Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Irish EU Sceptics and the Lisbon Treaty

José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, speaking in Ireland in on April 17, 2008

The purpose of the European Union's Lisbon Treaty signed by the Heads of State or Government of the 27 Member States in Lisbon on 13 December 2007 is to streamline decision making following the enlargement to encompass most European countries.

The development of the European Union and the Euro currency have been remarkable achievements and in both 1957 on the signing of the Treaty of Rome and on January 1, 1999, the sceptics were not in short supply.

There was another development in Europe that merits superlatives and it is linked to the Lisbon Treaty.

For most of the period since the end of the Second World War, the people of Eastern Europe lived under the jackboot of communism. People were shot dead if they tried to leave their countries without official authorisation.

Eaten bread is soon forgotten and in the years that German taxpayers in particular provided funding for Irish agriculture and infrastructure investment, it was inconceivable that for example Poland would in the not too distant future, become a member of what was then known as the European Economic Community.

There can be no agreement by 27 countries that is akin to a utopia.

If there is a heaven, then there may be perfection but human progress involves compromise unless it's the old law of the jungle that applies.

Some saw the value of compromise in Ireland in 1921; others saw bloodshed as worth trading for more sovereignty - but what small nation ever had absolute sovereignty? In the North, thousands had to die in recent decades, before a compromise could be reached.

There is a polygot group opposed to the European Union's Lisbon Treaty. There are those at one end of the spectrum, who have always been opposed to the European Community/EU e,g the Green Party and its hierarchy until last June.

Sovereignty is often one of the issues that is raised as a concern, usually by individuals who are in protected jobs as distinct from the international tradable goods and services sector.

Recently, independent Iceland raised its benchmark interest rate to 15.5% and asked other Nordic central banks for support. So is Ireland better off in the Eurozone?

More than 90% of our exports are made by foreign-owned firms - so much for nit-picking on the issue of sovereignty.

Neutrality is another issue that gets some people worked up as if we were ever really neutral.

At the other end of the spectrum, is the Irish Farmers' Association, which is seeking to protect what is a very generous welfare system - the Common Agricultural Policy.

In 2013, Ireland will become a net contributor to the EU Budget after 40 years of membership.

"I want to remind the British commissioner that there is a strong link between his WTO concessions and the Lisbon Treaty," IFA President Padraig Walshe said. About 70% of Walshe's income comes directly from European treasuries.

The "British" commissioner Peter Mandelson is up to some nefarious plot but Walshe has no problem with handouts from British, German and Dutch taxpayers.

Walshe accused the commissioner of displaying "breath-taking arrogance" in demanding people vote for the Lisbon Treaty, when the "undeniable fact" was the WTO deal would wipe out 50,000 farmers and cost the economy €4bn.

There are about 40,000 full time Irish farmers and whatever about the "undeniable fact," you will never hear Walshe complaining about the land rezoning system that makes multimillionaires of farmers with land that has development potential.

Some of the wealthiest farmers are getting cash payments of €10,000 each week and the IFA has no problem with a system where the richer get the lion's share.

It's a pity that we in Ireland cannot modernise our governance systems that have been largely unchanged since the 1930's. We have a "messenger-boy" system of local clientism that makes it difficult for women to participate in elective politics. Our parliament is shuttered for five months each year.

So rather than worrying about democratic deficits in Brussels, we should reform our own systems first and then the finger-pointing could have more legitimacy.

Remarkable Decades of Change in World but Irish System of Governance Immutable to Reform

Ireland's 40-year bonanza of foreign aid from the European Union will amount to €41 billion by the time we become a net contributor in 2013