The Treaty of Lisbon: Dazed and Confused

Today, many Irish citizens will vote “Yes” or “No” to the Lisbon Treaty. For the past six weeks, Ireland’s political scene centered on this issue — one which I find even more complex than the notorious Mahon tribunal. The Bugle must admit, at the outset, that this post will not bring you the incisive analysis and deep insight that you’ve come to expect. In fact, it may be impossible for anyone to analyze the Lisbon Treaty from a neutral perspective right now — but we’ll get to that in a paragraph or two.

Here are the only general facts that are not contentious regarding the Lisbon Treaty as it applies to the whole EU:

  • In 2005, the proposed European Constitution was rejected by voters during the ratification processes of France and the Netherlands. In the following two years, the representatives of the Member States of the European Union (henceforth, simply “Member States”) agreed that the future of the EU depended on wide-ranging reforms to its decision-making processes.
  • In 2007, the text of the Lisbon Treaty was negotiated and signed by each government of the Member States. The intent of the Treaty is to accomplish institutional reforms of the EU.

The only thing that I can add, with confidence, is that every subsequent statement I express regarding the Lisbon Treaty has been contested, in some public forum, by Irish citizens or interested observers of the Irish ratification process.

Let’s start with why Ireland is so important to the Lisbon Treaty.

The Constitution of Ireland requires that the Lisbon Treaty is ratified by a popular referendum. Please don’t ask, “Who has the right to vote in that referendum?” That would lead us into a political and legal morass of constitutional interpretation. I would enjoy learning the intricacies involved, of course — but I digress.

The Republic of Ireland is the only Member State that will put the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty to a referendum. Many citizens of other Member States are unhappy that their own governments chose not to put the Lisbon Treaty to a popular vote. One of the many criticisms of the rejected EU Constitution was that the proposed reforms placed even more power in the hands of bureaucrats and politicians who are generally oriented towards the powers-that-be, rather than representing genuine progress toward a democratic EU.

Some commentators predicted that a huge number of political activists from other Member States would come to Dublin to campaign against the Lisbon Treaty. As far as I know, that didn’t happen. Maybe the activists were, for once, astute enough to realize that the Irish would resent their intervention into Irish politics.

Let’s turn to my best understanding of the Irish response to the treaty.

There is one Irish institution that has a duty to remain neutral in the debate: The Referendum Commission. The Commission distributed a pamphlet widely, and its members attended public forums to contribute their expertise during the months before today’s vote.

I experienced two problems with the Referendum Commission. First, the members of the committee have failed to clearly explain the details of the Treaty when asked straightforward questions in public forums.

Second, I had a negative experience with regard to their pamphlet, which was relentlessly promoted through every kind of advertising medium. I read the pamphlet carefully without knowing that it was written and distributed by the Commission. I finished the main text, and then I scoured the pamphlet to determine who published it. There was no attribution, and I assumed that it was written by a politically moderate group in favor of the Treaty.

After I discovered that the pamphlet was putatively neutral, I reread it. I still think that it is biased toward the “Yes” position. The pamphlet describes the intent of the Treaty, as articulated by the governments that negotiated it. But the most effective criticism of the Lisbon Treaty is that its legal content doesn’t match its stated intent.

I’m tempted to start my own analysis of the situation, but let’s at least look at the positions taken by Irish political groups.

Every major political party, except Sinn Fein, has endorsed the Lisbon Treaty. The Labour Party endorsed the Treaty. (I found that surprising at the time but now understand it better.) There is no question that the political establishment is in favour of the Treaty, and the political representatives of big business interests are particularly supportive. Although the major groups vary somewhat in their enthusiasm, the dominant message is, “The Lisbon Treaty will strengthen the EU, which will strengthen Ireland.”

Sinn Fein and a few other political groups have mounted a concerted campaign against the Lisbon Treaty. The dominant message for these groups is, “The Lisbon Treaty will give more power to the dominant economic interests in the EU and weaken the Irish people’s position within Europe.” Irish fishermen and farmers have been protesting past EU measures for years and they vociferously oppose the Treaty based on their negative stance regarding EU regulations in general.

Three socialist parties of Ireland — the Socialist Party, the Workers’ Party, and the Socialist Workers Party — are part of the Campaign against the EU Constitution, along with many other progressive Irish organizations. [Ed. -- A previous version of this post erroneously asserted that one socialist party of Ireland endorsed the Treaty. Thanks to Marcus MacCaoimhín for pointing out this error in the comments.]

In the print media, I’d say that the two dominant messages have been represented fairly (and frequently). The two major newspapers may have been a bit dismissive of the farmers and fishers — it’s hard to say without knowing the context of those disputes. The grass-roots Campaign against the EU Constitution has certainly received less attention than the more easily questioned Libertas organization, which funded a high-visibility “No” campaign.

The print media (as well as radio and television) also gave a great deal of attention to a third voice in this debate — the Irish citizens who are frustrated by both sides and, indeed, the whole political situation.

Tomorrow, I’ll turn to that third voice, my own analysis, and — pictures!

8 Comments to “The Treaty of Lisbon: Dazed and Confused”

  1. Will said...
    12 June 2008

    If you read through the whole post, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear you say, “But Will, I still don’t know what the Treaty is about!”

    My answer is: “Yes, you’re exactly right.”

    From my point of view, that’s the fundamental problem facing the Irish electorate today: Do you know what the Lisbon Treaty is, and if you don’t, are you discontented enough to vote “No” out of frustration?

    I’ll try to explain more tomorrow. For today, I’ll finish by saying, for the first time in my life:
    I am glad that I cannot vote in this election.

  2. Marcas MacCaoimhín said...
    13 June 2008

    What Socialist Party endorsed it? Both the Socialist Party and the SWP were against!

  3. Will said...
    13 June 2008

    Thank you Marcas for your correction. I misunderstood the position of the Socialist Party. This post has been altered to reflect the correct positions of the Socialist Party, the Workers’ Party and the Socialist Workers Party.

  4. Dave said...
    13 June 2008

    After Will posted his poll question on the Lisbon Treaty, I spent about 45 minutes on wikipedia trying to figure it out. I was completely lost. Now I know that there are “pillars”, multiple counsil, and something called co-determination. I’m looking forward to being enlightened, Will.

  5. Jaime said...
    13 June 2008

    Dave – I commend you. I too turned to Wikipedia for information about the Lisbon Treaty (I had a romantic vision that it was something from hundreds of years ago when warring forces met in a room, shook hands and signed off on the agreement…all very civil). I was immediately depressed whent the Wiki page’s scroll bar condensed down to a tiny thing. At that point I realized I was in for a LOT of reading. About seven minutes in I was so lost and befuddled by the various committees, organizations, timelines and acronyms that I completely gave up… Will’s explanations are so much more lucid. I vote that Will become an official Wiki author!

  6. Will said...
    13 June 2008

    For understanding the basic issues, the Referendum Commission’s pamphlet is fairly good. This link will give you the pamphlet in PDF format.

    It will not, however, lead you to enlightenment.

  7. Dave said...
    16 June 2008

    Nope. Throughly not enlightened. I agree with your analysis, that the pamplet focuses on “This will now be this” but does not discuss the implications of that decision.

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