Ireland is Everywhere

BERLIN/DUBLIN | | irland

BERLIN/DUBLIN (Own report) - A German EU politician is demanding the subordination of all EU governments to a common PR strategy. It is "a scandal" that "the Council of Ministers and therefore the governments of the EU" have "refused to establish a common communications concept with the European Parliament and Commission" declared the member of the European Parliament (MEP) Jo Leinen of the SPD party. This criticism arose from the attempts to induce the population of Ireland, using intensive propaganda, to vote "Yes" to the Lisbon Treaty in a second referendum. These PR measures must be carried out in all EU nations, because resistance can be expected everywhere, insists Leinen. In the meantime, the schedule for the next steps in the process of implementation of the Lisbon Treaty is becoming concrete in Dublin. This foresees a repetition of the referendum next year. Berlin is pushing for an early date, before the European parliamentary elections. The core European states' pressure, demanding a precipitated second referendum, is causing serious controversy in Ireland. The vast majority of the population rejects the revision of their last June's "No".

Gut Feeling

The German European parliamentarian, Jo Leinen's most recent demands were provoked by the results of an opinion poll, commissioned by Irish government after its defeat in the June referendum. The poll was intended to investigate the reasons for the "No" vote and the possibilities for a second referendum. An inadequate knowledge about the treaty was the motive most often given for the rejection, according to this analysis. This offers an opportunity to intervene. It is assumed that with the appropriate PR measures, one-fourth of the voters could still be turned around. This assumption is based on previous PR successes. As a matter of fact, only a propagandistically fomented pro-EU disposition in sectors of the Irish population prevented an even more resounding defeat of the treaty's proponents. The overwhelming majority of those who voted "Yes," declared that they were not motivated by assumed advantageous consequences from the Lisbon Treaty, but rather by "a positive gut feeling toward the EU."[1]

Explosive

Jo Leinen is calling for new PR measures following the publication of the results of the opinion poll. The SPD parliamentarian is insisting that these measures not be limited to Ireland, but applied in all EU states. After all, populations almost everywhere have similar criticism of the Lisbon Treaty. The persistence of the alleged "information deficit," Leinen says, in reference to the growing criticism of the document, "could become dangerously explosive for the existence of the European Union." "Ireland is everywhere in the EU."[2] The social democrat is demanding that the national governments subordinate themselves to the respective Brussels' PR strategy. "It is a scandal," says the MEP, "that the Council of Ministers, and therefore the governments in the EU, (...) continue to reject a common communications concept with the Parliament and the Commission." According to Leinen, this is not to prevent a further loss of sovereignty, but rather out of more base motives ("arrogance and ignorance").

Pressure

Leinen's demands expose, once again, how recklessly German policy makers interfere into the domestic affairs of other EU member nations. If the national governments were to agree to uniform PR measures ("communication strategy"), they would lose more than merely their influence over how EU policy is being domestically presented. In Ireland this would bring Brussels into conflict with national law. It is forbidden in Ireland to use government financing for one-sided campaigns - a regulation that made Dublin's campaign in favor of the Lisbon Treaty more difficult last spring and brought lawsuits against government projects.[3] Even these projects were the result of pressure that the EU and some of the member states, above all Germany, exerted on Dublin in an attempt to have the Lisbon Treaty accepted at all costs. The Irish government is still under pressure. Only recently the influential German MEP, Elmar Brok (CDU), reiterated, that the treaty will not be abandoned. He is "convinced that by the end of the year, 26 nations will have ratified it." Brok says one could "then also discuss with the Irish (...), to let them give their endorsement."[4]

Response

Leading politicians in Dublin have spoken out in favor of repeating the referendum, as Europe experts in Berlin have been demanding immediately following the Irish "No" vote.[5] The Irish Minister for European Affairs declared back in August that a second referendum would be "the appropriate response to the predicament that we find ourselves in."[6] Last weekend the chairman of the Irish Labor Party announced that he too finds a new referendum inevitable. On Monday (15.09.), Fianna Fáil, the party of the Prime Minister, opened a conference that will search for a means of ratifying the Lisbon Treaty. The process to be followed has in the meantime been concretized.

Plan B

According to this plan, the Irish government will report this year to the European Council, that it had not been able to sufficiently "inform" the population prior to the referendum on the treaty. Therefore it is necessary that they vote a second time, following an "information campaign". And Brussels would reciprocate by declaring that the consequences that made the population apprehensive will not take effect - an allegation that, in the case of Ireland's loss of neutrality, is not completely false. Brussels has undermined the nation's neutrality over the past few years. Even though the Lisbon Treaty will make that loss of neutrality definitive, it will not be the primary cause of the loss.[7] Next year the referendum will be repeated. Berlin is in favor of holding the referendum before the European elections, before the next European Parliament will be constituted in accordance with the new allocation of mandates. But Dublin is not sure that timetable is realistic.

No Respect

Dublin can already expect a hefty controversy on the second referendum, insisted upon by Berlin and Brussels. The results of an opinion poll, concerning the repetition of the referendum, show clearly how angry the people are over German/European paternalism. 71 Percent of the population is against repeating the referendum. If the referendum, does take place, altogether 62 percent would reject the Lisbon Treaty - significantly more than in June. 67 Percent agree with the observation: "European politicians do not respect Ireland's 'No vote'." Therefore a second referendum could have direct personal consequences for the top leaders of Dublin's government. According to the poll, about 43 percent of the followers of Ireland's governing party, Fianna Fáil, are considering, not voting for the party chairman, Brian Cowen, if he goes along with the wishes of Berlin and Brussels and tries to impose the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty.[8]

Loss of Control

The EU Commission has done research on the causes behind the stubborn Irish "No," through an analysis of the transformation in the Irish media landscape that had taken place since the last EU referendum in 2002. As the Commission was told during a briefing, EU-skeptical journals from Great Britain and Ireland have clearly gained influence, as has the conservative press of religious origin with its EU-critical tendency. But above all, erosion in the control over the media is taking place in two areas. On the one hand, public radio stations and television channels are losing more of their audience to smaller private stations that focus more on entertainment. At the same time, it is becoming clear that the internet offers information other than that provided by the ruling establishment. Accordingly, in the internet, a medium used mainly by young people, the "No" campaign could chalk up clear advantages over the established elite and break through the usual control mechanisms.

Configuration

This partial loss of control over sectors of the media has contributed to the demand for a stronger EU-wide centralized PR strategy, along the lines represented by the German MEP Jo Leinen. Berlin is reacting to the escalating confrontation with a consolidation of the official and semi-official "communication policy" - an EU-wide configuration of public opinion in favor of German hegemony.

[1] Irisches Rätselraten um den EU-Vertrag; Neue Zürcher Zeitung 12.09.2008
[2] Informationskatastrophe: Irland ist überall in der EU; www.joleinen.de 12.09.2008
[3] Marie McGinley: Die Ratifizierung des Lissaboner Vertrages in Irland. Die Europadebatte im Vorfeld des Referendums; SWP Berlin, Diskussionspapier der FG 1, 2008/10, Mai 2008
[4] "Wo waren die Amerikaner? Wo waren die Vereinten Nationen?"; www.dradio.de 02.09.2008
[5] see also Plan B
[6] Europaminister für zweites Referendum; Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 25.08.2008
[7] see also The End of Neutrality, Das Ende der Neutralität (II) and Irish Neutrality
[8] New poll finds Irish voters are strongly against a second referendum; www.pana.ie 27.07.2008