No, De Nuevo

A short and splendid commentary on the referendum in El Público by Iñigo Sáenz de Ugarte, which I have taken the liberty of translating -lamentably roughly- in full.

The main Irish parties are very angry with the No campaigners. They accuse them of lying, of exaggerating the powers that the Lisbon Treaty gives to the European bureaucracy and of promising the impossible. It wouldn’t be the first electoral campaign in which the main participants maintain a tortured relationship with reality. Nor is it new that political, journalistic and business elites of a EU country find out that the greater part of public opinion does not trust the europhile paradise that they sell to them with speeches infested with clichés.

The Irish aren’t the only ones who think that the European Union runs by mechanisms which are completely antidemocratic. Government officials agree constitutional texts which -they tell us- are of major importance, but we don’t always have the right to have our say on them. They explain that we can’t disconnect from Europe because the majority of the big decisions are taken in Brussels, but there isn’t a legislative chamber there worthy of the name, that is, one which could monitor an omipotent executive and an irritating bureaucracy. If it should occur to a country to submit the new text to popular consultation and the No wins, sooner or later some points get changed and the sequel is offered up, before which one is supposed to be equally enthusiastic. These officials think that citizens are simply immature pupils, because they say that people are not sufficiently ‘educated’ in selling the achievements of the European Union.

The recent decision to allow working weeks of 65 hours reveals that the more power we concede to Europe the more it will be used in the service of ideas that we do not share and of institutions that we cannot control. Who could be surprised if the Irish are considering saying no to this panorama?

In response to the last question, well I could, since scarcely a word was said about the 65 hours.


6 Responses to “No, De Nuevo”

  1. 1 dav June 12, 2008 at 8:34 am

    Brian Cowen – no Mystic Meg:

    “Brian Cowen would only go so far as to say that defeat would usher in an “uncertain and vague future”, despite the media’s ravenous appetite for more.”

  2. 2 Hugh Green June 12, 2008 at 9:00 am

    What an odd article. It starts off as vaguely critical of the nervous approach of the main parties, then plunges into Comical Ali mode, praising the ‘consummate national leader’ and exalting in the most brain-dead of slogans promoting a Yes vote.

  3. 3 Tomaltach June 12, 2008 at 11:15 am

    Come on. This 65 hour week assertion is ridiculous. We know the EU has been battling to copperfasten the max working week to 48 hours and that in the end the UK forced an opt out clause for limited circumstances. There is NO prospect, absolutely none, of a max week of 60 hours being imposed and this directive makes it clear that in most circumstances the max should be 48. And does nothing to prevent member states having a far shorter max if they wish.

  4. 4 Hugh Green June 12, 2008 at 12:04 pm

    Here’s a translation of what an El País editorial had to say on the matter:

    Radically false (that it improves conditions for all workers). The directive consecrates the freedom of choice for the worker, as an individual, to negotiate his working hours. But it is a theoretical freedom, because by doing away with collective bargaining in that decisive aspect, it breaks an essential balance in the (social) model, and in practice forces workers to assent to whatever the demands of their employers. On the matter of working hours, the directive moves towards the demolition of labour law which underpinned the social stability recorded for decades in Europe.

    It is true that the norm only permits, and does not impose a working week of 60-65 hours, such that in countries such as ours, it will not be put in place. But its application in other member states will not be inocuous, because this disharmonization will artificially modify unit labour costs, and will automatically become a powerful lever in industrial offshoring.

    I presume you know how the free market works. The outcome of this will be to use the threat of relocation to whipsaw the workforce in member states with decent working conditions against those of others with inferior conditions: longer working hours and so on. ‘If they wish’ is wishful thinking.

    You could at least acknowledge that -even if you find that these newspapers are completely wrong in this analysis- it’s a rational point of view on an important issue. Can you show me where this point of view has been articulated in Irish media?

  5. 5 Tomaltach June 12, 2008 at 2:11 pm

    I acknowledge that this is an imporant issue – I think workers rights is a crucial issue in the bigger debate about liberal versus social. And I accept your point about the Irish media. I think they are very poor in relation to not just issues in this domain, but in terms of reporting developments in the Union.

    What I don’t accept is that this directive demonstrates that the European Union is bad for workers rights in general. Because if the Union had no competence in this domain it would be a complete free for all. And that would be worse than the directive which attempts to set a cap, though in the end fails to make it watertight. The Union has levelled the playing field in many many areas around workers rights. That it failed, though clearly it tried, to make a watertight cap in this area is a reminder of its limits.

    I cannot see how the Union’s failure to reach the ideal outcome on this issue constitutes making matters worse than if it had no competence at all in the area. Is it not true, for example, that the Union persuaded the UK to sign up to the directive which gives agency workers the same (or practically similar) rights to full time workers? Basically, I think the progress of workers rights via the EU needs to be looked at in a wider perspective, taking into account successes as well as focusing on failures.

    I am fully aware of how free movement of capital enables companies to use the threat of relocation to extract concessions from workers. There have been notable cases of this in France and Germany. Clearly the 35 hour week in France is now doomed. But in a world where there is very intense competition from Asia and elsewhere I cannot see how France’s battle would be better without the EU.

    In fact, I would argue that the best way to resist the immense global forces that threaten workers is to pool sovereignty in the EU where, for all the arguments and adjustments relating to liberal economics, there remains strong social momentum and thinking.

    In the end it boils down to deciding whether our interests are best served by taking our chances with going it alone, or pooling our forces with other European states.

  6. 6 Hugh Green June 12, 2008 at 3:23 pm


    It isn’t so much the detail of the directive (tho that is bad), but the mechanisms by which it was arrived: little public involvement in a decision that has profound implications. I don’t think it’s right to say that the Union attempted and failed: the directive is a product of the Union, so good intentions don’t really come into it.

    Yes, agency worker rights were improved, and I fully agree that a wider perspective is required. It just seems to be that our perspectives don’t converge. For instance, I don’t agree that neo-liberalism is best resisted by transfer of power to unaccountable bureaucracies, and I don’t believe there is strong social momentum and thinking in Europe at the moment (just have a look at what’s happening in the three most powerful member states, for instance).

    I’m not particularly concerned about our (i.e. Irish) interests – I am far more interested in the overall outcome for people inside the European Union and out. That’ll be my basis for voting. I seriously doubt, however, that Ireland will ‘go it alone’ in the event of a No vote winning.

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