Vote No! SP's Harry Van Bommel speaks in Ireland

5 April 2008

Vote No! SP's Harry Van Bommel speaks in Ireland

SP Member of Parliament Harry van Bommel spent the weekend of 4th-6th April in Ireland, where he travelled to lend his support to the campaign for a 'No' vote in the forthcoming referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. Ireland's referendum, which will now almost certainly be the only one held on the treaty in the whole of the European Union, will take place in the second week of June.

Van Bommel was in Ireland at the invitation of People Before Profit, an organisation established to fight back against the EU's increasingly neoliberal policies and the idea that 'what's good for business is good for Europe'.

“I'm really pleased to have been invited," said the SP's spokesman on European affairs. "The Irish people have a tradition of putting European treaties to the popular vote. It's a pity that the Dutch parties which refused to support a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, despite the fact that it's virtually identical to the 'Constitution' rejected by our country's voters three years ago, didn't follow this democratic example."

Van Bommel spoke several times during his mini-tour of Ireland, addressing meetings in Dublin, Cork and Tralee and sharing the platform with speakers from People Before Profit and the major trade union, 'Unite'. In neutral Ireland, criticism focused particularly on the military character of the EU and the Union's further militarisation in the Lisbon Treaty. "The Irish Constitution and the Irish people are not friendly to treaties which interfere with the country's military independence," Van Bommel explained. "That's why in the past Dublin has asked for and been granted special guarantees that this would not occur. They're absolutely right to be critical of the Lisbon Treaty, a major goal of which is to strengthen military cooperation.”

This is what Harry van Bommel had to say:

Vote No! For all of us

In 2005 I had the privilege to play a leading role in the Dutch ‘no’ campaign against the EU-constitution. We were against that constitution because it would lead to an undemocratic, neoliberal European superstate with military capabilities and ambitions. Our campaign was very successful. More than 60% of the voters turned out and 62% said ‘no’. It came as a shock to the ruling elite, since 85% of Parliament, from both left and right, had said ‘yes’ to the Constitution. Obviously, they did not represent the people.

Is this Treaty of Lisbon really different from the EU constitution? I don’t think so but don’t believe me, listen to the EU-leaders: “The substance of the Constitution is preserved. That is a fact.” Said Angela Merkel the German Chancellor. "We have not let a single substantial point of the Constitutional Treaty go. It is, without a doubt, much more than a treaty. This is a project of foundational character, a treaty for a new Europe.” Said Jose Zapatero, Spanish Prime Minister. "90 per cent of it is still there. These changes haven't made any dramatic change to the substance of what was agreed back in 2004" said Teflon Taoiseach [1], your former prime minister Bertie Ahern.

It is not just leaders of government who think the treaty is the same as the constitution. European Parliament adopted a resolution saying that it "welcomes the fact that the mandate safeguards the substance of the Constitutional Treaty." Obviously European Parliament does not represent many people in Europe. The British think-tank Open Europe compared the Treaty of Lisbon to the Constitution and its conclusion was very clear: “The Lisbon treaty essentially reintroduces virtually all the changes proposed in the original Constitutional Treaty, by transferring them into the two existing treaties, the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty Establishing the European Community. The latter will be renamed the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.”

Open Europe’s analysis finds that only 10 out of 250 proposals in the "new" treaty are different from the proposals in the original EU Constitution. In other words, 96% of the text is the same as the rejected Constitution. One of the few changes that there are, few are of any significance, for example the new version of the Constitutional Treaty no longer mentions the symbols of the union, like its flag and anthem. However, of course these symbols already exist. In fact on almost every article the draft treaty amends the existing EU-treaties using exactly the same text as that of the Constitution, and even makes explicit reference to article numbers in the original version of the Constitution. Professor Steve Peers, an EU law specialist, summarises the situation: "The different structure of the Reform Treaty, i.e. amendments to the current EC and EU Treaties, as compared to the Constitutional Treaty means that the two treaties will look quite different. However, the content is largely the same."

Despite all this the Dutch government says that the new treaty is completely different from the EU-constitution. The fact that the flag and the anthem have been taken out is seen as proof that it no longer is a constitution. Our government is thereby deceiving the people and denying us the right to have a referendum. That is a bloody shame and we will not accept it. Exactly for that reason I have drafted a law to make a second referendum possible in The Netherlands. This law will be discussed in Parliament before we will talk about the Lisbon treaty itself.

The Lisbon treaty is an important step towards a European superstate, an empire if you like. In the Netherlands you will not find many people who are longing to live in the united states of Europe. Still, some people do have dreams about a federal Europe where member states do not play a role anymore.

The well-known Russian dissident Vladimir Bukovsky tries to warn us in a recent interview as he speaks about EU-dictatorship. The interviewer is surprised and asks: "You were a very famous Soviet dissident and now you are drawing a parallel between the European Union and the Soviet Union. Can you explain this? Vladimir Bukovsky then says: "I am referring to structures, to certain ideologies being instilled, to the plans, the direction, the inevitable expansion, the obliteration of nations, which was the purpose of the Soviet Union. The ultimate purpose of the Soviet Union was to create a new historic entity, the Soviet people, all around the globe. The same is true in the EU today. They are trying to create a new people. They call this people "Europeans", whatever that means. About European institutions he says: "It is no accident that the European Parliament, for example, reminds me of the Supreme Soviet. It looks like the Supreme Soviet because it was designed like it. Similarly, when you look at the European Commission it looks like the Politburo. I mean it does so exactly, except for the fact that the Commission now has 27 members and the Politburo usually had 13 or 15 members. Apart from that they are exactly the same, unaccountable to anyone, not directly elected by anyone at all."

This brings me to the important issue of sovereignty. Sovereignty is not a toy in the hands of politicians. Whether they are members of European Parliament or member state MP’s. Sovereignty belongs to the people and therefore politicians cannot give it away without the consent of the people. But that is exactly what politicians are trying to do with this treaty. To give away sovereignty. Without real democratic control at the level of Brussels decision-making process. There is no European democracy. If anything, there only is European bureaucracy. So maybe Bukovsky is not living in the past but in the future when he says we are heading for an EU-dictatorship. Just think of it.

The loss of sovereignty is best illustrated by the handing over of veto rights. Veto rights are very important in the hands of smaller countries such as Ireland or the Netherlands. Only recently we have been able to block a directive that would have had very negative influence on our pensions. Just by threatening to use our right to veto the directive was taken back and changed. The new treaty is all about the surrender of veto rights. important veto rights such as those in the areas of justice and home affairs, asylum and migration will be surrendered. New powers, also without veto, will be given to the Union on areas like energy, climate change, sports, space policy, and many more. Do not misunderstand what I’m trying to say; it’s not we’re against cooperation in the European Union on these issues, on the contrary, it’s needed badly. But countries differ too much on these issues to be decided by a simple majority. Countries should therefore have the last say. If not, the whole European project will lose public support because politicians will go home saying: “we didn’t want this but a majority in Brussels made us accept it." Already the number one problem is not that the EU cannot be governed, but the fact that it lacks public support. ‘

On top of this abolishing of vetos, the Union is given one legal personality so it will be able to sign international agreements like any other state. That clearly touches on the issue of national sovereignty. Therefore everyone saying that this treaty has no constitutional aspects is lying. This includes my own government. Jean Claude Juncker, Prime Minister of Luxembourg was very clear on the issue of sovereignty.

He said: "Of course there will be transfers of sovereignty. But would I be intelligent to draw the attention of public opinion to this fact?” Obviously not. But I thank him anyway for mentioning the fact.

Another reason to reject the new treaty is its economic character. The treaty accepts and defines Europe as a neo-liberal project. Of course I know that the French president Sarkozy claims a big victory with his elimination from the goals of the Union that competition should be ‘free and undistorted.' But it’s being reintroduced in a protocol, which has the same legal status as the Treaty itself Our government also claims to have struck a big victory with the protocol on Services of General interests. But the text has been drafted in close contact with the commission and leaves the status quo intact, so on a case-by-case basis the line between market and government is drawn. The introduction of the term ‘social market economy’ in one of the goals of the Union is not supported by any other article in the treaty at all.

So the Treaty of Lisbon kept the neoliberal policies of the Union, privatisation, liberalisation, undistorted competition, intact en in many ways strengthens it. In fact the EU has always been a tool for Big Business. This is a fact that’s supported by research carried out by the pressure group ALTER-EU which revealed that a total of 1,192 committees advises the European Commission during the drafting and passage of legislation and that corporate business interests are overrepresented on every one of them. In 25% of cases such interests make up over half of the membership. Researchers encountered solid resistance from the European Commission to their enquiries and in some cases received no information on the make-up of certain committees.

In my opinion that says everything. The EU in this way gives industry a platform from which it can, in complete secrecy, determine the course of a particular piece of legislation, even over such controversial matters as biotechnology and carbon storage. That is unacceptable. The composition of these committees must be changed, and quickly, and in the worst cases they should be dispensed with. I have long been concerned about the excessive influence exercised by corporate interests in Brussels. An earlier call for compulsory registration of lobbyists, listing those for whom they were working, was rejected out of hand, despite the fact that this is the norm elsewhere, including in the US Congress. The lack of transparency surrounding these advisory committees is even more of a problem. These people are invited by the European Commission to participate in the drawing up of legislation. This is why it can‘t also be the case that there is no openness whatsoever when it comes to knowing who they are and whom they represent. In addition I'd like to know just what criteria are applied to the composition of these committees. To take a few examples, do trade unions, environmental organisations and other interest groups have the same access to them as does industry and business? The work of the advisory committees forms an important starting point for new EU regulations and directives, so this represents a major democratic deficit.

I am also of the opinion that it is absurd to maintain almost 1,200 advisory committees. When I heard how many there were it seemed immediately obvious to me where this enormous quantity of legislation comes from. Tens of thousands of people sit on these bodies, all of them charged with thinking what the EU can do in a certain field. A major reduction in their number could save a great deal of bureaucracy. As well as these advisory committees there are something like 20,000 officials in Brussels. This is all the evidence you need that the EU is more bureaucracy than democracy.

Talking about democracy: This treaty does not solve the democratic deficit. Supporters of the Treaty who argue that this treaty further diminishes the democratic deficit in the EU are telling us fairy tales.

First: The earlier mentioned loss of sovereignty explain why I do not see the increased powers for the European Parliament as an equal substitute for loss of power of the national parliaments. It still lacks the right of normal parliament like the right of initiative or normal discussions with the Commissioners. To add, there are no European public media, no European public space, nor are there any European political parties. People in hardly any country can name members of the European Parliament. The recent Eurobarometer shows that the majority of the Dutch people do not even know that euro parliamentarians are chosen directly. So this move contributes directly to making the EU decision making process more opaque. I dare anyone to support the claim that the measures in the treaty to increase transparency, like publishing the minutes of the Council of Ministers, will counterbalance this situation. Rubbish!

Second: Although national parliaments are for the first time granted powers to block European legislation, it still needs support from the European council or Parliament. That makes it weak.

Third: more power to the EU means more power to unelected EU technocrats. A permanent president and a minister of foreign affairs will be instituted, even if the latter will be known instead as the 'High Representative’. The option is left open for a tension between the post of President of the Council and the Commission so a powerful EU-president can be created. In anyway, an EU-president is likely to look for an important agenda setting role. No matter whether his name is Tony Blair or anyone else.

That brings me to a less-known part of Europe: its foreign policy. Some European countries lead the way in development aid, peace mediation and support for subordinated and oppressed groups. The EU is, in contrast, cumbersome, slow and concerned above all with obtaining advantages for important European corporations and the widening of its own influence as a world of power. Since the beginning of the war in Iraq in 2003 it has become evident that a number of EU states invariably follow America’s lead. This means that in all probability the only common foreign policy which Europe is likely to agree on would be one which is virtually identically to that of the United States.

The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee tried to summarize the foreign policy aspects of the Lisbon Treaty in January this year. The result is shocking. Europe is not only trying to become a political power but also a military power. Its conclusion is that under the Lisbon Treaty the European security and defence policy would gain an expanded and more distinctive Treaty base. In the existing Treaty defence policy is dealt with in a single Article. Under the Lisbon Treaty, the European security and defence policy would have five Articles.

These five changes are:

  1. expanded "aims and ambitions" for the policy, in particular as regards Member State military capabilities;
  2. an expansion in the list of "Petersberg tasks", i.e. the humanitarian, crisis management and peace-building tasks which the EU may undertake;
  3. the introduction into an EU Treaty for the first time of reference to the European Defence Agency, a body aimed at encouraging greater and more co-ordinated defence capabilities development among Member States, which Member States may join voluntarily and which was already established in 2004 by a decision of the Member States;
  4. the introduction of the possibility of what is called "subcontracting" of security and defence tasks to “coalitions of the able and willing" among the Member States;
  5. the introduction of the possibility of "permanent structured co-operation’

Next to this the treaty suggests an arrangement among a group of Member States possessing greater military capabilities which could be established by a qualified majority decision of the full Council. The Foreign Secretary told us in December that the creation of “permanent structured cooperation" is about "enhancing capability for European defence; EU-led operations in respect of security in the European neighbourhood".

Of great importance to Ireland’s neutrality is the solidarity clause under article 188r. This article states that the union and it’s member states shall act jointly in a spirit of solidarity if a member state is the object of a terrorist attack or the victim of a natural or man-made disaster. The Union shall mobilise all the instruments at its disposal, including the military recourses made available by the member states. 

In sum: this treaty does not differ much from the EU-constitution. It is a treaty wanted by the elite, not the people. Ireland could play an important role since it does have the right to vote. So far as the only people in Europe. Take this chance and vote for all of us. Dare to say no because this will be the only chance for us to also get involved in the decision. You, all of you in this room have an important role to play. You can write history. Dare to say no! Do it for all of us.

[1] The 'Taoiseach' is the Prime Minister of Ireland. Bertie Ahern had survived many scandals before the latest one claimed his scalp. He thus became known as the 'TeflonTaoiseach' - because many charges were made but nothing would stick

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