The cringe


Well, the referendum on the Lisburn Treaty has come and gone, and the powers that be got the result they wanted this time. We’re now in the less than ideal position of relying on Václav Klaus to stand up for national sovereignty and spare us Mr Tony Blair as EU President. You can read some reactions to the result in the statements I’ve gathered at the bottom, but for the moment I’ll say that it’s a relief to have that bloody awful campaign behind us, one that I don’t think anyone emerged from with enormous credit, though there was plenty of honourable slogging on the No side. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough this time to overcome the massed ranks of the Irish political establishment, IBEC, ICTU and the European Commission.

But, as per usual, I just want to use this as a jumping off point to consider a few related questions. Firstly, and I believe this can be got out of the way quickly, Jim Monaghan reports on Cedar Lounge that Socialist Workers Party supremo Swiss Toni has called for left unity on the back of the No campaign. My heart sinks, because I keep hoping that Swiss will grow out of these vainglorious “Open Letter to the Left” initiatives that he and his acolytes launch on an annual basis. My view is that the No campaign tells us two things. One is that there is a large segment of the electorate that is alienated from the political class – although a lot of them seem to be in Donegal, where the socialist left is not. The other is that, via CAEUC, we have a glimmer of how various progressive-left forces could work together on a concrete issue-by-issue basis, thereby building solid working relationships. This seems to me worthwhile, and I’d rather see progress on a more modest scale along these lines than yet another jerrybuilt electoral front.

But there’s also a broader cultural-political aspect that interests me. Let’s begin by considering the outlines of (southern) Irish foreign policy. In the old days of de Valera and Frank Aiken, there was indeed something of a distinctive foreign policy, mostly geared towards securing the maximum independence and lessening British dominance. God help us, when the Cruiser was in the UN, there was some sort of concept of positive neutrality – sort of the way the Swedes punch above their weight in international affairs, although it never came to that much practically. There was even – and this undercuts the idea of the Irish state’s total insularity in this period – some idea of reaching out to the big family of the Irish diaspora, and to other post-colonial countries.

Now I ask you, can you detect any coherent, long-term Irish foreign policy today? There really doesn’t seem to be much, except for a) sucking up to the Brits, b) sucking up to the Yanks and c) sucking up to the EU, although not necessarily in that order. As far as the Irish diaspora goes, there’s the occasional hope that Irish-American businessmen will invest in the old country, but the idea that the enormous number of Irish people in the Third World – working as missionaries or aid workers or such – could be some sort of resource just doesn’t occur. In the post-GFA, post-British devolution settlement, there are now consulates in Cardiff and Edinburgh, but what cultural interchange there is with our neighbouring small nations is given little profile, and tends to be pushed through by enthusiastic amateurs with minimal official encouragement – Dev’s visit to Mannin, and his follow-up thereof, is the sort of quixotic mission that you just find very difficult to imagine from the dull, technocratic lot who presently occupy Leinster House.

No, it’s sucking up that is the default mode. Why, for instance, were Irish troops deployed in Chad? Was it because Willie O’Dea had a rush of blood to the head and decided he fancied playing at being TE Lawrence? That would have been bonkers, but it would at least have been more honourable than invading Chad so as to suck up to Nicolas Sarkozy. Ditto with rendition through Shannon. As for the EU, it’s not hard to miss the Dublin political class’s exasperation with the constitutional provision that obliges them to hold referenda on EU treaties – which is why the 26 was the only EU state to hold a referendum on the latest treaty – and its even greater exasperation at the McKenna judgement, although the Eurocrats were quite canny in circumventing those provisions.

But what struck me even more was the nature of some of the Yes support. I don’t think I’m being too controversial when I say that little of the debate was about the treaty per se, and much more of it was on the vague ground of “Europe”. Mick O’Leary’s intervention was to be expected, as he’s transparently hoping for the EU to show Ryanair the sunny side of its countenance. What took me to the fair was the likes of Jim Sheridan, or the Ireland rugby team, turning out to do PR for the Yes side. What, I wondered, was it to do with them?

I’ve written before about “Europe” as a cargo cult in Ireland, and I think that holds true for certain layers of the population. Not, I suppose, for the farmers, who are pro-EU to the extent that the EU is willing to support Irish agriculture; nor for those who benefit from whatever structural funds are still on the go. The mercenary impulse is easily explicable, and has relatively little to do with genuflexion in front of the EU. (For instance, one could make a plausible mercenary argument for Ireland joining the State Union of Russia and Belarus – we might get some cheap gas out of it, and Putin would maybe be less keen than Barroso to interfere in Irish politics.)

Nor need we waste much time on the political class. To some extent, there’s the lure of the gravy train. There’s also, and this ties in with my earlier point about the lack of a foreign policy, a total lack of imagination. If you’re old enough to remember entry into the EEC in 1973, you’ll recall that there was very little argument about the opportunities it would open up – it was all framed as, the Brits are joining so we have to. And so this translates into the present discourse from Cowen and Kenny – we can’t be isolated, we can’t let other Europeans think we aren’t enthusiastic. I suppose in the current economic climate that had some appeal, but even in the Tiger days there wasn’t much sense of Dublin throwing its weight around in Europe the way stroppy little countries like the Czechs, the Greeks and the Slovenes have done. As Barroso’s bullying of Bulgaria shows, if you allow these guys to treat you like a coconut colony, they will.

But that doesn’t explain the luvvie attitude. I think that there’s something there of the old cultural cringe towards Britain transferred to Europe. As Peter Hitchens wrote:

I suspect a lot of people share the view of Fionnuala Maher, who told the Irish Times that she remembered Ireland before it joined the EU in 1973. ‘It was a terrible place,’ she said. ‘If we don’t have Europe, we don’t have a bloody hope.’

For such people, the EU is completely identified with the personal liberation and individualism that in Britain is linked with the Sixties cultural revolution.

That may be a mistake. The ascent of the EU happened to coincide with several decades of unheard-of prosperity and growth. But the EU did not cause that prosperity, though it claims to have done so.

The cultural thing is important here. Mick O’Leary is concerned mainly with the business side of the EU, the sort of stuff that gets transacted at the Council of Ministers and affects the bottom line. Our luvvie class is concerned with the fluffier European institutions – primarily the Court and the Parliament – in their role as dispensers of liberal nostrums. For these people, Biffo Cowen’s assurances that Lisburn won’t affect military neutrality or the abortion laws is neither here nor there. They would positively love the EU to go around overturning what they see as reactionary Irish laws and practices.

This is where I differ from them, partly for democratic reasons, partly because it is tied up with the cultural cringe that identifies Ireland as a dark place of reaction, and England (or latterly “Europe”) as the progressive norm to be aspired to. There’s a parallel with the British TUC in 1988, despairing of Neil Kinnock and embracing Jacques Delors, in the hope that the European Commission could succeed where the Labour Party had failed in protecting British workers from the ravages of Thatcherism. There’s a parallel with the SWP in the north of Ireland, which has more or less given up on building a popular movement around legalising abortion in favour of lobbying the Brits to impose it on a reluctant Stormont.

And so it is when advances like the legalisation of divorce or homosexuality – things that loom large for the Irish liberal – are identified, not entirely accurately, with “Europe”. The idea is that a liberal Europe is imposing progress on a reactionary Ireland, and this is good. The assumption is that it is beyond the wit of Irish people to reform their own laws, which I find faintly insulting. The clear danger is of well-intentioned people – the sort of people whose political horizons are defined by issues like gay rights and abortion – to end up like those NGO types in eastern Europe who don’t even bother trying to win over public opinion, but just lobby the Eurocrats to bully their governments into submission.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposed to grabbing whatever progressive legislation is on offer. It really is the cargo-cult aspect that bothers me. It seems just a bit too much like lobbying the Emperor to bring our local proconsulate into line.

As promised at the top, statements on the referendum result. In no particular order, here are the reactions from the People’s Movement (pdf), the Socialist Party (video of Joe talking on the subject), the Workers Party, the Communist Party, the People Before Profit Alliance, Sinn Féin (Próvach), Sinn Féin Eile, the SWP, the National Platform, CAEUC and éirígí. Apologies if I’ve missed anyone out.


  1. Garibaldy said,

    October 5, 2009 at 12:38 am

    Left unity is essential but like you say needs to be built practically and on the ground through experience.

    Good point on the former positive foreign policy of the southern state. Hadn;t seen it put together like that before. Liked the stuff about the cringe too. The desire to be seen as modern and European – personified in the moronic contribution of Famous Seamus – definitely lies at the core of the Irish political establishment, and the Irish liberal middle classes. Such a charade.

  2. Mark P said,

    October 5, 2009 at 1:21 am

    It’s worth noting that the South Dublin triangle, composed of the wealthiest three constituencies in the country, averaged about 80% Yes this time around. This represents both genuinely right wing sentiment and exactly the kind of liberal “cringe” you talk about above combining.

    The mainstream media has been pointing to a very clear class split in the results, but it’s important to note that their definition of class is very different to ours. Still, it’s pretty clear that practically the entire ruling class and middle class (by the Marxist definitions) voted Yes and that then within the working class there was a reasonably clear division by stratum with the poorer section of the working class tending strongly towards No and the more comfortable sections towards Yes.

    I actually had the whole “Ireland was a backwards shithole before the EU forced decency on us” line trotted out to me by a Labour Youth member during the campaign, pretty much explicitly. John O’Farrell’s piece over on Cedar Lounge took much the same position as, according to O’Farrell, did Colm Toibin.

  3. WorldbyStorm said,

    October 5, 2009 at 8:11 am

    While there’s a lot of truth about the cringe there are other issues as well.

    One of the reasons for the abiding popularity of the EU project is that it allowed this state to develop away from the UK in a way which was unthinkable during the period of our not absolutely independent foreign policy (the Second World War period is instructive for what happened when the chips were down. We weren’t neutral in any functional way between the Axis and the Allies), particular in economic areas. The most obvious examples of that are two fold, firstly the ever increasing level of trade with European countries other than the UK which is greater than that trade with the UK, a situation that was simply unheard of pre-1973. Secondly the break with sterling in 78/79 and the participation in the Exchange Rate Mechanism. That the economic gains from that weren’t to begin with great – indeed if anything they were pretty poor – doesn’t come close to capturing the sense of Ireland making autonomous decisions away from the British. To give some sense of the impact in the South everyone I knew in school in KIlbarrack, and I was 13/14 at the time was talking about this and taking positions. From the point of view of FG inclined people (or to be more accurate their families!) this was a disaster, for those on the FF side or with shall we say more independent or leftist views this was an expression of national sovereignty and a broadening of choices. And it’s that sort of thinking which has maintained support for the project generally in the high 60s and low 70s. It also goes some way to accounting for why despite some throwing of shapes FF supporters have generally been a fully signed up to it, people who it is unlikely are that keen on ‘overturning reactionary laws and practices’. So while there is absolutely an element of cargo cult on the part of some – and an unthinking attitude that does see Europe = progress in a way that can be entirely pernicious – there are others who take a more pragmatic view of these matters. I think that’s quite a big group to be honest.

    Mark P, I’m still unconvinced that firstly this represented a ‘class split’ or that even if it did that would actually mean anything one way or another. I’d argue that a majority of working class people by the sort of definitions Conor McCabe has worked through (using Michael Zweig and others as the basis for the analysis) voted YES. The danger of looking at it in those terms is that it is reductive. How large a ‘working class’ do we end up with and what does it mean if the project is to build the greatest possible support on issues relating to the EU and to the left in general particularly since despite some of the rhetoric I think this is far from the last EU referendum we’re going to see in the next decade or so.

    • Mark P said,

      October 5, 2009 at 11:42 am


      What’s interesting in terms of the class dynamics of the vote, isn’t primarily the working class vote. That was split, although there does seem to be quite a bit of evidence that the sections of the working class referred to as working class by the mainstream media tended towards No while the sections of the working class lumped in with the middle class tended towards Yes. In our terms that represented a differentiation by strata within the working class.

      The more interesting thing is the way in which our ruling class and our actual petty bourgeosie tended towards a unanimous Yes.

      • splinteredsunrise said,

        October 5, 2009 at 11:51 am

        What was interesting on the constituency breakdown was that the highest No votes were to be found either in the more plebeian areas of Dublin and Cork, or in the poorer rural areas in the west. All these areas, not coincidentally, having a significant socialist and/or republican presence. It’s becoming quite a feature of EU referenda, as is the massive Yes in the South Dublin triangle.

        Not a great result for Coughlan, notably. The North West Frontier is looking interesting for the next little while.

      • WorldbyStorm said,

        October 5, 2009 at 1:12 pm

        That’s a very interesting point re the geographic areas. Donegal must look good for P Doherty come the next election. But that does raise the issue of is it tapping into pre-existing sentiment or is it a case of activism on the ground generating such? Must go and look at the previous Referendum returns.

        Mark P, that’s a fair point, but interesting in what way?

      • Garibaldy said,

        October 5, 2009 at 2:49 pm

        I think it depends on the nature of the No vote as to whether things look good. I think definitely that clearly Doherty is in with a very good shout, and that the No vote there will reflect to some extent his support. But if that vote is a mostly older catholic vote, or a vote by farmers and fishermen worried about the effects of the EU on their livelihoods, then that will not necessarily translate into support for him. There is a strong right-wing strain in such people economically, and so that could have a negative impact if the same perception of economic incompetence and crazy leftness that did PSF such damage at the last southern general election persists.

  4. John Palmer said,

    October 5, 2009 at 8:34 am

    Anyone wanting to protest against the very idea of Tony Blair being appointed as President of the European Council should sign this EU wide petition
    By the way I see that Coir plans to become a political party. It rather fits the general pattern that – in the longer run – “No” in EU campaigns only strengthens the right (see also France and Denmark).

  5. WorldbyStorm said,

    October 5, 2009 at 10:39 am

    Hmmm… well maybe, John. Although I’d imagine they had plans for this from further back so it’s not necessarily a direct casual relationship. BTW do you have a link to that news?

    Re T Blair being President of the European Council, let’s try and stop that from the off. Jesus, anyone, anyone, would be better. John Bruton. Your hour has come! (I kid – almost anyone, although…actually JB looks better by comparison than he ever has to me before).

  6. Donagh said,

    October 5, 2009 at 11:03 am

    By the way I see that Coir plans to become a political party.
    I don’t think Coir could survive as a political party without the oxygen of a referendum on the EU. In the normal run of things FF and FG wouldn’t need to raise their bogeyman profile

  7. October 5, 2009 at 12:40 pm

    […] Splintered Sunrise | Lisbon and The Cringe […]

  8. James said,

    October 5, 2009 at 2:49 pm

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposed to grabbing whatever progressive legislation is on offer. It really is the cargo-cult aspect that bothers me. It seems just a bit too much like lobbying the Emperor to bring our local proconsulate into line.

    Perhaps I’m being unkind, but this paragraph left me wondering if your objection to this was along anti-imperialist or nationalist lines.

    • splinteredsunrise said,

      October 5, 2009 at 8:14 pm

      Does the one necessarily contradict the other in this case?

      • James said,

        October 5, 2009 at 8:16 pm

        Nope, both is definetely an option.

  9. John Palmer said,

    October 5, 2009 at 6:28 pm

    WbS – The reference to Coir’s plans for becoming a political party is here

  10. Ed W said,

    October 6, 2009 at 10:38 pm

    “It rather fits the general pattern that – in the longer run – “No” in EU campaigns only strengthens the right (see also France and Denmark).”

    This seems like more of a theological conviction than a factual statement to me. John suggests that Coir may be attempting to launch itself as a political party. If it did so, it would probably find that the tide for that particular brand of nasty, right-wing fundamentalism has gone out since the 1980s and early ’90s. On the other hand, Libertas really did try to launch itself as a political party in Ireland, and failed. Chairman Ganley put in a strong performance and didn’t get a seat, Caroline Simons in Dublin wasn’t even a blip on the radar despite massive ad hoardings that I had to see every day on buses.

    Meanwhile Joe Higgins took a Euro seat in Dublin, narrowly pipping another candidate from the Euro-critical Left, while Patricia McKenna also got a healthy vote despite having a miniscule campaigning presence. So the evidence from Ireland is that the left-wing “No” elements have made more capital out of the first Lisbon referendum than the right-wing elements. And that’s in a country with one of the weakest Lefts in Europe.

    John also mentions the example of France, which doesn’t strike me as backing up his argument. Le Pen and the Front Nationale made their big breakthrough in the 1980s without any help from EC/EU referendum campaigns. Le Pen got 15-16% of the vote consistently from then on – his appearance in the 2nd round of the 2002 election (three years before the defeat of the EU constitution in France, we might note) was made possible by the collapse of the Socialist vote. The FN was marginalised in the 2005 campaign by the left-wing “No” camp. The groups to the left of the Partie Socialiste (principally the New Anti-Capitalist Party and the Left Party formed by the PCF and Jean Luc Melanchon’s ex-Socialist group) seem a lot more dynamic at the moment than the FN, which is still licking its wounds having seen some of its clothes and base stolen by Sarkozy. Not that Le Pen and his followers are a busted flush, unfortunately, but there’s no evidence that they gained any boost from the 2005 EU constitution result – their performance in the subsequent election was the weakest since the early 1980s.

    I wouldn’t claim to be an authority on Danish politics, and it may be that the right-wing People’s Party owes some of its political success to anti-EU agitation. But then we also have the example of the Netherlands, where the big electoral gains after the 2005 “No” vote were made by the Socialist Party (not, as you would have probably gathered from the liberal press in Britain, by Geert Wilders and his nasty formation).

    So the evidence in general is that “No” campaigns can strengthen either the radical left or the nationalist right, and if anything, they’ve been somewhat more likely to favour left than right.

  11. John Palmer said,

    October 7, 2009 at 11:09 am

    EdW – I find your reasoning on the political impact of the “No” movements in EU countries difficult to follow. This is particularly true of your French case. Prior to the referendum the PS seemed reasonably well placed to win a subsequent election. Following the referendum campaign (with all the rhetoric about the “threat to French sovereignty”) Sarkozy’s and his conservatives pull off a truly remarkable victory. They did take votes from the FN. But they also marginalised the left to the extent that Sarkozy was able to cherry pick ministers from the PS and even the radical left! Alas I do not share your reading of the Anti-Capitalist Party which suffered from the chronic splitting of the left of PS vote (thanks in part to the CP and the likes of Melanchton). In Denmark the evidence of a boost to the right and the far right is unmistakeable. Germany and Greece present a more hopeful picture. But these are countries where the left is not tempted to join the populist anti-EU crowd. Needless to say I wish the likes of Joe Higgins well – he comes from a movement which is “super federalist” (a United Socialist States of Europe). Lets hope this becomes a concrete political goal not a mere piece of May Day rhetoric.

  12. John Palmer said,

    October 7, 2009 at 11:42 am

    I should add that while the SP did gains seats in the Dutch general election, the overall outcome marked a big shift in the centre of political gravity to the right in the Netherlands (with Labour – the PVDA – badly defeated). That followed a referendum campaign in which the left failed to challenge the dominant themes of the right (the threat to national “sovereignty”, the danger from migration and cultural “cosmopolitanism” etc).

  13. Ed W said,

    October 7, 2009 at 9:58 pm

    I was living in France at the time of the build-up to Sarko’s victory, and I have to say that it didn’t strike me that any of his momentum came from the “No” result in 2005 (the mainstream centre-right supported the treaty, after all). And I don’t think the weakness of the PS was caused by the “No” vote, either – after all, Royal still put in a much more impressive performance than Jospin had in 2002. The problems of the French Socialists go back much further and are much deeper-rooted than one referendum defeat (briefly, I’d say it’s a problem caused by the drift of social democracy to the centre/right of the spectrum and the opening up of a vaccuum to the left of those parties – we saw this reflected in the recent German elections, without any EU referendum in the last few years to undermine the SPD).

    I can remember when I thought that Sarko would certainly win the presidential election – it was after the defeat of the CPE law, when Hubert Vedrine was interviewed by Lara Marlowe in the Irish Times and told her “Sarkozy is right, we have to go down the British road – and all the Socialist leaders understand this too, they just won’t say so in public” (that’s not the exact wording but I know I have the sense of it right). After reading that, I though “they’re screwed, aren’t they – they’re never going to beat the bastard if they secretly believe that he’s right”. Add to that Sarko’s well-laid plan to poach a large chunk of the Le Pen electorate, which he started putting into effect almost as soon as the votes had been counted in 2002, and worked a treat. All the immigrant-bashing, the “racaille” baiting, the election rallies where you’d hear him dog-whistle “Turkey, of course, is not a European country” and a big cheer would go up from the crowd (“fuck the beurs” I took that to mean). I just don’t think the EU result had much to do with it, if anything.

    John, in the cases of both France and the Netherlands you seem to be talking about a shift from the pro-EU constitution Left to the pro-EU constitution Right – this may be a regrettable thing, but I really don’t see how it can be attributed to the “No” votes in the 2005 referenda. The only fair measure of who gained from those results, it seems to me, is to try and assess the political capital made by the Left and Right “No” camps. In the Netherlands, the SP clearly did much better than Geert Wilders’ gang. In France, the vote to the left of the PS was fragmented in 2007 and still below Le Pen’s vote, unfortunately, but the FN didn’t get any big boost from the EU constitution result, their vote was significantly down. A couple of years later there seems to be a fair bit of life on the left of the left in France and, fingers crossed, the FN isn’t making a whole lot of noise.

    I guess to sum up what I’m saying is, I’m getting a little frustrated with people from the liberal-left who insist that the only people who ever gain from campaigns against EU referenda are the far right – I’ve heard this argument a lot from people I know in the last few months (family members especially) and it seems invulnerable to me pointing out that Joe Higgins won a Euro seat and not Declan Ganley, for all his dosh. I wouldn’t make the opposite claim, that it’s only the Left that gains from anti-EU treaty campaigns – clearly either side can potentially gain and has done so, but there’s no law of physics that says “only Libertas / UKIP / the FN / People’s Party can benefit”. And if everyone on the Left from Joe Higgins to Romano Prodi was calling for a “Yes” vote, I suspect there’d still be a lot of people voting “No”, and the only ones to benefit from that really would be the far right.

  14. John Palmer said,

    October 8, 2009 at 8:26 am

    EdW – My point has always been that the “No” campaigns reinforce a “national sovereignty” framework for political debate which plays effectively into the hands of the right, including the hard right. The evidence for this seems overwhelming. Unfortunately most sections of the left (including the far left) have NOT campaigned on the basis of an anti-capitalist but nonetheless a socially, economically and politically integrated Europe. IF there had been such a campaign I would have supported it. In Ireland – as elsewhere – a lot of effort went into trying to create a patriotic popular front of anti-Lisbon organisations, including the likes of Coir, by the likes of the former Connolly Association militant, Anthony Coughlan, and the former Danish CPer, Jens Peter-Bonde who campaigned actively in the Irish referendums.

  15. Ed W said,

    October 8, 2009 at 12:19 pm

    Well I think most people on the Irish Left stopped taking Tony Coughlan seriously around the time of the 2nd Nice referendum when he lined up with Justin Barrett – the rest of the Left (SF, Greens, Trotskyists etc.) formed the Alliance Against Nice which excluded the proto-Coir element (they still went under the Youth Defence flag at the time I think, or it might have been the “Mother and Child Campaign”). So Coughlan isn’t representative of the Euro-critical Left here at all – he’s a fairly marginal figure at best and he seems to have turned opposition to the EU into an end in itself, rather than a means towards left-wing goals.

    In Ireland anyway, SF are the only ones open to the charge of using the “national sovereignty” argument – I agree that it shouldn’t be used, socialists should talk about “democratic sovereignty” or popular sovereignty” instead. The socialist groups here all have some committment to the idea of a European socialist federation – it hasn’t been fleshed out very much, it’s true, but that probably reflects the fact that the idea of a socialist Europe is so abstract and far from present-day realities that it’d be hard to come up with detailed plans without sounding utopian. But the likes of Joe Higgins haven’t been campaigning against treaties like Lisbon or Nice on the basis that Ireland should go it alone and leave the rest of Europe to its own devices.

  16. John Palmer said,

    October 8, 2009 at 1:12 pm

    EdW: I am relieved to learn that a significant part of the left in Ireland sees the importance of a European socialist federation. I presume like me you would see this as a stage towards a global federation. The point is that concrete battles for “popular sovereignty” need to be put in some such framework in order not to give people the impression that the “nation state” is remotely capable of confronting the challenges of modern capitalism (especially in the phase of its decline and disintegration). I do not think any of this is necessarily “abstract.” But that is perhaps because I believe we should focus on concrete (if grossly inadequate) steps in that direction such as extension of the powers of the elected European Parliament, enshrining the Social Charter in EU law etc.

  17. Ed W said,

    October 8, 2009 at 3:43 pm

    Well there’s a whole range of issues to be talked about there about globalisation, the nation-state etc. that are probably beyond the scope of the comments box here. Suffice it to say for now, I don’t think anyone on the radical left here would object if there was a pan-European right to trade union recognition, for example. One of the problems people on the Irish Left had with the Charter of Fundamental Rights was that it wasn’t enforcable in the absence of national legislation, so the right to union recognition would not mean anything in practice (that was SIPTU’s rationale for not supporting Lisbon the first time around). Insofar as people have a problem with the EU in its current form, it’s not because it’s European or federal, it’s because they think neo-liberalism is embedded in its structures.

  18. John Palmer said,

    October 8, 2009 at 4:05 pm

    But, EdW, the whole point of the Charter being in the Treaty is that it will be given the force of law. This means that when adjudicating of issues before it, the European Court can cite in the Charter in support of its rulings. It was precisely this point that so aroused the fury of the British T

  19. John Palmer said,

    October 8, 2009 at 4:09 pm

    But, EdW, the whole point of the Charter being in the Treaty is that it will be given the force of law. This means that when adjudicating on issues before it, the European Court can cite in the Charter in support of its rulings. It was precisely this point that so aroused the fury of the British Tories and the British (and some Irish) employers – even though the Charter cannot directly override national laws. I share your opposition to neo-liberal dogma and the successes the right have had at European level in pursuit of neo-liberal policies. But this can only be reversed by coordinated trade union, social and political action at European level. Blocking the treaty on grounds of defence of national sovereignty (whether in Ireland or in any other Member States would only have made this response all the more difficult to achieve.

  20. Ed W said,

    October 8, 2009 at 5:26 pm

    Well so far as the Charter of Fundamental Rights was concerned, there seemed to be a general consensus in Ireland on all sides of the debate that the right to union recognition would only be enforcable if the Irish government introduced a national law guaranteeing the right to form a union. That was the understanding of SIPTU, which is not exactly a radical body and doesn’t spend its time looking for opportunities to step outside the mainstream.

    It also seemed to be the view of business, which was mainly agitated about the possibility that the Irish government might introduce a union recognition act (the front page of the Sunday Independent the weekend before the first Lisbon vote had a typically shrill lead article warning against the danger that Cowen might succumb to “union blackmail” and legislate for union recognition). Over the summer I went along to a debate on Lisbon organised by a development NGO – Derek McDowell, who used to be in the Labour Party and now works for Concern was there, he said quite explicitly that Lisbon wouldn’t establish a right to union recognition in Irish law and he wished that it would. He was speaking in favour of the Treaty and comes from a centre-left background so I’d certainly expect him to talk up a right to union recognition if it was actually there.

  21. John Palmer said,

    October 8, 2009 at 8:18 pm

    EdW: The point is that the ECJ can make law through its adjudications. Once the treaty is formally in place they will be able to do that by specific reference to the Charter and the values it contains. You are, of course, right that the EU (including the ECJ) cannot oblige national governments to recognise trade unions if they do not wish to do so. But they can exact a price where governments blatantly defy the Charter by making rulings against their interests. Where EU law enshrines free market principles this is exactly what the ECJ has done against organised labour (as with the Posted Worker Directive). Please be clear: the Charter of Fundamental Rights, the strengthening of EU democracy etc all fall well short of what any serious socialist (or indeed any serious democrat) would demand. But especially at a time when economic and social forces are weighted against the interests of working people, the modest gains in the Lisbon Treaty are very well worth having.

  22. Ed W said,

    October 9, 2009 at 1:13 pm

    Well we’ll have to wait and see I guess. I wish I could feel confident that the passage of the Lisbon Treaty had tipped the balance, even slightly, in favour of trade union rights in Ireland – as you say, a modest step forward is nothing to be sniffed at right now. But I really don’t think IBEC would have mobilised itself so enthusiastically to pass Lisbon if they feared that it would be a trojan horse for union recognition – they would have been extremely vociferous in demanding an opt-out / guarantee or whatever was required, and what IBEC wants, it usually gets.

  23. John Palmer said,

    October 9, 2009 at 3:59 pm

    EdW – We can probably take this much further. I would only draw to your attention the latest attempt today by the hard right, Thatcherite Czech President, Vaclev Klaus, to wreck the Lisbon Treaty. He is insisting on a legal opt out from the Charter of Fundamental Rights (as the UK and Poland have obtained). He obviously thinks that the Charter has more substance than some of the Irish “No” campaigners.

  24. October 11, 2009 at 12:39 am

    […] a lesson in progressive politics and internationalism, in the comments boxes of “Splintered Sunrise“. Here’s a […]

  25. October 14, 2009 at 6:55 am

    […] 14, 2009 Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics, Scotland. trackback Splintered Sunrise has dealt with one dynamic apparent amongst some during the Lisbon referendum, a sort of near-obsequious ‘cringe’ as regards matters European and Irish. And funnily […]

  26. robert said,

    October 17, 2009 at 3:55 pm

    Lisbon Treaty to become law within weeks after Czech president concedes defeat

    So how do we stop Mr Tony becoming Emperor?

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