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Labour MP: Lisbon 'puts future of democracy at stake'

A former UK government minister has warned that the Lisbon Treaty puts the future of democracy at stake. Labour MP Gisela Stuart - who helped draw up the original EU Constitution, since renamed as the Lisbon Treaty - said that the Treaty breaches the fundamental democratic principle that voters can get rid of those in power ...

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 Frequently Asked Questions

In this section we look at some of the frequently asked questions about the Treaty.  We also seek to address some of the myths and mistruths about the Treaty. 

Ireland has already voted on the Lisbon Treaty – why is it being asked to vote again?
Has the Lisbon Treaty changed since the last Irish referendum?
What about the Irish ‘guarantees’?
Will all countries continue to keep an EU Commissioner?
What will happen if Ireland rejects the Treaty again?  Will it have to leave the EU?
The EU has been good for Ireland – shouldn’t Ireland show its appreciation?
Aren’t all the other EU member states just waiting for Ireland to say ‘yes’?
What is the alternative to Lisbon?
What does the Lisbon Treaty do to increase democracy in Europe?
Will the Treaty increase Ireland’s influence in Europe?
Do we need the Lisbon Treaty to help the EU tackle the big, international issues like climate change?
Will the EU grind to a halt without the Lisbon Treaty?
Is it ‘anti-European’ to be against the Lisbon Treaty?
Most politicians are in favour of the Lisbon Treaty – surely they know best?
The EU has many problems. Does the Lisbon Treaty help solve them?
I don’t live in Ireland – why should I care?
What does the Treaty boil down to, in a nutshell?

The EU has proven time and again that it cannot take no for an answer. When Ireland voted No to the Nice Treaty in 2001, the only country to hold a referendum, it was asked to vote again. The same thing happened when Denmark rejected the Maastricht Treaty in 1992.  Referendums that return ‘yes’ votes are never re-run.

When French and Dutch voters said no to the original version of the Lisbon Treaty in 2005, they were also ignored. EU leaders simply repackaged it and changed the name, and then pushed the Treaty through Parliament.

EU leaders have invested a lot of political capital and time in the Treaty, and will not rest until they see it implemented, even though many tens of millions of people have already voted against it.  For the sake of democracy, we must not let this happen.

No. Despite promises from the Irish government that they would not make people vote on the same Treaty as last time, not a single comma of the Treaty has changed.  This has been confirmed by many EU leaders outside of Ireland.

If it had changed in any way at all, every other country would have had to go through the ratification process again.

The ‘guarantees’ offered to Ireland are a meaningless attempt to convince Irish people that they are being offered something different this time around.  They are not.

EU leaders have agreed a list of statements which do not change the Lisbon Treaty in any way, but reiterate what the Treaty already says. They are not legally-binding under EU law, but even if they do become legally-binding in the form of a ‘protocol’ in the future as is planned, EU leaders have confirmed that they will still not change the substance of the Treaty. This means that Irish voters will be asked to vote on exactly the same text of the Lisbon Treaty a second time around, despite having already rejected it, and despite promises from the Irish government that they would not present the same text again.

Despite comparisons with the situation facing Denmark in 1992 after its voters rejected the Maastricht Treaty, unlike Denmark, Ireland has secured no opt-outs from the Lisbon Treaty, but a series of political commitments, meaning it will apply to Ireland in exactly the same way as was envisaged when Ireland voted on it last year. Even if they were to make any changes to the text, the handful of issues EU leaders have focussed on are largely red-herrings which distract from the real problems with the Treaty. The Treaty abolishes the national veto in more than 60 areas of policy – on everything from transport to the rights of criminal suspects and even some aspects of foreign policy. Ireland will lose 40% of its power to block EU laws it disagrees with, and the Treaty creates a powerful new EU President, and EU Foreign Minister, which will dilute Ireland’s influence in the EU. The Treaty also hands the European Court of Justice significant new powers to act in sensitive areas such as Justice and Home Affairs.

In particular, Irish concerns about neutrality remain unaddressed. Polling shows that concerns about the Lisbon Treaty’s impact on Ireland’s policy of neutrality were among the most prominent of reasons for voting no. The declaration agreed by EU leaders – even if it does become legally-binding at some future date – does nothing to address Irish voters’ concerns about the impact of the Treaty on the country’s neutrality, because it provides no exemption for Ireland from the mutual defence clause in Article 42(7). Experts argue that this is the only way to guarantee that the Treaty does not threaten Ireland’s neutrality.

The ‘guarantee’ that Ireland, and all the other EU member states, will each get to keep an EU Commissioner under the Lisbon Treaty is no such thing.

The Treaty of Lisbon still states that “As from 1 November 2014, the Commission shall consist of a number of members, including its President and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, corresponding to two thirds of the number of Member States, unless the European Council, acting unanimously, decides to alter this number.” (Article 17 TEU)

EU leaders made a political promise that, if the Lisbon Treaty comes into force, they will vote to change this.  However, this promise is not legally binding in any way.  The current EU leaders, who made the promise, cannot guarantee that their successors will actually deliver on the pledge. The default position in the Lisbon Treaty will always say that the number of Commissioners should be two thirds the number of member states.  If EU leaders wanted to change this, they would have changed the actual text of the Treaty.

Furthermore, there is no guarantee whatsoever that this arrangement, if it is agreed, will prevail in the future – it could be that by as early as 2019 the Commission will revert to the Lisbon default position of two thirds membership.

The status quo seems far safer for the long run. Unlike Lisbon, under the current, Nice Treaty arrangements, EU leaders have the option to reduce the size of the Commission by just one member, meaning each member state would be without a Commissioner for only 5 years in every 135. In contrast, under the Lisbon Treaty, member states could potentially be without a Commissioner for 5 out of every 15 years

This is not a referendum on Ireland’s membership of the EU.  Ireland cannot be forced to leave the EU. If Ireland votes No again, the Czech and Polish Presidents, who are waiting for the outcome of the Irish referendum, will in all likelihood refuse to sign and ratify the Treaty.

Opinion polls suggest that the Conservatives would win the next election in the UK, to be held before June 2010, and they have committed to giving the people a referendum on the Treaty if it is not yet ratified, the likely outcome of which would be a no.

At this point EU leaders would be forced to sit up and listen.  Any attempt to push the Lisbon Treaty through regardless would likely give rise to serious opposition in other countries, where voters have not been given a say.

Without the Lisbon Treaty, the EU would not come to a standstill, but would continue to function, just as it did after the French and the Dutch voted No in 2005.

The EU has brought substantial benefits for Ireland, and all other member countries.  However, this is not a referendum about whether or not Ireland wants to remain a member of the EU.  The benefits brought to Ireland from the Single Market will not be lost if Ireland votes no. 

This is a referendum about the kind of Europe we want to see in the future – it is about the specific detail of the text that is in front of us.  The Treaty proposes to give the EU unprecedented new powers in all manner of policy areas, to create new institutions and to reduce the influence of national parliaments in deciding policies which affect our everyday lives.  These are important questions which go far beyond the simple question of whether or not Ireland has benefitted from being in the EU so far. 

Irish voters have an important question to answer which has nothing to do with Ireland’s membership of the EU or the euro.  It is unfair to suggest that voting no to an important treaty which will shape the future of Europe for decades to come is somehow tantamount to being “ungrateful”.  As pointed out by the Editor of the Church of Ireland Gazette, such arguments amount to “moral blackmail”.

Citizens in all other EU member states have been denied a vote on the Lisbon Treaty, even though some were promised one. 

Two of the four countries that were given a referendum on the original version of the Treaty said no. 55% of French people said no, with a 69% turnout. 62% of Dutch people said no, with a 63% turnout. 

It is not the citizens of Europe who are waiting for Ireland to vote yes so much as the political elite in these countries.  Many EU leaders are anxious to sow up ratification before any other country has a chance to be given a referendum on the Treaty, which could result in its rejection.

Ireland’s own EU Commissioner Charlie McCreevy has admitted that 95% of countries in the EU would have voted no to the Lisbon Treaty if they had held referendums, instead of pushing the Treaty through parliament. 

A poll of all 27 Member States in March 2007, showed that at least half of all member states would have voted no to the Treaty, if there had been referendums.  75% of people said they wanted a referendum on any Treaty which gave more powers to the EU, including a majority in all countries.�

The EU does not need a new Treaty for the things which it says it wants to accomplish, such as finding a solution to the financial crisis, introducing measures to combat climate change, and reforming its spending programmes – many of which are afflicted by fraud and waste.

Many of the things the EU says it wants to do – such as have a common ‘voice’ in world affairs – depend more on political will than on creating new institutions and abolishing vetoes.  The EU does need drastic reform, but this Treaty hinders rather than helps it.  Voting against the Treaty is the best way to trigger a real debate about the future of Europe which involves citizens instead of trying to alienate them.  In order to survive in the 21st century, a simpler, more flexible European Union based on public participation is what’s needed.

The Lisbon Treaty is a huge step backwards for democracy in the EU. It is a common myth that the Lisbon Treaty brings greater powers for national parliaments.  In fact, the combination of the loss of policymaking powers to the EU level, the loss of the national veto brought by the increase in the use of majority voting, and the new arrangements for amending the treaties means that national parliaments will have less power than ever before.

As the German Constitutional Court recently pointed out: “The status of national parliaments is considerably curtailed by the reduction of decisions requiring unanimity and the supranationalisation of police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters.”

The Lisbon Treaty is also self-amending.  Currently, changes to the Treaties must be ratified by law in most member states, which has always in the past sparked public and parliamentary interest and debate. In Ireland, any significant changes have to be put to a referendum.  Equipped with several different options for changing the Treaties – including the so-called ‘passerelle’, ‘flexibility’ and ‘simplified revision’ procedures, the Lisbon Treaty makes it possible for EU leaders to agree future changes to the treaties without the current requirement for national parliamentary and public debate.  This means that if Lisbon is passed, this is very likely to be Ireland’s last ever referendum on EU affairs.

No, Ireland’s influence in the EU and the world will be reduced for several reasons. As a result of the change in voting arrangements, which were originally opposed by the Irish government, Ireland will see a 40% reduction in its power to block legislation that it is unhappy with. This means Ireland is likely to be outvoted far more often under the Lisbon Treaty, and end up having to implement laws it does not necessarily agree with.  This is a dilution of democracy.

The Treaty will also create a powerful new EU President, most likely an ex-leader of a large EU country who has lost their democratic mandate. When the original text of the Treaty was being drawn up, the Irish government was strongly opposed to this measure, and wanted to keep the current system of rotating six-month EU Presidencies, which allows smaller countries such as Ireland to set the agenda in Europe on an equal basis with the larger countries.

As explained above, it is also entirely possible that EU leaders will eventually revert to the default Lisbon Treaty position of reducing the number of EU Commissioners to a third of the number of member states, meaning Ireland could be without a Commissioner in Brussels for 5 out of every 15 years, as opposed to 5 out of every 135 years under the Nice Treaty arrangements.  

The Treaty also ends Ireland’s right to make bilateral trade deals with countries outside the EU, as pointed out recently by the German Constitutional Court.

Whilst supporters of the Treaty claim that the Treaty is essential to enable the EU to ‘take action’ on important transnational issues like the environment, the Treaty makes almost no changes to the EU’s capacities in this respect, merely adding a few words to emphasise the importance of the objective of fighting climate change. In reality, the EU currently has (and already exercises) plenty of power over environmental policy, but has simply failed to use it effectively due to flawed policies and lack of political will. The EU Emissions Trading Scheme has failed to cut emissions and has been converted by politically powerful corporate interest groups into a means of covert industrial subsidy.

Despite what some EU leaders say, there is no evidence that the EU is slowing down, even after enlargement from 15 to 27 member states.

In fact, far from “grinding to a halt”, the amount of legislation passed by the EU each year has steadily increased. Academics at the Paris-based University Sciences-Po found that legislation was being passed 25% faster than before enlargement and a study at the London School of Economics said there was no evidence that the EU had become “gridlocked”.

When the French and Dutch voted No to the Constitution in 2005 the EU did not shut down.  On the contrary, it has continued to legislate as normal.

The vote on Lisbon is not about membership of the EU, it is about the type of Europe that you want.

True Europeans are fighting for a more democratic EU.  They recognise that the EU will not survive if it is allowed to take on too much power and become too alienated from the people it is supposed to represent.

In most EU countries citizens have been denied a referendum on the grounds that ‘politicians know best’ and the Treaty should be passed through parliament instead.

But many politicians have admitted to not reading the Treaty. These include Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen and Irish EU Commissioner Charlie McCreevy.  When the Treaty was being debated in parliament in the UK, then-Europe Minister Caroline Flint admitted to not having read it in full.  These are the people who have been made to defend the Treaty in public.  In some countries, where there has been even less debate than in the UK and Ireland, it is a fairly safe bet that many MPs rubberstamped the Treaty without reading it at all.

Politicians have now invested so much time and energy in agreeing and promoting the Treaty that they are unable to look at it objectively. They now feel they cannot back down – not because their arguments are ‘right’ but because a second no vote would damage their reputation. For the Irish government it is as much about staying in office as it is about the best interests of the country.

The Treaty will do nothing to tackle the EU’s chronic problems, such as the fact that it hasn’t had its accounts signed off in 14 years, it loses more than €1 million to fraud every single working day, according to its own figures, and the fact that it wastes more than €200 million just ferrying MEPs between Brussels and Strasbourg every month.

The EU already has significant powers in many areas, many of which it is using badly.  It also has huge problems with democracy which have so dramatically come to light over the last few years.

The EU has a significant impact on our everyday lives, good and bad. Now is the time for a proper, Europe-wide and inclusive debate about the powers the EU already has and an assessment of whether it is doing a good or a bad job.  If we ignore the clear signs of discontent now, it will spell disaster later on. The EU is threatening to come apart at the seams – giving it more powers at the expense of national parliaments and citizens will only hasten that process.

This is not an Irish battle, but a European battle being fought on Irish soil.  The outcome of the Irish referendum will affect the lives of hundreds of millions of people across the whole EU – people who have not been given their own chance to have a say. 

The Irish referendum represents the last throw of the dice for opponents of the Lisbon Treaty all over Europe.  If Ireland votes yes, then the Treaty will come into force across the whole EU, whether we like it or not.

While making up your mind about the Lisbon Treaty, ask yourself the following questions:

Do you want to give the EU unprecedented new powers? 

Do you want your national elected politicians to have less say over the important decisions that affect your life, such as criminal justice decisions, health provision, and social security? 

Do you want to reward an organisation which has a blatant disregard for its citizens’ expressed wishes?

Do you want an end to national control of future changes to the EU treaties?

Do you want it to be even more difficult to reform the EU institutions in the future?

Do you want to significantly increase the chances that your national government will be outvoted on EU laws it opposes?

Do you believe that members of the European Parliament should have more of a say than your local MP over the decisions that affect your life and your country?

Do you think it is fair that Ireland has been asked to vote twice on the Treaty, when most other member states have been denied even one vote?

If you’ve answered ‘no’ to any one of the above questions, then the Lisbon Treaty is not for you.

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