The Hollowing-out of Irish Independence
– How the Irish people were made citizens of an EU Federation
“The 2009 Lisbon Treaty gave the EU a Federal Constitution to which the Irish Constitution is now subordinate. It gave us an EU federal citizenship in addition to our national citizenship, so that we all now have two citizenships just like people in the Federal USA or Federal Germany. A Federation is a State. One can only be a citizen of a State and all States consist of their citizens. By remaining members of a Federal EU we are effectively abandoning Ireland’s national independence and democracy.”
The political and economic roots of Eurofederalism
Why Britain and Ireland joined the EEC
The euro as the EU federal currency
The EU Constitution becomes the Treaty of Lisbon
The Lisbon Treaty’s five steps to EU statehood
The Franco-German power-grab
Hollowing out the Nation State
The State authority of the post-Lisbon EU
The extent of EU Laws
Who benefits, who loses from Eurofederalism?
EU costs now outweigh EU benefits for Ireland
Avoiding a second Partition of Ireland
It is only since the Boris Johnson Government won an 80-seat majority in the December 2019 UK election that it became clear that Britain and Northern Ireland are really exiting the EU. Britain’s Brexiteers got their parliamentary majority because many Labour constituencies that had voted to leave the EU in the 2016 UK referendum, voted Conservative in that general election to “get Brexit done”.
Before that, during the three years Theresa May was Prime Minister, people in Ireland widely assumed that the Brexit result would be aborted by means of a second UK referendum. This had happened in Ireland with the two Nice Treaty referendums in 2001 and 2002 and the two Lisbon Treaty referendums in 2008 or 2009. It happened in several continental referendums in which people voted to reject new EU treaties, but their votes were ignored. During the Theresa May years Irish elite opinion assumed also that if some kind of Brexit did happen, it would at most be a Brexit in name only.
The UK left the EU legally in January 2020. In the following twelve months the Republic held a general election, after which it took over two months to form a new government. Then Covid 19 hit, followed by the national lockdowns. Peoples’ minds have been dominated by the coronavirus crisis since. The result is that in the year since it became clear that a real Brexit was happening there has been no public consideration or discussion of what Ireland’s true interests are in this new situation. This despite the fact that the Northern Six Counties are also leaving the EU and no EU Member State will be more affected by the UK’s departure than this one.
In the forty years between 1972 and 2012 there were nine EU-related referendums in the Republic. These were the 1972 EEC Accession Treaty referendum, the 1987 Single European Act referendum, the 1992 Maastricht Treaty referendum, the 1998 Amsterdam Treaty referendum, the 2001 and 2002 referendums on the Treaty of Nice, the 2008 and 2009 referendums on the Treaty of Lisbon and the 2012 Fiscal Stability Treaty referendum. In each of these the Republic’s mainstream politicians supported the handing over of ever more legislative, executive and judicial powers of the Irish State to Brussels. Over that time Europhilia has become a quasi-religion for much of the Irish political class. Criticism of the EU was widely seen as akin to heresy. Consistent with that, when the 2016 UK Brexit referendum came along Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin – who later became Taoiseach himself – and Ireland’s Ambassador in London Dan Mulhall campaigned openly in Britain for the “Remain” side. They thereby actively involved themselves in Britain’s domestic decision-making process, against all the norms of proper behaviour between States.
When Theresa May was in Downing Street between 2016 and 2019 and two-thirds of the House of Commons still consisted of Tory and Labour “Remainers”, Irish politicians interacted with them to do everything possible to frustrate Brexit – most obviously by seeking to “weaponise” the North-South border to try and keep the whole of the UK in the EU. They claimed that that was the only way to prevent customs posts being constructed between North and South, which might imperil the Good Friday Agreement, to which the EU was not even a party.
It was an absurd claim and a foolish policy. As Dr Ray Bassett, Ireland’s former ambassador to Canada, pointed out in his important book, Ireland and the EU Post-Brexit (Amazon), the Republic’s best interest in the post-referendum situation was that it should help the UK get the best possible deal with the EU consistent with respecting the Brexit referendum result. Instead of aligning ourselves uncritically with “TEAM EU” and trying to frustrate Brexit, the Irish Government should have sought from the start to play a mediating role between Britain and the EU. Clearly these radically new circumstances call for a public debate on whether it is not in our best interests too for the Irish State to take advantage of Brexit to disengage likewise from the EU.
This document summarises the issues most relevant to that debate. It outlines first the EU’s historical development. That is necessary for an understanding of where the Irish State stands now.
THE POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC ROOTS OF EURO-FEDERALISM
All States and aspiring States have their “myth of origin”, that is a story, true or false, of how they came into being. The myth of origin of the EU is that it is fundamentally a peace project to prevent wars between Germany and France.
The truth is rather different. The first supranational community was the European Coal and Steel Community, consisting of Germany, France and the three Benelux countries, Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg. It was established by the Treaty of Paris in 1951. This was pushed by the Americans in post-World War 2 Europe to overcome French concern over rearming Germany at the time NATO was being established to oppose the communist USSR. France was unhappy at the prospect of German rearmament, having been defeated and occupied by Germany just a few years before. The Frenchman Jean Monnet came up with a solution that suited the Americans: Put the coal and steel industries of Germany and France under a joint supranational High Authority, which would prevent either country acting independently.
The Schuman Declaration which announced the Coal and Steel Community proclaimed it to be “a first step in the federation of Europe”. So the aim of establishing a federal United Sates of Europe, similar to the USA but under Franco-German hegemony, has been there from the start. The EU celebrates 9 May, the date of the 1950 Schuman Declaration, as “Europe Day” each year. “Europe must federate or perish,” said US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles at the time.
A Federation is a State. In Federal States such as the USA, Canada, Australia or Federal Germany, sovereignty is divided between two levels of statehood, the Federal level and the regional or provincial State level. Each level has its own government and elected parliament or assembly, and everyone has two citizenships, one of each level, with associated rights and duties at each level. The federal level has constitutional primacy in cases of conflict between the two levels. Thus in the US Federation people are citizens of New York, California, Texas etc. as well as of the Federal USA; while in Federal Germany people are citizens of Bavaria, Brandenburg and Saxony etc., as well as being citizens of the Federal Republic. One can only be a citizen of a State and all States consist of their citizens. Federal States contrast with unitary ones. In unitary States such as Norway, Israel, Japan – and most EU Members before they joined the EU – State sovereignty is undivided; there is one Government and Parliament through which sovereignty is exercised, and all citizens hold that State’s citizenship.
The peoples of Europe did not want their independent countries subsumed in an EU Federation, a United States of Europe analogous to the USA, but which in practice would be under the hegemony of Europe’s former imperial and colonial powers, in particular Germany and France. No one ever consulted them or asked them. So Euro-federalism had to be foisted on Europe’s peoples by stealth from above, by technocratic elites and politicians in the different countries. This was done over decades by means of a whole series of Treaties that were periodically sold to the various national publics as being necessary and good for jobs, for the economy and for “peace”, but which hollowed out Europe’s traditional Nation States and deprived citizen-voters everywhere of democratic control over most of their laws.
This was the federalist “project” of the cross-national European Movement, which America’s CIA financed for years from its inception. It has been an assault on the democracy of the Nation States of Europe. Essentially it amounts to no less than an attempt to undo the democratic heritage of the French Revolution, which proclaimed the right to self-determination of nations, a right that is now enshrined in the United Nations Charter and is recognised as a basic principle of modern democracy and international law.
The USA also pushed the next two supranational communities, the European Economic Community (EEC), established by the 1957 Treaty of Rome, and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) of that same year. America saw the EEC as providing the European economic underpinning for NATO, whose purpose was, as the witticism put it, “to keep Russia out, America in and Germany down”. Italy was now included, so there were six countries in the EEC and Euratom. The Six became Nine when Britain, Ireland and Denmark joined the EEC in 1973. Then, as the European Community, it became 12 States, then 15 and, following the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, the newly titled European Union came to comprise 28 Member States, now reduced to 27 with the exit of the UK.
It was not just American pressure that brought the EEC into being. The EEC’s founding members, apart from Luxembourg, had all been imperial powers in their day, in some cases for centuries, with colonies spread across the globe. They were all defeated, ravaged and occupied during World War 2. After 1945 they found themselves in a world dominated by two superpowers, the USA and USSR. Their traumatized governmental elites, which were used to thinking in imperial terms, said in effect to themselves: If we cannot be Big Powers individually any longer, let us try to be a Big Power collectively. Norwegian sociologist Johan Galtung put succinctly how they saw things1: “One formula for understanding European integration is this: Take five broken empires – Germany, France, Italy, Holland and Belgium – add a sixth one later, Great Britain, and try to make one grand neo-colonial empire out of it all.” His comment was echoed half a century later by EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso who told a 2007 press conference: “Sometimes I like to compare the EU as a creation to the organisation of an empire. We have the dimension of empire.”
On the economic side the pushers of supranational integration from the beginning have been Europe’s Transnational and Multinational Big Businesses and Banks, organized through such bodies as the European Roundtable of Industrialists, Business Europe and the Bilderberg Group, and interacting with the dominant elements in the national Business Confederations.
These are happy to be freed from the social controls on capital in the interest of the common good that alone can be imposed at the level of the democratic Nation State. They find it easier to lobby for regulation and trade policies that serve their interests at the supranational level of Brussels, where national control and democratic accountability are impossible. Oriented to globalization, the EU’s Multinationals welcome the provision in the EU Treaty that there must be no control on the movement of capital either within the EU or between it and the rest of the world (Art.63 TFEU). Transnational corporate capital has a much freer field to operate in supranationally than it can ever have on the national level, where democratic controls can prevail and where it is easier to impose restraints on “the furies of private interest”.
WHY BRITAIN AND IRELAND JOINED THE EEC
The Americans were also behind the UK surrendering to supranationalism. It was President John F. Kennedy who pressed Britain’s Tory Government under Harold Macmillan to apply to join the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1961. This followed the Suez debacle when the British, French and Israelis tried to overthrow Egypt’s President Nasser by force and the Americans pulled the ground from under them and forced them to stop, as it was seeking detente with the USSR at the time. The USA saw a demoralized post-imperial Britain as its client State inside the EEC, which would prevent it being dominated by either France or Germany and would ensure that it did not set itself up as a rival to NATO. Kennedy gave Britain intercontinental missiles in return for their joining, so that the British would be able to use their “independent” nuclear deterrent if the Cold War should give way to a real “Hot War”.
Ireland and Denmark applied to join the EEC simultaneously with the UK because of their trade dependence on the British market at the time. France’s President Charles De Gaulle vetoed UK membership twice during the 1960s, as food-exporting France was anxious to get the dear-food Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) up and running before admitting the food-importing British.So the UK, Ireland and Denmark did not join until 1973.
In Ireland’s EEC Accession Treaty referendum it is probable that Eamon De Valera, who was President then and who had drafted the Irish Constitution, voted against joining the EEC. His son Major Vivion De Valera, told the writer of this document at the time: “I think he probably voted No.” Years later his grandson, Eamon O Cuív TD, said that on New Year’s Eve 1972, the day before Ireland joined the EEC, De Valera remarked to his assembled family in Áras an Uachtaráin: “I am the first and last President of an independent Irish Republic.”
The prospect of high prices for farm products and farm exports under the CAP was the big economic attraction of EEC membership for Ireland. On the political side a major reason for Ireland’s application was to avoid adding a new dimension to the North-South Border if the North joined the EEC as part of the UK, but the Republic did not. In the Republic’s 1972 referendum on the EEC Accession Treaty voters were told that if North and South were both in the EEC Partition would inevitably fade away as interstate borders became less and less important.
For the sixty years between 1961 and 2019 EU integration was mainstream Conservative policy in Britain, although the Labour Party leadership followed a bipartisan policy by supporting it too. It was the Tory Edward Heath who brought the UK into the EEC in 1973. It was Tory Prime Minister David Cameron who led the campaign to remain in the EU in the 2016 referendum on UK membership of the EU. It was Tory Prime Minister Theresa May, supported by Labour and the “Remainer” majority in the House of Commons, who spent the three years 2016-19 trying to frustrate the Brexit referendum result. It was only in December 2019, with Boris Johnson’s 80-seat majority, that a real Brexit came into view.
THE EURO AS THE EU FEDERAL CURRENCY
The next big step to Eurofederalism was the establishment of the euro-currency by the 1992 Maastricht “Treaty on European Union”. The political purpose of this was to overcome French concern at the reunification of Germany following the collapse of the USSR in 1991. Reunification made Germany the most populous State and most powerful economy in the EU, a development France especially was not happy with. The Franco-German bargain this time was Monetary Union for Political Union. Germany would give up the Deutschmark, the symbol of its post-war economic achievement, and share the running of a common EU currency with the French, while France would back a common European foreign and security policy, and eventually a common European army with nuclear weapons. Germany is precluded from having nuclear weapons of its own by the post-war peace treaties, whereas France has these. In future they could share such weaponry on behalf of “Europe”. EU Commission President Romano Prodi proclaimed at the time: “The two pillars of the Nation State are the sword and the currency, and we have changed that.”
France hoped that the euro-currency would give it a political lock on Germany, but that hope has proved illusory as its economy is weaker and its population smaller. The reunified Germany now dominates the EU, with France playing second fiddle. The euro is now used by 19 of the 27 EU Member States. An unintended consequence of the euro is that talk in EU circles of it becoming a rival to the dollar cooled the enthusiasm of Wall Street and the US Republican party for European integration, although some Democrats still back it.
THE EU CONSTITUTION BECOMES THE TREATY OF LISBON
The Federal EU project came to a head with the plan for an EU State Constitution in 2004. In that year a convention representing the Governments and Parliaments of the EU Member States, and the Brussels Commission, drew up the “Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe”. Article 1 of this treaty laid down that “This Constitution establishes the European Union”. This sentence shows clearly that a European Union in the form of a supranational Federation did not previously exist, although the 1992 Maastricht “Treaty on European Union” of twelve years before had made everyone familiar with the Union name. The “Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe” was meant in effect to be the “Treaty of European Union”. The name “European Union” would be used in these two different treaties, but the idea was that the constitutional character of the Union would be transformed from one treaty to the other without most people noticing it.
Then in 2005, to the consternation of the Eurofederalists, the French and Dutch peoples rejected the “Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe” in referendums. When this happened the Prime Ministers and Presidents of the EU Member States decided that instead of bringing a Federal EU into being directly, they would do so indirectly by means of a whole series of amendments to the existing European treaties, so that most people, even lawyers, would find it hard to understand what was happening. They resolved also to avoid further referendums.
These amendments became the Treaty of Lisbon, which was ratified everywhere by simple parliamentary majority – Ireland being the sole exception. The reason Ireland alone held a referendum on Lisbon was because the Supreme Court had decided in the 1987 Crotty case that any surrender of State sovereignty to a supranational European authority could only be made by the Irish People themselves. When Irish voters rejected Lisbon in 2008 they were made vote on an unchanged Treaty a second time round in 2009 to obtain a different result.
In its legal effect the Treaty of Lisbon was 99% the same as the rejected “Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe”. The only difference between the “Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe” and the Lisbon Treaty was that the legal provisions for the twelve-star EU flag, the EU anthem from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and the annual 9 May “Europe Day” were omitted, as these symbols were too obvious indicators that Lisbon was a State Constitution. Thus the EU flag, anthem, motto and official holiday have no legal basis in the EU treaties to this day. Not that that has prevented their being used continually in practice. The word “Constitution” was also dropped in the Lisbon Treaty, while the reality of a federal-type State Constitution was pushed through. Former French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, who chaired the convention that drew up the “Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe”, said of the Lisbon Treaty: “All of the earlier proposals will be in the new text but will be hidden or disguised in some way.”
THE LISBON TREATY’S FIVE STEPS TO EU STATEHOOD
The Lisbon Treaty gave the EU a Federal Constitution by amending the two foundational EU treaties, the “Treaty on European Union” (TEU) and the “Treaty on the Functioning of the Union” (TFEU), renaming the latter.2 The five legal steps in this constitutional revolution were these:
(1) Firstly, Lisbon abolished the European Community3 which had been the repository of supranational powers from the 1957 Treaty of Rome until 2009 and transferred the Community’s powers and functions to the constitutionally new European Union that was now being established by the two amended treaties: “The Union shall replace and succeed the European Community” (Art.1 TEU). The post-Lisbon European Union, not the European Community, would henceforth be the supranational federal entity, the European international actor in its own right.
(2) Secondly, Lisbon brought foreign and security policy on the one hand and crime and justice policy on the other within the scope of supranational policy-making by making these Union functions for the first time (Art. 3 TEU). All areas of government are now within the actual or potential scope of the objectives and policy-making of the post-Lisbon European Union. Like the European Community before it, the post-Lisbon EU has exclusive powers in such areas as trade treaties, customs and monetary policy for the Eurozone countries. It shares powers with its Member States in many other areas; but Union primacy is shown by the provision that “The Member States shall exercise their competence to the extent that the Union has not exercised its competence” (Art.2 TFEU).
(3) Thirdly, Lisbon gave the constitutionally new European Union which it established legal personality for the first time: “The Union shall have legal personality” (Art.47 TEU). Before Lisbon what was known as the European Union was a so-called “intergovernmental” arrangement, established by the 1992 Maastricht “Treaty on European Union”, which linked the supranational European Community and the areas of foreign policy and crime and justice policy, in which States still retained their national sovereignty. This pre-Lisbon EU did not have legal personality; it was the European Community had that. That was why the 1992 Maastricht Treaty, which first used the name “European Union”, was titled the “Treaty on European Union” rather than “of” Union.
(4) Fourthly, Lisbon asserted the primacy of supranational EU law over national laws in any case of conflict between the two (Declaration 17 Concerning Primacy). The principle of supranational legal primacy had never been stated in a European Treaty before, although it had been asserted in practice in the case-law of the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg – which is a quite different court from the non-EU Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
(5) Fifthly, Lisbon made every citizen of an EU Member State into a citizen of the constitutionally new European Union now being established by giving them an “additional” citizenship, a second citizenship (Art. 20 TFEU). Thus everyone in the EU now has two real citizenships, just as in such classical Federations as the USA and Germany, where people are citizens of two different State entities – one higher and one lower. A supranational European Union of which one really could be a citizen did not exist until the Lisbon Treaty was ratified in 2009. Under the earlier Maastricht “Treaty on European Union” what was sometimes referred to as EU citizenship was something notional or symbolic that complemented one’s national citizenship but was not distinguishable from it. That changed with Lisbon.
The Lisbon Treaty effectively turned the “Treaty on European Union”(TEU) into a “Treaty of European Union”, although the original treaty name was still retained. Likewise it renamed the “Treaty Establishing the European Community” as the “Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union”(TFEU). Such gaming with nomenclature has been characteristic of the euro-federalist “project” from the start. Thus the European Parliament was called an “Assembly” in the 1957 Rome Treaty; but the Euro-federalists referred to it as a “Parliament” for decades before it was legally given that title in the 1986 treaty called the “Single European Act”. Similarly, the name “European Community” was used for decades to refer to the three original supranational communities before the 1992 Maastricht Treaty actually established that Community as a legal entity. By such sleight-of-hand the peoples of the various EU countries were conditioned to accept seemingly innocuously titled supranational institutions, only for them to be filled with radically new constitutional content at a later date.
As a result of the five steps outlined above, the Treaty of Lisbon established what was constitutionally an entirely new European Union by giving it the constitution of a supranational Federation – which is of course a State – in which sovereignty is divided between the supranational Federal level and the national or regional level and in which everyone has two citizenships, one of each level, just as in the USA or Federal Germany.
Yet in Ireland’s two referendums on the Lisbon Treaty the Irish politicians who urged the people to change their Constitution to allow Lisbon to be ratified made no reference to these matters. The statutory Referendum Commission, whose function it is to inform voters how the amendment they are voting on will affect the Constitution, did not deal with them in the publicity material on the Treaty that it put before the public. The Irish people were not told that they were being made citizens of a new EU Federal State entity, or what were the legal and political implications of that. They mostly voted in ignorance and were monumentally misled.
THE FRANCO-GERMAN POWER-GRAB
Having established a constitutionally new European Union with the character of a Federation, the Lisbon Treaty went on to make an important power-political change in the interest of the big Member States. This was to provide that law-making in the post-Lisbon Union should be based primarily on population size/number of citizens, just as in any State. Thus post-Lisbon a qualified majority for making EU laws on the Council of Ministers consists of 55% of the States – that is, 15 out of 27 – as long as that 15 comprise 65% of the total EU population of 450 million people.
This step had the effect of doubling the voting weight of Germany, the most populous EU country, from its pre-Lisbon level of 8% of the total number of votes on the Council of Ministers to the current 16%. Having a shareholding of 16% in a company of 28 shareholders can be close to a controlling interest. Lisbon also increased the voting weight of France and Italy from 8% to 12% each, while it reduced the voting weight of small countries like Ireland and Denmark from 2% to just under 1% each.
These developments fundamentally undermined the sovereignty of the Irish State. The modern international community consists of nearly 200 States that exercise State sovereignty. Sovereignty is the exclusive power to make laws for the people and territory of a State and to decide independently its relations with other States. It has nothing to do with economic self-sufficiency or with relative State power. In relations between States it is analogous to the freedom and autonomy of individuals in personal relations. There are big differences between States, as there are between people, but the basis of good relations and co-operation between them is mutual respect and non-interference. Good fences make good neighbours.
HOLLOWING OUT THE NATION STATE
The EU has none of the separation of powers between legislative, executive and judicial arms of government that is universally recognized as necessary to safeguard citizens’ liberties in a democracy. The Commission – the EU’s executive – has the monopoly of proposing EU laws. It is called a Commission, but it is more like a Government. The Council of Ministers, which represents the Member States, makes EU laws on the basis of the Commission’s proposals. It is a committee of legislators, which is the classical definition of an oligarchy. The European Parliament is more a council than a Parliament, for it cannot initiate EU laws like normal parliaments do, but only amend law proposals from the Council and Commission when and if these two bodies agree. The EU Court of Justice is not just a court, but has proved to be a constitution-maker through some of its key judgements, with powers similar to what some Parliaments have. These features make the EU institutions profoundly undemocratic. As well, the Commission, Parliament and Court share a common interest in having ever more State powers shifted from the national to the EU level where these bodies can then jointly exercise them supranationally.
The EU has hollowed out the democracy of its Member States, especially in economic policy. Their economic independence has virtually disappeared. Some examples: (a) It is one thing to give control of a country’s currency to an independent national Central Bank that is charged, officially at least, with acting in that country’s best economic interest. It is quite a different thing to put that control in the hands of a European Central Bank that acts on behalf of 19 different economies, with different requirements in terms of economic policy; (b) Germany insisted in the 2012 Fiscal Stability Treaty that EU Member States should be legally bound either to balance their budgets or budget for a surplus, and be subject to heavy fines for disobeying – in effect a scheme for permanent austerity; (c) Art.119 TFEU requires Member States to adopt “an economic policy…conducted in accordance with the principle of an open market economy with free competition”; (d) Art.121 TFEU gives the EU Council and Commission, both unelected bodies, the right to “formulate the broad guidelines of the economic policies of the Member States and of the Union”; (e) Article 107 TFEU prohibits State aid to strategic national industries.
To change these or other EU economic rules would require all 27 EU Governments to agree relevant changes to the EU treaties – something that is impossible to imagine on such fundamental matters. EU Member States are also committed to a Common Foreign and Security Policy “including the progressive framing of a common defence policy that might lead to a common defence”, i.e. a common army (Art.24 TEU). The Lisbon Treaty also gave the EU the power to decide our fundamental human rights and impose a common human rights standard across the European Union by making the Charter of Human Rights legally binding supranationally as part of the EU treaties for the first time.
THE STATE AUTHORITY OF THE POST-LISBON EU
The EU Treaties have shifted power away from citizen voters in all EU countries and from small and middle-sized Member States to the larger ones. The post-Lisbon European Union has its own government, with a legislative, executive and judicial arm, although without the separation of powers that is to be found in every proper democracy. It has its own political President, its own citizens and citizenship, its own human and civil rights code, its own currency, economic policy and revenue, its own international treaty-making powers, foreign policy, foreign minister, diplomatic corps and United Nations voice, its own crime and justice code and Public Prosecutor’s Office. The Lisbon Treaty gave the EU a treaty base for the EU army which the EU’s leaders now openly talk about, without any real debate in supposedly neutral Ireland. From the inside the EU looks like an arrangement between States; from the outside it looks like a State itself.
As regards the “State authority” of the post-Lisbon European Union, this is embodied in the Union’s own executive, legislative and judicial institutions: the Commission, European Council, Council of Ministers, European Parliament and Court of Justice. It is embodied also in the Member States and their authorities as they implement and apply EU law and interpret and apply national law in conformity with Union law. This they are constitutionally required to do by their national Constitutions which have made them members of the EU. Thus EU “State authorities” as represented by EU soldiers and policemen patrolling Europe’s streets in EU uniforms are not needed as such. Their absence makes it all the easier to hide from ordinary citizens the reality of Europe’s hollowed-out Nation States and the catastrophic failure of their own mainstream politicians to defend their national independence and democracy. The EU has clamped a form of financial feudalism on Europe.
Although the EU has most of the formal features of a State and Euro-federalists aspire to see it becoming a United States of Europe comparable to the USA, outsiders hesitate to regard it as a State in its own right. They think that if it were such it must surely have its own people, its own “demos”, who would identify with it and insist on endowing it with some meaningful democratic life. But such a European people, analogous to a national people, does not exist. Democracy, rule by the people, can exist only at the level of the Nation State, for it is only there that sufficient solidarity, mutual interest and mutual identification exists between citizens as to induce minorities freely to accept majority rule. Virtually everyone identifies with their own country first, and their own democratic institutions if they have such. Few people really identify with the EU, and virtually nobody would give their lives for it, in contrast to peoples’ loyalty to their own countries and their Nation States.
The EU is most accurately seen as a supranational anti-democratic system that deprives Europe’s diverse peoples of their democracy, while serving the interests of its Big States, in particular Germany and France, as mediated through their ruling politico-economic elites, interacting with the Brussels bureaucracy, while on the economic side it serves the interests of EU-based Transnational Finance and Corporate Capital.
THE EXTENT OF EU LAWS
In 2016 the EU body Eur-lex estimated that there were over 123,000 EU rules, international agreements and legal acts that were binding on or affecting citizens across the EU. These included 1,683 EU Directives, 12,915 Regulations, 15,561 decisions, 5,337 international agreements, 16,592 EU Court judgements and 71,077 international standards from such bodies as CEN, CENELEC, ETSI and the Codex Alimentarius, which the EU has signed up to and which are therefore binding on all EU States and their citizens as supranational legal requirements.
Yet from the perspective of the long-term future it is foolish of countries to identify their future with EU integration. The EU has been a low growth area for years, in contrast to many national States. By 2050 there will be nine billion people in the world. The EU will then account for just 6% of the world’s population as against 20% before 1950. The EU’s share of the world’s gross product will have shrunk to some 10% by 2050 as against 30% in 1950. In the coming decades most growth in GDP, market size and investment returns will tend to occur outside continental Europe. The EU countries will have shrinking and ageing populations. Ireland’s trading future is with the wide world, and particularly the English-speaking part of it with which it has so many links, not with a European continental bloc whose political rationale vanished with the end of the Cold War in the 1990s, which uses a disfunctional currency and which is destined to be racked with national independence conflicts as long as it exists.
EU membership has subverted fundamentally the democracy and national independence of the Irish State. Clearly this is far from “the unfettered control of Irish destinies” envisaged for the sovereign independent Irish Republic that was aspired to in the 1916 Proclamation.
WHO BENEFITS, WHO LOSES, FROM EUROFEDERALISM?
Free movement of labour and capital gives cheap labour and freedom from democratic control to the European and American Transnational Firms that are the principal economic backers of the EU “project”. National politicians, especially those from small countries, are easily intoxicated with the idea of helping to build an EU superpower. At Council of Ministers level national politicians gain a huge accretion of personal power for themselves as they make laws for 450 million people as a committee of legislators – which is the classic definition of an oligarchy. At the same time national politicians and their civil servants can blame Brussels for the neo-liberal austerity measures required by the EU treaties and so divert criticism they might otherwise face at home.
Surrounding the europhile politicians in each country is a network of deracinated cosmopolitans, especially strong in the media, academe and senior national bureaucracies. These people tend to be individualistic, extollers of globalization, disdainful of the solidarities of the national community they belong to, enthusiasts for anti-national brainwashing, oriented towards identity politics rather than class politics and upholders of “Europeanism” as an ideology that for some has become a substitute for a lost religious or political faith. The beneficiaries from supranational integration are few in number, but they are powerful and influential. The losers are we the people, who have had our democracy and national independence filched from us and who now face the imperative of organising to get it back, alongside our fellow democrats in the other EU countries, in an international movement in defence of national democracy. Success in that task is however historically inevitable.
EU COSTS NOW OUTWEIGH EU BENEFITS FOR IRELAND
The costs of EU membership for Ireland post-Brexit are now greater than the benefits. Ireland today does more of its foreign trade with North America and the UK together than it does with the continental EU. Over two-thirds of its goods-trade with the continent goes by way of the British land bridge. The UK and Ireland maintain a Common Travel Area and allow their citizens to vote in one another’s general elections. Since 2014 the Republic has become a net contributor to the EU Budget, having been a net recipient since 1973. Thus EU grants, “cohesion funds”, farm supports, Covid 19 payments etc., are all nowadays being financed by Irish taxpayers, with the money being sent to the EU and then recycled back to Ireland, employing some Brussels officials along the way.
If Ireland were outside the EU it would not have to increase its net money payments to Brussels, including for the proposed multi-billion EU “Defence” fund which is meant to provide the basis for the EU army now being openly talked about. The loss of Britain’s net contributions to the EU Budget means that other net contributors like Ireland will be expected to pay in more. Without the UK beside it as a fellow EU Member there will be more EU pressure on Ireland to change its corporation tax policy, which is so important for attracting foreign investment here; for Irish and British positions used be aligned on that. We will also come under more pressure to take part in EU military operations that are pushed by Germany and France. Outside the EU Ireland could get back its own territorial waters, the value of whose fish stocks, if they had been caught by Irish boats, are estimated to have been significantly greater than the value of Ireland’s net receipts from the EU over the decades.
Outside the EU Ireland would get back its own currency, which is an essential attribute of any independent State in the modern world, and with it control of either interest rates or the exchange rate. Having its own currency and an independent exchange rate are vital economic tools for any Government that seeks to maximize economic growth and the living standards of its people. This was shown during Ireland’s “Celtic Tiger” years 1993-2001. That was the only period in the history of the Irish State when it followed a highly competitive independent exchange rate policy, which helped give us an average economic growth rate of 8% a year over that time. Joining the euro, by contrast, was the biggest mistake ever made by the Irish State. It brought on the speculative property bubble of the early 2000s, the consequent bank collapse and the EU’s insistence on imposing the huge costs of the bank bailout on Ireland’s taxpayers. Today we are stuck with a euro-currency that is implicitly over-valued for our economic circumstances, so that when sterling falls people from the South go North to do their shopping, and when the dollar falls our exports to America are hit.
AVOIDING A SECOND PARTITION OF IRELAND
For the Republic to remain in the EU while Northern Ireland leaves it as part of the UK would add a major new dimension to the North-South border and amount in effect to a second Partition of Ireland. EU laws and policies would prevail in the South, but not in the North.
It is impossible to envisage Ireland being peacefully reunited with consent unless a significant number of present-day Northern Unionists shift towards a United Ireland position, however long that may take. This is the core principle of Irish unity by the consent that is set out in the Good Friday Agreement. That in turn is impossible to see happening if the South remains a member of the European Union while Britain and the North have left it. It is one thing to hold out to Northern Unionists the prospect of being citizens in a free and independent Irish Republic that is fully in charge of its own affairs and that can put the interests of the people of the whole island first. It is quite another to expect them to join a 26-County State that is a regional member of a Federal-type EU, in which Unionists will be expected to exchange their British citizenship for EU citizenship, adopt the euro as their currency in place of sterling, and obey EU laws as their laws.
Instead of the vision of becoming free citizens of a Republic that ideally would seek to be, in James Connolly’s words, “a beacon light to the oppressed of every land”, a united Ireland in such circumstances would mean that Northern Unionists would find themselves under a new servitude to a Franco-German dominated EU.
Neither can it ever be in Britain’s – or indeed England’s – security interest to have a united Ireland inside an EU that is dominated by its historic continental enemies, Germany and France, especially as the EU becomes more integrated militarily as envisaged. Practically speaking, British good will and support is a necessary precondition for Irish reunification with consent. It is hard to see that goodwill ever being there for a reunified Ireland inside a Federal EU. It follows therefore that a realistic policy on national reunification requires the Irish State to re-establish its national democracy and independence vis-a-vis the EU, get back its own currency, repatriate control of all its laws from Brussels and reassert a policy of meaningful neutrality in war and in relation to military alliances.
Ireland does not need a constitutional referendum to leave the EU. In the referendums on the various European treaties over the decades the Irish People gave the State through its Government permission to join the EU/EC by amending Article 29.5 of the Constitution. This Article provides that the State “may ratify the Treaty of Lisbon…and may be a member of the European Union established by virtue of that Treaty.” These words confirm that it is the Lisbon Treaty which established the constitutionally new European Union that we are all now citizens of. However the Article does not lay down that the State “must” or ”shall” take either of the steps mentioned. Ireland’s membership of the EU is therefore based on a permissive, not a mandatory, power of government and it needs only leaving the EU to become Irish Government policy for the State to leave.
The statement above that the Irish State may be a member of the European Union established by the Lisbon Treaty is followed by the extraordinary blanket provision that “No provision of this Constitution invalidates laws enacted, acts done or measures adopted by the State … that are necessitated by the obligations of membership of the European Union … or prevents laws enacted, acts done or measures adopted by the said European Union or institutions thereof … from having the force of law in the State.”
It is these two sentences in Article 29.5 of the Constitution that make Ireland part of the new post–Lisbon Federal European Union and make the Irish Constitution subordinate to the new EU Constitution. The challenge before Irish nationalists and democrats in the time ahead is to undo their effects, thereby reversing the hollowing out of the Irish State that has taken place and re-establishing Ireland’s lost national democracy and independence.
Having failed in using the pretext of avoiding a hard North-South Border in Ireland to keep the whole of the UK in the EU single market, the EU next sought to keep Northern Ireland in that market by means of the NI Protocol. Instead of a trading land border between North and South, the NI Protocol created a new sea border between Britain and the North. This alienated Northern Unionists, a majority of whom had voted for Brexit. They regarded it as breaching the core principle of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement that there should be no change in the constitutional status of either of the two Northern communities without their consent. It was initially accepted by the Boris Johnson Government as a legacy from the Theresa May era, in order to “Get Brexit Done”, but it clearly called for radical revision.
Most goods that move from Britain to Northern Ireland are consumed there. Only a small fraction travels on to the Republic, thereby affecting the EU single market as long as the South remains in the EU.
A hard border of any kind in Ireland can be avoided by mutual enforcement of each side’s regulations on trade between North and South, backed up by trusted trader schemes and electronic surveillance. Having the Supreme Court of one side, the ECJ, adjudicate on trade disputes between the two sides affecting Northern Ireland, was also clearly unfair. The EU’s real worry was that if Britain and the North left the EU together and then prospered outside, this would incentivise the Republic and other EU States to leave also.
In October 2021 French Prime Minister Jean Castex wrote to the EU Commission: “It is essential to make clear to European public opinion that leaving the union is more damaging than remaining in it.” It is in any case only a matter of time before more EU States leave, as people all over the EU react against the monstrous undermining of their national democracy and independence which continued membership of the EU entails.
In November 2021 the agreed programme for government of the incoming German coalition led by Social Democrat Chancellor Olaf Scholz called for the summoning of an EU constitutional convention “and the further development of a federal European state” This was the first time that the objective of a supranational EU Federation was explicitly embodied in the governmental programme of an EU Member State. Clearly Germany still nurtured the ambition of obtaining by peaceful means the hegemony over Europe that it had failed to establish by force in World Wars 1 and 2.
1. Johan Galtung, The European Community, A Superpower in the Making (Oslo, 1974)
2. The official text of the two currently operative EU treaties, the “Treaty on European Union” (TEU) and the “Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union” (TFEU), may be found online at Eur-Lex. The Treaties with a Contents Index, which is invaluable for finding one’s way round them, may be found at www.euabc.com under the title “The Lisbon Treaty: the Reader-Friendly Edition”, edited by former Danish MEP Jens-Peter Bonde.
3. The original three supranational communities were the European Coal and Steel Community of 1951, the European Economic Community of 1957 and the European Atomic Energy Community of the same year. The Merger Treaty of 1965 fused the governing institutions of the three communities into the Brussels Commission and Council of Ministers, although the Communities themselves remained legally distinct. The European Economic Community became the European Community under the 1992 Maastricht Treaty on European Union. The European Community in turn was abolished by the Lisbon Treaty which replaced it with the constitutionally new European Union that Lisbon brought into being. The European Coal and Steel Community lapsed in 2002, fifty years after the treaty setting it up. Its functions are now exercised by the post-Lisbon EU. The Euratom Treaty and Community are legally still in existence. Reflecting these legal changes, the Brussels Commission has changed its name over the decades from being the “Commission of the European Communities” to the “Commission of the European Community” to the “Commission of the European Union”.
German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, 1996: “The future will belong to the Germans when we have built the House of Europe. In the next two years we will make the process of European integration irreversible. This is a really big battle, but it is worth the fight.”
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, 1998: ”Transforming a European Union into a single State with one army, one constitution and one foreign policy, is the critical challenge of the age”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, 2010: “We have a shared currency but no real economic or political union. This must change. If we were to achieve this, therein lies the opportunity of the crisis … And beyond the economic, after the shared currency, we will perhaps dare to take further steps, for example for a European army.”
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, 2011: “There are 27 of us. Clearly, down the line, we will have to include the Balkans. There will be 32, 33 or 34 of us. No one thinks that federalism, total integration, will be possible with 33, 34 or 35 states. Clearly there will be a two-speed Europe: one speed that moves towards a Federation for the Eurozone and one speed for a Confederation within the European Union”
French President Emmanuel Macron 2017: “The only path that ensures our future is the refoundation of a sovereign, united and democratic Europe…At the beginning of the next decade Europe should be equipped with a common intervention force, a common defence budget and a common doctrine to act.”
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(Author’s Note: Anthony Coughlan is Associate Professor Emeritus in Social Policy at Trinity College Dublin. He is an economist and authority on the national question and has been an opponent of supranational European integration on democratic and internationalist grounds all his adult life. He campaigned in the nine EU-related constitutional referendums that were held in Ireland between 1972 and 2012, as well as in several EU referendums abroad. He was involved in the 1987 Crotty case, the 1995 McKenna case and the 2000 Coughlan case before Ireland’s Supreme Court, which established fairer referendum procedures in the State, and he was himself plaintiff in the third of these. In the 1990s he was chairman of the international TEAM network of democratic EU-critical organisations. He has written and lectured widely on EU topics. He is literary executor of the Irish War of Independence veteran George Gilmore (1898-1985) and of the labour historian C.Desmond Greaves (1913-1988). In the 1960s he took part in the formation of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association. He was on the first civil rights march from Coalisland to Dungannon in August 1968 and was in Duke Street, Derry, on 5 October that year when the RUC’s assault on the civil rights marchers brought the then situation in Northern Ireland to world attention.