Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

What is the EU for?

Is the Lisbon Treaty finished? Well, if you have a gander at the latest poll of voting intentions in the Irish referendum on the thing, then yes. Because it can’t be passed without unanimous support from all 27 member states, and if the Irish people vote no, it has to be rethought and redrawn. Again.

Only 30% for the yes camp, with 35% in the no – and rapidly rising. Doesn’t look good for the pro-treaty brigade, does it? And all this from the Celtic tiger – one of the poorest European countries before joining what is now the EU, now one of the wealthiest. There’s gratitude for you!*

But the real revelation of this poll? It confirms something I’ve always maintained about a referendum for such a complex international treaty:

The reason most often cited by No voters is that they don’t know what they are voting for or they don’t understand the treaty – with 30 per cent of No voters listing this as the main reason for their decision

If you don’t understand something, don’t vote for it strikes me as an eminently sensible policy.

And herein lies the EU’s biggest flaw – as I’ve repeatedly stated here and elsewhere for years, the EU is far too complex to understand. Simplification is the key – and a constitution of sorts was the perfect opportunity to simplify. A few basic principles – nothing horrific. And what did they do? Churn out an incomprehensibly thick document full of meaningless subclauses and vague platitudes in an attempt to minimise dissent, ensuring that no one – not even those involved in drafting the thing – could agree on what it was actually setting out to do.

But even drawing up a simple, US-style constitution of a minimal number of first principles isn’t as simple as it sounds. An EU promoting free trade? You’ll be opposed by those wanting a “Social Europe”. Human rights sound like a nice thing to get behind, right? Well, it depends whose human rights – and whether you can agree to lump the basics of “don’t torture people” in with the more contentious “right” to taxpayer-funded benefits.

The Irish people don’t know what the Lisbon Treaty is all about? Little wonder when even the member states can’t agree what the EU itself is about.

This is the central problem with which the EU has been trying to come to terms since the end of the Cold War. It is the problem the Treaty of Nice was supposed to address, then the Constitution, and now Lisbon. And they still haven’t got an answer to the fundamental questions: what is the EU for?

* Note: Yes, I am fully aware that the Irish economic miracle cannot be put solely down to its membership of the EEC/EU – but you’d surely have to be somewhat ideologically blinkered to deny that membership had any part to play in Ireland’s success.

9 Comments

  1. Please Irish People, in the name of Europeans peoples , vote NO !

    See the comments below this french article http://www.liberation.fr/actualite/monde/330142.FR.php
    Most of the commentators wish Ireland could vote NO.

    If ever it’d happened, this would be a huge slap in the face of the European Commision technocrats who are completely disconnected from reality. The current way the European Union is designed is mainly in the interest of politicians and media and definitely not in the interest of the majority of the people.

    If ever Ireland voted YES, Europe would become the poodle-puppet of the USA, specially into military domains.

    Please, be wise, vote NO and do not fear the pressure of the press and of politicians.

  2. Antoine seems to have made the rounds today, wishing for a weak and divisive Europe, just the recipe for ‘poodles’ and ‘puppets’. Confused thinking, IMHO.

  3. I agree with the central tenet of Nosemonkeys’ hypothesis; i.e. that the EU’s perceived complexity (and by default, opaqueness) is instrumental in fostering antipathy towards its primary raison d’etre.

    One could pose the question – why is the EU so complex; I have a strong feeling that it consists on a official level of 27 (at present) distinct elements (whose leaderships all wanting something slightly different) might have something to do with it.

    However, I concur with the assertion that the Constitutional process, i.e. the Convention, should have had a pre-determined set of rules limiting its output to a set word limit. The single lesson I (and hopefully all Europeans) have learned from this entire painful exercise is that European matters should be determined by a European electorate.

    So if the Lisbon Treaty does go down, perhaps our so called political masters might like to try again with something much simpler and then put it to the European people en-masse, simultaneously.

    Detractors of closer European integration always claim, with some justification, that there is no such thing as a European demos and therefore any (even quite vague) sense of European political unity can never be established with a degree of legitimacy.

    I agree with that claim up to a point, any sense of broad European affinity cannot be expected to appear like a rabbit from a magician’s hat; it must emerge over a prolonged period but one sure way of initiating that long drawn out process is to allow Europeans to deliberate collectively upon an issue (or several) of European import.

    Therefore what could be more natural than using some form of constitutional statement (strictly limited in scope) as a vehicle to kick start said process?

  4. It speaks volumes that I — someone who is broadly pro-European and broadly in favour of a stronger EU — will be voting ‘No’ to Lisbon in a few days time. The treaty is a complete mess.

    My own personal reason for rejecting it, is the deeply flawed decision to use the Lisbon Treaty to advance an unsustainable energy policy.

    Currently the treaty is a hideous frankenstein’s monster of a document. Part constitution, part policy recommendations and part bureaucratic admin.

    In truth those three functions should have remained separate. The treaty proper should have been an easily-comprehensible, short document that contained a series of core principles and statements.

    The pages upon pages of paragraph and clause renumbering bureaucratic administrivia should have been consigned to a separate document (one that would not require ratification so long as it stayed away from law and policy and stuck rigidly to housekeeping tasks).

    And the policy recommendations (such as the endorsement of nuclear energy as a central plank of European energy policy) should not be within a million miles of the treaty / constitution and should instead have been the first issues to be debated by the post-treaty parliament.

    Instead — at least as far as I’m concerned — those policy recommendations will ensure that the treaty never gets passed.

  5. If one looks back a bit, Giscard really made a mess of things by insisting that all previous treaties be included in the constitutional treaty. The operative part was simple to understand and would probably hav been approved by the French and Dutch voters

  6. If Ireland votes no tomorrow by a slim margin, it’s Bernard Kouchner’s fault. That’s all I have to say.

  7. No that Ireland has voted ‘no’ on the treaty, what is the way forward. EI think we are essentially back to the idea of a multi-speed Europe. Clearly Ireland should have the possibility to keep fully sovereign in areas like defense and foreign policy, so maybe it can get a status similar to Norway inside some type of free trade zone.

    However I think that all other countries should move forward and build a Union based on the Lisbon treaty.

  8. rz, we’ve been in a two or multi speed Europe for a long time, with the UK and Ireland being both out of Schengen and the eurozone. I find it pretty amazing of the Irish then saying they are “at the centre of Europe”. I wonder what they would say if Luxemburg, a state much more at Europe’s center and one of the original founders, would say no when Eire has said yes

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