By Vincent Browne (for the Irish Times)
There is an obvious and simple way that the EU can respond to Ireland’s rejection of the Lisbon Treaty: continue as it was. The EU has fared just fine over the last four years with the arrangements as they were, with 25 and then 27 member states. No gridlock, no chaos. Now just continue as it was going. Every member state retaining a commissioner, the qualified majority voting staying as it was with the plethora of vetoes, which were hardly ever exercised anyway.
There’s nothing to stop the union having a permanent president of the European Council - that did not need a change to the treaties, for it can be agreed informally.
There’s nothing to stop it having a foreign minister. It has that anyway, and it can clear up the mess over the division of responsibilities between this office and the commissioner responsible for external affairs and the foreign minister of the country that holds the presidency. That, too, does not require any treaty changes; that, too, can be done informally.
There’s nothing to stop national parliaments being involved in overseeing EU legislation. There’s nothing to stop the European Council affording co-decision rights to the EU Parliament - where that is not required by the treaties at present, there is no reason why the European Council should not defer to the parliament where there is disagreement.
Neither is there any obstacle to the EU getting on with dealing with climate change or with energy security; and it has already gone way too far ahead with the justice and home affairs malarkey on asylum, anti-terrorism and all that stuff.
Too bad about the European Defence Agency not being incorporated into the formal structures of the EU but, unhappily, that too can do its wicked work, helping out the armaments industry and plotting the future wars for which an elite thinks the EU needs to be prepared.
So what’s the crisis? What’s the problem? Just stop the hand-wringing and get on with it.
The Irish rejection is a tiresome rebuff to those involved for years in devising ways to circumvent the messy ordeal of getting the people of many EU member states to have a say on how the EU should be run. This Irish rejection obstructs them from “going forward” and they are now obsessed with finding other ways of “going forward”. This attitude is typified by the call by Jose Manuel Barroso to the member states to continue with the ratification of a treaty that now cannot be ratified unless the Irish can be browbeaten into changing their vote.
This kind of Euro arrogance is precisely what many Irish people voted against, I suspect, and the Irish people should remember this and vote against it again, hopefully even more decisively, should a ruse be concocted to circumvent this veto and to press-gang them into “getting it right” in a year or so. And the Irish people should also remember that Brian Cowen told the Irish people that he respected and accepted their sovereign democratic decision in voting No, while at the same time he was telling Jose Manuel Barroso the opposite - that the Lisbon Treaty was not dead. How could it not be dead if the decision of the Irish people to kill it off was accepted? The Irish rejection matters not an iota to 99.999 per cent of the people of Europe. The only people it matters to is the elite and even to them it matters only because of the challenge to their conceit. There is nothing at all of any substance at stake from their perspective.
Yes, the EU does need an intelligible and coherent constitution; it does need to be genuinely democratic and accountable and it needs to substitute the European Council with an accountable, elected body, rather like the US Senate, where each state is represented equally - no vetoes, no QMVs. And for this and otherwise it needs a coherent, intelligible constitution based on the willing assent of the people of Europe.
There is surprise and alarm that the Irish people who voted by a margin of about 83 per cent for the parties that urged them to vote Yes in this referendum should vote by a margin of 53 per cent to reject that advice.
There is nothing at all surprising about that. General elections are crude exercises. What we call democracy is a system whereby the people are allowed to vote for one set of policies and personalities in preference to another set of policies and personalities, once every five years. And we assume from this exercise that the people endorse the composite in all its detail, which, of course, is absurd.
Representative democracy is an attenuation of democracy. It excludes the people from acting as sovereign in any meaningful way, aside from the very occasional occurrences of a referendum. Democracy is subcontracted to an elite political class. True, anyone can join that elite if they are elected to it, but it does not mean it is not an elite. And as the elected elite bands together it develops interests and cultures of its own, begins to see the sovereign people as a problem rather than as sovereign.
That is what happened with the Lisbon Treaty and the elite got what it was asking for. Not just here but in Europe.