Monday, 16 June 2008

What happens next…

I voted No to the European Treaties over decades. It was not that I was against economic cooperation on our continent. I support free trade between developed economies. It was that I saw these treaties as successive steps in an esentially political movement towards establishing the supranational Union which Jean Monnet set as the goal of the European project sixty years ago.

The Schumann Declaration of 1950, which led to the European Coal and Steel Community, proclaimed itself to be “the first step in the federation of Europe”. The Lisbon Treaty, which is virtually identical with the EU Constitution which the French and Dutch rejected in 2005, is the culmination of that process. For Lisbon would establish quite a new European Union in the constitutional form of a supranational Federation, whose laws would be made on a population basis and which we would be made real citizens of for the first time, with all the implications of that; for one can only be a citizen of a State and all States must have citizens.

I thought the Yes-side would win last Thursday’s referendum. In expecting that however I comforted myself with the thought that at least I had been able to contribute to giving the Irish people, uniquely in Europe, the chance of voting on an EU Constitution which the Prime Ministers and Presidents of the othe 26 EU States had decided on no account to allow their peoples a say on. For as France’s President Sarkozy acknowledged at a meeting with MEP Group leaders: “France was just ahead of all other countries in voting No. It would happen in all Member States if they have a referendum. There is a cleavage between peoples and governments.”
The Lisbon referendum stemmed from the 1986-7 Crotty case on the proper mode of ratification of a previous European Treaty, the Single European Act: whether that should be by Oireachtas majority or by referendum. The FitzGerald-Spring Government of that time decided to push the SEA through by parliamentary vote. I believed that the transfer of powers to Brussels which this Treaty entailed could be done constitutionally only by the people themselves in a referendum, for the people are the repositories of sovereignty under Ireland’s Constitution.

I expressed this view in a collective letter to the Irish Times from various citizens whose signatures I gathered. I helped bring together the lawyers to launch a constitutional challenge, Paul Callan SC and Seamus O Tuathail SC, and had the honour of asking my friend, the late Raymond Crotty the economist, whom I knew was concerned about this Treaty, would he act as plaintiff in it. He courageously and generously agreed. It is a tribute to Raymond Crotty that Irish voters have given Europe a chance to go back to the drawing board as regards this project, rather than clamp this EU Constitution and the profoundly undemocratic structures it embodies on four million Irish and nearly 500 million Europeans.

EU Treaties must be ratified unanimously. Each country ratifies a Treaty on the assumption that all other countries will do so too. If one country says that it cannot ratify a Treaty as it stands – in Ireland’s case because the Irish people have rejected it – there is no point in the other countries proceeding. This is what the French and Dutch governments did when their voters rejected the EU Constitution in 2005. They told their EU colleagues they could not put the same Treaty to their peoples again, so the remaining ratifications were abandoned.

Is an Irish No less important than a French or Dutch one? We shall soon see.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen now faces the most important decision of his political life. Will he align himself with his own people and respect their referendum vote by telling his EU colleagues that Ireland cannot ratify Lisbon as it stands, so there is no point in the remaining States continuing with their ratifications and that the Lisbon Treaty must be reopened?

Or will be align himself with the other EU States against the Irish people, and urge the former to proceed with their ratifications on the assumption that Ireland will re-run the referendum when everyone else has ratified, as Taoiseach Bertie Ahern did with the Treaty of Nice?

I believe he will do the latter. Today in Luxembourg the Foreign Minister prepare the political choreography. On Thursday in Brussels the Taoiseach will tell the European Council of Prime Ministers and Presidents effectively to take no notice of Ireland’s No to Lisbon, but that the nine Member States still to ratify the Treaty should go ahead and do that on the assumption that Ireland will re-run the Lisbon referendum afterwards. They will then go ahead and do that. Why should they respect the Irish electorate’s No to Lisbon when the Irish Government itself does not do that?

Thus an EU-wide problem will with the Taoiseach’s cooperation be reduced to a local Irish problem: how to ensure that the Irish will vote Yes when Lisbon comes around a second time.

What is needed is clear enough. The details will emerge at next October’s EU summit. Leading up to it there will be reports of mighty battles between Taoiseach Cowen and his EU colleagues. At the summit there will be a “European decision” of the Prime Ministers and Presidents that when it comes to allocating EU Commissioners in 2014 in the post-Lisbon EU, Ireland and all Member States will be permitted to retain a Commissioner, although in practice there may be senior and junior Commissioners. Under both the Nice and Lisbon Treaties the arrangements for the Commission require unanimity and a commitment on these lines can be given without opening Lisbon.

Mr Cowen will present this as a triumph for Irish diplomacy, while his EU colleagues smile quietly to themselves. Then various Declarations will be given – maybe even Protocols which could be put in a separate mini-Treaty – to meet Irish concerns on company taxation, human rights, perhaps the Laval and Rüffert judgements of the Court of Justice, maybe public services or military commitments.

What threats or implicit threats will be needed to go with these promises? The most obvious one is that Irish voters will be told, as they were not told over the past months – that the Lisbon Treaty aims to establish a constitutionally new Union and that we must decide whether we want to be members of this or not, or do we want to keep the present EU as it stands under the Nice Treaty rules.

The other Member States still cannot ratify Lisbon and establish this new Union without Ireland’s agreement. But the hope will be that this mix of promises and implicit threats will work to give a 60/40 percent majority for a Yes in Lisbon Two.

Can anything stop this scenario developing ?

Later this week there will be brief sympathy across our continent that Ireland is being bullied and that Taoiseach Cowen’s agreement to the continuance of the ratification process has been forced. The EU elite will be seen to be ignoring voters and ordinary citizens once again, in this case Ireland’s, as France and Holland’s were previously ignored. The legitimacy of the EU project will be further undermined. True democrats everywhere will be outraged. Solidarity movements with Ireland will spring up. New political forces will come into being. The story of Europe’s peoples against the EU’s elites will enter a new chapter. Domestically, if Brian Cowen follows the unwise course which I believe he will embark on, he will be undermining the longterm legitimacy of his own party.

And much else will be set in train as a result of Ireland’s historic No.

By Anthony Coughlan

Anthony Coughlan is secretary of the National Platform EU Research and Information Centre; website:, and is President of the Foundation for EU Democracy, which has just published “The Lisbon Treaty- The Readable Version”, edited by former Danish MEP Jens-Peter Bonde, available at

This article first appeared in the Irish Times.