Bruce Arnold

Critic of Public Affairs, writing about art, theatre, music and politics

We are no longer crucial. We are marginal again -- unless we say 'No' to the Lisbon Treaty

Cowen and Martin espouse a wishful idea of Ireland at the centre of Europe. This will never be

The implications of this week's judgment on the Lisbon Treaty by the German Constitutional Court are profound for the whole of Europe and raise many questions, both for Germany and for all member states, whether or not they have it ratified. In light of the many sober messages given 'in the name of the German people' by the seven judges, it is difficult to see how the largest state in the European Union can rush headlong into the political processes that the court requires of the state, though this seems to be the intention and may well be the outcome. After all, Germany is at the heart of the European Union and the Lisbon Treaty undoubtedly strengthens its power -- at the expense of Ireland, it has to be said -- making even more impressive the safeguards the judgment imposes on Germany's politicians.

Moreover, the country, more than any other European power, was itself the overwhelming reason, following the Second World War, that inspired those who fashioned the European Economic Community, as a way out of the successive conflicts that had torn the continent in pieces. Why would they not now consider carefully and comprehensively the future of Europe from their point of view?

What the judgment does for the rest of Europe, in terms of 'sober messages', has implications for all countries, none more so than Ireland.

It is difficult to imagine a more humiliating or embarrassing contrast between the two countries. While Germany has considered, in the Karlsruhe Judgment, its relationships with the EU and with the treaty, our leaders, Brian Cowen and Micheal Martin, have acted like corner boys and rabble-rousers, rushing to Europe for a quick fix designed to get a 'Yes' vote. There was no serious thought or dignity at all.

It would lessen the damage of their deception and slyness if one could point to the main opposition parties and show they had handled things better. No such claim is possible. Lemming-like, they have followed those in power, offering their own dishonest description of 'Yes' vote benefits and raising dishonest prescriptions about a 'No' vote outcome.

They espouse a wishful idea of Ireland at the centre of Europe. This will never be. Ireland is small and peripheral. It has slavishly attended EU meetings looking for a cheap set of answers for a rerun of a totally unchanged Lisbon Treaty.

Compare this with the sobriety and intelligence of the German Republic's response to challenges to its Basic Law, or constitution, and you have a picture of representation running out of control.

It was a grave surprise and disappointment that Declan Ganley withdrew from this increasingly unequal debate after his defeat in the West. He should not have done it. He needs to return to the battle, one that has been fundamentally, even irretrievably, changed by the German judgment.

This all raises questions about the judgments made by Cowen and Martin. These two men are not in the same class of constitutional thought about the nature of sovereignty as the Germans, where a powerful lead, given by the Constitutional Court, is taken with serious thought and debate by the German people.

Our ministers do not consider -- as the Germans clearly do -- the need for the drawing of a line across the path of Europe's onward march towards anti-democratic centralisation and bureaucratic consensus. Yet it was the vital element in the referendum's defeat and will become central again.

Our interests and Germany's are quite clearly opposed. Germany will be strengthened by what is now happening, Ireland will be weakened. Their voting strength is enhanced, ours is lessened. They want to be at the heart of Europe, and can be. They are already dominant there. We want to be at the heart of Europe without knowing what it means, still less knowing how we achieve it.

On one thing both countries are together, Germany through considered purpose, ourselves because of our 1973 constitutional commitment on signing ourselves into the EEC: this is the desire for involvement in a trade and market union that gave us advantages without undermining sovereignty.

That debate has been overtaken by events and is fundamentally changed by Germany taking a lead in redefining itself and Europe. However, though Germany's Constitutional Court delivered a strong message, the message was finite. On the issue of whether the EU is becoming a federal state and whether a new EU citizenship is being created, it is no more a matter for the German Constitutional Court to decide than it is for a group of diners at a private dinner party. The decision becomes one for that biased institution, the European Court of Justice. They will take a view totally different from the German judgment. And that should frighten all of us.

What is likely to happen now is the following: the German judgment will go to the Bundestag. There, the drafting of the legislation demanded by the Constitutional Court will be challenged again, taking us into the early part of next year.

Behind this there looms a fresh Czech constitutional challenge and a situation where Kaczynski in Poland is unlikely to ratify before the German process is completed, which will almost certainly not be in September. It is unlikely that the process, in real terms, will be completed before next year when the logic and fairness of considering the post-election circumstances in the UK will arise, President Klaus will ensure this. This will demand an open and fair approach and not the pre-empting of the situation. Thus, a UK referendum is increasingly likely.

Ireland's debate, between now and October, has changed. We are no longer crucial. We are marginal again -- unless we say 'No' and start to map a properly reformed Europe.