A Paine in the EU

“Good evening, my name is Thomas Paine,” a gentleman in full colonial garb introduced himself to me at Philadelphia’s historic City Tavern Restaurant on the evening of July 12. “Mr. Paine” told me how he and Benjamin Franklin and other Philadelphians had been meeting at the same tavern where I was dining, that they had some rather revolutionary ideas and he had put them down in the pamphlet he brandished—Common Sense. While my fellow guests and I might find Common Sense rather incendiary, Mr. Paine promised that people were beginning to read it and to start questioning the colonial government ruled from far away, and there might be fireworks.

“Mr. Paine,” of course, was a figure in character at the two hundred-plus year old Tavern where Paine, Franklin, and their colleagues actually did dine and conspire. Three days after meeting this most delightful character during my trip to Philadelphia, HUMAN EVENTS Editor Jed Babbin and I sat down with the man who could truly be called the European Tom Paine of today.

At 39, Declan Ganley is the Irish businessman who made the Celtic tiger roar on June 12. That’s when, by a vote of 53 percent to 47 percent, Irish voters said no to the Lisbon Treaty and thus opted against joining the European Union. In doing so, the self-made entrepreneur and self-styled conservative (“Catholic and Conservative, both with capital ‘C’s) created a new party and institute, Libertas. It swiftly became the lead vehicle for Europeans to say “hold on a moment” to a united Europe.

Is Ganley, then, a “Euroskeptic” who wants no EU, no common economic or defense front, no unity on the continent? Hardly. Ganley, in fact, spoke passionately of his belief in what he called “the European Project.” In his words, “I read the European Constitution because I’m an enthusiastic European – I believe in the so-called ‘European Project,’ I believe that the most important thing that happened to Europe after the end of the Second World War is called democracy. That, more than anything else, has been responsible for Europe’s peace and prosperity since 1945 and I believe without rooting Europe and the European project in the fundamentals of democracy, that it will fail. Not having democracy at its core is a fundamental and fatal flaw if it is exacerbated and that is what the Lisbon Treaty did. That is why, as the father of four children, I decided to form Libertas and then we decided to oppose this treaty because it is anti-European- because it is anti-the-four-hundred-and- eighty-odd-million-people of Europe and anti-democratic.”

Why EU Is Undemocratic

As to precisely how the European Constitution threatens democracy, Ganley pulls no punches: “It created an unelected president of Europe. Now, people would have argued, “oh, well it wasn’t clear the power that person would have…” and that was it precisely. The history of the European institutions is unclear, that they will grab as much as they possibly can. There was an unelected president of Europe, there was going to be an unelected foreign security advisor – a representative that was responsible, if you read the treaty, for the foreign security and defense policy of the European Union. It’s handed over more than 60 areas of sovereignty from the member states to Brussels and to people that could never be held politically accountable. It unequivocally stated that European law was supreme and superior to Irish law. It said “laws of the union shall have primacy over laws of the member-states”…

An example of how Irish law would be subverted to European law, Ganley cited his country’s low corporate rate of 12.5 percent–roughly half of what it is in the United States. Under the EU, Ireland’s taxes would be compelled to rise dramatically, declawing the Celtic Tiger (as the booming Irish economy has come to be known).

“[French President] Nicholas Sarkozy is on record as saying that he intended to deal with what he called unfair distortions in tax competition in the European Union,” Ganley noted, :”You know, he didn’t mean China when he said that–he meant us. And the French finance minister, only weeks before the vote in Ireland, was on record saying that they intended to make the tax harmonization a top priority of the French presence in the European Union. That would have undermined Ireland’s tax.”

Raising a few millions in campaign funds, Libertas used posters, banners, and Ganley himself in public meetings and radio and TV appearances during the campaign on the Lisbon Treaty. Where polls in December showed only ten per cent of Irish voters opposing the Treaty, the number rose to the 53 percent that defeated the treaty in Ireland last month. As Ganley explained, “We won by having people understand that this was not a vote against Europe, not a vote against our membership in the European Union, that it was a vote against the Lisbon Treaty. if you were pro-European, if you want Europe to succeed, you could not possibly be seriously for this treaty. You had to say no to it.”

With 27 nations now in the EU and most European politicians fully committed to one Europe under one Constitution, the relatively unknown Ganley is fast viewed as a major threat by some powerful people. France’s Sarkozy, for one, responded to the Irish “no” vote by suggesting that another EU referendum be run at another time—that perhaps, the Irish will vote the other way and finally “get it right.”

“And I would say, we DID get it right,” Ganley said. “Just like the citizens of France got it right when they rejected the same formula in their referendum in 2005 and the Dutch when they rejected it in 2005 also. The fact is that three times, in a row, in referenda, the Lisbon Treaty, which is really the first version of the European Constitution has been rejected. And it’s been rejected because its anti-democratic. And they continue to underline the fact just how anti-democratic this whole thing is by saying “you need to vote again” so as I said on the Irish radio programs that if we have to vote again on it than so should the French people. They voted no. They need to be asked again to vote on this again also. And the Dutch as well—absolutely–and it should also go for the people who haven’t had a vote yet, like the British whose government had promised a referendum on the European constitution – our own leaders said it was almost 90% the same – the Lisbon treaty as the European constitution. Yet Gordon Brown reneged on that promise. Good! Let’s have another referendum in Ireland, Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, the Czech Republic, Poland, Sweden, in all of the member-states of the European Union because that’s democracy.”

What’s Next?

But Ganley doesn’t believe that the powers in the EU will give all the countries that accepted the Lisbon Treaty a second chance to vote and turn it down. So, the next battle ground will be the June 2009 elections for the European parliament.

“They’re held all across Europe,” Ganley explained. “It might, just might, be possible to catalyze the debate so that the 2009 elections become a proxy referendum on the Lisbon treaty. It’s normally very low turnout. People are just going out and voting in very small numbers for familiar names which aren’t even that familiar. I think its like 80% of the people in the UK – and that’s the same right across Europe, couldn’t name who their MEP was. There’s an opportunity that ,without threatening national political parties and structures to use this as a chance to go out and register a no-vote to the Lisbon Treaty – saying if you want to vote no to Lisbon, vote yes to a Libertas candidate. If we get a sufficient mandate from the people of Europe, we could be the first Pan-European poltical party that will seek to force democracy, accountability, and transparency on the institutions of the EU. We will seek to do everything in our power to bring about a situation where yes, we do get a European constitution but it’s no more than 20-25 pages that everybody can read and that people across the Europe will get a vote on in a referendum…They will be able to vote on whether they want to accept that or not, and that will be able to conduct the oversight and hold accountable those instititions in a way that is absolutely not being done at present. Clean it up.”

In 1776, Thomas Paine wrote that government arose from necessity because simple moral virtue was insufficient to guide the affairs of men. But, Paine wrote, the only legitimate design and goal of government is to preserve freedom and security. There is a clear line of descent from Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” and that of Declan Ganley. However the Libertas campaign fares in 2009, Ireland and all the EU nations are likely to benefit from Ganley’s clear, impassioned stand.