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Analysis/Comment Last Updated: Oct 25, 2010 - 2:58:55 AM

A second Irish referendum to ratify the Lisbon Treaty and Bismarck's carriage
By Michael Hennigan, Founder and Editor of Finfacts
Dec 11, 2008 - 4:05:59 AM

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A second Irish referendum to ratify the Lisbon Treaty will be held before November 2009, according to draft conclusions which EU leaders are expected to agree to today, according to reports. The ghost of Bismarck, Europe's top statesman of his day, would surely be shocked if an economically weakened Ireland again halts European progress on the grounds of arguments as arcane as the dispute about the comma in the Nicene Creed.

The Irish Times reports that EU leaders will agree today to allow each member state to retain their commissioner and to give "necessary legal guarantees" to Ireland on"taxation policy, family, social and ethical issues, and common security and defence policy with regard to Ireland's traditional policy of neutrality."

"The great powers of our time," the German chancellor Otto von Bismarck told a Russian diplomat in 1879, "are like travellers unknown to each other, whom chance has brought together in a carriage. They watch each other and when one of them puts his hand into his pocket, his neighbour gets ready his own revolver, in order to be able to fire the first shot."

American historian James J. Sheehan, says in his book Where have all the soldiers gone?,that between 1648 and 1789, the European powers had fought forty-eight wars. Between 1815 and 1914, there were only five wars in Europe, between two great powers - - all of them were limited in time and space and only one of them involved more than two major states. From the end of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871 to 1914, Europe was in a fragile peace and then, the first of two cataclysmic wars broke out across the Continent.

There is no perfect Utopia in multilateralism but the Irish counterparts of the American neo-cons, focus on petty issues while ignoring the remarkable success that is the European Union. Ireland, which is more dependent than any other developed country on foreign investment, is hardly served by being allied with English nationalists who wish to see the European Union destroyed. 

In the referendum last June, extremists of the right and left united with scare stories on for example conscription, abortion and the sacred cow of neutrality, while some well-paid idiots among the commentariat, argued that Ireland's economic travails were caused by membership of the Eurozone. The Irish Farmers' Association, whose members are today dependent for up to 70% of their incomes on EU support, cynically opposed the Lisbon Treaty at the outset, as a bargaining chip in the Doha Trade Round talks.

While joining the then European Economic Community, fifty years after independence from Britain, had given Ireland the opportunity to reduce its dependence on its former colonial master, Sinn Féin, the former political unit of the anti-British IRA, brought heart to extreme English nationalists, by opposing a measure to improve decision-making in the enlarged Union. Racism was also an issue in the rejection of the Treaty and women voted against Lisbon even though it was Europe, which led in promoting issues such as equal pay and maternity leave rights.

The contribution of the EU in the area of social policy legislation has 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 opposing his own government's Bill in parliament.

Roger Cole of the Peace Neutrality Alliance, recently wrote in The Irish Times that "our war of national Independence against the British Imperial Empire was an inspiration to people all over the world. The Irish people’s rejection of the Lisbon Treaty was a continuation of that anti-imperialist tradition."

Being for and against war is one thing but I assume Cole does not  have to make his living in the grubby business of business. The great Irish Mr. No, Anthony Coughlan opposed every Irish referendum on Europe from 1972, secure in having a big government computer churning out his salary each month.

Eaten bread is soon forgotten. When Ireland joined the EEC in 1973, military dictatorships ruled in Spain, Portugal and Greece, while the Iron Curtain divided Europe. Eastern Europeans risked summary execution by leaving their country without state permission. When Czech tennis player Martina Navratilova, played Chris Evert in the 1978 Wimbledon final, her parents had to watch on television near the German border, as their daughter was branded a "defector"by their Russian-dominated government.

The original six countries deserve praise for their generosity of spirit and financial support for agreeing to successive enlargements, usually bringing in economically weaker countries and while it is argued that the cash compensation provided to poor Ireland, has been returned via hiring Eastern European migrants in recent years, it is convenient to dismiss over €40 billion in cash foreign aid and the membership that provided a base for the modernisation of the Irish economy.

In the 1970's, Irish politicians begged for support for the poor countries on the"western periphery"of Europe. When the boot was on the other foot, the tune changed.

As for the fears that the EU27 and in a decade possibly comprising 30 countries, will morph into a superstate, it is simply the fantasy of idiots.

What is most bizarre about the criticisms by Irish people of a "democratic deficit" in Europe, is the general acceptance in Ireland of a system dominated by clientism and cronyism and a parliament that sits only 90 days each year. The country is 15 miles from Leinster House and the system of governance has remained largely unchanged from the 1920's.

Europe has changed utterly from Bismarck's day and the European Union has been a key catalyst in the change in recent decades on both the mainland of the Continent and in Ireland.

Amidst the hair-splitting and the effort to make mountains out of mole hills, it's well to keep in mind that the big picture is one of a stunning historical achievement.

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