Wednesday, 18 April 2012

People’s Movement patron begins legal challenge on treaties

Thomas Pringle TD explains why he felt compelled to take a court case
on the proposed amendment to article 136 of the Treaty on the Functioning of
the European Union and the ESM Treaty.

As an Irish public representative and citizen I keep asking myself if it would not be absurd if Irish voters were to vote on 31 May in the referendum on the Fiscal Compact Treaty in favour of imposing austerity rules on ourselves in order to get access to a proposed permanent euro-zone loan fund when the separate but “complementary” treaty establishing that fund is arguably illegal under EU law, unconstitutional in Ireland, has not yet come into force, and indeed may never do so.

On 9 March last I wrote to the Taoiseach, the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Foreign Affairs explaining some of these very serious concerns. I have received no reply to this correspondence beyond the usual standard acknowledgement of receipt of the communication.

I have now been left with no other option but to initiate legal proceedings, challenging the Government on fundamental aspects of both the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) Treaty and the Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union (Fiscal Compact) Treaty.

I believe that both treaties raise serious legal difficulties, at the level both of EU treaty law and of Irish constitutional law. My primary democratic concern as both a citizen and an elected public representative is the integrity of the Constitution of Ireland and the EU treaties, which now form such an important part of our constitutional framework. I believe that the matters on which I seek the clarification and assistance of the court are of crucial importance not only for the citizens of this country but for the future of the EU.

My contention is that the particular stability mechanism being set up under the ESM Treaty is in breach of article 29.4.4 of the Constitution of Ireland, under which “Ireland affirms its commitment to the European Union within which the member states of that Union work together to promote peace, shared values and the well being of their peoples.”

The proposed stability mechanism seems on the face of it to permit member-states to work not in solidarity and togetherness but rather towards separation and exclusiveness. This is because it allows only some member-states, and indeed only some members of the euro zone rather than all of them, to participate in an arrangement that will clearly have implications for all.

I am asking the court to examine the legality of the amendment to article 136 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union before any further action is taken by the Government to approve that amendment. That amendment permits the establishment of a “stability mechanism” that would be able to grant financial assistance, “subject to strict conditionality.”

This amendment is being adopted under the so-called “simplified revision procedure,” which I believe is legally wrong. My argument is that the changes being proposed are so fundamental that they should go through the ordinary revision procedure to ensure proper democratic scrutiny. They also require the approval of the Irish people in a referendum.

I am also asking the court to consider whether the ESM Treaty is in breach of existing EU treaty principles that have been approved by the Irish people in previous referendums and that are now therefore part of our law.

In addition, I am asking the court to decide whether the state can ratify the Treaty Establishing the European Stability Mechanism without first having the approval of the people in a referendum.

The Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union, signed on 2 March 2012, is intertwined with the ESM Treaty. Each one depends on the other. Therefore, if I am right in my belief that the ESM Treaty is unlawful, there is a serious question over the validity of the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union.

And the implications for Ireland are vast, given its present economic situation. Under the ESM Treaty, Ireland would be obliged to make capital contributions of up to €11,145,400,000 in various forms of capital to the new permanent €500 billion bail-out fund that is to be set up. For Ireland this is the equivalent of approximately a third of Government tax revenue for 2011.

I believe that my application to the courts is just one more manifestation of a growing concern within the EU about developments towards a political union for the euro zone along the lines of what President Sarkozy has termed “a federation for the euro zone and a confederation for the EU as a whole.” It is not a direction that I want the EU to take, and I am sure that I am not alone.

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