Tuesday 1 July 2008

What will McKenna say about Polish No?

If Ireland took the most democratic route to ratification, arguably Poland did the opposite. The parliament elected by the people voted to ratify the Lisbon Treaty. But ratification could not procede because a single person was against it - their President. The President says he won't sign because the Irish voted No. That cannot be true - there is nothing in Lisbon which says that the ratification process should stop if a single voice says No. Instead the text simply says that if after a certain period of time only four fifths of the states have ratified then there is a Council meeting to discuss etc. True, ratification cannot be completed without assent form all. But that is not the same as saying ratification should stop. And the precedent is that if the thing has enough momentum ratification should continue (Maastricht, Nice) after rejection and then discuss how to procede in a way acceptable to all.

So Patricia McKenna bemoaned that we were the only people asked to voice directly. A broad based demoractic mandate was required for the Treaty. So she must be horrified that a single person in Poland can decide. I'm sure she will say as much and say that the Polish outcome should be ignored because of the thinness of the democratic mandate.

Worse still, unlike the Irish broad based rejection for a variety of reasons, it is clear that President Kaczynski is playing politics with the future of the Union. His party has been suffering and his twin lost power in Parliament. He is now playing to the eurosceptic gallery of his conservative party. This kind of opportunism is a huge reason in favour of abolishing the notion of veto at the heart of the Union. There are genuine reasons why unanity should be preserved - but the Polish antics are a strong reason against. The Irish No is legimate at least. (Despite the issues with campaigns being influenced by misleading information or being skewed by money - these are factors in any democracy and of course we should strive to eliminate them).

I am looking forward to hearing the main voices in the No camp on this issue.

4 comments:

BryanFeeney said...

Perhaps I should start my own blog instead of positing in yours but...

The parliament elected by the people voted to ratify the Lisbon Treaty. But ratification could not procede because a single person was against it - their President

Also elected by the people. You can't have it both ways.

That cannot be true - there is nothing in Lisbon which says that the ratification process should stop if a single voice says No

But the existing legal infrastructure says unanimous assent is necessary for any such treaty to pass, and in theory that is now impossible. If Ireland is given concessions, that would in theory mean a new treaty had been created, and so every other country would have to ratify that new treaty. The only way such repeated ratification could be skipped was if those concessions were legally meaningless in which case it would be an attempt to con Ireland into voting for the exact same thing again.

Aborting any further ratifications is a perfectly sensible thing to do, if you assume that a failed ratification will be meaningfully addressed, instead of brushed aside. Whatever people may say, the law says a 100% vote is required, not four fifths.

So Patricia McKenna bemoaned that we were the only people asked to voice directly. A broad based demoractic mandate was required for the Treaty. So she must be horrified that a single person in Poland can decide.

A single person elected by a popular (indeed, very popular) mandate, albeit one whose popularity has since crumbled. You are dealing with two democratically elected branches of government here: you cannot simultaneously say parliament has a mandate, and the president has none.

The whole point of having more than one branch of government, particularly an upper / lower house one, is that it allows for decision making, to a limited extent, be decoupled from party-based alignments, increasing the likelihood that a vote will be more in tune with the people. A hung decision like this is representative of democracy, and if the president can indeed veto this decision, it would mean that parliament failed to secure a substantial majority

By the way, in the list of your reasons for Lech's denouncement of the EU treaty, I saw no mention of the fact that the Lisbon treaty would see Poland's voting rights substantially reduced (it is disproportionately high at the moment) and would make it much harder for it to play such a major role in tackling issues as varied as taking a tougher line against Russian intimidation of countries on its periphery (witness Estonia's troubles); to software patent reform. This seems like a perfectly valid reason to me, I was surprised you failed to mention it in your list.

Just to reiterate, I would have voted yes, but I'm quite disgusted by the disengenous, patronising and profoundly undemocratic way the EU has dealt with Ireland's no vote.

Tomaltach said...

Bryan, thanks again for the comments.

First, I want to be clear - I am not going to insist on how the Polish people configure their constitution or how they should ratify international treaties.

I'm drawing attention to the fact that the No camp argued that leaving the ratification in the hands of elected parliaments was undemocratic because once elected these elites take their decisions for their own reasons and not for the good of the people. Basically, they were against representative democracy - at least for international treaties. Or at least for international treaties they didn't like. But if the link to the people is diluted in a broad based parliament, I would argue that it is weaker still when a single individual gets to decide.

Regarding ratification - I was clear - that the treaty cannot come into effect unless all agree. But I said it is not the same as saying the ratification process should stop. They are not one and the same. And historical precedent here shows that some treaties can enter effect after the concerns of a minority are addressed to their satisfaction by protocol.

You mention the upper/lower house issue here. I'm fully aware of how constitutions try to balance powers and add checks and balances. with respect, that's not the issue here.

Regarding the reasons given by the Polish president. My understanding is that the main reason he gave related to Ireland's No and the ratification process. As reported in the Guardian, Le Monde, and the Irish Times, Poland's voting weight was not to the fore in what he said.

In summary - the No campaign attacked the legimacy of parliametary raritifaction. The people should have a voice, and elected representatives weren't to be trusted. Will they attack the legitimacy of the Polish rejection in similar terms if indeed the Polish president confirms that his word is final?

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