Saturday, June 14, 2008

Ireland : on NO and being an island.

Libertas, the main engine behind Ireland's NO to the Lisbon Treaty, puts it this way :

"This Treaty is by and for the European political elites and their bureaucratic cheerleaders to preserve their bureaucratic positions and budgets. The EU offers opportunity for national politicians to blame “Europe” for their domestic failings and is leading to an ever-greater centralisation of power".

First of all, nobody can accuse Europe of hiding its real intentions. The Lisbon Treaty is and has been straightforward in its attempts to streamline the Union and its operations. The Treaty is equally clear in its concern to accomodate reservations expressed by the Dutch and the French vis-à-vis the earlier constitutional proposal. Tellingly, both Holland and France are now active supporters of the Lisbon Treaty, an appreciation that stretches across the political spectrum of majority and opposition.

Libertas obviously shies away from doing the difficult job of explaining how and where the treaty differs from the constitution. Instead, the group prefers the populism of scare-mongering. On its website, it lists 8 reasons to vote 'No', all of them half-truths at best.

1. Creates an unelected President and a Foreign Minister of Europe
The new President and Foreign Minister for Europe will be appointed by the European Council by qualified majority vote. Although many of the terms and conditions of these roles have yet to be decided, they will be committed through the Lisbon Treaty to “drive forward” the agenda of the Council and discussions have already taken place to provide a presidential palace and executive jet for the President.

A president is not a President. The chairman of the European Council, currently the head of state of the semestrial country-presidency, would be elected by the memberstates for a period of 2.5 years. At the same time, countries would be presiding the Union in trios, over a period of 18 months. The president's job is to be the manager and catalyst of the meetings of the European Council.

The said 'Foreign Minister' is more correctly called the 'High Representative' for the Union's common foreign and security policy. The title describes the job : to represent the union in matters pertaining to its common foreign, defense, and security policy. I can see why this is problematic for a populist outfit like Libertas : when there are no longer 27 independent ministers speaking, who to accuse of waisting taxpayers' money ?

2. Halves Ireland’s voting weight while doubling Germany’s
The Lisbon Treaty would implement a new system of voting by the European Council which is primarily based on population size. This means that Ireland’s voting weight would be reduced from 2% at present to 0.8% if the Treaty was implemented, while Germany’s would increase from 8% to 17%.

... by and no sooner than 2014. That's five years after the activation of the treaty. A lot can happen in five years. Besides, it seems to me that if the treaty is undemocratic as the 'no' vote claims, it is definitely not in its aims to better represent the constituent populations of the union.

3. Abolishes Ireland’s Commissioner for five years at a time
The Lisbon Treaty proposes to reduce the number of Commissioners to two thirds of the number of member states. This would mean that, on a rotating basis, Ireland would have no seat for five years out of every 15 in the body that has the monopoly on initiating legislation. This would clearly affect a small country like Ireland to a far greater extent than, for example, Germany which is having its voting weight doubled under the Treaty.

This goes for everybody joined in the Union. In this regard, Ireland must embark on the difficult enterprise of daring to see itself no longer as an island. Failing to muster such guts, another equally difficult task presents itself, to cut itself off from the political landmass to which is now attached. Most likely, in light of both these options, Ireland will defend a status quo, in the face of overwhelming change all around. Libertas states "that the Nice voting arrangements were generally seem (sic) to be working well". See...

4. Opens the door to interference in tax and other key economic interests
Article 113 of the Lisbon Treaty specifically inserts a new obligation on the European Council to act to avoid “distortion of competition” in respect of indirect taxes. The proposals for a common consolidated tax base and the commitment of the French government to pursue it combined with a weakening of Ireland’s voice in Europe through the loss of a permanent Commissioner and halving of its voting weight represent a clear and present danger to our tax competitiveness.
5. Hands over power in 60 areas of decision making to Brussels
The Lisbon Treaty provides for more than 60 areas of decision making from unanimity at present to qualified majority voting. Some of those areas include decision-making on immigration, sport, culture, transport and the appointment of the European President and Foreign Minister.
6. Gives exclusive competence to Brussels over International Trade and Foreign Direct Investment
For the first time, under the Lisbon Treaty foreign direct investment would become an exclusive competence of the EU as part of its common commercial policy. This means that the tools which have been used so successfully by the IDA to attract tens of thousands of jobs to Ireland will become the sole preserve of the European Union and the Irish Government will have to seek permissions.
7. Enshrines EU law as superior to Irish law
On June 12th we will be voting on the 28th amendment to the Irish Constitution which clearly restates the following:
11° No provision of this Constitution invalidates laws enacted, acts done or measures adopted by the State that are necessitated by the obligations of membership of the European Union referred to in subsection 10° of this section, or prevents laws enacted, acts done or measures adopted by the said European Union or by institutions thereof, or by bodies competent under the treaties referred to in this section, from having the force of law in the State.”

Rather than expanding Europe's power, the treaty delineates and streamlines responsibilities of the memberstates and the Union. Furthermore, the treaty enhances both the national and European parliaments' leverage over decisionmaking.
The main aim of such streamlining is to enhance the principle of subsidiarity whereby decision making is left to the governmental level best suited to tackle the issues. The EU distinguishes between exclusive, joint and member states' competences. In the words of the independent Referendum Commission : "The Lisbon Treaty would give the EU joint competence with Member States in a number of new areas. These include energy and aspects of the environment and public health. It does not propose to give the EU any new exclusive competence."

8. The Treaty can be changed without another referendum
Article 48 of the Treaty enables changes to be made to it after ratification without the constitutional requirement for another referendum in Ireland. This is confirmed by the independent Referendum Commission on its website which states: there “may” be a requirement for a referendum to implement such changes.

Article 48.4 states that modifications become binding only after they have been approved by the member states according to their respective constitutional requirements. In the case of Ireland that means a referendum remains a valid tool in the decision making process. Libertas itself refers to the independent Referendum Commission. Here is what they have to say about this issue : "The Lisbon Treaty now proposes to give the European Council (Heads of Government) the power to propose changes to certain parts of the governing Treaties. Any such changes cannot increase the competence of the EU. Any such proposals must be agreed unanimously by the European Council. This means that any national government may veto such a proposal. If the European Council does agree a proposed change, then in order for it to come into effect, it must be ratified by the Member States in accordance with their own constitutional traditions. This may require a referendum in Ireland as happens at present."

Either it must be the case that the no vote was based on biased and wrong information, or it just so happens that the naysayers all want the bennies of EU membership, but no bags to carry ! Which will it be ?

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Virgins on a bend

Virginity is hot. The International Herald Tribune posts an article today on the growing practice of re-hymenization among young muslim women in Europe. The issue is far from new, but making headlines again since a French court recently annulled a muslim marriage, on the basis of the woman's lack of virginity.

Their case currently hangs in limbo as the Ministry of Justice has ordered an appeal of the court's ruling. But whatever its final outcome, many people fear it already may have strengthened muslim women's need to keep up appearances. Elizabeth Badinter in the IHT : "It sends these women a message of despair by saying that virginity is important in the eyes of the law. More women are going to say to themselves: 'My God, I'm not going to take that risk. I'll recreate my virginity.'"

Science is a last resort. For the price of a few thousand euros, muslims can now have their cake and eat it too. They can enjoy premarital sex and uphold the value of chastity at the same time. It seems muslim society has now finally and warmly embraced the western ethic of cynicism. Medicine in the service of tradition; deception for the sake of domestic peace; secrecy for status quo; and ends over means... Just wonderful.

It is worth pointing out that in February of 2007 Egypt's Grand Mufti issued what came to be known as the Re-hymenization Fatwa, condoning hymen reconstruction in the name of equality. Egypt's Daily News has the story.

Not surprisingly perhaps, did a follow-up story endorsing the fatwa : "A blogger on clearly spells out why this should be considered a triumph for Muslim women's rights: "What is remarkable about this fatwa is that while it accepts the underground hymen-surgery racket, it does not endorse it; it considers the practice acceptable only because it protects a woman from potential violence. The real meat of the fatwa is in its de-emphasis of the need for proof of virginity -- and in a region of the world where a woman is not considered a virgin unless she bleeds on her wedding night, this is a serious blow to entrenched un-Islamic misogynistic cultural practices."

I fail to see how exactly the practice of rebuilding the woman's hymen shifts attention away from the proof of virginity. A reinstated hymen will make women bleed as if they were 'real' virgins. So the practice of rehymenization neither de-emphasizes the need for proof, nor the reality of virginity, as the presumed 'reality' can only be, and only ever has been, derived from the proof. There are double standards at work, for the intentionality of chastity is weighed by the measure of consequential proof. This means that a lack of proof actually proves the woman's bad intentions, even if sex has nothing to do with it.

I equally fail to see how islam overrides ancient un-islamic practices by upholding the central value of these practices. Certainly, the Grand Mufti's fatwa contains elements of promise, for instance when he states that the husband too should be a virgin if he asks the same of his prospective wife; or when he indicates that islam does not differentiate between men and women. Yet, the fatwa also maintains that women should not feel forced to tell their (future) husbands about the surgery. In other words, women are allowed to deceive if it helps the peace. Conversely, if islam does not differentiate between men and women, men too can lie. Marriage in islam is an institution on shaky grounds it seems... Furthermore, such deception not only reduces the marital bond to a mere stratagem, in its inherent deceptions it allows petrified social practices to persist unchallenged.

As Dafna Izenberg points out, the re-hymenization fatwa may be the most realistic option available right now, in the struggle to protect women against backward and frustrated male minds. Doctors themselves present this sort of reasoning behind the practice that their work sustains. From an ethical point of view however, upholding the sanctity of the hymen does little to change the fundamental mind-set. I would have much preferred an islam expressing a clear refusal of the virginity test ! But perhaps, such a preferrence is insufficiently pragmatic, and much too patronizing ?

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