egoeccentric's Idiots Guide To The Lisbon Treaty

One of our sporadic politics posts, and probably the heaviest one yet, but I reckon this is fairly relevant. Bear with me...

I've been pondering this one for some time. It's really important that we understand the Lisbon Treaty before we go to vote on it in June, but it's an awkward bugger to understand.

I've tried to trawl through all the material on the subject (which is a bloody lot) in order to try to give it a summing up that you wouldn't need a degree in politics to understand.

As is the way with these things, they're tough to write without bias. I've tried to do so, but all the same a healthy skepticism is urged.

Just so you know where I stand, I started neutral but I'm now swinging towards Yes. I'm not a fan of any particular party so I have no agenda. Questions are welcomed, and I encourage anyone interested to check out information for yourself (RTE have a good section on it here).

Ok, so lets get started...


Background

The EU is essentially held together by a series of treaties between countries on various issues. As time goes by we have to update of these treaties to make them relevant & more effective. So the Lisbon Treaty is basically taking existing treaties (Masstricht, Rome etc) and crossing out some things, rephrasing others and inserting some new bits.

The point is to streamline the EU and make it 'more efficient' or 'better equipped to deal with challenges'.

At the moment we're working under a system designed for 17 states, but in fact there are 27 states involved. So the system needs to be updated in some way.

The initial plan was to do up a European Constitution, which was drawn up... but rejected by France & the Netherlands in 2005. It's rejection was more than likely due to campaigning by groups that were protective of the countries' individual sovereignty, and anti-globalisation movements.

Following this rejection, work was started on re-drafting the Constitution into a more acceptable form... the Lisbon Treaty.


So what's it all about?

The treaty has several functions. It's effectively summing up all the other treaties and making them all neat and tidy. The idea is to establish exactly the purposes of the EU, its aims, and how it functions.

And yes, there are some changes.

For example:

  • The way in which decisions are generally made will be changed.
  • The EU will be made into a solid legal entity.
  • The sizes of the commission, and the parliament will be restricted.
  • National parliaments will be given a greater roll.
  • Introduction of 'Citizen's Initiative'.
  • The Charter on Fundamental Human Rights becomes legal.


What the hell does all that mean?



Ok, lets looks at these main points:

1. The way in which decisions are generally made will be changed.

You'll have to excuse the jargon on this one. Qualified Majority Voting (QMV) will become the main way decisions are made (when opinions aren't unanimous).

This method is designed to fairly represent based on population, but at the same time allow for fears of smaller countries that they might be bullied by the bigger states. There's lots of provisions to ensure that this doesn't happen, like if four member states are against a contested proposal, no matter how big or small those states are- the proposal is shot down. This way smaller states aren't at risk of losing their voice.

How QMV is worked out is a very maths-y process, which isn't my strong point, so you can read about it here. All in all the process gets more democratic, and more representative of reality, ie all states have a say, not just the big uns, or the ones who were in first.


2. The EU will be made into a solid legal entity.


This seems to be an economic provision more than anything. The EU will be more effective on the World stage if it's recognised as a legal entity in itself, ie- it will be able to perform better in World markets.


3. The sizes of the commission, and the parliament will be restricted.

The European Comission will be reduced in size from 27 Commissioners to just 18.

This is done purely with efficiancy in mind. It was decided that there wasn't enough tasks to warrant 27 Commissioners, so a Commission of 18 will be more effective than 27, ie- decisions will be easier and faster made. Who sits on the commission will be allocated on a rotational basis, so at any given time there will be 9 countries without a Commissioner.

The amount of MEP's in Parliament will be capped at 751, for pretty much the same reason- you can't get things done with thousands of Ministers all vying for attention. The seats will be allocated proportionately based on population.


4. National parliaments will be given a greater roll.


For the first time, EU proposals will have to be run by National Parliaments before they're approved. The individual parliaments will be able to give their views on proposals well before they're passed, and if enough parliaments are opposed to the change it'll be amended or withdrawn. This gives us a bit more control of things, and eases some fears of the whole 'random bureaucrats in Brussels' thing.


5. Introduction of 'Citizen's Initiative'.


Another step in the same direction- for the first time regular citizens will be able to propose European legislation by producing a petition with a million EU signatures (which sounds a lot, but isn't really).


6. The Charter on Fundamental Human Rights becomes legal.


The Charter on Fundamental Human Rights does exactly what it says on the tin. It's a great document which sets out standards of human rights. Right now it has no legal standing, merely a guideline, but Lisbon makes it legal. This means it can stand up in court. So if you reckon your human rights are being breached in some way, you can go to an Irish court on the basis that it breaches this EU charter.

Our own Irish constitution is particularly kickass on human rights anyway, so we pretty much already have the benefits that this provides, but that's not the case for all 27 countries in the union.


Things you've probably heard or are wondering about:

  • Does the Lisbon Treaty affect Ireland's neutrality?
There is a thing in the treaty called the 'Solidarity Clause', which says that member states are compelled to help another member state if it falls victim to a natural disastour, terrorist attack, etc. BUT... the treaty explicitly states that individual countries foreign policies are respected. Which means that Ireland's neutrality will be preserved. So there's no risk of anyone being conscripted into a super-european army.

  • Will the treaty have any impact on the environment or climate change?
Yes. For the first time the environment is focused on. The treaty adds to the aims of the EU the intention to preserve the environment, and recognises the threat of climate change. By adding this to the unions aims, it allows Europe to actually do something about the issue.

  • Will losing a permanent commissioner take power away from Ireland?
Yes and no, but mostly no. First off, it's not just Ireland who'll lose a commissioner, every country will, so we're not being picked on- it's just fairer that way. Secondly, and more important- the nature of the commission is that commissioners are not representatives for their own country, but all countries in the union. On entering their post they have to swear an oath saying they'll be motivated only for the good of the union, not the country of their nationality. So even if Ireland had a commissioner in 24/7, it wouldn't mean more of a voice for Ireland.


I reckon I've covered most aspects of the treaty here, at least the ones that seem to be most controversial, but it's totally worth having a look into it yourself.

If anyone has any other element which the want cleared up, or any questions on it, ask away via comment or email and I'll do my best to answer.

The most important thing is to actually get out and vote, be it yes or no, as this will affect all of us in some way or another
(this means you, Bob, you buffoon). Do it!

Click here for the add-on to his post: 'More Idiot's Guide to the Lisbon Treaty'


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17 comments:

April 25, 2008 at 7:12 AM Anonymous said...

Free Europe Constitution is better than the Treaty:
1. You can read it.
2. All European can vote about it
Vote YES or NO at www.FreeEurope.info

April 25, 2008 at 10:51 AM theozmatron said...

Well Bob's reply has really given the academics something to think about there.

But while I digest that, Rob's report is a pretty well rounded explanation of what is a ridiculously complicated treaty, but probably a necessary one at that.

On the neutrality point, Ireland has its "triple lock" system in place before it can go to/offer assistance in a war.

Those being:

Consent of the government
Consent of Dail Eireann
and a UN mandate

Although whether Ireland is actually a neutral country is another debate especially when you consider Shannon being a US Marines duty free base and the Defence Forces leading a NATO mission in Kosovo (little known fact that)

April 25, 2008 at 6:09 PM Evil Bob said...

"Well Bob's reply has really given the academics something to think about there"

:)
Just letting you know my stance on the whole affair.

April 25, 2008 at 8:40 PM Anonymous said...

"Well Bob's reply has really given the academics something to think about there"

much like his view on prety much everything

April 26, 2008 at 5:29 PM Evil Bob said...

Damnit. Only "Pretty much everything". Going to have to try harder now to make it the full everything.

April 26, 2008 at 6:11 PM sparky29 said...

"whether Ireland is actually a neutral country is another debate"

Nothing in the constitution says explicitly that we are neutral it is seen to be merely government policy which can change as it the govt sees fit.

thats not to say whether i agree with it or not but it seems to be a common misconception that we are expressly neutral.

April 27, 2008 at 7:13 PM Sean said...

Good Post, and indeed this is ridiculously complicated treaty. I am damn sure that most people don't understand the bloody thing and so will vote without an informed opinion. And no I can't vote, but if I could I'd vote YES.

April 29, 2008 at 1:30 AM gaf1983 said...

Very good explaining, egoeccentric. BBC make a good stab at the background to the treaty here:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/6901353.stm

Here are some comments made by European Commission Vice President Margot Wallstrom in a speech in Dublin arguing for it:

http://ec.europa.eu/ireland/press_office/speeches-press_releases/wallstromforumspeech_en.htm

Open Europe, a UK think tank who call for EU reform have published their guide here, in which they outline their concerns:

http://www.openeurope.org.uk/research/guide.pdf

May 3, 2008 at 10:54 PM Henrik R Clausen said...

Since OpenEurope has been mentioned already, let me add a couple other independent sources on Lisbon:

In Brussels Journal, Professor Anthony Coughlan explains in These Boots Are Gonna Walk All Over You the 10 most significant points of the Treaty.

Jens-Peter Bonde of the Danish Junibevægelsen has several books explaining the nature and the process on his web page. He has an independent Consolidated Lisbon Treaty, which - according to Prof. Coughland - is the most readable edition that exists.

Bonde also authored a book on the weird process: From Constitution to Lisbon. The process *alone* constitutes a significant problem WRT the democratic legitimacy of the Lisbon Treaty.

I hope many will read the documentation and participate actively in the referendum.

May 15, 2008 at 4:21 PM EU Law said...

This is what people have been trying to explain all along, but those who do not want to understand the Treaty will keep on acting as if they did not understand it and make false claims about the Treaty.

You could probably tell them every possible lie and they would run with it.

At http://www.reformtreaty.ie you can even check the details.

May 15, 2008 at 4:33 PM Niamh said...

I got an email from someone, trying to convince me to vote no. I'm not going to post up the whole thing as it's too long but the basic points that it made were:

1. the treaty is self ammending - this means once it is put in place they can extend its reach into our lives as far as they want without anyone being able to vote on it.

2. A new European President will replace the old system of rotating member states presidencies, a person who we do not vote on! (the word Dictator might sound a bit extreme but it is essentially what he'll be, above the law)

3. To allow for this new president the number of commisioners will be reduced and the smaller states will have to go without a voice at the european table 5 out of every 15 years (this includes ireland), after the treaty is passed, because it is self ammending, there is nothing stopping them from removing all commisioners.

4. Ireland will hand over descision making in more than 60 areas of legeslation to europe, including taxes, immigration, employment, social security, transport, tourism, sport and when you take into account that it is also a self ammending treaty they can take even more if they so desire.

5. If this treaty goes ahead we could lose our low corporate tax (the main driver behind the celtic tiger), abortion could be made legal, minimum wage lowered, our price of beef/chicken/whatever lowered, the opportunities are endless.

So is there truth to the above or is it just scaremongering?

May 18, 2008 at 3:20 AM Clockwork Rob said...

An update of this post is pending, and should be up in the next day or two. We'll try to look at all these points and address them as best we can!

May 25, 2008 at 8:29 PM Irish said...

Vote no, only the Irish get to vote, for more information, look at wiseupjournal.com

May 26, 2008 at 2:11 AM Clockwork Rob said...

Why should that mean that we should vote no?

Checked out that 'End of Nations' video on the wiseupjournal site, seems a bit 'crackpot' to me.

May 27, 2008 at 1:41 AM Clockwork Rob said...

Update to this post 'More Idiot's Guide to the Lisbon Treaty' is now up here:

http://egoeccentric.blogspot.com/2008/05/more-idiots-guide-to-lisbon-treaty.html

December 29, 2008 at 4:02 AM Anonymous said...

Hi ...Still waiting for a reply dated 15 may 2008