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'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Thursday 14 August 2008

The UK government and the Lisbon Treaty

I signed a petition on the Number 10 website a while back suggesting that the Government abandon the Lisbon Treaty in the wake of the Irish 'No' vote in their referendum; the petition was in the following terms:

"We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to respect the result of the Irish referendum and abandon the attempt to ratify the Lisbon Treaty."

Details of Petition:

"The Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty has resulted in a decisive no vote. However, politicians across Europe are calling for the ratification of the Treaty to go ahead. The British Government are planning to put the Lisbon Treaty to its third and final reading in the Lords next Wednesday 18 June. This would complete its ratification in the UK. We believe that the Prime Minister should respect the result of the Irish referendum and abandon the attempt to ratify the Lisbon Treaty."

The Government have now responded as follows:

In the UK, the Lisbon Treaty has now completed its passage through both Houses of Parliament in the UK following 25 days of debate. The Bill received Royal Assent on 19 June and the UK ratified the treaty on 16 July.

We believe the treaty would be good for the UK and good for the EU. This treaty adjusts existing treaties, in the same way as previous EU amending treaties.

However, European treaty change rightly requires unanimity across all EU Member States. That is why the ‘no’ vote on the treaty in the Irish referendum on 12 June is important, and needs to be respected.

As the Foreign Secretary made clear in the House of Commons on 16 June:

"The rules of the treaty and the EU are clear. All 27 Member States must ratify the treaty for it to come into force. …There is no question of ignoring the Irish vote or bulldozing Irish opinion. Ireland clearly cannot be bound by changes which it has not ratified. Equally there is no appetite for a return to years of institutional negotiation. The EU as a whole needs to find a way forward for all countries that allows the EU to focus on the big policy issues that confront us."

The Irish government has made it clear that they need time to analyse the result and its implications, and to consult widely at home and abroad. At the European Council on 19/20 June, EU Heads of State and Government agreed with the Irish Government’s proposal that they should reflect on the result of the referendum and then submit a report to the European Council in October. In the meantime the Council, including Ireland, has noted that the ratification processes are continuing in all of the other Member States

The Government STILL does not want to accept what has happened! It is really very simple; most referenda are advisory, not compuslory, on a Government [the Irish government in this instance]; the Irish government could probably go ahead and ratify the Treaty, despite the 'no' verdict of the Irish people, but it knows that to do so would most likely be disastrous for its electoral prospects in a future election. Although our Foreign Secretary plays 'lip service' to the fact that, legally, the EU cannot proceed without unanimous ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, it is equally clear that the Irish government is being put under pressure to find some way of ratifying it - the continuation of the ratification process in other countries such as the UK, despite the Irish 'no' vote, is clear enough evidence of of what is being planned and worked towards. What does the Irish government need to analyse? That is 'euphemism' for what is likely to be a sustained domestic propaganda exercise within Ireland to try and persuade the Irish people to change their minds to a view more akin to the European Commission's desire to continue 'willy-nilly' with implementation of the [already rejected by France and the Netherlands] European Constitutional Treaty, thinly but unconvincingly disguised as a 'Reform Treaty', known colloquially as the Lisbon Treaty.

Baldly stated, a major country such as France (and to some extent the Netherlands) could not be pushed around; one of the smaller countries such as Ireland is an entirely different matter. It has after all happened before; the Irish initially rejected the Nice Treaty, but were later persuaded to go ahead with it when sections affecting Ireland's military neutrality were rewritten. As Irish objections to the Lisbon Treaty are much wider, there is considerable doubt that a similar volte face can be achieved. Similarly, Danish voters initially rejected the Maastricht Treaty, but were later persuaded to accept it when four 'opt-outs' were proposed by the Edinburgh Agreement.

It appears that in practice, and despite what David Miliband may want us to believe, different rules apply when a piece of EU legislation is rejected by one of the 'smaller' member states; after all, no-one seriously proposed trying to get the French to change their minds after their rejection of the European Constitutional Treaty; if the Netherlands alone had rejected it, no doubt matters might have been different.

As I never tire of pointing out I am fundamentally in favour of the EU and its further integration; however, that does not mean I want to see this happen against the wishes of significant numbers of its peoples as the European Commission, aided and abetted by most EU member state governments, seems determined to do. Whatever legislation is proposed for further EU integration should be readily comprehensible by most EU citizens who have an interest in informing themselves about it. My fundamental objection to both the European Constitutional Treaty and the European Reform Treaty (aka 'Lisbon Treaty') is the extreme complexity of these documents, seemingly almost designed with the intent of making it very difficult for ordinarily intelligent and interested people, such as me, to grasp the scope of these peices of legislation. I am probably one of the few people I know who is confident he understood the scope of the European Constitutional Treaty, and that because I studied it closely over a prolonged period, but I must confess that the 'hot-potch' that is the European Reform Treaty (aka 'Lisbon Treaty') was even less easy to understand, despite my best efforts, but people a lot more expert than me (for example the principal author of the European Constitutional Treaty, former French President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing) believe the effect of the two documents to be almost indistinguishable. The type of document that should be aimed for, in my opinion, is a relatively short and relatively easy to understand document such as the US Constition, a document that has provided the fundamental legal framework for one of the greatest nations in human history and which has required only 27 amendments so far in the roughly two and a quarter centuries since it was ratified; I cannot believe it is beyond the wit of legal draftspersons working for the European Commission to come up with something equally transparent and long-lasting, even given the unusual brilliance and clear-sightedness of those who drafted the US Constition.

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