Statement from Eamon Gilmore as part of Labour’s campaign to get the Irish people to vote yes in the second Lisbon Treaty referendum.
The Lisbon Treaty has won support from the overwhelming majority of Socialist parties across Europe and from the European Trade Union Confederation (which groups together virtually all trade unions across Europe). This support derives both from the general context in which Lisbon has arisen and from specific legal changes that it would bring in.
Regarding the general context, a key feature of the EU is that, while we have a common market, we also lay down common rules to protect workers, consumers and the environment. Indeed, that is what most European legislation is about.
The EU has adopted legislation on gender equality, equal pay, anti-discrimination, social dialogue, health and safety at work, information and consultation of workers, protection of temporary agency workers, working time and many other aspects of workers’ rights. It has done likewise on consumer protection and environmental standards. Having Europe-wide rules affords better protection and prevents companies playing off one country against another.
Lisbon will make sure that the EU’s legislative procedures continue to deliver. This is vital if we want to avoid the European market being an unregulated free-for-all, left entirely to market forces and multinational companies
Regarding specific changes that the treaty would bring in, these include a commitment to defend and strengthen the European social model that is stronger than in the previous treaties. It talks of creating a “social market economy, aiming at full employment and social progress”. The need to “combat social exclusion and discrimination” and to “promote social justice and protection” are highlighted as priorities. The Union will be legally required to promote equality of women and men, solidarity between generations and the protection of the rights of the child.
The list of founding values of the Union has been widened to include the principles of human dignity, equality and the protection of persons belonging to minorities, as well as pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity, and equality of women and men.
Underpinning this is a commitment to social dialogue involving trade unions and management at a European level and the establishment of a ‘Tripartite Social Summit for Growth and Employment’. The contrast this provides with the American model of capitalism could not be clearer.
New provisions requires the Union to respect public services, including the way they are organised and financed by member states, in order to ensure that public services are able to fulfil their duties.
Some say that the most important innovation is the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights. This Charter sets out the civil, economic and social rights that define European citizenship. These include the right to fair and just working conditions, the right to workplace information and consultation, the right to collective bargaining and collective action (including strike action), the right to social security and social assistance, the right to equality for men and women, and the right to freedom from discrimination.
The inclusion of the Charter gives it legal force for the first time and allows the European Court of Justice and the courts of the member states to enforce its provisions. Although it will apply only within the field of EU law – that is, it will bind the European institutions and the member states when implementing European law – this body of law is in itself considerable. The existing body of European social legislation on working time, consultation, equal pay and parental leave, among other things, will be entrenched with the status of fundamental rights. The Charter can also be invoked as a guide for future social legislation, developing new proposals to give its principles direct effect.
Of course, the treaty does much else. It provides greater clarity as to what the EU can and can’t do. It streamlines the institutions to avoid gridlock in a Union of 27 and eventually more countries. Above all, it increases democratic accountability by strengthening both the role of national parliaments and that of the European Parliament in vetting EU decisions.
This is the background against which the left must judge the treaty. For the reasons outlined above, it should be clear that it represents a progressive step towards a more democratic, effective and social Europe.
It is, of course, possible to argue that the treaty does not go far enough in promoting positive integration and enabling the European Union to pursue a more ambitious social and political agenda. What is not credible is to imagine that the effect of voting it down in a referendum would be to force Europe’s leaders to come up with something better. The only people who would benefit in this scenario would be those who wish to reverse the gains that have already been made and to weaken the EU’s capacity to act as a force for social progress. That is why the treaty is so strongly opposed by the far-right and by economic neo-liberals in the UK and elsewhere.
The referendum on the treaty is a battle over Ireland’s and Europe’s future. It will pit those who want to strengthen Europe’s distinctive social model against those who want the EU to be weaker, unable to regulate markets or provide leadership on environmental standards and leaving Europe to the mercy of an unregulated market forces.
The Labour movement should be under no illusions about where its interests lie. We must vote Yes to a treaty whose values and objectives set are ones that are shared by Labour movements across our continent.
Eamon Gilmore TD
Leader of the Labour Party
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