Ceisteanna — Questions. Oral Answers. - Single European Act.


asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he is aware of the concern expressed by a wide range of groups and individuals on the possible implications for Irish neutrality and our independent foreign policy of the Single European Act signed by the Government on 17 February; if he intends to seek any amendments to the Act before it is submitted to the Dáil for ratification; and if he will make a statement on the matter.


asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if, arising out of the signing of the Treaty of EC states in the name of Ireland and Brussels on 17 February 1986, he is aware that Title (3) of the European Act of that Treaty and in particular paragraph 6 (a) thereof may well be a serious erosion of Irish neutrality; what action, if any, he intends taking in the matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter.


asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if the signing of the European Act on 17 February with particular reference to section 2 which consists of various amendments to the Rome Treaty will abolish the right of our national veto in several economic areas and that section 3 is incompatible with Irish foreign policy, Irish neutrality and our national independence; if the signing of this European Act will commit Ireland and the Government to maintaining the industrial and technological conditions for the security of NATO members of the EC and, as such, is in contravention of the spirit of Irish neutrality; and if he will make a statement on the matter.


asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he is satisfied that the new draft European Treaty will continue to allow Ireland to conduct an independent foreign policy, particularly in relation to peace initiatives; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 2, 12, 15 and Priority Question No. 20 together.

The Single European Act has now been signed by all the member states and the question of seeking further amendments to it does not arise. As Deputies are aware, there will be a full debate on the Act when the necessary legislation to permit ratification of the Act is brought before the Oireachtas in due course.

Both the Taoiseach and myself have previously pointed out in this House that the provisions on Co-operation in the Sphere of Foreign Policy contained in Title III of the Single European Act pose no threat to this country's sovereignty, neutrality or ability to take independent decisions on foreign policy matters. I wish to take the opportunity of the Deputies' questions to reiterate this.

An integral part of our foreign policy has been the pursuit of international peace and security. In the 14 years of our involvement with European Political Co-operation successive Irish Governments have not felt constrained from working actively for peace or from undertaking appropriate initiatives. This Government will continue the policy of supporting concrete measures aimed at disarmament, especially nuclear disarmament, and of supporting and contributing to the maintenance of international peace through UN peace-keeping activities.

The principal effect of Title III of the Single European Act will be to formalise existing practices and procedures governing European Political Co-operation — EPC. Under this process which has been gradually evolving over the past 16 years, the member states of the Community, operating on the basis of consensus, agree to adopt as far as possible common policy stances on issues of foreign policy which are of general concern.

In regard to the question of security, Ireland's particular interests and concerns have been fully met in Title III of the Single European Act. Provision is made in paragraph 6 (a) of Title III for closer co-ordination of positions on the political and economic aspects of security. So as to take account of the fact that Ireland is not a member of any military alliance, it is specifically provided that those member states which wish to co-operate more closely on security matters, that is on military and defence questions, may do so within the Western European Union or the Atlantic Alliance.

Paragraph 6 (b) of Title III records the determination of the member states to maintain the technological and industrial conditions necessary for their security. This is in the context of the specific commitment in Article 6 for the co-ordination of the positions of member states on the political and economic aspects of security within the framework of European Political Co-operation. There is absolutely no commitment involved of a military or defence nature.

Deputy Bell has also raised the amendments to the Treaty of Rome contained in Title II of the Single European Act. Let me say that there is no question of the operation of the so-called "Luxembourg Compromise", that is the entitlement of a member state to invoke a vital national interest and to veto a proposal by the Council, being affected by these Treaty amendments. As a country so dependent on foreign trade, we have a very considerable national interest in the early and full achievement of a genuine single internal market in the Community. Therefore, we welcome the limited but nonetheless significant improvements which have been provided for in the Council's decision-making procedures in the Single European Act by means of substituting qualified majority voting in certain areas where unanimity is now required, notably to facilitate completion of the internal market by a target date of 31 December 1992.

Deputy De Rossa.

On a point of order, would you explain to me why questions listed for priority must give way to questions which are not down for priority when it comes to supplementary questions?

I will explain that. The word "priority" in this context means that the question is almost certain to be taken today. That is the priority that is given to it.

Is that the only definition of priority?

That is the only reason questions are listed as priority?

If, for example, these questions were being taken at 3.25 p.m., and then came at 3.30 p.m., Deputy Collins would be the only person who would have a right to pursue supplementaries after 3.30 p.m.

I suppose this is not the place to resolve it, a Cheann Comhairle:

Could the Minister give us some examples as to what he means by the political and economic aspects of security referred to under Article 30, paragraph 6 (a) where he argues that that in no way involves us in a diminution of our neutrality or independence? Perhaps related to that is Article 30, paragraph 2 (d) where the contracting parties are obliged to endeavour to avoid any action or position which impairs their effectiveness as a cohesive force in international relations or within international organisations. Would the Minister not accept that there must be some restriction on our independence if we take those two paragraphs together, given that the other partners in the EC are members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation?

The political aspects of security relate to foreign policy issues dealing with international peace and security which are concerned with the Twelve as a whole. Questions relating to international security in general, and European security in particular, have always been central to European political co-operation whether in discussing issues such as the Middle East or South Africa or in discussion of disarmament issues arising in the United Nations. For example, in regard to the economic aspects of security, during the energy crisis of 1973 the economic security of supplies in that area would have been of concern to the Twelve.

In regard to the second point the Deputy raised, obviously the intention is — and it has been part of European political co-operation for the past 15 years — to try to get our political attitudes to problems around the world and international bodies as close together as possible. But it is always on the basis of consensus. Therefore, if only 11 countries can agree to taking a certain stance at the United Nations or at the CSCE then there is not a European political position because there has not been consensus about the position. While we would wish to get our positions as close as possible, there may be issues which cannot be agreed and, therefore, there will not be a common European position. There can only be a common European position when all Twelve agree to it. Otherwise there is not a common European position. There is no diminution of our independence in that regard because we can decide independently we will not be part of that consensus.

Would the Minister agree that the language of the treaty is dangerously ambiguous when it speaks of closer co-operation on security questions being essential to Europe's foreign policy identity? Would the Minister accept that for the German Government or any other EC Government this also includes defence?

It quite specifically does not include defence, as I said in the answer to the original question. Paragraph 6 (a), (b) and (c) must be read together and, to satisfy the Irish demands, part of that says that in relation to military security or defence those countries who wish to pursue these matters must pursue them either in NATO or WEU.

Would the Minister agree that the requirement to inform or consult before taking a position means that in serious international situations serious delay may be involved before taking any peace initiative?

I do not think so. But I can see why the Deputy would ask that question. What is in mind here is that in the CSCE or the Non-Proliferation Treaty Organisation or in the follow up meetings that are taking place in Berne and Vienna at the moment or in the UN in September we would try to get a common European position on that. Obviously if there is an outbreak of some kind of hostility in some part of the world and we want a common European position, there will be the delay that would be involved in the calling of the meeting and the holding of the meeting. But it has been proven that that can be done very quickly. It happened the week before last after the bombing of Tripoli where a meeting of the Ministers working in political co-operation was called within 48 hours and attended fully by all of them.

Is it not a pity that all the members who attended that meeting did not put their cards on the table so that their colleagues would know what the real facts of the situation were at that time?

The communique issued after that meeting also said that the twelve member states were satisfied that on the previous Monday when the meeting was held no one member had information that was not divulged.

Does the Minister seriously suggest that the British Foreign Minister did not know of events which were to take place within a short number of hours of that meeting he attended as Foreign Minister for Her Majesty's Government?

Yes. Those of us who were present at both meetings are satisfied that that was so.

Is the Minister saying he and his colleagues believe that the British Foreign Minister was not aware of the decision that had already been taken by his Prime Minister to allow the bases to be used in the UK for that particular action?

I am not saying that. What I am saying is he did not know when they were going to be used.

He knew that decision was taken and he did not inform——

He knew an agreement had been reached but did not know if or when it would be actually implemented.

He did not tell his colleagues, the Foreign Ministers, of the decision that was taken.

How can we have political co-operation in those circumstances?

That is a different thing. If the Deputy thinks about what I said earlier he will see that is one of the things that should not be discussed there.

The Minister, in the earlier part of his reply, indicated that all of the countries of the EC had signed the agreement and that it was now no longer open to amendment. Is he telling us that, even though it is coming before this House for debate and ratification by this House, there will be no opportunity for this House to alter or delete any part of it whatsoever? If so, what is the purpose of bringing it before this House?

It is not open to amendment in this House, nor in the Parliament of any one of the other member states. But it is open to rejection. Any one of the Parliaments can reject the Act in whole and if that happens then, of course, it would not have been ratified by one of the Twelve and therefore it would not come into operation on 1 January next.

In regard to the European Act, what is the timescale and when can we expect that it will be brought before the House for this rubber stamp ratification procedure?

I would not like to refer to Dáil Éireann as a rubber stamp. This is a Parliament. It makes its decisions. The Government Parties will obviously be voting for it. But this is not a rubber stamp and I would object very strongly to the Parliament being described like that. As far as the timescale is concerned, I would hope to have the legislation——

I did not describe the Parliament as a rubber stamp. I said it is a rubber stamp procedure.

That is not what the Deputy said.

That is exactly what I said.

I hope to have it before the House before the summer. That is my intention.

I thank the Minister for that information. I want to make it absolutely clear that I did not and would never refer to this Dáil as a rubber stamp. But I did refer to this procedure of ratification as a rubber stamp procedure. Surely if we cannot amend the treaty and we only have the decision to ratify or not, the Government in bringing it before the House is certainly turning the House into a rubber stamp in so far as this procedure is concerned.

I want to ask the Minister about the Act. In regard to its proposal to remove all barriers in the internal market of the Community and to have, as near as possible, a single integrated market, does the Minister not share my apprehension that this will involve considerable danger to our economy in a number of areas? Are the Government engaging in any procedure which will protect at least sensitive areas from the dangers inherent in this development? Is there to be any compensation for this country following the elimination of all internal mechanisms inside the common market? We saw yesterday and the day before that the position of our agriculture in the Community is being weakened and the Common Agricultural Policy is in the process of being dismantled. If our agriculture is to be thrown to the winds, are there any compensatory advantages in any area which the Government are seeking in the context of the new situation which this European Act will create so far as the internal market of the Community is concerned?

I do not agree with the premise that the internal market is a danger to this country. The reverse will be true, it will be of benefit to this country. We always wished for a more open market in which is sell our goods and if Deputies examine our trading figures with individual countries in the Twelve since we joined the Community, my point will be borne out, and my regret is that this has not happened more quickly. Obviously there are sensitive areas not just for this country but for other member states and the objective of the Twelve is to achieve a common market by 1992. As a help to achieve that a number of areas which previously required unanimous voting have been brought into majority voting. The right of veto in other areas, such as the harmonisation of taxes and other sensitive areas, still exists.

The Minister mentioned harmonisation of taxes.

As an example.

To take it as an example: the Minister will agree that that could involve us in a loss of revenue of around £500 million or £600 million and there are many other areas where the process which will be initiated under this European Act could result in very serious losses to the detriment of different sections of our economy. It is no good closing our eyes to this fact. The Minister should accept that while a completely free market is very advantageous to us from one point of view—because of our geographic situation and our small size —it can have very grave dangers for us from other points of view, particularly now when we see our agricultural industry being totally dismantled. Does the Minister not recognise that there is a very real need for a major arrangement to be made within the Community to compensate this country for the very serious dangers that we will incur in this process? In other words, does he not think that the implementation of this Act is another compelling reason why we should seek to negotiate an entirely new régime for Ireland in the Community?

The European Act contains a chapter on cohesion in the Community. This is something countries like Greece and Ireland insisted on putting in so that the less developed areas outside the centre of the Community would be developed and that the Community would concentrate its efforts on getting the standard of living in those countries up to that of the countries in the centre of Europe.

I must not have made myself clear when I answered the previous supplementary. I said that in the area of taxation, the invoking of the Luxembourg Treaty still applies. We can still use the veto there. That is not one of the areas which is open to a majority vote.

Did the Government consider having this Act debated in this House before it was signed?

No. The procedure in all these cases has been that the Government signed, it was agreed between the Six, Nine, or Ten, and then it came to the House for ratification or rejection.

In view of its implications, did the Government not consider it proper to have it debated in this House before signing?

It will be debated in the House within the next two months.

But it is signed.

Yes, but not ratified.

It is only a rubber stamp job.

This is precisely what was done in 1972 and with any other change in the Treaty of Rome. The same thing happens in every other European country.


Our entry into the Community was done by way of a referendum and this is a change of almost equal significance. The Government have unilaterally signed this agreement and the only option open to us is to vote against its ratification. We cannot change it, we cannot do anything about it. The Government are going to railroad it through because of their majority, that is if they get the Progressive Democrats to vote with them.

Words like "railroad" and "rubber stamp" procedures are not fitting language for a democratic institution. A significant change has not been made since we joined the Community in 1972. This is a very small step forward. There are many other countries, including Ireland, who would like to see a much more significant step towards European Unity. Look at the additional powers we are giving the Parliament — practically nothing.

I take it that if the House refuses to ratify the agreement it will be renegotiated?

If this Parliament or any one of the other 11 Parliaments whose ratification is necessary, reject this agreement, then it cannot come into force.

I take it that it will be open to renegotiation at that point?

I presume that would be correct, but if you took anything out of it there would be nothing left.

We might suggest putting something in.

If Deputies want to make it stronger and move towards European Unity, I will support them.

Put the Common Agricultural Policy back into it.

This arises from the fact that there has been virtually no debate on this issue. Is the Minister taking any steps to inform the public of the implications of this Act as it has been agreed and signed? Could he indicate if there are any proposals to disseminate the Act, explain its implications or in any way develop a public debate on the issue?

I have not taken any steps except that I have written to the Deputies supporting the Government informing them of what the Act does and does not contain. As far as I can judge from the post I am getting and from the letters in the newspapers, the public are well informed about this Act but, I suggest, they are misinformed in some matters.