With the Lisbon Treaty set for adoption, Cormac Duffy asks what role nationalism might play in the new federal Europe
In the run-ups to the respective Lisbon Treaty referenda, the No side used many arguments to sway undecided voters to their side. The potential for militarisation and the perceived attacks on minimum wage riled those on the left, while the growing secularisation of the EU and a possible legalisation of abortion scared the more conservative elements within the country.
In Ireland’s case, though, the best argument put forward by opponents of the treaty was one that saw European federalism as an enemy of Irish nationalism. Cóir posters used images of Thomas Clarke and Patrick Pearse to stir the latent republicanism that all Irish seem to hold deep within.
Though the arguments didn’t successfully impact the outcome of the second referendum, they should be taken seriously. The new, post-Lisbon European Union is quite close to a federal state. When Czech president Vaclav Klaus added the 27th ratifying signature to the treaty, he enabled the existence of jobs equating to a EU president, a foreign minister, as well as a single legal personality for the union, and something resembling a constitution in the form of the Charter of Fundamental Rights.
No one can really know where nationalism will fit into the new Europe. Some say we are about to become a “United States of Europe”, but comparing us to the USA is futile. Yes, in Dallas they say “y’all” while in New York they say “all of you”, but the US has one unifying culture (Americana) as well as having one language. The EU has 23 official languages, with very few citizens knowledgeable of more than two or three, and identifying a common European culture is difficult when the continent was divided almost constantly until the 1990s, whether by war or Iron Curtain.
Others wonder if each nation will become like the Francophone Quebecois of Canada, or the Basque people of Spain: minority groups whose politics are divided between nationalist and separatist movements on one side, and federalist movements on the other. This is difficult to accept: unlike the Quebecois or the Basque people, everyone in Europe is technically in a minority. As mentioned earlier, there is no majority language or culture for us to combat, and no ‘European culture’ that threatens to repress our values – yet groups like Cóir claimed that European emphasis on liberalism and secularism is at odds with Irish culture. Of course, by Irish culture they mean a dogmatic, Catholic ideology – precisely the culture that modern Ireland has been trying actively to shake off for years.
Those dedicated to principles of nationalism and self-determination will have to see how the new European Union will treat minority groups. Would it be willing to upset Spain by supporting the Basque separatists if it felt they had a legitimate platform? If the Scottish Nationalist Party were to achieve its goals, would a Scottish republic become an EU member immediately? Some say the EU has ignored minority groups, not recognising languages such as Luxembourgish and Basque, although on the other hand it has been positive towards Kosovo’s assertions of independence.
One way we will probably come to resemble areas like Quebec and the Basque region in terms of politics, is the alignment of our political parties into nationalist and federalist. In terms of Ireland, it is likely to be based on the Yes and No sides of the Lisbon treaty debate. Some on the no side attempt to make a distinction between Euroscepticism (or just opposing Lisbon) and opposing the EU completely, but even Sinn Féin, who claim to be pro-Europe, have never supported an EU treaty. To generalise for the whole of Europe, those in the centre seem to be more supportive of a federal Europe, while Euroscepticism comes from the far ends of the left-right spectrum.
This poses some problems in terms of unifying the movements. In the run up to the Lisbon Treaty referenda, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour put aside their differences and worked together for a Yes vote, while it was difficult to even get members of Sinn Féin and Libertas in the same room together. When it comes to organising across Europe, the federalist side should be able to coordinate efforts, while gathering disparate groups such as the British Conservatives, the French National Front and our own Sinn Féin to oppose the next EU treaty seems very unlikely to occur.
Next time you drive by an area whose council have been too lazy to take down Election posters, look out for the Cóir one referenced at the start of this article. It reads “They Won Your Freedom: Don’t Throw It Away”. Maybe we have, maybe we haven’t. Either way, our Yes vote in the Lisbon Treaty referendum was a clear break with our traditional nationalist ideals, and may have changed the role of nationalism for all European citizens.