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Europe Says No
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Labour MP: Lisbon 'puts future of democracy at stake'

A former UK government minister has warned that the Lisbon Treaty threatens the future of democracy. 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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 Why we say no – 10 reasons

Below is a summary of the main reasons why we believe the Lisbon Treaty should be rejected.  Please click on the headings to read a short explanation of each one.

  1. Ireland has already said No – politicians should respect that
  2. The Lisbon Treaty is the EU Constitution in all but name, which has already been voted down by France and the Netherlands
  3. The Irish ‘guarantees’ are meaningless and do nothing to address Irish voters’ concerns – the Treaty has not changed by a single comma
  4. There is no guarantee that Ireland will get to keep its Commissioner indefinitely
  5. Most Europeans have not been given a vote
  6. The Treaty is a bad deal for Ireland
  7. The Treaty is bad for democracy in Europe – less powers for national parliaments
  8. The Treaty creates powerful new institutions such as an EU President and Foreign Minister, without allowing voters a say
  9. The Treaty does nothing to address the EU’s chronic problems
  10. Yes campaigners have not been honest 

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Ireland has already said No – politicians should respect that

On 13 June 2008, Irish voters rejected the Lisbon Treaty in a referendum by 53.4 percent votes to 46.6 percent.  Turnout was 53.1 percent.

But no sooner had the count finished, EU politicians were saying Ireland had got the ‘wrong answer’ and would have to vote again.  The Irish government claimed there was no intention to make people vote again, but eventually gave in to pressure and organised a second referendum. This is in spite of a poll of Irish voters taken 6 weeks after the referendum which showed that 71 percent did not want to be asked again.

This is a matter of democracy.  The Irish government explicitly promised not to put the same text to the Irish again.  But this is exactly what they will do.  The Treaty has not been changed in any way, and Ireland has secured no opt-outs, which means Irish voters will be voting on exactly the same text they have already rejected.  Why should they have to vote again?

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The Lisbon Treaty is the EU Constitution in all but name, which has already been voted down by France and the Netherlands

This is not the first time EU leaders have refused to take no for an answer.  Unfortunately, forcing the Irish to vote again on exactly the same text is part of a growing trend in Europe of politicians ignoring voters’ wishes regarding the EU. It has to stop.

The Lisbon Treaty was originally called the Constitutional Treaty.  In referendums in both France and the Netherlands voters said ‘no’ to the Treaty in 2005.  Turnout was even higher than in last year’s Irish referendum.  But instead of respecting the no vote in these two founding members of the EU, politicians pressed ahead with the Treaty anyway. 

In one of the most dishonest exercises in recent political history, EU politicians changed the layout of the text, tinkered with some of the language, and renamed it as the Lisbon Treaty.  Several leaders admitted that the idea of this was to pretend the text was different, and release many governments from their promises to hold a referendum on the original text.  96% of the original text is in the Lisbon Treaty.  Ireland was the only country allowed a vote on the Lisbon Treaty, because it is constitutionally bound to hold referendums on important EU treaty changes. In all the other countries, the text was pushed through parliaments without proper democratic debate, and without asking the people.

Tens of millions of people around Europe have rejected this Treaty, and yet, if Ireland votes yes, they will have to live with it anyway.  That is not democracy.

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The Irish ‘guarantees’ are meaningless and do nothing to address Irish voters’ concerns – the Treaty has not changed by a single comma

Since the last referendum in 2008, EU leaders have agreed a list of statements which do not change the Lisbon Treaty in any way, but merely reiterate what the Treaty already says. These have been described as ‘guarantees’, but in fact are not legally-binding under EU law. Even if they do eventually 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 (see They Said It section).  If the Treaty had changed in any way at all, it would have had to be ratified again in other EU countries.

This means that Irish voters will be voting 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.

Unlike Denmark, where voters rejected the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, 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.

The so-called ‘guarantees‘ are largely red-herrings which distract from the real problems with the Treaty – such as the fact that it 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 and the world. The Treaty also hands the European Court of Justice significant new powers to act in sensitive areas such as Justice and Home Affairs.

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There is no guarantee that Ireland will get to keep its Commissioner Indefinitely

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.

Article 17, TEU of the Lisbon Treaty still clearly states that the number of Commissioners will be reduced to two thirds of the number of member states.  It says: “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.”

The Treaty also says that this arrangement can be changed by a unanimous vote in the European Council.  Earlier this year, EU leaders promised the Irish Prime Minister that, once the Treaty is in force, they will all vote unanimously to not use the default Lisbon position of reducing the size of the Commission to two thirds of the number of member states, and would instead continue to allow each member state to send a Commissioner to Brussels.

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, the wording of Article 17, TEU of the Lisbon Treaty, instead of just making a promise to ignore it in the future.  It is by no means a guarantee.

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, member states could potentially be without a Commissioner for 5 out of every 15 years.

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Most Europeans have not been given a vote

Many people claim that the rest of Europe is just waiting for Ireland to say ‘yes’ to the Treaty. 

But Ireland is the only country to have given its citizens a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. Voters in several EU countries were promised a referendum on the Treaty, but were denied a vote when EU leaders began to fear that the Treaty would be rejected.

This is despite the fact that, according to the only independent poll of all 27 EU member states, 75 percent of voters across Europe, and a majority in every EU country, want to be given a say on any new Treaty which gives more powers to the EU.

The most recent poll showed that 77 percent of Germans want a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. 

Irish EU Commissioner Charlie McCreevy has estimated that 95 percent of countries would have voted no to the Treaty if they had been given a referendum.

An independent poll of all member states showed that at least half of EU member states would have rejected the Treaty if they had been given a vote. 

Pressing ahead with such an important Treaty without consulting the people will spell disaster for the European Union in the long run.  Most people in Europe are in favour of the European Union, but they desperately want to be given more of a say on big issues like Treaty change, and increasingly feel alienated and disenchanted with an EU that refuses to consult or listen to them.  By voting ‘No’ to the Lisbon Treaty a second time around, Irish voters can speak for the rest of Europe in demanding a stop to integration without the people.

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The Treaty is a bad deal for Ireland

The Irish government claims the Treaty is good for Ireland, but during negotiations on the text in Brussels, Irish ministers objected to many of its most important aspects. Only 24% of proposed Irish amendments made it into the final text.

In particular, the government was against the appointment of a permanent EU President, which will replace the current system of rotating presidencies.  It was also against the changes to voting arrangements, which will see Ireland losing 40 percent of its power to block EU legislation it disagrees with.

It said that national parliaments should have a say in nominating the Commission President, and also objected to the abolition of national vetoes in many policy areas, including criminal justice and social security policy.  However, on these and many other important suggestions, the Irish government was ignored.

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The Treaty is bad for democracy in Europe – less powers for national parliaments

According to analysis by academics from the London School of Economics, under the Lisbon Treaty all EU countries except Malta will lose power to block EU legislation they disagree with as the threshold for passing legislation is reduced and it becomes far easier for the EU institutions to pass new laws.

The Treaty abolishes the national veto in 60 areas of policy - in everything from transport, to the rights of criminals, to some areas of foreign policy - without compensating for this with adequate powers for national parliaments.

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 new arrangements for amending the treaties means that national parliaments will have less influence on policymaking 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.”

In addition, the Treaty is ‘self-amending’, allowing the EU to increase its own powers and change the Treaties over time, without the need for proper parliamentary and public debate. 

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.

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The Treaty creates powerful new institutions such as an EU President and Foreign Minister, without allowing voters a say

The Lisbon Treaty would create a powerful new EU President, whose exact role is yet to be determined.  It is thought he or she will be paid the same as the (appointed) European Commission President, who currently earns the same basic salary as the democratically-elected President of the United States.

Currently, EU member states take it in turns to be President of the EU for six months at a time.  While not perfect, this system does at least ensure that the smaller member states like Ireland get to set the agenda in Europe on an equal basis with the larger countries.

It also means that the democratically elected prime ministers and presidents of EU member states set the agenda in Europe and represent the EU on the world stage.  Under the Lisbon Treaty, the President of the EU will be nominated, not by the people but by the European Council, by a qualified majority vote and without consultation with national parliaments.  He or she will sit for terms of two and a half years.

The likelihood is that the post will go to an ex-prime minister or president of Europe.  This means that whoever is appointed is likely to have lost the support of their own electorate at home – such as Tony Blair, who is currently being touted as a future EU President.

Likewise, the new EU Foreign Minister will be appointed by the European Council, acting by qualified majority voting.  Again, his or her exact role and salary remain to be decided.  The Foreign Minister will chair the meetings of EU foreign ministers, even though the Irish government objected to that, and proposals he makes will be decided on by qualified majority voting.  Other new institutions include an EU diplomatic service, and a European Public Prosecutor.

See our Guide to Lisbon for more details about what is in the Treaty.

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The Treaty does nothing to address the EU’s chronic problems

The European Union needs urgent reform, in many respects. However, instead of addressing the problems the EU is experiencing with the powers it already has, the Lisbon Treaty seeks to give the EU more powers at the expense of national governments and parliaments.

People in Europe feel more disconnected from the EU than ever before.  Turnout at the last European elections hit a record low.  People feel disenchanted with the European Union for many different reasons, but several underlying themes crop up again and again.

The EU hasn’t had its accounts signed off in 14 years.  It is losing more than €1 million in fraud every working day, according to its own figures.  It spends €200m a year just ferrying MEPs back and forth between its two parliament buildings in Strasbourg and Brussels.  There is a feeling that the EU is doing ‘too much’, churning out too much legislation that all too often voters only hear about once it has already been decided. 

The Lisbon Treaty does nothing to address these problems.  In fact, it will make real reform of the EU even more difficult in the long-run, by entrenching and empowering the institutions and reducing the power of citizens to have a say.  Once the Lisbon Treaty is passed, it will be deemed that ‘reform’ has been dealt with and can be abandoned for decades to come.

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Yes campaigners have not been honest

Advocates of the Lisbon Treaty say they want a detailed debate about the content of the Treaty, but instead often rely on irrelevant arguments about membership of the EU.

Some even try to paint those who are against the Treaty as ‘anti-EU’, or even ‘anti-European’.  They refuse to acknowledge that it is easy to be in favour of the EU but against this Treaty.

This is not a vote on ‘in or out’ of Europe – it is about the kind of Europe we want to see.  Polls show that most people are in favour of their country’s membership of the EU, but are worried about further EU integration.  It is time the politicians listened to them and represented them.  

Some ‘yes’ campaigners are also pretending that if Ireland votes no, it will have to leave the EU.  This is nothing more than a scare tactic.  The same was said of the French and the Dutch ahead of their referendums on the Treaty, but when they voted no, life continued as normal.

If Ireland votes no it will not be slung out of the EU.  The Polish and Czech Presidents will refuse to sign it, as they are waiting for the outcome of the Irish referendum, and the likely new Conservative government in the UK will put it to a referendum, where it is likely to be rejected.  At that point it will cease to be Ireland’s problem and will well and truly be Europe’s. 

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