Letters from Ireland #5

And of course another hot topic is the Lisbon treaty, with the vote on ‘Lisbon II’ due this autumn. What I’ve seen so far of the debate has reinforced my misgivings. An organisation named COIR is running poster campaigns, suggesting, for example, that voting Yes for Lisbon II would mean the minimum wage being slashed to €1.84 an hour. At the moment it’s €8.65 an hour, which is much higher than the UK minimum wage but I suppose you have to look at that in the context of fluctuating exchange rates.

So where has the No campaign got its figure from? Apparently it’s based on going rates in the EU accession countries. But is there anything at all in the Lisbon treaty that would impose a Europe-wide minimum wage? Anything that even hints at Ireland having to set its rate by reference to what would be a decent minimum wage in Poland or Latvia? Anything which removes the sovereignty of Ireland to set its own rate? No.

There is of course an argument that with the accession countries now enjoying the benefits of EU membership they will be better able to compete with countries such as Ireland, and attract inward investment because wage costs are lower, but that’s a different argument. There is already a debate going on in Ireland about whether the minimum wage is too high, given the current economic situation. So trade union leaders, for example, are flagging up their own concerns about the minimum wage being under threat, and that’s being conflated with the No campaign’s line of attack – which isn’t helpful when it comes to making the case for Lisbon II. Another spectre being raised by the NO campaign is of farming subsidies being scrapped, which again, is something that is going to be under review, Lisbon or no Lisbon.

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