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Nice: The shock of the NO
The shock of the Irish No! to the Nice treaty is an indication of the undemocratic nature of the EU perspective of enlargement and restructuring and also of the potential difficulties that may face Irish capital in its relationship with its own working class. What it does not yet represent is a serious challenge to either Irish or European capital from the Irish working class. By an large the working class were not to the fore in the campaign and those formally charged with representing the workers -- the social democrats and the trade union bosses -- were to the fore in calling for a YES vote.
There are a number of reasons for this setback. Previous votes in European referenda and always involved had always involved substantial bribery of the population, with the promise of billions in subsidy. An overall weakness of current European strategy is that enlargement does not offer the possibility of any substantial funds being available to win support for the proposals in the smaller states.
There was a wide spectrum of opposition to the treaty, with many different reasons for that opposition, stretching from concerns about abortion on the part of the far right to opposition to the privatisation and deregulation clauses buried in the treaty from the left. The centre ground was taken up by Sinn Fein, the Greens and neutrality groups which supported the EU but wanted to oppose proposals for a rapid reaction force and Irish membership of such a force. This disparate opposition were able to draw out their support and insure a no vote on a very in low overall turnout of only 34.79%.
Two other factors are worthy of mention. The first was a monumental strategic error on the part of the government forces. They foolishly decided not to mount a yes campaign. The rationale was that all of the forces leading Irish society supported the YES call and simple statements of support without going into detail would allow the measure to slip through without any real debate. One of the reasons this didn't work is because a whole series of recent scandals have led to widespread public distrust of politicians.
The dramatic impact of the no vote, when it came, was amplified by the fact that European capital had managed to avoid a vote in every other country. In theory the Irish vote brought the whole process to a complete standstill. The European reaction did little in the short time to defuse Irish opposition. They arrogantly brushed aside the vote. Democracy is only respected when it produces the right answer and it is quite clear that the Irish will shortly be called upon to think again.
So what has been won is not victory but the opportunity for a real debate on Europe and a chance for the left to build itself and put forward socialist policies. The outline of government strategy is already visible. Their first step will be to detach some sections of the opposition -- either the right with the promise of a referendum on abortion or the centre with some meaningless formulation about neutrality which will be negated by the treaty itself.
The other element of government strategy will simply be to mount a campaign. The fact that business, government, parliamentary opposition and the trade union leadership all support YES should ensure victory for them. From this viewpoint the strategy of the left should also be clear. It is to assert a working class alternative and mount a determined opposition to a trade union leadership that openly supports the treaty's calls for privatisation and deregulation and is now ready to a lend itself to a new campaign to overthrow a democratic result.
One urgent task is to bring figures from the European working class to Dublin to demonstate in practice that an alternative does exist and that it will come from the workers movement.