Irish Times: Dominating Role of Larger EU States

The Irish Times – Friday, March 4, 2011 (letters)

Madam, – Dr Garret FitzGerald (Opinion, February 12th) shows concern that moving away from the so-called “community method” of making EU laws towards a more “inter-governmental” approach may open the way to an EU that “for the first time becomes dominated by some larger states”.

This looks like trying to lock the proverbial stable door after the horse inside has bolted.

For decades Dr FitzGerald and those who share his views on the EU have been advancing the quite unrealistic notion that the EU is a radically new form of political life and governance in which the big European states are willing to subordinate their national interests to a larger common EU interest and that it therefore makes sense for smaller states to “pool sovereignty” with them.

In historical reality the EU since its inception has been an arena for the pursuit of the national interests of its member states, above all its bigger ones, France and Germany especially. The big states use the EU to try to dominate the smaller ones if it suits them. If not, they will go outside it or beyond it. Three developments in the past 20 years show this strikingly.

The first was the establishment of the euro currency under the 1992 Maastricht Treaty. The core objective of that was to reconcile France to Germany’s sudden reunification in 1990, using economic means that were quite inappropriate for that purpose.

The current financial crisis shows the euro currency’s structural flaws. It has fundamentally divided the EU between the 17 EU states inside the euro zone that are now suffering the euro’s torments, and the 10 EU states outside it that are not.

The second was the 2001 Nice Treaty which allows an inner group of nine or more EU states to integrate further among themselves and to use the EU institutions to do that, even though the other EU members are opposed. This was a fundamental break with the notion of the EU as a partnership of equals in which no major step would be taken without unanimity. It enables the big states to present the others with unpleasant faits-accomplis. For example it would enable the 17 euro zone members, or a sub-set of them, to adopt a common tax base for assessing corporation profits tax, or a common tax rate if they wish, as could well happen in the coming period.

The third was the Lisbon Treaty of 2009. In power-political terms this treaty’s most important provision is that it puts EU law-making on a primarily population-size basis for the first time – from 2014. This means that in three years’ time Germany’s voting weight in making EU laws on the EU Council of Ministers will be doubled from its present 8 per cent to 17 per cent, France’s, Italy’s and Britain’s vote will go from their present 8 per cent each to 12 per cent each, while Ireland’s will fall from its present 2 per cent to 0.8 per cent. Is not this by any standard a power-grab by the big states?

For decades Irish policy-makers have used rhetoric about “the European ideal”, “our EU partners” and “an EU community of equals” to justify handing over ever-greater tranches of State power and law-making to the EU. A more hard-headed and less self-deluding approach will surely be needed by future Irish governments if we are to get out of our present mess. – Yours, etc,

ANTHONY COUGHLAN,
Director,
The National Platform EU Research and Information Centre,
Crawford Avenue, Dublin 9.
 

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