The Lisbon Treaty Campaign in Ireland: a Review

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The European Commission’s Eurobarometer report is available (PDF)


Background to the Referendum

On June 12th, 2008, the Irish electorate was presented with the opportunity to vote “yes” or “no” to the Lisbon Treaty. This was the seventh referendum on European integration in Ireland in the last 36 years, so EU referendums are very much part of the political landscape. This one, however, was probably the most meaningful since Ireland voted to join the EEC along with the UK back in 1972. The significance of the vote was not down to the importance of the text itself, but due to the context in which the referendum took place.

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In 2005, the EU constitution, which was supposed to replace the existing European treaties with a simplified text and a streamlined structure, was defeated in referenda in both France and the Netherlands. The Lisbon treaty more or less contained the same contents as the EU constitution. The major differences between the EU constitution and the Lisbon Treaty were the following

  • Some of the symbolic elements, traditionally associated with nationalism, such as an official EU flag, anthem and “Europe Day” were ditched.
  • The relative simplicity of the Constitution was replaced with an excessively complicated document, consisting of over 300 pages of amendments to earlier treaties, which could only be read in parallel with the existing treaties. The meaningful changes were buried among hundreds of terminological and cross-referential adjustments.

Other than these and a few other minor changes, the Lisbon treaty incorporated the structural changes to the EU that were present in the constitution into the text of the existing treaties. The repackaging introduced the changes in such a way so as to avoid the need for national referenda to ratify them, while the omission of the nationalist symbols was designed to allow the political leaders to sign the treaty without arousing the outright opposition of their citizenry.

The repackaging had been successful thus far. Stripped of its nationalist symbols and rendered excessively complex by the labyrinthine amendments, the political rulers of Europe felt confident enough in the face of their courts and domestic public opinion, to ratify the treaty through the formality of parliamentary approval and avoid putting it to a vote. Ireland was the only country which put the treaty to referendum and, until the referendum in Ireland, it was on course to be approved as a formality by the rest of the EU governments by the end of 2008.

The significance of the Irish referendum was not, however, simply due to the fact that it was the only country to hold a referendum. Ireland was also the only country to vote on the Nice Treaty, and the no vote that was delivered then had no obvious effect on anything much. The EU simply introduced a fairly vague protocol on neutrality and implemented the treaty anyway and the Irish government eventually delivered a yes vote to support their decision to ignore the first result.

However, in the case of Lisbon, the context was quite different. The defeat of the EU constitution represented a significant blow to the project of EU integration. On the popular level, it undermined the perceived legitimacy of the EU institutions and curtailed the deployments of the nationalist symbols which have traditionally been employed by states to build up a sense of identification between the citizens and the state. If the EU is ever to emerge as a global power, it needs a significant proportion of its citizens to identify with it at some level. Flags, parades, songs and the rest of the romantic symbols of nationalism are still the most effective ways that states have to promote loyalty and patriotism. Therefore, the mutation of the constitution into the Lisbon treaty already represented something of a step backwards for the forces driving EU political integration. To understand the delicate position that the EU found itself in, on the eve of the Irish vote on the Lisbon treaty, it is necessary to take a brief look at these “integrationist*[1]” forces and their opposition.

The Balance of Forces in the EU

The Integrationists

The EU integrationist forces are extremely powerful. They include amongst their number a large majority of continental Europe’s major industries, corporations and capitalists and a large majority of the political elites in most EU countries, with particular concentrations in the heartland of the EU’s industrial economy – France, Germany, the Benelux countries and Northern Italy. From their point of view, the project of EU political integration has been a no-brainer for a long time. An EU with increased political clout and the ability to “strategically project power” would be a very useful thing in practice. Without such a political actor to pursue their goals, Europe’s industries are helpless in the face of the risks to the supply of resources that they need. In a world where oil has hit $135 a barrel, with “peak-oil” on the immediate horizon, at a time when energy supplies are increasingly used for political leverage, it’s not hard to see why European industrialists and politicians alike are well disposed towards the idea of an EU with greater political and military clout. And it’s not just the industrial barons who think like this, the need for an EU which can provide “energy security” was one of the major arguments of the Irish Green Party in favour of ratification of Lisbon.

The EU has always been economically dominated by the outlook of mainland European industry – which remains heavily concentrated in a relatively small area stretching from Northern Italy to Western Germany and Westwards into France. Europe’s major industries traditionally relied upon close integration with “dirigiste” state apparatuses. Due to its military strength and its relative autonomy from NATO, the French state has been the traditional political power-house of the EU and has been the driving force, in partnership with Germany in recent years, behind EU integration. The political leadership of France in EU integration can be seen in the primacy given to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in EU funding. On the one hand, food security is a basic requirement for any state with ambitions of being a global power, on the other, the French economy is unusual, in EU terms, for the importance of agriculture and the political power of farmers.

Left Wing & Nationalist Popular Opposition

The integrationists are by no means without opposition. Popular opposition and outright resistance to the EU project from the left and from the broad family of traditional European nationalisms have been obstacles that the integrationists have had to repeatedly overcome on their slow march towards a coherent federal EU state. However, as the various EU treaties have all been agreed to unanimously by each of the component governments of the EU after detailed negotiations, the ability of popular opposition movements to affect the course of the EU is severely limited. In most cases, it is the very governments which have signed treaties which subsequently ‘ratify’ them through parliamentary formalities. From time to time various governments have decided to hold referenda, or have been forced to do so by their courts or domestic political pressure, and popular opposition has had a chance to show its face. ‘No’ votes in referenda have done little, however, to alter the course of European integration. They have merely been treated as speed-bumps on the road, somewhat slowing the rate of progress. In general, in the face of no votes, some clause or exemption has been negotiated between the EU and the member government in order to give the impression that the vote has been respected, with the treaty being implemented regardless.

Apart from serving as general speed-bumps, the other meaningful way that popular movements have influenced the course of EU is through lobbying and applying various pressures on their national governments during negotiations. Such influence is, however, vastly weaker than the influence of the corporate world, with their armies of lobbyists and virtually unlimited access to key decision makers. Thus, the social aspects of the EU treaties remain relatively weak, lacking enforcement mechanisms or being too vague to be applied in practice.

The integrationists face other opposition forces, however, and these forces have proved powerful in influencing the direction of the EU project over the years. They represent a section of Europe’s ruling class in a self-interested alliance with the US state. They represent those elites within the corporate, state and military sectors who feel threatened – generally with good reason – by the prospect of a politically powerful EU.

Atlantacist & Corporate Opposition

The UK economy is significantly different to those of its continental neighbours. Agriculture has not been important for over a hundred years. The financial services industry is a particularly strong part of the economy. Much of the wealth that flows through the markets of London originates from the Cayman Islands and the British Virgin Islands and other crown dependencies that serve as global off-shore tax havens. To understand why EU political integration is seen as a threat to this sector of the UK economy, where better to turn than Professor Tim Congdon, a leading UK euro-skeptic economist. In a presentation to the anti-EU Tory think tank, the Bruges Group, entitled “The EU’s Threat to the City of London,” Congdon noted that “English speaking Crown dependencies have got a totally disproportionate share of the world’s financial business.” He went on to explain why these dependencies were important to London’s financial services sector: “a lot of value added in terms of managing the assets and so on is actually done in London and this is critical to London’s prosperity because we’re talking about quite large sums of money … it’s now about getting on for $20 trillion”

But what has this to do with the EU? “[T]here’s resentment in the rest of Europe and there are some somewhat disagreeable aspects of this bond market … much of the market arose because of tax evasion.” Many of those who invest in these offshore havens are European citizens, evading taxes that are due to their states. Indeed, in Ireland, the Ansbacher report uncovered the fact that Irish banks were systematically colluding with wealthy investors to evade taxes by investing in fake off-shore accounts in the Caymans and the practice must be similarly widespread elsewhere – that $20 trillion didn’t come from nowhere.

This leads us on to the European “resentment”. Firstly, the economic and monetary policies of the EU are geared towards servicing continental industry rather than UK finance – which have significantly different needs. One of the five economic tests established by Labour leader Gordon Brown in determining whether the UK should join the Euro-zone is “what impact would entry into the euro have on the UK‘s financial services industry?” When the UK joined the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, the Euro’s precursor, in October 1990, it remained within the system for less than two years. The markets exploited the differences in economic policies across the channel to force sterling out of the system.

The second major “resentment” relates to taxation. To put it simply, the continental powers would prefer that the tax money, which their states should be collecting, was not instead funnelled into offshore tax havens which are in practice, if not in law, based in London. They would also like to end the common practice of companies basing themselves in countries with low corporate tax rates, such as Ireland and the UK, when their business is conducted across the union. A common consolidated corporate tax base (CCCTB) has long been a publicly stated goal of the integrationists and has been the official policy of the EU commission since 2001, but has been actively opposed by the UK state over the years, regardless of government.

For these reasons, the UK financial services industry has always been a major opponent of EU closer economic and political integration as that would inevitably cause it to lose its influence on political decision makers and could threaten the tax loopholes that it depends upon.

The other major opposition to the project of EU political integration has come, in recent years, from elements within the US state and their security network. The European states are, bar one or two, currently subordinate members of the US-commanded NATO security system. The French state in particular has, since the Second World War, consistently seen European integration as a means of maintaining and reasserting their strategic power on the world stage, autonomous of US control. This ultimately requires the construction of a European army outside the orbit of NATO. Many of the internal battles that have raged within the EU over the last decades have been concerned with the apparently trivial details of whether the EU armed forces should use NATO planning staff or ‘duplicate’ these functions with their own staff. Ultimately, however, as European integration progresses, the US will inevitably lose this battle as the logic of having an autonomous military capacity becomes inescapable to the EU leaders and their industrial backers.

The political opposition of NATO generals and US state department officials is largely conducted in private. They have access to EU political leaders as well as to the governments of the constituent countries. Being representatives of the world’s super-power, they can wield a great deal of power and have access to a large selection of sticks and carrots to influence EU decision makers. EU political integration not only threatens their military hegemony, it undermines their ability to apply pressure to the individual European governments. On the other hand, the US state is entirely supportive of European economic integration, as it provides their corporations with a convenient free-trade area. They are even supportive of military and political integration – as long as it is politically subservient to the US and militarily subordinate within NATO. Indeed the project of European integration was initially driven by post-war US planners and the various European movements were covertly funded from Washington for decades. The US is also in favour of increased EU military spending, within NATO at least. Their opposition is to political integration which would allow the EU to act on the world stage autonomously of the US. As integration proceeds, that is increasingly the reality they are facing.

This ‘Atlantacist” opposition to the EU includes factions in most European countries – as their NATO links mean that they all contain a section of the elite who are more or less dependant on US hegemony for their power. It also includes several prominent US-based capitalists whose business interests in the EU give them significant influence. The most notable example is Rupert Murdoch, whose international media network gives him particular power and a unique ability to influence the opinions of the European masses against the plans of their leaders.

Overall, however, this opposition is most strongly concentrated in the UK due to the historic ‘special relationship’ with the US, its close relationship with Commonwealth countries, its prominent, if subordinate, position in the NATO command chain and the shared language and close cultural ties with its former colony. The strength of the Atlantacists in the UK dovetails neatly with the interests of the city of London to create a particularly strong opposition to further EU integration in the UK. These ‘euro-sceptics’, as they are known, are a powerful force in the UK conservative party and the media and have exercised a strong influence on UK government policy towards Europe over the years, regardless of who has been in power. Since its entry to the EEC, the UK has consistently acted as something of a ‘wrecker’ within the Union. This reached its nadir in the 1980’s when Thatcher’s government threw a succession of spanners into the EU’s works causing it to grind to a halt, but, regardless of government, the UK has always served as a major obstacle to political and economic integration. It remains outside the euro-zone, it has blocked the CCCTB for at least a decade and, in general, it continues to serve as a brake on political integration in all areas.

Nevertheless, the UK’s economy is still heavily dependant on remaining within the EU. While it can block integrationist plans, pulling out is not really an option. In the late 1990’s, the integrationists introduced a framework for ‘enhanced cooperation’ allowing 8 countries or more to forge ahead with closer integration by themselves. This created a ‘multi-speed’ Europe, where the core continental economies have pursued closer integration in a range of areas, leaving the UK and others behind. It is also worth noting that a significant proportion of the UK political and industrial elite share the same interests as their continental peers. Therefore, while the UK has generally served as a brake on integrationists plans and continues to do so, the pressure of an internal pro-integration faction and the danger of being left behind by the continental powers have slowly forced it along the EU path. Each treaty represents, in the main part, a laboriously elaborated compromise between these various forces being represented most clearly by France and Germany on one part, and the UK on the other.

The Relevance of the Irish vote on Lisbon

In this context, with the project of the integrationists already on the back foot after the rejection of the EU constitution, the Atlantacists and anti-integrationist forces were dearly wishing that the Lisbon treaty would be defeated in Ireland. In the UK, the euro-sceptic British Conservatives were riding high in the polls. The Labour government was due to ratify the treaty just a week after the Irish poll. If they were to do so in a situation where the only referendum in Europe had rejected the treaty, they would find themselves under considerable popular pressure. The holding of a referendum on the EU constitution was a Labour campaign promise – reportedly extracted from Tony Blair by Rupert Murdoch as a condition for his support – and the opposition and media will not be slow to point out how similar the Lisbon treaty is to the constitution.

The Lisbon treaty already represents an agreed compromise between the various factions of the European business and political elite. At this stage the only real remaining weapon available to the anti-integrationist forces was popular opinion. While they can use the euro-sceptic press in the UK and elsewhere to rant and rave against the bureaucrats in Brussels, this had no affect whatsoever on the treaty’s ratification in parliament. In Ireland, however, the referendum gave them a much more direct opportunity to throw another spanner in the works.

Defeat for the Lisbon treaty in Ireland represents a significant blow to the EU and has encouraged its opponents throughout Europe. It is impossible to tell exactly how this will pan out, but it is not inconceivable that it will engender a crisis amongst the integrationists. It has certainly not helped the legitimacy of the federal EU state or any of the member governments who have ratified the treaty or intend to do so – which might cause popular opposition to become much more problematic to the corporate and political elites driving integration. It has certainly encouraged the Atlantacists and the corporate opposition to EU integration. While a yes vote would have allowed the good ship EU to sail serenely on its state-building course, an Irish no vote might yet serve as a significant blow to those plans.

In terms of the effect of a no vote on Ireland itself, it is almost impossible to predict since it largely depends on the effects elsewhere. It seems most likely that the EU leaders will simply press ahead regardless of the Irish vote. Whether they take a punitive or conciliatory approach to negotiations with Ireland depends mostly on the strength of opposition elsewhere in Europe. Whatever happens, the Irish state has ultimately no leverage in negotiations. Economically, Ireland mostly plays a parasitic role in the EU. It gobbles up agricultural subsidies and provides a tax haven for US multinationals doing business in the EU. It possesses almost no strategic resources or military might. The Irish state has thus no chips to bargain with. The only thing stopping the EU from being as harsh as it wants is the effect that this might have on public opinion elsewhere. Ireland has only been allowed to retain its low corporate tax rates and light financial regulation regime due to the fact that the UK also opposes “tax harmonisation”, while the CAP subsidies are due to France being their champion. If Ireland was the only country not to ratify the treaty, the Irish state would be isolated, with no real leverage and such policies could be vulnerable. That is the outcome that the Irish elite fear more than anything – it’s also probably the best thing that could come out of the vote for European workers, incidentally.

It is even possible that defeat in the Irish referendum, followed by an upsurge in opposition to the EU elsewhere might cause the integrationists to take a significantly different tack – for example by focusing on integration between the core continental EU states through “enhanced cooperation” or a similar arrangement and leaving Ireland and the UK on the outside. Still, it is probably most likely that the no vote will merely be treated as another speed bump in the EU’s path and they will simply continue with their onward march and maybe agree a new protocol to explain away the Irish public’s rejection.

The Treaty Campaign In Ireland

Given the wider context, it is not surprising that the political campaign surrounding the Lisbon treaty was unusually long-running and intense by the standards of Irish European referenda. The vote was scheduled for June 12th, 2008, yet public campaigning started in 2007. The breakdown of the forces ran pretty much exactly according to the standard European schema outlined above. On the yes side we had almost the entirety of the corporate and political elite, from the employers’ federation IBEC, to the three largest political parties: Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour. 160 of the 166 members of the Irish parliament supported the treaty.

On the no side we had a wide array of groups. These can broadly be categorised as representing the left on one part and traditional nationalism on the other. The left incorporates Marxists, anarchists, some trade unionists and some social democrats. The traditional nationalists incorporate the catholic fundamentalists of Coir / Youth Defence as well as the various shades of Irish Republicanism (Sinn Fein, Republican Sinn Fein, 32 County Sovereignty Movement). Other oppositional groups sat somewhere between the two (Eirigi, People’s Movement).

The Atlantacists were represented by Libertas, a political novelty in Ireland, which I’ve examined elsewhere. They were weak in number, since there is no significant section of the Irish economy that does not depend on Ireland’s EU membership in some manner or another. However, the reach of multi-national media corporations in Ireland, many of whom are owned and controlled by figures close to the US and UK administrations, amplifies their voice considerably. For example, Rupert Murdoch’s News International broadcasts a range of widely received “Sky” televisions channels as well as publishing several daily and weekly newspapers with mass audiences in Ireland. These all took a marked “No” position in their coverage.

What was unusual in this campaign, however, is the fact that some of those advocating a no vote had access to considerable resources to run their campaigns. Both Libertas and Coir probably spent well over a million euros, money spent on billboards, posters, press conferences and advertisements. Both groups even spent significant amounts of money buying Google “adwords” – both purchased Google’s sponsored links for “EU referendum” – costing them over 2 dollars every time somebody clicked the link! Libertas were preparing their campaign and appointing staff up to two years in advance of the poll and their campaign had swung into top-gear, with a public launch of their campaign, accompanied by a truck-sized advertisement, in December 2007. They eventually claimed to have spent about €1.3 million, but that is unverified and the source of their funding remains mysterious. The amount of money that Coir spent is also unknown. Both groups have strong connections to US backed groups, the defence and intelligence communities in the case of Ganley and the pro-life movement in the case of Coir.

However, while the significance of the campaign, and the length of time that it covered, ensured that the media coverage was voluminous and the public debate was all-pervasive, the information content of the debate was probably, on balance, negative. A diligent and reasonably discerning citizen who relied upon the media for their information about the treaty would, on average, have emerged from the debate less well informed about the EU and the significance of the treaty than when the debate started.

Whenever a prominent campaigner issued a claim about some aspect of the treaty, it was widely reported by the media, no matter how obviously wrong or dishonest it was. Due to the fact that the elite forces on either side were naturally reluctant to argue their case openly, there was no shortage of spectacularly dishonest claims. The debate consisted of a bewildering blizzard of directly contradictory claims. For the vast majority of voters, the only really way to choose between these claims was on the basis of how much they trusted the people making them.

A second major problem with the public debate was the constant tendency towards simplification. A large number of groups in Ireland opposed the treaty, from a wide range of wildly different points of view. These ranged from anarchists and Trotskyists on the left, to fundamentalist catholics and NATO supporters on the right. These groups were often more vocally opposed to one another than they were to towards those advocating a Yes vote. The political and corporate elite who backed the treaty were, on the other hand, fairly united. They ran a coordinated and coherent campaign which saw them all singing from the same hymn sheet. While it would be fair enough to describe this as a collective “Yes Campaign”, it would be enormously wrong to do the same with the “No Campaign” which consisted of a large number of different, mutually antagonistic groups. Yet that’s exactly what the media did. The campaign was simplified to a battle between the Yes Side and the No Side. Farcically, Declan Ganley, head honcho at Libertas, was frequently described as the leader of the No campaign despite the fact that his organisation had no more than a dozen members or so and most of them seemed to also be his employees. So, not only were Yes and No campaigners directly contradicting each other, “spokespeople for the No Campaign” frequently made statements which directly contradicted the claims made by “spokespeople for the No Campaign.”

But it wasn’t just the preponderance of wildly inaccurate and dishonest claims or farcical simplifications which detracted from the quality debate. Where information was accurate and well-grounded it suffered from an intense insularity, lack of context and narrowness of focus. It focused overwhelmingly on the question of “is the treaty good for Ireland?” and this narrow focus reduced much of the debate to a concentration on how the Irish state’s voice in Europe would be affected if the treaty was passed. In the greater scheme of things, this is very much an irrelevance. Before the treaty, the Irish state, by itself, had a miniscule ability to influence European decisions and this will remain the case for the foreseeable future. The vast quantity of coverage which examined the various clauses of the treaty in minute detail to evaluate their likely impact on Irish decision making power was almost entirely pointless.

Worse still, all such arguments were essentially speculative since the treaty was to affect significant changes to the EU’s decision making structures, to allow the EU to make decisions more efficiently and to carry them out more coherently. How these decisions would have impacted upon the interests of the Irish state would have depended upon what the decisions actually were. It is highly likely that they would, sooner or later, be used to attempt to end the tax-haven status of Ireland. Whether that succeeds or not depends upon the balance of forces between the UK and the continental core of the EU and has little to do with the treaty. It is highly unlikely that the Irish state will ever exercise a veto on anything significant since the major EU states are also the major driving forces in European integration and they possess between them the ability to apply overwhelming pressure on a weak dependant country like Ireland. The idea that the Irish state could veto a CCCTB plan that had been agreed – after decades of slow diplomacy – between the UK, France, Germany and the other major EU economies appears highly unlikely.

So, overall, the media coverage of the EU campaign was dominated by dishonest and clearly wrong claims. Where it managed to be remotely reality-based it was, more often than not, premised on a vast overestimation of the Irish state’s influence on EU decisions. The bigger picture of the direction of European integration and the major forces influencing that direction, were almost totally ignored and remain almost entirely unknown to the public. In order to demonstrate this point, the following sections examine some of the issues that formed the focus of public debate in the media, how they were presented by the various campaigners, what the reality of the situation was, and how the public debate diverged from that reality.

Loss of Sovereignty

A significant proportion of the public debate focused on the claimed loss of sovereignty. Of the No campaigners, virtually every group bar the anarchists raised this as a complaint in one form or another. The specific complaints included the extension of Qualified Majority Voting, the dilution of the Irish state’s veto rights over a range of areas, the new legal personality of the EU, the paramount nature of the European Court of Justice with respect to national courts, the loss of an automatic right of a commissioner and the creation of official EU representative positions. On the far right wing of the No campaign, this loss of sovereignty was equated with an “EU takeover” and even the “End of Nations”.

The reality of the situation is that European integration must, by definition, lead to a progressive loss of sovereignty on the part of national governments – that’s the whole point. The EU is a state in slow formation, each treaty has transferred some decision making power from the member countries to the EU and has consequently reduced the sovereignty of the member states. However, it is very much still a work in progress and it will be some time before effective political power rests in Brussels rather than Paris, Frankfurt and London. The EU lacks efficient enforcement mechanisms, it is internally divided, it is finding that economic liberalisation and political integration across languages and cultures is not straightforward, it lacks a real deployable security service and its decision making mechanisms remain laborious. While there has been a continuous and progressive transfer of power from the member nations to the EU since the start, it is far from being complete.

The Yes campaign either simply denied that the treaty implied any loss of sovereignty or avoided the question by describing it as “pooled sovereignty” or some other semantic chicanery. The reluctance to honestly address this issue simply sprang from the desire amongst the elites not to stir up traditional nationalist sentiment amongst the population – the ditching of the flag and other symbols from the constitution was testament to the strength of this fear. Therefore, in this at least, we can say that the Yes campaign was, at best, dishonest by omission.

While the claims from No campaigners about the loss of sovereignty might have been accurate in the general case, more often than not they were wildly inaccurate and misleading in the specifics. The claimed loss of sovereignty was presented as being much more sudden, absolute and complete than has actually been the case. For example, several nationalist groups claimed that the treaty would inaugurate the primacy of the ECJ – a primacy which in fact dates back to 1962. Many of the other changes that were claimed to represent significant blows to sovereignty were simply slight adjustments to existing institutions rather than state-defining moments.

Overall, in the public debate, the clear and obvious reality, of an incomplete and partial state in gradual formation with sovereignty being slowly and progressively ceded to the new state from its members was almost entirely obscured.

Taxation

The “protection of Ireland’s tax independence” was, naturally, a significant focus of the debate. The Atlantacists, the nationalists and even some of the left claimed that the Lisbon Treaty put that independence at risk. The Yes campaign, on the other hand, claimed that the Lisbon Treaty would not affect Ireland’s veto on tax-related matters and would provide the best protection of Ireland’s interests into the future.

The reality of the situation is that there has been a long term struggle between the continental core of the EU on one side and the UK and the Atlantacists on the other, as has been touched on above. This treaty does nothing one way or the other to resolve this struggle. The French state in particular is wedded to the idea of a CCCTB and it has been official policy of the EU commission since 2001. It is basically impossible to tell how the result of the treaty vote will affect the situation. It could be that the No vote will see punitive measures applied to Ireland which might undermine the state’s tax independence, but it is equally possible that the updated, more efficient decision making mechanisms of the EU that a Yes vote would have ushered in would have been used to place Ireland and the UK under significant pressure to harmonise their tax rates.

In terms of the public debate, pretty much every single claim from No campaigners about tax was either totally wrong or wildly speculative. From Libertas, to Coir, the People’s Movement and Sinn Fein, all of the claims about taxation were dishonest. These claims were even echoed, in a milder form, by some of the left. The fact that they are normally against the low tax rate for corporations seems to have been forgotten and they were, in effect, happy to oppose the treaty on the grounds that it reduced the ability of US corporations to avoid paying taxes. This compounded the dishonesty with a huge dollop of hypocrisy. The Yes campaign’s claims about taxation and the treaty were somewhat more honest, yet the lack of context and an implicit vast over-estimation of the Irish state’s ability to influence such matters also meant that the picture that they painted was woefully inaccurate.

Economic Policy

The effects of the Lisbon treaty on Ireland’s economy formed another major focus of the public debate. This aspect was most strongly taken up by the left and the more left-leaning of the nationalists, who argued that the treaty would lead to privatisations and other neo-liberal measures. Libertas argued against the treaty on economic grounds from almost exactly the opposite point of view, denouncing the EU as a bureaucratic morass of anti-business red-tape. The Yes campaign, for its part, focused heavily on the past and future benefits of EU membership to Ireland’s economy.

The reality of the situation is somewhat complex. Firstly, it is unquestionably true that EU membership has been beneficial to Ireland’s economy as against its previous economic isolation and dependence on the UK. It is also unquestionably true that, as long as Ireland’s economy is dependent on offering cut-price tax rates and receiving enormous agricultural subsidies, it will remain heavily vulnerable to decisions out of its control. It is also unquestionably true that, in the current situation, withdrawal from the EU would see Ireland’s economy collapse. However, whether Ireland’s membership of the EU continues to be economically beneficial is a matter outside of the control of the Irish state.

It is also almost impossible to argue that the EU’s economic direction has not been progressing in a markedly neo-liberal direction in recent years. The Lisbon agenda, agreed by the council of Europe in 2000, adopted a general policy of market liberalisation in all spheres, which essentially means the progressive reduction of the state’s role in the economy and in providing public services. The Lisbon treaty added several new areas to the specific list of sectors to be opened to liberalisation – most importantly health and education. This represents a small step forward on the neo-liberal structuring of the internal EU economy.

Yet, once again, it is a mistake to think that this change would see Europe suddenly order its member states to privatise their health and education systems. The reality of the situation is that neo-liberal economics is currently virtually ubiquitous amongst the world’s political and economic elites. The thing that stops Europe’s governments from privatising public service is not the fact that they don’t want to do it, it’s the fact that they find themselves unable to do so due to popular opposition. Privatisation and liberalisation in transport and energy in Ireland is still extremely limited, as it is elsewhere in Europe, while the Irish health system has always had a significant private element, despite the fact that liberalisation in health has just been rejected while transport and energy have been ‘liberalised’ for some time. In this context, the idea that Europe might order the government to privatise is hardly meaningful.

Nevertheless, the prospect of granting the task of delegating such unpopular decisions to a remote federal government is an appealing one to many governments. Already, in many Irish disputes we see the government claiming that their hands are tied by EU legislation, for example invoking EU legislation during the bin tax dispute in 2004. The extension of liberalisation within the EU and the development of better enforcement mechanisms will eventually see the EU make and enforce such decisions at a federal level. There is no other reason to make such agreements, but it is likely to be a slow process.

In terms of the public debate over Lisbon, we can start by saying that the arguments of the Atlantacists in Libertas were generally vague and clichéd attacks on “the bureaucrats in city hall”. They garnered a tiny amount of support from capitalists who felt threatened by one thing or another about EU integration, but there was no discernible specific complaints or proposed reforms suggested. It is hard to see these claims as anything other than general-purpose mud thrown to confuse the debate and sow doubt in the public mind.

The arguments of the left about the neo-liberal direction of the EU are difficult to argue with, although many of the specific claims were somewhat misleading, over-estimating the direct impact of the specific changes. The Yes campaign, for its part, relied upon generalised and non-specific allusions to how the EU had been good for Ireland’s economy and that the treaty protected Ireland’s interests. All specifics concerning economic risks and the economic direction of EU policy were studiously avoided.

Overall, thus, while the public debate did manage to convey the idea that privatisations and neo-liberalism are a strong force in EU decision making, this was obscured by the contradictory smoke emitted by the Atlantacists and where it did manage to make a splash in the media, it was often connected with a grossly exaggerated estimation of the significance of the current changes.

Militarisation

The implications of the treaty for military matters was another major focus of public debate. The left criticised it as leading to increased militarisation of the EU. This criticism was also echoed by others including Libertas and the nationalist groups. At the more extreme end of the claims, some groups claimed that the treaty would effectively terminate Ireland’s traditional policy of military neutrality. The Yes campaign focused on the fact that an EU protocol, agreed as part of the second Nice treaty referendum, had guaranteed respect for Ireland’s neutrality and that nothing in the current treaty could overrule that.

The reality is, once again, significantly more complex. The EU protocol guaranteeing Ireland’s neutrality would indeed prevent the EU from ordering the Irish state to take part in an EU army or a collective war. However, as with privatisation, this is a rather pointless freedom since the Irish government and all the major parties are more keen than anybody to ditch their policy and to participate in future EU ‘security’ operations. The Irish army is, after all, currently in Chad providing an EU fig-leaf to the French army’s fifth or sixth military intervention to prop up their favoured dictator there. They have rendered the meaning of neutrality virtually meaningless by offering whatever assistance they can to the US military’s war in Iraq and the Irish courts have themselves ruled that neutrality is ‘aspirational’. In a situation where the Irish state is so keen on participating in EU armed forces, it is really not that significant that the EU state doesn’t have the power to order them to do so.

On the other hand, when it comes to EU militarisation, there is no doubt that the Lisbon treaty represented another small step on the road to military integration and a common EU army. The small modifications to the text that it contained serve to strengthen the language and put pressure on the member governments to spend money on standardising their armies in preparation for greater integration. The creation of such an army has been the unambiguous goal of the EU integrationists since the start. It is far from existing in practice, but at this stage it is well on the way. Most importantly it has finally managed to set up a planning centre and HQ that is independent of NATO. That hurdle having been cleared, it is quite possible that the pace of integration will increase, but opposition from NATO still has the possibility of being a formidable roadblock in their path. The treaty was a tiny step forward, but how significant it might have turned out to be will depend on events that are quite unpredictable at this stage.

On the claims of militarisation, therefore, the No campaigners were clearly somewhat accurate, albeit alarmist in some cases. On the claims of a loss of neutrality, the Yes campaign was somewhat accurate, although, once again, the lack of context led to them putting forward a very misleading story. The real source of the misinformation, however, was in Yes campaigners repeatedly conflating the two – when asked about EU militarisation, the standard reply was to deny any threat to Irish neutrality as if the two questions were the same.

Abortion, Euthanasia, Gay Marriage, etc

The implications of the Lisbon treaty on a broad range of social questions also formed the focus of some public debate. These issues were generally raised by the traditionalist nationalist wing of the No campaign, although they were echoed to a certain extent by the Atlantacists of Libertas. At essence, the claims were that a No vote could help see a situation where legalised abortion, euthanasia and various other measures which might undermine Ireland’s traditional catholic ethos could be forced upon Ireland by decisions of the ECJ. The left wing No campaigners and the entirety of the Yes campaign dismissed these claims as baseless.

The reality of the situation is that there was no prospect of the ECJ acting to force the Irish government to introduce legalised abortion or euthanasia. There was also nothing whatsoever in the treaty that makes this prospect any more or less likely. The claims of the nationalist No camp were, in this regard, totally inaccurate. However, once again it’s not as simple as that. As EU integration progresses there has been and will continue to be a harmonisation of social and cultural norms – the basic rights of citizens and so on. The period since Ireland joined the EU has seen an enormous decline in the power of catholic social teaching in Ireland. Ireland’s progressive integration into an EU which is overwhelmingly secular in nature in comparison to Ireland has undoubtedly played a part in that. While the process of European integration continues, at a social and institutional level, the process of Irish de-catholicisation is likely to continue in parallel. This will eventually lead to a situation where continued bans on abortion in Ireland will come under pressure from the EU, through its courts and decision making institutions.

So, while one can say unequivocally that the traditional nationalists’ claims about the treaty were wrong, their fears were not entirely misplaced. Indeed, it is the fear of gradual cultural assimilation into European secular norms that most strongly motivates this group to fight against European treaties. They understand that compulsory fidelity to doctrinaire catholic teaching is not much of a vote winner, thus they have to invent alarmist stories on some of the more polarising issues to try to reach a broader layer of public support.

Immigration

One issue that was barely mentioned by campaigners, but still cropped up repeatedly in the media was immigration. Only a handful of individuals on the very fringes of the no campaign raised the issue in public in relation to Lisbon, but it still cropped up repeatedly with reference to the Nice treaty and EU expansion, in advance of which the Irish government had assured the people that there would be only limited immigration into Ireland. In actual fact the Irish construction boom saw tens of thousands of immigrants arrive. It was reported in various places that this had caused a feeling of resentment among large swathes of the public. It is highly likely that this fear was stoked in private campaigning by some traditional nationalist no campaigners. The basic problem expressed was that Ireland would lose control over its borders.

The reality of the situation is that freedom of movement within the EU has been a reality for a long time. Essentially, on this point, we can consider Ireland to be just like a US state. The very idea of immigration controls from the EU into Ireland makes as little sense as the idea that Nebraska might adopt immigration controls on the rest of the US. Similarly, given the internal EU freedom of movement, the Irish state has very little latitude to define immigration controls for those arriving from the rest of the world. The simple fact is that when there are jobs people will come, when there are no jobs people will leave. While Ireland remains part of the EU, this will remain the case.

Why the Campaign went the way it went

Finally, having looked at the European context and the stunningly poor quality of the public debate, we will briefly look at the course of the campaign to ask why it went the way that it did. There were several significant differences with past EU referendums, most notably the strength of the No vote in opinion polls leading up to the vote. The last two opinion polls before the vote registered a 35% to 30% lead for a No and a slim 42% to 39% lead for a Yes in the other. This was an unprecedented situation – even in the first Irish poll on the Nice referendum – which was defeated – the Yes vote was ahead in the last poll before the vote. Although the Yes side threw enormous resources into the campaign in the last few days before the poll and mobilised everybody they possibly could, they failed to stem the tide and the campaign was defeated by 53% to 47%, with a turnout of 51%, a marked increase over the numbers who voted on Nice.

In the early years of EU membership, Irish voters could be relied on to deliver a massive vote in favour of whatever European treaty was put in front of them due mainly to the fact that the EU seemed to be a plausible route out of poverty. By 2001, when the Nice Treaty was rejected, immediate economic necessity was far less of a force. However, this vote came after a relatively low key campaign and a very low turnout. When the political and business elite focused their energies and resources on delivering a Yes vote second time around, they managed to win 62% of the vote and were able to put the first loss down to “taking their eye off the ball”. For Lisbon, they most certainly did have their eye on the ball. They ran a well resourced, intensive and expensive media campaign, fronted by a carefully chosen selection of political, economic and business leaders. They covered the country with posters and billboards and mobilised their friends in the media to help persuade the population. Yet they lost. So what happened?

Firstly, the nature of the referendum campaign conspired against the Irish elite. European treaties are complicated documents, concerned with the workings of arcane institutions governing distant affairs. Due to the lack of opportunities for personal advancement on offer, the major parties find it particularly difficult to mobilise their constituency organisations, while the nationalists and the left are generally more motivated than ever.

Thus, Ireland’s political and business leaders have traditionally relied heavily on their advertising, PR and media resources in order to sell their case for European treaties. This was particularly so with Lisbon, but the difference this time was that, in Declan Ganley, they were opposed by somebody who had access to comparable PR resources and in Lord Rothermere and Rupert Murdoch, they were opposed by people who controlled a significant minority of the Irish media. Although the British tabloids have far less political influence in Ireland than the Irish press, a significant proportion of the voting population are not particularly interested in European politics, never mind the extension of QMV or new shared-competencies. They absorb information about the issues in fragments, an article here, a radio interview there. By introducing sufficient alternative interpretations of the significance of the treaty into the public sphere, Libertas and their media allies were able to neutralise the media as a propaganda tool. So, while the post-election opinion polls revealed that very few people voted against the treaty from a pro-business point of view, the PR and media work of Ganley, Murdoch et al were instrumental in levelling the playing field between the campaigns.

With a large number of conflicting interpretations in circulation, many voters’ voting decisions depended on whom they trusted the most. When it came down to it, the side that was represented by politicians and IBEC was always going to be in trouble. In the end, the loyalty test split the electorate on class lines. The wealthier constituencies trusted their politicians and business leaders more, the rest of the country sided against them and with the left or the nationalists. Ironically, the intervention of NATO supporting businessmen helped significantly in exposing the class divide that runs through capitalist Ireland. The depth and distrust between the workers and their leaders was temporarily laid bare.




 

[1] I use the term ‘integrationists’ rather than ‘federalists’ to describe the forces who favour European political integration in the EU. The EU is already a federation of sorts and most of the forces who are opposed to further integration support a federal arrangement between the EU states of one sort or another.

 

 

The image above was taken by Red Mum on Polling Day for the Lisbon Referendum. You can see more of her pictures from the counter centre in her flickr photo stream.

 

 

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20 Responses

  1. leaflet reader

    June 21, 2008 12:36 am

    The author seems to be guilty of believing biased and inaccurate media reports.

    Sinn Féin never said that the party supported low corporate tax rates, or that such rates would be singled out for change. Rather, Sinn Féin pointed out that there are moves afoot to give the EU control over many aspects of tax and taxation policy, and the Lisbon Treaty, if passed, would strengthen this effort.

    Sinn Féin supports common tax policies for the whole island of Ireland, controlled and set by the people of Ireland through their own elected representatives.

    The Party rightly pointed out that there are moves afoot for the EU to ultimately control taxes in the way the Union already controls exchange rates and interest rates through the European Central Bank. This has been proved correct by events in the past week.

    Polling information would indicate that very few NO voters were bothered about the supposed threat to corporate tax raised by Libertas, but that the Sinn Féin case relating to general taxation was well understood by voters.

  2. chekov

    June 22, 2008 1:22 am

    “Sinn Féin never said that the party supported low corporate tax rates, or that such rates would be singled out for change. Rather, Sinn Féin pointed out that there are moves afoot to give the EU control over many aspects of tax and taxation policy, and the Lisbon Treaty, if passed, would strengthen this effort.”

    In reality, there is only one tax issue that was raised in the campaign; there is only one tax issue that is controverial, in any way, in the EU (CCCTB); there is only one tax issue that is really important to Ireland’s economy. So, in such a context, when SF argue against the EU having control over taxes _in general_, everybody who hears it understands that they’re talking about corporation tax, and SF’s campaign strategists know this perfectly well.

    I think that you’d have to replace your brain with a party manifesto to not see this. Speaking of which, I’ve come across a few Internet provies recently who’ve shown trot-like devotion to the party line in defending ludicrous positions. On Indymedia recently, a shinner hotly disputed the claim that putting Mary Lou’s face on the posters would raise her profile – I paraphrase the argument as “it would raise the profile of the campaign, and everybody already knows who she is, so why would she want to raise her profile?” Somebody better tell the coca-cola marketing division.

  3. Tomaltach

    June 24, 2008 10:42 am

    Hi Checkov. Very comprehensive review there of the main forces at play.

    The only thing I take issue with is your throwaway (“incidentally”) line that :

    If Ireland was the only country not to ratify the treaty, the Irish state would be isolated, with no real leverage and such policies (low corp tax and light regulation) could be vulnerable. That is the outcome that the Irish elite fear more than anything – it’s also probably the best thing that could come out of the vote for European workers, incidentally..

    I understand perfectly the argument about low tax being unfair as labour then shoulders the bulk of the tax burden. But we have to face the reality that we have no solid industrial base, no major resources, and have so far demonstrated a poor ability to build a sufficient indigenous base of industry that can compete on the global scale and take the place or seriously bolster the MNCs. In that context alone, how would the elimination of low corporate tax help Irish workers? Tell that to the tens of thousands of employees who work in Intel, Dell, Microsoft etc. Then tell it to the tens of thousands more who feed of the multiplier effects of these giants.

    There are two other circles here which cannot be squared. First, how would Irish isolation in Europe, after confirming the importance of European markets to Ireland generally, improve the condition of Irish workers? Is there not a massive risk here that our economy would decline in which case almost all workers will be worse off?

    Second, in terms of light regulation. Conduct this though experiment: imagine a world where the Eu and all the directives it has built up evaporates and with them the Irish statutes which transposed them. Where does that leave regulation for workers and basic rights for workers? Better or worse? In other words, taking away our many protections which stemmed directly from the EU, where is the force in Irish national politics which is going to come in and even equal them, not to mention doing better. You admit the dominant ideology of the elite in Ireland which we, the electorate, seem to love as much as we hate. I see little immediate prospect of a ruling elite which will improve upon our aquis social.

    The reality is that we as a small open economy with many weaknesses, depend on pretty free movement of capital and goods, corner stones of the original Treaty of Rome. But also of course, cornerstones of globalisation which often has very unpleasant whirl winds. But there is the rock and hard place where we lie. True, the neo-liberal orthodoxy is causing far too much destruction and pain. The EU too has not been a sufficient buffer against it. But undeniably it has been a buffer of sorts. An isolated Ireland would be poorly placed indeed to protect its workforce from the nastiest side of these forces.

  4. Chekov

    June 24, 2008 11:08 am

    tomaltach:

    “In that context alone, how would the elimination of low corporate tax help Irish workers? “

    I wrote _European_ workers. I understand that the end of the corporate tax haven would be a total disaster for the entire Irish economy, including Irish workers. But, from a European point of view, it would prevent capitalists from avoiding paying taxes in countries where the working class is strong enough to have forced them to make serious contributions to the tax take.

    The Irish economy is more or less a scab economy from the point of view of the European labour movement. The working class – including most of the parties of the left – are mostly happy to get a few bob trickled down to them in return for acquiescing to the use of the country as a corporate tax haven while helping to undermine the strength of organised labour on the continent. Now, personally, I’d very much hope that this ends in a way that does not lead to the collapse of the Irish economy, as I am an Irish worker, but, from the point of view of European workers, how it ends is much less important than ending it.

  5. Tomaltach

    June 24, 2008 2:11 pm

    Chekov. Ooops. I see your distinction. That’s clear.

    I too feel that there is a certain fairness in the idea of the CCTB. And I can see how the extraordinary Irish FDI figures say between 1994-2004 would make any German or Italian want to change the system.

    But I think there are another issues here too that make it less clear cut. If our corporate tax gives us an advantage in attracting FDI to provide well paid jobs, there are other huge advantages that French and German workers enjoy that we don’t have. Their economies are far more diverse, have critical mass, have huge industrial bases, such as military, automotive, aeronotic, engineering, transport, that we don’t. They have 100 years on us here. They enjoy too a substantial diplomatic advantage in winning contracts in these areas. It is unfair to expect Ireland to compete with these powerhouses. That we have the advantage with corporate tax is an offset by other factors. A perfect match no, but that a small peripheral nation be allowed retain some advantage seems fair to me.

    The other thing is that “competitive advantage” of our low corporate tax is in decline. Other nations have copied us (and some bigger nations such as Germany have lowered their own rates). But also, given other costs and the greater mobility of capital, the corporate tax factor is surely weakening. In that sense, our advantage is in decline anyway and shouldn’t be such a big issue for European workers.

    None of this means I don’t believe we should be doing far better to diversify our economic base and to take innovative steps in terms of both economy and progressive social measures.

    Obviously we have very different views on the EU. I think that the main impetus for protecting workers ultimately comes via the particular member state. The bulk of continental Europe is more ‘social’ in terms of tradition than Ireland or the UK (France has been governed by right wing governments mostly since Mitterand and they didn’t abolish the notion of public service. Not that they didn’t want to but I’m saying the cultural and civic impetus is there all the time). In short, the social nature of the EU (such as it is), has not in my opinion been a function of solidarity between workers across national boundries, but the result of the overall balance struck from a medley of nations each of which strikes a different balance between the economic and the social.

    If that is true, then surrendering the basis of our recent economic prosperity for some grand European ideal would be foolish. This would not be reciprocated. French workers are notorious for their solidarity — but among themselves.

    In the end then, I work in Ireland and while I see the EU as a vehicle for improvement here, I would not risk any sudden step down in my conditions in the hope of one day a superior European ideal would win out. I just don’t have that much faith in it.

    That is why the hybrid nature of the EU suits me just fine and I am in no hurry for Federation.

  6. WorldbyStorm

    June 24, 2008 7:23 pm

    Very interesting and even handed analysis, not least re Libertas. Can I just put forward a few thoughts…

    Firstly I think that as regards your description of three forces in Europe, i.e. integrationist/Atlanticist/left-national are perhaps a little too broad and take insufficient account of national variation, very different views even within conservative, Christian or Social democratic groups in Europe, and the historical forces which provide a motivation for much of the actions that we see.

    For example, “I use the term ‘integrationists’ rather than ‘federalists’ to describe the forces who favour European political integration in the EU. The EU is already a federation of sorts and most of the forces who are opposed to further integration support a federal arrangement between the EU states of one sort or another.”

    The problem is that the terms ‘one sort or another’, ‘federation’, ‘federalist’ and ‘integration’ cover a myriad. “Federalists” are quite distinct from “integrationists”. The former are now a minority. Within the latter we have competing and often hostile strands between those who want the more inter-governmental model and those who shift towards something well short of federalism, are more nationalist in approach or are more internationalist, more left and more right. The EU is, if at all and it’s arguable at best, a very very loose ‘federation’ in any meaningful sense, with no central government. Ultimate authority still rests with national parliaments and governments. Some powers have been subordinated to some European institutions, but broadly speaking the consensual model still applies – hence derogations/opt-outs. That seems set to remain the pattern of the future albeit with closer and closer cooperation at EU level. That is still a long way from federalism whereby there would be a central authority that would supersede national sovereignty entirely.

    And while there is definitely agreement on a broadly defined ‘integration’ on certain scales, the push towards federalism has been halted. Generally, and this is hardly a surprise, out and out federalists aren’t hugely evident within national governments in Europe which is where the real power resides. Few politicians are going to succeed in national arena’s if they openly state that they seek to see their national autonomy wiped away. Moreover, and you point implicitly to this, as cooperation deepens so does, to some extent, the power of left and nationalist forces – particularly those of the further right. This provides an effective block on total integration. For example if we examine the actions of individual national governing parties we see that while they tend to be in favour of ‘integration’ on the rhetorical level they’re very clearly attempting to retain national powers. Reading policy positions of say Wolfgang Schäuble of the German CDU/CSU from the late 90s it’s clear that even the nearly but not quite federalist vision that he presents would still see ultimate sovereignty resting in parliaments, although he implicitly argues that although they would be the final arbiter of EU legislation and policy – and I’d be very much against this myself – they’d also have to become advocates for same. If we take that as one extreme, in the sense that Schäuble represents a ‘respectable’ near federal approach, then as we move away from that towards the national looking at the positions of parties such as the UMP (where some factions of same are currently going through something of an Atlanticist – incidentally, minor quibble, that’s the actual term – turn due to Sarkozy) and so on we actually see less and less clearly federalist and more and more nearly cooperative approaches. The exception, to some degree, is that engendered by the Franco-German relationship – the ‘core of the core’. But even there we see a change under Sarkozy with a greater emphasis on Anglo-French relations.

    So, I can’t in all honestly see a clear push towards a federal EU being anywhere as strong as it once was, or even the sentiment for same being as strong. And Sarkozy presents a further problem. If we go with your division between Atlanticists and Integrationists then where does Sarkozy sit? He appears to be both, pushing the Treaty forward and also tilting towards the US and the UK. Which suggests that the model you propose while very useful in broad outline isn’t entirely dependable for the specifics which is where much of this resides.

    Consequently I’d be a bit dubious about the contention that the EU is ‘a state in slow formation’. That would only hold true if there was no autonomy left to reside with national parliaments. And that, even in the wildest dreams of federalism is so far down the line as to be unknowable. I also don’t buy into the argument that governments are being dishonest about loss of sovereignty because they call it ‘pooling’. States pool sovereignty all the time from bilateral agreements with other states all the way up to internationally agreed institutional frameworks. Almost no one bats an eyelid. Why the EU is the source of so much concern when this process is deepened puzzles me (it’s important to note too the consensus nature of decision making within EU institutions – not that that doesn’t have its flaws and distortions). And the implication of loss only holds up if there is no process by which it can be reversed. Lisbon would have brought in an explicit secession mechanism for member states, but it has been recognised that a de facto secession by a nation from the Union could go ahead if push came to shove.

    Secondly, I’m not entirely gone on the proposition that as regards the Yes campaign that…

    …for Lisbon, they most certainly did have their eye on the ball. They ran a well resourced, intensive and expensive media campaign, fronted by a carefully chosen selection of political, economic and business leaders. They covered the country with posters and billboards and mobilised their friends in the media to help persuade the population. Yet they lost. So what happened?

    As the Phoenix noted on Thursday the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael campaigns were notable for their shambolic quality (the Phoenix notes that the FF campaign only started meeting from January, long after Libertas was in the field and only Dick Roche, of all people, took any serious interest until four weeks before the campaign, while their campaign only ‘cranked up last weekend after the shock of the IT poll’). Labour took the easiest option of running a personality led campaign as a precursor for the local elections. The Green Party and the PDs didn’t run campaigns in any meaningful sense. The Irish Alliance for Europe was notable by its essential absence, as the Phoenix notes ‘… a trawl of the Alliance website last Friday – the day the IT poll bombshell burst and six days before the vote – stated “the IAfE is participating in a number of events throughout the country as part of our campaign… we will shortly be updating this section with details of our events as well as those of other organisations. Please check back soon”… underneath this statement where a list of such events might have been expected was a blank page’. It also noted that unlike Nice 2 the problem this time for the IAfE was that Ruairi Quinn and Brendan Kiely simply didn’t cut it like Adrian Langan and Brigid Laffan did previously.

    Broadly speaking the Yes was at best supine, at worst near moribund. The No side succeeded because of its enthusiasm, genuine concerns about the EU, the professionalism of a new markedly more EU friendly SF (whatever the reality of their position), the variegated support bases, from left to right including a section of the Green Party and Libertas, the weakened state of FF, the sniping between FG and FF which saw a good portion of the FG electorate simply detach, a myriad of other issues, arguably the fact that FF has been in power so long and is so difficult to dislodge so this gave people the opportunity to give them a kicking with no perceived comeback, etc, etc.

    Finally, The depth and distrust between the workers and their leaders was temporarily laid bare is strong stuff, but… the post-Lisbon polls indicate business as usual in party support. Plus ca change unfortunately…

  7. Chekov

    June 24, 2008 10:06 pm

    “If our corporate tax gives us an advantage in attracting FDI to provide well paid jobs, there are other huge advantages that French and German workers enjoy that we don’t have.”

    The problem isn’t just the fact that Ireland attracts FDI due to its low corporate tax, it’s that Ireland is within the EU tariff barrier and allows itself to be used to facilitate the funneling of value created elsewhere through its tax system rather than the system of the place where the value is created. Profits that have essentially come from the continent is declared in Ireland through a range of measures, from inter-divisional internal pricing imbalances, to a whole host of complex financial arrangments.

  8. Tomaltach

    June 25, 2008 9:06 am

    Chekov, yes I know. But in the end when you say that a CCTB will help European workers what you mean is it will help French and German workers. How will it help Latvian workers or UK Workers or Maltese workers? And it certainly would hurt Irish workers. Given the advantages that I mention that France and Germany have over us, why would we willingly surrender our tax adavantage (that’s what CCTB would do) until and unless we have build an alternative stragety to take its place?

  9. Chekov

    June 26, 2008 1:09 am

    tomaltach, I think the CCTB would be good for European workers in general because it would remove the ability of capitalists to move their operations and tax liabilities to countries which are more vulnerable to exploitation – the race to the bottom. As it stands, any advances that any national working class makes in terms of forcing the wealthy to pay taxes is a potentially pyrrhic as the company can just move its accounting to Ireland or Latvia. The fact that the French and German working class is much more militant and better organised than those elsewhere shouldn’t be seen as an unfair advantage that has to be leveled out downwards.

    WorldByStorm, I’ll respond to your post anon. I fear that the differences come down to a fundamentally different view of the significance of the views of politicians as against market and institutional forces.

  10. Tomaltach

    June 26, 2008 12:32 pm

    Chekov,
    Don’t get me wrong – I believe that in taxation matters (and other areas such as wages) the race to the bottom is very real. But I also believe that small peripheral states deserve to be allowed to retain some measures to balance the advantages that the big players have. Our very low corporate tax takes that too far. But again, as in the area of how the EU is ruled and its key decisions taken, I believe that the member states should not be streamrolled and that as far as possible consensus should be reached. Any move to CCTB needs to be very carefully calculated, its likely effects studied, and low tax regimes should be given generous adjustment periods. It seems to me that CCTB in itself will not be the panacea solution to prevent capital from chasing better regulatory condidtions. Within CCTB as I understand it various factors are weighted. But it does not stipulate harmonised rates. Therefore member states will still retain different rates and MNCs may well adjust their labour and capital allocations to play the weighting system. If for example capital and labour were weighted highly, might they not move more labour TO Ireland for the low tax. That is to say if transfer pricing is stopped, they can still play the game. If on the other hand it is carefully balanced but the sales aspect makes more sense to be on the continent, they may move out of Ireland. UNLESS, that is, Ireland drops it’s rate even lower, perhaps to zero like Estonia – in an effort to prevent the capital flight. That would be the ultimate nightmare for Ireland. That is why despite the grand overall goal, I’m extremely cautious here and would like the EU to take our concerns very seriously. Of course, ultimately the only way to prevent this playing states against each other is for CCTB plus harmonised rates. But again, how do you offset the pain for the small states which do not have other competitive advantages?

    I am all for a progressive move to redress the balance between capital and labour. But I’m Irish first, and European second. For me, the road to any greater European goal is acceptable only if it brings us there without shocks.

  11. WorldbyStorm

    June 26, 2008 5:15 pm

    D_D, interesting analysis there, but I’d definitely take issue with the idea that the government is ‘shaky and vulnerable’. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s locked in solid short of catastrophe for four years.

  12. Chekov

    June 27, 2008 12:41 am

    “Firstly I think that as regards your description of three forces in Europe, i.e. integrationist/Atlanticist/left-national are perhaps a little too broad and take insufficient account of national variation, very different views even within conservative, Christian or Social democratic groups in Europe, and the historical forces which provide a motivation for much of the actions that we see.”

    The analysis ignores the various nuances in views across nations and political parties because, well, they’re just not that important for understanding what’s going on. Regardless of the views they express, European politicians have negotiated and delivered a dozen treaties, each of which has increased European integration and centralised more decision making power in Brussels and none of which has moved power in the reverse direction. The details of each step of integration has, of course, involved a lot of horse-trading, disagreements and quibbling, but this is a consequence of the various component governments’ requirements to protect their own power bases, rather than philosophical disagreements.

    Politicians’ views, particularly those that they publicly express, are terribly unreliable sources of information about how the world works. Their content is frequently dishonest or purely rhetorical in nature. But, leaving that aside for the moment, even if we accept their publicly expressed philosophies about the final shape of the Europe that they would like to see, the reality is that none of them are in any position to impose their personal views on anything. The overwhelming majority of European industry wants closer integration as a route to better access to markets, greater clout in trade deals, greater security of resource supplies, greater global influence and so on. Governments of capitalist countries are simply not in a position to be able to go against the requirements of their industries. For example, imagine if Sarkozy was to decide to stall further EU integration based on his philosophical views about the final ideal shape of the EU, going against the interests of French industry. He couldn’t just say “sorry Airbus, EDF, LdE, BNP, SG, CL, Renault, Peugeot, etc, etc, I know you wanted us to press ahead with integration to help you to compete in the global economy, but I have this wonderful idea about the nature of the European ‘geist’.” He would be out of a job in double-quick time. The competing interests of the various governments also servers to greatly restrict the ability of any party to impose their visions on the process.

    And the evidence bears this out. The attitudes of each state’s government towards EU integration has been remarkably consistent regardless of which party has been in power. France does the same stuff, pushes the same issues, votes the same way, whether socialists or gaullists are in power and the same is true across Europe. In the case of Ireland, regardless of the government, negotiating teams are sent out to oppose anything which would specifically damage the power base of Irish politicians, but otherwise to go along with whatever. Visions of Europe just don’t come into it.

    “The problem is that the terms ‘one sort or another’, ‘federation’, ‘federalist’ and ‘integration’ cover a myriad. “Federalists” are quite distinct from “integrationists”. The former are now a minority. Within the latter we have competing and often hostile strands between those who want the more inter-governmental model and those who shift towards something well short of federalism, are more nationalist in approach or are more internationalist, more left and more right.”

    Actually, I think my use of integrationist is quite precise. I use it to describe those forces pushing for greater European integration at any particular point in time. The political parties who espouse further integration at any particular point in time express a variety of different motivations for doing so. However, for the reasons I outlined above, that really doesn’t matter that much. The economic and institutional forces have been quite constant and they’re what’s important. In any case, while the rhetoric has changed over the decades, the political parties espousing each further step in EU integration have also been remarkably constant in their support and, where parties have changed position, it invariably corresponds with them getting into a position of power, or losing such a position, rather than any change in the nature of the integration project.

    Federalist is, on the other hand a term that covers a myriad. The difference being that, rather than describing a force or a direction, it describes a family of institutional arrangements which various people put forward as an ideal shape for the EU. As I understand it a federation [*] is an organisational arrangement whereby decision making power is centralised across a group in some respects, but decentralised in others. If ultimate authority for some decisions is centralised, and ultimate authority for other decisions decentralised amongst the members of the group, it’s a federal arrangement. A federation is, thus, a general-purpose organisational arrangement, covering a vast array of different practical matters, many of which are important – how decision making power is divided up and how central decisions are made make a huge difference to where real power lies. Thus, since the EU is already federalist in a number of areas I don’t think there’s any point in using ‘federalist’ to describe those who are in favour of further integration.

    “The EU is, if at all and it’s arguable at best, a very very loose ‘federation’ in any meaningful sense, with no central government. Ultimate authority still rests with national parliaments and governments. Some powers have been subordinated to some European institutions”

    Ultimate authority for a great many areas has already been centralised and there most decidedly is a central government. For example, Ireland’s national government, and all the other governments of the euro-zone, have no authority to make decisions on monetary policy. The laws of every parliament in European can already be overturned by the ECJ. An enormous number of other decisions, from competition policy to labeling requirements are also centralised, with the constituent governments having surrendered ultimate authority to the EU and being bound to follow their decisions, even when they are locally inconvenient.

    The central government is composed of the European Commission, the European Parliament, the European Council and the heads of governments summits. Between them, they define EU policy, pass laws, issue directives and so on, and these decisions are binding on the members and their populations – i.e. they are the government. The government’s powers may be limited, its decision making methods may be arcane and generally rubbish, but it is still a government. It is a government that also possesses a significant state machinery in the myriad of European agencies that it governs and directs.

    “but broadly speaking the consensual model still applies – hence derogations/opt-outs. That seems set to remain the pattern of the future albeit with closer and closer cooperation at EU level.”

    If you think that there is a particular attachment to a consensual model of decision making in the EU, you should ask yourself why the major innovations of the last two treaties in terms of decision making were:
    1) The creation of Qualified Majority Voting (Nice)
    2) The Extension of QMV to many new areas (Lisbon)
    3) The redefinition of QMV to allow voting weight to more accurately correspond with political weight (Lisbon)

    Consensus is a rubbish way of making decisions for any body. It allows Luxembourg or Ireland to veto measures against blatant tax-evasion. As EU integration continues, further decision making reforms will be required in order to allow Europe’s elite to come up with centralised decisions in a more practical manner. That is certain.

    “That is still a long way from federalism whereby there would be a central authority that would supersede national sovereignty entirely.”

    You seem to be using a strange definition of federalism. As far as I understand it, a situation where “central authority supersedes national sovereignty entirely” is a centralised state. The whole point about a federation is that there has to be some areas where central authority does not supersede the authority of the member organisations because otherwise it’s not a federation. Having local bodies with some decision making powers, but ultimately subordinate to a central government does not make something a federation, or else we’d have to consider Ireland to be a federation of local councils.

    “And while there is definitely agreement on a broadly defined ‘integration’ on certain scales, the push towards federalism has been halted. Generally, and this is hardly a surprise, out and out federalists aren’t hugely evident within national governments in Europe which is where the real power resides.”

    You now seem to be using ‘federalism’ as something specific rather than the myriad that you refereed to above. Integration, by definition, means giving more power to the federal state as against the constituent member states. It leads, by definition, in a more federalist direction. If you think that integration is advancing without leading in a federalist direction, you must be using some specific federal arrangement as a model – a particular decision making arrangement and a particular partition of powers. Personally, I don’t think that whether, for example, more or less decisions are taken by the council of Europe or by the commission makes much of a difference to the overall direction.

    “Few politicians are going to succeed in national arena’s if they openly state that they seek to see their national autonomy wiped away. Moreover, and you point implicitly to this, as cooperation deepens so does, to some extent, the power of left and nationalist forces – particularly those of the further right. This provides an effective block on total integration.”

    I completely disagree with this. In the 70’s and the 80’s, the left was much stronger and was able to exert some influence on EU policy formation – today they’re limited to the odd wrecking mission when a referendum is presented. Traditional nationalists are, for their part, mostly irrelevant – they only form a threat when they are supported by a section of the ruling class. Neither group has been able to block the huge number of integrationist steps that have already been taken and there is nothing to suggest that they will be able to block any further steps, unless something major changes.

    “For example if we examine the actions of individual national governing parties we see that while they tend to be in favour of ‘integration’ on the rhetorical level they’re very clearly attempting to retain national powers.”

    I think that you’re exactly wrong here. If the individual governing parties are clearly in favour of integration only on a rhetorical level, why do they all repeatedly and unanimously sign treaties which further integration? That’s a little bit more than rhetorical. Furthermore, almost nobody is in favour of integration and a loss of national sovereignty on the rhetorical level – national politicians tend to promote Europe as good for their country and downplay or deny the reality that integration amounts to a centralisation of decision making power which erodes national sovereignty, by definition. The governments very clearly try to maintain and increase their own decision making power in the integration process, protect their own power-bases, voting rights and appointment rights, but that’s hardly surprising and it doesn’t affect the fact that they all support the integration process to the extent that they continue to unanimously negotiate, agree and ratify new treaties ushering in further integration.

    “Reading policy positions of say Wolfgang Schäuble of the German CDU/CSU from the late 90s it’s clear that even the nearly but not quite federalist vision that he presents would still see ultimate sovereignty resting in parliaments, although he implicitly argues that although they would be the final arbiter of EU legislation and policy – and I’d be very much against this myself – they’d also have to become advocates for same.”

    It’s not clear at all actually, in fact it is simply denying the fact that ultimate sovereignty for a great many things does not rest in national parliaments (and while it only ever did to a limited extent, its role has been formally ceded in a vast range of policy areas).

    “If we take that as one extreme, in the sense that Schäuble represents a ‘respectable’ near federal approach, then as we move away from that towards the national looking at the positions of parties such as the UMP (where some factions of same are currently going through something of an Atlanticist – incidentally, minor quibble, that’s the actual term – turn due to Sarkozy) and so on we actually see less and less clearly federalist and more and more nearly cooperative approaches. The exception, to some degree, is that engendered by the Franco-German relationship – the ‘core of the core’. But even there we see a change under Sarkozy with a greater emphasis on Anglo-French relations.”

    We see, under Sarkozy, pretty much exactly the same approach to European integration as every other French president ever has had – he is the principal political driving force. His diplomacy towards the US and UK has something of a different flavour than that of Chirac, but that’s only because he’s taking a more aggressive approach to European autonomy and political integration.

    “So, I can’t in all honestly see a clear push towards a federal EU being anywhere as strong as it once was, or even the sentiment for same being as strong. And Sarkozy presents a further problem. If we go with your division between Atlanticists and Integrationists then where does Sarkozy sit? He appears to be both, pushing the Treaty forward and also tilting towards the US and the UK. Which suggests that the model you propose while very useful in broad outline isn’t entirely dependable for the specifics which is where much of this resides.”

    If you can’t see it, you’re looking in the wrong places. The rate of treaties, all of which transfer power towards the federal body, has increased in recent years. In reality, the pace of integration has increased over time – and has been running at an accelerated tempo since the early 1990’s compared to the cold-war era. This is all marvelously well documented in the precise forms of clauses of treaties, directives, judgements of courts, decisions of commissioners and so on. There is no need for politicians to elaborate their federal visions or to persuade other European leaders, they have already built a federal apparatus and transferred a whole host of decision making power to it. Until they manage to make their citizens identify with the centralised state, it would be very foolish to go on about it.

    “Consequently I’d be a bit dubious about the contention that the EU is ‘a state in slow formation’. That would only hold true if there was no autonomy left to reside with national parliaments. And that, even in the wildest dreams of federalism is so far down the line as to be unknowable.”

    By that definition there is no such thing as a state. Every state in the world has to grant some autonomy to lower decision making bodies. Even in Ireland, local councils have some autonomous decision making power. Other states grant the power of policy formation in some areas to regional or local bodies and there are a vast number of state bodies which enjoy operational autonomy. Your assumption that states are defined by an all consuming top-down authority model is quite wrong.

    What the EU lacks in order to be a fully formed state is the following:
    a) centralised control over the security services.
    b) efficient and effective enforcement mechanisms with respect to centralised decisions (which is ultimately a consequence of the first).
    c) a reasonably efficient decision making mechanism
    d) a sense of popular identification between the citizens and the state.

    They are only really starting out on a, they are making some strides in c, and b will flow from those. d. is the most difficult since, it requires an assault on local nationalisms and there are few politicians who are in a position to do that. However, once these features are in place, which could take either a very short or a very long amount of time depending on circumstances, the EU will be a state and the countries will be regions exercising some degree of autonomy much like other existing federal states. The centralisation of economic decision making and judicial authority, and the creation of a powerful bureaucracy, has already brought us quite some distance down the road.

    “I also don’t buy into the argument that governments are being dishonest about loss of sovereignty because they call it ‘pooling’. States pool sovereignty all the time from bilateral agreements with other states all the way up to internationally agreed institutional frameworks. Almost no one bats an eyelid. Why the EU is the source of so much concern when this process is deepened puzzles me “

    You are confusing two different things. States form alliances and agreements to pool resources and so on between each other all the time. They very rarely transfer their decision making power to bodies with autonomous decision making mechanisms whose decisions they are subordinate to. As well as this qualitative difference there is a large qualitative difference between the various agreements that states enter into and the EU with its permanent, large and powerful bureaucracy, its judicial system and its myriad of agencies, all of which exercise autonomous decision making power over the member states in areas that affect them all.

    “As the Phoenix noted on Thursday the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael campaigns were notable for their shambolic quality (the Phoenix notes that the FF campaign only started meeting from January, long after Libertas was in the field and only Dick Roche, of all people, took any serious interest until four weeks before the campaign, while their campaign only ‘cranked up last weekend after the shock of the IT poll’). Labour took the easiest option of running a personality led campaign as a precursor for the local elections. The Green Party and the PDs didn’t run campaigns in any meaningful sense. The Irish Alliance for Europe was notable by its essential absence, as the Phoenix notes ‘… a trawl of the Alliance website last Friday – the day the IT poll bombshell burst and six days before the vote – stated “the IAfE is participating in a number of events throughout the country as part of our campaign… we will shortly be updating this section with details of our events as well as those of other organisations. Please check back soon”… underneath this statement where a list of such events might have been expected was a blank page’. It also noted that unlike Nice 2 the problem this time for the IAfE was that Ruairi Quinn and Brendan Kiely simply didn’t cut it like Adrian Langan and Brigid Laffan did previously.”

    I don’t buy this analysis at all. In general, in Irish political commentary, almost everything that happens is attributed to either the skills or the failings of the individuals or parties involved. In my opinion, such analyses are almost always totally irrelevant. If, for example, there had been completely different weather on the polling day, which brought out a different segment of the electorate, and the vote had gone the other way, the very same commentators would be admiring the skill and sharpness of the very same Yes campaign.

    By all objective measures, the Yes campaign was longer-running, more intensive, better coordinated and spent more money than for any treaty referendum in the past. They may have only kicked off their official campaign a mere five months ahead of the poll, a month behind Libertas, but their supporters had been campaigning in the media for many months before and it was still a far longer and more intensive campaign by them than any they have fought before. Having campaigned against four treaties on the ground, I am quite sure of this. I say this as somebody who observes these campaigns with a detached eye because, although I campaign in them, I don’t actually think the results of such referenda make much of a difference.

    In terms of the details – I seriously doubt whether Dick Roche was the only one with an interest in FF in the early days. What’s more, the swing in voting intentions inversely correlates with the period where you say FF cranked up their campaign – the more they did, apparently, the worse the polls got.

    The Green Party were precluded from campaigning as a party due to their failure to secure a two-thirds majority. Nevertheless, their elected parliamentarians campaigned vocally in the media for a yes vote.

    The PDs campaigned as much as they are capable of campaigning. Considering the fact that they are a dead party, they ploughed considerable resources into posters and advertisements. Their relative lack of visibility in the media was a sensible strategy from the Yes campaign – vocally supportive PDs would have helped to push the undecided towards voting no, due to their unpopularity and their strong association with right-wing elitism.

    The Labour leadership campaigned energetically in the media, even doing joint canvassing sessions (in fairness, that was a bad idea) with the government parties. Considering the fact that they had nothing to gain from supporting the treaty, and could have gained much from opportunistic opposition, it was a triumph of the Yes campaign to get the Labour party on board. Given such situations, self-publicising in the campaign by local candidates is about as good as you can get. What’s more, various groups on the other side also used the treaty no less shamelessly for publicising their candidates – the SP and SF to name but two.

    The IAfE is an organisation that depends on full-spectrum media dominance to gain an influence. It is so dull in nature, so worthy in tone, that nobody would choose to cover their statements and meetings if they had a choice.

    The difference with past referenda was not the poor quality of the Yes campaign, it was the changed political landscape and, most importantly, their loss of full-spectrum media dominance. The simple fact is, that none of their critics can posit a remotely plausible alternative strategy which they could have pursued which would have led to a Yes vote. All of the criticisms that I have read have essentially been of the “didn’t try hard enough” or “too inept” variety suggest impossible stuff like “mobilising the party base” as a remedy.

    “Broadly speaking the Yes was at best supine, at worst near moribund. The No side succeeded because of its enthusiasm, genuine concerns about the EU, the professionalism of a new markedly more EU friendly SF (whatever the reality of their position), the variegated support bases, from left to right including a section of the Green Party and Libertas, the weakened state of FF, the sniping between FG and FF which saw a good portion of the FG electorate simply detach, a myriad of other issues, arguably the fact that FF has been in power so long and is so difficult to dislodge so this gave people the opportunity to give them a kicking with no perceived comeback, etc, etc.”

    There was really almost no sniping in public between FF and FG during the campaign. One exchange of “your lot should try harder” in the media is very, very little bickering for what you normally expect in a campaign involving the government and the major opposition parties working together. There is also no evidence to suggest that the sniping caused the FG electorate to detach from their party. The relative strength of the No camp amonst FG voters was present from the first polls. In any case, in modern Ireland there really aren’t significant chunks of the electorate attached to ‘FG’ or ‘FF’ or any of the major political parties. These parties have plummeting memberships and virtually no activists who aren’t almost entirely self-interested – people vote for them due to clientelist reasons or because they have to pick some team to support and something or other attracts them to one side or the other (family tradition, randomness, having a charming leader, whatever). Most of the people who vote for them are no more likely to follow their advice on a non-related political question than they are to follow the advice of the football team that they support. Their media access is what normally gives them some persuasive power in such votes.

    “Finally, The depth and distrust between the workers and their leaders was temporarily laid bare is strong stuff, but… the post-Lisbon polls indicate business as usual in party support. Plus ca change unfortunately…”

    They aren’t the same thing. My interpretation of the Lisbon treaty is that it highlighted a distrust between much of the population and the entire political class. How voting intentions are distributed amongst the population for this distrusted political class is a different thing. I doubt that your average person trusts a SF politician much more than they do a FG or FF politician.

    [*] I’m using the concept of federation as it is used in everyday language and information science. For example, it is common for sports associations or other clubs to form federations, which often vary widely in terms of the scope of their decision making powers and their decision making methods. Federations are also commonly used as abstractions of shared decision making between autonomous entities in information science and are one of the most common concepts invoked in organisational modelling. In political science, “federation” often has a much narrower meaning, applying to a family of governance models employed by various current state systems. Political science is, however, one of the most useless disciplines the world contains – up there with homeopathy and astrology.

  13. Tomaltach

    June 27, 2008 9:15 am

    Chekov,
    I don’t think it’s correct to say that the differeing national governments have adopted an identical, seamless approach to integration. And I mean that within nations and between members. Thatcher clearly refused to sign up to the social chapter in the late 80s (in the run in to Maastricht) and only later did a Labour government sign it. True arguably only early New Labour would have signed and that late New labour wouldn’t. But that’s the point – there are differing views among different regimes and they bring these to the summit tables.

    Furthermore, while it’s inescapable that a continued ceding of sovereignty leads to a centralised state-like entity, I don’t think it’s true to say that there is no difference between a form of centralised decision making which is largely intergovernmental and one which is purely Federal in the sense of not having any direct link with national sovereignties.

    And here too it’s hard to ignore the fact that some of the key member states have had profoundly different philosophies on what shape the thing should take. Britain being more intergovernmental, Germany say being more for supranational.

    You talk about the capitalist states being driven for more integration by their industrial bases. Why then has the most rabid capitalist state in Europe been such a laggard?

    I think your argument that we (as in all members) are locked in to a process that goes in one direction and ultimately could produce a state is credible. But clearly there are many nuances which you don’t allow.

    Also there are some inconsistencies in your arguments. I took from your argument that the principal, perhaps sole, driving force behind integration is the interests of the capitalist industrial base. Surely it is in their interest not to have improved workers rights and restrictions on racing to the bottom. You argued earlier that a CCTB is good for European workers and would stop a race to the bottom. CCTB has big momentum now. Surely the capitalist class are not the driving force behind something which is good for workers and puts an end to low tax regimes?

  14. Chekov

    June 27, 2008 4:23 pm

    Tomaltach:

    “I don’t think it’s correct to say that the differeing national governments have adopted an identical, seamless approach to integration. And I mean that within nations and between members. Thatcher clearly refused to sign up to the social chapter in the late 80s (in the run in to Maastricht) and only later did a Labour government sign it. True arguably only early New Labour would have signed and that late New labour wouldn’t. But that’s the point – there are differing views among different regimes and they bring these to the summit tables.”

    I didn’t actually say that they were identical or seamless just that the attitudes to European integration have been “remarkably consistent” in each state regardless of the government in power. In the case of the UK, the most important steps towards European integration have been the following:

    First application to join the EU – 1961 (McMillan, Tory)
    Won the only election ever fought on the basis of EU integration – 1970 (Heath, Tory)
    Joined EU – 1973 (Heath, Tory)
    Joined ERM in preparation for EMU – 1990 (Thatcher, Tory)

    They have all been instigated by the tories. Nevertheless, the Labour party has played pretty much the same role in the EU as the tories have – attempting to block moves towards further political integration while trying to stay on board with market integration.

    The social chapter stuff is not really that relevant to the process of integration. Every European government more or less only applies social chapter stuff when they face significant domestic pressure to do so. This is a consequences of the EU lacking effective enforcement mechanisms, with particular weaknesses in anything ‘social’ rather than ‘market’. Labour signed up to the social chapter because they had to in order to keep the unions on board once they had been elected. Thatcher didn’t because, well she had given the unions a kicking and wasn’t about to start giving them anything for free. Successive Irish governments similarly failed to sign up since, well, they had very little domestic political pressure to do so, since the unions here are so tame.

    I’m not at all saying, by the way, that there was no difference in relations between the UK and the EU during Thatcher’s era and during Blair’s era. There were very important differences. Thatcher tried consciously and deliberately to wreck further EU integration by refusing to pay the UK’s agreed contributions and ensuring that, for most of the 1980’s, EU summits were dominated by haggling over this issue. Blair on the other hand has taken a less publicly combative approach to stalling further political integration. But the difference in approach was not caused by a change in government, it was caused by two much more important things:
    1) The fall of the Warsaw pact and the opening up of the Eastern front for expansion, reducing the importance of the UK to the viability of the EU
    2) The introduction of the two speed Europe in the form of Schengen in 1995 and, the formalisation of enhanced cooperation in the treaty of Amsterdam in 1997.

    They created a situation where expulsion, or being left behind on the periphery of a highly-integrated core, became a real possibility for the UK. This meant that the UK could no longer play the role of absolute wrecker as it had in the 1980s. The change in approach actually pre-dated the change in government – Thatcher brought the UK into the ERM in 1990, Major negotiated and agreed Amsterdam. Indeed, the UK’s difficult position with respect to the EU was the very thing that caused the conservative party to implode in the 1990’s – they were caught in between a rock and a hard place due to the twin forces pulling them in opposite directions.

    In any case it is notable that, in 11 years of government, the Labour party still hasn’t attempted to re-enter the EMS, something that Thatcher’s govenment attempted.

    “Furthermore, while it’s inescapable that a continued ceding of sovereignty leads to a centralised state-like entity, I don’t think it’s true to say that there is no difference between a form of centralised decision making which is largely intergovernmental and one which is purely Federal in the sense of not having any direct link with national sovereignties.”

    I agree with you. I think that the form of federalism can make a big difference in practice, as I said above. However, in terms of the question of whether something is a more or less federal arrangement, it doesn’t really make that much of a difference – the important thing is whether decisions are made centrally or autonomously by the members. I also think that the trend towards more inter-governmental decision making in Lisbon as against European Commission decision making is motivated more by a desire for efficacy rather than any fundamental differences in the models employed. The Commission still lacks really effective means of enforcing its decisions, the EU leaders figure, with some justification, that the chances of implementation of important decisions by the member governments will be much greater if they are made directly through the council of ministers, rather than indirectly through their appointees on the commission. It’s about increasing government buy-in rather than changing the logic of centralisation in my opinion.

    “And here too it’s hard to ignore the fact that some of the key member states have had profoundly different philosophies on what shape the thing should take. Britain being more intergovernmental, Germany say being more for supranational.

    You talk about the capitalist states being driven for more integration by their industrial bases. Why then has the most rabid capitalist state in Europe been such a laggard?”

    The article above contains a whole lot of stuff explaining why the UK has been a ‘laggard’ with respect to the UK – the importance of financial services and the political ties to the US and economic ties to the commonwealth being the most important.

    Focusing on the philosophies towards inter-governmentalism or towards more centralised bureaucracy is missing the point. The UK government doesn’t give a rat’s arse about forms of decision making in the abstract, they are attached to the idea of inter-governmentalism and the maintenance of vetoes in this concrete situation purely because they want to be able to veto stuff that they know the overwhelming majority of the other members want to introduce (e.g. CCCTB). They would be in favour of a tea-leaf reading form of decision making if they thought that was the most effective way of getting what they want. The French and German states simply want a more efficient and effective means of reaching and implementing centralised decisions, if they thought that bare-knuckle boxing matches was the best way of achieving this, they’d be all for it.

    Powerful entities only care about decision making methods to the extent that they facilitate or obstruct the decisions that they want to make.

    “I think your argument that we (as in all members) are locked in to a process that goes in one direction and ultimately could produce a state is credible. But clearly there are many nuances which you don’t allow.”

    In fairness, I am painting a picture of broad forces, but I absolutely allow for all sorts of nuances, I just don’t think they are particularly significant to the big picture – but they are absolutely crucial to understanding the detail. Sectional differences and the rivalry of political parties and figures have shaped the specifics of each step of integration – what has been centralised and how exactly central decisions are made are a consequence of a long process of haggling between the various nuanced positions. But, on the other hand, from the continued uni-directional process of integration, it is clear that they haven’t had any demonstrable effect on the overall direction.

    “Also there are some inconsistencies in your arguments. I took from your argument that the principal, perhaps sole, driving force behind integration is the interests of the capitalist industrial base. Surely it is in their interest not to have improved workers rights and restrictions on racing to the bottom. You argued earlier that a CCTB is good for European workers and would stop a race to the bottom. CCTB has big momentum now. Surely the capitalist class are not the driving force behind something which is good for workers and puts an end to low tax regimes?”

    Well the easiest answer to the question of the seeming paradox of the drive towards the CCCTB, and the importance of capitalist perogatives on the other, is to note that the current situation gives a significant tax advantage to US-based MNCs over European industry. European corporations are often heavily embedded within the EU core and have little freedom to relocate to elsehwere in the EU. US MNC’s are free to locate themselves wherever they want and, what’s more, their economic activities in Europe are more heavily focused on services and ‘knowledge economy’ products, which means that they can locate themselves in outlying regions without suffering from excessive transportation costs.

    But, I actually wrote that “the economic and institutional forces have been quite constant and they’re what’s important,” so I’m definitely not claiming that the sole driving force is the interests of the capitalist industrial base. They are one of the two major forces, the other I describe as “institutional forces”. To explain what I mean by this, and how it provides a deeper explanation of stuff like the drive towards the CCCTB, I’ll have to go into a bit of background.

    Autonomous institutions have their own logic. They invariably attempt to maintain and extend their own power. They do this because the more power they have, they easier it is for them to do the stuff that they want to do. Immediately upon coming to power, all governments are confronted with a whole heap of things that they’d like to be able to do but lack the power or influence to do. To take but one local example, as soon as the Greens arrived into ministerial office, they became immediately aware, if they were not already aware, that much of the stuff that they’d like to do, they absolutely lack the power to implement. Tackling climate change is their primary objective, but their ministerial positions in the Irish government give them essentially no power to do anything meaningful in this direction. From the first international summits that they attended as government ministers, it would have become obvious to them, if it were not already aware, that even if they managed to convince the Irish state of their cause, they would still lack the power to implement their solutions in any meaningful way. They would have quickly understood that meaningful action would require the backing of political actors with significant power on the world stage. The only remotely plausible approach, from their point of view, would be to use the EU as this vehicle – but to be effective the EU obviously needs more power. So, just by the logic of wanting to achieve their aims, they come to support the extension of EU power. The situation is pretty much identical for any political or economic group which wants to address problems on a global scale (trade, security, environment, etc) – increasing the power of the EU is a prerequisite for them achieving their goals.

    This logic holds sway as much at the national level as it does on the EU level. Virtually every justice minister that has ever existed anywhere has attempted to increase their power of surveillance over the population, not because they are inherently evil people, but because it allows them to do their job more easily.

    So, overall, it is almost an invariant that state institutions attempt to increase their own power, not as an end in itself, but in order to facilitate the stuff they want to do. This happens, again, regardless of the political position of the government.

    However, this institutional logic of state is not entirely independent of the influence of capitalists. Captialists are heavily dependant on the nature of the states in which they operate. From their point of view, the state has to perform certain roles. Most importantly, they need a state which can
    a) Supply them with a healthy and willing workforce
    b) Ensure a reasonably level playing field between the various capitalists involved to prevent individual capitalists leveraging monopolies or fraud and so on in order to squeeze the rest of them.
    c) Represent them with as much strength as is possible in external relations (trade negotiations, resource security, etc)

    In order for the state to perform these functions, they need to do all sorts of stuff that’s not directly driven by servicing the capitalists. They must invest in stuff like health and education and occassionaly give in to popular demands, even though they may damage profits, in order to keep the workforce willing and healthy. They need to be able to discipline individual capitalists when they try to gain an unfair advantage over the rest of their class (e.g. by failing to pay taxes) or do stuff for personal gain that undermines the viability of the system (e.g. by selling arms to the enemy). They need to be able to compel the capitalists to follow the decisions that they take in order to preserve the system’s legitimacy, even when a significant minority or even a majority of capitalists are opposed to them. Most fundamentally, they need to be able to strategically project force in support of the capitalists whom they represent. So, for example, Irish companies operating in Africa are hugely vulnerable to decisions by the local state which inversely affect their profitability. The Irish state can do pretty much nothing about it since they lack armed forces or commercial might. On the other hand, French companies operating in Africa are enormously more secure. Few African states are going to provoke a company which enjoys the support of the quai d’orsai as governments who do such things generally have a very short shelf-life.

    Now, in order to be able to do all this stuff, and to fulfill its role, the state needs resources and money. It needs to collect taxes from the population and from the companies on whose behalf it acts to pay for its armies, bureaucracies and so on. The EU simply needs a significant amount of tax income from the corporate sector in order to fund the stuff that they corporate sector wants it to do because they are competing with entities like the US who generate significant corporate tax revenue. In order to maintain the legitimacy and viability of the system, the EU has to ensure that this burden is shared out to the mutual satisfaction of the capitalist class. In general, the more powerful a capitalist state is, the better it is at collecting taxes – the IRS in the US is far better at enforcing corporate and individual tax laws in practice than any other state institution in the world. It is only in weak states, that are not backed by a strong capitalist class, where tax evasion is rampant. Strong capitalist states can’t allow this to happen as it undermines their own strength and erodes the viability of the overall agreement between capitalists and the state.

  15. WorldbyStorm

    June 28, 2008 8:10 am

    Thanks for the response, I’ll hope to address some of your counter-arguments here briefly. Let me start though by suggesting that you conflate a process… ‘integration’, with an endpoint, federalism and in doing so confuse the issue considerably. Furthermore you suggest continually that integration can only have that endpoint, i.e. integration is largely synonymous with federalism. Finally you seem to say that the EU is already a clear federation, or a federal institution with federal structures (there’s a slight difference in some literature between the two terms federal and federation in application), when almost all opinion on this matter – and not just from political scientists (see below), but other interested parties – tends to the opposite viewpoint.

    Obviously I take issue with all these contentions. I don’t believe we live in a federal Europe and I don’t believe integration of necessity leads to federalism. I do agree that some aspects of the EU do have elements that tilt towards federalism, but because individual institutions within the EU seem to tilt one way or another the intergovernmental aspect retains its primacy. Of course it’s not just me either, because almost all research and commentary – including David Marquand in today’s Guardian – in the area allows of the concept that firstly the EU is sui generis in international politics, that it is not a state, that it is not a federal state and that it is not a federation.

    Now, if we skip to the end of your response I read:

    [*] I’m using the concept of federation as it is used in everyday language and information science. For example, it is common for sports associations or other clubs to form federations, which often vary widely in terms of the scope of their decision making powers and their decision making methods. Federations are also commonly used as abstractions of shared decision making between autonomous entities in information science and are one of the most common concepts invoked in organisational modelling. In political science, “federation” often has a much narrower meaning, applying to a family of governance models employed by various current state systems. Political science is, however, one of the most useless disciplines the world contains – up there with homeopathy and astrology.

    Now, I’d be the first to accept that political science has limitations, as it happens although not a specifically a political scientist myself, my research is in a parallel and somewhat overlapping discipline, I’m a member of an Irish political studies/science organisation and have been for over a decade so I have more than a passing familiarity with its strengths and weakenesses as a body of thought.

    But I have to say, that’s a mighty impressive way to avoid reference to relevant informed debate – using a definition which may or may not be appropriate to the discussion or those competing definitions used in the research literature in the area, which apparently is akin to the worst forms of pseudo-science. Political science may or may not be of complete utility but the methodologies available from it do at least prevent us from having to reinvent the wheel time and again. Moreover I can’t help but think there’s something a little bathetic (with a b) about criticising it, and then dragging in definitions applicable to sports associations. Perhaps you can’t see the distinction between state formation and ‘sports associations other clubs’, but it’s very real. Moreover I find it entertaining that you appropriate a definition from what I believe is close to your own chosen discipline. Bespoke methodologies are fine, to some degree all are bespoke albeit modified by application, but again, the issue of appropriateness is relevant. Still, for you, I’ll try to avoid recourse to the literature in the area as best I can and stay with the vernacular.

    But let me take your points in sequence. To make things a bit easier to read, you’re in italics, my original comments are in bold and my response is in plain.

    Firstly I think that as regards your description of three forces in Europe, i.e. integrationist/Atlanticist/left-national are perhaps a little too broad and take insufficient account of national variation, very different views even within conservative, Christian or Social democratic groups in Europe, and the historical forces which provide a motivation for much of the actions that we see.”

    “The analysis ignores the various nuances in views across nations and political parties because, well, they’re just not that important for understanding what’s going on. Regardless of the views they express, European politicians have negotiated and delivered a dozen treaties, each of which has increased European integration and centralised more decision making power in Brussels and none of which has moved power in the reverse direction. The details of each step of integration has, of course, involved a lot of horse-trading, disagreements and quibbling, but this is a consequence of the various component governments’ requirements to protect their own power bases, rather than philosophical disagreements.”

    Unfortunately the individual national political and party political characteristics are crucial to understanding that the overall nature and direction of the EU which has remained largely centrist I think it’s a bit contradictory to suggest that integration is this unstoppable dynamic towards federalism and then implicitly argue that ‘the various component governments requirements to protect their own power bases’ is effectively a tactical rather than a strategic aim. But to baldly assert that ‘more decision making power is centralised in Brussels’ is to miss the point of where that decision making power is found. It’s principally in the Council which is of course the key inter-governmental element of the EU. So any horse-trading, disagreements and yes, indeed even quibbling, occurs largely between the national states themselves, not some free standing autonomous element. And that is key to the nature of the Union, which of course makes it entirely different from a federal structure.

    “Politicians’ views, particularly those that they publicly express, are terribly unreliable sources of information about how the world works. Their content is frequently dishonest or purely rhetorical in nature. But, leaving that aside for the moment, even if we accept their publicly expressed philosophies about the final shape of the Europe that they would like to see, the reality is that none of them are in any position to impose their personal views on anything. The overwhelming majority of European industry wants closer integration as a route to better access to markets, greater clout in trade deals, greater security of resource supplies, greater global influence and so on. Governments of capitalist countries are simply not in a position to be able to go against the requirements of their industries. For example, imagine if Sarkozy was to decide to stall further EU integration based on his philosophical views about the final ideal shape of the EU, going against the interests of French industry. He couldn’t just say “sorry Airbus, EDF, LdE, BNP, SG, CL, Renault, Peugeot, etc, etc, I know you wanted us to press ahead with integration to help you to compete in the global economy, but I have this wonderful idea about the nature of the European ‘geist’.” He would be out of a job in double-quick time. The competing interests of the various governments also servers to greatly restrict the ability of any party to impose their visions on the process.”

    Of course you’re right about politician’s views, but this isn’t news. Which is why there are journals, institutes, think-tanks, staffed by analysts and political scientists and suchlike dedicated to weighing up words and actions. As an aside the idea that there is a single convenient way of interpreting how the world works seems unlikely. Sometimes there are clear casual relationships between words and actions, sometimes not. Nor is all – or even arguably the majority of – political discourse dishonest or rhetorical.

    I find your point in your third sentence odd, particularly in light of the claims you make for d’Estaing’s primacy as regards the Constitution over on the CLR http://cedarlounge.wordpress.com/2008/06/26/and-yet-more-unhelpful-contributions-to-the-lisbon-debate-destaing-speaks-and-speaks/. And the influence of industry is beyond question. But that isn’t the whole story. Industry isn’t the only player in all this. State apparatuses, electorates, different economic sectors, civil society groups, all have a voice in this. So let’s put it a different way. Consider if Sarkozy was to decide to implement an EU directive abolishing welfare structures, or better still he sought in tandem with others to see that such a directive was generated, he couldn’t do that either due to the blocking effect of groups beyond industry and that would bring the project to a halt quick sharp too. In other words industry doesn’t hold the ring here. Moreover you ignore the fact that the EU actually allows for a broad range of derogations from its activities – right up national currencies as we see with a number of states.

    And the evidence bears this out. The attitudes of each state’s government towards EU integration has been remarkably consistent regardless of which party has been in power. France does the same stuff, pushes the same issues, votes the same way, whether socialists or gaullists are in power and the same is true across Europe. In the case of Ireland, regardless of the government, negotiating teams are sent out to oppose anything which would specifically damage the power base of Irish politicians, but otherwise to go along with whatever. Visions of Europe just don’t come into it.

    I’m fairly dubious about the conclusion you come to from this observation. So what if governments of different stripes find an integration process to their liking, or that the process has moved towards further integration. It’s really little different from discerning that governments find national state structures to their liking – of course they do, they are structures that allow them to implement policy. The basic logic of a stable market with specific additional areas of utility through cooperation is going to be attractive to pretty much any government, bar those which are isolationist or extreme nationalist in nature. And, broadly speaking the outcomes have, by the means used by governments to measure such things been broadly positive across the decades. Why wouldn’t they continue, again unless they were isolationist or extreme nationalist. They haven’t found their own autonomy significantly intruded upon and they benefit from collective and cooperative action. And in that context why wouldn’t governments of right or left be reasonably content? What’s not to like? I really don’t see this as a particularly compelling argument one way or another.

    As for this constituting a vision of Europe or not, well, actually it clearly does, not least in the context of a continent which suffered appalling instability for much of history and in areas right into the contemporary period. Recently I’ve been looking at some research done in Turkey about the cachet that “Europe” has there. On a basic level goods that can be seen to have been made in the EU are regarded, with some justification in certain instances, as superior, better manufactured, more hard-wearing, etc. It’s a conflation of modernity, efficiency, precision and so on. From the inside it looks a bit different, but that sort of ‘mythic’ power is extremely persuasive in shaping a view of the EU. A small thing for some, perhaps.

    But even within the context of differing national responses within the EU we’ve seen variations from full-throated near federalist thinking (in Germany in particularly, perhaps due to their own internal political structures) to the British eschewing monetary union. And this is precisely because the model used is intergovernmental and multi-scaled.

    “The problem is that the terms ‘one sort or another’, ‘federation’, ‘federalist’ and ‘integration’ cover a myriad. “Federalists” are quite distinct from “integrationists”. The former are now a minority. Within the latter we have competing and often hostile strands between those who want the more inter-governmental model and those who shift towards something well short of federalism, are more nationalist in approach or are more internationalist, more left and more right.”

    Actually, I think my use of integrationist is quite precise. I use it to describe those forces pushing for greater European integration at any particular point in time. The political parties who espouse further integration at any particular point in time express a variety of different motivations for doing so. However, for the reasons I outlined above, that really doesn’t matter that much. The economic and institutional forces have been quite constant and they’re what’s important. In any case, while the rhetoric has changed over the decades, the political parties espousing each further step in EU integration have also been remarkably constant in their support and, where parties have changed position, it invariably corresponds with them getting into a position of power, or losing such a position, rather than any change in the nature of the integration project.

    Federalist is, on the other hand a term that covers a myriad. The difference being that, rather than describing a force or a direction, it describes a family of institutional arrangements which various people put forward as an ideal shape for the EU. As I understand it a federation [*] is an organisational arrangement whereby decision making power is centralised across a group in some respects, but decentralised in others. If ultimate authority for some decisions is centralised, and ultimate authority for other decisions decentralised amongst the members of the group, it’s a federal arrangement. A federation is, thus, a general-purpose organisational arrangement, covering a vast array of different practical matters, many of which are important – how decision making power is divided up and how central decisions are made make a huge difference to where real power lies. Thus, since the EU is already federalist in a number of areas I don’t think there’s any point in using ‘federalist’ to describe those who are in favour of further integration.

    When I use the terms integrationist or federalist I use them as descriptors of those who hold those views as well as the processes they describe. And I think the meanings I ascribe to those terms are very clear indeed. But let me reiterate. Federalists are those who would see a federal European structure with elected parliament, government, presidency making centralised decisions and with national power limited to near regional status. Integrationists could loosely be termed everyone beyond that who seek increased cooperation along a number of different lines but mainly seek to retain the intergovernmental approach. Obviously one could as an integrationist argue for very deep cooperation across a range of areas while still considering that that had to be sanctioned regularly by national parliaments. Alternatively one could argue that ‘this far and no further’. It’s a broad range of views, so large that nominally it could incorporate the new EU friendly SF and FG.

    “The EU is, if at all and it’s arguable at best, a very very loose ‘federation’ in any meaningful sense, with no central government. Ultimate authority still rests with national parliaments and governments. Some powers have been subordinated to some European institutions”

    Ultimate authority for a great many areas has already been centralised and there most decidedly is a central government. For example, Ireland’s national government, and all the other governments of the euro-zone, have no authority to make decisions on monetary policy. The laws of every parliament in European can already be overturned by the ECJ. An enormous number of other decisions, from competition policy to labeling requirements are also centralised, with the constituent governments having surrendered ultimate authority to the EU and being bound to follow their decisions, even when they are locally inconvenient.

    The central government is composed of the European Commission, the European Parliament, the European Council and the heads of governments summits. Between them, they define EU policy, pass laws, issue directives and so on, and these decisions are binding on the members and their populations – i.e. they are the government. The government’s powers may be limited, its decision making methods may be arcane and generally rubbish, but it is still a government. It is a government that also possesses a significant state machinery in the myriad of European agencies that it governs and directs.

    That’s simply incorrect. There is no EU government. What there are are government like structures which operate over a limited range of areas and are hobbled by other elements within the EU institutions. The only element within the EU institutional structures which represents the interests of the EU as an specific entity is the Commission. And that cannot legislate without the agreement of Council and/or Parliament. Since the Council is effectively the creature of national governments (as is the Commission itself to a significant degree – hence all the hoo-ha over Commissioners) and the Parliament has to this point been limited in its input the idea that these represent a government is wide of the mark. You’re confusing the ability to make decisions with government. Yes decisions can be made but only in the context of the Council which is intergovernmental, laws can be instituted, but even in terms of application the whole enterprise is dependent upon the states first agreeing to allow an issue to be dealt with collectively, then refraining from vetoing or impeding the progress of that issue across quite literally years as it works its way into legislation, and then finally permitting its implementation on the national level. That process is sui generis in comparison with other international organisations or with federalisms. It’s also essentially inter-governmentalism writ large with a fairly cosmetic hint of democratic legitimation through the Parliament and a nod towards protecting the EUs interests through the Commission (which might well explain the reason some want the Commission to be semi-detached from national affiliation by cutting numbers).

    Again, a key aspect is the ability to derogate from areas and (de facto) to secede from the EU.

    “but broadly speaking the consensual model still applies – hence derogations/opt-outs. That seems set to remain the pattern of the future albeit with closer and closer cooperation at EU level.”

    If you think that there is a particular attachment to a consensual model of decision making in the EU, you should ask yourself why the major innovations of the last two treaties in terms of decision making were:
    1) The creation of Qualified Majority Voting (Nice)
    2) The Extension of QMV to many new areas (Lisbon)
    3) The redefinition of QMV to allow voting weight to more accurately correspond with political weight (Lisbon)

    Consensus is a rubbish way of making decisions for any body. It allows Luxembourg or Ireland to veto measures against blatant tax-evasion. As EU integration continues, further decision making reforms will be required in order to allow Europe’s elite to come up with centralised decisions in a more practical manner. That is certain.

    Nothing is certain, and I don’t know, I think consensus has its uses. But note that I used the terms ‘broadly speaking’ and ‘still applies’. I’m not suggesting that will hold true in its totality into the far future. But even QMV doesn’t entirely break away from aspects of the consensual model. QMV per definition requires modified majorities in order to reflect not merely a majority but as broad a majority as possible. And once more, QMV is centred on the Council, the key inter-governmental part of the structures. Incidentally, I’m certainly not arguing that the EU is without contradiction and paradox.

    “That is still a long way from federalism whereby there would be a central authority that would supersede national sovereignty entirely.”

    You seem to be using a strange definition of federalism. As far as I understand it, a situation where “central authority supersedes national sovereignty entirely” is a centralised state. The whole point about a federation is that there has to be some areas where central authority does not supersede the authority of the member organisations because otherwise it’s not a federation. Having local bodies with some decision making powers, but ultimately subordinate to a central government does not make something a federation, or else we’d have to consider Ireland to be a federation of local councils.

    Euro-federalists mainly see ultimate authority residing not in national parliaments but in a parliament and government of the EU with individual states becoming more like regions, or perhaps more closely to the US model where states have individual rights but these are ‘clipped’. The views of the federalists diverge on the detail…

    “And while there is definitely agreement on a broadly defined ‘integration’ on certain scales, the push towards federalism has been halted. Generally, and this is hardly a surprise, out and out federalists aren’t hugely evident within national governments in Europe which is where the real power resides.”

    You now seem to be using ‘federalism’ as something specific rather than the myriad that you refereed to above. Integration, by definition, means giving more power to the federal state as against the constituent member states. It leads, by definition, in a more federalist direction. If you think that integration is advancing without leading in a federalist direction, you must be using some specific federal arrangement as a model – a particular decision making arrangement and a particular partition of powers. Personally, I don’t think that whether, for example, more or less decisions are taken by the council of Europe or by the commission makes much of a difference to the overall direction.

    No, sorry, I originally pointed to the fact that your use of the term ‘integrationist’ was too vague and didn’t differentiate between different strands, but here I’m afraid I think your use of it is simply wrong. I disagree with the characterisation of the EU as a federal state, and I entirely disagree that integration ‘means giving more power’ to that state.
    As for using a model, I’m looking at Yugoslavia, the United States, the Soviet Union and Russia. Each of these are/were different takes on Federal arrangements. But the EU is like none of those examples in that each individual member state retains ultimate authority/autonomy despite working with the other member states – not least as I mentioned above, the option to secede (something that if memory serves me correct was only a feature of the USSR, and oddly enough an unused one 😉 ). Incidentally, I largely agree with you that the provenance of the decision making isn’t hugely relevant if it isn’t underpinned by a direct democratic mandate, but that’s another issue.

    “Few politicians are going to succeed in national arena’s if they openly state that they seek to see their national autonomy wiped away. Moreover, and you point implicitly to this, as cooperation deepens so does, to some extent, the power of left and nationalist forces – particularly those of the further right. This provides an effective block on total integration.”

    I completely disagree with this. In the 70’s and the 80’s, the left was much stronger and was able to exert some influence on EU policy formation – today they’re limited to the odd wrecking mission when a referendum is presented. Traditional nationalists are, for their part, mostly irrelevant – they only form a threat when they are supported by a section of the ruling class. Neither group has been able to block the huge number of integrationist steps that have already been taken and there is nothing to suggest that they will be able to block any further steps, unless something major changes.

    I think that’s to underestimate just how significant No votes can and have been, assisted by left and nationalist forces in delaying further change in the EU. And also to ignore what we see more and more in polling data that allied to a pro-EU sentiment is an increasing aversion to federalism or total integration. Moreover I think it’s necessary to quantify this ‘huge number of integrationist steps’ supposedly already taken. Which are they? How do you define huge? Finally, what ‘left’ are we talking about that was exercised power/influence in the 1970s and 80s, where and how was it’s influence manifested in EU policy formation?

    “For example if we examine the actions of individual national governing parties we see that while they tend to be in favour of ‘integration’ on the rhetorical level they’re very clearly attempting to retain national powers.”

    I think that you’re exactly wrong here. If the individual governing parties are clearly in favour of integration only on a rhetorical level, why do they all repeatedly and unanimously sign treaties which further integration? That’s a little bit more than rhetorical. Furthermore, almost nobody is in favour of integration and a loss of national sovereignty on the rhetorical level – national politicians tend to promote Europe as good for their country and downplay or deny the reality that integration amounts to a centralisation of decision making power which erodes national sovereignty, by definition. The governments very clearly try to maintain and increase their own decision making power in the integration process, protect their own power-bases, voting rights and appointment rights, but that’s hardly surprising and it doesn’t affect the fact that they all support the integration process to the extent that they continue to unanimously negotiate, agree and ratify new treaties ushering in further integration.

    It comes down to a pragmatic reading of individual treaties. Integration can be furthered without it of necessity, or inevitably, leading to federalism. This remains true even if a very broad range of areas are devolved to EU competency as long as the national parliament has ultimate oversight and autonomy and you point to it yourself when you note that: The governments very clearly try to maintain and increase their own decision making power in the integration process, protect their own power-bases, voting rights and appointment rights.

    If a national government maintains or increases it’s decision making, then arguably it cannot be a federalism due to such maintenance or increases reversing centralising tendencies… And this once more points to the sui generis aspect of the EU in international relations/state formation/federation/federalism/integation. It isn’t fish nor fowl but something quite new.

    On a more reflective point, broadly it’s only if one takes a zero sum approach to such matters that one winds up in a point where increased integration/cooperation has to result in federalism. In any event I think that it’s quite feasible – and probably no bad thing – that we might see the project slow and even halt some short way from where we are already.

    “Reading policy positions of say Wolfgang Schäuble of the German CDU/CSU from the late 90s it’s clear that even the nearly but not quite federalist vision that he presents would still see ultimate sovereignty resting in parliaments, although he implicitly argues that although they would be the final arbiter of EU legislation and policy – and I’d be very much against this myself – they’d also have to become advocates for same.”

    It’s not clear at all actually, in fact it is simply denying the fact that ultimate sovereignty for a great many things does not rest in national parliaments (and while it only ever did to a limited extent, its role has been formally ceded in a vast range of policy areas).

    Sorry again, but if you read Schäuble’s text [available on the CDU/CSU website, dating to 1999] he makes that case explicitly. Let me quote:

    National parliaments must remain the arena for decision-making on European policy [in any future arrangements]. Public scrutiny and democratic control cannot be ensured by the European Parliament alone.

    But if you’re arguing your last point, which to some degree I agree with, then one has to wonder why you’re discussing this issue at all… although again, a ‘vast range’?

    “If we take that as one extreme, in the sense that Schäuble represents a ‘respectable’ near federal approach, then as we move away from that towards the national looking at the positions of parties such as the UMP (where some factions of same are currently going through something of an Atlanticist – incidentally, minor quibble, that’s the actual term – turn due to Sarkozy) and so on we actually see less and less clearly federalist and more and more nearly cooperative approaches. The exception, to some degree, is that engendered by the Franco-German relationship – the ‘core of the core’. But even there we see a change under Sarkozy with a greater emphasis on Anglo-French relations.”

    We see, under Sarkozy, pretty much exactly the same approach to European integration as every other French president ever has had – he is the principal political driving force. His diplomacy towards the US and UK has something of a different flavour than that of Chirac, but that’s only because he’s taking a more aggressive approach to European autonomy and political integration.

    Er, again, no. His vision is one which very clearly seeks to reform (economically) the French state. Secondly to do that along Anglo-Saxon lines. Thirdly to shift somewhat from the Franco-German alliance. None of these makes any sense whatsoever unless one accepts that there is no contradiction between being in favour of integration/cooperation, without seeing it as inevitably leading to a federal state, and simultaneously retaining national autonomy, particularly at a strategic level. As for every other French president ever having had the ‘same’ approach. Really? De Gaulle? Mitterand? Were their two positions identical, or what of d’Estaing? I think it’s much more plausible to argue that we’ve seen variations between federalists, integrationists and even mild nationalists. And that’s just France, supposedly part of the ‘core of the core’.

    “So, I can’t in all honestly see a clear push towards a federal EU being anywhere as strong as it once was, or even the sentiment for same being as strong. And Sarkozy presents a further problem. If we go with your division between Atlanticists and Integrationists then where does Sarkozy sit? He appears to be both, pushing the Treaty forward and also tilting towards the US and the UK. Which suggests that the model you propose while very useful in broad outline isn’t entirely dependable for the specifics which is where much of this resides.”

    If you can’t see it, you’re looking in the wrong places. The rate of treaties, all of which transfer power towards the federal body, has increased in recent years. In reality, the pace of integration has increased over time – and has been running at an accelerated tempo since the early 1990’s compared to the cold-war era. This is all marvelously well documented in the precise forms of clauses of treaties, directives, judgements of courts, decisions of commissioners and so on. There is no need for politicians to elaborate their federal visions or to persuade other European leaders, they have already built a federal apparatus and transferred a whole host of decision making power to it. Until they manage to make their citizens identify with the centralised state, it would be very foolish to go on about it.

    Again you point to treaties. First up the treaties are revised through intergovernmental conferences. Secondly when one looks at the content, as indeed you did above in your analysis, one sees that the EU remains very much based on national cooperation and the inter-governmental model. Simply because the governments/states permit the array of activities you point to doesn’t necessitate the end point being a federal Europe any more than accepting the the authority of the UN Security Council means that we’re looking at a world government. Either eventuality might come to pass, or might not, but they are not inevitable. And again you gift, in an unspecified fashion, decision making power to an EU ‘federal apparatus’ when the reality is that decisions rest with the intergovernmental aspects.

    “Consequently I’d be a bit dubious about the contention that the EU is ‘a state in slow formation’. That would only hold true if there was no autonomy left to reside with national parliaments. And that, even in the wildest dreams of federalism is so far down the line as to be unknowable.”

    By that definition there is no such thing as a state. Every state in the world has to grant some autonomy to lower decision making bodies. Even in Ireland, local councils have some autonomous decision making power. Other states grant the power of policy formation in some areas to regional or local bodies and there are a vast number of state bodies which enjoy operational autonomy. Your assumption that states are defined by an all consuming top-down authority model is quite wrong.

    What the EU lacks in order to be a fully formed state is the following:
    a) centralised control over the security services.
    b) efficient and effective enforcement mechanisms with respect to centralised decisions (which is ultimately a consequence of the first).
    c) a reasonably efficient decision making mechanism
    d) a sense of popular identification between the citizens and the state.

    They are only really starting out on a, they are making some strides in c, and b will flow from those. d. is the most difficult since, it requires an assault on local nationalisms and there are few politicians who are in a position to do that. However, once these features are in place, which could take either a very short or a very long amount of time depending on circumstances, the EU will be a state and the countries will be regions exercising some degree of autonomy much like other existing federal states. The centralisation of economic decision making and judicial authority, and the creation of a powerful bureaucracy, has already brought us quite some distance down the road.

    Your first sentence isn’t terribly convincing. In this discussion we’re looking at the nature of the European Union and their relationship to national parliaments. Not the nature of the relationship, actual or potential, between national parliaments and subsidiary bodies. Indeed I’m being very specific about autonomy residing in the national parliament, by which I mean ultimate autonomy to make and take decisions, and which I suspect you know I mean. It has nothing to do with my ability or inability to conceive of different forms of state structure. I find your proposition that ‘there are few politicians in a position to do that’ quite telling because that is central to my argument, not merely the few in number but the few in inclination.

    But there is a contradiction between your assertions that we are already in a federal Europe and then your vision of a truly federal Europe that you propose above. Since that situation you describe in the latter case is not extant, or even near closely extant it’s hard to take seriously the idea that we’re already effectively there. Indeed, if ‘they’re only really starting out’ and it ‘could take either a very short time or a very long time’ then again, the clear implication is that we’re not there at all.

    “I also don’t buy into the argument that governments are being dishonest about loss of sovereignty because they call it ‘pooling’. States pool sovereignty all the time from bilateral agreements with other states all the way up to internationally agreed institutional frameworks. Almost no one bats an eyelid. Why the EU is the source of so much concern when this process is deepened puzzles me “

    You are confusing two different things. States form alliances and agreements to pool resources and so on between each other all the time. They very rarely transfer their decision making power to bodies with autonomous decision making mechanisms whose decisions they are subordinate to. As well as this qualitative difference there is a large qualitative difference between the various agreements that states enter into and the EU with its permanent, large and powerful bureaucracy, its judicial system and its myriad of agencies, all of which exercise autonomous decision making power over the member states in areas that affect them all.

    Actually I’m not. The principle is precisely the same in whatever area you choose to point to. Any agreement between two or many states of necessity involves the pooling of sovereignty on whatever level whether minimalist or maximalist. That’s fundamental to concepts of sovereignty.

    As for ceding decision making to bodies with autonomous decision making mechanisms, we do it with the United Nations. We do it with the European Union. None of this is particularly new, or indeed malign, in international relations. Again look at the nature of decision making, through the Council and to repeat myself once more which is the most markedly inter-governmental element of the mix.

    And to continue, a small point, the EU has a standing secretariat of 25,000 civil servants. The Irish civil service employs 38,000 (out of a public sector of 300,000) the US Federal Government employs over 4 million civil servants. I don’t actually consider the former figure in the context of a continental structure a ‘large bureaucracy’. I’d actually consider it rather small.

    “As the Phoenix noted on Thursday the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael campaigns were notable for their shambolic quality (the Phoenix notes that the FF campaign only started meeting from January, long after Libertas was in the field and only Dick Roche, of all people, took any serious interest until four weeks before the campaign, while their campaign only ‘cranked up last weekend after the shock of the IT poll’). Labour took the easiest option of running a personality led campaign as a precursor for the local elections. The Green Party and the PDs didn’t run campaigns in any meaningful sense. The Irish Alliance for Europe was notable by its essential absence, as the Phoenix notes ‘… a trawl of the Alliance website last Friday – the day the IT poll bombshell burst and six days before the vote – stated “the IAfE is participating in a number of events throughout the country as part of our campaign… we will shortly be updating this section with details of our events as well as those of other organisations. Please check back soon”… underneath this statement where a list of such events might have been expected was a blank page’. It also noted that unlike Nice 2 the problem this time for the IAfE was that Ruairi Quinn and Brendan Kiely simply didn’t cut it like Adrian Langan and Brigid Laffan did previously.”

    I don’t buy this analysis at all. In general, in Irish political commentary, almost everything that happens is attributed to either the skills or the failings of the individuals or parties involved. In my opinion, such analyses are almost always totally irrelevant. If, for example, there had been completely different weather on the polling day, which brought out a different segment of the electorate, and the vote had gone the other way, the very same commentators would be admiring the skill and sharpness of the very same Yes campaign.

    By all objective measures, the Yes campaign was longer-running, more intensive, better coordinated and spent more money than for any treaty referendum in the past. They may have only kicked off their official campaign a mere five months ahead of the poll, a month behind Libertas, but their supporters had been campaigning in the media for many months before and it was still a far longer and more intensive campaign by them than any they have fought before. Having campaigned against four treaties on the ground, I am quite sure of this. I say this as somebody who observes these campaigns with a detached eye because, although I campaign in them, I don’t actually think the results of such referenda make much of a difference.

    In terms of the details – I seriously doubt whether Dick Roche was the only one with an interest in FF in the early days. What’s more, the swing in voting intentions inversely correlates with the period where you say FF cranked up their campaign – the more they did, apparently, the worse the polls got.

    The Green Party were precluded from campaigning as a party due to their failure to secure a two-thirds majority. Nevertheless, their elected parliamentarians campaigned vocally in the media for a yes vote.

    The PDs campaigned as much as they are capable of campaigning. Considering the fact that they are a dead party, they ploughed considerable resources into posters and advertisements. Their relative lack of visibility in the media was a sensible strategy from the Yes campaign – vocally supportive PDs would have helped to push the undecided towards voting no, due to their unpopularity and their strong association with right-wing elitism.

    The Labour leadership campaigned energetically in the media, even doing joint canvassing sessions (in fairness, that was a bad idea) with the government parties. Considering the fact that they had nothing to gain from supporting the treaty, and could have gained much from opportunistic opposition, it was a triumph of the Yes campaign to get the Labour party on board. Given such situations, self-publicising in the campaign by local candidates is about as good as you can get. What’s more, various groups on the other side also used the treaty no less shamelessly for publicising their candidates – the SP and SF to name but two.

    The IAfE is an organisation that depends on full-spectrum media dominance to gain an influence. It is so dull in nature, so worthy in tone, that nobody would choose to cover their statements and meetings if they had a choice.

    The difference with past referenda was not the poor quality of the Yes campaign, it was the changed political landscape and, most importantly, their loss of full-spectrum media dominance. The simple fact is, that none of their critics can posit a remotely plausible alternative strategy which they could have pursued which would have led to a Yes vote. All of the criticisms that I have read have essentially been of the “didn’t try hard enough” or “too inept” variety suggest impossible stuff like “mobilising the party base” as a remedy.

    You’re eliding proxies in the media with an actual campaign. Problem is that the latter simply didn’t exist in the way that you propose. Take the Green Party as an example. Sure the Ministers were vocal, well, two of them to be precise, but even there, as with Gormley’s wobble a day or two before the poll about the debate the previous weekend there was a certain degree of talking out of both sides of the mouth, and as for their Yes presence on the ground, you and I know (both from direct experience) that it was the No side of the GP campaign which seriously took to the streets.

    Moreover, I’m profoundly dubious that a poster or a newspaper advertisement alone is sufficient evidence of a ‘campaign’. And I’m certain you are too. It takes bodies on the street as well. The No campaign mobilised in a way which the Yes campaign didn’t – and arguably couldn’t. Take FF as an example. They staged photoshoots of TDs and Senators clutching YES leaflets in their hands which were meant to be used in publicity material. Broadly speaking most of this was never produced. This isn’t to deny that a vocal media presence isn’t useful, indeed essential, but it’s simply not enough. What I find odd about your analysis is that you decry the Irish political commentary analysis of this and other campaigns for looking at superficial aspects of a campaign (something I largely agree with you on) but then you go on to analyse it using not dissimilar yardsticks, what happened in the media. Even there though the Yes side was shambolic.

    The IAfE, was, entirely contrary to your assessment of them as being simply dull and worthy, in Nice 2 pivotal because they generated a sense of a certain portion of civil society riding to the rescue of, indeed even supplanting, the political establishment, as cheerleaders of the EU.

    As for ‘full-spectrum media dominance’ that sounds exciting.

    “Broadly speaking the Yes was at best supine, at worst near moribund. The No side succeeded because of its enthusiasm, genuine concerns about the EU, the professionalism of a new markedly more EU friendly SF (whatever the reality of their position), the variegated support bases, from left to right including a section of the Green Party and Libertas, the weakened state of FF, the sniping between FG and FF which saw a good portion of the FG electorate simply detach, a myriad of other issues, arguably the fact that FF has been in power so long and is so difficult to dislodge so this gave people the opportunity to give them a kicking with no perceived comeback, etc, etc.”

    There was really almost no sniping in public between FF and FG during the campaign. One exchange of “your lot should try harder” in the media is very, very little bickering for what you normally expect in a campaign involving the government and the major opposition parties working together. There is also no evidence to suggest that the sniping caused the FG electorate to detach from their party. The relative strength of the No camp amonst FG voters was present from the first polls. In any case, in modern Ireland there really aren’t significant chunks of the electorate attached to ‘FG’ or ‘FF’ or any of the major political parties. These parties have plummeting memberships and virtually no activists who aren’t almost entirely self-interested – people vote for them due to clientelist reasons or because they have to pick some team to support and something or other attracts them to one side or the other (family tradition, randomness, having a charming leader, whatever). Most of the people who vote for them are no more likely to follow their advice on a non-related political question than they are to follow the advice of the football team that they support. Their media access is what normally gives them some persuasive power in such votes.

    Here again I’m puzzled by your analysis by downplaying for no clear reason the very obvious tensions between FF and FG, which were expressed by numerous FG members making hay of Cowen’s remarks in the Dáil the previous week and then his remarks that weekend. The conjunction of the two by FG constitutes significant, and explicitly party political, sniping. I don’t really see how it is possible to dismiss this as having no impact, and it sort of cuts against your earlier argument about the ‘power’ of the Yes campaign. They certainly didn’t manage to hide those events, and they clearly did have an impact, borne out by the polling numbers.

    That was actually quite unprecedented in an Irish referendum campaign and if you disbelieve me go look at the media reports (and add to them the Dáil debates where there was clear unanimity) pre Nice 1 and 2. In the last seven days this time out, no doubt chastened by the IT poll they tried to pull it back. Too late. Too late. It’s irrelevant if there was a pool of antipathy from the off in FG, the point is that FG – by their own lights – had an obligation to gee up their members in the run-up. The public sniping clearly reinforced a sense of half-heartedness amongst FG inclined voters, and arguably their base. As regards your thoughts on why people are members or supporters of major political parties, well, I think it’s an odd analysis on any number of levels particularly in the context of the Irish polity, but moreover I think it’s one that makes engaging with those people all but impossible. If you consider the vast majority of political activists or supporters in this society to be simply dupes I can’t help but think that will engender unhelpful interactions.

    To put it tactfully.

    “Finally, The depth and distrust between the workers and their leaders was temporarily laid bare is strong stuff, but… the post-Lisbon polls indicate business as usual in party support. Plus ca change unfortunately…”

    They aren’t the same thing. My interpretation of the Lisbon treaty is that it highlighted a distrust between much of the population and the entire political class. How voting intentions are distributed amongst the population for this distrusted political class is a different thing. I doubt that your average person trusts a SF politician much more than they do a FG or FF politician.

    I think it’s difficult to detach one from the other in any meaningful way – and as a political lesson that surely is important because it outlines the terrain that progress will be made on, or not.

  16. WorldbyStorm

    June 30, 2008 7:47 am

    Incidentally, I should reiterate, apart from those quibbles on my part in those very specific instances I was really taken with the broader analysis. The issues I raise are I think matters of nuance rather than fundamentals (for example, the description of the No campaign is spot on, as is the analysis of many of the forces in Europe), although I suspect you’ll probably take issue with that ( 😉 ) but I do think it is important in areas such as this to work through such nuances.