An Irish EU Commissioner for ever?

On the Fianna Fail party website, there is a news item on the Lisbon referendum, which opens as follows:

Ireland’s voice will always be heard at European Commission level if the Lisbon Treaty is passed as Ireland will always have a European Commissioner according to Minister for Foreign Affairs and Director of the Fianna Fáil Referendum Campaign Micheál Martin TD.

The background to this assurance is the belief that a significant number of people voted against the Lisbon Treaty at the first referendum because they were unhappy at the prospect of Ireland not having a European Commissioner at all times as a matter of right. As part of the negotiations that followed the last vote, Ireland secured agreement that the current arrangement, under which all EU member states have a commissioner, will continue in force. And so the Fianna Fail item goes on to say:

Having listened to those concerns and secured new guarantees we now know that if we vote in favour of Lisbon we will always have a Commissioner representing Ireland. We will have a Commissioner fifteen years out of fifteen.  That is a significant improvement on what we were voting for last year and a key difference to last year’s referendum.

A similar point is made on a Fine Gael website, and also on the Labour Party’s website.

Two points could be made on all this. One is that the entire EU debate over the past year or two has been stuffed full with confusion and misinformation. Ireland’s entitlement to a Commissioner was compromised by the Nice Treaty, not Lisbon, and voting last year for Lisbon would have made no difference to that whatsoever (though admittedly, voting no provided a bit of leverage in the matter). But secondly, and much more importantly, are we at risk of producing a parish pump framework for Europe? Ireland’s EU Commissioner is not there to represent Ireland, but rather to apply him- or herself to the tasks of the portfolio. They are not there (to pick up the wording of the Fianna Fail item above) to make Ireland’s voice heard. Furthermore, if every member state (including, say, Malta) must have a Commissioner all the time, and if we are not yet finished with new accessions, then it will not be long before those portfolios become meaningless because they will have to be distributed to so many. The wonderful 1970s satirical TV programme Hall’s Pictorial Weekly had a government with some interesting ministerial responsibilities, including the ‘Minister for Gateposts and Telegraph Poles’, and the ‘Minister for Foreign Air Fares’. We might not be too far from that in the European Commission.

I suppose it will help the yes campaign to have this assurance, but I cannot help wondering whether its achievement is a sign of a European project that is more and more at risk of being dragged down to something increasingly meaningless. Of course it would be less satisfactory if, for some periods, there were not to be an Irish Commissioner. But we can make our presence felt in many other ways, and the place to protect Ireland’s interests is not in the Commission, but the Council of Ministers.

Oh well.

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7 Comments on “An Irish EU Commissioner for ever?”

  1. Vincent Says:

    The idea that the Commissioner, any number of them will be doing pointless jobs is blatantly bullshit.
    In the old days this might have been valid when there was more broad-brush idea of their function. But nowadays, ha, the more of them the better for all they are doing is heading up narrow groups of nit-pickers.
    But having at least one is very important for Europe as a whole. It carries to the center tables the Maltese mind, the Irish mind and the Luxembourger. It will provide the ‘OHHHH, never thought of that’ factor that exposes a brilliant facet on something. That sort of thinking that the Bavarians provide in Germany, which has you Prussians spitting ‘Bastards’, while wishing you could have thought of it. Call it the Pirate gene, or the gene of the Border Reiver, the Slieveen.
    Nor am I all that worried about the tensions created by the forces designed to splinter the setup, for there would be nothing more dangerous than if those forces did not exist. I like that there are gravitational and centrifugal forces.

    • Ah Vincent, but does that mean there should always be a guaranteed Bavarian Commissioner, because they think differently for sure? Or a Cork one?

      Actually, I don’t think *anyone* should have a guaranteed Commissioner, not even the Germans, British or French. In fact, particularly not them…

      • Vincent Says:

        Well, all in all I do. But not necessarily Cork. The needs of those living on Santorini and those on Inishmore are not the same. But they are nearer than they are to the needs of Crete or Hess. I live in hope that the drift will be to a Commissioner for Highlands and Islands rather than this current National fixation. But until that happens, and I believe it will, the person/politician trained by the Civil Service of the smaller State might provide that reality of living in a place like Connemara all year. That ‘Yes, it’s beautiful, but can you eat it’. If we had a bit more of that then we would not have ukip moaning about shite rammed home by Whitehall nor the Irish service being praised for similar idiocies. Cassoulet de Castelnaudary made by a village butcher and tinned by him would not happen here.

  2. Vincent Says:

    Sorry I was not being clear in that last comment. People living on the Tatra have more in common with someone on the Pyrenees together with all the mountains in between. And that Crete being a larger island would with Cypres or Sardinia have more in commom. The old Industral areas of Europe have more in common with each other than with areas within their own and would gain more from that type of targeting. Ditto the small islands, the larger islands, inner cities and so on.

  3. Mark Dowling Says:

    “are we at risk of producing a parish pump framework for Europe? ”

    Ireland has regarded the commissioner as the parish pump for decades. There’s no “producing” about it.

  4. Ian Says:

    It’s simple – Charlie McCreevy is not Irelands Commissioner or a Commissioner for Ireland just as Brian Cowen is not Offalys Minister or a Minister for Offaly – We send representatives to Brussels such as MEPs and our Ministers and frankly I don’t see why we need a guaranteed Irish Commissioner

  5. cormac Says:

    “Are we at risk of producing a parish pump framework for Europe? ”
    Yes, frankly. The bigger question is really is ‘Is Ireland good for Europe?’. Most Irish people never consider the question this way round, but I wonder are we exporting our wretched our parish pump politics to the EU. Add that to the activities of uber-Thatcherite Charlie McCreevy, and I suspect out net contribution to the EU project is negative

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