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Lisbon Treaty not in Irelands interests – Ó Snodaigh

19 December, 2007

Speaking during a Dáil debate on the Lisbon Treaty today Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh told Minster Ahern that "The Lisbon Treaty is not in Ireland's interests. It involves a massive transfer of power to the EU. It significantly accelerates the militarization of the EU, and advances an economic agenda based on a race to the bottom for wages and workers rights. And no amount of bluster from the government benches will disguise the enormity of what is at stake when the people cast their votes in referendum next year."

Last week at the European Council in Portugal EU leaders signed the Treaty of Lisbon - a Treaty that is almost an exact copy of the EU Constitution rejected by the people of France and the Netherlands two years ago.

The Lisbon Treaty is not in Ireland's interests. It involves a massive transfer of power to the EU. It significantly accelerates the militarization of the EU, and advances an economic agenda based on a race to the bottom for wages and workers rights. And no amount of bluster from the government benches will disguise the enormity of what is at stake when the people cast their votes in referendum next year.

The proponents of the Lisbon Treaty are already relying on tired old tactics - scaremongering about how other EU states will respond if we reject this undemocratic Treaty. They have failed to engage in a serious debate. The public squabbling between Mary Hanifan and Dick Roche this week in relation to water charges shows how little they understand about the consequences of decisions taken at EU level.

It is not good enough for the government to be 'yes men' and to allow other EU leaders to dictate what happens in this country. I notice that the Taoiseach has invited the German Chancellor and the President of the Commission to give him a dig out in the referendum. I would like the Taoiseach to give a message to the presidents, prime ministers and chancellors who signed the Treaty in Lisbon "If you want to be involved in a referendum, organize one in your own country. If not then let us get on with our debate and let us decide for ourselves as a sovereign people'.

The need for Ireland to have its place at the EU table is obvious. Many benefits have come as a result of our membership of the EU. Sinn Féin has supported EU measures that are in Ireland's interests in relation to Irish agriculture, the environment and equality. We welcome EU support for the peace process in Ireland, and for the development of infrastructure.

However, not everything has been good.

  • The obligation on schools to put scarce resources into paying water bills has not been good.
  • The sacking of Irish Ferries workers has not been good.
  • The inability of the government to deal with the problem of Brazilian beef has not been good, nor was the shutting down of the Irish sugar beet industry
  • The privatization of Eircom and Aer Lingus have not been good.
  • The proposal to liberalise postal services is not good.
  • The engagement of Irish troops in EU battle groups is not good.
  • The proposed Economic Partnership Agreements with developing countries are not good (Fortunately African leaders told EU leaders as much during the recent EU-Africa summit.)
  • The financial incentives to EU companies to relocate to low-wage, low-cost economies outside the EU is not good.

And if the Lisbon Treaty is allowed to go ahead problems like these will become more and more common.

The Lisbon Treaty contains the most substantial institutional and procedural changes to the structure and operation of the European Union since its foundation. The Treaty also contains the most substantial transfer of powers from member states to the European Council and Commission to date. Despite claims of making the EU more democratic and efficient the Lisbon Treaty will move political power further away from ordinary citizens offering only cosmetic increases in powers to Parliaments in member states and the European Parliament in return.

One of the most dramatic consequences of this change is that the EU will become for the first time a "single legal personality". This means that the EU will be able to act in the international arena in the same way as a state; it will be entitled to a seat at the United Nations; to incorporate existing international treaties and law into its own law; to negotiate treaties and trade agreements directly with other states; to form a diplomatic corps; a public prosecutor; and through the new posts of President of the EU and High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy speak on the international stage on behalf of all 27 member states. As an Irish republican who supports neutrality and our long history of peace keeping on the international stage I fundamentally oppose such a move. I do not believe that this state should be dragged into the resource wars of the 21st century.

Massive transfer of power

As I said earlier the Lisbon Treaty involves a substantial transfer of powers from member states to the Union, but it is worth noting that not one single power has been returned to member states. To make matters worse the composition of the European Commission will change, removing member states automatic entitlement to a seat at the table and a change to voting procedures will see this states voting strength cut in half.

The Lisbon Treaty gives 105 new competences to the European Union and a further 68 areas which will move from consensus decision making at the European Council to majority voting. Among the areas where the EU will have control are immigration, structural funds, judicial and police co-operation, economic policy guidelines for Eurozone members and initiatives of the new Foreign Minister.

There are huge concerns at the scale and range of this proposed transfer of powers. In order to make some comparison, the Treaty of Nice included the loss of vetoes in 46 areas; Amsterdam in 24 areas; Maastricht in 30 areas and the Single European Act in 12 areas. Even the treaty of Rome, the EU's foundation treaty only contained 38 areas.

Possibly more significant and troubling than the large-scale transfer of powers is the inclusion of 8 Passerelle Clauses in the Lisbon Treaty. These clauses represent one of the most undemocratic elements of the Treaty and will allow for decision making in the Council to be altered from unanimity to qualified majority in matters such as Common Foreign and Security Policy and judicial co-operation in criminal matters, without recourse to parliaments or referenda. Next year's referendum could be our last change to vote on the direction of the European Union.

This is very worrying especially when you consider that the EU Commission does not hide its ambition to control matters relating to corporation tax. Powers contained in both the Nice and Lisbon Treaties could assist them in doing this. And the weakening of our influence as a result of the Lisbon Treaty would make it even more difficult for the government to resist such measures. Perhaps President Barroso would like to campaign on this issue when he comes to tell us to vote in favour of his Treaty?

While parliaments in member states are to be given some new powers these are very limited and are totally insignificant in comparison with the powers transferred to the European Council and Commission. Critically the European Parliament will not have the power to initiate legislation, nor to amend legislation. Instead what is being proposed is what is deceptively being called "co-decision". This is a cumbersome and lengthy procedure of bargaining between the European Parliament and the Commission and Council. And it is unlikely to have any impact.

The first way for parliaments in member states to intervene is through the Yellow Card procedure. In this case one third of parliaments in member states must reject a proposal in order to get the Commission to reconsider its position. Critically, however the Commission does not have to take this advice. They can take whatever decision they want. The second procedure is even more complicated - this would require a majority of parliaments in member states to object to a legislative proposal on the grounds that it contravenes the principle of subsidiary. But this would only succeed if it also had the backing of the European Parliament and Council.

In reality these are cosmetic gestures that will have little or no impact on the development of the European Union and have the potential to be a bureaucratic mess.

The fact is that all of this copper fastens the dominance of the larger states and removes our ability to democratically reject laws that are not in our interests.

And side by side with this in the Treaty is the outworking of EU military ambition. The desire of EU leaders to be a global player acting in concert with NATO is clearly set out in the Treaty. The Treaty requires member states to progressively 'improve military capabilities'. This will have a financial cost. At a time when our public services are crying out for investment do we really want our tax revenue to be spent in such a manner?

The erosion of neutrality and the militarisation of foreign and defence policies is clear for all to see, through the use of Shannon airport by US troops on their way to occupy Iraq, as well as through the ill-conceived, French-inspired EU mission to prop up the regime of one of their clients in a former French colony. The government position is clear - they did not even try to get an article in the Treaty explicitly recognising the rights of neutral states.

I genuinely believe that the vast majority of people share the concerns, which I have set out here today. I genuinely believe that those parties who think they can force this Treaty through are totally out of step with ordinary people.

Irish beef farmers known only too well why their sector is under such pressure, the people of the west and south west know that it was the privatization of Aer Lingus which caused the withdrawal of the Shannon service, Irish Ferries workers know why they lost their jobs. This time the debate will not be about the past. It will be a debate about the impact of the EU on peoples livelihoods, their mortgages, the safety of their children in an increasingly militarized world. The people of this country need to do what is in the interests of this country and I believe that this will mean the rejection of the Lisbon Treaty.

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