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Ó Snodaigh - Another EU is possible

29 May, 2005


Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD, Sinn Féin Spokesperson on International Affairs addressing the Sinn Féin Conference on the EU Constitutional Treaty in Dublin this afternoon said: "Democracy is best exercised at local and national level where the citizen and the community have maximum input. The further the unit of democratic-decision making gets from the citizen and the local community the less democratic it becomes. There is no democratic demand for the diminution of popular sovereignty through the nation-state in favour of an EU superstate. Democracy is built upon the sovereignty of the people expressed in the form of the democratic nation-state."

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

"We are firmly opposed to the federalist agenda, but we also have our own positive vision for what the EU could be. We have an agenda for radical change at the European level. Our agenda for change is based on our vision of an EU of Equals. That is, an EU that is a true partnership of equal states, cooperating in social and economic development within Europe and beyond. An EU that respects and promotes national, collective and individual rights (including human, political, social, economic and cultural rights).

"We want an economically and socially just EU, not an EU that is merely another economic or military superpower. In fact we want a demilitarised and nuclear-free EU that promotes peace and conflict resolution under the leadership of a reformed, renewed and democratised United Nations. There is no need for the EU to act as a subsidiary to NATO, and it is wrong for the EU to trap other countries into disadvantageous EPAs (Economic Partnership Agreements).

'We want to build an EU that is globally responsible, a fair-trading EU that leads the way on reaching the Millennium Development Goals for halving global poverty by 2015. And this vision is completely consistent with the kinds of social change we have been working and campaigning for here at home. We would be proud for a future United Ireland to take a leading role in such a reformed EU.

"We want an EU that promotes peace and Irish independence. We want an EU that ends all occupations. We want an EU that supports the development of an all-Ireland economy, and all-island development. We are campaigning to restore economic sovereignty and to refocus the Lisbon Agenda on the social economy and social protections. We want an EU of sustainable rural economies, that supports rather than undermines the Irish fishery. We want an EU committed to eliminating poverty and protecting public services in the member states. We want an EU that protects our right to a clean environment, that champions workers rights, and our full equality in our diversity. That recognises the equal status of the Irish language as a European language. We want an EU that defends human rights and civil liberties, instead of giving them a back seat to security and policing concerns.

I am glad to say that this vision is shared by many across Europe. It is shared by our colleagues in GUE-NGL. It is shared by many grassroots activists in other European countries. It is also shared by about one third of the electorate in this state.

I want to talk about the democratic deficit, because it is a major issue we have with the EU as it has been constructed.

The whole current direction of EU development is towards even more powers for the EU institutions and diminished powers for national governments and parliaments. Ironically, much of this process is being justified on the basis that it "democratises" the EU.

In fact "democratisting" the EU would imply, at its most extreme, an EU citizenry directly electing an EU Government and an EU President in effect establishing a federal EU state, and hugely increasing the powers of EU institutions as against member state parliaments. Therefore, to merely speak of "democratising" the EU can be misleading.

Democracy is best exercised at local and national level where the citizen and the community have maximum input. The further the unit of democratic-decision making gets from the citizen and the local community the less democratic it becomes.

There is no democratic demand for the diminution of popular sovereignty through the nation-state in favour of an EU superstate.

Democracy is built upon the sovereignty of the people expressed in the form of the democratic nation-state.

In keeping with these principles, we want to see the EU evolve as a partnership of equal, sovereign democratic states. We are arguing for the primacy of national and local democracy. The issue is therefore how citizens best exercise their democratic rights. Even in the context of EU decision-making, those rights are most effectively exercised as citizens of sovereign states.

We propose that scrutiny of EU measures and the ability to enforce the principle of subsidiarity must be recognised as the right of national parliaments ˆ and such a right should also be extended to regional and local levels of government as appropriate. This requires the development of standard mechanisms and meaningful sanctions. We have detailed proposals in relation to how the Houses of the Oireachtas can address in some way the democratic deficit, as the Assembly could also. We should develop constructive recommendations to make this civil society mechanism more effective and meaningful. As they say, the democratic deficit begins at home.

Nothing illustrates this more starkly than the fact that the 6 County electorate have never previously been allowed to vote in referenda on proposed EU Treaties, or the 26 County Government‚s rejection of the democratically expressed will of the electorate in the Nice Treaty referendum and the subsequent referendum re-run.

In conclusion, to be more precise, instead of using the term "democratising the EU" in future we should speak of strengthening democracy within the EU by:

  • retaining the principle of the EU as a partnership of equal sovereign states regardless of size (or wealth, or military might)
  • resisting further erosion of the powers of member state governments
  • enhancing the role of national parliaments and regional assemblies in EU affairs

We should also call for:

  • increased EU institutional transparency and accountability
  • increased domestic democratic accountability with respect to EU matters
  • increased participation in decision-making on domestic EU policy formation by member state citizens

In terms of the EU Constitution I am opposed to it because it repackages the EU as a military and economic superpower. This world does not need more superpowers or military alliances. There is an alternative. Instead of increasing its military might, the EU should follow a different path by participating in a non-aligned movement that includes the developing world countries as full equals. The EU could increase security for everyone by focusing on the delivery of what all humans need for security - food, shelter, employment, healthcare, education, community safety and human rights. The EU has a role to play in achieving global social justice, but not as another world‚s police force.

While the architects of a new Europe are dreaming of empires and military adventures, untold wealth global dominance, 70m people are living in poverty in the EU alone and millions are dying of starvation, disease and AIDs. There must be a better way, as a socialist and a republic I have to believe there is an alternative to a world which is intent on perpetuating that greed, and I can‚t see how other so-called socialists don‚t see the logic of that position. The only stance of socialists, republicans or environmentalists should be against the ethos and the EU project as it is currently being moulded, whether that is the Irish Labour party or An Comhaontas Glas here in Ireland.

  • Nuclear-free, human security, making positive alliances, not seeking the dominance through imperialism of the last era
  • Logic of military alliances is war, they perpetuate conflict
  • More than one way of counterbalancing US, through leading a non-aligned movement that includes the developing world countries as full equals

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