From: John Anthony Coughlan
Subject: Dear British Friends ... A message from Ireland re the Lisbon Treaty
The National Platform EU Research and Information Centre
24 Crawford Avenue
Dear Friends in Britain,
You may like to read in electronic form below an important article on the Lisbon Treaty which Conservative Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague had in last Saturday's Irish Times, the principal "quality" daily paper in the Republic of Ireland.
As you probably know, the Yes-side elements in last month's Lisbon Treaty referendum in Ireland are contemplating holding a second referendum next spring on the same Treaty, in the hope of inducing Irish voters to reverse the result of their 12 June No vote, so enabling Lisbon to be ratified. The Irish Government is under heavy pressure from France, Germany and the Brussels Commission to follow such a course.
This pressure is expected to intensify at the next EU "summit" meetings in October and December, as all the other 26 EU States are likely to have ratified the Lisbon Treaty by the year's end, and that fact will be used to put pressure on the Irish Government to hold a Lisbon Two referendum.
The British Government deposited the instrument of ratification of Lisbon in Rome the other week, even though there was absolutely no hurry about doing this, as two legal actions were on foot in the British courts challenging the ratification and the Government knew that Irish voters had rejected the Treaty. The British Government thus deliberately added to the pressure on Ireland.
The three-quarters of a million first-generation Irish people living in Britain, and the several million British people of Irish descent, will hardly welcome this behaviour in so far as they learn about it - not least in the light of Prime Minister Gordon Brown's abandonment of his party's election manifesto pledge to hold a referendum in Britain on the EU Constitution, which is now embodied in the Lisbon Treaty.
Gestures of support from Britain for the Irish people's rejection of Lisbon in the form of letters to the Irish newspapers or messages to one's personal friends in Ireland, would be welcome over the coming months, so long as they are not in a form that could be construed as telling the Irish people or Irish Government what to do.
Both the Irish and British peoples have a common democratic interest in opposing the turning of the EU into a political union, which the Lisbon Treaty/EU Constitution would do.
Lisbon would in effect establish a legally new European Union in the constitutional form of a supranational European Federation under Franco-German hegemony, in which the EU Member States would be reduced to the constitutional status of provincial states and we would all be endowed with a real rather than symbolical or notional EU citizenship.
This would mean that in a post-Lisbon European Union both the Irish and British peoples would owe that Union their prime citizens' duty of obedience to its laws and loyalty to its authority over and above our citizens' duty to our own countries and laws, because of the principle of the superiority of EU law over national law in any case of conflict between the two.
Irish democrats look to British democrats to help and support us in every way that you practically can in opposing these profoundly anti-democratic developments over the months ahead.
IRISH TIMES ARTICLE BY SHADOW FOREIGN SECRETARY WILLIAM HAGUE
"No outsider has any right to tell the Irish how to handle Lisbon"
Irish Times, Saturday 26 July 2008, page 14
"The result of the Irish people's verdict on the Lisbon Treaty is still reverberating across Europe - and how could it not? With people in every other European country denied any direct say on the treaty, Irish voters had to speak for every European.
The hope that they would give voice to concerns held across the Continent was felt acutely on the other side of the Irish Sea, where in a breach of an election manifesto promise, the Labour government has denied British voters any say on the Lisbon Treaty at all, either in a referendum or at a general election.
The Irish people not only spoke for those who were not given a voice; they also spoke with courage. It was no surprise to Ireland's well-wishers that threats that Ireland would suffer should the"wrong" answer be given were counterproductive, but it is shocking that in today's Europe senior figures in European governments should seek to influence another nation's democratic decision with bullying language.
It is now incumbent on politicians across Europe to appreciate the meaning of Ireland's vote and to absorb its lessons. The Irish public has, if anything, been inundated with commentary from those outside Ireland who were unhappy at the result. Now that Irish voters have made their choice, it may also be useful if if those outside Ireland who thought the Irish people came to the right decision were to set out their understanding of what has happened and made some suggestions for what Europe should do next. This is one attempt to do that.
First, it is clear that Ireland's No was not a No to Europe, any more than the French and Dutch rejections were; it was a pro-European No. There is no evidence that this vote represented a rejection of the EU or its ideals: a continent united in peace and co-operation.
Second, it has been claimed that the No was simply the result of an inexpert public's inability to see through the treaty's complex legal language to the shining merits of its content.
That so many among Europe's political elites' first response has been to dismiss the referendum result as an outrage from a country supposedly ungrateful to its Brussels benefactors and whose voters' decision must shortly be reversed is deeply troubling. It is an extremely patronising view.
Nor does it strike me as a healthy democratic reaction. When voters reject a cherished proposal it is wiser for politicians to ask, not "why have the people got it so wrong", but "how have we got it wrong". If the argument is that treaties are too complicated for voters - in other words that referendums on EU treaties are only justified if the voters say Yes - one might as well argue against elections on the grounds that most voters aren't experts on tax law or the finer points of education policy.
Neither is blaming Lisbon's failure on popular incomprehension a strong point for the treaty's supporters. How good can a treaty be if, after months of national debate, its merits cannot be comprehensibly explained? Would any of us in our normal lives sign up to a document we did not understand?
Third, it is apparent that a vast number of people in Ireland, as in many other European countries, do not want the extension of EU power and the weakening of individual countries' voices in Europe, like that of Ireland.
Lisbon would mean exactly that, whether it is the bigger role for the EU in defence, including a mutual defence commitment, its new powers over foreign policy or Ireland's smaller voting share and loss of a guaranteed EU commissioner. On that point it is worth noting that the current treaties require unanimous agreement for any new arrangement on the number of EU commissioners. So talk of Ireland automatically losing a commissioner unless Lisbon goes through is wildly misplaced.
It is equally true that the majority of Irish voters are not alone in rejecting a more federal future for Europe. In Lisbon's earlier guise as the EU constitution it was rejected by the French and Dutch. Polls showed that voters in up to 16 EU member states would have rejected Lisbon had they been given the chance to vote.
This leaves us with the question: what next?
Of course, the straight and simple answer is that No means just that. The EU is a union of democratic sovereign nation states and if the electorate of one EU country rejects a treaty then that should be that. It is a matter for the Irish government whether the Irish people are asked to vote again, and it is a matter for the Irish people what their response to such a move should be. No outsider has any right to tell the Irish how to handle the matter. That being the case, there must be no question of any punishment of Ireland.
Moroever, the rejection of Lisbon does not actually present any real problem for the EU. Contrary to all the froth about an enlarged Europe's desperate need for the EU constitution/Lisbon Treaty to work efficiently, the quiet truth is that the EU is in fact working perfectly well under the current treaties.
Meanwhile, it is looking increasingly likely that at the next British general election, now less than two years away, the British people will choose a new government. If Lisbon remains unratified by all EU members states, a Conservative government will put Britain's ratification of the treaty on ice and hold a referendum, recommending a No vote to a document we believe represents an outdated centralising approach to the EU. So the chances are growing that Ireland's voters will not be alone in saying No to Lisbon for long."
William Hague is a former British cabinet mnister, who later led the Conservative Party from 1997 to 2001. He is currently shadow foreign secretary.