Bruce Arnold

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

Efforts to demonise 'No' vote hide fatal flaws in treaty

Thirty-five per cent of the population are not from small factions, but are ordinary, bewildered people, frightened of threats

IN a recent article, Pat Cox, former MEP and president of the European Parliament, argued that I had made a recent -- and 'ignorant' -- argument that the European Parliament 'makes no laws'.

He offered 'co-decision' by that parliament as law-making, adding that the parliament, 'a tribune of the people', holds the executive to account. It acts 'as a legislator'.

It does not. I stand by my point. The European Parliament does not make laws. It amends law that comes from the Commission, but it does not originate laws nor have to pass them.

Law-making, as Mr Cox knows, is a clear-cut operation. In the Dail it begins with debate, deals with the detail and then passes the law. The Senate adds to the law and it goes to the President to sign. That is how laws are made. The European Parliament has never done that in its history. It never will.

This is the kind of fudge that has failed to convince people, and has now produced a reverse in the 'Yes' vote and a growth of support for the 'No' vote. Mr Cox, normally a model commentator, has lent his support to the 'Yes' vote not realising how big the democratic deficit has become.

His references to 'co-decisions' confuses. He should give us the true facts, including how law-making works in Europe.

Mr Cox remains one of the better-informed of the 'Yes' vote protagonists. But that is not a difficult position to occupy. The whole 'Yes' campaign has been based on a eulogy of the European Union and of what we have got out of it. We are meant to be humbly grateful for this, but gratitude is beside the point.

Brian Cowen, in the wake of the bad news about his campaign, makes another misjudgment, trying to frighten the electorate over jobs. All of this deliberately ignores the actual treaty. The party political leaders are doing the same, either enticing us or trying to frighten us into voting 'Yes'.

This is not what the referendum is about. It is about changing forever the status we enjoy in Europe, making ourselves more subservient, less democratic and turning over to bureaucrats the future of our and our children's' lives.

The second strategy of the 'Yes' campaign has been to demonise, wrongly, the 'No' campaign by suggesting it is 'right-wing', narrowly based and somehow dishonest. How can that apply to 35pc of the population? This is an insult, worsened by the casual 'buying' of farmers by Mr Cowen. His alliance with the other parties -- unworthy colleagues in an unworthy campaign -- smacks of stampede and panic.

There is dishonesty and distortion in the pretence that we will not change our legal status. This is precisely what we are doing, reducing democratic representation, risking the undermining of Irish tax-advantaged industries and freeing the European Union, in the future and forever, to do as it wishes. We are being urged to say a big and absurd 'Thank You' for the past.

The price we pay weakens our Constitution, loses the basic representation of a permanent commissioner, risks jobs, lessens our attractiveness to investors and makes us subservient in a huge State of 500 million people. We will not be at the centre of this. We will be on the periphery.

Peter Sutherland, writing in this newspaper on Wednesday, roundly attacked self-interest, blaming it on the 'No' voters. Yet his echoing of every poster in favour of a 'Yes' vote is based on self-interest. He says we are sleepwalking 'towards catastrophe'. Yet everyone knows that catastrophe is not imminent. Mr Sutherland says every government supports this treaty. But the people of the United Kingdom don't. The people of Austria don't. The people of Denmark and France don't.

If we say 'No' it will not adversely affect the way we are seen, but enhance it. Voters have the right to say 'No' -- they will not surrender that right to the non-elected who are not accountable. We don't have to pay for what the EU has done for us in the past. The 'Yes' vote argument, that we do have to pay back, makes the 'Yes' camp look like adults persuading children with chocolate bars.

Mr Sutherland gives the following glib outline: completion of the EU's internal market enabled Irish foreign investment, 'harnessed to sound governance and hard work, transform our economy'. It did nothing of the sort. Governance squandered a great deal of our resources, making them look very frail now.

He says also that 'the Treaty of Lisbon is no more than an attempt to provide a solution to obvious deficiencies'. If true, what a pathetic summary of what the Lisbon Treaty is!

But it is not true. The treaty is a constitutional document fundamentally changing our lives and the status of our citizenship. Neither Mr Sutherland nor Mr Cox are giving us the full, true picture. Along with all 'Yes' campaigners they ignore the fundamental constitutional changes in the treaty. Mr Sutherland and Mr Cox are men I would normally trust. Yet I cannot accept what they say because they leave out so much.

Mr Sutherland praises the Referendum Commission for 'confirming the truth'. Yet it has not explained the constitutional issues and its press conference was a travesty of its constitutional and legal duties.

The Commission is fumbling over the loss of our commissioner and the halving of our Council vote. They showed ignorance on one of the most important articles on delegation of powers from ministers to the Commission.

'Yes' campaigners offer a simplistic interpretation of doom, outer darkness and economic annihilation if we vote 'No'. We know this is not true -- nothing will change. Most insulting of all is questioning 'No' voters' motives. Thirty-five per cent of the population are not from small factions, but are ordinary, bewildered people, frightened of the threats, wanting the truth.

Treaty opponents are more substantial than the minority groupings pilloried by 'Yes' voters, who have been condemned, not on the basis of argument, but on their identity.

I believe Europe is going in the wrong direction, governed by totalitarian principles and obsessed with its own centralised power which will continue to grow overshadowing and dominating our lives. You don't want this, nor do I.