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[18/10/2007] Government should set up the statutory Referendum Commission well in advance of the referendum on the new EU Treaty to ensure citizens are adequately informed

THE GOVERNMENT SHOULD SET UP THE REFERENDUM COMMISSION SOON, WITH TIME AND RESOURCES TO INFORM CITIZENS ABOUT THIS NEW EU TREATY

The Government should set up the statutory Referendum Commission well in advance of the necessary Irish referendum on the Renamed EU Constitutional Treaty, which will be agreed in principle in Portugal today, so that citizens can be properly informed before they vote on it.
The eyes of Europe – maybe even of the world – will be on Ireland when we hold our referendum on this Treaty, for we are likely to be the only one of 27 EU Member States to have a vote on it. The good functioning of the Referendum Commission is vital to Ireland being seen to have a fair and democratic referendum process.
The five-person Referendum Commission is the body provided for in the 1998 Referendum Act with the function of informing citizens what a referendum is about and encouraging maximum turnout of voters.
Calling the Referendum Commission into being should be done months before Ireland’s referendum, and not just a few weeks before as previously, so that the Commission members will have enough time, first of all to inform themselves, and then the Irish voting public, on the implications of this important and complex constitutional Treaty, for this could well be the last referendum that Ireland will have on the EU.
Former Chief Justice T.A. Finlay, who chaired the Referendum Commission for the two Nice Treaty referendums, was critical of the time the Government gave it to do its job in his reports on those referendums. He was implicitly critical also of referendums on complex EU treaties being held simulataneously with other referendums on quite different matters.
The Referendum Commission is more likely to give the objective and impartial facts about this Treaty than the partisan bodies on either side, such as the political parties, the European Movement, the National Platform etc. – important and essential though their role in the referendum is.
The Referendum Commission consists of the Clerks of the Dail and Seanad, the Ombudsman, the Comptroller and Auditor General, and a senior judge who is nominated by the Government as Chairman.
Although the Government amended the Referendum Act to remove from the Referendum Commission the function of informing citizens of the main Yes-side and No-side arguments on particular referendum propositions in order to help get the Nice Treaty ratified, the Commission still retains its functions of telling citizens what particular referendums are about and encouraging maximum voter turnout. But it needs adequate time and resources to carry out these important democratic tasks. It was given ¤3.5 million for this purpose in the 2002 Nice Two referendum, although it could have done with extra time even then. The setting up of the Referendum Commission does not need to wait until the referendum date is decided on. The importance of the upcoming referendum is shown by the following facts about the proposed new EU Treaty: –
What the Renamed EU Constitutional Treaty would do:

1. Giving the EU a Federal State Constitution: The treaty would establish a legally new European Union, quite different from what we call the EU at present, with the constitutional form of a supranational Federal State that would be separate from and superior to its Member States, just as the USA is separate from and superior to California, Texas etc. It would do this in three key legal steps: (a) establishing a new European Union with its own legal personality and distinct corporate existence for the first time; (b) abolishing the distinction between the supranational and intergovernmental “pillars” of the two existing European Treaties, so that all powers of government can be exercised by the new Union, either actually or potentially, through a uniform constitutional structure; and (c) making us all real citizens of this new Union for the first time, rather than just notional or honorary EU “citizens” as at present, for one can only be a citizen of a State.
2. Abolishing the national veto in 68 new areas or matters: the new Treaty would introduce qualified majority voting(QMV) on the EU Council of Ministers for 68 areas or matters for the first time – 48 of these referring to new areas of EU law-making and 20 to a shift from unanimity to majority-voting for existing EU legal bases. That would remove the national veto for these 68 areas or matters. This figure of 68 compares with 46 areas or matters moved to QMV by the 2002 Treaty of Nice, 24 by the 1998 Treaty of Amsterdam, 30 by the 1992 Maastricht Treaty on European Union, 12 by the 1987 Single European Act and 38 by the original 1957 Treaty of Rome and its associated Treaties. Each of these shifts of power from the national to the supranational level entails a shift from the Legislative arm of government to the Executive arm and from elected national Parliaments and citizens to Government Ministers and senior civil servants. They hollow out our democracy further.
3. Giving more voting power to the Big States: The new Treaty would introduce a new voting system on the Council of Ministers, making population size a key criterion, which would particularly advantage big States like Germany and reduce the influence of smaller ones like Ireland.
4. Removing the right to a permanent EU Commissioner: It would remove the right of each Member State to have an EU Commissioner for two out of every three Commission terms, i.e. for five years out of every 15. Big States would lose their right to a permanent Commissioner also, but they have other means of exerting their influence on this body which proposes all EU laws. Having a permanent Commissioner has always been recognised as much more important for smaller States like Ireland.
5. Giving the EU the final power to decide our rights: The new Treaty would give the EU the final power to decide our human and civil rights in all areas of EU law, including Member States when implementing EU law, which now constitutes the greater part of our laws each year. This would make the EU Court of Justice rather than the Irish Supreme Court, or the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, the final decider of our rights in many areas. The EU Court of Justice would be more remote, slower to work and more expensive for citizens to get to as they seek to establish their rights.
6. A self-amending Treaty: The new Treaty would contain a mechanism enabling qualified majority voting to be sustituted for unanimity in eight policy areas by decision of EU governments, without need for new treaties or referendums.

(Signed)

Anthony Coughlan

Secretary

[04/05/2006] EU Commission Office in Dublin induces Irish broadcasters to act illegally

Huge sums of EU political advertising to influence Irish voters in next EU Treaty referendum


The EU Commission Representation in Ireland has induced Newstalk 106 and local community radio stations across the country to act illegally during March and April by carrying daily political advertisements aimed at influencing voting behaviour and party attitudes in the upcoming referendum on the proposed EU Constitution, or an alternative Treaty based upon it, within the next year or so.
It is illegal for Irish broadcasters “to accept any advertisement directed towards any religious or political end” under the provisions of the Radio and Television Act 1988, s.10(3),which governs local broadcasters, and the Broadcasting Authority Act 1960, s.20(4), which governs RTE.*
The advertisements. which were paid for by the Commission Representation in Molesworth Street, Dublin, are one-sided propagandist statements of positive-sounding facts about the EU that are capable of influencing people’s attitudes and votes in a future referendum on the EU Constitution or other Treaty aimed at increasing the powers of the EU and its institutions, among them the Commission itself.
The advertisements are ostensibly aimed at telling people of the existence of a “Europe Direct” information centre, which people are urged to contact if they require further information on the EU or wish to obtain a speaker on it. Each reference to “Europe Direct” is preceded by a potent and one-sided propagandist statement about the merits and benefits of the EU, which is certainly capable of influencing attitudes and votes, and the views of political parties and the party allegiances of citizens, under the guise of providing objective information from and about this information service. On any fair and objective assessment this March-April advertising is directed towards a political end and is therefore illegal in Ireland.
Here are examples from the series of 10 or so different advertisements:
“Do you know that since 1973 Ireland has received over 5.5 billion euros from the European Community? To find out more about the EU, contact Europe Direct…” (phone number follows) (Mon.10 April, Newstalk 106, 7.15 a.m., During the Eamon Dunphy Breakfast Show)
“Do you know that as a citizen of the EU you are guaranteed the right to buy goods in any of the EU Member States? What’s more, the introduction of the euro enables you to compare prices and get the best value for your money in the EU. To find out more, contact Europe Direct etc.” (Tues. 11 April, 8.30 a.m. and Wed.12 April, 8.15, Newstalk 106)

“Do you know that the EU has an expert panel of speakers available to speak on EU policies and development? To hear a speaker, contact Europe Direct etc.” (Sat. 8 April, South-East Radio, lunchtime)

“Do you know that telephone calls cost less because of the EU?” (Sun. 9 April, Newstalk 106)

“Do you know that there is EU legislation to ensure the food you eat is safe?” (Tuesday 18 April, Newstalk 106)

“Do you know that the EU is the largest contributor of development aid to poorer countries?” ( Newstalk 106, Mon. 20 March)

Irish EU Commissioner Charlie McCreevy stated at the launch of this advertising campaign in February: “Following rejection of the Nice Treaty in 2001, Ireland knows only too well the importance of communicating Europe. After the French and Dutch rejections of the Constitution, all of Europe knows it now. This campaign wll not only inform people of the different information sources available but will also show the benefits of EU membership, and provide very practical advice on how to avail of European laws to protect their rights.”

This political advertising campaign is the first time that the EU Commission, through the office of its Dublin Representation, has financed anything of this kind in this country. It is possible that the Commission and its Secretary-General in Brussels are unaware that its Irish Representation is encouraging Irish broadcasters to act illegally.
On the other hand, if the Commission Representation in Ireland, or its superiors in Brussels, can get away with these political advertisements on the pretext that they are only providing “information” and stating objective facts, the citizens of Ireland may as well throw their hats at any attempt to protect their democracy from external, politically motivated manipulation from now on. They will be exposed to having their political attitudes to the EU and its affairs moulded by a self-interested Brussels Commission with effectively limitless amounts of money at its disposal to influence the voting intentions of Irish citizens in future EU-related referendums here, thereby increasing the Commission’s own powers.
The background to the emergence of the EU Commission as a major political advertiser in Ireland, and as a direct player on the local political scene is this:
The EU Commission has been allocated some 200 million euros to spend in the current period to encourage “reflection” on the situation regarding the proposed EU Constitution that was rejected by French and Dutch voters a year ago. The ratification process of The Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe**, to give it its proper title, has now been resumed, as if the French and Dutch referendums had never happened. Belgium decided to ratify the EU Constitution in March. Finland is expected to do so by parliamentary vote next month, before it takes over the six-month EU Presidency in July. The remaining parliamentary ratifications will then follow, with possibly an Irish referendum at their end, so that by this time next year all EU States will have ratified the EU Constitution with the exception of France, the Netherlands, Britain and possibly Poland. Germany will then be in charge of the EU and a new French President will be in office, and steps will be taken to finesse the French and Dutch Nos and put maximum pressure on the countries still to hold referendums.
This is the real reason for this EU-funded political advertising campaign that has commenced in Ireland at this time. The Commission’s 200 million euro “information” budget is being targeted mainly at the countries where referendums on the EU Constitution are necessary, with a view to influencing eventual voting behaviour there. While pleading that it is providing “impartial information” through its betwork of some 300 Europe Direct Centres across the EU, the Commission is in fact producing potent propaganda – all as part of the real-politik of reviving the EU Constitution.
If an Irish political party such as Fianna Fail or Fine Gael sought to advertise the existence of a party information line or speaker-service on Irish radio, or to used advertisements to tell people that they had done such-and-such when they were last in Government, broadcasters would immediately refuse such advertisements as illegal. The EU Commission, a much more powerful body than any Irish political party, must not be allowed to use its virtually limitless funds to subvert our democracy in this way.
Unsurprisingly, the advertisements for “Europe Direct” do not draw public attention to less palatable facts about the EU: For example that only one-third or so of our laws now originate with the Oireachtas, the rest coming from Brussels Š Or that Spanish and other EU fishermen have the same legal entitlement to exploit Irish fishing waters as Irish fishermen do Š Or that the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy raises food prices for families and discriminates against Third World agriculturalists Š Or that it costs Irish taxpayers so many millions to adapt the country’s bridges and roads to accommodate the 50-ton lorries permitted by EU law.
Patricia McKenna, former Green Party MEP, is making representations to the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland and to the RTE Authority, asking them to take steps to ensure that Irish broadcasters cease breaking the law in this matter, as they have been doing, perhaps unwittingly, by carrying these EU-funded political advertisements during March and April. She is also making representations to the Secretary-General of the EU Commission in Brussels to take steps to prevent the officials of the Commission’s Representation in Ireland from abusing their responsibilities by encouraging Irish broadcasters to act illegally and misusing EU funds for purposes that are illegal under Irish and possibly EU law.
Patricia McKenna comments: “If the EU Commission is allowed to get away with this type of political advertising at taxpayers’ expenses, including Irish taxpayers, it will undermine the entire thrust of the Supreme Court’s 1995 McKenna judgement which was supposed to protect people from having their money used to persuade them to vote in a particular way.” In 1998 Patricia McKenna made representations to the EU Commission in Brussels which led to its telling its officials in the Commission Representation in Dublin to desist from disseminating one-sided pamphlets geared at influencing Irish citizens to vote Yes in the Amsterdam Treaty referendum as being in contravention of both Irish and European law.
Ms McKenna can be contacted for further information if need be, at (01) 8300818 or 087-2427049
We appeal to all Irish democrats, whatever their vews on the EU, all fair-minded citizens and all responsible media bodies, to raise their voices on this matter.
If you should hear any of these broadcasts on your local community radio station, please phone the station to tell those in charge there that they are acting illegally by broadcasting it, and then inform the local police that the sttaion in question is breaking the law.
(Signed)

Anthony Coughlan,
Secretary (01-8305792 /6081898)


* A discussion of the case-law on this topic up to 2003 may be found in Marie McGonagle, Media Law, Round Hall Press, 2003. There have been some further relevant cases since the latest edition of this book.

** The Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe would repeal all the existing EC/EU treaties and establish what would be legally quite a new EU, based like any State upon its own Constitution. It would give the EU the constitutional form of a supranational State for the first time and would make us all real citizens of that, owing it our obedience and allegiance, rather than be notional or honorary EU “citizens” as at present. It would give the EU a political President, a Foreign Minister and diplomatic corps and would increase the EU’s policy-making powers in nearly 100 new areas.

[20/01/2005] COMMISSIONER CHARLIE McCREEVY AND THE REFERENDUM ON THE EU CONSTITUTION

COMMISSIONER CHARLIE McCREEVY AND THE REFERENDUM ON THE EU CONSTITUTION
______________

Press statement from The National Platform EU Research and Information
Centre, 24 Crawford Avenue, Dublin 9;  Tel:01-8305792

Thursday 20 January 2005

Mr Charlie McCreevy has been appointed an EU Commissioner, yet he stated
last week that he intends to play an active part on behalf of the Yes
Campaign in the upcoming referendum on the "Treaty Establishing a
Constitution for Europe".

While Mr McCreevy, like any civil servant, will have a vote in the
referendum as an Irish citizen, is it really appropriate for him as a
supranational public official to campaign in such a fashion? Is it
compatible with a proper appreciation of his role as an EU Commissioner?

EU Commissioners take an oath to put the EU's interests before any national
interest when they take up their jobs. Whether Commissioners are Irish,
Italian or Danish does not mean they are there to work for Ireland, Italy
or Denmark. They may like to believe that expanding the EU's power and
functions is identical with their own country's interests, but it is not
necessarily so.

The EU Commission has no role in the ratification of EU treaties, which are
exclusively a matter for the Member States. Yet the Commission, which has
the exclusive right to propose European laws, is very much an interested
party.  It will gain a huge increase in its own powers at the expense of
national Parliaments, Member States and their citizens if the proposed EU
Constitution is ratified and a further 60 or so national vetoes are
abolished.

As an EU Commissioner Mr McCreevy is paid a substantial salary for his
services in implementing the existing EC/EU treaties, but surely not to
campaign for ratifying new ones?  If Mr McCreevy can devote his time and
resources that should be spent on Commission business to political
campaigning in the Irish referendum, what is to stop other Commissioners
from doing the same thing?

If the principle of Commission interference of this kind is accepted as
regards Mr McCreevy or his colleagues, what is to prevent the Commission
using its huge financial and personnel resources to interfere in a
one-sided fashion in the Irish and other Member State referendums, against
the principles of constitutional fairness in referendums laid down by the
Supreme Court in the 1995 McKenna case, and quite possibly in violation of
European law as well?

In 1998 it took the threat of legal action by a local citizen, Mr Owen
Bennett, to prevent the European Commission Office in Dublin from
disseminating large amounts of  one-sided pamphlets in the Amsterdam Treaty
referendum under the guise of providing objective information on that
treaty. When the matter was referred to the Commission's Legal Services in
Brussels, they concluded that this action was legally inadvisable. The
Commission's resources, including the salaries of its officials, are
contributed to in part by Irish taxpayers. Those resources should not be
used to forward the ratification of a
Treaty-cum-Constitution that would hugely increase the Commission's powers
at the expense of Irish and other EU citizens who ultimately provide those
resources - a Treaty moreover that may never come into force if it is
rejected by one of the 25 EU Member States.

Irish voters should be permitted to make up their minds on the EU
Constitution without outside intervention of any kind from the EU
Commission or its Commissioners. Commissioner McCreevy should think again.

(Signed)

Anthony Coughlan

Secretary
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