The irish referendum: More than meets the eye

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When the key organizer of the Irish „no“ vote against the Lisbon treaty is a free market-pushing, neo-conservative millionaire with close ties to the American military and intelligence community, one begins wonder. Will the Irish vote paralyze the European Union at a time when the new power centers of the multipolar world are preparing their „agenda“ to be presented to the next US president?

By Michael Liebig


From June 9th to 16th, President George W. Bush was in Europe. He visited Slovenia, which currently holds the rotating EU Presidency, went to Germany, Italy and the Vatican, France and Britain. The German public barely noticed Bush during the 24 hours he spent here with Chancellor Merkel at the government’s guesthouse in Meseberg, some 90 km north of Berlin in the Brandenburg countryside. In Brdo, Meseberg, Rome, Paris and London the same issues were raised Iran, Iraq, Near East, climate change, the Doha talks on world trade and the forthcoming G-8 summit in Japan. Nothing substantially new came out of Bush’s talks with his European hosts Merkel, Berlusconi, Benedict XVI, Sarkozy and Brown. Huge expense, no recompense? Not quite, at least from a US point of view.

June 16th, the final day of his European tour, Bush spent in Northern Ireland, praising the peace and reconciliation process there between the Irish-nationalist Catholics and the pro-British Protestants. Europe’s attention was not focussed on Bush or Northern Ireland, but on the Republic of Ireland. On June 12th, a 53% majority of the Irish people had rejected the „Lisbon Treaty“ in a referendum. Ireland is „pro-European,“ so why would the Irish vote „no“?

The answer to that question has two dimensions. First, there are perfectly plausible political and social-economic reasons for the Irish referendum result, which however have little to do with the Lisbon treaty as such. Secondly. at a closer look, there were some rather weird features in the Irish referendum. One may dismiss it as an oddity that Bush’s former UN Ambassador, John Bolton, was in the Irish capital Dublin on June 8th, declaring that the Lisbon treaty is „undermining democracy“ and „undercutting NATO“ and „hurting“ US-European relations. As we will see in moment, more ominous was the main organizational vehicle pushing for an Irish „no“ — a „think tank“ called „Libertas.“

Level One

The „Lisbon Treaty,“ substituting the earlier „EU Constitution,“ rejected by the French and Dutch voters in 2005, and the Year 2000 EU „Nice Treaty,“ is a contradictory convolute containing highly problematic features especially in respect to economic, financial and social policies as well as perfectly reasonable features. In fact, the treaty is curtailing the powers of the EU Commission in Brussels, in favor of the Councils of the heads of government and the national ministers. Another feature is the „double majority“ rule, which makes key decisions of the EU depended on a majority of 55% of 27 member states which have to represent 65% of the total population in the EU. And special joint projects of a minority of EU member states cannot be blocked by the others any longer. The latter features of the Lisbon treaty is quite relevant for the EU’s role in international affairs, security matter in particular.

Ireland has profited probably more than any other member state from its joining the EU in 1973. Ireland’s economic dependency on Britain was ended with its access to the markets on the Continent and vast amounts of EU subsidies poured into the country modernizing its infrastructure. However, during the recent years, the steady economic growth in Ireland has been „overheating.“ The costs of living have surged, a real estate bubble has developed and large numbers of East European migrant workers have moved to Ireland. But now, the economic boom is fizzling out, while food and energy prices soar — so the Irish are deeply worried.

In Ireland, just as in any other EU country, when the population is getting frustrated about the political and social-economic situation at home, the intangible, anonymous EU bureaucracy in Brussels becomes the „natural“ target of protest votes. The elections to the European Parliament or referenda on EU matters are preferred occasions for such protest votes, particularly when national election are not in sight.

„Libertas“ and Declan Ganley

Now let’s take a closer look at the rather weird features in the Irish referendum. Are the Irish people really the courageous avantgarde against the alleged evils of the Lisbon treaty? There are sound and legitimate reasons for opposing the treaty, and in Ireland they were articulated by the Socialist Party and Sinn Fein for example. But there are also various political obscurantists in and, most interestingly, outside the EU, which have launched shrill campaigns that the treaty would bring „dictatorship“ upon the peoples of Europe and „militarist Euro-imperialism“ for the rest of the world.

The „Libertas“ organization, the key vehicle pushing for a „no“ vote in Ireland, was campaigning with such an „Lisbon treaty = imperial dictatorship“ line; albeit more in an insinuating than a crude fashion. „Libertas“ is run by one Declan Ganley, a multi-millionaire businessman who spends half his time in the United States. That’s a bit puzzling indeed.

A few days ago. I talked to my friend Kostantin Cheremnykh in St. Petersburg. He told me that Ganley is not unknown in Russia. In the chaotic „transition“ of the early 1990s, Ganley made a fortune by buying up aluminum from de-facto insolvent, formerly state-owned Russian factories. Ganley bought the aluminum at ultra-cheap prices, to resell it at world market prices to Western buyers. His base for the aluminum transactions was Riga, Latvia. In 1991, Ganley even became an „Investment and Trade Advisor“ to the Latvian government. He also moved into the timber business, buying up large chunks of forestry in Russia. Ganley’s business activities extended to other ex-communist countries as well, he invested heavily in the „privatization voucher“ schemes in Albania and the telecommunication sector in Bulgaria.

With the cash accumulated in Russia and Eastern Europe, Ganley’s investments moved westwards to the United States. Whether then or even earlier, he and his investments were somehow „guided,“ remains a matter of speculation. But, as leading British newspapers have amply reported, at the center of Ganley’s American business activities is the US defense contractor Rivada Networks, in which he has a 37% stake.

Rivada provides telecommunication services to USNORTHCOM, the National Guard, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). On the board of Rivada one finds names like Lt.Gen. Dennis McCarthy; Adm. Robert Duncan; Adm. James Loy; Don De Marino, former Dept. Ass. Secretary of Commerce for Africa, the Near East and South Africa or John Kelly, chairman of the National Security Industrial Association.

To put it mildly, to have such close business ties to the US national security community, implies being rated at quite high levels of „trustworthiness“ by the American government. If one reads through the texts on the „Libertas“ website (www.libertas.org), mostly by Declan Ganley himself, or his writings for the American „Foreign Policy Research Institute“ (FPRI), then it becomes obvious that “ plain and simply — Ganley is a man promoting US interests: „free trade“, „free markets“, confronting „radical Islam“, Iran, Syria, „Putin’s Russia“ and European „appeasers“ like Schroeder, Prodi or Chirac. Ganleys ultimate enemy image is a European Union trying „to define itself in contradistinction to the United States.“

On January 17th, 2008, the British security-intelligence magazine Jane’s carried an article, titled „New EU treaty worries US intelligence services.“ The article states: „As EU governments focus on securing the ratification of the proposed Lisbon reform treaty, United States policy makers are concerned its provisions could present serious challenges to transatlantic intelligence and homeland security co-operation“ US intelligence and security officials have been able to circumvent EU institutions in many cases so far by relying extensively on formal and informal arrangements with individual [EU] member governments“If adopted, the Lisbon treaty could threaten many of these [arrangements].“

Jane’s is not known for promoting „conspiracy theories.“ So its report provides a quite useful background to the activities of Ganley’s „Libertas“ organization in pushing for an Irish „no“ to the Lisbon treaty. Still, I would suspect that the real story is somewhat bigger.

The Strategic Dimension

On one level, the Irish „no“ is nothing really extraordinary in the bumpy history of the EU and the „Lisbon Treaty“ will certainly not evaporate because of it. In typical „EU fashion“ things will be „fixed“ over the next couple of months by some sort of “ arrangement.“ But that will cost politically precious time and energy. And the „next couple of months“ will be very special in the sense that presidential election campaign in the United States will mean a critical curtailment, if not standstill of the US actions in the international arena. Or, the other way around, the perfect time for other powers to shape the international political environment.

In earlier times, during the final phase of a US presidential election, the rest of the world would „wait and see,“ doing essentially nothing, until the new US president would have presented his agenda in 2009. Then the rest of the world would react to the new agenda.

This year, there are clear indications that the rest of the world would not idly sit by until next Spring. Quietly, the leading powers “ Russia, China, European Union countries, India or Brazil — have consulted each other and have informally put together their own „agenda“ — meaning that the next US president would have to react to their agenda.

The May 16th BRIC meeting in Yekaterinburg or the statement by Russian president Dimitry Medvedev in St. Petersburg on June 7th are most relevant in this respect. „I note,“ said Medvedev, „that the crises taking place before our eyes “ the financial crisis, rising prices for natural resources and food, as well as a number of global disasters “ have clearly demonstrated that the current system of global governance is not equipped to meet the challenges it faces“ In fact, it was the disconnect between the formal role played by the United States in the world economic system and its actual capabilities that was one of the main reasons for the current crisis.“

While Bush was in Paris meeting Sarkozy, the former French President Chirac dined in Moscow with Medvedev and Putin. While Bush met the Queen in Windsor, German Foreign Minister Steinmeier was in China, where he stated: „the economic power centers shift and with them the political spheres of power and influence. A „new surveying of the world“ becomes inevitable“ The new order cannot and must not be a re-formation of blocs“[but] a new policy framework among the power centers of a multipolar world.“

Obviously, for the “new surveying of the world”, the role of the European Union is quite important. If the EU would be absorbed by internal problems like the blocked Lisbon treaty ratification process, its ability to act in the international arena would of course be significantly hampered. The more so, as the next months will be critical for further elaborating the „new agenda“ of the new power centers in the multipolar world. But, I’m quite sure that the European leaders are quite aware of this. And therefore, the US-sponsored attempt to throw a spanner in the works via the Irish referendum will be nuisance, but not more.

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