2 August 2002
``Democracy the issue in Nice referendum'' - Ó Snodaigh
Speaking at the Patrick MacGill Summer School in Donegal, Sinn Fein European Affairs spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh said the Government is attempting to bully the electorate into reversing their decision on the Treaty of Nice. He said democracy was the primary issue in the Nice 2 referendum. Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:
``Many more people are beginning to see that we have ceded too much control of our affairs to EU institutions which are not accountable to the Irish people. Democracy is now the issue. The very holding of this referendum itself is a denial of the democratic decision made by the people last year. The message it sends is that the people of the smaller states do not have the right to say No.
``Does anyone here believe if Nice had been rejected by the German people or the French people that those governments would tell the rest of the EU to go ahead with ratification and they would get their people to change their minds? Of course not. Yet that's what has happened in this State in an EU that is supposedly still a partnership of equals where every State must agree or none agree.
``If the government and its allies succeed in bullying the electorate into voting `Yes' this time it will be a huge setback for democracy in Ireland, in the EU and for the applicant countries. No to Nice means Yes to democracy.''
Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD
Member of the National Forum on Europe and the Dáil Committee on European Affairs.
Magill Summer School, Glenties, County Donegal,
Friday 2 August 2002
The case against Nice II
We don't know yet the date of the next Nice referendum. We do know that an unprecedented campaign for a Yes vote is being mounted not just by the Government but also the whole political establishment.
Day after day spokespersons are being wheeled out to sound dire warnings. We are daily being lectured of the dangers of rejecting the Nice Treaty.
It is interesting that so much effort is being put into warning of the perils of rejection and of the economic calamity it could be, of the sweeping away of years of goodwill built up by the Irish, or how we are hampering enlargement of the EU, or how we will be left behind by our EU partners. Why are we being threatened into voting Yes? Is this how the EU of the 21st century works ? with threats and coercion? Interesting, because so little effort was made, in the months before and after the Nice Treaty was rejected by the electorate, actually to inform voters what the referendum was about in the first place.
Real truthful information about Nice comes a poor third in this referendum for the Yes camp. The most important tactic is the endless dire warnings. Second on their agenda is the misrepresentation of the No campaign particularly the position of parties like Sinn Fein. Then if time allows the government might allow space for actual information on Nice, but only if this means not having to actually debate or discuss the provisions of the Nice Treaty.
Today I want to outline something overlooked and ignored by the political establishment in this country. Yes, I want to explain the Sinn Fein position and why we are calling for a No vote in this referendum. I welcome the chance to spell out the Sinn Fein analysis on the EU as it exists today.
I also want to take a new step in terms of the Nice Debate and show why Sinn Fein is unique in Irish politics today.
Our opposition to Nice is informed by concerns regarding the EU's on issues such as the lack of accountability, the greater encroachment of sovereignty, the emerging two tier EU, the unacceptable development of a superstate, the growing economic power and wealth of some which is creating deprivation, poverty and cruel hardship in other regions.
Our analysis does not stop there. We have a vision of what Europe could be. We see how the republican ideal translates internationally into the need for a Europe of equals, not one of weighted majorities, of nuclear powers, of a super state. We have a different positive vision of a democratic Europe of the peoples.
What we witness today falls short of
But first comes the health warning. Democracy in Ireland is under threat. Bertie Ahern and Mary Harney have not implemented the decision of the people and have not respected their democratically expressed will in the first Nice Treaty referendum. The government has not requested the other EU states to halt the process of ratification of the Nice Treaty. On the contrary, the government has openly defied the decision of the people and encouraged the other EU states to proceed with ratification, promising to ensure that we ``get it right'' the second time around. Therefore this is a referendum about democracy itself. If the government is allowed to steamroll the electorate in this way then what value can any future referendum have?
So why are we opposed to the Nice Treaty?
Sinn Fein is opposed to the Nice Treaty we have consistently opposed the drive towards an EU that is totally integrated politically and economically. We are not opposed to positive alliances between states and welcome mutually beneficial cooperation. We support membership of the EU and we believe that we should continue our positive but critical engagement. This is not a referendum about continued membership of the EU as the `Yes' camp so often claims.
We are opposed to a United States of Europe built not in the interests of its 370 million citizens but in the interest of international business.
We are opposed to an EU where institutions are unelected and for the most part unaccountable. We are opposed to the gradual erosion of our economic and political sovereignty.
The loss of sovereignty is real. It means that we are losing control of basic things like how much money should be invested in health, education, childcare, telecommunications, roads and rail.
We are losing control of the right to set tax rates, borrow money and pay wage increases. These are all crucial aspects of managing a national economy.
Worse still when the EU does formulate polices on these issues little account is taken of the need to consider the negative impact they will have on small states such as Ireland. For example the falling value of the euro increased inflation in Ireland. The EU was unwilling to act to bolster the euro and instead the Dublin government was pressurised to cut spending.
What will the impact of saying No to Nice be? Saying No to Nice a second time will force the Dublin Government and the EU itself to wake up and reconsider what is a very badly and hastily formulated treaty. It will send a signal to other EU states and regions that they too can lobby for rejection of the Nice Treaty.
In reality the deliberations in the Convention on Europe arising from the Laeken Declaration are a recognition that the architects of the EU have failed. They know they have failed to create an EU that is responsive to the needs and wishes of its hundreds of millions of citizens, as distinct from its ruling elite.
Rejection of Nice will not lead to the Irish economy losing any EU funds or being `punished' by other states. It will not lead to a mass withdrawal of international investment from the economy. I deplore the assertion made during the week by the Minister for Justice Michael McDowell that a NO vote would lead to a ``cascade'' of job losses like those at Elan. This is cynical scare-mongering of the worst kind.
A `No' vote would be a first step in a longer process to change the EU's flawed integration strategy. This offers a chance to emphasise the positive alternatives to the current economic and political union strategy. An opportunity to build a Europe of equals where all states regardless of their wealth, their population or strength of armies have an equal say.
We want a Europe where everybody has a dignified standard of living and proper access to housing, health and education. These are not the objectives of the EU today.
What are the flaws in the Nice Treaty? There are a range of deficiencies in the Nice Treaty.
The Europe of Committees
The bureaucracy and institutions of the EU are known throughout Europe for both the amount of power they wield as their unaccountability. Rather than tackle this serious deficiency the Nice Treaty gives us more committees, some with huge powers and more powers to unelected bureaucrats such as the president of the EU Commission who has powers that rival any EU prime minister or head of state.
Indeed in the months since the first Nice referendum we have heard plan after plan seeping out from the EU Commission and the larger states, for a stronger president with more powers, for an EU government, for a two tier commission, for a Council of Ministers with permanent members while the smaller states would rotate places.
Halt the loss of Veto One of the core principles that is being damaged in this Treaty is the principle on which the EU was originally based, the right to say no as well as yes, the right to veto decisions that are against a particular state's interests. The EU is moving away from being a community of equal states regardless of population size, into one where the larger states increasingly call the shots.
No to a two tier Europe If the EU Commission has its way the Nice Treaty will lead to the entry of up to 12 states who have hugely different economies from those of the 15 current members. It is highly likely that through the use of the qualified majority system some of the larger and more prosperous EU states will let in our poorer Eastern European cousins to the EU while forging ahead with their own faster paced closer cooperation, which the new states will not be allowed veto, all under the guise of what the Nice Treaty calls ``Enhanced Cooperation''.
Enhanced cooperation is yet another example of positive original principles of the EU being undermined. The idea of a Europe where we all moved together at the speed of the slowest member, while offering that member a helping hand was a positive one. It is one that will disappear altogether if the Nice Treaty is ratified.
I want to point out at this stage that we do not regard immigration as an issue in this referendum. We reject absolutely the notion that the challenges which we face in managing an increasingly diverse Ireland should be manipulated or misrepresented in the course of this debate. We are not opposed to enlargement. The Nice Treaty is not primarily about enlargement. It is about institutional changes which favour the larger states. The enlargement issue is being cynically used by proponents of Nice as a distraction from the contents and true intent of the treaty.
The Euro Army The EU's ``Rapid Reaction Force'' will have 80,000 combat ready troops and 250,000 personnel in total ready to enforce EU foreign and security policies not just within the EU or on its borders but up to 2,500 miles outside of the EU.
The provisions setting up this force were included in the Amsterdam Treaty. The Nice Treaty is attempting to tie up some of the loose ends. However, it gives Ireland an opportunity to say No, and to renegotiate the defence and military aspects of both these treaties to a position where Irish neutrality is enshrined in Irish law and accepted by our EU partners.
The declaration cobbled together by the Dublin Government is at best a stop-gap in the ongoing assimilation of Irish defence forces into an EU army.
There is an alternative to the EU defence policy in its present form. Step one would be to secure for Ireland a proper protocol, inserted in the treaty distancing ourselves from bogus military campaigns and maintaining our unparalleled role in UN peace keeping. This must mean a specific declaration of neutrality included in our constitution.
Step two would be to organise with the more progressive European states, not just those in the EU now for a policy that has as its centrepiece an objective of nuclear disarmament and the dismantling of the EU's war economy.
An EU that enhances and promotes Rights In the aftermath of the Amsterdam Treaty and the realisation of the lack of interest EU citizens actually had in the union it was proposed to radically rewrite the EU treaties with a charter of fundamental rights at its core. The Nice Treaty makes only the smallest of reference to the fundamental rights of EU citizens.
A Fair Referendum We have never had a fair referendum on the EU where the No campaign was allowed the same access to the media with the same resources as those advocating further EU integration. Even now every voter is once again getting a copy of the White Paper on Nice with no plans to give a similar amount of space to the No campaign. We need a fair referendum where the people are really informed of the case for and against Nice.
What kind of Europe do we want? Part of the problem is that within the EU the citizens have never been asked what kind of Europe we want to live in. The Amsterdam and Nice treaties have put this gap into sharp focus. Both treaties had dual aims of making the EU more relevant to its actual citizens and reforming corrupt and cumbersome institutions. The treaties failed to deliver on both counts.
In both cases the EU attempted to, at best, guess the sort of Europe we want to live in, or, at worst, tell us the sort of Europe we ought to live in.
We want a peaceful Europe and an economically stable one, but why can't we have an EU with institutions that are democratic, accountable and offer bottom up participation from the so called regions not one that is top heavy with bureaucrats and unelected decision makers.
Isn't it strange that the EU can make pronouncements on the shape of a banana, the definition of chocolate, the standard for digital mobile phones and so on, but it cannot or will not, develop a coherent regional policy for the EU.
The Nice Treaty is being sold in Ireland as a reform of the EU, a reform needed to enlarge the EU and bring in more states which is promoted as a good thing because who is against a more inclusive EU?
It is not a treaty of reform or inclusion. It is a treaty that allows the larger states move on without the smaller ones, that allows the more economically powerful states set the agenda and pace of future EU integration. This is made possible by the changes in voting weights within the EU council of ministers and the expanding use of qualified majorities within the EU for decision taking.
Under the proposals contained in the Nice Treaty the seven smallest of the current 15 states could oppose a whole range of EU polices only to be overruled by the other eight who between them control more than 70% of the votes on the EU's decision making council.
If small states are in danger of becoming the satellites of the larger ones, what does that say about the regions of the EU and more importantly the peoples trapped without the right to self determination?
What type of Europe do you want to live in? What role should Ireland play in that Europe? These important questions have been overlooked in the current Nice Treaty debate. In fact, they have been ignored through nearly 30 years of EU membership.
Instead, the citizens of the 26 Counties have been at various times coerced, lectured and pressurized into accepting a Europe other people think they should have.
The citizens of the Six Counties have never even been lobbied about Europe. They have been presented with the EU as a finished product, and with no opportunity even to express an opinion on whether they supported the EU's political and economic integration process at all.
Given the nature and scope of the EU's integration process it is amazing that there is so little debate about the merits or drawbacks of such an ambitious project. There has yet to be a debate about the Europe we really want.
One of the reasons for this lack of real debate is the fact that the current government and its predecessors have never set out what they see as the long-term future of the EU. Do they favour total integration and the creation of Federal EU, a United States of Europe? We do not know. Their policy is ad hoc. They take each new Treaty as it comes. Meanwhile the agenda is being driven by those who want to build a superstate with a strong central government and its own army and police, a ``world power'' as Romano Prodi described it.
You may disagree with our view of where the EU should be going but we do present a view, unlike most of the supporters of the Nice Treaty. We have also included the whole island of Ireland in our analysis. There has been little or no debate about the implications of Nice, of the Euro and of further EU integration for the political and economic landscape of this island.
Successive generation of Irish people thought it worthwhile to struggle for our independence. They valued democracy and the sovereignty of the people. Part of the reason for the relative success of the EU project in this State has been the widespread view that it helped to remove us from economic dependency on Britain. In other words it was seen as an enhancement of our sovereignty.
But now more and more people are beginning to ask if the gradual erosion of our sovereignty and our neutrality have gone too far. Many more people are beginning to see that we have ceded too much control of our affairs to EU institutions which are not accountable to the Irish people. Democracy is now the issue. The very holding of this referendum itself is a denial of the democratic decision made by the people last year. The message it sends is that the people of the smaller states do not have the right to say No.
Does anyone here believe if Nice had been rejected by the German people or the French people that those governments would tell the rest of the EU to go ahead with ratification and they would get their people to change their minds? Of course not. Yet that's what has happened in this State in an EU that is supposedly still a partnership of equals where every State must agree or none agree.
If the government and its allies succeed in bullying the electorate into voting `Yes' this time it will be a huge setback for democracy in Ireland, in the EU and for the applicant countries. No to Nice means Yes to democracy.
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