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EU: Lisbon Treaty

Volume 706: debated on Tuesday 13 January 2009

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to the suggestions made by the Government of the Republic of Ireland to the European Council’s December meeting on the Lisbon treaty.

My Lords, I refer the noble Lord to the Statement on the European Council made to this House by my noble friend Lady Royall on 15 December.

The European Council agreed a package of measures to offer Ireland the reassurances that it needed on the Lisbon treaty covering taxation, defence, social issues and the size of the Commission. These do not change the Lisbon treaty and the legal guarantees are in line with the red lines the UK secured in the treaty.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Does he agree that in paragraph 4 the Irish Government again committed themselves to seeking ratification of the Lisbon treaty, armed as they understandably are, as is the rest of Europe, with the realisation that the Lisbon treaty is the only method for 27 sovereign countries to work effectively together? Is he therefore hopeful that this time round there may be a better outcome in terms of the Government’s policy, not least because of the rather startling and sinister revelations of the main sources of financing for the main “No” campaign, which included the National Association for Freedom and the Heritage Foundation?

My Lords, the Taoiseach believes that these guarantees are what he sought, and he is satisfied that they allow him to return to the Irish people with a further referendum. We very much hope that the outcome will be favourable.

My Lords, is it not a fact that the Irish people voted against the proposals that were then available, and that many other countries would have done the same? Is it not wrong that they should then be encouraged to vote for another set of proposals in the hope that they will accede to them? Is that not a question of bullying?

My Lords, 24 of 27 countries have ratified and are now ready. Ireland sought and has received guarantees, but the treaty has not been reopened. In that regard, it is a referendum on the same treaty as before.

My Lords, the treaty may not have been reopened, but the presidency conclusions specify that these proposed legal arrangements, providing they satisfy Ireland, should be to the mutual satisfaction of all member states. I understand that among other things they include that we should go back to or remain with one commissioner per country, contrary to what is proposed in the treaty. In that case, can we therefore assume that the new legal arrangements will come before this Parliament for further examination and approval before everything is signed, sealed and pushed ahead?

My Lords, we are waiting to hear what form these guarantees will take in terms of exactly how they are implemented. Of course, anything that requires to come back before Parliament will do so.

My Lords, can the noble Lord explain why those who prate on about democracy and the will of the people will never accept no as an answer when it suits them? Do the Government understand that the French and the Dutch rejected the constitution and then the Irish rejected the Lisbon treaty? Is that not “No” enough for the Government, or are they prepared to accept the will of the people?

My Lords, the constitution that was rejected by the Dutch and the French led to very big changes, which led to a treaty that was no longer a constitution. With 24 countries having approved the treaty, I am not sure whether the voters of Ireland should have a right of veto over the aspirations of all the other people of Europe. I am not sure whether that is or is not democracy.

My Lords, noble Lords should not confuse the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, with being “this side”; he is “that corner”.

Does my noble friend agree that those who lecture us about democracy, particularly in a parliamentary democracy, should recognise that the sovereign will of two Houses of Parliament is an extremely valid expression of democracy? We have expressed without any hesitation or qualification—rejecting every amendment that was proposed—our view on the Lisbon treaty. The best thing that we can do now in relation to Ireland is not to seek to interfere in Irish matters but to leave it to the Irish people to make their decision.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that important support from behind me by means of a question. For anyone who came back from the Christmas holidays feeling a little sleepy, there is nothing like Europe to make the blood rush to all our heads.

My Lords, from the performance of the French in the European presidency on Georgia in comparison to that of the Czech presidency on the Middle East at the moment, is it not clear that we need to change the way in which the European Union presidency works for the health of Europe and for the health of the way in which international diplomacy works? For that reason, it is so important that the Lisbon treaty is ratified and that Ireland makes a positive decision under its sovereignty.

My Lords, certainly many of us are impatient to move on and get these new arrangements in place. I commend the French presidency for its activity and vigour, although I have to say—to undermine our mutual view of this—that it was done under the old arrangements.

My Lords, during the December meeting of the European Council, when these matters were considered, did it cross the minds of the Commission or Ministers present that one of the main reasons why the Irish people rejected the treaty was because they were moving into a severe recession—more severe than ours, largely because of their membership of the euro—during which they are receiving virtually no help from the European Union? Indeed, my noble friend Lord James may be interested to learn that yesterday the Irish Government announced that they were reducing public sector salaries by 5 per cent as a mark of the severity of the recession. Did this not occur to those at the meeting in December as a possible factor?

My Lords, certainly the financial crisis was an equally big item on the agenda at that summit, but I must say that I am surprised by the thrust of the noble Lord’s question, because, like many others in this House, I attribute much of the prosperity of modern Ireland to its membership of the European Union.