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European big business has stranglehold on Ireland

The Lisbon Treaty, aka the European Constitution, has secured the reluctant support of Irish voters, who in the first referendum 18 months ago voted “No”.  Fiona Harrington reports.

So the Lisbon Treaty, aka the European Constitution, has secured the reluctant support of Irish voters, who in the first referendum 18 months ago had voted “No”.  That vote was deemed so unsatisfactory that the people of Ireland were sent back to repeat the exercise with the implicit instruction that this time they had better get it right.
 
Of course, by obeying the diktats of their own Irish masters and their overlords in Brussels and getting it “right” they have, in real terms, got it oh so badly wrong!
 
When the count closed last weekend, more than two-thirds had voted “Yes” on a 58% turnout. There was jubilation from the government, the church, certain trade union leaders and the interests of big business – all the wrong people in fact.

The enthusiastic campaigning of the likes of Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary as he swept around the country in the company of EU transport commissioner Antonio Tajani should have been a clue that voting Yes to the Lisbon Treaty might not actually be a very good idea.

This highly irregular interference by the Commission into the affairs of an at least theoretically sovereign nation, was barely remarked upon by the heavily pro-Lisbon leaning print and broadcast media. Of course the wining, dining and wooing of Tajani, will be to their mutual benefit as O'Leary upon realising on which side his bread should be buttered changed his mind on Lisbon. During the previous campaign he had thrown his weight behind the No vote. Self interest? Surely not, where's the harm in a little bit of lobbying!

This stunt drew calls for the commissioner's resignation from Joe Higgins, the Socialist Party's MEP. With the “Vote No” left coalition, he had campaigned vigorously for months in the hope of persuading voters to again reject the Treaty. In reply to an RTE interviewer question as to whether he was surprised at the outcome, he commented that in his view the people had voted while "gritting their teeth in anger" and that it was due to the enormous pressure they had been under by a "grand coalition" of politicians and business leaders in a "campaign of fear”. The vote was "in no way an endorsement" of prime minister Brian Cowan and the Fianna Fail/Green coalition government.
 
Taoiseach Cowan would of course disagree. But even Cowan's response was a little measured as he had to admit that the result would not necessarily be rewarded with extra financial aid from Europe, while also claiming that people had voted out of "economic self-interest."  Sounds better than "fear", I suppose.
 
He said: "We are a small, open economy, we need those [European] markets - two out of three of our jobs in this country are based in enterprises that have orders in European markets. Clearly the economic issues were focused on by the people where the other issues that are not central or germane did not dominate this time."

So two out of three jobs will be saved, supposedly because of the Irish electorate's endorsement of the treaty? This is clearly nonsense as no French or German company doing good business with some Irish company was going pull their orders because of a referendum result that didn't go the right way. Businesses didn't cancel orders after the previous vote after all. The blame for the calamitous Irish economic downturn can, instead, be laid at the door of an incompetent and corrupt government tied to the ongoing world-wide recession.

Workers in Ireland or in any other country in the European Union will not gain any additional protection under the terms of the Treaty; they may in fact be worse off than before as the document actually enshrines the “rights” of companies to do business across national borders without regard to the welfare of migrant workers. As the official interpretation of Article 52 puts it: "...it is well established in the case law of the Court that restrictions may be imposed on the exercise of fundamental rights, in particular in the context of a common organisation of the market."  

The Treaty is therefore an anti-worker instrument which explicitly makes provision for the derogation from the measures in the European Charter of Fundamental Rights in the interests of profit-making and further neoliberal expansion.

Apart from employment issues, other measures will tend to increase privatisation, increase military spending and overall militarisation within the EU while decreasing the sovereignty of, in particular, smaller countries. Voices such as Ireland's will be all but drowned out in the overall cacophony.
 
All in all not a good outcome which, perhaps in a more favourable and less fear-ridden economic climate, would have gone the other way. Whatever the case the point very few apart from some on the far left are making, is that not only has the European Union drifted further towards the neoliberal right, it never was anything other than an institution with an eye towards the creation of a super-state of Europe to counter and to balance the other great imperialist world powers.

Whatever softening of capitalism's brutal stranglehold it created through such instruments as the European Charter, or the admittance of the occasional left-wing representative to the Parliament, the end result will be an increase of the intrusion of capitalism in all our lives. It is up to us to resist it and to fight our way towards a better future, within perhaps some kind of socialist European Federation, the form of which must be decided upon by ourselves, and not the political and economic elites who are at best misguided and at worst totally self-interested.

It is a task which the left, including the so called far left, presently constituted as they are into various feuding parties, are in no fit position to assist with. The failure of the No campaign, despite the undoubted integrity of Higgins and those like him, is a sad example of that. We need a new kind of politics and a departure from the seemingly eternal hope of one or another socialist party on these islands that yet another stab at creating a new and improved “workers party” will eventually deliver the goods.

6 October 2009

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