The other week Jason posted an excellent and entertaining article on his 5 Reasons to vote Yes, including the following:
4. It improves the EU in loads of technical ways which you really don't want me to list here. I mean, we'll get them for you if you want, but only if you promise to read them. There'll be a test.
Well, it seems reader Fergus O'Rourke has challenged us to come up with the list, and I don't want it to be said that Bloggers for Europe won't debate the treaty right down to the most obscure, narcolepsy-inducing technicalities. One word of warning, though; this is going to be probably the most boring post on the Lisbon Treaty you'll ever read. I'm going to be talking about the ways in which the Commission can help develop common techniques to monitor occupational hygiene across member states. There'll be arguments for the changes to comitology procedure, a subject so boring that it makes that priest with the really boring voice from Father Ted sound like Samuel L Jackson. In fact, I'm going to try to avoid mentioning anything even moderately exciting or groundbreaking, just in case any of you are still awake by the end of the post.
Just don't say you haven't been warned.
After reading Hugh's article on PANA's campaign style, I came across this Irish Times article on PANA's reaction to Barroso appearing in Shannon later today, and it gives us another example of the kind of strange arguments PANA is coming up with:
"Pana's international secretary Dr Edward Horgan said: “In view of the fact that Ireland was specifically criticised for its unwillingness to co-operate with EU Parliament’s investigation in to the rendition for torture activities of the CIA, it is very appropriate that the EU Commission President should be reminded that this is the airport that was heavily involved in that rendition programme"."
So the government's to blame for not co-operating with the European Parliament's investigation, and is responsible for the policies it pursues. With you so far.
""The fact that he is holding this meeting in Shannon Airport in particular is also disturbing since the airport has been, and continues to be, the scene of a gross abuse of Irish neutrality in spite of the so called legally binding guarantees on Irish neutrality promised by EU leaders,” Dr Horgan said."
Wait a minute - the guarantees were only drawn up months ago; how were they supposed to have an effect here? Also, my reading of this seems to suggest a hint of the idea that PANA would like to see something in the Treaty to tie down Ireland's foreign policy to a certain stance. Because it doesn't make sense to suggest that a Treaty isn't preventing a state from taking certain actions in foreign policy unless you want that treaty to have a great impact on foreign policy...
"The former Irish Army Commandant added: “And, no doubt, while Mr Barroso is holding his meeting in Shannon, some of the US troops who pass through Shannon every day on their way to Iraq and Afghanistan will be in the airport at the same time. What more evidence does he need that Irish neutrality continues to be compromised while there is nothing in the Lisbon Treaty to suggest that this will change even after another referendum?”"
Ok, and what exactly is Barroso supposed to do here? Should the Commission have the legal power to intervene and reverse foreign policy decisions made by the Irish government? Should Ireland's ability to set its foreign policy be changed in a future EU treaty; is the fact that this one doesn't the problem?
Past - and current - foreign policy decisions made by the Irish government aren't affected or caused by the Lisbon Treaty, and its ability to make those decisions in the future won't be affected by it either.
Understandably there is much confusion surrounding the Lisbon treaty. This I believe is mainly due to debaters from both sides failure to publicly differentiate between their opinion and facts. For instance arguments along the lines of 'Lisbon will be good for the Irish economy' are opinion, not established facts and so can be disputed, after all everyone is entitled to their own opinion. However everyone is not entitled to their own facts so when selecting my 10 reasons to vote yes I decided to stick to the facts and to only give my opinion as to why they are good.
1. Increase of power to the European Parliament
The European Parliament is the only directly elected body of the EU and as such is the most democratic; the Treaty of Lisbon will increase the power of the European Parliament. The parliament currently votes on only 80% legislation, the Treaty of Lisbon increases this to 95%; this is known as the ordinary legislative procedure.[Many Articles, TFEU] The parliament currently only approves 20% of the budget; this will be increased to 100%.[Article 314, TFEU]
2. Permanent President of the European Council [Article 15, TEU]
The current system for President of the European Council rotates between states every six months. The head of government of each state fills the roll; this can cause the President to push his/her countries national agenda often against the will of other states. The Lisbon treaty replaces this system with a more permanent position elected by the European council for a two and a half year term. The new President will be obligated to do what is best for everyone not just one individual state and will act on direction from the European Council. The president has no formal powers beyond co-ordinating the affairs of the European Council.
3. The Council will meet in the open [Article 16, TEU]
At present the Council of Ministers meets behind closed doors. This arouses suspicion in the public as they do not get to see how deals are reached. Under the Lisbon treaty the Councils must meet in the open when deliberating on draft legislative acts providing valuable transparency. Hopefully this will have the added benefit of engaging the public conscious, giving greater insight to EU affairs and raising the level of knowledge.
4. New powers of oversight for national parliaments [Article 12, TEU]
National parliaments are to be provided with all draft legislation and other documents produced by the Commission at the same time as they are provided to the Council of ministers and the European Parliament. There will be a period of 8 weeks before any decision can be taken by the Council and EP to allow national parliaments to provide input. They must also be provided with the Councils agendas and decisions. This enables the parliamentary opposition a chance confront the government on its activities at the EU.
5. More clearly defines the competences of the Union & Enshrines the principal of subsidiarity [Article 5, TEU]
The treaty for the first time clearly defines and sets limits on the competences held by the European Union. Under the principle of conferral only those competencies explicitly conferred by the member states in the treaties can be dealt with at EU level. All other areas are off limits and remain under the sole jurisdiction of the national governments e.g. family law (abortion, divorce), direct tax (corporate tax, income tax).
The treaty introduces the principle of subsidiarity. This means that legislation which falls under the competence of both the EU and national governments will only be enacted at EU level if individual states can’t do so as efficiently or effectively on their own. The national parliaments will be able to interject if it is felt that any legislative proposal does not comply with the principle of subsidiarity. If 1/3 of national parliaments do so the proposal has to be reviewed (1/4 for proposals in the area of Justice & Policing).
6. Introduces simplified revision procedure [Article 47, TEU]
The treaty introduces a new simpler method of amending the treaties in areas of internal EU policy (i.e. concerning the functioning of the EU’s institutions). This method allows for individual amendments to be passed separately without the need to hold an Intergovernmental Conference and draft an entire new international treaty, which is extremely time consuming and expensive. The new procedure still requires the amendments to be ratified by each nation in accordance with their constitutional requirements, which still will require a referendum in this country if it’s not compatible with our constitution. Hopefully this will cut down the complexity of future EU referenda as rather than having to vote on a huge number of changes at once, it will enable us to vote on individual treaty amendments. The simplified revision procedure cannot be used to increase the competences of the EU that will still require a entire new treaty.
7. Increases the Unions foreign policy ability
The Treaty creates a new role known as the ‘High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs’ [Article 18, TEU]. It merges many existing positions including the 'High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy' and the 'European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy' into one position. This is to provide a more coherent and consistent voice for Europe in the international sphere. Currently there are so many people representing the foreign policy of the EU, foreign governments are confused about who to contact in regards to specific areas and the unions’ voice is disjointed and less coherent. The Lisbon treaty also creates an EU diplomatic corps know as the External Action Service to better facilitate the EU’s foreign policy.[Article 27, TEU]
8. Creates new Citizens Initiative [Article 11, TEU]
The Treaty creates a new avenue for citizens from across the EU to have their voice heard. An initiative requires one million signatures (0.2% of the EU’s population) and then the Commission will, if it is within its competence and in keeping with the treaties, draft legislation for consideration by the Council and the Parliament. The Commission can only draft legislation if the initiative is within the competence of the EU and is fully compatible with the treaties, including the Charter of Fundamental Rights. The legislation will then have to be passed by the ordinary legislative procedure in both the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament for it to become a directive.
9. Charter of Fundamental Rights becomes legally binding [Article 6, TEU]
For the first time all EU legislation will have to be legally compatible with a charter protecting the fundamental rights of EU citizens. The CFR will apply to all EU directives and national legislation which implements EU directives. It will not apply to legislation instigated by national legislatures i.e. all non-EU Irish Law. The CFR does not expand or create new areas of competencies for the EU. It only binds EU from enacting legislation which is contrary to the fundamental rights laid down.
10. Energy and the Environment become greater EU competencies [Article 4 & 194, TFEU]
Ireland has a minuscule amount of power and influence in these areas. The EU can provide better legislation and act more effectively for our benefit than we can on our own. Russia, Europe’s main gas supplier consistently takes advantage of the divided energy market, playing one country against another, cutting off supplies and effectively bullying individual states. Russia will have a much more difficult time if it faces a united EU energy policy, the EU will be the one dictating the terms. The treaty also affirms that combating climate change is a major objective of the Union, which was actually negotiated for by the Irish delegation.
All references refer to the consolidated treaties as amended by Lisbon which can be found here.
*TEU = Treaty on European Union
*TFEU = Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union
It's fashionable in eurosceptic circles to declare that the EU is undemocratic and unaccountable. The thing is, they tend to be a bit hazy about what the EU needs to do to be democratic. It seems to involve Germans having less rights than Irish people, which doesn't seem very democratic to me.
The other example they tend to give is of the "unelected" commission. It is unelected. like the Secretary General of the Department of Finance, or the head of the ESB, or the HSE, or Iarnrod Eireann. What's the point? Ah, but they cry, the Sec Gen and others are answerable to a minister! Which is true. As is the commission. 27 ministers, actually. What's the point?
The parliament is dismissed by eurosceptics as an irrelevence, yet the Lisbon treaty gives the parliament more powers than it has ever had. They can't have their cake AND eat it, unless they don't really believe what they are saying in the first place. And bear in mind the fact that the commssion, the bete noire of the "democrats", takes the parliament seriously.
I'd also say that the parliament does a better job of holding the executive to account than the Dail does.
The EU does not work like a nation state, with an elected government, because it isn't. We've never said that we wanted it to be.