Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A vote "for Europe" ! ?

Hi faithful blog readers, many apologies for the long delay in following up my last post about the upcoming Lisbon Treaty. It is getting really close now, June 12th is the day of the referendum. Isn't it just amazing how many "Yes" posters there are? All the main parties and even ICTU are supporting a Yes vote. Seems overwhelming, they must be right surely? Well, notice how it's never really explained just what the referendum is all about? We are asked to just vote "for Europe", "for a Europe that works better", "good for Ireland, good for Europe" etc... without any explanation of how whatever details are actually in the treaty will benefit the lives of the population if they pass the Treaty.

And there we have a crucial point, the population, the ordinary joe soaps, the "plebs" just like you and me if you will, just what will we benefit? Presumably a yes vote will benefit some, but will it benefit ordinary people? We are told that the treaty contains a sensible number of adjustments designed to enable the EU to function more effectively and provide a better EU, but it is NEVER explained how the treaty would actually be more sensible or more effective for the majority population of Ireland or indeed Europe.

Funny how the arguments tend to hide the details and avoid rational discussion. We are told that it will make things more efficient! Sure it will, but the Nazi's were very efficient! Efficiency means nothing, what precisely the EU is supposed to be doing so efficiently is surely the issue.

It might sound like a silly question but just what does the EU do? Yes we all have these Euro coins in our pockets now but what is the real political purpose behind it that the political elite clearly believe will be furthered by the passing of this referendum?

The EU is primarily about an neo-liberal integration of european economies. Neo-liberalism is a set of ideas that promotes a utopian version of capitalism that believes that if "distortions" to competition are removed, the market will function perfectly without booms and recessions. Within this ideology all barriers that prevent the mobility of capital must be removed and corporations should be able to scour the world at will in order to make maximum profits. High taxes on profits are seen as the worst distortion. Instead of fair taxation to provide social welfare that gives the unemployed a safety net, neoliberalism demands policies of low taxation and meagre welfare benefits that force people into poorly paid jobs and thereby increase corporate profits further.

A clear example of this is the drive toward privatization or the "opening up" of economies. Efficient and well run services that serve a public good are broken up and sold off to private companies that then own the infrastructure and make profits from selling their products or services in the market in typical neoliberal fashion.

Over recent years a series of EU directives were issued to promote the "liberalisation" of whole sectors of the economy. Politicians would typically tell their electorates that "there is nothing that can be done because of an EU directive", without explaining that these directives were formulated behind closed doors often in cohoots with industry lobby groups. Such directives include telecommunications (1990), railways (1991), electricity (1996), postal services (1997) and gas (1998). The full liberalisation of the postal service is supposed to begin in 2009.

It makes sense for many things to be provided as a service and coordinated centrally by the state, clearly benefiting ordinary people. Obviously this included transportation, energy, health and communications to some extent. Many government policies on these issues, in accordance with the direction of the EU, clearly do not benefit ordinary people.

Does anyone remember the absurd situation of schools having to pay water charges that arose last year? It makes no sense at all. Schools don't have enough funding as it is and then they are supposed give some of their state funding back to the very same state which is in turn providing the water in the first place. It just amounts to a massive cut in funding for schools. But how did this situation arise? It arose because of the "EU water framework directive," which states: "Member states shall take account of the principle of recovery of the costs of water services, including environmental and resource costs...Member states shall ensure by 2010 that all water-pricing policies provide adequate incentives for users to use water resources efficiently...[and that there be] an adequate contribution of different water uses, disaggregated into at least industry,households and agriculture, to the recovery of costs of water services."

So member states are instructed to make their populations pay for water directly no matter what their populations think (how democratic) The neoliberal notion that common resources should be dismantled to allow people to "choose" how much water they need or want to pay for is hiding behind a fake concern for the environment.

Funny now its referendum time, you don't hear anything about this at all, just "vote yes for Europe" and we'll all live happily ever flippin' after. Funny how you don't hear anything about the coming privatization of the post offices.

A yes vote will only further transfer powers to an unelected EU commission to make decisions for us on how we deal with our public services.

I could go on and on but this blog post is getting very long so will post again soon:-)


  1. Best of luck voting. I hope you will vote. Being the only country having a referendum I understand if there is a pressure which might get voters to sit at home which is much easier than actually voting.

    To me the United States of Europe have a long way to go prior to becoming the union it seems to want to be.

    I care little. I could live on the moon and exchange rocks instead of metal pieces as long as I (and whoever wanted to live there with me) would get by.

    I prefer the United Countries over any other constellations.

  2. It's good to see some viewpoints being explained out there, hats off to those of you providing this service!

    I don't know enough to argue or agree, really, but I have to say, this piece would be stronger still without the word 'flippin'' in it. I feel quite certain of that point!

  3. Jo - that 's funny.

    Plas - very interesting post - after I got the time to read it that is. Have to say though I still don't know what way I'm gonna vote, I have a load of factors swaying me.

  4. The treaty is substantial and makes changes to a number of areas. It is not possible to distill its essence onto a poster. Like all campaigns the posters are to get the vote out by raising awareness so that people will get more information. No-one I know would vote based on a poster.

    There is a reasonable amount of concise information now available from the referendum commission and others.

    It's true that the way the government went about implementing the water directive is clumsy, particularly in the context of a state school sector that is underfunded already. Yet the principle in the directive is a sound one - that governments should make incentives to conserve scarce resources.

    In any case. If you look at the history of Ireland's experience in the EU the vast bulk of the EU interventions were positive: in equality, in workers rights (see my blog), in heritage, in economy, in trade, in infrastructure, in environment.

    The neo-liberal argument is fair: the EU does promote competition. But regulated competition, and allows member states to safeguard key services such as health. It is not true to say, however, that the EU is simply a vehicle for market liberals. The EU has been behind more progressive measures in a vast array of areas, not least of which are those that I mention: environment and workers rights. In a world dominated by giants a minnow like Ireland needs to be part of somethinb bigger. We are very fortunate that the EU has been as generous as it has to small states (Malta has the same access to the commission as France). Look at the history of poor states after joining : the catchup by Greece, Spain, Portugal, and dare I say it, Ireland, has been astounding.

    Overall - the Eu has been overwhelmingly positive for Ireland. There is no reason to believe it cannot be in future. Nothing in Lisbon undoes that.