Interview with Brian Crowley, Irish UEN (Fianna Fáil) MEP – ‘yes’ campaigner
The majority of parties support the treaty
By Célia Sampol | Tuesday 10 June 2008
Does the ‘yes’ still have a chance of carrying the election?
I am confident it will, but if voter turnout is low the ‘no’ camp could win. The higher the participation rate, the greater the chance the treaty will be approved. You know, people have only become engaged in the referendum issues these last few weeks. That is due to the many political issues not related to the treaty that the government has had to manage, such as difficulties with fishermen because of soaring oil prices, or the farmers’ problems related to the World Trade Organisation talks. Fortunately, the big farmers’ associations have finally decided to support the treaty. That is a positive sign. If you look closely, the four main parties in the Irish parliament back the text, the employers’ confederations support it, and so do the chambers of commerce, the farmers, all the main unions and so on. Everything seems to be leaning towards a positive result.
Has Prime Minister Brian Cowen’s information campaign really been effective?
Yes, he himself has campaigned widely across the country. He went straight to the voters, in the streets, rather than just organising big rallies or events in the media. That’s what I’ve been doing too for the last ten weeks, knocking on people’s doors to inform them and answer their questions. Because the big problem is that they have the impression they don’t really know what this is about. They are familiar with Europe but not in detail. I think that it is because there’s nothing big in this treaty so it is hard to sell. With the Single European Act we had the creation of the common market; with the Treaty of Maastricht, the single currency; with Nice, it was enlargement. With this treaty, though, there are no grand ideas. That is why the ‘no’ camp has been able to find arguments against the treaty. But they are without any basis! And when you repeat lies over and over, people start to believe them. So our role on the ground has been to prove that their arguments are false.
Could you explain what is false in these arguments?
First of all, the legalisation of abortion is a false argument because the Lisbon Treaty contains provisions to avoid any interference with the Irish constitution on this issue. But there are still people in Ireland who believe that the Catholic Church has lost its way by giving its support to the treaty because they fear that the text authorises abortion. On higher taxation, I try to explain that the unanimity of the member states is needed to take decisions on fiscal matters. That is the case in the existing treaties and will continue to be the case with the Lisbon Treaty. And, lastly, for neutrality and the defence non-alignment clause, the Irish constitution includes a civil declaration that recognises our neutrality and the fact that our troops cannot be sent abroad except under a UN mandate. We have already served in Chad, for example, under a UN mandate as part of a European force. But people are afraid of being compelled to make a commitment.
What difference is there compared to the 2001 referendum on the Treaty of Nice?
The big difference is that today the political parties are very active in the campaign. In 2001, that wasn’t the case because they thought people would support it. The arguments of the different parties have come together in the last few weeks to create a single front in favour of the treaty. The idea was to put out a very strong message: the majority of parties support the text and they represent 97% of the votes cast during the last general elections.
Is there a ‘plan B’ if the treaty should be rejected?
This treaty is already a ‘plan B’, a plan B after the rejection of the draft Constitution by France and the Netherlands. We would have to see what the other countries would say if the Irish voted ‘no’. Ireland will not be kicked out of the Union whatever happens, but it would be very difficult to find reasons to continue to be involved. Ireland has always been in favour of creating stronger institutions in Europe. If there is so much doubt today, I think it is due to a lack of engagement in European debate. You can give all the information you want, but if people are not interested they will not absorb it. I think that if the other member states were in Ireland’s situation, they would have the same difficulties convincing people. Because there is a fair amount of jealousy between the national governments and the European institutions as far as who does what and where. So after this vote and this treaty, the next debate should be to ask the governments to accept their responsibility for explaining to citizens why Europe is important. But that is a ‘plan Z’, and we should not look that far ahead...