Why the Workers’ Party says No to the Treaty of Nice


On 7th June 2001, the Irish people will be asked to make an important decision on the future of this country by referendum. That decision will affect the life of each and every citizen . It could drag Irish soldiers into wars started and sponsored by powerful nations happy to use the smaller countries as their pawns. Even on the most benign interpretation the route proposed by the Government, unless resisted, will change fundamentally the rules and institutions of the European Community. Despite this it is virtually impossible to obtain a copy of the subject matter of the referendum unless you have access to the internet. This is a referendum conducted by stealth. What is it about? Why is the Government holding a referendum? Why the cloak of secrecy in what should be an open and democratic debate?

Although the referendum will deal with a number of issues, in an attempt by the Government to cause the maximum confusion, the main issue for concern relates to the Treaty of Nice. The stated purpose of the Treaty of Nice is “to complete the programme of institutional reform designed to prepare the European Union for a significant expansion in its membership”. In reality the Treaty of Nice is the next step in the relentless pursuit of European integration.

The European Union was created and developed by a series of treaties over the past 50 years. Over that time the treaties were modified by various agreements and instruments, however, the constant theme has been European integration, or more particularly in its early stages, West European integration. The most significant treaties were the Treaty of Rome [1957], the Single European Act [1986], the Treaty on European Union, (the Maastricht Treaty) [1992] and the Treaty of Amsterdam [1997]. Ireland acceded to the European Communities in 1972.

The Workers’ Party opposed Ireland accession to the European Communities. The Party also opposed , the Single European Act [1986], the Treaty on European Union, (the Maastricht Treaty) [1992] and the Treaty of Amsterdam. The Workers’ Party opposition to the Treaty of Nice arises from a consistent, principled position.

The first myth which must be exploded is that the Workers’ Party is anti-European. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our Party is an internationalist party and is deeply committed to the principles of internationalism. We are perhaps the only party in this country which has enshrined that principle in our Party Constitution and Party Members are obliged to actively subscribe to that principle. It is impossible to be a member of our Party without being an internationalist.

Secondly, it has been the openly declared ambition of our Party for at least two decades that we want a socialist Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals. Our Party expressly rejects narrow myopic nationalism, racism, isolationism, national chauvinism and xenophobia. We are confident that our credentials in this area cannot be questioned and our approach to the Treaty of Nice is based on a fundamentally different approach.

The Workers’ Party believes that each nation is sovereign and independent. This involves the right of states to govern and control their own political, social, economic and cultural affairs, free from outside interference and intervention. These rights are scarcely revolutionary in themselves. They form the basis of the Charter of the United Nations and are emphasised in international law. National territorial jurisdiction is a central tenet of state sovereignty which should not easily be surrendered.

The European Union is based on the concept of the supremacy of Community law. Member States are bound to fulfil Treaty obligations and to abstain from any measures which could jeopardise the attainment of Treaty objectives. The current European project contemplates the complete limitation of domestic sovereign rights and a transfer of powers to an increasingly powerful, unaccountable and undemocratic federal Europe. As a Party committed to the democratisation of all aspects of political life the Workers’ Party opposes this transition. Our Party stands for an independent and sovereign nation in a community of independent nations and citizens working together and co-operating with each other for mutual benefit. In short, we are for Europe but a different type of Europe and we are against the type of Europe the Treaty of Nice proposes to implement.

At present, the European Union is a capitalist project. It is designed to achieve economic growth and increased profits. The concept of the single market and a common currency is a characteristic of this project. In many countries of the EU unemployment has risen. European Directives demand deregulation and privatisation of the public sector. The Treaty on European Union demands the removal of controls on the movement of capital as part of the Single European market. The EU demands austerity and promotes monetarist economic policies and we in Ireland have recently witnessed the impact of this when the EU has attempted to dictate domestic spending. It demonstrates how far we have come. The Irish government will be unable to spend a budget surplus on much needed public expenditure on education, health, housing and social welfare. Monetary union will lead to an increase in business competition which will, in turn, lead to competition for the lowest wages and lowest social benefits in the Union. This will further increase unemployment and lead to cuts in social welfare spending. Ireland will lose control over its economy, monetary policy, taxation, interests rates, exchange rates. The European Central Bank will have responsibility for monetary policy. Countries, with a weaker economy, which could previously use monetary policy against stronger competitors will no longer have the necessary powers to do this. The national economy will be laid open to the unrestricted and unrestrained movement of capital and the avarice of banks and multinational corporations whose sole objective is profit, not people. Nation states will be severely restricted in pursuit of their own social, economic, labour and environmental policies.

In the field of environmental protection the EU has also failed. Pollution has increased and the omission of comprehensive legal provisions in the Treaty of Union for environmental protection and the protection of natural resources demonstrates that profit is a higher priority than protection.

The lack of democracy in the European Union has also long been a concern for the Workers’ Party. Power has been progressively transferred from national parliaments to Europe but there has been no reciprocal democratisation of the European institutions. The gap between the citizen and the decision-maker, the governing and the governed, has widened. The EU is a centralised and bureaucratic construction largely divorced from the citizens of the EU. Further integration and federalism will not address the democratic deficit, it will simply cause it to increase. The European Parliament does not have the same rights or role as national parliaments. The legislative authority in the European Union is the Council and it is not answerable to the European Parliament.

It is also a critical concern that the European Union has the objective of building its own military force. It has long been envisaged that the Western European Union should be gradually integrated into the European Union. Simultaneously, there has been a sustained effort to transfer decisions on foreign and security policy to Europe – a concern heightened by a movement towards taking decisions in these field s on the basis of qualified majority voting. It is proposed to co-ordinate the European arms industry, creating a European military-industrial complex.

It is within this context that our analysis of the Treaty of Nice is based.


1. Democracy

There are already fundamental problems concerning a lack of democracy and accountability in the European Union. The Union is essentially bureaucratic and anti-democratic with the principal focus being on freedom of movement for capital and business. If adopted, the Treaty of Nice will increase the democratic deficit. The Treaty will open the route to a two-tier Europe, establishing a leading elite of powerful states which will be able to dominate the institutions of the EU economically, politically and militarily. At present unanimity is required in vital parts of the decision-making process. This, in theory, requires consensus and, at least formally, places all Member States on an equal footing. The original thinking was that no major political or constitutional development could take place without the agreement of all Member States. However, even from the beginning the authors of the Treaty of Rome intended that there should be a progressive move towards voting majorities and the qualified majority voting procedure already applies in certain situations.

The Treaty of Nice abolishes the requirement for unanimity set down in the Amsterdam Treaty. The formal “equality” is to be removed and the instrument to effect this change is the further substantial expansion of qualified majority voting. Matters of major political and constitutional importance will no longer remain within the jurisdiction and control of individual Members States. Decisions may be taken without the agreement of an Irish government on the basis of qualified majority voting. Depending on the numbers voting an Irish government may not even be able to block a decision which has major adverse implications for this country. In those circumstances it will be the qualified majority which decides what is possible.

Nice also has serious implications in respect of the operation of the European Commission. Previously, the President of the Commission has been appointed on the basis of a unanimous decision of the Member States. Under the Nice provisions the President must first be nominated by qualified majority vote between the Governments and Heads of State.

The Treaty of Nice is about taking power away from the citizen and the national government and giving it to the European Union. It will remove the national veto in 35 new areas, including, asylum, refugees and immigration; measures for the introduction of the euro; reform of structural and cohesion funds; the appointment of the President and members of the Commission and, significantly, the appointment of Common Foreign and Security Policy special representatives and related international agreements. These developments will increase the prospects for “Fortress Europe”
under the Schengen agreement and lead to further misery for those people outside the borders of the Union.

The Irish government actively colludes in this anti-democratic exercise by selling the Treaty of Nice as a treaty on enlargement. In reality, the Treaty of Nice is not about providing enlargement and extending the “benefits” of the EU to those outside the Union. The Union is about limiting the effects of enlargement. The European Union does not want the people of the candidate countries but it does want their markets. The trick is to bring these countries into Europe and render their peoples second-class citizens. Already a number of powerful Member States have attempted to impose a moratorium on the free movement of labour for new Member States.

The Amsterdam Treaty permitted the EU to enlarge without further amendment of the Treaties. The Treaty of Nice proposes changes which will have the effect of increasing the power of the powerful states

The Treaty of Nice is concerned with the creation of a two-tier Europe. The object is to further centralise the EU. On the one hand the first-class members will press ahead for ever closer union. This group, aiming for the creation of a single federal Europe, will become the Euro elite. This elite will not be bound by a requirement for unanimity and extending the use of “enhanced cooperation” will allow groups of eight member states to proceed with “policy initiatives” even if the smaller countries voted against it. The creation of such an elite with a controlling influence in the institutions of the Union and committed to a strongly centralised federal state cannot be to the benefit of democracy in general or the interests of the smaller states, in particular. The concept of a Europe of equals will have effectively disappeared. It is no exaggeration to say that the Treaty of Nice is sounding the death knell of whatever little democracy already exists within the European Union.

2. National Sovereignty, Independence and Neutrality

It is the concept of “enhanced co-operation” and the fundamental change which this makes to the European Union which necessitates a referendum in Ireland. The Treaty of Nice has serious implications for the Irish constitution. This referendum may be the last opportunity for the Irish people to defend its sovereignty and constitutional rights.

The Treaty of Nice also provides the basis for moving to the next stage of the militarisation of Europe. The ambition is to create a European superpower equipped with its own arms industry and its own defence and foreign policy. The Amsterdam Treaty provided that the Western European Union [WEU] was “an integral part” of the development of the European Union. The Treaty of Nice removes the reference to the WEU and the EU will now take on a military function. The European Union will be equipped with military capabilities and, whatever the protestations of the YES camp, the structures and resources are being put in place for the creation of a European army with the development of a 60,000 strong Rapid Reaction Force, deployable within sixty days and sustainable in the field for one year. This force, far from “defending” Europe will be capable of operating outside the Union and outside Europe.

The military tasks of this force will not be controlled by the national parliaments nor by the European Parliament. Military operations will be under the political control of the Political and Security Committee. Europe, or more correctly, the dominant political elite will be able to wage war outside Europe without being accountable to either the European or national Parliament. The Treaty of Nice would constitute a fatal blow to Irish neutrality.

The threat to Irish neutrality does not stop there. The erosion of Ireland’s capacity to operate an independent defence and foreign policy continues. On 11th April 2001, Dr. Guenter Burghardt, the Head of the European Commission Delegation to the US, stated at the Executives’ Club of Chicago, that he firmly believed that the European Security and Defence Policy [ESDP] “will complement NATO and help the EU to become a fuller partner of the US”. Dr Burghardt talked of “a more efficient common foreign security policy”. It will certainly be “more efficient” if there is no dissenting voice to the growing militarisation of the EU and a partnership with the US in exploiting and intimidating the less powerful nations of the world. There is no protection for Irish neutrality or the independence of Irish foreign policy. The Irish government has not attempted to criticise this process nor has it tried to negotiate a special protocol to ensure the protection of our traditional neutrality.

It is scarcely surprising that this referendum appears clouded in secrecy . In view of the contents of the Treaty of Nice and the implications for our sovereignty and independence one might at least expect that the Irish people would be told what the referendum was about. It is not enough to issue trite, and misleading, statements on enlargement in an attempt to replace democratic debate with uninformed emotion.

If this referendum is to be effective it requires open , transparent public debate on real issues. That debate must involve the wide dissemination of information which is objective, balanced , comprehensible and accessible to all. The Government and the media have a duty to ensure that a fair and balanced debate takes place although presently the signs are not favourable that this will happen. The YES Vote will have huge resources and the NO campaign will have scarce resources and will face the usual vilification and abuse which takes the place of rational debate.

Nevertheless this is a referendum proposal which can be defeated. The Economist Intelligence Unit has reported that the Irish people could vote against the Treaty of Nice. The Government received a shock at the time of the Amsterdam Treaty. It is now time to deliver an unequivocal message that the unrestrained march towards the creation of a European superpower must be reversed and the destruction and erosion of Irish sovereignty, neutrality and independence halted.

A NO Vote on 7th June is not anti-European. It is, on the contrary, a positive vote for an equal and co-operative relationship with our European neighbours and beyond. It is a voice for an alternative democratic Europe, a people’s Europe, a Europe of the nations.

The Workers’ Party will play its part.