Thursday 28 February 2008

Lisbon Debate must be Genuine

In a recent Irish Times opinion piece, Tony Allright called for a rejection of the Lisbon treaty. But his argument is shamelessly disingenuous.

First, he laments the unreadability of the new Treaty. That's how its sponsors wanted it he suggests. According to Mr. Allright, "if it represented an honest endeavour, it would have incorporated the contents of all three treaties into a single, unambiguous, easy to comprehend document". He contradicts himself here, because elsewhere he acknowledges that the first attempt to reform the EU came in the form of a single, rather readable, self-contained constitution.

That constitution was rejected by the people of the Netherlands and of France for reasons that are not at all clearly linked to its content. At the time issues such as unemployment and immigration weighed heavily on voters' minds. There was nothing in the Constitution which could have made unemployment worse or loosened immigration. Arguably the reverse is true.

Furthermore, there is a widely acknowledged flaw in using a referendum to determine people's opinion on a multi-faceted, technical proposal. It is that they may not answer the question they are asked. In part the French 'non' was a response to the question, do you approve of Jacques Chirac? We risk falling into the same trap. If the housing downturn continues and Bertie's finances take a further twist, people may well answer the question, are you satisfied with the current government?

Secondly, Mr Allright took apart a straw man when he pointed to the claims by the Yes camp that Lisbon would help on climate change. I have followed the debate fairly closely and climate change is never among the serious points made by those in favour of Lisbon. Nor does the Yes camp believe that the EU is "advancing towards some mythical nirvana". No-one is under any illusion. The treaty is a pragmatic attempt to forge a stronger, more effective Union in a world increasingly dominated by big players.

Many positive arguments for Lisbon have been made by others in the Irish Times and elsewhere and I will not repeat them here. But any discussion of the treaty must be genuine and bear some relation to the facts. Colourful but empty rhetoric cannot help the cause of democracy and it has no place in the current debate.

Update. I debate this issue with Mr. Allright on his website

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