I thank the Chairman, Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas and audience members for the opportunity to speak at this historic forum, the first meeting of the Committee on European Affairs to be held outside Dublin.
I wish to make seven points about democracy before proceeding to address economic democracy, military issues, the environment and workers' rights. I will begin with a quote: "public opinion will be led to adopt, without knowing it, the proposals that we dare not present to them directly...All the earlier proposals will be in the new text, but will be hidden and disguised in some way." That comment on the new text came from Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, the veteran French politician and chairman of the negotiations on drafting the EU constitution, and was reported in Le Monde in June 2007. Subsequent to the rejection by the French and Dutch of the EU constitution, the European Commission decided it was the wrong answer and that matters had to proceed. Twelve projects were established to ask the people of Europe how they would like the EU to progress. One of the groups approached was the Bosch Foundation, which owns 92% of the $41 billion fridge and washing machine manufacturer, Bosch. That private foundation paid to establish a group called the Action Committee for European Democracy, which wrote the Lisbon treaty and presented it in much fanfare and publicity at a public relations event in Brussels in June 2007. Several weeks later, the same document was discussed at an intergovernmental conference of EU leaders as a new and improved replacement for the constitutional treaty. The report on the other 11 projects reaching out to the people of Europe was delivered in December 2007 on the same day as the final text of the current Lisbon treaty was published. All this talk about plan D for democracy from the Vice President of the Commission, Margot Wallström, and the others was, therefore, nonsense. The final report on our opinion was not included in the treaty.
When proponents of the treaty speak about increased powers for national parliaments they mean that the deadline for the task of scrutinising the hundreds of proposed EU legislative documents, which is carried out by four Deputies, one Senator and two full-time staff, will be extended from six to eight weeks per proposal. It is proposed to increase the power of European citizens by giving us the right to petition the all-powerful Commission if we gather 1 million signatures. However, such petitions will only be accepted as long as they do not go against the treaty provisions, policies and objectives of the European Union as they stand. Therefore if, for example, we propose that sustainable development, gender equality and environmental protection should be at the core of EU trade policy, we will be rejected. We can petition if we like but the Commission reserves the right to ignore us.
Not many will have heard of the European Parliament's voting to disrespect the result of the Irish referendum. Unfortunately the Irish media did not do its job and ignored the events of 20 February, when the European Parliament was presented with the European parliamentary report on the Lisbon treaty. In such situations, each of the political parties can put forward amendments to the committee report. Amendment No. 32 was that this Parliament — the European Parliament — will respect the result of the Irish referendum. Unfortunately 499 members of the European Parliament voted "No" while 133 voted "Yes". Approximately three weeks ago I made this exact point in this room. I asked Mr. Pierre Jonckheer, vice president of the Green Party group in the European Parliament, how he, as a leader of the Green Party in Europe, can be instrumental in instructing his members not to respect the result of the Irish referendum. He pounded the table and said the result of the Irish referendum is irrelevant, MEPs had spent five years negotiating this document, they are not going back and Ireland will not stop the other 26 countries implementing this treaty. I was rather shocked.
My other point on democracy is that the EU shall have legal personality. This means it will be a legal person in a court of law to fight for or against our rights. We do not know what the implications of that will be and maybe Dr. Pech could fill us in on it later.
Is the EU an association of equal member states? If so, little ones should have a higher vote weighting despite the small size of their populations to make large and small states equal in negotiations. Either we have that system or we do not. Are we moving towards creating a country? We will have a president, like the Irish President, or a foreign minister. The bigger countries are getting more votes in the European Council to reflect the fact that their populations are bigger. Countries such as Ireland will get fewer votes to reflect our smaller population. This makes it look like a country. Germany is increasing its share of votes at the European Council from 8.4% to 16.7% of all the votes, almost double. France is going from 8.4% to 12.8%, Italy from 8.4% to 12%, and the UK from 8.4% to 12.3%. Ireland has 2% of the votes in the European Council and we are going down to 0.8%. If we want the EU to be more like a country, with the vote of each state reflecting its population rather than the fact that it is a country, that is fine, let us go for it. However, if we think it should be more equal and to do with being a country, we should not.
I would like to discuss the Charter of Fundamental Rights. My colleagues and I established the campaign against the EU constitution in 2005. We went through the agony of reading the charter, what it says in the protocols at the end of the treaty on how it will become EU law and when and where other aspects of European policy could trump and overrule the charter. After hours of research we came to the conclusion that there are no extra powers in this. We thought about issuing a press release but Deputy Dick Roche, then Minister for of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs with responsibility for European affairs, did it for us. Speaking at the Irish Society for European Law he said, "the Charter does not extend the field of application of Union law or establish any new power or task for the Union." He went on to say, "the Charter is a significant development for the Union as it sets out, in a consolidated form, those rights that citizens already enjoy." There is nothing new in the Charter of Fundamental Rights, and people should not let anybody fool them otherwise. The Charter of Fundamental Rights is a legal document in which the institutions of the EU agree to abide by certain human rights rules and regulations when they implement their powers. It does not apply to individuals but to the institutions of the EU.
There is some incorrect information circulating about workers' rights and the Charter of Fundamental Rights, for example, the suggestion that we will never have another Laval case. The Laval case is a situation in which a Latvian building company got a contract to do some building work in a Swedish school. It wanted to bring Latvian workers over to Sweden and pay them less than the Swedish workers. Every year in Sweden the workers and employers in the building industry meet and negotiate a deal on pay rises and terms and conditions for all the workers in the industry. The Latvian company wanted to bust up that deal. The Swedish trade unions shut down the building site, engaged in secondary picketing and the company shut down its operation. The company took the union to the European Court of Justice, which invoked the Charter of Fundamental Rights, saying the right of workers to engage in collective bargaining and strike had been written in Charter in 2001. These are fundamental rights recognised by the European Court of Justice now, before we vote on the treaty. As it has already been used by the European Court of Justice, accepting or rejecting the Lisbon treaty is irrelevant. The court also said there was another fundamental right, to do cross-border business and not to be dissuaded from doing so. In this case, one's right to strike and engage in collective bargaining is trumped by the right to do business across international boundaries in the EU, however one has the right to strike for the minimum wage. This is social democracy, European style. One can strike for the minimum wage. Needless to say, the Swedish workers are not too happy.
Last December the European Court of Justice ruling in the Viking Line case stated that the threat of strike action to protect workers' rights was legitimate, but that it could not be a restriction on the right to establish a business in another European country. So while the Lisbon treaty and previous treaties have beautiful sounding aspirations and ideals to create a positive place to work and an equal society, the European Court of Justice, which is like a Supreme Court for Europe dealing with the day to day running, always goes with the rights to establish a business, conduct trade and not to be dissuaded from conducting business.
People talk about social Europe and the social market economy being protected. In 1961 in Germany the "Volkswagen law" was passed giving four equal votes to the board of directors of the massive Volkswagen corporation. These four votes were held by the local, democratically elected government of Lower Saxony, the Volkswagen works council, the union IG Metall and the shareholders of Volkswagen. This meant the profits from the company were used for environmental and literacy issues, helping the unemployed and such purposes. Porsche engaged in an aggressive takeover of Volkswagen. The board of directors said it did not want to move production to a Third World country but would like to keep the jobs in Germany where there was a high standard of living. Porsche was not happy with this and the case went to the European Court of Justice which, predictably, sided with the right of companies to establish businesses and the freedom to buy companies and move capital from country to country. Again, it downplayed employment rights, control of production and the environment.
These are three cases in which the European Court of Justice has sided with big business and the forces of neo-liberalism, despite the rhetoric in our existing treaties on high-sounding ideals such as the protection of the social market economy. It is a ruse. It is not true. In case after case the European Court of Justice sides with big business against workers and the environment. There was another case on 3 April involving Polish workers in Germany. The result was that if the employer wants to give minimum wage, despite what the rest of the EU is doing, it is tough luck on the workers. It is very unfortunate to hear this information. I believe in Europe and feel I am European, but I believe in the Europe of the Enlightenment in which we base our views on politics, politicians and institutions on the evidence, not on wooly-minded aspirations. Let us examine the evidence and action, and make our decisions based on that.
The third area I would like to examine is the issue of trade justice. We all know groups such as Oxfam, Trócaire, Comhlámh and Debt and Development Coalition Ireland have a problem with how world trade goes on. It is said big institutions and trade entities such as the European Union and America are doing trade deals with poorer countries to the detriment of those poorer countries. We should consider if that critique applies to this document. I believe it does. The existing Article 131 guides the European Union in the way it does trade deals on our behalf in negotiations with other countries and will be changed to Article 188. There is a policy in the European Union treaties on how the body should conduct itself when doing trade deals on our behalf. For example, does it indicate that the European Union must prioritise gender equality, the protection of the environment, sustainable development, the promotion of literacy and human rights? No, it has absolutely nothing to do with these elements. It is a hard-nosed policy, pro-free trade and pro-big business. It is explicit and clear. I will read the old and new versions together. The new provision states:
By establishing a customs union in accordance with Articles 23 to 27, the Union shall contribute, in the common interest, to the harmonious development of world trade, the progressive abolition of restrictions on international trade and on foreign direct investment, and the lowering of customs and other barriers.
The new article indicates that the European Union will conduct trade by the progressive abolition of restrictions on foreign direct investment and try to lower other barriers. The committee should read what Oxfam, Comhlámh, the Debt and Development Coalition and Trócaire have to say about what protecting foreign direct investment rights and others leads to. Their documents indicate that in trade deals the European Union is forcing poor countries to get rid of certain factors. These include foreign companies being made to employ locals and involve local business people, or that they must not buy collectively-owned common land or that they must protect and respect nature reserves and local traditions. These indicate that if a company wants to do business with a particular country, it must respect that country's culture, equality provisions and such other matters. These factors cannot now be promoted by the European Union as they act against our trade policy.
I will skip the military element because I am not an expert on the matter. To turn to the environment, given the amount of hot air expelled, the whole planet would be saved if we were to vote "Yes". There are six extra words on the environment in the treaty: "and, in particular, on climate change". That is all that is said on the environment. The treaty does not put it at the heart of trade or economic policy.
I wanted to give some quotes from——