What exactly are we reforming in this treaty?

By Vincent Browne (for the Sunday Business Post)

Last Wednesday afternoon, I visited the offices of the European Commission in Molesworth Street, Dublin. I wanted a copy of the Lisbon Reform Treaty, on which we will vote in a few months. One of the three gentlemen at reception gave me a photocopy of the document, the only form in which this treaty is available.

I noted that on page 10 (I think it was on page 10, for even the page numbers are confusing) Article 1 stated: “The Treaty on the European Union shall be amended in accordance with the provisions of this article.” Then, at the bottom of this page, it says Article 1 shall be amended as follows: “The third paragraph shall be replaced by the following: The Union shall be founded on the present Treaty and on the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (hereinafter referred to as ‘the Treaties’).”

I asked the jovial gentlemen at reception if I could have a copy of the “Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union” because, I explained, it obviously was not possible to understand the Reform Treaty, on which we were to vote, without having a copy of the “Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union”.

They said they didn’t have it. I asked how then could I understand the Reform Treaty. They were sympathetic to my dilemma.

At this stage, we were joined by a woman who worked upstairs in the Commission office. She asked if she could help. I explained my predicament.

She, too, was sympathetic and explained that actually there was no such thing as the “Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union”. She understood that the Council of the European Union had decided to publish a version some time in April, but that was not certain.

We were then joined by another person from upstairs, whom I had met previously. This person explained that the “Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union” was actually a compilation of all the previous treaties since the Treaty of Rome in 1957. This person said she could give me a summary of the Reform Treaty which should be enough, as it explained what the Reform Treaty was about and I would not have to bother my little head (actually, she did not use that phrase, but that was the tenor of the remark) trying to understand all this on my own by going through the previous treaties.

I said, no, I would like to do my own evaluation of the Reform Treaty, and would like to understand it - but how could I do so if there was not a copy of the treaty which it purported to amend?

She repeated the information about the possibility that, some time in April, the Council of Ministers might publish a copy of the “Functioning” treaty, but this was not certain.

I asked how could anyone vote for this Reform Treaty if they were not in a position to find out what it meant? I was told that our democratically-elected politicians could tell us citizens what the Reform Treaty was about, and on the basis of what they told us, we could vote.

I said I didn’t find that satisfactory, since I was being asked to make up my own mind and then vote on the Reform Treaty.

At this stage, someone said the Institute of European Affairs (the outfit in North Great George’s Street, near where David Norris lives) had published an annotated version of the Reform Treaty which would explain everything. I said I still would like to make up my own mind, as I believed the Institute of European Affairs was the cheerleader for the EU and would be unlikely to offer an objective analysis of the treaty.

The gentlemen at reception were amused at the exchanges and one of them asked why did I not go across the road to the Government Stationery Office and maybe they would have the “Functioning Treaty of the European Union”.

I went across the road as advised, and met an official whom I knew vaguely from previous visits. I asked for the “Functioning Treaty of the European Union”. He said he had never heard of it. I said neither had I. He went to his catalogue to see if he could find any reference to the “Functioning Treaty of the European Union”. Nothing. He checked this on a computer. Nothing.

I have been looking through this photocopy of the Reform Treaty, which the helpful and good-humoured gentlemen at the reception desk of the European Commission office had given me. The whole thing is unintelligible unless you have it side-by-side with this “Functioning Treaty of the European Union” - and since this “Functioning Treaty of the European Union” is not about, it is impossible to understand what the Reform Treaty is about.

Just think of the sheer outrageous arrogance of our betters who want us to go into the ballot boxes sheepishly and vote Yes to a treaty that we cannot possibly understand from the documentation they have made available.

If you were asked by a bank manager or estate agent or solicitor to sign a form, wouldn’t you insist on knowing in advance what it was before doing so?

Why, then, are we expected to approve a treaty that affects our Constitution (for if it didn’t affect our Constitution, we would not have to vote at all) without being able to understand what it is about, other than by trusting the word of these arrogant trick artists?

I would bet my bottom dollar that not one of the following gang have a bull’s notion of what this treaty means article by article, for the good reason that it is literally incomprehensible: Bertie Ahern, Dermot Ahern, Brian Cowen, Dick Roche, Mary Harney, John Gormley, Enda Kenny, Eamon Gilmore and the rest. Even Alan Dukes - and even more Brendan Halligan (the guy who is chairman of the European Institute of European Affairs in North Great George’s Street, near where David Norris lives).

The only responsible, sensible, reasonable, intelligent course of action to adopt is to vote No to this treaty on the grounds that we don’t know - and can’t know - what it means.

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