On the first Friday in October, about half of the Irish electorate will go to the polls in an attempt to pass the Lisbon Treaty into Irish law, having already failed to do so in June 2008. On that previous occasion, a turnout of 53% of the electorate rejected the 28th Amendment to the Constitution by a margin of nearly seven per cent (53.4% against the Treaty as opposed to 46.6% in favour). The Lisbon Treaty is a replacement for the failed European Constitution that was rejected by voters from France and Holland in 2005. Its main purpose is to tidy up all previous treaties such as the Treaty of Rome and the Treaty of Maastricht. So far, Ireland is the only country that hasn’t passed the Treaty and Ireland is also the only country to hold a referendum on the Treaty. The reason that Ireland requires a referendum arises from the Irish Supreme Court decision of 1987 that major changes to any Treaty of Europe would require a mandate from the Irish people. So, the result of Friday’s referendum will not only affect the 4.5 million inhabitants of Ireland, but also the other 490 million citizens that make up the remainder of the European Union
As in 2008, the Irish government parties as well as the two main opposition parties are urging the population to vote in favour of the amendment. It is no major surprise that the country’s main political parties are in agreement as there is not a whole lot to choose between them in ideological terms. As in 2008, minority parties and groups with vested interests are calling for the rejection of the amendment. Last time out, the strong anti-Treaty campaign run by the likes of Libertas and Sinn Féin coupled with a weak campaign by the main political parties were major factors that led to the rejection of the Treaty. These mixed messages as well as the typical lack of direction from the Irish government led to confusion amongst the electorate and this also played a part in its ultimate rejection. This time around the main parties have been more focused and have even managed to receive a number of concessions from Europe relating to the Treaty. For example, one of the proposals in the original document was that the number of EU commissioners was to be reduced by a third from 27 (one commissioner per state) down to 18, beginning in 2014. This membership of 18 would rotate every five years, meaning that only two thirds of member states would have a commissioner during each changeover. However, the Irish rejection of the Treaty has led to the removal of this proposal and the full quota of commissioners has been restored. Ireland has also received guarantees that areas such as abortion, taxation and military neutrality cannot be touched by the EU. The No Campaign used public fear in relation to these issues to help get the referendum rejected the last time. And they are still making half-hearted attempts to make these issues part of their 2009 campaign, even though they do not pose a threat
Opponents of the Treaty also claim that a Yes vote will lead to a higher rate of corporate tax. This will discourage multinational companies from setting up in Ireland and will lead to ones that are here to up sticks and move out, taking thousand of jobs with them. They claim that a Yes vote will lead to the introduction of lower wages throughout the EU because it will allow for the introduction of cheap European labour, which will take jobs from Irish people. This has led to a rather spurious poster campaign suggesting that the minimum wage in this country will fall to under two euros per hour! They also claim that a Yes vote will lead to less control over immigration. They believe that the influx of immigrant workers into Ireland over the preceding decade was a result of EU immigration policy. Proponents of the No Campaign claim that the introduction of the Treaty will lead to even more immigrants coming to Ireland. Surely, the main reason that immigrants came to Ireland during the height of the Celtic Tiger was to take up service jobs that the Irish were unwilling to do. Recent statistics show that immigration has slowed down over the last year. Why would anybody want to a country that doesn’t even have jobs for its own people?
One of the few arguments coming out of the No side that makes sense relates to the possible shift in power that will occur if the Treaty is passed. Their argument goes that a Yes vote will centralise the EU and give more power to the larger nations within the union and, therefore, make the EU less democratic. It is correct to say that smaller countries will have less power when it comes to voting. From 2014, a 55% majority instead of 72% is all that will be needed to pass a law among the member states. Instead of unanimous approval, as it is currently, a number of policy areas will be determined by majority voting. These areas include immigration and border control, which Ireland can opt out of on a case-by-case basis, if they wish. Also, two areas that will still require majority voting are justice and Home Affairs. However, any proposed law may be blocked if at least four countries veto a particular proposal. In addition, the Treaty will introduce the Citizens’ Initiative whereby any proposal signed by at least one million citizens from any number of states must be considered by the commission
Ireland has benefited economically and culturally since joining the then EEC in 1973. We would not have become the country that we are today without our membership of the European Union. At the end of the day, it’s not going to make a huge difference either way for this country whether we decide to accept or reject the Treaty next Friday. But, that decision will have significant repercussions for the 490 million or so citizens that make up the rest of the European Union. The vote I cast next Friday will be the same vote I cast on June 12th, 2008. And, just in case I forget, I’m going to be listening to these songs between now and polling day. Hopefully this time I’ll be on the winning side
Songs For 2009 Lisbon Treaty Vote