Interview: Anthony Coughlan

Issue: 24 – April 2008
Interview: Anthony Coughlan
�The State may ratify the Treaty of Lisbon signed at Lisbon on the 13th day of December 2007, and may be a member of the European Union established by virtue of that Treaty. No provision of this Constitution invalidates laws enacted, acts done or measures adopted by the State that are necessitated by membership of the European Union, or prevents laws enacted, acts done or measures adopted by the said European Union or by institutions thereof, or by bodies competent under the treaties referred to in this section, from having the force of law in the State.� (emphasis added) – 28th Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 2008 � What people will be voting on in June

Why should Irish voters reject the Lisbon Treaty?
Because Lisbon would set up a new European Union in the form of a supranational Federal State and would turn Ireland into a province or region of this EU State, with our independence and democracy as a sovereign country abandoned. It would make Ireland a province, not a nation, once again.

That Lisbon would do this is clearly shown by the two key sentences of the Constitutional Amendment which the people are being asked to put into the Irish Constitution to enable the Treaty to come into force.

The first sentence of this Amendment states that Ireland may be a member of the European Union established by the Treaty of Lisbon. This EU which would be established by Lisbon would be constitutionally, legally and politically fundamentally different from the European Union which was established by the 1993 Treaty of Maastricht, which established the EU that we are currently members of. The same name, the European Union, would be used for the pre-Lisbon and post-Lisbon EU, to prevent people realising what is happening.

The second key sentence of the proposed Amendment would then say that nothing in the Irish Constitution prevent the laws, acts and decisions of this new European Union for having the force of law in the State. �No provision of this Constitution invalidates etc.�
These two sentences would make the Irish Constitution and laws wholly subordinate to the Constitution and laws of this new European Union. Lisbon would make us real citizens of this new Federal EU for the first time. That means that we would have to obey the laws and give loyalty to the authority of the new EU over and above the Irish Constitution and laws in any case of conflict between the two, for EU law would be superior.

The second main reason for opposing Lisbon is that the Treaty is a power grab for control of this new Union by its big Member States. Under Lisbon EU laws would be made primarily on the basis of population size, in which the Big States have an obvious advantage.
For an EU law to pass post-Lisbon there would have to be 15 out of 27 States in favour, as long as that 15 contained 65% of the total EU population of some 500 million people. This would double Germany�s voting weight in making EU laws, from 8% to 17%. It would increase France�s voting weight from 8% to 13% and increase Britain�s and Italy from 8% to 12% each, while it would reduce Ireland�s voting say from 2% to 0.8%.

Lisbon would also abolish our right to have a permanent EU Commissioner, so that Ireland would have no one on the EU Commission, the body which proposes all EU laws to the Council of Ministers, which then makes them, for five out of every 15 years.
Having a fellow-national on the EU Commission has always been specially important for smaller States like Ireland, as the Big Countries have other ways of making their influence felt. Lisbon would also take from us our right to decide who Ireland�s Commissioner would be when it comes to our turn to have a member of the Commission, for our present right to propose someone would be replaced by a right to make �suggestions� only.

In addition Lisbon would give the new Union which it would establish the power to make EU laws in 32 new policy areas, including crime and justice, immigration, sport, culture, energy, public health, transport etc. Dail Eireann and the Irish people would lose the power to decide these matters.

Lisbon would also give the new Union the power to decide the human rights of all EU citizens by making the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights legally binding. This would give the EU Court of Justice the final say in what our rights are in all areas of EU law, including Member States when implementing EU law.

This would enable the new Union to impose a common standard of rights on 500 million EU citizens, even though many countries have special rights standards of their own on such sensitive issues as the right to life, the right to strike, marriage and the family, children�s rights, legalising hard drugs and prostitution, habeas corpus, the presumption of innocence until proved guilty etc.
Lisbon would confirm the Laval judgement of the EU Court of Justice of 18 December last, which makes it illegal in European law for Member States and their Labour movements to try to maintain a national standard of wages for immigrant workers, as against the minimum wage rate. At the same time Lisbon would hand over full control of immigration policy to the EU.

The Treaty would also open the way for the EU Court of Justice to abolish our special low rate of company taxation, which has been so important in bringing foreign firms to Ireland over the years and so fundamental to our modern economic development.

It would militarise the EU further and make us members of a mutual EU defence pact, required to defend other EU countries if attacked, although we could still stay out of a full European Army with joint officers on the lines of the current Franco-German brigade.
Finally, this Treaty has already been rejected by the peoples of France and Holland when it was presented to them in the form of the EU Constitution in 2005. Ireland should reject it as they did and send it back to the EU Prime Ministers and Presidents to get a better deal for Ireland and for Europe.

The bulk of the Irish body politic appears to be in support of the Treaty and its ratification. Why is this the case, in your opinion?
Most TDs and media people do not really know what is in the Lisbon Treaty, for if they did they would oppose it. One reason for this is that Lisbon has been made deliberately obscure by the EU Prime Ministers and Presidents who drew it up. It consists of a long series of amendments to the existing EU Treaties, but these cannot be understood on their own without referring to these other treaties and there is no official text available which shows how the Lisbon amendments would affect these.

Although Lisbon is the EU Constitution which the French and Dutch rejected in another form, at least the Constitution was readable and people could understand it. Of course that was one reason why the French and Dutch turned it down.

A second reason why many Irish politicians support Lisbon is that Irish TDs always take a follow-my-leader stand on EU matters. In Ireland�s 35 years membership of the EEC/EC/EU not a single TD of any party has openly dissented from his or her party leadership on an EU-related issue, not to mind rebelling or resigning the party whip. This could not be said of the politicians of any other EU country. It is a comment on the character of Ireland�s politicians and political parties.

A third reason for the leaders of the big parties to back Lisbon is that Government Ministers and aspiring Ministers on the Opposition benches generally welcome the shift of law-making powers to Brussels from the Dail and the Irish people who elect the Dail.

Look of it this way. To get anything done at home, a Government Minister must have a majority in the Dail for what they want, and implicitly a majority in the country. Shift the policy area in question to Brussels however and that Minister becomes one of 27 Ministers on the EU Council of Ministers making laws for 500 million Europeans. There is a huge increase in personal power for the politicians concerned, even though it is at the expense of their own National Parliaments and peoples. It is particularly appealing for politicians from smaller countries. As someone said, it is much nicer to be running Europe than running Slovakia!

In recent months you have been travelling the country explaining the issues at stake to voters. What has been the general reaction to your message?
When people learn the facts of what is in the Lisbon Treaty, they almost always oppose it. That is why the EU Prime Ministers and Presidents agreed among themselves before Christmas on no account to have referendums on it anywhere, although they cannot avoid one in Ireland. That is also the reason why the Government and Yes-side people are doing everything they can to avoid going into the facts of the Treaty. They talk about Europe being good for us, about how well Ireland has done over the years, about making the EU stronger, better, more effective etc. Anything to avoid going into the detail of what is in the Treaty. for it is hard to put a positive �spin� on its main provisions.

What advice do you have for those who may wish to get involved in the campaign?
First, learn the basic facts about Lisbon and tell them to your friends and neighbours. Second, get involved in one of the many groups that are seeking to defend Irish democracy and national independence by opposing the Treaty � the one you find closest to your own political standpoint. Three good local web-sites which have lots of information on Lisbon are and There is also much information on the web-site of Danish MEP Jens-Peter Bonde, who has produced a Reader-Friendly Edition of the EU Treaties as they would be when amended by the Lisbon Treaty. That web-site is

Dr Anthony Coughlan is Secretary of The National Platform EU Research and Information Centre, and Senior Lecturer Emeritus in Social Policy, Trinity College Dublin


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