Compact Discussions March 1, 2012Posted by Wu Ming in European Union, Ireland.
It may be no surprise that the Fiscal Compact is going to be put to a referendum in Ireland, but the manner in which this has come about certainly is. Taken the Government statements issued yesterday at face value, it’s possible that a legal requirement exists because the Compact exists outside of the formal framework of the European Union, it’s not covered by previous amendments to the Constitution; a more cynical suggestion would be that if even a reasonable possibility existed that the Supreme Court might find that a referendum was required (and the enabling legislation was going to the Supreme Court in any case) then it’s better for the government to appear to have put it willingly to the people, and not to have been dragged kicking and screaming to the ballot box.
As to the campaign itself, I think it’s very difficult at this point to predict anything, other than it will be unlike any previous EU Treaty campaign, that it will be particularly dirty, and that Eamon Ryan’s support for the Compact is unlikely to be a ‘game-changer’.
This is not another Lisbon, Nice, Amsterdam or Maastricht referendum, for a number of reasons. Firstly, Ireland has no veto power over this one. The Treaty doesn’t require unanimity to come into force. It’s reasonable to assume that it will, and it may well be in force by the time Ireland comes to vote (whenever that is). A rejection by Ireland will not lead to any renegotiation, nor will it impede any progress towards implementation. The argument sometimes used in previous referenda – that Ireland should bring down the Treaty because others did not have the opportunity to express their views – does not apply in this case. This time, we’re voting for ourselves, and no one else.
It also differs from previous referenda in that the issues at stake are ultimately quite simple. Of course, certain aspects arise which are technically difficult and open to debate – not least whether the Treaty can retrospectively impose conditions of the ESM which were not in place at the establishment of the mechanism. But it broadly comes down to a relatively simple choice – access to ESM funding at some point in the future (if required) in return for signing up to draconian budgetary rules in perpetuity. This isn’t a situation where one can reasonably argue that there’s not enough information available, or the issue is too complicated – the old ‘If you don’t know, Vote No’ approach.
I mentioned previously (excuse the self-promotion) why I think a ‘No’ vote is the only conceivably left position to take, and won’t repeat the same points now. However, I would make a few observations.
Any ‘No’ campaign should focus on the substance of the issue, and not on extraneous points. It does no credit to previous anti-EU Treaty campaigns (in the broadest sense) that many of the arguments put forward at the time have since proven to be untrue; this is, admittedly, far more the case in relation to far-right/Libertas arguments (abortion, gay marriage etc.) but it must be said that much of what was argued about the consequences for Irish defence policy during previous campaigns have, to put it mildly, not turned out as predicted.
This is not simply arguing that the ‘No’ side should tell the truth for moral reasons. There are important campaigning considerations as well. It is necessary to distinguish this campaign from previous ones, to avoid the argument that all opponents of the compact are simply kneejerk anti-EU crackpots (see Stephen Collins in yesterday’s Irish Times). A more effective strategy would be to stick to the facts, and allow the ‘Yes’ campaign to expose itself as indulging in scaremongering/bullying tactics, as it undoubtedly will.
It’s also important to acknowledge that there are no easy fixes, and that there are substantial risks associated with a ‘No’ vote. No one can say, with any certainty, what the consequences of such a vote might be. It may well be that it could lead to a sovereign debt crisis if Ireland is unable to return to private lending markets, and is cut off from availing of ESM funding. And while it could be argued that an ad hoc solution might be found among EU partners to ensure the survival of the euro, let’s not pretend that this is assured.
It should also be made clear what this Treaty is not about. It is not about the current bailout programme, or current government policy (although obviously a ‘Yes’ vote would substantially impact on future governments). Nor is it about any previous Treaty, is not Lisbon III, or any of the issues which arose in that context. It changes nothing about the structures of the European Union. And, of course, it should go without saying that it has nothing to do with septic tank, the household charge or the infamous Vatican Embassy.
However, there are two very strong arguments about why this Compact should be opposed. The first is that it enshrines permanent austerity policies – policies which, by any standard, have failed time and time again – into Irish law. It rules out, forever, any government policies except neoliberal ones, almost the equivalent of putting Fr. Brendan Smyth in charge of a child protection agency. Secondly, the manner in which this compact was introduced completely undermines the institutions of the European Union, as well as the spirit of solidarity in which it was formed. It is an explicit attempt by France and Germany (and, more importantly, by the global financial interests those governments represent) to bounce weaker Member States into a suicidal economic policy, of benefit only to multinational financial institutions, completely sidelining not only the European Commission, but the national governments within the Member States as well. It is a template for unelected, unwanted, technocratic governments across the Union. To paraphrase George Orwell, if you want a picture of the future, imagine Ayn Rand’s stiletto heel stamping into a human face – forever.
There is clearly much work to be done, and a difficult campaign to fight, if this Compact is to be defeated. However (and I know I won’t be thanked for this) those on the ‘No’ side could do worse than looking again at President Higgins’ speech at the LSE last week for at least some powerful arguments against what is being proposed.