Well, it’s been a few weeks since I first posed some questions that had been troubling me regarding the Lisbon Treaty and the forthcoming referendum in Ireland. I’m very grateful to all those who took the time to respond and who discussed the treaty, without acrimony, here on this blog. It’s refreshing to see a discussion of European politics that doesn’t end in a slanging match (or maybe I just spent too long in the UK).
Anyways, despite all that, I was still rather confused by the whole thing. The text of the treaty is — in my view — quite deliberately opaque. You can download the PDF here, but I warn you there’s very little point. You see, huge chunks of the text of the treaty (the majority, in fact) actually don’t state very much at all. Rather, they list amendments to existing treaties which are themselves scattered widely and not always easy to track down and cross-reference. Take this (entirely representative) example…
- The articles of the Protocol on the Statute of the European System of Central Banks and of the European Central Bank, of the Protocol on the Statute of the European Investment Bank, and of the Protocol on the privileges and immunities of the European Union, as they are amended by the Treaty of Lisbon, shall be renumbered in accordance with the tables of equivalences set out in the annex to this Protocol. Cross-references to articles of those protocols which appear therein shall be adapted in accordance with the tables.
- References to recitals of the protocols set out in point 1 of Article 1, or to articles of those protocols, including to paragraphs thereof, as renumbered or rearranged by this Protocol, and which references figure in other protocols or acts of primary legislation shall be adapted in accordance with this Protocol. Such adaptations shall, if necessary, also apply in the event that the provision in question has been repealed.
- References to recitals and articles, including to paragraphs thereof, of the protocols set out in point 1 of Article 1, as amended by the provisions of this Protocol and which figure in other instruments or acts, shall be understood as references to recitals and articles, including to paragraphs thereof, of those protocols as renumbered or rearranged in accordance with this Protocol.Treaty of Lisbon / Protocols / English Language Version / Page 78
From what I can tell, this is a set of instructions for renumbering various paragraphs in several other treaties and protocols. Now, there are clearly plenty of issues on which it is appropriate to consult the people, or vote in parliament. But the paragraph numbering system used within the Protocol on the Statute of the European System of Central Banks, as amended by the Treaty of Lisbon, just isn’t one of them.
This becomes problematic when you’re asked to vote on a treaty that contains page after page after page (after page) of this stuff interspersed with genuinely meaningful clauses and protocols. By burying the relevant information beneath a heavy blanket of bureaucratic fluff, one can be forgiven for wondering what exactly is being hidden from the voter.
I mean, it’s worth pointing out that the section quoted above appears to refer to “point 1 of Article 1” of The Protocol on the Statute of the European System of Central Banks and of the European Central Bank (PDF file) which itself is no more than a reference to yet another treaty…
1.1 The European System of Central Banks (ESCB) and the European Central Bank (ECB) shall be established in accordance with Article 8 of this Treaty; they shall perform their tasks and carry on their activities in accordance with the provisions of this Treaty and of this Statute.The Protocol on the Statute of the European System of Central Banks and of the European Central Bank
And I am assuming (because it’s not explicitly stated) that “this Treaty” refers to “the Treaty establishing the European Community”. So to properly understand this tiny section of the Lisbon Treaty which appears to refer to something as genuinely insignificant as a paragraph numbering system, a person needs to track down and cross-reference it with at least two other separate treaties (in fact, it’s more than two).
This may seem like an insignificant point. And I’m well aware that such “bureaucratic housekeeping” is required when complex treaties are amended. But when you hear that somewhere within the 294 pages of the Lisbon Treaty is a clause that denies Ireland representation on the European Commission for five out of every fifteen years (one third of the time). And given that the European Commission is tasked with such minor issues as European Tax Harmonisation and European Energy Policy, I think you can be forgiven for becoming suspicious of the motives of those who decided to bury such important details within a blizzard of administrative irrelevance.
But being suspicious of the motives of the authors of the treaty still wouldn’t be enough to make me vote against something I don’t really understand (as opposed to merely abstaining). After all, when it comes to those who have sought and achieved positions of power, my default position is one of suspicion. Don’t get me wrong, it kind of goes without saying that some politicians are better than others. Bertie Ahern for instance — for all his faults… his many, many faults — would still get my vote if he was standing against Joseph Goebbels in an election. But that doesn’t mean I’d trust Bertie to look after my wallet, let alone the nation’s tax revenue.
The Treaty establishing the European Atomic Energy Community
Here though, we unearth something I am more than willing to vote against. The first thing to point out is that The Treaty establishing the European Atomic Energy Community (link) is an existing treaty which came into effect in 1958. This was prior to Ireland joining the EU, but when we did join (the EEC as it was then) in 1973 we nonetheless technically became signatories to the Treaty establishing the European Atomic Energy Community.
I’m more than willing to cut the voters of 1958 and 1973 some slack with regards to nuclear energy. The issues of sustainability, Climate Change and the overwhelming importance of energy policy weren’t part of popular consciousness back then. The arguments against nuke power, though just as valid then as they are now, were far from well-understood.
This is no longer the case.
The simple fact is that whatever else the Lisbon Treaty may say; whatever good it may do; if given the opportunity, I am compelled to vote against a treaty that explicitly promotes nuclear power as a central pillar of European energy policy. I want Ireland to be at the forefront of renewable energy development. I want us to be vocal advocates of wind and wave and tidal (and solar in southern Europe) and to be at the vanguard of the anti-nuclear tendency. A vote for Lisbon is a vote against this position.
Which means I’m forced into a corner I didn’t really want to be in. But every Irish vote for Lisbon is a vote against a sustainable European energy policy. So I must use my own vote to counteract one of those. I’m voting ‘No’ to Lisbon, and I urge other Irish voters to do the same.