FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Irish Kicks at the Foundation of the New Europe

While international election-junkies get their fix analysing polls and results in Germany, Brazil and the US, they’re only now beginning to notice the referendum due to take place on October 19th here on Europe’s offshore isle. At the risk of appearing parochial: what’s at stake here in Ireland is perhaps more fundamentally important than any of those other electoral spats–it’s the institutional future of the world’s nascent superpower, the European Union (EU). And Ireland’s position, as it prepares to vote for a second time on the EU’s Nice Treaty, is putting that future very much in doubt.

The reasons this vote has turned out to be so fraught, unique and important are fluky and contingent. As anyone who has travelled around the single-currency continent lately can testify, the union, comprising at present 15 member states, has been politically “integrating” in stages–leaving behind its old status as the European Economic Community–with a new treaty every few years to spell out the evolving arrangements. The Treaty of Nice, agreed in 2000 at a meeting in the French resort, is just the latest stage: it sets things up for a dramatic expansion of the EU to the east–in part by giving more decision-making weight to the bigger west-European powers and removing the requirement of unanimity for more Euro-decisions.

Successive Irish governments have been enthusiastic participants in the EU’s evolution, not least because what used to be called “cohesion funds” (i.e. pork) could be poured into poorer countries like this one to bring the infrastructure up to Euro-standard. However, since 1987, when a court case established that EU treaties, inasmuch as they diluted sovereignty, required amendment to Eamonn DeValera’s 1937 Constitution, governments have had to put every treaty to a referendum of the Irish people. Mostly over the last 15 years the Irish people have said “Sure, why not?” But last year the government, rushing to be among the first in Europe to ratify Nice, got sucker-punched in the referendum by a loose alliance of traditional nationalists, fine-print critics and a reinvigorated anti-militarist left that voiced concerns about European security policy and the implications for Irish neutrality. Voices from the small but noisy far left also cogently argued that the EU was building a “bosses’ Europe”, geared toward privatisation and tight budgets, poised to exploit the 12 potential applicant countries.

Shame-faced at the solid “No” majority in that referendum, the government ran off to Brussels to promise that it would arrange a re-run just soon as it could ensure the right result. In the meantime, the other 14 member states, without Ireland’s constitutional quirk, have all ratified the treaty with votes in their own legislatures.

A parliamentary vote in Ireland would be a piece of cake. The four parties that generally make up the main government and opposition here in varying combinations–Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, Labour and the Progressive Democrats–are all “enthusiastic Europeans”, as they like to put it. Same goes for the main trade unions and the bosses’ and farmers’ organisations. The trouble lies with the electorate–and for all we know the same trouble would bedevil other governments if they were forced into Irish-style exercises in democracy. Indeed, while the Irish political and media establishment reacted with embarrassment to last year’s No vote, many other European pols were heard to murmur: “There but for the grace of God”

The Government’s efforts to soften up the electorate and make it second-time-lucky have included a travelling road-show, aka “Forum”, for shooting the breeze about the wonders or otherwise of Europe; and a quite brilliant PR stroke on neutrality. The latter involved getting an EU summit in Seville to issue a “declaration” purporting to respect Ireland’s right to opt-out of any “common defense” arrangements, and adding another little Constitutional tidbit to the referendum itself, along similar lines. Now, voters who want to ensure constitutionally that Ireland stays out of defense pacts will have to vote Yes.

In one sense this misses the point. A Yes vote might ensure that Ireland can’t rush to Italy’s aid if Sicily is invaded by Tunisia. But it won’t stop the Irish Army from taking part in EU “Rapid Reaction Force” actions in more far-flung parts of the globe; in fact, Army brass are excitedly acquiring the toys to do just that sort of thing. The only restrictions the government says it is placing on such actions would be a requirement of its own approval of such an action–not a problem, evidently–and some form of UN figleaf–plenty of room for ambiguity and manoeuvre there too, as Serbia, Iraq and Afghanistan can testify.

Nonetheless, this twist on neutrality is a sharp one: the government, understanding that it can’t defeat neutrality as a core value of Irish voters, has instead simply enlisted it to the Yes cause. The latest poster: “Vote YES for Neutrality”. (Just what constitutes Irish neutrality is another day’s debate: the state’s muted but definite pro-US tilt during the Cold War turned into an out-and-out servile relationship through the 1990s, when Bill Clinton’s involvement in the Northern Ireland “peace process” and a “Celtic Tiger” economy built on US investment were the dominant foreign-policy factors. Last year the government spoke up early and often to support the “war on terror” as waged in Afghanistan.)

Anyway, opinion polls suggest the government’s strategy is on target–Yes leads by roughly three to two. However, with about a third of voters undecided, the government has a fight on its hands, and its political vision is being blurred by a series of mishaps, scandals and public-service cuts that have hit the headlines since the Fianna Fail-led government was returned in May’s general election. The Taioseach (prime minister) Bertie Ahern looks frankly punch-drunk, as the interim findings of a tribunal investigating planning corruption have hit too close for comfort. Dublin buzzes with speculation that a disgraced former minister, Ray Burke, “knows where the bodies are buried” and has little to lose if he helps disinter a few. His Fianna Fail party, still by far the most popular in the state, has lost some support; on the other hand, the media’s insistence that the referendum now constitutes a “make or break” test for the government, an “uphill battle”, may actually work to rally even the more disaffected troops.

And lucky for Bertie, the rest of the political establishment is taking up the running on Nice as Fianna Fail stumbles. Some of the effects are risible, e.g. the billboard from the employers’ confederation, showing two grim-faced children and the caption “Vote Yes to jobs for them”–which looks more like a brave plea from the bosses for a return to child labour than a promise of a full-employment future within an expanded EU.

Fine Gael, Fianna Fail’s main opposition for three-quarters of a century, is no less ridiculous. The party had a disastrous election and is said to be in desperate need of “rebranding”; so on the sex-sells principle, the party has allowed its youth wing to publish a poster showing scantily-clad totty of both genders and the leering words: “It’s better to be in than out.” Since a No vote would by no means take Ireland out of Europe, this constitutes no more than a pointless attempt to associate nubile and willing young flesh with the sad old souls of Fine Gael.

A No vote would simply mean the Nice Treaty falls, not just for Ireland–with just over 1 per cent of the union’s population–but for the whole EU. Institutional Europe, which indulges itself in periodic bouts of public breast-beating about sorting out its “democratic deficit”, would have failed its only true democratic test, not once but twice. If it happens, you’ll hear a little about Ireland’s crisis-ridden government and lot about Irish greed and selfishness–depriving eastern Europe of the benefits from which we’ve reputedly gained. You might even hear about the more right-wing No campaigners who have tried to exploit anti-immigrant sentiment by warning of a potential “flood” of workers from the would-be member-states to the east.

But keep in mind that Europe as a political phenomenon is being built over the heads of its people, and give the fighting Irish some credit for taking a kick at the foundations.

HARRY BROWNE is a lecturer in journalism at Dublin Institute of Technology and a columnist with The Irish Times.

Contact him at harrybrowne@eircom.net.

 

More articles by:

Harry Browne lectures in Dublin Institute of Technology and is the author of The Frontman: Bono (In the Name of Power). Email:harry.browne@gmail.com, Twitter @harrybrowne

June 19, 2018
Ann Robertson - Bill Leumer
We Can Thank Top Union Officials for Trump
Lawrence Davidson
The Republican Party Falls Apart, the Democrats Get Stuck
Sheldon Richman
Trump, North Korea, and Iran
Richard Rubenstein
Trump the (Shakespearean) Fool: a New Look at the Dynamics of Trumpism
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Protect Immigrant Rights; End the Crises That Drive Migration
Gary Leupp
Norway: Just Withdraw From NATO
Kristine Mattis
Nerd Culture, Adultolescence, and the Abdication of Social Priorities
Mike Garrity
The Forest Service Should Not be Above the Law
Colin Todhunter
Pro-GMO Activism And Smears Masquerade As Journalism: From Seralini To Jairam Ramesh, Aruna Rodrigues Puts The Record Straight
Doug Rawlings
Does the Burns/Novick Vietnam Documentary Deserve an Emmy?
Kenneth Surin
2018 Electioneering in Appalachian Virginia
Nino Pagliccia
Chrystia Freeland Fails to See the Emerging Multipolar World
John Forte
Stuart Hall and Us
June 18, 2018
Paul Street
Denuclearize the United States? An Unthinkable Thought
John Pilger
Bring Julian Assange Home
Conn Hallinan
The Spanish Labyrinth
Patrick Cockburn
Attacking Hodeidah is a Deliberate Act of Cruelty by the Trump Administration
Gary Leupp
Trump Gives Bibi Whatever He Wants
Thomas Knapp
Child Abductions: A Conversation It’s Hard to Believe We’re Even Having
Robert Fisk
I Spoke to Palestinians Who Still Hold the Keys to Homes They Fled Decades Ago – Many are Still Determined to Return
Steve Early
Requiem for a Steelworker: Mon Valley Memories of Oil Can Eddie
Jim Scheff
Protect Our National Forests From an Increase in Logging
Adam Parsons
Reclaiming the UN’s Radical Vision of Global Economic Justice
Dean Baker
Manufacturing Production Falls in May and No One Notices
Laura Flanders
Bottom-Up Wins in Virginia’s Primaries
Binoy Kampmark
The Anguish for Lost Buildings: Embers and Death at the Victoria Park Hotel
Weekend Edition
June 15, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Dan Kovalik
The US & Nicaragua: a Case Study in Historical Amnesia & Blindness
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Yellow Journalism and the New Cold War
Charles Pierson
The Day the US Became an Empire
Jonathan Cook
How the Corporate Media Enslave Us to a World of Illusions
Ajamu Baraka
North Korea Issue is Not De-nuclearization But De-Colonization
Andrew Levine
Midterms Coming: Antinomy Ahead
Louisa Willcox
New Information on 2017 Yellowstone Grizzly Bear Deaths Should Nix Trophy Hunting in Core Habitat
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Singapore Fling
Ron Jacobs
What’s So Bad About Peace, Man?
Robert Hunziker
State of the Climate – It’s Alarming!
L. Michael Hager
Acts and Omissions: The NYT’s Flawed Coverage of the Gaza Protest
Dave Lindorff
However Tenuous and Whatever His Motives, Trump’s Summit Agreement with Kim is Praiseworthy
Robert Fantina
Palestine, the United Nations and the Right of Return
Brian Cloughley
Sabre-Rattling With Russia
Chris Wright
To Be or Not to Be? That’s the Question
David Rosen
Why Do Establishment Feminists Hate Sex Workers?
Victor Grossman
A Key Congress in Leipzig
John Eskow
“It’s All Kinderspiel!” Trump, MSNBC, and the 24/7 Horseshit Roundelay
Paul Buhle
The Russians are Coming!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail