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The Left and the EU Constitution. Marianne’s Revenge. June 25, 2007

Posted by franklittle in European Politics, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Greens, Irish Labour Party, Irish Politics, media, The Left.
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It was all so familiar. The meetings between diplomats going on behind closed doors to shape our future into the early hours of the morning. Nervous fears among our political elites that they might not this time pull off a deal. The Poles ‘gently’ reminding the world of the dangers of Germany getting too powerful and Blair hovering in the background desperately trying to burnish his rather tawdry legacy.

Nothing like an EU Treaty conference. Of course, as is to be expected, a deal was reached and we now face into a referendum on the Treaty some time next year.

So, what has changed in the newly revised Treaty? And it is a Treaty by the way, no longer a Constitution it seems despite Ahern stating that 90% of the EU Constitution as drafted by him during the Irish Presidency remains in the new ‘Reform Treaty’ and the only significant changes seem to be the dropping of the flag and anthem as reported here last week in the run-up to the summit. As Ahern eloquently put it:

“Beethoven is out and the flag is out. I don’t think that will make a damn difference to anyone in Europe. I don’t think anyone will move it off their cars and their flags, but it does make people feel better that it is out of the constitution. That makes them feel better, so I am thrilled and ecstatic for them,” he said. And considering it will make his job easier in getting it past the Irish electorate, he should be thrilled and ecstatic himself.

So, in essence, it is still a Constitutional blueprint for Europe, a point that should not be lost in the context of what will no doubt be determined efforts by supporters of the Constitution to argue that to describe it as such is inaccurate and more EU sceptic scare-mongering.

So, what now? The last two Nice Treaty referendums saw three distinct blocs organise in opposition to Nice and it is likely those same three blocs will be represented again, albeit in different formations and strengths.

Firstly, we have the right. The Justin Barrett led No to Nice campaign was a key part of the Nice debates, in particular in the first campaign, though I have long maintained that it’s role in the first victory was always overstated, and deliberately so by a liberal establishment media. If one examines the vote constituency by constituency, one sees that the highest No vote was in Dublin South West, and other high votes were recorded in working class constituencies like Dublin Central and Dublin North West. Even the highest rural votes against the Treaty have more in common with a correlation of areas of Sinn Féin strength, than traditional bases of right reactionaries.

That said, without the campaign from the right, as anathema to left values and as ignored by the left as it was, the Nice Treaty would likely not have been defeated on the first occasion, even if attributing the lion’s share of the credit for the victory to them was unfair. This time, there will again no doubt be something similar. The omission of the Judeo-Christian entity known as ‘God’ from the Constitution is already something that has been remarked negatively by the Irish conservative right and in Kathy Sinnot, they have their Dana for the next referendum.

The second bloc consists of the larger radical parties, a phrase that will no doubt drawn it’s own objections. In both Nice referendums this was made up of Sinn Féin and the Green Party who did the heavy lifting in the campaign from the left’s perspective. Interestingly, it was a well-matched double act. Sinn Féin focussed on using it’s party organisation and support in working class areas to turn out that vote. The Greens provided arguably the most articulate critics of the Treaty in Gormley and McKenna and provided a veneer of respectability in the establishment media to a Nice opposition too easily caricatured as combination of the Barrett’s racist Little Irelander’s and the evil Marxist Fascist Provo Death Squads.

This time round, the Greens will certainly not be campaigning against the Treaty. Long prior to the election, even prior to the French and Dutch votes they were toying with the idea of embracing the EU Constitution as a way of proving their ‘maturity’. According to today’s Irish Times (Sub required) the Greens will be consulting their members before making a final decision with Dan Boyle half-heartedly suggesting they could take a neutral position on the Constitution. Possible, in theory perhaps, but extremely difficult, especially for Gormley and Ryan. With the Greens on the other side of the debate, or at best neutral, the anti-Constitution forces are weakened though short-sighted people in Sinn Féin (No shortage of them by all accounts) might see an opportunity to seize political space as the only significant left opposition to the Treaty.

Bringing us to the third bloc. A disparate collection of political parties, groups, organisations and individuals with a track record of opposing EU federalism and neo-liberalism, but not unified in any sense. We can expect campaigns of one type or another against the Constitution from the Socialist Party, the Workers Party, the SWP and it’s People Before Profit front, the Communist Party and so on. Independents like Tony Gregory TD and Cllr Joan Collins, possibly Seamus Healy, might also be involved. Trade Union figures like Tony O’Reilly. Sections of the Labour party such as Labour Youth, which is already committed to opposing the Constitution, whatever about this document, and possibly elements of the Green Party like Patricia McKenna and Deirdre de Burca on an individual basis.

There has been some effort to bring these hugely disparate groups together. The Campaign Against the EU Constitution has been knocking about for some time on the margins of the debate and has called for a meeting on July 7th to begin the job of organising against the Constitution. One of the comments on the Indymedia article in the media refers to the dangers of such a campaign being a “letters to the Irish Times” style campaign and it is a fear that is likely justified. Certainly I get no impression that the Campaign is anything other than a loose alliance of policy types and independent activists based exclusively in Dublin. Useful to a point, but you don’t win referendums that way.

Against this, the political, media, social and economic establishment of this state. Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Labour, the PDs and in all likelihood the Greens. ICTU and IBEC will put aside their differences to try and convince their respective members that the deal is best for them. IBEC will be right. The farming organisations will weight in but probably with little enthusiasm. The media will back the Constitution to the hilt. If memory serves, the Star and the Sunday Business Post opposed the Nice Treaty, but I would be surprised if even that level of opposition is maintained in a media either ignorant of European politics or desperately eager to support the EU as a project regardless of what’s on the table. And then we have individuals like Brigid Laffan and think-tanks such as the Irish Institute for European Affairs.

It’s an under-strength David against a refreshed and revitalised Goliath.

Does this mean the fight is hopeless? My boundless optimism refuses to accept such a notion. But it does mean that the left needs to start thinking now about how this campaign is going to be fought. For most of us, this means looking at what the third bloc I refer to above is going to do. The right will do it’s own thing. The Shinners will do theirs. But if the referendum is to be won it will be because over the next twelve months a left-wing version of the 2001 No to Nice campaign is organised and put together.

That’s not a small job of work. But perhaps the Campaign Against the EU Constitution is a place to start.

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Comments»

1. WorldbyStorm - June 25, 2007

Is there any possibility, I wonder, that certain disaffected Greens such as McKenna might break with the GP on this?

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2. stringjack - June 26, 2007

“Even the highest rural votes against the Treaty have more in common with a correlation of areas of Sinn Féin strength, than traditional bases of right reactionaries.”

Hmmmm.

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3. smiffy - June 27, 2007

“Is there any possibility, I wonder, that certain disaffected Greens such as McKenna might break with the GP on this?”

While I guess it might be used as a justification to split (particularly if a certain someone doesn’t get a nomination for Party leader), I’d take it with a pinch of salt. If the coalition with Fianna Fáil doesn’t cause them to leave, I doubt if the support for the Treaty would.

One point worth bearing in mind, though, is that there’s nothing in theory to stop the GP from campaigning against adoption of the Treaty, if that’s what they wanted. Obviously they’d have to be careful about what they said about those calling for a Yes vote (and Fianna Fáil would equally have to be more circumspect than usual in how they referred to the Greens during the campaign), but I could imagine a situation where they supported the referendum bill (to give the electorate the final say) but opposed the referendum itself.

It’s a bit of a long-shot, though.

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