I thank all the Deputies who contributed to the Second Stage debate on the European Communities (Amendment) Bill, 1994. The debate has been useful and worthwhile. It is important that every Member of this House not only takes an interest in developments in the European Union but seeks to participate in evolving policy in this House and on behalf of the Government. The debate was worth while because it allowed the House to focus on one of the major themes that will dominate the European Union agenda for many years to come and it was useful because it allowed many of the issues to be debated. Many of them were not aired for the first time and indeed they have not been debated for the last time because we will have to debate many of the issues for the foreseeable future as Europe evolves and expands and as changes take place within the European Union.
I am encouraged by the constructive nature of the debate. The current round of enlargement to include Austria, Sweden, Finland and Norway posed few major challenges and opened up a range of opportunities. This was reflected in the debate over the past few days.
Future enlargements will pose major additional challenges. Deputies Owen and Deasy, in their wide-ranging speeches, referred to many of these challenges. Speakers, while acknowledging these challenges, demonstrated openness in facing them and a willingness to seek out the opportunities that will become available. This is to be welcomed. It is to be welcomed also that the imperative of enlargement for both political and economic reasons has been acknowledged.
I have no doubt that part of the reason for the constructive approach to the issue of enlargement of the European Union, which was evident in the debate, has been the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs report on enlargement of the European Union published at the end of last month. I commend the committee on the publication of that substantial report. It is clear that significant effort and thought was put into preparing it. It is clear also that that effort and thought was reflected in the contributions made during this debate. We can all agree in this House that the establishment of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs is proving to be successful and worth while.
Deputy Gilmore expressed some concerns about the Social Chapter. Lest there be any confusion, I assure the House that with the exception of Austria, which secured a temporary derogation on one issue due to an International Labour Organisation commitment, the accession countries have accepted in full all the social legislation of the European Union as well as the provisions of the Maastricht Treaty relating to social policy.
There is no doubt that enlargement of the European Union, to the east and to the south, will be one of the major issues the Union will have to address in the coming years.
The Government very much welcomes the prospect of the accession to the European Union of Austria, Sweden, Finland and Norway. These are countries which have long been friendly neighbours to us in Ireland and with which we have a similarity of interests on a range of issues. For example, like Ireland, all four countries have participated actively in United Nations peacekeeping operations for many years.
During the course of the enlargement negotiations it became clear that with the European Union we will have many common interests and aims. These will range from agriculture and regional policy to concerns to ensure that the evolving European Union meets the needs of its citizens well into the 21st century.
As has been pointed out in this debate we are at the start of a process that may take the European Union from 12 to more than 20 members in due course. These developments will have profound implications for the European Union and for each of its member states.
I would like to concentrate on the future of the European Union in light of developments in the years since the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Following the emergence of the new democracies in eastern Europe the European Union accepted a particular and historic reponsibility.
The European Union, in the process of strengthening its own internal coherence through the Treaty on European Union, was accurately seen as an anchor of stability by the newly emerging democracies in the east facing the challenge of profound economic and political transformation. The European Union's response to developments in the countries of central and eastern Europe was at once imaginative and encouraging, generous but realistic. Negotiations on association agreements were begun between the European Union and the central and eastern European countries. These agreements provide the basic framework of the European Union's relations with the countries of central and eastern Europe and their scope is indeed wide-ranging — covering trade, political dialogue, cultural relations and economic co-operation.
By the end of 1994, Europe Agreements will be in force with six countries: Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania. Before long, Slovenia and, in due course, the Baltic States, will also be associated with the European Union in a similar manner.
The peoples of central and eastern Europe are succeeding in establishing parliamentary democracies and are committed to a path of economic growth based on the market economy. It is not surprising, therefore, that in April, just after the completion of the enlargement negotiations with the four EFTA countries, Poland and Hungary formally presented applications for membership of the European Union. Others may shortly follow suit.
The countries of central and eastern Europe believe that a clear prospect of accession to the European Union will help them to push further and faster in developing their economies and to underpin their commitment to democratic institutions and reform. I might stress that human rights and the rule of law are fundamental pre-requisites for membership of the European Union. The countries of central and eastern Europe also believe that membership of the European Union will be the best basis on which to develop mutually beneficial relationships with Russia, Ukraine and the other states of the former Soviet Union.
The European Council meeting in Copenhagen in June 1993 decided that the associated countries of central and eastern Europe that so desire shall become members of the European Union. Accession will take place as soon as an associated country is able to assume the obligations of membership by satisfying the economic and political conditions required.
These conditions include stable and democratic institutions, respect for the rule of law, human rights, protection of minorities, the existence of a functioning market economy as well as the capacity to cope with competitive pressures and market forces within the Union. Future European Union membership is also linked to candidates' ability to take on the aims of political, economic and monetary union.
In the medium and longer term, membership of the European Union is seen by the countries of central and eastern Europe as the means of influencing developments, enabling them to safeguard their identity and exercising a reasonable influence over their external environment.
The position adopted at the European Council in Copenhagen was reaffirmed by the Corfu European Council last June. The Corfu European Council also decided that the 1996 intergovernmental conference should take place before accession negotiations for the countries of central and eastern Europe begin. The Council invited the Commission to bring forward a specific pre-accession strategy in the case of the countries of central and eastern Europe. This is currently being discussed and developed in the Council prior to presentation of the Heads of State and Government for approval at the European Council in Essen next December.
Key elements likely to be included in this pre-accession strategy for the countries of central and eastern Europe are the creation of a framework for deepening the relationship with the European Union; help and encouragement to align legal and regulatory structures with those of the European Union in order, inter alia, to pave the way for participation in the Single Market; active encouragement of closer regional co-operation between the countries themselves; and enhanced EU-CEE co-operation in key sectors such as transport, energy and the environment.
The accession next year of Finland and Austria together with, hopefully, Sweden and Norway — all prosperous and developed countries with relatively small populations — requires no fundamental changes to the working of the institutions, policies and budget of the European Union.
As recognised in our debate, further enlargements will be more complex. We will need to look at ways of preserving the character of the European Union when there are 20 or more members, many of whom as of now are much less prosperous than the current member states.
How can we have efficient institutions which also give due influence to the member states, including small member states? How can we ensure continued economic and social cohesion? I assure Deputies that work is already under way in addressing these and other complex and vital issues. Some of the complexities were raised in the report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs but, as it points out, there are opportunities as well as challenges. Opportunities will arise as the single market is increased from 350 million people to between 400 and 500 million European citizens. Ireland has been successful so far in increasing exports in manufactures and foodstuffs to the associated countries in Eastern Europe. We are also heavily involved in the service sector and through consultancies. We can and must continue to grasp these and other opportunities.
At this stage it is extremely difficult to accurately assess the financial impact membership of the CEEs would have on the Union and on Ireland. It will depend, for example, on the scale of transfers envisaged under the Structural Funds, the future direction of CAP, the size of the EU budget after 1999 as a percentage of the EU's GNP, as well as future growth in the economies of the acceding countries.
Deputy Dukes raised many issues which will be addressed in the White Paper it is hoped to publish early next year. Consultations are commencing on contributions from the public. That was generally welcomed by the House and I hope Deputies who take an interest in foreign policy will also take an interest in the preparation of the White Paper to make it as inclusive as possible.
Deputy Mitchell raised the obvious and worrying aspect of drugs and their availability within the EU. I assure him that this issue is high not only on the Interior Justice Minister's agenda but on the agenda of the European Council. Chancellor Köhl expressed his concern at the difficulties facing all member states in the battle against drugs and associated crime. Deputy Mitchell said that some member states were not carrying their responsibilities to the full but I can assure him that as far as we are concerned everything possible that needs to be done will be done to protect the peoples of Europe from the scourge of drugs and drug abuse.
We have, as a priority in the debate taking place in the EU, the concerns expressed by a number of Deputies regarding the position of small states. Deputy Flaherty raised the question of culture. I do not detect any attempt to seek to devalue the diversity of culture within Europe. It is quite the opposite. There is a strong movement within each of the member states to preserve the obvious diversity of our cultures. There is strength in diversity throughout the EU. To assist in bringing democracy, prosperity and peace to post-Communist societies in Europe is a profound political project of the first magnitude. It is in the clear long term political, economic and cultural interests of Europe and her peoples to do so. To face our responsibilities and prepare for enlargement will release creative energies that will help us to deal with and put in their proper perspective the range of other issues which the EU must deal with over the next decade.