The Labour Movement Should Be Under No Illusions About Where Its Interests Lie


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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


6 Responses

  1. AMG

    September 30, 2009 10:19 pm

    Labour continues to be wilfully self-deluding, not only about its commitment to Lisbon, but about its own ethos, which has long since disdained solidarity with workers in favour of currying favour with corporate capitalism.

    If the EU were committed to human rights, it would have incorporated the EU Charter into its laws. Deputy, you may not be aware of this, but we already have a charter of fundamental rights. We do not need a Charter to tell us we have rights. The Charter is a piece of sheer fraud. It incorporates, for the first time ever in a statement of rights, a “right to provide services”, a “right to do business”, and even “balances” the right of workers to strike with the right of businesses to strike, a fact you choose, for obvious reasons, to ignore.

    Contrary to your spin and selective quotation of fine-sounding sentiments, the Treaty gives legal personality to the EU and commits it to the unrestricted movement of capital, labour and commodities, the same free market policies which have brought the country to its knees, and which you and your party have helped to support.

    Another little fact you do not mention is the amendment to the Constitution which is proposed: it commits the country to EURATOM, the European Atomic Energy Community, and states that Ireland shall have no say in this policy. The Treaty commits Europe to the widespread adoption of nuclear power. This policy will be implemented solely by the Commission without consulting national parliaments.

    Let me remind you that the great EU you speak of had nothing to say about the invasion and destruction of Iraq, one of the worst war crimes for the last 50 years. The EU did not comment on Ireland’s support for and facilitation of the war, in contravention of the Geneva Conventions. The EU did not object to Ireland’s being a transit point for depleted uranium munitions. The Treaty obliges Ireland and the other EU countries to support military operations carried out inside and outside the borders of the EU.

    That reminds me. The Labour Party had remarkably little to say about the Iraq War and the Government (and opposition) support and praise for it. So much for dignity, equality and the other empty phrases to which you give lip service. It also has nothing to say about NATO’s vicious campaign in Afghanistan, which also involves EU members.

    Labour, once again, stands shoulder to shoulder with the Government, espousing the same failed policies and mouthing the same empty, hypocritical slogans. And it has the nerve to hector the Irish people about where their interests lie!

  2. Brian

    October 1, 2009 12:50 pm

    If there was any doubt remaining about whether Labour still represented the Irish Left then Gilmore has vanquished it.

  3. Robert McCann

    October 1, 2009 2:48 pm

    Of course Eamon Gilmore is ‘in a way’ correct in all the things that he ‘spells out’ with regards the Lisbon Treaty. However what he fails to do, either by design because of his and his party’s aliances with the political elite or thro political niavity (I’m not sure which is the greater sin!) is to ‘read between the lines’ of the text contained within the Lisbon Treaty.
    For example ‘adopting legislation’ in favour of workers rights is not quite the same as ‘enacting’ legislation in favour of workers rights. A ‘commitment to defend and strengthen the European Social model’ is not quite the same as a ‘guarantee’ to defend he European Social model. ‘Combating social exclusion and discrimination’ is not the same as ‘eradicating’ social exclusion, ‘promoting social justice and protection’ is not the same as ‘ensuring’ social justice and protection. And with regards the EU’s charter of fundemental human rights it is my understanding that each country can in many ways water this down to suit their own political agenda and in Ireland we have not by political inclination leaned towards the side in favour of those less able, and the figures are damming. CORI estimate that there could be as many as 700,000 people in this country defined as the working poor. The Elderly are most likely to suffer hardship in their twilght years and we have the shameful spectacle of thousands of ordinary hard working folk queing down the streets to claim thier rightful benefitsand entitlements.
    I desperatly want to vote for this treaty. I believe that it is probably the only show in town. However I do not think it goes far enough in terms of social justice and in terms of helping those less able.
    Mr Gilmore and his party suffer as a result of being part of a political golden circle who pay themselves incredible salaries and benefits and to be honest if I was in their position I would probably ‘take the money and run’. But I can also put my hand on my heart and say that I would do with less in favour of those in more need. Discuss…

    After all I can promote a boxing match but if I dont like the opponenent I can call it off…

  4. Proposition Joe

    October 2, 2009 9:54 am

    It will pit those who want to strengthen Europe’s distinctive social model

    So, Europe has a distinctive social model now?

    Where would I find that model, here in Ireland? Across the water in the UK? In Slokia or Romania? Or only Denmark?

    Seems to me we’ve many different social models in Europe, and its kinda lame to pretend otherwise.

  5. Audry

    October 3, 2009 5:58 pm

    So, Europe has a distinctive social model now?

    Where would I find that model, here in Ireland? Across the water in the UK? In Slokia or Romania? Or only Denmark?

    Seems to me we’ve many different social models in Europe, and its kinda lame to pretend otherwise.

    Well it might be in it’s laws, this culture you can’t find. As in “in our culture we disallow threatening workers with wage differences based on gender.” In some countries you see this is not disallowed, and in fact quite normal. A very nasty social model there.

    A social model is not: a cheeky poser, a frequently photographed and outgoing pretty woman, nor is it cooking styles, nor accent or dialect. It is the rules of social interaction. You might be positing that some people break the rules, but that hardly disproves the model.

  6. Proposition Joe

    October 4, 2009 10:45 am


    I think we’re ad idem on what constitutes a social model.

    I’d dispute though whether there is a single distinctive European social model, rather there’s a patchwork of quite different models ranging from laissez-faire to highly intraventionist.