OPINION

Letter from Thessaloniki

«How could I vote ‘yes’ for something I did not know?» asks Owen Cahill (37), a network analyst from Limerick, and a frequent visitor to Athens. «We did not get the time to analyze and assess the situation. The [Lisbon] Treaty was presented in such an incomprehensible form so that people would not understand what was being forced on them.» Most certainly, the Irish «no» vote still dominates United (?) Europe. Designed to make the expanded 27-member bloc more efficient and more influential on the world stage, the Lisbon Treaty was supposed to replace a planned European constitution, which was itself rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005. «If the EU can’t correct its shortcomings, it should at least acknowledge them… No more fair words, please,» said Cahill. When I last spoke to him he admitted that he had read – and had in all probability been influenced by – the blunt recommendation made by The Economist after Ireland’s «no» to the Lisbon Treaty: «Just bury it.» Indirectly, the same treaty has triggered a major crisis in Greek politics. Everything started when the former Socialist prime minister, 71-year-old Costas Simitis, incensed current PASOK leader George Papandreou by writing a letter in which he challenged the leader’s decision to back an Irish-style referendum on the ratification of the European Union’s Lisbon Treaty. Papandreou’s reaction was expressed in a carefully written letter to the 71-year-old Simitis, who was prime minister between 1996 and 2004. In the letter he stated that he would not go through the official channels in order to have Simitis thrown out of PASOK’s parliamentary group. This being out of respect for Simitis’s contribution to the party. Nevertheless, Papandreou said, Simitis should henceforth not consider himself a Socialist MP for an indefinite period of time. «Your decision to publish the letter and not conform with PASOK’s parliamentary group… were unacceptable political acts,» Papandreou said in his letter. Now many predict a split in the PASOK party. «So what about your country?» I ask Owen. «Any turmoil there?»  «Most people still view the EU as a great idea. It has been great for Ireland and the Irish people, as it has been great for you Greeks as well. Yet no doubt a new treaty is needed. One that does not treat smaller nations, Greece for example, as add-ons to the European Union. Fundamental principles of democracy should be respected, you know. Decisions should be taken at the lowest effective level. This would evidently be necessary for you too.» «Now, there have been rumors that the CIA was behind your no-vote… The other day I saw a report on that subject on the German DW-TV,» I said. «I wouldn’t know,» answered Owen. «What I do know is that Brian Cowen, Edna Kenny, Eamon Gilmore and John Gormley – the equivalent of our Simitis’s and Papandreous – have a lot to do until November, to reshuffle our playing cards.» «Do you know that we are related?» Owen goes on. [That is Celts and Greeks.] «Most of what we know about pagan Ireland comes from the Mythological Cycle. The stories tell of a land inhabited by ancient spirits and fairies. The ‘Tuatha De Danann’ are said to be the Irish equivalent of the Greek and Roman gods.» Owen elaborated further, extending the conversation to certain personality traits shared by our two nations. Then. Perhaps now as well… «The Celts frequently exaggerated with the aim of extolling themselves and diminishing the status of others. They were famous for boasting and threatening, especially fond of self-aggrandisement.» That certainly rang a bell! After the Irish rejection of the Lisbon Treaty, the EU doesn’t seem to know what to do next. However, Greece appeared quite satisfied, since it presented for us a «prime opportunity for the discussion of crucial issues concerning our country, including a positive message regarding the Macedonia name issue,» as Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis proudly announced upon his return from Brussels. As to the minor (?) issue of Ireland’s rejection, Karamanlis touched on the subject by vaguely declaring that «efforts should be made to persuade those European states which have not ratified the treaty to do so…»