens of France and the Netherlands rejected the EU Constitution, the document was shelved, life went on and the EU did not collapse. When the citizens of Ireland rejected the Lisbon Reform Treaty, we were told by both our own government and the EU to keep trying until we gave the right answer. If citizens of any other EU member state had been given the opportunity to vote on the Lisbon Treaty, odds are they too would have rejected it, this is why the governments of every other member state refused to allow a Referendum on the Treaty, and pushed it through by act of parliament. It was too important to their business interests to allow for its rejection. At the heart of this treaty is the most undemocratic act that has ever been perpetrated on the citizens of Europe in modern history, the governments of each state know that it is not the will of the people in its current form, and they have conspired to ensure its adoption and imposition.

And this is the sad conundrum for me. The Treaty itself and the way the will of the Irish people has been ignored sicken me to my very core, but the prospect of a two-stream EU with punitive measures conducted against us for stepping out of line terrifies me, and this is exactly what Berlusconi threatened yesterday. We are being bullied by the rest of Europe, but we might have no choice but to sit back and take it.

For me the Lisbon Treaty was never about wether we want to be in the EU or not, it was about the way in which we wanted the EU to work. A 'No' vote was not about rejecting Europe, it was a call for a better Europe, one with its citizens and not business at its heart. The EU has been responsible for an amazing amount of positive change in Ireland, and I firmly believed that it could be responsible for even more, if social justice was enshrined at its very core through a pro-people constitution.

This was the message we sent to Brussels, but somehow that got sidetracked by selfish squabbles over our influence and the numbers of Commissioners, and by embarrassments like Libertas and Coir who punched far above their weight with the media ignoring the work of Joe Higgins and Patricia McKenna to focus on the more sensationalist headlines, and now the chance to go back and draft a document of social justice for all European citizens has been lost. We have been told in no uncertain terms that this is it, take it or leave it, in or out. And we can't afford to be out.

An EU that bullies dissenting members is not an EU that I want to be a part of.

But we can't afford to be out.

I have never been more conflicted about a vote in my life.



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