Tuesday, May 13, 2008

"Impenetrable"? - not quite, but they didn't miss by much

Brian Cowen says that the Lisbon Treaty is not an 'impenetrable document'. He says this despite the fact he also admits he hasn't read the document. I agree. It's not impenetrable and I've also only read some of the document. It is, however, very far from easy to read.

There are two big problems with reading the Lisbon Treaty. One, it's a treaty, which means it's written in a language that no sane person speaks or reads. It's a clause lover's dream because it has so many clauses, sub-clauses, sub-sub-clauses that you can nearly end up drowning in one sentence.

The second problem is that the Lisbon Treaty is massive and it's essentially an amendment to the existing treaties that have established and reshaped the EU over the past 50+ years. How it differs from the failed EU Constitution I can't say, but at least the Constitution was a stand-alone document. You could read it without having to have access to the other treaties. That's not true of the Lisbon Treaty.

For example, Article 276 of the Lisbon Treaty says
Article 280 shall be amended as follows:
(a) the following words shall be added at the end of paragraph 1: ', and in all the Union's institutions, bodies, offices and agencies.';
(b) in paragraph 4, the following words: 'and in all the Union's institutions, bodies, offices and agencies' shall be inserted after the words: 'in the Member States', and the last sentence shall be deleted.
So that above amends this from the current EU treaties:
Article 280
  1. The Community and the Member States shall counter fraud and any other illegal activities affecting the financial interests of the Community through measures to be taken in accordance with this article, which shall act as a deterrent and be such as to afford effective protection in the Member States.

  2. Member States shall take the same measures to counter fraud affecting the financial interests of the Community as they take to counter fraud affecting their own financial interests.

  3. Without prejudice to other provisions of this Treaty, the Member States shall coordinate their action aimed at protecting the financial interests of the Community against fraud. To this end they shall organise, together with the Commission, close and regular cooperation between the competent authorities.

  4. The Council, acting in accordance with the procedure referred to in Article 251, after consulting the Court of Auditors, shall adopt the necessary measures in the fields of the prevention of and fight against fraud affecting the financial interests of the Community with a view to affording effective and equivalent protection in the Member States. These measures shall not concern the application of national criminal law or the national administration of justice.

  5. The Commission, in cooperation with Member States, shall each year submit to the European Parliament and to the Council a report on the measures taken for the implementation of this article.
Now those changes look pretty innocuous to me, although I'm not really sure what the implications of that deleted sentence might be. And this is what faces anyone trying to be an informed voter. Endless hours of trying to decipher what's significant from what's not. Really the whole referendum process is a farce.

In order to know what you're voting on you have to have access to the Treaty and some form of consolidation of all the previous treaties so that can you can see what exactly is being changed. There are over 300 articles in the Lisbon Treaty and you know the existing treaties do not make quick reading either. You have to flip back and forth between what was and what will be. For 300 articles. In this language.

Or you can do as nearly everyone is going to do and trust (or not) that the politicians know what they're doing and that what they will do suits you.

And, ultimately, that's what Brian Cowen is saying: "Trust me".