The heads of all the states in the European Union have signed up to the Lisbon Treaty. Once this treaty is finally ratified, the EU acquires a constitution and becomes a legal entity, in effect the United States of Europe. Politicians and their bureaucrats in Brussels have settled the matter behind closed doors. None of the 27 countries involved was allowed to hold an election to say whether or not their people approved of the surrender of national sovereignty that is at the core of this unprecedented political experiment. Several countries, Britain among them, had promised to hold a referendum, but all, again led by Britain, found some crafty way to cheat on their promise.
Except Ireland, which is indeed due to hold a referendum next month. Ireland has profited enormously from its membership in the EU, and presumably those who agreed to the referendum thought its result was a foregone conclusion. Bertie Ahern has been Irish prime minister since 1997, and without warning he resigned a couple of weeks ago. A tribunal has long been enquiring into the corruption that plagues Ireland, and into his financial affairs in particular. He is accused of accepting money from businessmen in return for favors. He admits receiving such funds but denies doing the favors. A secretary of his broke down in front of the tribunal when she was unable to explain depositing the sterling equivalent of about thirty thousand dollars in cash into his account. Ahern’s resignation immediately followed. “Some aspects of my finances are unusual,” is how Ahern himself puts it.
We all took it for granted that Ahern had resigned so dramatically out of fear that the Irish might mistake the EU referendum as a vote of no confidence in him, and reject the Lisbon Treaty accordingly. That would scupper the whole project, which in turn might mean that Ahern could not fulfil his ambition of becoming the first president under the new dispensation.
Now we learn from leaked memos that the Irish government and Brussels are going to great lengths to suppress bad news that might encourage a No vote, and “to tone down or delay messages that might be unhelpful.” In the words of one of the top fixers in Brussels, “politically sensitive” aspects of the treaty should not be discussed until it is in operation. Proposals are afoot for tax harmonization, which would greatly hurt Ireland, where business has tax incentives more alluring than elsewhere in the EU.
Robert Mugabe puts his coup into practice by lying, cheating, and sending out the goons. He really should take a leaf out of the Brussels book, which also puts its coup into practice by lying and cheating, but so secretively that nobody need notice. And it’s much more sophisticated, altogether more European, to be depositing bagfuls of cash than to go out burning down and looting farms.
My good friend Christopher Booker writes a column in the Sunday Telegraph, specializing in exposing the folly and corruption of the EU. His latest bulletin concerns a Dr Gottfried Heinrich, an Austrian, who in 2005 boarded a flight in Vienna carrying two tennis racquets. He was ordered off the plane because the EU has passed a regulation that tennis racquets are “prohibited items,” while at the same time ruling that this fact was not to be published. An outraged Dr Heinrich went to the courts, to ask why he was obliged to be penalized by a ruling about which he and everybody else had never been informed. The court dug up some obscure part of some obscure document, and found against him. It is a splendid monument to the bureaucratic spirit to build an issue of the kind on tennis racquets, and Booker sees here a blend of Kafka and Alice in Wonderland. Isn’t it more in keeping with George Orwell’s 1984 to punish people for something they had no knowledge of? It’s also pure Orwell to impose major political arrangements on people without first ensuring their consent. At least Mugabe does his filthy work openly.