02 October 2009

Fingers Crossed On Lisbon

It seems there have been a couple of sketchy opposition exit polls that indicate it's a win for the 'Yes' side. Fine Gael are giving it 52% yes and 48% no, while Young Fine Gael are giving it 60% yes and 40% no. There's no telling how scientific these polls have been, though, and the figures should probably be taken with more than a pinch of salt. Still, though, this is encouraging.

I have a few friends who are perplexed about my support for Lisbon, since they can't see how this is good for Ireland. Leaving aside how they're often using 'Ireland' as a stand-in for 'Britain', fo me it's ultimately a no-brainer.

In general our interests are in tune with Britain and our other partners on the mainland: making our collective voice clearer and louder will give us more influence than we've been, and we'll need that influence down the line if we want there to be a European voice at the table where America and China and figuring out which way the world'll go. Giving the national parliaments a couple of months to go through proposals before the Council votes on them is surely a good thing, and having the Council vote in public on them has to be the most overdue of reforms. And like I've said, Lisbon gives us a mechanism to leave if we ever decide we'd be better off outside the tent.

It's not perfect, of course. In particular, I'm not convinced that the European parliament is other than a well-intentioned waste of money. It's a good idea, in that it's nice to have someone who directly represents you, rather than your country, in the European institutions: crudely put, the Parliament represents the people, the Council represents the countries, and the Commission represents the Union as a whole. And yes, I know big corporations and NGOs spent a fortune trying to lobby MEPs, and that there those who argue it's incredibly powerful. But barring how it can sack the Commission -- which is a very important capability, usefully applied once already -- I'm just not sure it works in practice.

The German Supreme Court was right when it said it's an assembly rather than a parliament, not least because as a rule its seven groupings operate in a consensual way, rather than as a government and and an opposition. Given the need to allow the small countries to have any kind of presence at all, electoral equality has to be disregarded, so that a Maltese vote goes thirteen times further than a German one; there's no way this is going to change, so a fully and equally enfranchised European demos isn't on the cards.

I get annoyed too whenever the Parliament votes to promote universal access to abortion across the Union. This isn't a pro-life point I'm making, I should explain: it's a sovereignty one. Ever since the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, it's been a staple of European law that abortion in Ireland is an Irish issue to be ruled on by the Irish people. Despite this, every so often there's a proposal in the parliament that disregards this. The most recent one I can think of was in January 2009, when the Parliament approved a motion by Giusto Catania of the Italian Communist party which drew on the -- as yet unratified -- Charter of Fundamental Rights and called on the Union to promote the right to abortion everywhere in the Union. Back in September 2004 there was a bit of a rumpus about a Portuguese attempt to ban the Dutch 'Women on Waves' ship from entering Portuguese waters; this sparked a debate about whether abortion should be permitted across the whole EU, with Vasco Graca Moura, a Portuguese MEP, making the astute point that the debate was a complete waste of time, as 'termination of abortions falls under the competences of member states'. In July 2002 the Parliament formally approved a report presented by the Belgian MEP Anne van Lancker which urged increased access to abortion facilities across the Union.

Obviously, as I've said in the past, I'm pro-life, but that's not the issue here. This is a matter of sovereignty. In the broad sense, abortion is regarded as a health issue in EU law, and health issues are considered national competences rather than pan-European ones; more narrowly, Irish arrangements regarding abortion are specifically protected as being a Irish problems that require Irish solutions; either way, votes and debates on these issues shouldn't have an implications for Ireland, and yet they're treated in the Parliament as though they do. You might wonder why they happen at all, really.

On that, I'd say that these votes, of course, never create binding obligations, as the Parliament is primarily a consultative body, rather than a legislative one. I'm pretty sure this is the only reason these debates are allowed. If the Parliament were to be granted teeth, it would also need to be given a muzzle.

Of course, all this means that the EU is, and shall remain an association of sovereign states, rather than a 'super-state', which you'd think the No campaigners would like. Of course, that'd require them to close their mouths and then open their minds for a bit. Have you seen any flying pigs lately?

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