The European Parliament and the Lisbon Treaty
The Lisbon Treaty will lead to a more democratic EU and stronger rights for citizens - this was the conclusion of MEPs when they voted in February by a majority of 525 to 115 (29 abstentions) in favour of an EP resolution on the Lisbon Treaty. MEPs agreed that, as a whole, the Treaty of Lisbon is "will bring more democratic accountability to the Union (through strengthening of the roles of the European Parliament and the national parliaments), enhance the rights of European citizens ..[..].. and improve the effective functioning of the Union's institutions."
British MEP Richard Corbett and Spanish MEP Iñigo Mendez de Vigo, authors of Parliament's report on the Lisbon Treaty, emphasised that if all Member States ratified the new treaty by the end of 2008, citizens could vote in the June 2009 European elections with full knowledge of the new institutional framework within which the EU would operate. Richard Corbett added that the new treaty would make the European Union "more democratic, more effective and more friendly to citizens".
During the debate which followed, Brian Crowley MEP (FF - South) said that the Lisbon Treaty represented progress for the European Union. It will lead to a stronger economic performance and improve the lives of the citizens of the EU. The Irish people, he said, would have the opportunity to vote on this very soon. He continued by pointing out that the single market had been extremely important for the economy over the last 30 years. Any organisation that started with six members and has grown to 27 would need to change its rules. Ireland, he said, had seen huge development from infrastructure to peace, and those that criticised the EU were ignoring the reality on the ground.
Mary Lou McDonald MEP (SF - Dublin) spoke of a "fear of referendums" in all Member States except Ireland. "The Lisbon Treaty commits us to more military spending and increased support of armaments.... Why do we keep on emulating the USA?" she asked. "This treaty is not about reform or efficiency, it is a carte blanche for further eroding democracy." She called it a "charter for further privatization." There is "nothing new on the protection of workers rights and nothing new on the environment. Would the people of Europe support such a treaty?" she asked. "I believe not! That's why they are not being asked." "The Lisbon treaty is a bad deal for Ireland, a bad deal for Europe, and a bad deal for the wider world."
Avril Doyle MEP (FG - East) stated that all the Irish parties, with the exception of Sinn Fein, will be supporting the Irish Government and working hard to ratify this Treaty and to get the message across. However, she warned MEPs from other countries that "while your goodwill and support is most welcome, a gentle word of warning - please do not be tempted in your eagerness for a positive outcome of our referendum, to tell the Irish electorate how to vote." In conclusion, addressing the European Commission, she stated "please stop picking rows with Ireland on administrative and other issues such as the REPS, which can be misrepresented, deliberately or otherwise, by the Treaty naysayers."
Supporting the Treaty, Marian Harkin MEP (Ind. - North West) said that "while it is not perfect, it is going in the right direction". In Ireland, she said, "one of the arguments used by supporters of a 'no' vote is to suggest that Lisbon is a self-amending Treaty, yet Article 48(4) states quite clearly that any amendments to the Treaty will enter into force only after being ratified by all Member States in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements. That is the very essence of subsidiarity", she said. The Lisbon Treaty "upholds the sovereign right of Member States" and that is just one of the very many reasons why she is supporting it.
On the role of national parliaments, Mairéad McGuinness MEP (FG - East) said "let national parliaments take the power this Treaty will give them and let the ordinary decent citizens of the countries force them to use that power effectively." Responding to Mr Duff, she said, "there is falsehood being peddled in Ireland on the 'self-amending' Treaty: it is the invention of a negative mind. It is not true and it is not so." She went on to say that, contrary to the naysayers, this Treaty is a good deal for Ireland, a good deal for the EU, a good deal for Europe, and she urged citizens in Ireland to vote 'yes'.
Kathy Sinnott MEP (Ind. - South) said she is receiving requests for the Treaty every day. "when I have to tell people there is no readable version, they are incredulous. But when I tell them that this is by decree of the Intergovernmental Conference, they are angry." She went on to say that "our citizens are intelligent, thoughtful and well capable of playing their democratic role in their own governance. And what we are doing here today, and throughout this Lisbon process, is a betrayal of our citizens, the very citizens whose cooperation and hard work we will need to further the European project. I warn you: do not be surprised if, some day, these same long-suffering citizens refuse that cooperation."
Colm Burke MEP (FG - South) said that a 'yes' for the Lisbon Treaty is a 'yes' for the Charter of Fundamental Rights. While the Charter, he said, does not establish any new powers for the EU, it does make it easier for citizens to find out what their rights and responsibilities are under European law. If the people of Ireland vote 'yes' to the Lisbon Treaty, they will also be conferring legally-binding treaty status on the Charter of Fundamental Rights, to the benefit of all Irish and EU citizens.
Proinsias De Rossa MEP (Labour - Dublin) said that the weapons of those who pedal fear is the big lie, "eloquently demonstrated here today by Ms McDonald and Ms Sinnott". They, he said, turn truth on its head to claim that elected representatives of more than 80% of the people of Europe are about to crush democracy, are about to deny people ever again having a say in the construction of Europe. Before polling day in Ireland, all these big lies will have been shown up for what they are: the nightmares of parties which have learned nothing from their history and are bent on condemning the people of Europe to repeating it.
Gay Mitchell MEP (FG - Dublin) questioned what sort of referendum do those who argue for a referendum want? "Do they want a referendum in which 50% or more of people across the European Union make this decision for them, in which case it will be the big states, or a mixture of small and big states, which will decide for everybody? Or do they mean that it must be over 50% in each Member State, in which case each Member State gives up its right to make the decision to every other Member State! Where is the rationality in that?"
Speaking to his fellow MEPs following the vote on 20 February, the European Parliament's President Hans-Gert Pöttering MEP said "I welcome this overwhelming majority supporting the Treaty. The vote represents the free will of the people you represent. This Treaty gives the EU the possibility to function properly and improves democratic structures."
(NB contributions are in the speaker's original language - debate is currently in translation)