By BRIAN M. CARNEY
September 10, 2009
In three weeks’ time, Ireland will, for a moment, hold the fate of Europe in its hands. Through a quirk of Irish constitutional procedure, on Oct. 2 the Republic of Ireland will be the only European Union nation to hold a referendum on a treaty to revamp how the EU, home to half a billion people, does business. The Lisbon Treaty, therefore, will stand or fall on the votes of perhaps one and a half million Irishmen and women.
From the perspective of Brussels, this is grossly unfair—a miscarriage of democracy masquerading as democracy. The Irish have stymied the denizens of Brussels’ European Quarter before, most recently the first time they voted against the Lisbon Treaty last year.
Back then, the establishment in Brussels blamed one man above all for the defeat. His name is Declan Ganley. He was one of the driving forces behind the No campaign the last time around, and he’s back to do it again. Your correspondent recently sat down with him to find out what he’s fighting for in trying to see to it that Ireland once again votes No to Lisbon—and in the process, he hopes, forces the EU to choose a different path.
“I put it to Mr. Ganley, an impeccably dressed, balding Irishman of 42, that from Brussels, this whole referendum looks profoundly unjust. Why should 1.5 million Irish voters get the opportunity to hold back the progress of 500 million citizens of Europ”I would look at it a very different way,” he shoots back. “It’s profoundly undemocratic to walk all over democracy. . . The Irish people had a vote on the Lisbon Treaty. They voted no. A higher percentage of the electorate voted no than voted for Barack Obama in the United States of America. No one’s suggesting he should run for re-election next month. But—hey, presto!—15 months later we’re being told to vote again on exactly the same treaty.” He taps the table for emphasis: “Not one comma has changed in the document.”
But the insult to democracy is more egregious, in his view, than simply asking the Irish to vote twice—that was already done to Ireland with the Nice Treaty in 2002. In this case, it is not just the Irish whose democratic prerogatives are being trampled, but the French and the Dutch, among others, as well.
In 2005, France and the Netherlands each rejected the proposed EU Constitution in referendums. Lisbon, Mr. Ganley contends, “is the same treaty.” What is the evidence for that? “Well, first of all, the people who drafted the European Constitution say it is. Like [former French President Valéry] Giscard d’Estaing. He called it the same document in a different envelope. And having chaired the presidium that drafted the Constitution, he would know.” There’s more. “He also said in respect of the Lisbon Treaty that public opinion would be led to adopt, without knowing it, policies that we would never dare to present to them directly. All of the earlier proposals for the new Constitution will be in the new text, the Lisbon Treaty, but will be hidden or disguised in some way. That’s what he said. And he’s absolutely right. There is no law that could be made under the European Constitution that cannot be made under the Lisbon Treaty. None.”
So in trying to ram the Lisbon Treaty through, the EU is also undoing the democratic choice of the French and Dutch electorates. “Millions of people in France, a majority, voted No to this European Constitution. In the Netherlands, millions of people did exactly the same thing. When the Irish were asked the same question, they voted no also. Those three times that it was presented to an electorate, the people voted no.” Far from thwarting the will of those hundreds of millions of fellow Europeans, then, the way Mr. Ganley sees it, Ireland has a duty to them to uphold the results of those earlier votes. Approving the treaty would be a betrayal of those in France and the Netherlands—not to mention the millions of others who were never offered a vote on the Constitution or Lisbon.
Mr. Ganley speaks in a low, measured tone, even when, as he occasionally does, he slips into rhetorical bomb-throwing mode. “Why,” he asks, “when the French voted no, the Dutch voted no and the Irish voted no, are we still being force-fed the same formula? You don’t have to scratch your head and wonder about democracy in some intellectualized, distant way and wonder, is there some obscure threat to it.” He adds, without raising his voice, “This is manifest contempt for democracy. It is a democracy-hating act. . . . This is so bold a power grab as to be almost literally unbelievable.”
The nature of the power grab that Mr. Ganley refers to deserves some elaboration. What, exactly, is wrong with the Lisbon Treaty itself? “The treaty is a product and indeed enshrines a set of principles and a way of governing the European Union that clearly shows no will or intent for democracy,” Mr. Ganley says. “You will hear it discussed quietly across the dinner tables in certain sections of Brussels and elsewhere that we’re entering into this post-democratic era, that democracy is not the perfect mechanism or tool with which to deal with the challenges of global this-that-or-the-other. This idea of entering into some form of post-democracy is dangerous. It’s ill-advised. It’s naïve.”
The Lisbon Treaty, like the EU Constitution would have, puts this idea of post-democracy into practice in a number of concrete ways. The most striking is Article 48, universally known by its French nickname, the passerelle clause. It says that “with just intergovernmental agreement, with no need of going back to the citizens anywhere, they can make any change to this constitutional document, adding any new powers, without having to revisit an electorate anywhere,” Mr. Ganley explains. “Do you think they want to revisit an electorate anywhere? Of course they don’t.” If the Irish vote yes, in other words, Oct. 2 would mark the last time that Brussels would ever have to bother giving voters a say on what the EU does and how it does it. Ireland would have, in effect, voted away the last vestige of European direct democracy not just for itself, but for the entire continent.
The passerelle clause is not the only evidence in the treaty of a post-democratic mindset. “The other thing it does,” Mr. Ganley says, “is it creates its own president—the president of the European Council, commonly referred to as the president of the European Union.” This EU president, Mr. Ganley notes, “will represent the European Union on the global stage. This will be one of the two people that Henry Kissiner would call, in answer to his famous question, when I want to speak to Europe, who do I call? He’s now going to have a telephone number, a voice that speaks for Europe, because that voice will have half a billion citizens, legally.”
The other person who would speak for Europe is the “grandly named” High Representative for Foreign and Security Affairs, the EU’s foreign minister, in effect. Mr. Ganley is, as he puts it, “cool with that.” But there is this: “Presumably they’re going to be speaking for me, right, because I’m a citizen,” he says. “But I don’t get to vote for or against these people. So, who mandates them, if not me, as a citizen, or you? Oh, so somebody who is how many places removed from me selects from within one of their own. They never have to debate with a competitor. I’m never given a choice of, do you want Tom, Joe or Anne. I’m presented with my president. Do I walk backward out of the room now?” Just as a yes vote in Ireland would mean that future expansions of the powers of the EU would never have to be put to a popular vote, it would also mean that Europeans would never get the opportunity to elect its highest officials.
It’s easy to see why Mr. Ganley has made himself unpopular in Brussels. And yet, he avows, “I am a committed European. I am not a euroskeptic, not in any way, shape or form. I believe that Europe’s future as united is the only sensible way forward.” It’s just that he fears that Europe, as it is presently constituted, is setting itself up for a fall. “I’m very sure about one thing,” he says. “Which is, if it is not built on a solid foundation of democracy and accountability and transparency in governance, then it will fail. And it’s too valuable a project, and it has cost too much in terms of blood and treasure, to create an environment where this could happen.”
The whole political dynamic in the European Union, he argues, is outmoded. To talk of only euroskeptics and europhiles actually serves the interests of the mandarins in Brussels because it doesn’t allow for the existence of a loyal opposition or constructive dissent. But a loyal opposition is precisely what Mr. Ganley hopes to create. “What I’ve been saying since the beginning of the last Lisbon campaign, it blows fuses in Brussels,” he says. “They just can’t process it. The system crashes. They have to reboot every time because I don’t fit into the euroskeptic box.” Their mentality, he says, is “friend-enemy. Uh, no.” And he points to himself: “Friend—a real friend, because I’m telling you the truth. I’m telling you, you’ve got a problem and we’ve got to fix it.”
He adds, referring to the European establishment in Brussels: “I’ve got news for them. This little European citizen, along with millions of others in France, the Netherlands and Ireland, have now said something to them. And they can either carry on the way that they’re going, and fail, or they can listen to the people, engage them, and bring them along with them.”
Instead of a dense, almost unreadable treaty that shuffles the deck chairs of the Berlaymont building in Brussels, the Commission’s headquarters, Mr. Ganley would like to see a readable, 25-page document that provides for the direct election of an EU president, greater transparency in decision-making and a bigger voice for the people of Europe. “We have to ask more of people,” he says. But equally, “we have to trust people. They talk about the democratic deficit. The deficit of trust is a yawning gap right now in Europe. And the biggest loss of trust has been between those that govern and the people, not the other way around. What was it Bertolt Brecht said? ‘That the people have lost the confidence of their government?’ This is the identical mentality.”
Still, for all this talk about democracy and higher principles, the people of Ireland have their own parochial concerns to consider as well. There’s been a lot of talk about how a No vote could hurt the Irish economy in some way. And a number of big multinationals in Ireland have called on the Irish to ratify the treaty and let it go forward. Is Mr. Ganley putting his country at risk by calling for a No vote?
He emphatically denies it. “The only people at risk in the Lisbon Treaty are these elites in Brussels,” he scoffs. “Somebody said last time that Ireland would be the laughing stock of Europe if we voted no. Well, we voted no, and actually these elites in Brussels became the laughing stock of the people of Europe. That’s what I saw in the weeks that came afterwards.” He goes on: “The only people we risk annoying are a bunch of unelected bureaucrats and what I call this tyranny of mediocrity that we have across Europe.” What’s more, he says, “the Irish have never been afraid throughout history of asking the tough questions and standing up for freedom and what was right against much, much bigger opponents. In fact, we seem to revel in it.”
It was easier to revel, however, when Ireland was still enjoying a boom of historic proportions. Will the Irish decide, this time around, that it is safer to keep their heads down, and go along with the program? In Mr. Ganley’s view, this would be totally self-defeating. If Ireland votes Yes, he says, “We’re getting nothing in return except to be patted on the head by some mandarins and told we’re good Europeans. Would we be acting as good Europeans if we said yes to this?” He thinks not. “If this question was asked of the people of Europe, whether they wanted this constitution, we know almost for sure that en masse they would vote no.” And yet, “We’re almost literally being held hostage, with a gun pointed to our head, and being told, if you don’t sign this thing, unspecified bad things will happen. But what they’re asking us to do is to sell out the rest of the people of Europe.”
And the whole European project—which he supports—”has to be about ‘We, the people,'” Mr. Ganley says. “It’s not top-down, it’s got to be bottom-up. And the European Union right now is top-down. It does not have the support of the mass of its people. It does not have their engagement. They don’t even know what’s going on. And it literally conducts its business behind closed doors, and that has to stop and it has to stop now.” If Mr. Ganley has anything to say about it, it will stop in three weeks, in a little country called Ireland on the Atlantic periphery of Europe.
Until the appropriate protections of its parliamentary autonomy are put into place.
Seems the Irish are not alone in their concern to protect their contry.