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Peter Sutherland and Mary Lou McDonald on the economic implications of the Treaty of Lisbon

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Former Director-General of the World Trade Organisation and former EU Commissioner, Peter Sutherland (pictured left with Forum Chairman Maurice Hayes), has told the National Forum On Europe that opposition to the Treaty of Lisbon, on specifically economic arguments, was hard to understand. He argued that the Treaty had no provisions which would affect Ireland’s low corporate tax rate or foreign direct investment into Ireland. On privatisation and public services, he described the Treaty as ‘neutral’.

“It does not extend the competition provisions into public services.  It specifically does not extend competition into ‘health and education’,” he said. “Nor has the alleged attempt by France to reduce the efficacy of the competition provisions (if, indeed, that was intended) actually done so.  This is made clear by the Protocol added to that effect and it is confirmed by the European Commission’s Legal Service.” 

Mr Sutherland argued that if Ireland said No to the Treaty, it would be rejecting the views of all the other 26 parliaments, including ‘overwhelmingly’ the European Parliament. He claimed that unless very good reasons were provided for any Irish rejection of the Treaty “a sense of outrage would permeate Europe”.

He was addressing the Forum on the theme “The Economic Implications of the Lisbon Treaty: a good deal for Ireland?”

mary louHowever, the other keynote speaker, Mary Lou McDonald MEP (pictured right), National Chairperson of Sinn Féin, strongly disagreed.  She said that, under the Treaty, a government would find it much harder to protect national health and education services against privatisation.  Socialist Party leader, Joe Higgins, endorsed this view during the debate which followed, arguing that the Treaty represented the views of  Big Business.

Ms McDonald also claimed that there was a strong trend within the European institutions towards tax harmonisation. She said that although each country would continue to have a veto over tax issues, under the Treaty, Article 48 of the Treaty provided a mechanism to remove that veto. “The Irish people would be reliant on every future Taoiseach to say No.”

The Sinn Féin MEP also said it was ‘deeply misleading’ of the proponents of the Lisbon Treaty to claim that a No vote in the referendum would undermine Foreign Direct Investment. “We need to invest in indigenous business and create new ways to attract Foreign Direct Business,” she said. “We cannot compete with the emerging economies on the basis of low cost. We need to improve competitiveness by investing in infrastructure, education and research and development”.

When Forum Chairman, Maurice Hayes, opened the debate to the floor, Fianna Fáil TD Thomas Byrne said that he believed that the economic implications of the Treaty were solely positive. “One million extra jobs have been created since 1973. This is a huge economic achievement and clearly a result of our European Union Membership. The short-sighted people who opposed Europe at the start were wrong then and are wrong now.”

The Meath East TD said that passing the Treaty would not only be of benefit to the country but “a fitting legacy of the Taoiseach’s work on the European cause”.

The Employers’ Organisation IBEC was adamant that a Yes vote was vital for Irish business. “We export over 80% of every single product and service we produce.  Therefore what happens internationally and what happens throughout Europe has enormous implications for Irish businesses large and small”, said IBEC representative Brendan Butler.  “The Lisbon Treaty in my view will give a significant further boost to the single market which has been of tremendous benefit to Irish business,” he said. “US companies today, have more money invested in Ireland, than they have combined investments in India, China, Brazil and Russia.  We want to continue to attract that investment.  We also don’t compete just in Europe, we compete throughout the world.”

Blair Horan of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, which has yet to adopt a formal position on the Treaty, welcomed a recent statement from the Commission that workers’ rights would not be subordinated in the internal market and that it would continue to fight against any form social dumping. “That is as we understood the position of the Commission to be and it is welcome that they see it in that way,” he said .

Fine Gael spokesperson on European Affairs Lucinda Creighton TD disagreed with Ms McDonald’s assertion that a No vote would not impinge on Foreign Direct Investment. “Why is Ireland such an attractive destination for Foreign Direct Investment from the United States and elsewhere?”, she asked.  “Because we’re English speaking and at the heart and centre of Europe. Because we have participated fully as a partner and a shaper of policy within the European Union.”  

The Labour Party’s European Affairs spokesman, Joe Costello TD, rejected an assertion by Mary Lou McDonald that the Labour Party had endorsed tax harmonisation. “It was Ruairi Quinn when he was Minister for Finance in 1995 and 1996 who actually established the tax regime that we are defending.”

Green Party Chairman and Senator, Dan Boyle, regretted that the debate, which ranged across other issues and involved a certain amount of political name-calling, had not focussed entirely on the important economic challenges facing Europe as a whole. “I think the Treaty of itself doesn’t have economic consequences but the state of the European Union today now in the international global economy demands a coherent, collective approach”, said Senator Boyle, confirming that while he didn’t believe that the Treaty of Lisbon was a perfect Treaty he thought that its benefits outweighed its flaws.

Seumas O’Brien of the Irish Farmers’ Association, “strongly supported” Mr Sutherland’s positive view of the Treaty. “There are probably 300,000 people within and beyond the farm gate who live Europe every day of their lives, so they are a very informed constituency.” However, Mr O’Brien argued that the farming community was fearful of the strategy which may be adopted by Trade Commissioner Peter Mandleson in World Trade Talks. “This has to be solved before referendum day on June 12th because no matter what the leaders of the farm organisations say, ‘the foot soldiers’ will not be pro-Lisbon Treaty.”

Peter Sutherland’s contention that the Treaty would have no effect on Irish neutrality was challenged by Patricia McKenna of the People’s Movement and by Carol Fox of the Peace and Neutrality Alliance.

Responding to Mary Lou MacDonald’s criticism of EU trade policy towards African, Caribbean and Pacific countries, the Chief Executive of Concern, Tom Arnold, said he believed that Europe had played a positive role with developing countries. “It’s not perfect of course – but the overall balance has been positive and the European NGO movement have been very supportive of that.”

Brendan Kiely of the Irish Alliance for Europe believed that a No vote would “unplug Ireland from the centre of Europe at a time of economic uncertainty”. Criticising Ms McDonald’s presentation he said: “You say you’re pro-Europe yet you offer no alternate vision. This is a critical question and it’s not being answered”

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