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We have no connection with the Conservative Party or with Mr Hannan, but he has interesting things to say about Éire's Nice II referendum on October 19th 2002.

Conservative Euro Briefing

An occasional electronic update from Daniel Hannan, Conservative MEP for South East England


If you are in any doubt about the anti-democratic nature of the European project, look at the means by which it advances itself. In order to push ahead with Nice, the Irish Government disregarded last year's clear referendum result, changed the rules and changed the question.

Saturday's vote was predictable - and, indeed, predicted, by me among others. It became more or less inevitable once Bertie Ahern had amended the law on the conduct of plebiscites.

Until now, Ireland has had admirably fair rules on referendum campaigns, providing for equal air time on the state media and for the distribution to each household of a pamphlet setting out the case for each side. This did not mean, of course, that there was total equality: pro-EU campaigners were always able to outspend their rivals overall. But it did at least ensure that every voter got to hear both sides of the argument.

Just before the Dáil rose for its Christmas recess, however, the Government scrapped this rule. The way was thus clear for the "Yes" side to exploit its massive financial advantage. 

Of course, a side-effect of the change is that Ireland will no longer have fair referendum campaigns on any subject. In order to ratify an essentially 
undemocratic treaty, Ireland has had to debase its own democratic procedures. 

Not content with rigging the rules, Mr Ahern also rigged the question. Voters were asked to ratify Nice and, in the same vote, to oppose Irish participation in the EU army. Thus, many supporters of neutrality - a natural anti-Nice constituency - felt obliged to vote "Yes". To see how outrageous this is, imagine that, in a British referendum, Tony Blair phrased the question: "Do you want to join the single European currency and preserve the supremacy of the UK Parliament?"

Last year, David felled Goliath. This time, though, the old Philistine had sent back to Gath for reinforcements. All the main parties swung behind a "yes " vote, with only the Greens and Sinn Féin against. Business groups, trade unions and farming organisations joined them. Every big gun from Lech Walesa to St John Hume was wheeled out.

Ireland, they all argued, has done well out of Brussels; now let's give Eastern Europe the same opportunity. It is something of a surprise, then, to read the Nice Treaty and find that enlargement is barely mentioned: it comes in a codicil tacked on at the end, and could easily have been agreed without a referendum. Nice is about deepening rather than widening the EU. It provides, among other things, for the scrapping of 39 national vetoes, the harmonisation of justice and home affairs and the establishment of pan-European political parties. The Euro-elites were never going to allow mere public opinion to stop all this. Once again, they have got their way.



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