Irelands No vote challenges pro-business pact

The people of Ireland voted resoundingly against the Lisbon Treaty in a popular referendum vote June 13. The vote was 53.4 percent “No.” Opponents of the pact said the vote demonstrated the strong will of the Irish working people to reject a treaty that serves only the interests of big business and the military.

The Lisbon Treaty, critics charge, represents an attempt by the European Union leadership to push through the failed European Constitution in an underhanded manner. In 2005, France and the Netherlands held public referendums where the constitution was torpedoed. EU leaders essentially redrafted it as amendments to existing treaties in order to avoid holding referendums. These amendments were incorporated in the Lisbon Treaty.

To date, only 18 of the EU’s 27 member countries have ratified the Lisbon Treaty. This was achieved by right-wing conservative and social democratic forces forming coalitions in most of the 18 nations where it has passed and pushing it through their parliaments.

Ireland was the first country where the treaty was actually voted on in a popular referendum, as the Irish constitution requires that EU treaties be put to a public vote. Left forces in Ireland, including the Workers’ Party and the Communist Party of Ireland, opposed the treaty. The Workers’ Party called it “seriously dangerous especially in the areas of democracy, workers’ rights, militarism, the privatization of basic public services, and EU relations with the developing world.” These parties called for a united left opposition to the treaty.

Early on a coalition was formed, Campaign Against the EU Treaty (CAEUC), which united all the left groups on a common platform to defeat the treaty. UNITE, one of the largest trade unions in the country, was a key player in the “No” campaign.

CAEUC’s platform says the Lisbon Treaty “safeguards competition and profit rather than the basic needs and rights of the majority of its citizens. It does not serve the interests of women, children, the poor, ordinary working people, immigrant workers and their families, or people throughout the majority world.”

The “No” campaign took to the streets in an attempt to reach every working class household in Ireland. Mass public meetings were organized in every major city. Thousands of leaflets, posters and newspapers were distributed throughout the working class sections of the cities, and houses were canvassed. National media coverage of the “No” campaign was nil, so organizers made use of local media. These tactics broke through the veil of silence around the treaty that had been created by the “Yes” side. The “Yes” supporters had refused to circulate the treaty and to discuss the details publicly. Their main slogan was “The EU has been good for you — trust us, vote ‘Yes’.” Yet the prime minister and the Irish Commissioner admitted that they had not even read the treaty.

The final result in the Irish referendum showed 862,415 “No” votes to 752,451 “Yes” — a majority of 109,964. A breakdown of the vote showed that wealthy areas supported the treaty while the working class, lower middle class, farming and fishing constituencies voted to defeat the referendum. In many large working class areas hit by job losses, low wages and privatization of basic public services due to EU economic policies, the “No” vote had a striking 2-to-1 majority.

Left forces in Europe are gearing up to defend the Irish “No” vote and to extend the spirit of democratic process. The Communist Party of Ireland said in a statement, “The central question now is winning the support of the progressive forces throughout the European Union to defend the Irish ‘No’ vote and to stop the whole ratification process altogether.”

EU law stipulates that the treaty cannot be ratified without unanimous support of all 27 EU countries. Reactionary forces are mounting a campaign to push through ratification in the remaining countries and to find ways to circumvent the Irish veto in order to achieve unanimous adoption of the treaty. They may force a revote on the present treaty, amend the treaty, or even propose some type of two-tier EU. But the treaty’s opponents say the Lisbon Treaty must now be considered legally dead and the Irish “No” vote must be respected.