Mark Mardell has a list of the Irish population’s 8 concerns about the EU as perceived by Taoiseach Brian Cowen, and presumably each of these is a factor in the No vote in the referendum on the Treaty of Lisbon. These 8 issues are:
- World trade talks.
- Suggestions of tax harmonisation.
- Loss of a commissioner.
- Change in Ireland’s voting strength.
- Lack of democratic accountability of the EU high representative and president of the council.
- Possible European Court of Justice rulings on areas like abortion and euthanasia.
- Insufficient workers’ rights.
- Defence policy.
So let’s have a look at each of these.
World Trade Talks – the fear I assume is that reduction in tariffs on agricultural produce will hit Irish farmers hard, while ongoing reform of the CAP (part driven by the WTO) is not helpful either. If you see the narrow Irish interest on this matter it’s a valid concern, but it has nothing to do with the Treaty of Lisbon – the Commission even now negotiates in the WTO on behalf of the Member States. So this is a policy issue, not something related to the Treaty. Impact of the Treaty of Lisbon on this issue: 0/5
Tax Harmonisation – tax issues are still agreed by unanimity in the Treaty of Lisbon, and as I’ve previously argued, this is a tricky political issue for the EU to face. 0/5
Loss of a Commissioner – the Treaty of Lisbon would reduce the number of Commissioners to 2/3 of the number of Member States, on an equal rotation. The Treaty of Nice also commits the EU to reduce the number of Commissioners but does not state how many Commissioners there should be. A unanimous agreement between the Heads of State and Government could even agree to maintain the number of Commissioners at 27. There are solutions, but it’s a valid concern. 3/5
Voting strength – there are a whole number of issues that could be rolled into this one. First of all the Qualified Majority Voting system would be changed under the Treaty of Lisbon from 2014 onwards, with 55% of Member States representing 65% of the EU population required, as opposed to the current system of 255 of 345 votes, a simple majority of Member States, and 62% of the EU’s population. The new system is largely seen to favour the larger Member States, but it’s medium sized ones like Poland that take a larger hit than Ireland, and Ireland has more MEPs per head of population than the larger Member States do. Alternatively voting strength could also encompass the fear of giving up the veto in a number of areas, but as tax is not one of them I’m not sure whether this is relevant. In short there are valid concerns to the Irish in all of this, and reassurance from the larger Member States is needed. 5/5
Lack of democratic accountability – overall the Treaty of Lisbon improves democratic accountability a bit, and the High Representative for CFSP and the rotating Presidency of the European Council are not democratic at the moment. The flip side is of course that if you create more powerful positions and don’t make those positions democratic you raise additional fears. 2/5
ECJ rulings on abortion and euthanasia – often raised in the debate in Ireland prior to the referendum, but the Charter of Fundamental Rights in the Treaty of Lisbon only applies to EU legislation, and there are no plans for this matter to be legislated for at EU level. Not a valid concern in my view. 0/5
Workers’ rights – laughable that this should be raised by Ireland, one of the most laissez-faire countries in the EU in this regard. Matters like maternity and paternity leave and non-discrimination in the workforce in Ireland have been improved thanks to the EU. Even if the concern could be shown to be valid it has nothing to do with the Treaty of Lisbon. 0/5
Defense policy – the Treaty of Lisbon does try to strengthen the EU’s role in the world, but the wording is such so as to assuage fears of neutral countries such as Ireland. No Member State is obliged to send troops on any EU mission, and there will be no EU army and no EU conscription. Ireland would however have to live with the EU playing a greater role on the world stage. 2/5
In short I’m none to impressed by this list – it strikes me that this is more a summing up of general concerns and gripes rather that a sensible effort by Brian Cowen to work out a way forward after the Irish No.