Daniel Hannan says Ireland's 'No' to Lisbon has revealed a gulf between bishops and lay people In the aftermath of Ireland's "No" to Lisbon, several pundits declared that the result had been a repudiation of the Catholic hierarchy. And they had a point: while the Church didn't issue guidelines on how to vote, it made its preference pretty clear, ostentatiously denying a number of "myths" that pro-life groups had been circulating in advance of polling day.
In consequence. some non-Irish observers revived the oldest of anti-Catholic prejudices: the notion that priests were leading their flocks to the polls. "Just as His late Holiness gave many coded pronouncements on his support for the EU, so His present Holiness is lending his considerable religiopolitical weight to the Treaty of Lisbon," wrote the acerbically Protestant and eminently readable blogger, Archbishop Cramer, just before the vote. "It has taken a German pope to revive the Sacrum Ramanum Imperium Nationis Germanicae, and since the Empire needs an Emperor. it comes as no surprise that the Vatican is supporting the creation of such an office, effectively fulfilling a function last performed by Pope Clement VII in 1530."
Well, maybe. But such analysis misses rather a critical factor, namely the salience of Catholic organisations in the "No" campaign. Anti-abortion groups have been central to the "No" coalition in successive Irish referendums since 1972. Irish Europhiles, tearing their hair in frustration, tell anyone who will listen that the EU cannot change the abortion laws of its constituent members. But pro-life groups in Ireland have never been comfortable with enshrining the right of Irish nationals to procure terminations elsewhere in the EU. Nor do they care for the EU's increasing role in the field of embryo research. They dislike Brussels tying its development aid programmes to pro-choice policies in the recipient states. And they weren't exactly cock-a-hoop about the ostentatious excision of any mention of God from the text they were voting on.
And so, while the bishops hinted strongly that they wanted a "Yes" vote, the Catholic press was the only place in Ireland's otherwise uniformly Europhile media that you could find a case against the Lisbon Treaty in print. Nor was this case limited to pro-life issues. Catholic papers made a broader critique that was implicitly rather than explicitly Christian. The European project, , they argued, was too ambitious, too Utopian. Whereas a system of government should be limited in its scope and cognisant of human fallibility, the Lisbon Treaty presumed to dictate policies on everything from housing policy to space exploration, from employment law to the rights of asylum seekers. No wonder all references to the Almighty had been scrapped: the authors' self-importance left no room for Him.
Not for the first time, Ireland saw a division between the bishops and the pews. But here's the thing: exactly the same division existed, mutatis mutandis, in every sphere of Irish life. The leaders of all the parties except Sinn Fein urged a "Yes" vote; their voters declined their advice. The trade confederations. above all IBEC, the Irish equivalent of the CBI, were the backbone of the "Yes" campaign; but most entrepreneurs voted "No". The trade unions were in favour, but most workers were against. The main farmers' organisation, after a clumsy attempt to blackmail the government into being more protectionist, dutifully came out for Lisbon; too late. though. to carry its members.
Nor does this happen only in Ireland. Across the EU, there is a chasm between what the French call the pays legal (the political Elites) and the pays reel (everyone else). Politicians. bankers, diplomats, big landowners (who do best out of the CAP), editors, civil servants, heads of NGOs • charities, lobbyists and bishops are all for giving
more power to Brussels. Hardly anyone else is. In France, 82 per cent of MPs voted for the European Constitution, but only 45 per cent of voters. In the Netherlands, those figures were 86 per cent and 38 per cent. In Britain, the Commons and Lords approved the Lisbon Treaty by comfortable margins. But, when the pressure group Open Europe organised 10 constituency-wide referendums, run and invigilated by the Electoral Reform Society, there was an 89 per cent "No" vote.
How are we to explain this discrepancy? In part, of course, it reflects the fact that the EU was designed to guarantee government by moderate technocrats rather than fickle voters. When a diplomat or a civil servant or the head of a quango arrives in Brussels, he immediately senses that the system was built by and for people like him. (He is usually a man. although his female equivalent can increasingly be found stalking the corridors in her sharp trouser suit.)
The demographic breakdown of all the recent referendums — the votes on the euro in Sweden and Denmark as well as the four votes on the Continent about the constitution — show the same pattern. The classic "Yes" voter is a well-off. broadsheet-reading man in his fifties. He is made suspicious by what he sees as the coalition of extremists on the "No" side. He doesn't understand that they are united in their defence of democracy. Catholics worry about giving up control over abortion policy, free-marketeers about taxes, socialists about employment policy, Greens about neutrality. These concerns are different, but not incompatible: they are all aspects of a meta-concern, namely that power is passing to remote institutions. Obviously, when those institutions are manned by people like you, this bothers you less.
There is more to it than this, though. The EU has also pursued an explicit policy of buying the support of powerful and articulate groups of people in every member
state. There was a wonderful example of this when, in introducing the Lisbon Treaty in Parliament, the Foreign Secretary, David Ivliliband, made a great song-and-dance about the fact that several "neutral" organisations backed the Treaty: Oxfam, Action Aid, the NSPCC and something he called the "Commission of Bishops". Oddly, he neglected to mention that the full name of this last was "The Commission of Bishops of the European Communities", and that it is a Brussels-based outfit that owes its existence to the EU. Nor did he mention that all the other organisations he cited receive large bungs from the European Commission.
In all the kerfuffle about EU sleaze, it is worth reminding ourselves that the Eurocracy is by no means confined to Brussels. Within the 27 states, too, there are huge apparats dependent on the EU for their livelihoods. Nor are all apparatchiks directly on the EU payroll. Every large corporation, every pressure group, every charity, every trade union, almost every local council, now has a European officer. Even though his wages might not come directly from Brussels, he knows that his job depends on the EU. And so, when there is a referendum. he snatches his pike from the thatch and answers the call.
As in the Comecon states during the 1980s, we have reached the point where hardly anyone actually believes in the ruling ideology; but plenty of people understand that their position depends upon the maintenance of the status quo. That is why, without exception, no party has ever been Eurosceptic while in office. And it's why, despite repeated rejections at the ballot box, the system hasn't gone away.
Daniel Hannan is a Conseriwth,e MEP for South East England and blogs every day at www.hannanCO.uk