I recently woke up into an EU reality about the Lisbon Treaty – thanks to my dad who sent a link to a petition calling for Irish people to vote against the treaty on my behalf. Somehow the debate on the Lisbon Treaty has passed me by, probably because Norway is not in the EU but also because the Finnish media I try to follow online hasn’t been very forthcoming about the topic. Why? In a quick glance it all seems to be one big conspiracy – to keep quiet so people won’t demand a referendum. The Irish are the only ones who get to vote whether on they actually want the Treaty or not. The rest of us have to have faith in our politicians and trust they have our best interests in heart. Or sign petitions asking Irish people to oppose the treaty if you don’t quite trust your politicians.

The Lisbon Treaty is planned to be passed later this year and it goes back to last December when the heads of state and government and foreign ministers of the EU 27 member states in Lisbon signed “the Reform Treaty” and gave it a new name – the “Lisbon Treaty”. For it to come into force the treaty needs to be ratified by the parliaments of all the EU member states. Only Ireland will hold a referendum on the treaty on June 11. Other countries such as the Czech Republic, Denmark, Poland, Portugal and the United Kingdom had promised to hold a referendum but later decided not to hold one. France and the Netherlands, where the previous treaty that promised the EU its own Constitution (the “Constitutional Treaty”) was rejected in referendums in 2005, will not hold another referendum on the Lisbon Treaty in spite of the fact that the Lisbon Treaty is the same, only cosmetically revised Constitutional Treaty.

Some argue there are some minor differences such as that the Lisbon Treaty merely amends earlier EU treaties while the Constitutional Treaty would have erased previous treated and established a new legal order for the EU. Others say it’s impossible to read the current Reform (Lisbon) Treaty because it constantly refers to the Constitutional Treaty with its changes in the text. The Lisbon Treaty also got rid of references to the EU flag and anthem. some countries have also negotiated country-specific opt-outs, which did not appear in the constitution.

Why should we then oppose the Lisbon Treaty? I’ve been doing my homework and found various critical voices and perspectives. Here is a sample:

The European Attac organizations “deem the present form of the European Union a serious obstacle to democratic achievements, fundamental rights, social security, gender justice, and environmental sustainability. It suffers from a lack of democracy, legitimacy, and transparency, and is governed by a set of treaties which force neoliberal policies on member states and the whole world.”

Women Towards a Different Europe (WTDE): “The Lisbon Treaty continues the attempt to realize the fundamental neo-liberal policies of the fallen EU Constitutional Treaty. These economic policies – central to EC and EU build-up since the adoption of the European Single Market in the 1980s – have consistently undermined the equal opportunities of women. Despite the equal opportunities legislation by the EU and national governments. Whereas there is very much focus on legislation when discussing these matters, there is surprisingly little focus on the detrimental effects on women of these policies and how to oppose them. In many EU countries this had led to a situation of increasing precariousness and impoverishment among women.” (http://www.esf2008.org)

German philosopher Jürgen Habermas, in a speech delivered at the cultural forum of the SPD party, calls for a stronger, more united Europe but criticizes the Lisbon Treaty saying it reaffirms “the elitist character of political events that are increasingly removed from the people”. He adds: “Unless certain key topics are added to the usual spectrum that shapes opinion in the different nations, and unless national opinion in the different states becomes more accessible to European topics affecting other nations, the citizens won’t be able to benefit from the formally strengthened position of the Parliament. […] In short, the current gap between the political elites and the citizens is being reinforced, and the path to a political decision on Europe’s future character is blocked. […] Governments must overcome their desire to control and give their citizens a chance to decide on Europe’s future in a referendum.” (Die Zeit 29 Nov. 2007)

President of the Convention that drafted the EU Constitution, Valéry Giscard D’Estaing, also called “the father of the EU Constitution”: “Looking at the content, the result is that the institutional proposals of the constitutional treaty… are found complete in the Lisbon Treaty, only in a different order and inserted in former treaties. […] Above all, it is to avoid having referendum thanks to the fact that the articles are spread out and constitutional vocabulary has been removed. […] They are therefore imposing a return to the language that they master and to the procedures they favour, and in doing so alienate the citizens further.” (Le Monde 26 Oct. 2007)

Then about the question whether it’s a different treaty from the Constitutional Treaty, some choice quotes:

Jose Zapatero, Spanish Prime Minister: “We have not let a single substantial point of the Constitutional Treaty go… It is, without a doubt, much more than a treaty. This is a project of foundational character, a treaty for a new Europe.” (Speech, 27 June 2007)

Swedish Communications Commissioner Margot Wallstrom: “It is essentially the same proposal as the old Constitution.” (Svenska Dagbladet 26 June 2007)

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier: the mandate approved by the EU Summit will “preserve the substance of the constitutional treaty.” (Agence Europe, 25 June 2007).

Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen: “The good thing is… that all the symbolic elements are gone, and that which really matters – the core – is left.” (Jyllands-Posten, 25 June 07).

Bertie Ahern, Irish Taoiseach: “90 per cent of it is still there… these changes haven’t made any dramatic change to the substance of what was agreed back in 2004.” (Open Europe)

Finland’s Europe Minister Astrid Thors: “There is nothing from the original institutional package that has been changed.” (TV-Nytt, 23 June 07).

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was pleased with the outcome, expressing satisfaction that “much of the substance [of the Constitutional Treaty] has been maintained”. (EUobserver, 23 June 07)

In this light and context, it’s disconcerting to also learn that the EU has failed in promoting and upholding human rights standards. A recent doctoral dissertation by Merja Pentikainen defended at the University of Lapland (Finland), Faculty of Law, argues that by emphasizing economic values and interests, the EU has failed to integrate certain individuals and groups into the society – a fact that manifests itself, for example, in problems and poverty faced by the Romani people. (In another paper, I recently read that Italy wants to expel its all Romani people, including those who hold Italian citizenship.)

One of the most vocal oppositions to the Lisbon Treaty comes from the numerous national Attac organizations in Europe. Attac was established ten years ago to demand for the taxation of financial transactions in order to create a development fund and to help curb stock market speculation. This is what gave the organization its name: the Association for the Taxation of Financial Transactions to Aid Citizens. Today, the Attac network is present in many countries and is active on a wide range of globalization-related issues.

Here are some of the points the European Attacs are demanding for a more democractic and participatory Europe: “Any new Treaty must be built on the best existing democratic principles. The present EU is not built on a clear separation of powers and suffers from a deep democratic deficit. … At the same time, we witness a degradation of democratic life in the member states. … A new institutional Treaty must include the fundamental right to direct participation of citizens in public affairs. …

[Any new Treaty] must offer space for implementing alternative policies instead of fixing one specific economic model like the CT and former treaties did, repeatedly stipulating an “open market economy with free and undistorted competition. … Concerning the question of security, the aim shall be “peace” (in the broadest sense) and not the build-up of weapons at the international level.“ (http://www.attac.at/eu-convention.html)

In short, it’s not difficult to join the European Attacs call for “alternative policies to the fortress Europe, to the criminalization of migrants, to unfair trade rules, debt and poverty and we demand to intensify the cooperation with poor countries on an equal basis”. That said, I still can’t vote against the Lisbon Treaty. And they call the EU the beacon of democracy.

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4 thoughts on “Lisbon treaty and EU’s human rights record

  1. I came across your blog doing some last-minute reading before the vote. It only reinforces my decision to vote “no.” Ireland has some severely flawed standpoints on human rights and typically ignores the Working Time Directive, particularly in our failing health care system. By all accounts, the Treaty will not force Ireland to fix these issues and could instead allow matters to be made worse. And that’s just a few reasons to vote no!

    Thanks for a Norwegian perspective; it’s disgraceful that the rest of Europe’s voices are being silenced by their elected governments.

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