.- May 2008
I would like to thank the Forum on Europe for the invitation to speak here today. On June 12 th the people of this state will take a decision of immense importance. Whatever side of the debate you are presently on, and particularly for those who have yet to make up their minds, it is important that the debate on the Lisbon Treaty is open, honest and frank. Sinn Féin is committed to such a debate and we welcome the opportunity to discuss these important issues today and in the coming weeks.
It is disappointing that we will not have a referendum in the North. Despite the fact that the Lisbon Treaty will affect all of us on this island, those of us who live in the North are being denied the right to a referendum.
I am particularly pleased to be addressing the Forum on May 1 st , international labour day. Workers rights have been a central focus of Sinn Féin's political efforts. At a time of increasing economic uncertainty, rising prices, rising unemployment and recession, the issue of workers rights is more important than ever. The issue of workers rights is also central to our party's analysis of the Lisbon Treaty, I will return to this later.
Republicanism and Europe
At the core of my approach to politics is a deep belief in the republican ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity. These ideas emerged from one of the foundational moments of modern Europe, the French Revolution. Every generation of Irish republican political thinkers has sought inspiration from the progressive currents of European political thought. Republicanism, from its origin to the present day is a European political movement, committed to creating a society based on popular sovereignty, personal liberty and social, economic and cultural equality
These values form the benchmark against which Sinn Féin assesses the Lisbon Treaty not only in establishing the impact of the treaty on Ireland, but also on the European Union and the wider world.
Ireland's place is in Europe
Sinn Féin's believes that Irelands place is within the EU. Irish membership has brought social and economic benefits to Ireland, north and south. We are also aware that not everything has been good news, and often proposals that emerge from within the EU institutions have negative effects on Ireland. So we believe that the best approach to the EU is to critically assess each proposal on its merits. When something is in Irelands interests, or indeed the interests of the European Union as a whole, we support it. However when something is clearly not in our interests or that of the wider EU, we oppose it and campaign to change it. Our MEPs have demonstrated the value of this approach by supporting progressive proposals on the floor of the European Parliament aimed at combating poverty, inequality and social exclusion, promoting human rights and tackling climate change, while opposing attempts to undermine public services, workers rights and environmental sustainability.
Today in Ireland and within the European Union institutions Sinn Féin is playing an active role in the ongoing movement to build a European Union, which deepens meaningful democracy and meets the highest standards of accountability and;
- Protects and promotes civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights
- Assists member states in building prosperity and equality
- C ombats poverty, inequality, discrimination and social injustice
- Pursues environmentally responsible and sustainable development policies
- Promotes conflict resolution, peace building and global stability internationally
- Protects neutrality, opposes militarisation and the arms trade
And which assists the developing world overcome global poverty, inequality and disease
These are the positive policies that we stand for and which any proposal must contain if it is to secure our support.
It is in this context that we come to the Lisbon Treaty. Does it advance the interests of the Irish people, the European Union and the wider world? Does it promote equality and sustainable economic development? Does it promote greater democracy and transparency within the EU institutions? Does it seek to play a constructive role in ending conflict and building a more peaceful world?
We also look to how if affects this states position within the EU. Does it strengthen or weaken our influence in the EU?
After serious analysis and internal debate, Sinn Féin has taken the view that the Lisbon Treaty represents a bad deal for Ireland, for the EU and for the developing world.
There is little doubt that the European Union is currently suffering from a crisis of confidence across the member states. Turnouts for European Parliamentary elections are at an all time low. In the 2004 the average turnout across the EU was 45%. In the Netherlands it was 39%. In Britain it was 38%. Similar figures were recorded in Portugal, Spain, France, Denmark, Germany, Austria and Finland. A significant number of newer member states recorded turnouts less than 28%. While this states turnout is marginally better at 55%, it is still significantly lower than turnouts for Leinster House.
By comparison, when the peoples of France and the Netherlands rejected the EU Constitution in 2005, turnouts were significantly higher. In France 70% of voters went to the polls rejecting the Constitution by 55%. In the Netherlands turnout was 62% of which 61% said no.
Across the EU voters no longer understand or have confidence in what the EU stands for, where it is going, and how it takes its most important decisions.
The Lisbon Treaty was an opportunity to rectify this situation. Unfortunately it does the very opposite. It further centralises decision making in the EU institutions and gives the EU more than 100 new powers across a wide range of policy areas. This figure includes more than 30 new legal competencies, the loss of more than 60 vetoes for individual member states, a range of new roles and offices and self-amending articles including Article 48. This is a significant increase in the powers of the EU and to date no argument has been made to explain or justify such changes.
The Treaty also significantly undermines the role of small states within the EU's decision-making process. In addition to losing the right to an Irish Commissioner for 5 out of every 15 years the Treaty also proposes to reduce this states voting strength on the Council of ministers by 50%. While the loss of a Commission affects all states, larger states like Britain, France and Germany increase their voting strength at Council by 50%. Indeed the Irish delegation to the Convention on the Future of Europe resisted the loss of a Commissioner, only to cave in at the end. And while privately they are admitting that the loss is a real negative in public they are suggesting that it is a good deal. Combined, these changes mean that Ireland will have less influence in the design of future proposals, less weight in key decisions, and a reduced capacity to block decisions that are not in Irelands interests.
The self-amending clauses are important to mention here. These articles allow the Council, acting by unanimity, to transfer decisions to Qualified Majority Voting and, under article 48 to amend existing treaties. While any application of Article 48 would be subject to ratification by member state parliaments, there is no guarantee of a referendum. Indeed anyone reading UCD law lecturer Rossa Fanning's article in the Irish Times on April 22 would conclude that Article 48 could be applied to a large range of policy areas without any recourse to a referendum.
Supporters of the Treaty tell us that it will make the EU more democratic by giving more powers to the European parliament, member state parliaments and citizens. However when you look at the detail of these new powers they are found to be wanting. And the government's suggestion that the Lisbon treaty involves the greatest transfer of power to the member states is complete and utter nonsense.
While the increase in co-decision within the European Parliament is significant, it continues to play a secondary role to the European Commission. The Treaty also does nothing to address the gap between the work of the Parliament and citizens in member states.
With regard to member state parliaments, the proposed measures are minimalist. Member states will be given an extra two weeks to scrutinise proposals coming from the Commission and if a third of member states believe the proposal breaches the principle of subsidiarity they can object. Of course the Commission is not obliged to do anything other than "consider" the objection.
The orange card, which has a somewhat different connotation in Ireland, is an even less effective tool, as its application requires the support of half the member state parliaments and either the European Parliament or Council. Eight weeks is too short a period for effective scrutinising of detailed EU proposals, as anyone involved in the Oireachtas European Affairs Committee or European Parliament will admit. The limitation of these measures to the issue of subsidarity is extremely restrictive. And the requirements to secure support of other member state parliaments or the European Parliament or Council constitute extremely high barriers to their application.
I wonder if either of these tools would ever be successfully applied if this Treaty is ratified.
The citizens initiative is similarly weak. While as a lobbying tool it has merit, and is already being used, once again there would be no obligation on the Commission to do anything other than "consider" any proposal. It also sets a dangerous precedent, whereby the minimum number of signatures required to have a proposal even considered by the commission would have to be 1 million.
On balance, when one weighs up the increased centralisation of powers, the self amending articles, the loss of influence of smaller member states and the weak measures offered to member state parliaments and citizens, there is no doubt that the Lisbon Treaty is a bad deal both for Irish and EU democracy, and if ratified will deepen the existing democratic deficit.
Neutrality and Militarisation
Sinn Féin has long advocated a policy of active neutrality, rejecting participation in any military alliance and supporting an enhanced role for the United Nations in resolving conflicts around the world. We have also been for a greater focus on solving the causes of conflict, such as political and economic inequality and instability and the absence of democracy. Our own experience of conflict and conflict resolution has taught us that the path to peace is not to be found in increasing military capabilities but in dialogue, inclusivity and equality.
After Nice 1, the Irish government assured the people that there would be no erosion of neutrality or participation in a common defence without a referendum. However actions by this Irish governments and the impact of the Nice Treaty continue to undermine neutrality. The use of Shannon airport by US troops on route to Iraq; financial contributions to the European Defence Agency; membership of Partnership for Peace and the new EU Battle groups are all in breach of clear international definitions of neutrality.
At the same time there is a growing desire among many of the more powerful Governments at the heart of the EU project, to see the Union develop its own military capability, independent of the United Nations and in concert with NATO.
This state is playing an increasingly significant role in both NATO and the evolving EU military structures. Irish troops serve at NATO HQ in Brussels under the NATO-led 'Partnership for Peace' initiative. Irish troops have served in NATO-led missions, including Afghanistan. There is a full-time EU Military Staff headquartered in Brussels which is responsible for ''command and control' of EU military capabilities - this reports to an EU Military Committee, which in turn reports to the EU Political and Security Committee and from thence upwards to the EU Council of Ministers. Irish army officers serve with the EU Military Staff, and this state is represented at all other levels of this network. In terms of actual military operations, the EU can call upon a number of Battlegroups - groups of 1,500-2,500 soldiers capable of being deployed within 15 days of agreement by the EU Council of Ministers. The first EU Battlegroup deployment - to Chad- is under the command of an Irish Lieutenant General.
The Lisbon Treaty undermines neutrality further. Its makes clear that the EU will have common foreign and common defence policies and that such a policy must be compatible with NATO. While the exact detail of such policies is left to a future date, and the Irish government retains its veto, there is no doubt that the end goal is clearly defined. Do we want a common foreign or defence policy with countries such as France, Britain or Germany. Are the strategic and international interests of this state best served within such a context? In my view they are not.
Article 28 of the Lisbon Treaty contains three separate clauses that will result in increased member state spending on domestic and EU military capabilities. The article states clearly that member states must progressively improve their military capabilities, as directed by the European Defence Agency. The same article also establishes a start up fund for foreign or defence interventions as yet undefined and a mechanism for rapid access to appropriations again for interventions as yet unspecificied.
While this state will retain the right to opt out of any future military interventions, a new procedure contained in Lisbon, called "structured cooperation" would allow a smaller number of member states to agree a foreign policy or military intervention to be carried out with the imprimatur, finance and logistical resources provided through the EU.
More troubling is the expansion of the list of approved military actions, known as the Petersberg Tasks. To date these tasks have been primarily focused on peace building and humanitarian intervention. However under Lisbon this list is expanded to include disarmament missions and provision of military assistance.
As a consequence of the Lisbon Treaty, this state will be drawn even further into the emerging EU military capacity.
The Irish economy is changing. Recession, unemployment, loss of tax revenues have all hit the headlines in recent months. There is a consensus that the boom is over and a new approach to the future of the Irish economy is urgently required. The challenge is to tackle the existing levels of Celtic Tiger inequality while delivering the next generation of jobs in the Irish economy. This means supporting indigenous business and the farming community and ensuring that we remain an attractive location for investment. This means investing in infrastructure, education, public services and workers rights. The Lisbon Treaty hinders efforts to ensure that Ireland is economically successful.
The Lisbon Treaty hands powers to the European Commission to complete the internal market in services as envisaged under the widely opposed Services Directive, accelerating the race to the bottom in terms of pay and conditions.
Public services, defined as Services of General Economic Interests, will be subject under article 16 to new "economic and financial conditions", meaning that services like health care and education, would be subject to the rules of competition.
Indeed in their recent written submission to the National Forum on Europe IBEC argued that the Lisbon Treaty " ...creates the legal basis for the liberalisation of services of general economic interest...[including]...Health, Education, Transport, Energy and the Environment."
This will inevitably result in further privatisation and in turn greater levels of inequality.
The Treaty Protocol on the Internal Market and Competition provides the EU with a mandate to remove "distortions" to service provision - which are likely to include important protective workers' rights regulations
Contrary to claims made by the Labour Party The Charter of Fundamental Rights does not guarantee workers rights.
The negative implications of the Lisbon Treaty for workers is part of a continuing trend. David Begg, General Secretary of ICTU summed up this trend saying, "While business rights are being codified and strengthened, workers can only expect loose frameworks and vague approaches to enforcement."
There has been dismay at the recent European Court of Justice judgement in the Laval case which upheld the right of a Latvian company operating in Sweden to import Latvian workers to do the job at Latvian rates rather than compelling them to pay Swedish rates. The recent Rueffert ruling bans public authorities from putting conditions respecting collective agreements on the award of public contracts.
These ECJ judgements followed on from other negative developments such as the Services Directive and the Green Paper on "flexicurity". They indicate the direction of current EU policy and how the new provisions in the Lisbon Treaty will be employed.
Workers and trade unionists should note the governments failure to protect pay and conditions and enforce labour law when our labour market was opened to workers from the accession states.
In the past much progressive social legislation has had its origins in the EU and on this basis it has been supported by trade unionist and others. Unfortunately in the last decade these gains have been undermined by developments that have sought to sacrifice a progressive social agenda in favour of a narrowly defined focus on competitiveness.
In recent weeks we have seen a significant level of concern from within our farming community about the current round of World Trade Organisation trade talks. Irish farmers and development NGOs are rightly concerned at the agenda being pursued by European Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson, an agenda that is bad for Irish farmers and the developing world. The approach of the current Trade Commissioner is part of a pattern that emerged under his predecessors Pascal Lammy and Leon Brittan and will continue after he is gone. It is an agenda that aggressively promotes free trade irrespective of the costs to European family farms and rural communities, or the world poorest communities and countries.
The Lisbon Treaty contains new provisions that will considerably strengthen the Commission in its pursuit of free trade over fair trade.
Article 2 (b) gives the EU exclusive competence over commercial policy, including the negotiating of international trade agreements. Article 188 gives the Commission power to initiate and conclude negotiations including international trade agreements at the same time as transferring the final decisions on such agreements from unanimity to Qualified Majority Voting at the Council, thus ending this states veto. Article 10(a) mandates the "progressive abolition of restrictions on international trade" to be one of the EUs guiding principles in its interaction with non-EU member states. Restrictions would include agricultural subsidies, preferential treatment for developing world companies in government procurement contracts or environmental and workers protections.
Last week Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny, addressing this very Forum urged the Irish government to use its veto at the Council if the outcome of the WTO trade talks is bad for Irish farming. We agree with Fine Gael on that. The Irish government should use its veto but the question is why does Fine Gael - why does the government, want to give up this veto.
If the Lisbon Treaty is passed, that veto will be gone. What will we do then in future rounds of WTO talks? This treaty, like the Mandelson proposals are clearly not in the interest of Irish farmers. They are going to do with the farming industry exactly what they have done with the fishing industry if we let them.
The situation for the Irish business community is just as serious. Moves towards tax harmonization rightly worry most Irish people. If we take a step back and take a cold look at the political realities we see that the European Commission is committed to bringing forward a proposal to bring in a common corporate tax base this year. We know that a majority of Member States including France, one of the biggest, and the next holders of the Presidency are in favour. Fine Gael and Labour MEPs have also voted in support of measures on EU Tax harmonisation. The Irish people should consider very carefully the implications of accepting Lisbon when to do so will empower these forces to create a common corporate tax base with or without Ireland.
Article 48's new procedure for amending aspects of the Treaty (the self-amending article) maps out another new way around the Irish veto. At present the Government can't drop the veto without a referendum. If Lisbon Treaty goes through a referendum is not required. A citizen's right to a vote on this matter will be removed. Why should any state ask its citizen's to give up the right to vote? Why on earth would any Government or political party campaign to remove this right?
All Irish political parties say they are committed to maintaining tax sovereignty. The Treaty makes it easier to bring in tax harmonisation. Anybody who is serious about defending our ability to define our own tax policy must say NO to Lisbon.
I would now like to take a few minutes to respond to some of the arguments raised by supporters of the Treaty over the last few months at the Forum.
Charter of Fundamental Rights
Sinn Féin strongly supports any measures that enhance the protection and promotion of human rights and equality at home, in the EU and in the wider world. We support the Charter of Fundamental Rights. We have called for its incorporation into EU law, and for its inclusion in a non-Constitutional Treaty.
However, the claim that the EU Charter is somehow a major step forward in human rights is an illusion. Even its advocates acknowledge that it is little more than a restatement of existing human rights law. Indeed, in its analysis of the Charter the Institute for European Affairs argues that it 'does not create any new rights' and moreover that the social and economic rights in the Charter 'do not give rise to direct claims for positive action'
Much has been made in some quarters of the Social Clause contained in Article 9 of the Treaty. It is agued that this paragraph constitutes a significant advance in the struggle for a more equitable EU. I wish this was the case. Unfortunately the Clause will go the same way as the commitments to social cohesion and environmental sustainability in the Lisbon Strategy and the Social Chapter before it. As former European Roundtable of Industrialists General Secretary Keith Richardson said of the Social Chapter, it is, "a large waste of time...If politicians feel it is important to get a chapter referring to the desirability of full employment, and if they think it will help with public opinion we don't really object...provided of course that it remains in general terms, related to aspiration." And so it will be with the Social Clause, a worthy aspirational statement, used to secure support for the Treaty and quickly forgotten by the Commission and Council once it has served its purpose.
Contrary to claims by some supporters of Lisbon that it is the most social Treaty to date, it signals the final death of Social Europe with little thought for social or environmental consequences.
Vote no for a Better deal for Europe
Supporters of Lisbon say that to challenge or to reject this Treaty is an anti-European act. They have argued that rejection of Lisbon will bring economic devastation, political isolation and international ridicule.
All of these claims are false. They are the stuff of scaremongering and blackmail.
The threat to our economy is not in a rejection of Lisbon. It is in the ongoing privatisation policies of the government and the failure to properly invest in education, health, childcare, research and development, and broadband. Rectifying these failure will be all the more difficult if the Lisbon Treaty is ratified.
Like the vast majority of people on this island I believe that Ireland's place is in Europe. Benefits have come as a result of our membership of the EU and continued co-operation with our European partners is essential if we are to meet the challenges facing us in the time ahead. And one thing is certain. Regardless of the outcome of the referendum Ireland's place in the EU will be secure. The question now facing the Irish people is - is the Lisbon Treaty a good deal for Ireland, is it a good deal for the rest of Europe. The answer, I believe is a resounding no.
However rejecting the Lisbon Treaty is not enough. We need to argue for a better deal for Ireland and a better future for Europe. If Sinn Féin were involved in such a negotiation our objectives would be to secure:
- A permanent EU Commissioner and reform of the Commission itself
- A greater equality in voting procedure at the Council
- A meaningful mechanism for member state involvement in the legislative process
- The abolition of all self amending articles
- A specific article recognising and protecting neutrality
- Opt outs ending financial support for nuclear power, the European Defence Agency, the start up fund and all other areas of military expenditure
- Protocols reserving this state's right to continue making its own decisions on taxation
- Specific measures promoting and protecting public services such as health and education
- A greater emphasis on promoting fair trade over free trade and a significant increase in the importance of the development and aid agendas
- Concrete protections for workers rights
160 years ago, revolution swept across the continent of Europe as ordinary people demanded their right to political liberty, social and economic equality and national solidarity. 1848 was known for decades as the Spring of Nations, and brought the ideas of the French Revolution into also every country on the continent. Ten years later James Stevenson founded the Fenians, and mobilised the marginalised and dispossessed of this country to the cause of Irish independence and social and economic equality. Today 150 years on Irish republicans continue to be part of that European wide movement for a more democratic and more equal world.
In the spirit of the French Revolution and the Spring of Nations, Sinn Féin is calling on the citizens of this state to reject the Lisbon Treaty, to reclaim the future of Europe and in doing so secure a better deal for Ireland and our European neighbours.