Between the misunderstandings, misrepresentations and accusations, the campaigns are heating up. It is just over two weeks until the Irish people vote on the Treaty of Lisbon for the second time. Having previously covered the reasons for the second vote, it seems to me that all the issues that were at the heart of the negative result last time around have been dealt with and with those out of the way, brand new issues are cropping up.
In typical Irish fashion, both sides are trying to outdo each other in accusations of misrepresentations and outright lies, despite the positive campaign which the Yes side promised. To be sure, the Yes side posters are less deliberately provocative but they are not adverse to stirring up old prejudices when it suits them.
The majority of the Yes side posters feature either shiny happy europhiles or admonishments about how much we need the EU. While the shiny happies provide eye candy for those stuck in traffic, the admonishments remind one of Catholic school and public shaming. Enough already! The big stick approach should not be attempted here. Resentment is not the emotion to inspire in voters before a referendum.
The No side is the usual ragtag of widely different groups of people finding a tiny amount of common ground. From the isolationist, ultra-conservative Cóir, to the US-centric Libertas founder Declan Ganley, to Sinn Féin who wants Northern Ireland to adopt the euro, reunite both Irelands and then leave the EU to the champion of the working class – MEP Joe Higgins.
There are other fringe elements on both sides. It seems like the European Treaties bring out every gombeen with an axe to grind. Despite the more radical arguments, there are valid points to be made on both sides. What a pity then, that the standard of measured debate is so poor.
At least both sides can agree that at the moment the prime issue is that of workers rights. Will collective bargaining be done away with? What about the European Court of Justice decisions in cases like Laval, Viking, Ruffert and Luxembourg? Will the minimum wage be slashed? Every day pundits are professing their surety that Lisbon is the best thing that has ever happened or that the EU is the evil empire that wants to crush the working person while laughing evilly. Thankfully, there is a happy medium.
Under the Lisbon Treaty, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights will, for the first time, be enshrined into European law. This guarantees better protection for all citizens, including workers.
In the Charter, articles 27 to 32 deal with workers rights. These include the right to information and consultation; collective bargaining and action; negotiation and strike action; free placement service; protection for unjustified dismissal; fair and just working conditions; limitation of working hours; annual period of paid leave; and prohibition of child labour.
Surely that is simple enough. Every worker in the EU is given the protections for which the trade unionists have fought for decades. What is left to debate?
The Laval decision of the European Court of Justice is put forward by the No side as a demonstration of how such protections could be circumvented. Since the Laval decision ruled against the workers and all decisions of the ECJ are binding under European law, there is a point of conflict.
I do not know whether both sides understand how EU law works or the conditions under which the Laval decision was taken. Cóir uses this decision to justify its “€1.84 Minimum wage after Lisbon?” poster. Sinn Féin and Joe Higgins both argue that Protocol No.27 of the Lisbon Treaty copper fastens the Laval decision and it does. What therefore are the minimum wage implications for Ireland? The answer is simply none.
To briefly sum up the case, Latvian construction workers had been receiving a salary far below the Latvian minimum wage. It was exploitation and the Swedish unions went on strike until a solution could be found. As a result, the ECJ ruled that the Latvian expatriate workers were entitled to the Lativian minimum wage when working in Sweden because Sweden does not have a minimum wage.
When making a decision the ECJ refers case law and treaties as well as the facts of the case. That is the key. How could the ECJ rule on minimum wage requirements when Sweden does not have a minimum wage? Setting the Latvian minimum wage entitled the expatriate workers to a minimum salary, one that was in excess of what they had hitherto been receiving.
There is no external threat to Ireland’s minimum wage. The tempest in the Irish teacup is either due to ignorance or misrepresentation. There is no immediate danger. The EU is not the evil empire. The EU is a democratic institution full of representatives that we elect. We participate in the democratic process when we vote for the Treaty of Lisbon.