Thursday 3 September 2009

The 6-point Pro-Lisbon Argument on Workers' Rights

RTÉ's Prime Time tonight hosted a debate on workers' rights between Pat Cox and Joe Higgins. There wasn't a lot of time for a detailed debate, and, though Cox did better than many Pro-Lisbon spokespeople to state the Yes side's case, he was unable to land a killer blow - the argument is just too technical to do that.

I've already argued that the Lisbon Treaty is the best possible strengthening of workers' rights that can be achieved at this time (no matter what your stance on how far workers should have legally enshrined rights). Still, my argument was a lot one, and not really light reading, never mind being suited to a 10 minute TV debate or conversation.

So here's a 6-point Pro-Lisbon Argument on workers' rights:

1. Before Lisbon, under the current (Nice) status quo, the Charter of Fundamental Rights had no legal status, so it has no real bearing on the ECJ cases being quoted by the No side.

2. Ratifying the Lisbon Treaty will make the Charter part of Treaty law: in other words, part of the EU's fundamental law. Then they can be used in court cases (to do with EU law, not national law).

3. It doesn't matter that there's only going to be a Solemn Declaration supporting the Charter rather than a protocol - the Treaty gives the Charter direct legal effect in the first place!

4. If we vote No, this won't happen, and the status quo will continue. The ECJ's behaviour won't change, as the law will remain the same.

5. With the European Parliament dominated by the right after the elections in June, and with the vast majority of EU governments being right wing, there is no short-to-mid-term realistic chance of coming up with a stronger, legally binding Charter on workers' rights. Especially since the UK would block any such attempt, even under a Labour government.

6. In any case, secondary legislation could give extra rights; however, this requires that you can get enough votes and MPs/MEPs on a left-wing political programme to legislate in that way. Like, you know, parliamentary democracy?

So there's a 6-point argument that you can make that's relatively short and (hopefully) understandable enough without going into too much detail. You can even shorten it further if you need to.


  1. Your argument does not stack up. Para 52 of the charter provide for the limiting of workers rights when it comes into conflict with the operation of the market. The ECJ did name check the Charter in the Laval case. Fundamentally this document upholds rights that are mutually exclusive - the right to make unfettered profits and the right to take effective industrial action to protect the conditions of workers. Where you have such a conflict of rights in a Euro treaty it is up to the ECJ to interpret. The interpretations have been consistently anti worker and that will not change with the passing of Lisbon.

  2. I've written a bit about this (though still in a broad sense) here:

    They are not mutually exclusive. The degree of protection cannot be precisely stated without the case law to back it up, but where rights conflict, there is a balancing act between the two, and with the Charter enshrined in law, workers would have a far better legal position in which to make their case. Workers' rights have much more protection under Lisbon than at the moment (name checking isn't quite the same as having the document enshrined in law).