Sunday, June 15, 2008

What The Poster Say...

If political analysts want to understand the Irish no to the Lisbon treaty, they only need to look as far as this picture collection of posters used by the Irish 'No' campaign.

Browsing through the pictures leaves me with an impression of Ireland as a fearful and and xenophobic country. The posters reveal that the 'No' side, which was a diverse and not unified group, ran a campaign of wild exaggeration and fear of the outside world, with posters that claim the Lisbon Treaty will impose foreign rule over Ireland, to images of Jesus, the mark of the beast, nuclear war, severed bodies, crying babies, and equating the EU and UN to a satanic beast.

While the whole picture of Ireland and the Irish electorate does not emerge from these posters, the 'No' posters, and subsequent no vote, does illustrate the real problem faced by the EU. The European electorates are on the whole generally pro-EU voting consistently for pro-EU parties in general elections, and simply assume the rights and freedoms established by the EU, e.g. rights to no barriers for trade in goods and services, and free movement of citizens and workers. However, when abstract concepts such as democratic reform and the principles of conferral, subsidiarity and proportionality (see Article 3b), is put to a popular vote, arguments based on nationalism and fear will always trump arguments in favour of European Integration.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Irish Vote.

So it looks like the Irish voted no to the Lisbon Treaty. What the political ramifications of this vote will be I don't know and I don't care to speculate about it.

The Lisbon treaty, just as the proposed Constitution, is primarily a cosmetic change of the EU constitution as it presently stands. The treaty merges the three EU pillars, i.e. the European Community, the Police & Judicial Cooperation and the Common Foreign & Security Policy, into a single pillar European Union. The merging of pillars does mean that more decisions in the Council will be taken by majority voting rather than by unanimous agreement, including decisions related to police and judicial cooperation, but not foreign and defence policy.*

Although a strong supporter of European integration and the EU, I am not too bothered whether much of the Lisbon Treaty is implemented. For example, the introduction of a 'President of the European Council' and a 'High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy', is not in my opinion particular important.

What is important in the Lisbon Treaty, and which is now in jeopardy, is: 1) the introduction of 'double majority voting' in the European Council, 2) the elevation of the European Parliament by extending the co-decision procedure into new policy areas, 3) the strengthening national parliaments ability to scrutinise EU legislation, and 4) the elevation of the Charter for Fundamental Rights into a legally binding instrument.

It would be a crying same if these changes are not implemented because of the Irish no vote. The so called 'democratic deficit' of the EU is much debated and is constantly used by 'euro sceptics' as an argument against the EU. However, when the European governments actually get together and propose measure to strengthen the democratic decision making process, the proposal are then rejected in referendums as happened France and the Netherlands over the Constitution and now in Ireland over the Lisbon Treaty.

The EU constitution and decision making process is not undemocratic as it presently stands, but the EU has a democratic deficit because the Council can trump through legislation in many policy areas without the need of approval by either the European Parliament or national parliaments. To strengthen democracy in the EU, it is therefore important that the European Parliament be elevated to equal status of that the Council, be given greater powers to hold the executive (i.e. the Commision) accountable, and that the Council adopt voting procedures that reflects majorities of both the population and countries of the European Union. The Lisbon Treaty will address some of these issues, but after the Irish vote I fear that it will never come into force and that democratic reform of EU institutions will not take place.

*) For short introductions to the Lisbon Treaty see this Guardian article and this BBC aricle.

Thursday, June 05, 2008


I've handed in my last assignment and have therefore completed the two semesters of my LLM. Its such a great relief. This last year, no, these last four years of studying, have been a real struggle.

Now I 'only' need to write my dissertation, which will be a comparative study of the approach to freedom of religion in the workplace, by the European Court of Human Rights and domestic jurisdictions.

Before I start the research in earnest, I'm off to Greece for two weeks together with my wife. Yesterday I booked a cheap flight to, and hotel in, the Greek town of Parga, where I plan to do nothing other than snorkeling and lying on the beach reading some good (non law) books!