Monday, October 5, 2009


Isn't life great when you've got the do-over? No matter what goes wrong, what mistake you make, how bad you lose the game, you can always just take a mulligan and tee off again. Unfortunately life doesn't work like that for most of us, but for the Treaty of Lisbon and the EU that's exactly what they did and they took full advantage, knocking they're second drive from the tee right down the middle of the fairway. Isn't it comforting to know that the EU has chosen to go the Zimbabwe route of dealing with election results they don't like.

What a difference 16 months makes. It took that long for the Irish to completely change their minds about the Treaty of Lisbon, a treaty designed to further integrate Europe. Then, 46.6% of Irish voted "Yes" and 53.4% "No"; Saturday, 67.1% of Irish voters approved it, while 32.9% voted "No" - that's more than 2 to 1 in favour. Just look at the swing in those numbers in only 16 months. That's more than just a few people who changed their minds on something a little more important than switching from Coke to Pepsi. Hmmm, I wonder what it could be that made so many voters flip-flop? Was it the fear that they would give away more of their national identities, ceding ever greater control to a more integrated Europe? Or lose the ability to set their own taxes, along with their antiabortion laws and the ability to remain militarily neutral while still retaining their seat on the European Commission? Well, Ireland was given "guarantees" that the treaty wouldn't affect any of these areas, but none have actually been attached to the treaty - just ask Angela Merkel if she thinks the EU will have a standing army. No, the fact is, in today's Ireland, these are all minor worries. The reason the 'Yes' side of the campaign were able to recruit the help of prominent businesses like Intel and Ryanair as well as celebrities such as U2 guitarist The Edge and the poet Seamus Heaney to their side is good old fashioned money.

Probably no country has benefited more economically from the EU than Ireland. Over the quarter of a century since Ireland joined what was then the European Community in 1973 they have witnessed an economic boom that has seen peat bogs and grazing pastures give way to gleaming semiconductor plants and suburbs full of McMansions. While much of the world still holds onto the image of rural Ireland, much of the population has traded in their Guinness pints for Starbucks paper cups (27 stores in Dublin alone!) and stories of the potato famine for talk of real estate prices. Oh, but how quickly things can change. One mighty world economic crisis and the economic miracle of the Celtic Tiger turned into a meltdown.

To be fair, Ireland did achieve financial success in a remarkably short time. In retrospect, it is easy to point out the policy errors that positioned her economy for a precipitous fall, but who wants to be the doomsayer in the middle of a party? Ireland slashed spending in areas such as health expenditures, education, agricultural spending, roads and housing, and the military, while abolishing agencies such as the National Social Services Board, the Health Education Bureau, and regional development organizations. By 1993, government non-interest spending declined to 41 percent of GNP, down from a high of 55 percent of GNP in 1985. Subsequently, it significantly lowered corporate tax rates to 12.5 percent, at a time when the lowest corporate rates in Europe were 30 percent and U.S. rates stood at 35 percent. Since 2004, Ireland also has offered a 20 percent tax credit on research and development. In short, as Paul Krugman put it, Ireland became "just like us (the US), only more so." At the height of the boom in 2006, Ireland was building more homes per head than anywhere else in the world. Why not? Over 10 years, property prices increased five-fold. The Heritage Foundation declared Ireland the third freest economy in the world, behind only Hong Kong and Singapore.

Of course, we all know how this story ends. An economy that had become so dependent on construction and banking was doomed to fall. At the time of the first vote, a soft landing at worst was still envisioned, but the bottom fell out. It is thought that the Irish economy will suffer the biggest contraction in the industrialized world since the Great Depression, "something in the order of about 12 or 15 percent". Much like the rest of the world, the Irish government found itself having to take responsibility for the mistakes of private bankers. Ireland again needed the EU as she offered government guarantees on bank liabilities that put tax payers on the hook for potential losses of more than twice the countries GDP, a figure that would be equivalent to $30 trillion for the United States. "Without the steadfast support of the European Central Bank, our financial system would have collapsed," said the finance minister, Brian Lenihan. Without the EU, Ireland would've became another Iceland as they are living well beyond their means, borrowing almost €400 million a week. The Irish voter quickly became repentant, and the 'Yes' vote was a transparent, "sorry sir, we'll fall back into line".

But what is this Treaty of Lisbon really? No one seems to know. MSM articles quickly gloss over it by saying it is aimed at "streamlining decision-making in the 27-nation bloc". Once France and the Netherlands shot down the EU constitution in spring of 2005, EU lawyers went right to work figuring out how to get around those pesky voters. Instead of replacing all earlier EU treaties constitution style, the Lisbon Treaty simply amends the Treaty on the European Union (Maastricht) and the Treaty Establishing the European Community (Rome). Additionally they dropped all references to EU symbols such as the flag, the anthem and the motto, even though in practice these things will continue to exist. Quirky laws allowed every other nation besides Ireland (whose supreme court ruled all major amendments to EU treaties needed referendums in 1987) to simply pass it with a simple parliamentary vote - yes the Irish got to vote twice, everyone else not at all. The Lisbon Treaty is simply a constitution in disguise. Was the treaty necessary to advance the European agenda? Yes. Without out it there would be no hope for growth beyond Croatia and Iceland. It will also make dealing with trans-national issues such as global warming and fixing the banking system far easier. Should we be as leery as many conservative conspiracy theorist loonies in the UK? Maybe. It's hard not to notice that the treaty's biggest external manifestation will be the creation of two new posts, an EU president (which horror of horrors will be the result of back room dealing, without any formal vote and is expected to go to Tony Blair) as well as a High Representative of Foreign Affairs. And of course something called the External Action Service for the EU, with embassies around the world. Hmm, sounds a bit like the makings of a body with real supranational powers.

Perhaps the real answer lies somewhere in between, however it still may be a moot point in the end. See, Poland and the Czech Republic have yet to ratify the treaty which needs the support of all 27 member states. While Poland's acceptance is a mere Lech Kaczynski signature away having already been passed by the Sejm, the Czechs may drag their feet a little longer. President Vaclav Klaus, a confirmed Eurosceptic has stated that he will not sign the treaty until his country's constitutional court pronounces on its validity. He loves that he's controlling the destiny of 500 million people. Making things more interesting is the situation in the UK where an election must be called by next May at the latest and David Cameron's Conservatives are well ahead in the polls, 17 points by last count. Cameron's party has promised to hold a referendum if elected and the treaty has not already been put into force and has therefore written a letter to the Czech president basically asking him to drag his feet for a few more months. Aaaah, isn't life great knowing we can just relax as our future's are being decided through backroom deals?


Phuck Politics said...

I remember reading about Ireland coming together and telling the EU to suck it. So it's sad that they all changed their minds after The Edge told them too.

Shane said...

Yeah PP, he could've at least got Bono to help him with a song, something to take our minds off the slow march to one world government. Yike, I am turning into a conspiracy loon.

Phuck Politics said...

@Shane - Yike, I am turning into a conspiracy loon.

You have nothing to worry about, unless you agree with everything Glenn Beck and Alex Jones say.