From the June 18, 2008 New York Post
June 18, 2008
by John O'Sullivan
Ireland has stunned the world by voting down the Lisbon "constitutional treaty" intended to give the European Union all the attributes of a sovereign state - without formal statehood or the word "constitution."
Experts ask: Why is Ireland, which has greatly benefited from EU membership, so ungrateful? Nonexperts ask: Can anyone make head or tail out of all this? Let's focus on the nonexperts' questions.
What is the European Union?
It's an organization of 27 European states that began as mainly a free-trade area but gradually expanded its activities.
Its first big project was the Common Agricultural Policy, which still spends about 40 percent of the EU's total budget on subsidizing farmers. But since the end of the Cold War, it has pursued political integration - a common currency (the euro), foreign policy and governmental institutions in Brussels and Strasbourg that decide about 70 percent of the laws and regulations governing member-states.
So what's the problem?
Until recently, everyone supported European free trade. But many Europeans don't much like political integration: They want to govern themselves.
And even the Eurocrats running the show admit that Europe's common institutions have a "democratic deficit" (i.e., are undemocratic and run by unelected bureaucrats.)
Who does want political integration? Well, the Eurocrats do: They'd get to govern a superstate look-alike with minimum democratic accountability. And the political elites in most member-countries often get the chance to become Eurocrats (with large tax-free salaries and inflation-protected pensions) when the voters throw them out of office at home. Also supporting it are some ordinary voters in those nations with lousy governments (Italy), embarrassing pasts (Germany) and lots of farmers needing subsidies from other countries (France). Most Europeans are bored by all this. A large and growing minority resist it. Where does the Lisbon Treaty fit here? Lisbon was the second attempt to fasten onto the EU the straitjacket of a constitution that would make common European institutions the real government of EU states - with national governments acting as their agents - across almost the entire field of politics. The second attempt? Yes. The first attempt, frankly called a constitution, was rejected by the voters of France and Holland. Legally, that was supposed to kill the constitution. Instead, member governments made a handful of cosmetic changes to the constitution, called it a treaty instead and declared that it needn't be submitted to the voters. That way, the original French and Dutch referenda could be ignored, and the British government could renege on its pledge to hold a referendum on the "constitution." Why did the Irish alone get a vote? First, the Irish constitution required it. Second, the Irish government was convinced that their voters would say "Yes." But the Irish voters decided that it might compromise their independence, democracy and right to the low taxes that are the real explanation of their prosperity. They rebelled - as is their wont - and even the British are cheering. So that dooms the Lisbon Treaty, right? Per the law, yes. Per the Eurocrats and their tame governments, no. Ratification will go ahead in 26 other countries; when the Irish are completely isolated, they will either be bullied into voting yes - or perhaps sidelined. But this is a risky business. Other governments - like the Czech one - and many other countries admire what the Irish have done. And forcing nations to vote again and again until they do what the Eurocrats want is getting embarrassing. It looks, well, a little authoritarian. Is there a compromise available? Yes, if the Eurocrats and the elites would bend a little. It's called a "variable geometry Europe" (sorry, not my coinage) and it means that different countries could have permanent "opt-outs" from new and existing common European rules. So the Irish wouldn't have to conform to any common taxation rules that come down the line, the British wouldn't join the Euro, etc. But the Eurocrats don't want to bend: They want a grand Euro-state to compete with the United States as a superpower, not a comfortable confederation where the ordinary voter gets to decide who governs him and what laws get passed. Should Americans give a damn? Americans signed onto the European Union a long time ago. They wanted a strong partner in world affairs. And they liked the idea of European prosperity based on free trade. But the EU is increasingly anti-American. Its regulatory policy is hostile to the United States. In practice, Washington gets more real support from strong military powers such as Britain and (yes, even) France than it would from a pacifistic Europe hobbled by disagreements and rivalries and unwilling to spend money on its defense. So the US should encourage Ireland to stand firm and other Europeans to support them. Up the rebels!
John O'Sullivan was a Senior Fellow at Hudson Institute and editor-at-large of National Review.
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