Yes: You Can

My fellow Europeans. I was thinking. I am going to vote No in this referendum, and I am not going to read any more of the literature on the subject. But if anyone can give me a convincing reason -not based on things like ‘Vote Yes or wake up in an icy bath minus a kidney’- for voting Yes, I will vote Yes. This is therefore an opportunity to double your vote, or have one, if you aren’t an Irish citizen. Alternatively, you may wish me not to vote. Convince me, and I will not vote. This isn’t a competition with a guaranteed winner, by the way. That is, if I’m not convinced, I will make up my own mind. I won’t cast my vote in favour of the most convincing reason if it isn’t sufficient to persuade me.

Some hints follow, though you may think that the stellar force of your argument may do away with the need to consider these.

I would be most convinced by arguments showing how a Yes vote will lead on the whole to less centralisation of power in the state and greater control for each person over their own productive life. I would be least persuaded by Ireland Uber Alles arguments (it’s in the national interest), or ones based on demystification of perceived No talking points. Nor would I be persuaded by arguments based on the consequences of voting No, as in ‘if you don’t, then this (global environmental disaster/heinous cross-border crime/oil shock/unexpected kidney removal) will happen’, since what we are talking about is institutional reform and not a set of emergency measures. Likewise, making the case for polishing turds (the EU is presently undemocratic, but this will make it more democratic) may prove futile.

Also, in general, arguments based on the potential for greater quantities of a given abstract concept (more effectiveness, more efficiency, more democracy) won’t convince unless they can demonstrate that their application will in fact lead to meaningful results. So it won’t do to say that the EU will be more democratic because of, say, the citizens initiative and the modified role of the European Parilament. You’d have to show me that this would have a significant positive impact in terms of the way people live, and that it is not purely cosmetic given the present character of the European Union.

If no-one responds, I will assume that I am right to vote no. And I’ll be down the polling station on Thursday with a maniacal laugh.


13 Responses to “Yes: You Can”

  1. 1 joe June 10, 2008 at 11:11 am

    We’ve taken the money, now it’s time to run.

  2. 2 coc June 10, 2008 at 11:36 am

    On Q&A last night the CPSU man gave the one and only reason for considering a Yes vote I have heard in all the weeks of the Lisbon ‘debate’. He suggested it *might* create a situation where paid parental leave would be brought in. Now, I have to say it appeared to me to be a pretty big *might*, but fair dues to the man, he definitely tried to convince people with a “what’s in it for me?” attitude. The rest of the Yes men were happy to point out the assorted loons on the No side with a smug conviction that, by default, that would be enough to sway most voters. They are in for some land on Friday!

  3. 3 Tomaltach June 10, 2008 at 1:12 pm

    You say “I would be most convinced by arguments showing how a Yes vote will lead on the whole to less centralisation of power in the state and greater control for each person over their own productive life.”

    But with all respect, you are coming to an EU reform treaty with your own set of goals which were never part of the objective when the EU embarked upon the road to Lisbon. The EU leaders agreed that the EU needed to clarify its areas of competence, and its institutional framework; it needed to give more coherence to Council and to the approach to Foreign relations, to both simplify and streamline decision making, to enhance democratic oversight and to co-ordinate policy in a number of new areas that would be important in the coming decades, such as energy and cross border policy. It is possible to argue that Lisbon attained each of these goals to one degree or another without breaching the red lines of any member state. Is the outcome perfect at addressing each of these objectives? No. But that is the consequence of compromise and political reality.

    Anyone who comes to the treaty looking for collective bargaining, for gay marriage (or not), or for more personal freedom, as you do, is bound to be disappointed. It’s like rejecting the common currency because it doesn’t offer better healthcare.

    You either agree or disagree with most of the objectives which the member states set themselves six years ago. And you either agree or disagree that these objectives were obtained to a degree that is a satisfactory compromise among 27 nation states. That’s the call.

  4. 4 Hugh Green June 10, 2008 at 1:30 pm


    Thanks for the response.

    To be clear: I don’t demand that greater control for workers should be a consequence of a Yes vote. But if it were, it would be a persuasive argument for me personally.

    In essence you are saying that one’s vote should not concern itself with the relationship between the citizen and the state, but rather with how well the European Union meets the objectives it sets itself. That to me is paying tribute to state power, and if required to vote under such terms then the answer for me can only be no. I am obliged to consider the treaty in terms of its real consequences, and not in terms of the criteria previously set by member states (without, I might add, any reasonable instance of consent on my part).

  5. 5 Hugh Green June 10, 2008 at 1:59 pm


    If nothing else changed, and voting yes *might* lead to paid parental leave, then I might be persuaded to vote for it, so maybe it was worth a stab on the CPSU man’s part. Alas, other things change.

  6. 6 Tomaltach June 10, 2008 at 2:03 pm

    “In essence you are saying that one’s vote should not concern itself with the relationship between the citizen and the state”. No, I think the objectives which the governments set out fit onto a broader canvass. Allow me to stay with objectives for the moment and leave aside the particular outcomes, which are necessarily imperfect. I think the objective to enhance democracy is a worthy one and can only improve the responsiveness of the Union to the needs of the citizen. Take another objective, co-operation on energy. In a world dominated by giants and where resources are scarce, it seems to me sensible that Ireland would pool its small weight in a Union where it has hitherto managed to pursue its interests remarkably well. This serves Irish citizens well.

    The very act of signing any international Treaty underlines the power of states. A power of which you are rightly wary. Yet under the right kind of democratic control, the state, however, imperfect, is one of the key vehicles for advancing the quality of life of those within its borders. It needs checks, balances, and perpetual vigilance. Yet the power vested in the state can be legitimate. It can work for the benefit of citizens. If you do not accept that, then you fundamentally reject the legitimacy of the state to organise human affairs. And if that is the case, discussion of any international treaty between states is meaningless.

  7. 7 Hugh Green June 10, 2008 at 3:14 pm

    In terms of particular outcomes, I understand that they will be necessarily imperfect. The question, however, is whether the outcomes will be good enough.

    As for the objectives you cite: those outcomes are dependent on the capacity of the institutions to deliver. When an institution says it is going to pursue a noble ideal, in this case more democracy, this has no bearing on whether it achieves it in fact. So I think you would have to look at the starting point -which is basically a situation where there are not sufficient democratic forms at a European level- and see how far along the route the treaty takes you. Does the treaty deliver functioning democratic forms, or an alibi for their continued absence?

    As for Ireland’s history in the European Union: Eluard’s ‘Le passé est un oeuf cassé, l’avenir un oeuf couvé’ comes to mind. The character of the European Union changes as material conditions change. As good an illustration as any of this is the fact that you have a Lisbon Treaty in the first place. So to say it worked in the past is to ignore the fact that one was dealing with a different ‘it’ then.

    International treaties as such do not underline the power of states, since the facts of each treaty depend on the relative power of its signatories, and the content of the treaty may alter the distribution of power among the states. At any rate, I am not concerned with particular member states, but with the figure of the state as comprising both the EU superstructure and the nation state. I don’t think that states can be legitimate or illegitimate: they just are. So the question is whether they dominate you and other people or whether they protect your freedom. This brings me back to my point about being most convinced by arguments showing how a Yes vote will lead on the whole to less centralisation of power in the state.

  8. 8 Tomaltach June 10, 2008 at 4:16 pm

    There is a danger of us heading around in circles here! But I’d like to answer a couple of your remarks. First you argue that because an institution says it is going to enhance democracy, this has no bearing on whether it achieves it. Very true. But in terms of democracy, Lisbon does more that say that the EU will improve democratic oversight. One would imagine a bland statement (there are many in this and other European treaties) to the effect that the Union will endeavour to do this or that in a democratic way. But to be fair, Lisbon adds specific provisions for increasing democractic oversight and transparency. This involves changes to how the Council meets, how national parliaments get involved and the enhanved powers of the EU parliament. These are not mere aspirations. They are concrete measures. Whether they go far enough is of course questionable. But that they go in the right direction is not. Based on our knowledge of how parliamentary democracy works and how the EU functions, we can sign up to these measures knowing that they will push forward democratic oversight in the Union. I think that’s a fair assessment.

    Back to the power of states. I didn’t intend to contend that by virtue of signing a treaty a given state has great or small power. What I meant, and admittedly I was imprecise, was that the state’s signing up to Treaties is a de facto expression of their sovereignty. I meant power in that sense. I didn’t mean the relative power of states. The question of whether the state is a force of domination or a guarantor of freedom is fraught and complex. Yet it can be a valuable barometer. I assume that your opposition to Lisbon means that you fear that the EU is more of a force dominating our lives rather than a guarantor of freedom, or that Lisbon pushes it in the wrong direction. As I have hinted, I believe that Lisbon gives the Union additional capacity to improve the quality of life in Ireland now and in the medium term. Basically, there are many plusses in the Treaty for Ireland, despite the downside that the EU becomes more integrated.

  9. 9 Hugh Green June 10, 2008 at 4:42 pm

    But that they go in the right direction is not. Based on our knowledge of how parliamentary democracy works and how the EU functions, we can sign up to these measures knowing that they will push forward democratic oversight in the Union. I think that’s a fair assessment.

    I’d beg to differ. How parliamentary democracy works depends on the particular situations in which it functions. So it might work reasonably well in, say, Ireland, but that’s no guarantee that it is sufficient for an entity of the dimensions of Europe. By my estimation, the present European Parliament is a complete joke, if we’re talking about a democratically accountable institution. No-one’s interested bar those elected to it and single issue fanatics. So I’m inclined to include that the improvements proposed are little more than lipstick on a pig.

    Let’s test your assertion that there would be greater democratic oversight. Look at the working time directive and the question of the 48-hour opt out. Do you think that a) the decision was arrived at democratically and b) the Lisbon Treaty, if in place, would have made any significant difference? If so, how?

  10. 10 Tomaltach June 10, 2008 at 5:54 pm

    I’m afraid I don’t know the details of the evolution of the working time directive other than the UK has been dragging its feet for years. Yet the directive is there and is better than what was before. And nothing prevents any member state from advancing on it if they like.

    I assume you argue here that the democratic deficit comes in the form of the UK screwing it up for everyone else?

  11. 11 john June 10, 2008 at 6:32 pm

    democracy works better is smaller groups. a footie club a small town etc. ppl are involved and willing to help think , act and share the burden.

    Democracy’s does not work as good in big institutions. chatter, unknown alliances, uber corporations financing elections. U name the problems.

    one problem the EU is supposed to reduce is unfair competition. combat sweatshops and other unfair business practices abroad.

    europa’s defence should be strengthened
    policing should be strengthened.

    but all comes at a price, ( as we say in the Netherlands , only the sun is free)

    the price u pay for a decent bag of goodies is less democracy.

    you will gain security in the eu, but loose freedoms.

    an extra security roof that will have to be payed for by extra taxes.

    We in the Netherlands were denied a referendum.

    that still breaks my heard and makes me furious like nothing ive ever been. ( they called that improved democracy)

    plz use your vote to say no.

    ( im already posting this anonymous, in fear of governmental represailles.)

  12. 12 Hugh Green June 11, 2008 at 8:31 am


    I don’t see how the directive is better than what was before. We have a situation where working hours can be extended beyond 48 hours by agreement between the worker and the firm. Which might be disguised by some flowery stuff about greater freedom for the worker but in practical terms it means that the firm has the worker bending over.

    You can talk about what individual member states can theoretically do in response, but you need to consider how, if undermined by race-to the-bottom practices in other countries, they could do so and continue to ensure employment for their citizens. This is why I am concerned as a voter with the figure of the state as comprising both the European Union institutions and those of the member state.

    But here I’m not so much concerned about the particulars of the Working Time Directive – I’m more interested in the fact that it’s a good example of how these fundamentally important decisions are being made with scarce participation or consent from citizens. So: would the Lisbon Treaty make the decision-making processes on matters significantly more democratic? Or would it simply make existing undemocratic processes more efficient, with the alibi of ‘more democracy’? I think it’s the latter, until shown otherwise.


    Reprisals? From the Dutch government? Jesus, I thought I was paranoid.

  13. 13 Tomaltach June 11, 2008 at 9:51 am

    I fully appreciate your reasoning. You are right that the working Time directive is not water tight. But even the fact that it is law though has exceptions, means that the notion of the 48 hour week is pulled into European jurisprudence. It becomes a barometer. A ratchet point. We have heard a lot about the doctors in the UK and Ireland, workers whom the governments of these countries sought to maintain working ludicrous hours. True, the directive leaves a hole. But it surely bolsters the case of the doctors in their struggle to right an obvious wrong. Even the UK government has slowly altered its position over the years as this directive kept popping up. The blame here, as I see it, lies with the elected governments of nation states, not with some foggy EU bureacracu.

    True, the EU didn’t have the power to steamroll the measure through in spite of the UK government. But few people I know want a Union which streamrolls in this way. The vast bulk of measures are reached by consensus – that is why they can be slow, that is why they are often compromises. But that is also why they are possible in the first place. A voluntary Union, but which didn’t allow for national peculiarities, be they right or wrong, is a Union which wouldn’t last very long. That is why the intergovernmental nature of the Union is still so important. It allows for the diversity. That is indeed imperfect and not intellectually satisfying, but it is the only possible approach which recognises the political reality that this is not the USA, where states were forced to stay in the Union and cannot leave. This is a voluntary Union of nation states that share sovereignty in a way they believe will allow them to pursue their interests better in a world of big players who often have no scrupples in throwing their weight around to get what they want.

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