Of all the explanations for the Ireland referendum vote I’ve heard, this is perhaps the wackiest. On Saturday the French Europe minister Jean–Pierre Jouyet gave a speech in Lyons blaming Ireland’s ‘no’ vote on the Lisbon reform treaty on American neo-conservatives, saying Europe has “powerful enemies with deep pockets." He said that “the role of the American neo-conservatives in the Irish referendum was very important.” His comments were greeted with applause from the audience, according to the AFP. His comments have been picked up by the major papers on the continent such as Le Monde in France and Der Spiegel in Germany.
But the allegation isn’t just being made on the continent. In Ireland, Irish member of parliament Lucinda Creighton made the allegation shortly after the vote. She is arguing that two Irish businessmen, Declan Ganley and Ulick McEvaddy, who spent a huge amount of money on funding the ‘no’ campaign, did so because of their extensive business contacts with the American military. Her implication seems to be that US government interests were funding the Irish ‘no’ campaign, because it is in US’s interest to maintain a divided Europe dependant on America both militarily and economically.
Certainly the fact that it was Ireland - the country in Europe with the most economic ties to the United States – that derailed this treaty probably seems highly suspicious to the continent. And of course the fact is the United States does have a lot to lose if it saw Europe united economically and militarily.
But as the Economist’s Certain Ideas of Europe points out today, the allegations are a bit hard to square with reality. For one thing, with all of the problems America is facing at the moment, using back channels to derail the strengthening of the EU is not exactly going to be at the top of the government’s agenda, whether it’s neo-cons calling the shots or anyone else.
As the Economist notes, “Have most American neo-conservatives ever heard of the Lisbon treaty, and if they have, do they care?” The answer is probably not. While I’m sure there are some people inside the neo-con think tanks looking ahead and trying to think strategically about how the EU can develop in a way most advantageous to the United States (which would be as a purely free trade block), it would be pretty silly for them to be spending significant time or resources thinking about it at this stage. Europe is doing a fine enough job tearing itself apart without needing American help. I was particularly amused by this note from the Economist:
Leave aside the fact that when your reporter met an American official heading to Washington a couple of days ago, and asked if he expected to be asked about the Irish no vote, he laughed loudly, and said: "I can guarantee that is the one thing I will not be asked about."
The theory seems to revolve around the idea that the people of Europe are earnestly trying to band together to increase their global influence and throw off their American shackles, and the hurdles the process has encountered are thrown at them from this nefarious empire across the Atlantic which wants to impede their progress at any cost. In realty, it is the people of Europe themselves who are the biggest obstacle to this progress. With the European Union project floundering, the United States has bigger things to worry about than Europe. It’s quite preoccupied watching its up-and-coming superpower rival China, a block which will pose an actual threat to American hegemony over the world.
On the other hand, it is true that much of the sentiment behind the ‘no’ movement in Ireland came from avowed Atlanticists, many of whom feel that Ireland’s economic resurgence is not the result of the benefits of European Union membership and subsidies but rather of the increased presence of American corporations on the emerald isle. There is some credence to the idea that strengthening the EU could scareaway these American multinationals, who currently enjoy low corporate taxes and a freedom to avoid unionizing. Of course the question then becomes, is Ireland content to pin its hopes on being an American vassal state, dependant economically and militarily on a government across the Atlantic in which it has no representation? This is the central question Creighton and Jouyet are addressing, whether their actual suspicions of a neo-con plot are founded or unfounded.