Thursday, 5 June 2008

This referendum is the Emperor's New Clothes of democracy!

It's a shame that I now feel so apathetic and cynical about the European Union.
20 years ago I was a strong and fervent believer in the power of European unity, but looking back now, I wonder how much of that was down to the desperate and urgent need we all then felt to calm the Soviet and American superpowers, who were forever threatening to use Europe as the venue for their nuclear war.
In my mind I dreamed of a United States of Europe, strong enough to tell the big bad boys to shut up, go away, take their Intercontinental Ballistic Nuclear Missiles and station them a lot closer to their own homes. I hoped that the EU might offer a world-beating combination of financial might, historical depth and cultural strength to the worldwide mix, and hold firm as a great force for peace.
The seed that grew into this European Union was formed when the French, German and English considered a coal and steel co-operative in the late 1940's. Naturally the English wanted none of it, (Nasty dirty Johnny Dago, we have plenty of coal, yuk yuk go away, you rather lowly recently-liberated people) but planted into the rubble of a billion bombed out houses and nurtured by the exhausted war torn millions of Western Europe, the seed of co-operation germinated into a spirit, and above all, a determination that we would never go to war with each other again.
With the very best of intentions, I settled down to read the wee leaflet that had been delivered to our door. What was this Reform Treaty all about?
Checking to see if both sides had been allowed the same space, I found only an upside-down Irish language version of the English language 'Yes' vote's arguments.
But really, that didn't matter either, because before I read to the end of the very first paragraph, I had given up.
Under the heading 'What is the Reform Treaty?', the para was trying to explain the name of the thing that we were voting for:
"Its official name is the Treaty Amending the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty establishing the European Community."
My brain flushed awash with images of Monty Python's 'Life of Brian', the debates between the People's Front of Judea and the Judean People's Front.
In a vast conference suite, somewhere in Brussels, people had been hammering out this bureaucratic befuddlement.
"Bonjour, guten tag, hello, buenas dias, prynhawn da, dobar dan, bom dia, svitchi svotcha, bugga booger, a dunkin donutski..."
"Yes please to get on with it. Last two weeks only beetroots saying hello we are in so much heat and bad coffee, honey drip drip drop as we say in my country honey drop a long time it taking to not get business done."
"Put on your interpretators headphones you foolish balkan type. I am not interested in your lack of manners and cultural ignorance of my people's protocols."
"So this reform treaty can be maybe called a Reform Treaty of Lisbon Treaty?"
"No, because Lisbon Treaty is already reforming treaty of all the other treaties, so they their names must be having in the name of this treaty. Beetroot fool."
"My delegation respectfully request that this Reform Treaty be called: The Reform Treaty that will be Reformed by any given EU member State, Country, Principality, Nation, or Dodgy Region with its own Funny Dialect and Enough Nutters With Bombs, near good-sounding City where in five years when We need to change Treaty again we will vote Treaty replacing all other Treaties and excluding Cities and Countries who have already either won a World War, or Eurovision , or already had a Treaty named after them ... Treaty."
Not much of a way to run a continent, really.
The Reform Treaty referendum, as presented to the Irish people, is nothing but a retelling of the children's story of the Emperor's New Clothes, wherein the voice of one innocent child screams out the truth that the Emperor is riding naked through the streets, allowing all in the crowd to stop pretending, and mock as one.
We are willing participators in a democratic process, but we are loathe to own up and confess that we have no clue what we are voting for. Even those of us sad souls who have read the damned treaty have no clue what we are voting for.
We want to vote 'Yes', because there is always the feeling with the European Union that you have to be in it to win it. But Ireland has already won the EU's Euromillons, and is now having to pay to support other less-well-off countries, and nobody likes that.
Our inability to understand what is being reformed is actually hampered by exponents on both sides.
A recent letter to a local paper from Fianna Fail MEP, Sean O'Neactain, stated:
"Ireland will have exactly the same rights of representation within the European Commission post 2014 as Germany and France."
On the very same page, a letter from Sinn Fein supporter Anna Marley stated:
"...under the new formula, Ireland's voting strength is cut in half while the voting strengths of the largest states - France, UK, Germany, Italy - doubles."
Pathetic, isn't it, and the only loser is democracy itself, because we are being invited to vote out of ignorance.
After my recent rant about the bureaucratic nightmare that is the EBU and the Eurovision Song Contest, I was sent a note by a friend of Conservative Party MEP, Chris Heaton-Harris, who is rightly concerned about his fellow MEP's' own ignorance of what they vote for in the European Parliament itself:
"MEPs vote to approve the budgets of each EU institutions like the Commission, the Parliament, the myriad of European agencies. Towards the end of one such session, as we were voting to approve something called the GNSS Supervisory Authority, my colleague Chris Heaton-Harris stood up and asked whether there was a single MEP present who knew what the GNSS was. There was an awkward silence. The Deputy Speaker, a genial Spaniard called Alejo Vidal-Quadras, told Chris that, by the end of the day, everyone would have looked it up."
(the GNSS is the European Global Navigation Satellite System.)
This colyoom will not advise you whether to vote 'Yes' or 'No' on June 12th. An old friend once told me that if you can't work out the answer, you might simply be asking the wrong question.

No comments: