11 Jun 2008

Which are…


We’re told the main reasons for the Lisbon Treaty are to:

A) Create clearer structures to allow for the increased number of member states. This is proposed to be addressed by changing the way in which Commissionerships are awarded. Right now, ‘established’ member states are each given a Commissioner. Were this practise to continue to include all new member states, the number of EU Commissioners would become so large as to be meaningless. What Lisbon is proposing to do is have a fixed number of Commissioners and rotate their nationalities so that each country would have a Commissioner for five years and would then go without a Commissioner for the following five years.

A far better way to address this particular problem would be to establish an upper house of the European Parliament which would comprise (say) three directly elected senators per member country regardless of size. The new Upper and existing Lower houses would have the traditional, time-honoured relationship to each other.

The process of awarding Commissionerships simply on the basis of nationality could then be dropped. The executive role of the Commissioner would be developed with each selected on the basis of their experience and ability. In addition, some of the powers of the Commissioners to generate legislation would be passed on to the newly designed legislature.

B) Improve the sense of engagement between European citizens and the organs of the Union – i.e. reduce what’s commonly referred to as the democratic deficit. This is mainly to be addressed by having the Council of Ministers meet in public (right now they meet in Private).

The proposed measures don’t go nearly far enough to make the Union more accessible to the citizen. The roles of the Council of Ministers, The Commissariat, the European Parliament, etc. (not to mention the Pillars of the Union, which no one ever discusses), and their relationships one to the other remain hard to grasp. Obviously a certain amount of complexity is necessary to allow the countries of Europe to cooperate on different levels on a wide range of issues. But any structure designed to facilitate this should be grounded on the principle that only those given a clear democratic mandate to generate legislation are allowed to do so. In Europe this is currently not the case. The EU Parliament has the least power of any of the European institutions to influence decisions.


Any Treaty document is necessarily going to be complex but the Lisbon Treaty is unnecessarily complex. Bad enough that it’s not one single document which can be read from beginning to end (it’s the Treaties of Rome and Maastricht plus some Amendments which you, the reader, have to insert), the language is impossibly obtuse. This isn’t because the authors are talking legalese but because, ironically, they aren’t – throughout the various Amendments, loose and ambiguous phraseology is used which could be interpreted in any number of ways. I suspect (not trying to sound smart here) that elements of the text have been translated from other languages with emphasis placed on the meaning of individual words and with less concern for what they collectively communicate. So that, after having read a particularly difficult sentence a number of times, it’s hard to get a sense of what its trying to say.


The Lisbon Treaty is being put before us as a means of revising and consolidating EU structures. However, the very same document, with some minor differences, was presented to the French in 2005 as the new ‘European Constitution’. This, I think, explains why the Treaty lacks any sense of resonance. Viewed one way it can be read as a constitution, viewed another way it’s an idea about restructuring. I don’t mean to appear nasty to those who put in a lot of time and effort into producing it, but The Lisbon Treaty comes across as the work of a large committee of people, none of whom are particularly sharp on the nature of political/social structures, yet each harbouring idiosyncratic ideas of what the Treaty is about. Personally, I feel let down that work of this quality should be presented to me for consideration. If it were the work of a first year political science student, not only would I give it a fail, I'd suggest to the author that they consider their suitabilitly for the subject.


So. There you have it. Nothing to do with tax harmonisation, neutrality, euthanasia, Libertas or the WTO. Just what’s in the document.

Except I have to admit that I arrive at any Euro debate from a particular perspective. I happen to believe that the Irish Republic is a very much still a work in progress. Quite apart from the obvious problems we have with infrastructure, public service, social exclusion, etc., I believe we’ve yet to get to the core of what our society is about. In my general day to day business, I’m often struck by how the Irish social machine is part 'Post Colonialism', part 'American Individualism' and part 'European Social Liberalism'. There’s a big chunk of Irishness in there too, but it’s more under the surface, part of the psyche. The task we face is to examine this element of our make-up and forge a society which is in our own image. Until we do, we’ll continue make decisions about our future which aren’t rooted in a firm sense of identity.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008 10:36:14 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
While I'll be voting yes, I believe your final point is an excellent one Garry. I've heard somewhere that we're the most globalised nation on earth, caught somewhere between the US, UK and Europe. We've yet to decide and be comfortable with who we, the Irish, are in the C21st. We've had Finn McCoole agus Na Fianna, the Island of Saints & Scholars, colonialism, the Brits out nationalism, isolation and emmigration, the McQuaid era, economic development and the Celtic Tiger - elements of all of these remain, but how do we define ourselves with confidence going forward? Not simply by differentiation from other English-speaking nations, I think.
Dan O'Sullivan
Wednesday, 11 June 2008 10:43:41 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Interesting reading... Not your fault but I'm still confused. I find it hard to believe that so many major parties are supporting something that isn't a good idea... But still.. You never know.

I agree its incredibly badly presented, which could be a good reason in itself for voting no.
Wednesday, 11 June 2008 10:47:21 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Dan, it may be that the Lisbon referendum was the catalyst required to generate a very necessary debate in this country, one which (hopefully) will continue after Thursday's vote. Certainly, its sent me off on a new line of enquiry which I find so interesting the actual Treaty issue is beginning to recede in importance.
Wednesday, 11 June 2008 10:56:16 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Dan & Garry - You've hit the nail on the head -- who/what are we is really the burning question that arises from this debate -- one which I think will still take another generation at least to work out, and that's why (in my opinion) the impact of a Yes Vote will unalterably set a course in motion that Irish people are not yet ready to accept. The debate that has raged in the last few days is weeks, nay months, too late. I don't see why it is so awful to take a step back and examine the issues that have been raised as legitimate concerns, whilst giving the Irish people the unalienable right to see / understand the implications before signing on the dotted line.

Mary Dolan
Wednesday, 11 June 2008 12:21:55 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)

Very interesting reading. I’m still voting Yes though. I have much concern in relation to distancing ourselves from having a central and credible role in Europe going forward, and don’t wish to be seen as the tolerated 'distant uncle' at family get-togethers who ruined a recent meeting following a drunken and incoherent advancement towards some innocent pretty girl. Being part of Europe undoubtedly has given us great economic (and cultural) prosperity and I am convinced that any negative issues are easily outweighed by the positives within this treaty.

Having been one of the many people forced to emigrate in the not-so-distant 'bad old days', and having recently returned to carve out a good (cultural and economic) life, I have no intention of returning to the days of forced emigration of our most capable people as a result of poor/corrupt leadership. It makes me mad that so many people seem to forget the past, now that we have a few 'Bob' in our pockets.

I pose a simple question: who would you rather take responsibility for our principled beliefs (neutrality/ social responsibilities etc.)?: The current bunch of lads in the Dail (both Government & opposition), who have turned a blind eye on possible rendition in Shannon, who have fallen short on several social responsibilities in relation to education and healthcare etc; or a number of commissioners representing a very large number of people, from countries with arguably the most advanced social principles. These countries come together with similar goals and no personal gain from making tough, correct decisions in relation to our admirable principles.

Garry, I love some of your insights into various topics in recent months, however I must outline that, in my view, rational, common sense will see through and we will return a yes vote on Thursday. Vote YES! (unless you like extended trips to the UK or US, or perhaps you would like to return to picking potatoes or snagging turnips in the fields!). No offence intended...
Wednesday, 11 June 2008 12:40:03 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Eamonn, I take your point. However (on a lighter note) I'm intrigued about the 'Drunken Uncle' reference. If Ireland is the uncle in question, who's the 'innocent pretty girl' and where was the meeting? You owe us an explanation, we're all on tenterhooks!
Wednesday, 11 June 2008 12:50:47 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Hi Garry

Eamonn again! On an aside to your points, both myself and my wife received 2 voting cards for the referendum (we moved house recently but we didn’t inform or ask for new voting cards). I thought this kind of mess was sorted? I am now in a dilemma. Do I risk voting twice? - This would at least cancel out your silly vote....- or do I do the honorable thing? What do you suggest? (Note- I will not vote twice as I know this is illegal!)

Oh, I forgot to mention, I’m married to a German woman, don’t know if she could be deemed a girl still (but she is still pretty). I won’t divulge much more details except to say the drunken advances didn’t fall on deaf ears...

Keep up the good work,
Wednesday, 11 June 2008 12:59:26 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Eamonn, finally we've something sooooo in common we're going to be friends after all! I too have two voting cards! One each for my current and former addressess. For fun, why don't we both vote 'yes' once and 'no' once...
Wednesday, 11 June 2008 15:11:11 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Garry, Had I two cards one would be submitted with a "NO" and the other with a "MAYBE". I have as much difficulty as the next chap in attempting to disentangle the information, misinformation, lies, innuendos and so forth with which the airwaves etc. are awash...
But; bail o Dhia ar do obair anyway. Seamus
Friday, 13 June 2008 13:11:13 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Hi Garry

May I be the first to congratulate you on single-handedly altering the political landscape of Europe. Have you ever thought carving out a more high-profile, political career? I’m sure there are plenty of parties out there looking for chap of your abilities (Sinn Fein perhaps)? An MEP post maybe... Think of it, yourself and Mary-Lou sitting side by side undermining those pesky bureaucrats! Known only to all as the 'snigger sisters'....

Ah really though, no hard feelings! Sure we will be voting for it again in 6 months.....

Still love your insights...

Friday, 13 June 2008 17:50:34 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Eamonn, I couldn't even influence the voting pattern in my own household where the 'no's' were a minority of one.
But, politicswise, I may be about to pin my colours to the mast, toss my hat into the ring and step up to the plate. Of more anon.
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