February 17, 2008
While the government may be appealing for a Yes vote on the Lisbon Treaty, it consistently prevents us from benefiting from the common market.
Let’s make a contract with the government. We will vote Yes to the Lisbon Treaty when it starts to treat us European citizens on a par with the other citizens of the union. The reason for such a contract is that we are treated as second-class Europeans by our own state.
Anyone who has tried to import a car into this country will know exactly where being a ‘‘good European’’ begins and ends in the eyes of the Irish government. Our state demands that we sign up to a treaty, yet every day it thwarts thousands of citizens who are trying to reap the benefits of the common market.
Forget all the lofty ideas which will be spouted in the next few months: for many people, ‘‘Europe’’ begins with small things. I recently explored the idea of importing a ‘‘jammer’’ into Ireland from Britain to save money and to avail of a better standard of car. The British market is huge, so the quality and range of secondhand cars is far superior to our own.
One would expect that, if the government’s rhetoric about Europe held any water, a citizen of Ireland would be treated the same as a citizen of Britain – or anywhere else for that matter. Try to import a car based on the underlying aspirations of the Treaty of Rome — the EU’s founding document – and you will quickly see that the idea of a free, flexible, trading Europe is not only years away, but is actually being frustrated by the very government that wants us to be good Europeans in the first place.
Let’s go back to 1957 and the Treaty of Rome. Robert Schuman and his mate Jean Monnet realised that some of the xenophobia of the pre-war years stemmed from economic patriotism.
Thus, they thought it essential that the European Economic Community – as it was then – should begin as an economic entity. Gradually thereafter, it would seep into national politics and sovereignty.
Accepting the primacy of economics as a healer was part and parcel of the original EU. So Schuman and Monnet outlined the fundamental pillars of the EU. These became known as the four freedoms:
1.The free movement of goods
2.The free movement of capital
3.The free movement of people
4.The freedom to deal in services and establish businesses.
This is what a common market means. Anything which contravenes these freedoms is against the substantive law of the EU.
In fact, article 25 of the EC Treaty indicated that member states were prohibited from levying any duties on goods crossing a border-goods produced within the EU or those produced outside. Once a good has been imported into the EU from a third country and the appropriate customs duty paid, Article 24 dictates that it shall then be considered to be in free circulation between the member states.
So far, so comprehensible. On the basis of the four freedoms, Ireland positions itself as a great location for US multinationals to set up.
No country in the EU could slap a tax on Microsoft’s software made in Ireland, nor could Irish-made Viagra be banned in France, just because a French company was working on an alternative aphrodisiac, nor could Intel processors made in Leixlip be banned in Italy just because the Italians might be trying to protect their own industry.
That’s the game and we all know the rules. Equally, any Pole or Lithuanian can come through Dublin Airport, because the four freedoms say that there has to be free movement of people and workers. The same applied to us years ago when we flooded into Germany to take up jobs.
The free movement of capital means that Irish banks last year could borrow 40 per cent of all the cash they lent from the EU money markets, when they inflated the Irish bubble to bursting point. The Irish government did not interfere in this ‘‘money go round’’ because the four freedoms stated that there could be no tax put on capital from within the EU circulating anywhere in the EU jurisdiction.
So if money can flow around, people can move around, hi-tech goods can be exported and imported freely – what about cars? Surely any Irish citizen can go to England and import a car freely without having to pay extra duty simply for taking the car over the border? Well, just try doing it.
Traipse over to Britain. You find your dream car for, let’s say, Â£18,000.You bring it back to Ireland. You are then confronted with the first tax – VRT. So already the state is bending the rules.
Resigned, you are then prepared to pay the tax on the euro value of the sterling cost of the car. So the first rule of the Treaty of Rome is broken the minute you get off the boat at Dun Laoghaire, because any tax on any good at the point of entry contravenes the original Treaty of Rome.
But worse is to come. The Revenue then judge that it’s not the cost of the car in Britain that counts for the tax, it is some Orwellian-sounding levy called the ‘‘open market selling price’’. The Revenue, in an approach which protects Irish car dealers, squeeze money out of the beleaguered Irish motorist with another, extra tax.
They calculate the difference between what the car cost in the free, unfettered market of Britain and what it might cost here in the protected, sewn-up kleptocracy that is Ireland and then slap another totally unjustified tax on top of the original totally unjustified tax.
If you want to see how this shameless infringement of EU law works, check out https://www.ros.ie/VRTEnquiryServlet/ showCarCalculator. Rather than enhance competition, our government smothers it. The motorist is being penalised twice to protect Irish car dealers who have being making a fortune in recent years by selling overpriced cars. The state, therefore, is not only breaking the rules of the EU but, more egregiously, is protecting an industry here which is actually doing nothing.
At some level, it is easy to understand protectionism, if you are protecting a domestic industry which is employing people, exercising brain power and creating value.
However, car dealers are just brokers who import at a low price and sell at a higher price. The state is supporting this vested interest over the people – yet again. Crucially, buying cars has been made commonplace because the public transport alternative is so poor. Therefore, the state, by not providing a public alternative, has funnelled us into the clutches of the car dealers and then, when we try to exercise our European constitutional right to buy abroad, the government hammers us with a tax.
Inmost other areas, Europe works well and the world is integrated. For example, I wrote this article from an internet cafe in Foxford, Co Mayo, run by a Dutchman named Kees – and I was there because of a tale from the first era of globalisation, when trade was free and people benefited from it.
Foxford is the birthplace of Admiral William Brown – the founder of the Argentinian navy and a man widely respected in Argentina. Back then, free trade drew Irishmen and women to Argentina from where they exported grain back to Ireland. If the present Irish government were in power now, it would probably have tried to halt this trade too. Today we have the ludicrous spectacle of our government urging us to vote Yes to the Lisbon Treaty.
I’m sure there are good enough reasons for this, but how can we trust the government on one European treaty if they are prepared to tear up their obligations on another? They want us to vote Yes to the Lisbon Treaty, even though they ignore the basic founding principles upon which the EU was constructed.
Until the iniquitous VRT scam is scrapped, we should argue that, on the basis of being good Europeans, we can’t vote for the Lisbon Treaty because it is supported by a government that is not European enough.