FOREIGN AFFAIRS: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Why Ireland voted for the Lisbon Treaty
, October 17, 2009
Faced with an economy in free fall, Irish voters have voted to amend their constitution to ratify the Lisbon Treaty, which will mean that the European Union (EU), based in Brussels, has achieved the endorsement of almost every government in the EU to create a more powerful EU bureaucracy based in Brussels, with expanded legal and political power.
In June 2008, Irish voters rejected almost exactly the same proposal, largely because of fears that the new EU bureaucracy would have power to interfere in Ireland's internal affairs.
There remain deep misgivings about the expansion of the powers of the EU.
What has changed since 2008 is that Ireland's economy has collapsed, and the EU is widely seen as the country's lifeline. The massive growth of the Irish economy over the past 25 years - giving rise to the phrase, "the Celtic Tiger" - was due to Ireland's membership of the EU, which attracted some of the US's largest high-technology companies to Ireland, which became their entry point to the EU.
The fear was that if Ireland rejected the Lisbon Treaty, the EU would "pull the plug" on the Irish economy. This is no idle threat, as the EU is the main market for Ireland's manufacturing and agricultural exports.
Further, following the economic collapse, Irish banks have been underwritten by taxpayers to the tune of €50 billion ($85 billion), and Ireland's financial stability is guaranteed by the European Central Bank.
The result was that last year's narrow majority against ratifying the Lisbon Treaty became a 2:1 margin in favour of it.
The pressure on the Irish people to support the referendum came from many sources.
European Commissioner José Manuel Barroso predicted that a No vote could lose Ireland its commissioner, create uncertainly about its place in Europe, threaten jobs and investment and damage the economy. Some of the largest foreign corporations in Ireland said the same thing.
The three largest political parties, Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour, all strongly supported the referendum, as did the main media outlets, and some of the largest business interests. The American computer chip manufacturer Intel, which has its European manufacturing plant in Ireland, put €500,000 ($850,000) into the Yes campaign, as did the Irish airline company, RyanAir, among many others.Opposition neutralised
Concerns among pro-life organisations that the EU might override Ireland's anti-abortion policy were effectively neutralised by an official statement from the Catholic bishops that declared, in effect, that there was no moral issue at stake in the referendum.
Under the Treaty of Lisbon, the relative voting strength of member states is changed to reflect the increase in size of the EU.
Of more concern to the critics, the President of the European Council will become a permanent post, the most powerful the EU has ever created, chosen by Europe's leaders but unelected by voters.
He or she will also be eligible to be European Commission President, creating further centralisation of power in Brussels.
The European Court's jurisdiction will be expanded over the whole gamut of EU affairs, including criminal matters and the Charter of Rights. The right of member-states to veto decisions of the European Union has been effectively withdrawn.
The new treaty will also replace the EU Foreign Minister with a "High Representative" who will run a powerful EU diplomatic service, with up to 160 representations around the world. He or she will be more important on the global and European stage than national foreign ministers, and will be able to make foreign policy pronouncements and act on behalf of all EU nations.
A new body, the Standing Committee on Internal Security, dubbed an "Interior Ministry" by civil liberties campaigners, will centralise databases holding fingerprints and DNA as part of an emerging EU "home affairs" policy.
Despite the expansion of the EU's influence, the economic crisis has highlighted the fact that European nations continue to think in national, rather than international terms, creating potentially deep conflicts within the EU.
A recent report by the Brussels think tank Breugel says that the EU itself may be the biggest casualty of the global financial crisis, with the nation states defending their own industries, each pressuring its banks to come home. During the crisis, Berlin even created a €115 billion "German Fund", despite EU competition rules.
Two countries, Poland and the Czech Republic, have yet to endorse the Lisbon Treaty, but after the Irish referendum, will probably do so. Poland's President, Lech Kaczynski, had promised to sign if Ireland voted in favour, and his chief-of-staff repeated that assurance after the Irish vote.
One likely consequence of the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty is that Tony Blair, former Prime Minister of Britain, is expected to become the next President of the European Council.