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Analysis/Comment Last Updated: Dec 6, 2010 - 1:34:32 AM


Lisbon Treaty: In Perilous post-Celtic Tiger times, Ireland opts for Impotence in Europe's greatest success of past thousand years
By Michael Hennigan, Founder and Editor of Finfacts
Jun 14, 2008 - 7:27:56 AM

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Lisbon Treaty: The rejection by Irish voters of the proposals to streamline decision making in an enlarged European Union is a watershed. The once proud Europeans have opted for impotence and whatever can be salvaged from the wreckage,  rightly or wrongly, the Irish will be framed by many in Europe in the reaction of President Stipe Mesic of aspiring member Croatia, who said: "Now that they have used the accession and structural funds, when they have developed enormously, I'm a little surprised that the solidarity is at an end."

When Ireland joined the European Economic Community in 1973, the Iron Curtain hemmed in millions in the vast prison that was the Soviet Union and its satellite states , while military juntas ruled Spain, Portugal and Greece. By any measure, the enlargement to 27 countries and the development of the European Union from the wasteland in the aftermath of World War II, has been a remarkable success of gigantic proportions. Ireland has benefited enormously and compromise is the essence of such a huge project.

Seekers of utopian perfection and quibblers on process can never be satisfied. The Irish revolutionary Michael Collins saw the value of compromise in 1921 and paid with his life; in 1974, a compromise agreement in Northern Ireland was scuttled by the extremists on both sides and it took 33 more years of misery, for a similar agreement to be implemented by the former extremists. Today, the argument of the NO campaigners that the Lisbon Treaty can be renegotiated from scratch again, is risible. How can anything be achieved without compromise?

Ireland has benefited in the past from its positive attitude to Europe, such as the agreement in 1997 on the low corporate tax rate of 12.5%. However, the attitude in Europe henceforth is likely to be less accommodating and we may be forced onto the sideline on some issues.

On June 2nd, the European Central Bank celebrated its 10th anniversary and President Jean-Claude Trichet said:"This historic vision has always been closely associated with the search for prosperity and the preservation of peace. Voltaire's remark: “En effet l’histoire n’est que le tableau des crimes et des malheurs” – “Indeed, history is nothing more than a tableau of crimes and misfortunes” – from the perspective of the mid-twentieth century could not have been more apt . It is no surprise that it was at that point in time that Europeans decided to accelerate the march towards European unity."

As for the recent Irish campaign, what I find bizarre is the criticism of the claimed "democratic deficit" in Brussels and lack of accountability  - features that characterise the largely political system of clientism  in Ireland, that has been unreformed since the 1920's/1930's.

Today, in a pass-the-buck system, it is a rarity indeed to find an Irish government minister accepting responsibility for public policy or administrative failures, never mind resigning.

Besides the direct foreign aid of about €40 billion since 1973, the contribution of the EU in the area of social policy legislation has also been significant. To put that in context, in 1973, the year of joining the then EEC, the Irish Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional for the law to prohibit the import of contraceptives for personal use. It took the politicians another 20 years to properly reform it - starting with the requirement of a doctor's prescription to buy condoms in a pharmacy to a Taoiseach (Prime Minister) voting against his own government's bill on the issue.

The EU role in providing jellyfish politicians with cover is seldom recognised and in future, unpalatable anti-climate change measures come to mind, if $200 a barrel oil doesn't do the trick.

The referendum was opposed by a spectrum of conservative farmers - in the pre-May 2004 EU 15, the largest per capita beneficiaries of European socialism for two decades, namely the Common Agricultural Policy - and right-wing Catholics fearing/scaremongering about euthanasia and abortion, to Sinn Féin - until recent times, the political wing of the Provisional IRA - which opposes militarism in Europe, a perceived threat to Ireland's phantom neutrality, to extreme leftists at the other end - some of whom fear the European Union more than they did the failed multinational experiment, known as the Soviet Union.

There were also folk who didn't know what they were asked to vote for - how much spoon feeding do people need one wonders? - and a millionaire businessman complained that the Lisbon Treaty was "indescribable drivel" as if he didn't get expert advice when signing a complex document himself.

Like another exporting nation South Korea getting hysterical about US beef, certainly some Irish want to have their cake and eat it.

The farmers' principal organisation withheld support for the Lisbon Treaty until the Irish government promised that it would veto any deal produced at the Doha Round trade talks, which the farmers found unpalatable. But the late endorsement was after the seeds of doubt had been sown.

The issue of sovereignty gets some excited in a country where in 2006, more than 90% of exports were made by foreign-owned firms - mainly American - while the benchmark interest rate (the European Central Bank's) is 4% compared with the 15.5% level in another small open European economy - Iceland.

People simply get on a hobbyhorse about something and it can obscure so much else.

Ireland is increasingly becoming like France with its Insiders and Outsiders - the former are farmers and public sector workers represented by strong unions; the latter are private sector workers who lack the collective clout with government. The majority have no occupational pensions and warnings about the impact that a rejection of the Lisbon Treaty could have on Ireland's international business reputation, had no impact on the Insiders.

Eaten bread is soon forgotten and as recently as the 1980's, the US Congress provided for the issue of thousands of work visas for Irish people but today, the once emigrant nation is not without its xenophobes. While we cannot quantify how much of a factor the antipathy to Eastern European workers may have been in the referendum, it certainly was an issue for some voters.

In the 1970's when Germany was Europe's principal paymaster, the mantra of Irish politicians, was the "obligation" of the rich countries to help the poorer countries on the "western periphery" of Europe. Now that Ireland is rich because of the dominance of US world class high-tech, pharmaceutical and financial service companies, together with significant support for structural investment and agriculture from Europe,  we would recoil from any comparable "obligation" today.

In 1992, the debate during the referendum on the Maastricht Treaty - which provided for the introduction of the single currency - centred on whether the government would get £6 or £8 billion punts in structural grant supports from the European Union.

We used be good Europeans, when the money was flowing!  --  maybe a little cynical but there's more than a grain of truth in it.

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