Sunday, June 15, 2008

Reflections on Ireland's rejection of the Lisbon Treaty-Some lessons for EU Commission

Just been listening to Newstalk’s discussion on Ireland’s rejection of the Lisbon Treaty.
Journalist Michael O’Regan took a very hard line on some of the No voters. However I thing that it is necessary to delve into the mindset of NO voters.

Critics of the No vote in common with the major political parties and the EU Commission have failed to get the message been sent out by voters in countries such as Ireland, France and Holland.
The No vote is not a rejection of the EU. However it is a message to integrationists to slow down. Many in Ireland see the EU Commission as remote undemocratic and at times dictatorial. Comments from Jose Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission and some French politicians cemented this view.

Farmers labouring under increased EU induced bureaucracy and quotas have begun to realise that their way of life is under serious threat. The destruction of the Irish Sugar beet industry by the EU Commission has alarmed farmers and struck a psychological blow. Whilst it may have slipped from public consciousness it was at the back of many farmers minds. The fear is that the dairying, beef, poultry and pig farming sectors will disappear in a similar manner.

Yet the Commission is perceived in rural Ireland as not taking a hard line with on foreign food imports which lack traceability. EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson’s antics at the WTO negotiations where he appears prepared to sell out agriculture struck terror into farmers. There is a feeling that Commissioners are too powerful and not accountable to the electorate.

As farming declines large numbers of small businesses dependent on farming are under pressure. Many small businessmen, shopkeepers et al voted No for this reason.
Many workers in food processing voted No fearful for their jobs.
As EU inspired liberalisation of the postal service comes about the rural Post Offices have come under increasing threat.
The coastal communities hammered by EU regulation-specifically fishermen- are on the verge of revolt.

The reality that much of the productive sector in rural Ireland is increasingly hampered by EU Commission induced regulation.
Many people’s backs are to the wall. Elites in the Pale have failed to take cognisance of the the economic stresses building up in rural Ireland

Others voted No because the 12.5% Corporation Profits Tax is under threat. This is not a groundless fear. France and Germany appear determined to destroy Ireland’s competitive advantage. Ireland must defend this tax rate at all costs. There can be no surrender on this issue.
There is a strong fear that the EU Court of Human Rights would impose abortion on Ireland.
Working class voters-many of whom had begun too see living standards rise- have seen a rise in unemployment.

In summary the EU Commission has scored an own goal. It comes across as arrogant and out of touch not just to many Irish voters but many voters in France, Germany, Holland and Sweden. It needs to listen. It must be made more accountable. It must become more democratic. If it persists in ignoring large numbers of EU voters it runs the risk of spawning new extreme right wing and left wing parties.

Cast iron guarantees on issues such as Corporation Profits Tax, Social legislation and Irish agriculture are a sine qua non in any new negotiations to salvage the Lisbon Treaty. A little humility from the EU Commission mightn’t go amiss either.

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