World Comment/March 2004

by Politicus

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, as six–months president of the EU, is trying to pressurise Poland into giving in to Germany on the proposed EU constitution. The summit meeting to re–found the EU on the basis of a constitution like a state constitution broke down in December last because Poland and Spain would not agree to EU laws being made on the basis of an EU population headcount, which Gemany and France want. Poland in particular wants to stick with the voting system agreed in the Nice Treaty. This gives Poland voting equality with Germany and was the basis on which Poles voted by referendum to join the EU.

Here is what Ireland’s taoiseach said recently to the Poles: “If people just stick totally with Nice and don’t move at all, you can’t do that because it’s not going to be satisfactory to Germany. There’s a fair amount of sympathy for the German position because they are a large country, they are a big part of the paymaster. We need to look very helpfully at the German position. I have to try and get movement from those who need to move and at the same time not try to put it in a way that forces them beyond a position they can explain to their own people and their own parliaments.”

Yet taoiseach Ahern was the man who pushed through the Nice Treaty in the repeat referendum he held in Ireland in 2002 by saying that the voting system it proposed was essential for EU enlargement, and was the best system for EU law–making in a 25–member EU! If the EU were a single state for a European 'super–nation' in which Ireland, Poland and the other EU member states were provinces, the population–based voting system demanded by Germany and France would have some sense, and Germany’s 85 million people would entitle it to the biggest say of any EU country. Inside a federal–style EU state Germany could look forward to being joined in due time by Turkey, with its 80 million people, whose EU membership Germany champions. In the meantime Germany and France between them have nearly 40% of the population of an enlarged EU.

So the proposed constitution would enable them to block whatever EU laws they do not want and, with a few allies, to push through whatever EU measures they do want. If the EU is not to be a single state, but a partnership or alliance of constitutionally equal states, then it is only right that Poland and Spain should have the same voting weight as Germany — indeed that smaller countries like Ireland should have that too.

The population–based system for making EU laws proposed in the draft EU constitution would turn the existing river of EU laws into a flood. It would greatly increase the volume of directives and regulations from Brussels. That is why the EU commission and European parliament want it so much, for their power derives from their role in EU law–making. National parliaments would become little more than county councils. It is thought in EU circles that a surrender on the voting issue by the Polish government could be more easily sold to Polish public opinion if it was presented as a compromise with 'nationalist and Catholic' Ireland than a surrender directly to Germany. Hence Ireland’s key role in pressurising Poland. What a dishonourable political position taoiseach Ahern and foreign minister Cowen have brought Ireland to, considering its historical traditions of national independence and democracy? What would Pearse and Connolly say of them, not to mind Collins or De Valera?

That an Irish government should become a pliant instrument of the former imperial powers of Europe as they seek to foist an EU state constitution on the peoples and national democracies of our continent — essentially in order that that Irish ministers might personally be able to enjoy the perquisites attached to having a minor role in running such an EU superstate, while presiding over an emasculated parliament and a virtually disenfranchised citizens.

The Dail met specially after Christmas to discuss Ireland’s six–month presidency of the EU. The day was the 85th anniversary of the meeting of the first Dail Eireann on 21 January 1919, when it declared the independence of the Irish Republic. Sinn Fein’s Caoimghin O Caolain pointed out the irony: “Eighty–five years later, it is a sad reality that many in the political establishment here are more concerned with a creating a united states of Europe than they are about completing the work of the First Dail and achieving a united Ireland,” he said. “In the Irish presidency programme the government speaks of the historic ending of the post–war division of Europe. What about ending the division of Ireland?”

Communities around Ireland are up in arms about the Hanly Report on the health services, which proposes closure of smaller hospitals, centralization of services and reduced Accident and Emergency services in several Irish towns and counties. Crowded meetings in Ballinsaloe and Athlone have demanded that their local hospitals be kept open, and there is talk of standing independent Save our Hospital candidates in the next general election. Recognising local concerns, taoiseach Bertie Ahern said local communities would be consulted in implementing the report, which he said would be spread out over 10 years. The trouble is that it is the EU is mainly responsible for the pressure to cut services. The main purpose of Hanly is to reduce the working hours of junior hospital doctors within the next six years to comply with a new directive from Brussels. This dictates that junior hospital doctors must not work more than 58 hours a week by August 2005 and no more than 48 hours a week by August 2009. At present they work an average of 75 hours a week. The EU Working Time Directive places a legal obligation on Ireland and other EU states to reduce their hours and failing to do so will leave the state open to having large fines imposed on it. Of course hospital doctors should not have to work long hours, but this issue should be a matter for the countries concerned. A blanket EU–wide rule puts huge pressures on some countries, but not on others. People are asking all over Ireland what business is it of the EU to be taking vital decisions on health services.

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This document was last modified by David Granville on 2004-04-01 17:24:40.
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