The Lisbon Treaty and Ireland, First Go

I’ll point out that I’m pro-treaty, but I’m trying to keep this relatively neutral when it comes to stating the facts. However, I’m aware that things may be taken in a different light by different people. Don’t take anything I’ve written here personally, it’s just my opinion. Or a fact. You’ll be able to tell the difference readily, I should hope.

Intro!

In the last while since it became headlining news, I’ve taken an interest in the Lisbon Treaty, and decided to read up on it before making any judgements. Having read a little, I decided I like it. Having met a lot of people who don’t like it, but can’t really explain why (in some cases), or who default to “no” but admit they don’t know much about it, I decided to read more so I could offer a useful opinion.

I wrote this originally as a post for my profile on Bebo, and it was never intended to be such a long or detailed post. About halfway through I realised I was making something serious of it, and decided to post it publicly as well.

I’m not telling anyone how to vote, it’s their business what they want for our country. However, I will ask people not to simply vote without knowing; that’s careless, and this is something that affects half a billion people; if we reject the treaty, we’re doing so for all of Europe. Please read up and make an informed decision before voting yes or no! That’s all I will ever ask.

Anyway, here it is. The main body is a copy-paste from wikipedia, and I’ve added footnotes that explain Ireland’s relation to each major change. Some of them are very drastically different from the literal wording of the Lisbon Treaty, some are rejected in the Irish acceptance amendments entirely (like EU defence).

Please read the footnotes, but before you read bear these in mind:
-Ireland is not being forced to participate in EU military affairs.
-Ireland’s vote, and everyone else’s, is being changed but by no means diminished.
-The treaty does not centralise further power. It rearranges power that we’ve already granted the EU.
-Citizen petitions! Think of what citizens can do with petitions that the EU must directly address! Even our National Government has no such official policy on mass public opinion.


Central changes
(This is taken directly, and unaltered from Wikipedia’s “Treaty of Lisbon” page, on May 7th. The text is thus open-content, and is freely distributable; I make no claim to owning it.)

  • A European Council President with a 2½ year term replacing the low-key President-in-Office.
  • A single foreign affairs post created by merging the External Relations Commissioner with the CFSP High Representative.
  • Charter of Fundamental Rights from 2000 made legally binding.
  • Pillars merged to 1 legal person increasing the EU’s competence to sign treaties.
  • European Council separated officially from the EU Council - Legislative meetings of the EU Council to be held in public.
  • Commission reduced (1) to less than one commissioner per country. Nationalites would rotate regardless of country size.
  • More powerful Parliament(2) by extending codecision with the Councils to more areas of policy.
  • Further enlargement enabled by removing the Nice Treaty limitation to 27 Member States.
  • More double majority voting (1) to new areas of policy in the European Council and the EU Council, from 2014 on.
  • Common defence foreseen (3) in that the ESDP leads to a common defence when the European Council decides to.
  • National parliaments engaged (1) by expanding scrutiny-time of legislation and enabling them to jointly compell the Commission to review or wihdraw legislation.
  • Mutual solidarity obliged (3) if a member state is object of a terrorist attack or the victim of a natural or man-made disaster.
  • Citizens’ initiatives to be considered by the Commission if signed by 1 mill. citizens.
  • Combating climate change explicitly stated as an objective.
  • An EU Public Prosecutor (4)
  • An External Action Service
  • Membership withdrawal clause

General Notes

Look here for a rundown of how Ireland is dealing with the treaty; note that some of the Treaty is being deleted or ignored as it refers to Ireland, particularly the part about Mutual Defence being Obligatory.

Some fear the treaty will attempt to assert control over local Irish governance. However, as previous treaties have done, the Lisbon Treaty specifically enshrines the so-called “Principal of Subsidiarity”. In short, anything that isn’t part of the EU’s mandate shouldn’t be handled by the EU, unless for some good reason a country can’t do it without EU interference. There are a number of guidelines on how this interference should be managed if it must, which strongly encourage freedom of the citizen and the will of the citizenship over the government’s.
Look here for information on the Principal of Subsidiarity.

Footnotes on Ireland’s Relation to the Treaty

1: Changes Affecting Ireland’s EU Power

Specifically: Commission Reduction, Parliamentary Inclusion, New Voting Structure
The reduction in Commission size will be shared equally by all countries; accusations that it’s simply removing seats from small countries, or that some countries will have more say as a result, are unfounded. The removed seats are cycled equally between countries.

The enshrining of National Parliaments will further enable individual countries to object swiftly to legislation they don’t like. In other words, legislation negatively affecting Ireland can be interfered with by our Parliament directly, aside from our Country’s other controls and veto powers.

Most divisive on the Treaty is the implication that it reduces Ireland’s say in the EU because of our smaller population size. This is not so, although it does adjust the manner in which Ireland votes. A good comparison of the old and new voting schemes is here.

In brief, we already vote based on population size, but the weights are skewed to offer slightly more leeway for smaller countries. Germany/England/France already have much stronger votes than Ireland and other small countries, but the weights don’t fully represent the gap in population size.

The Lisbon treaty removes the weighting so that each country gets one equal vote, (although the sum of the “yes” votes must also represent a majority of the EU population in order to pass). However, although weighting is removed there is now a veto such that only four countries need refuse for the vote to be blocked. This means that previously Ireland had one-fiftieth of a veto, we now have one quarter. That’s a jump in veto power from 2% to 25%.

2: Further Empowerment of EU Parliament

The EU parliament is the only directly elected body in the EU at present. By extending the degree of codecision, where both major bodies must agree to pass things (as I understand it), the EU parliament is being made far more robust.
The increase in power would roughly equate Parliamentary power with the Council.

The Parliament is directly elected. A powerful parliament is a powerful public.
See here.

3: Mutual Solidarity and EU Defence Force

Although the text of the Lisbon Treaty obliges mutual defence, Ireland is not obliged to accept that portion of the text. In fact, Ireland’s acceptance and our amendments to the Irish Constitution specifically exempt us from this clause. See here to see the list of changes (the first and last detail our exemption).

Ireland is not taking part in the EU defence portion of the Lisbon Treaty. Note that, in any case, Ireland is not officially Neutral despite our publicly neutral stance; the Lisbon treaty wouldn’t technically have been “Unconstitutional” because we never had the balls to actually write neutrality into our constitution.

4: European Public Prosecutor

Personal opinions differ on this, but note the above when considering the Prosecutor’s role in Europe: The Principal of Subsidiarity still applies, and would ensure that the Public Prosecutor isn’t invoked for matters that concern Ireland alone. Pretty much exactly as things are now with regard to the Irish Court System.

Look here for information.

Finally

Congratulations if you actually read this far. Leave me a comment if you did, I’d be chuffed after writing all this. Especially the HTML formatting. Do you realise how time consuming all that formatting actually is? :P

Best of luck and enjoy voting. Hope I’ve offered something constructive to someone.