Bruce Arnold

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

Arrogant Europe must take share of blame for 'No' vote

IT is neither the 'Yes' voters nor the 'No' voters that are to blame, except in the ways they treated each other. Theirs was a sovereign right, in our democracy, to vote in accordance with their views and judgments and it will be a sad day when such a freedom is brought under non-democratic control.

No, the fault was Europe's. The European Union has distanced itself so far from the people that their ruling junta is no longer liked nor trusted by the people. They do not understand its laws. They do not even understand its language which, though in English, is largely a form of gobbledygook.

It has given us much, with more to come. But it does not know how to communicate and has become comprehensively arrogant about its own rights. In the present crisis, "reflecting" is not confined to Ireland. The EU also needs to reflect and to do so in legal and constitutional ways.

There was the same gap eight years ago, and the EU's leaders attempted a remedy for the Europe they ran. They did so by drafting a Constitution. The process began with the Laeken Declaration. This was motivated by recognition of the lack of transparency and the inadequacy of communication undermining the authority of the EU.

It was thought possible that a simple constitutional text would emerge. This happened. Its architects involved many of the people who have debated the virtues of the Lisbon Treaty, among them John Bruton and Dick Roche. This vast army of europhiles is understandably shattered by how badly the debate went, but they overlooked massive shortfalls in transparency, clarity and simplicity. These had been embraced, under the guiding chairmanship of Giscard d'Estaing.

The early document was long, incorporating past treaties and agreements. As it progressed the clarity evaporated. The succession of documents that followed have become a millstone around the EU's neck.

An inter-governmental conference followed Laeken. A constitutional text was produced, adopted, and signed in Rome. The French and Dutch turned this down in 2005. In early drafts its preamble said: "This Constitution establishes the European Union."

It had to abolish all previous treaties. It then put what they stood for into the future Lisbon Treaty. The French and Dutch scotched the process. Ratification ceased. Our referendum was cancelled. The accumulated documentation was massive and incoherent. The purpose of Laeken had been lost. Future loyalty was based on a bureaucratic construct that seemed to many people deliberately obscure.

What the French and Dutch did, in bringing the earlier version to its knees, destroying it, was copied by Ireland last week. The French and the Dutch were respected by Europe as a whole. Fortunately so far, and to Cowen's credit, Ireland looks like being treated the same.

If this changes, another 'No' vote will be recorded. Tinkering with commissioner-status will not save it. On Thursday, the 'Financial Times' in London said in a short editorial: 'EU leaders agreed [at Laeken] that there was a growing gap between Europe and its citizens. They thought that drafting a constitution might be the answer. If they had succeeded in keeping it simple -- say no more than 20 pages of clear principles and general rules -- it might have done the trick."

As is so often the case in politics, and as I have outlined above and in all my articles since the start of the Lisbon Treaty campaign, they did the opposite. Their text was a complete turn-off. The 'Yes' voters could not speak in favour because they did not know how. The 'No' voters had ready-made jibes to issue against almost everything in the Lisbon Treaty.

Both sides had been deprived of what Laeken attempted -- clear principles and general rules -- instead they had chaos. What they wanted was a simple constitutional statement of where we were and where we were going.

The 'Financial Times' went on to say that the leaders of Europe "should focus on what practical measures can be implemented without a new treaty to make the EU more democratic and transparent". What the EU really needs is a simple constitution along the lines of Laeken, seven years ago.

Such documents do exist. I have read one. It is infinitely preferable to the "profoundly undemocratic juggernaut of the Lisbon Treaty". Its main proposals would be widely approved in Ireland. Such a brief constitution needs a framework allowing ideas to be put forward aimed at improving democracy in the EU without abandoning the whole project, and uprooting all the existing institutional structures.

Its most important proposals allow for the making of EU laws in future by a double majority of three-quarters of the member states in the Council, and a simple majority in the European Parliament, giving real power to the parliament to both make and approve laws. There would be more "real" democracy.

Each member state should elect, not appoint, its Commissioner. Each national commissioner, so elected, would be more answerable.

National parliaments should have the right to lapse EU law proposals, thus curbing the Commission. Among other law-making proposals is recognition that, in an enlarged EU, harmonisation of laws -- which is the current objective of the EU, made worse by the Lisbon Treaty -- is at odds with disparities between member-states. Greater transparency and openness, on meetings, budget spending and controls, and documents is basic to the proposal throughout.

The draft constitution restores to individual supreme courts and to the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg judgment on civil and human rights, thus turning away from the EU and its Court of Justice, another 'No' vote bone of contention.

You can read this draft Constitution, on pages 81 to 94 of Jens-Peter Bonde's book, 'From EU Constitution to Lisbon Treaty'. It is readily available, as Bonde was, to guide us in the Lisbon referendum. Some people listened to him.

Now read him.