This morning's statement by the Minister for Foreign Affairs gave an overview of the Treaty of Amsterdam and its main provisions under five broad headings. The main objectives of the Treaty are: to place the citizen at the heart of the Union; to remove as far as possible the remaining obstacles to freedom of movement while strengthening personal security; to give Europe a stronger voice in world affairs and to make the Union's institutional and decision-making arrangements as effective as possible.
The Minister' s statement outlined how each of the three "pillars" on which the Union's work has been based since the Maastricht Treaty will be consolidated and strengthened in the Treaty of Amsterdam — the European Communities being the first pillar; the common foreign and security policy the second pillar and co-operation in the fields of justice and home affairs the third pillar.
The areas of the treaty which fall under the heading "the Union and the citizen" represent a significant effort by the Union to enhance its relevance to the daily lives and concerns of the citizens. Many Deputies referred to the need to make European affairs relevant to our citizens. I shall mention just two areas in which the Union has sought to achieve this. While confirming that the member states bear primary responsibility for employment, the Treaty of Amsterdam makes the promotion of a high level of employment one of the major objectives of the Union. Obviously, we cannot expect the Union to solve long-standing economic difficulties, such as unemployment, by means of treaty language alone. The treaty establishes a framework within which member states can take concerted measures to promote employment while benefiting from community incentive measures such as studies, sharing of experience and the establishment of best practice among the member states.
In the fields of environmental and consumer protection, there is now a treaty basis for taking such protection into account in all Community policies and activities. With respect to the environment, the treaty for the first time incorporates the objective of promoting balanced and sustainable development.
In his statement this morning, the Minister for Foreign Affairs set out comprehensively the way in which the Treaty of Amsterdam provides for the progressive establishment of the Union as an area of freedom, security and justice. On the issues of freedom of movement, asylum, immigration and the incorporation of the Schengen acquis into the treaty, Ireland's essential concern was the preservation of the common travel area with the UK. As the Minister stated, we are satisfied Ireland is not bound by any provision that would cut across the common travel area. We have, however, secured the right to take part in the adoption of measures in this area to the maximum extent compatible with the maintenance of the common travel area.
On reform of the common foreign and security policy, I will underline a few key points. First, the objectives of the CFSP, enshrined in the Amsterdam Treaty, are explicitly enshrined in the principles of the UN Charter and the Helsinki Final Act. It is right and proper that the European Union should be pro-active in its support of these principles which are the basis of the international community's search for peace, security, justice and the development of friendly relations and co-operation among nations. The provisions of the Amsterdam Treaty will enable the Union to play a more decisive role on the international stage.
Second, the new Treaty is a realistic response to the challenges which the EU now faces. The optimism which greeted the end of the Cold War has been tempered somewhat by the realisation that war and injustice do not respect diplomatic timetables and treaty negotiations. Even during the negotiations on the Maastricht Treaty, the tide of blood and destruction was rising in the former Yugoslavia and in the Great Lakes region of Africa. These crises questioned in a profound way the political will of the international community. Throughout Europe, our citizens wanted to know why their Governments, the European Union and the United Nations could not stop the bloodshed, rape and destruction which was taking place in former Yugoslavia and in Central Africa.
The new treaty is not only a practical response to the challenges posed following the end of the Cold War. It is also a response to the wishes of the citizens throughout the European Union who want the EU to act, and be seen to act, in defence of democracy and human rights, and against intolerance and injustice. I am sure every Member of the House will recall the sense of frustration and helplessness we all felt as the former Yugoslavia slid into war and Central Africa into genocide. The EU must have a central and courageous role to play in international affairs.
It is against the background of these experiences that EU governments agreed to the reforms set out in the Treaty of Amsterdam. A major practical achievement is the inclusion of the Petersberg Tasks within the scope of the CFSP. One of the inescapable lessons of the post Cold War years has been that emerging conflicts and crises have been complex and multi-dimensional, requiring multi-faceted responses in the areas of, for example, election monitoring, humanitarian assistance, civil policing, economic assistance, human rights monitoring, assistance to re-establish civil society as well as military tasks of peacekeeping and peace support. Some, or all, of these elements must be combined if the international community is to prevent specific crises from occurring or in managing those crises successfully when they occur.
The European Union has, at its disposal, diplomatic, humanitarian, economic and political instruments. The inclusion of the Petersberg Tasks should enable the European Union to play an enhanced, more coherent and effective role in international relations in support of international peace and security.
The reforms in the Treaty of Amsterdam are fully consistent, and do not conflict with the objectives and principles which have always inspired Irish foreign policy. We want the EU to maximise its contribution to international peace and security, respect for human rights, the pursuit of justice in international affairs, including the development needs of the third world; I have a ministerial interest in development co-operation. Ireland, through its participation in the development of a more effective and coherent CFSP, can pursue and promote the kind of foreign policy which has the broad support of this House and the significant, democratic support of the Irish people.
The functional reforms of the CFSP are positive and pose no threat to Irish interests. The introduction of some qualified majority voting in the CFSP area does not mean Ireland will be forced to support policies with which it does not agree. The treaty contains adequate safeguards to prevent a member state being outvoted on a sensitive foreign policy issue. A key provision allows any member state to oppose the adoption of a decision by qualified majority for important and stated reasons of national policy. This is referred to as "an emergency brake". In addition, there is provision for a procedure known as "constructive abstention" where, in relation to decisions requiring unanimity, a member state can opt to abstain while allowing other partners to proceed with a particular course of action. As regards the sensitive area of defence or military implications — an issue raised by many Deputies — decisions remain subject to unanimity.
Discussion of military neutrality in this House sometimes generates more heat than light. Ireland's policy of military neutrality remains unaffected by the provisions of the Amsterdam Treaty. As was the case in the Maastricht Treaty, the Amsterdam Treaty acknowledges "the specific character of the security and defence policy of certain member states". This reference takes account of Ireland's position as a neutral nonmember of military alliances. The new treaty does not provide for the integration of the Western European Union into the EU, nor is such integration stated anywhere in the treaty as an objective. Development of closer relations and practical co-operation between the EU and the Western European Union is provided for. This is natural and, indeed, necessary in view of the inclusion in the treaty of the Petersberg Tasks.
I am encouraged by the tone of today's statements. Far from posing a threat to Irish neutrality the Amsterdam Treaty will enhance the EU's ability to respond to the new and emerging challenges. It will also enable Ireland to continue to play a full and active role with our EU partners, building on our long tradition of commitment to and achievements in UN peacekeeping.
The treaty's protocol on the institutions with the prospect of enlargement of the European Union is highly satisfactory from Ireland's perspective. Maintaining the right of each member state to nominate a full member of the Commission was, and will continue to be, a priority for Ireland.
I acknowledge that the European Council in Amsterdam was unable to reach agreement on the institutional arrangements which would apply when the Union exceeds 20 member states. This question was left to a future intergovernmental conference, to take place at least one year before the Union will exceed 20 member states. That Intergovernmental Conference will conduct a "comprehensive review of the provisions of the treaties on the composition and functioning of the institutions". The outcome of the Amsterdam Treaty in this area enables the Union to embark now on the enlargement process on a basis which respects the concerns of all member states.
In the perspective of future enlargement, institutional review must continue to balance the need for more efficient and effective decision-making with the need to preserve the broad balance within and between the Union's institutions, while ensuring that those institutions are visibly democratic. In this connection, Ireland could have accepted a greater degree of extension of qualified majority voting in the Council than was finally agreed at Amsterdam. We did not, however, favour the inclusion of fiscal policy among the areas to which qualified majority voting would be applied and we were pleased that this position was accepted in the treaty.
The previous Government attached importance to keeping the public and the Oireachtas informed about the negotiations leading to the Treaty of Amsterdam. During the Irish Presidency, there were regular press briefings at European level on developments at the Intergovernmental Conference and every effort was made to ensure the transparency and openness of the process. The Oireachtas was kept informed via statements to the Dáil, replies to parliamentary questions and briefings to the European Affairs and Foreign Affairs committees. Copies of Intergovernmental Conference documents were lodged in the Oireachtas Library.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs commented this morning on the need for basic information on the content of the new treaty. Today's statements, following the presentations on the treaty made by the Taoiseach and the former Minister for Foreign Affairs to the House on 10 July, are part of our efforts to address that need. Copies of the Treaty of Amsterdam as signed on 2 October have been placed in the Oireachtas Library. A link to the text of the treaty is being added to the Department of Foreign Affairs web site on the Internet. Bound copies of the treaty will be published by the Office for Official Publications of the European Communities and will be available within a matter of weeks from the Government Publications Office on Molesworth Street. I understand that a special issue of the Official Journal of the European Communities containing the Amsterdam Treaty and the compilation of the texts of the consolidated treaties will be published in English and Irish in early November. A White Paper on the treaty is at an advanced stage of preparation in the Department of Foreign Affairs and is expected to be published in a matter of weeks. The White Paper will be an important means of informing the public of the provisions of the treaty and their implications.
The Treaty of Amsterdam is subject to national ratification procedures in all member states. To date Ireland, Denmark and Portugal are the only member states which have indicated that they will hold national referenda prior to ratification. Denmark announced last week that its referendum will be held on 28 May 1998. I am aware that Deputies have a keen interest in the timing of our own referendum. The position is that the Government has yet to take a decision on the exact date. Interested parties have already noted that the Taoiseach, last week in Dáil Éireann, expressed the hope that the referendum would take place in March.
The nub of the Supreme Court judgments in the McKenna and Hanafin cases is that, arising from the constitutional imperative of equality in the political process, the Government cannot run from public funds a campaign which advocates a specific outcome in an electoral contest. At the same time, the Supreme Court judgments acknowledge the right and even the duty of Government to ensure that the public is aware of any proposal to amend the Constitution, of its meaning and of the Government's intentions in relation to the proposed change.
The House may rest assured that, in so far as preparations for the referendum relating to the Treaty of Amsterdam are concerned, they will be made in the light of legal advice and taking into account the significant implications of the relevant Supreme Court judgments.
The question has been raised when the Treaty of Amsterdam will be brought before the House for approval. Approval of the terms of the treaty as required by Article 29.5.2 of the Constitution is expected to be one of the steps which will have to be completed before Ireland can ratify the treaty. What is clear is that the Oireachtas will have to legislate to hold a referendum. Assuming the referendum is carried, it will have to again legislate prior to ratification to amend the European Communities Acts. The timing of all the necessary steps will have to be considered and decided by the Government.
A number of Deputies raised the question of the importance of economic and monetary union and employment. The Government believes that EMU will come on time and that Ireland will be a member at the outset. The Taoiseach has identified the successful transition to EMU as a key challenge facing the Government. Decisive steps on the road to EMU were taken at the European Council in Amsterdam. Those steps include the agreement on detailed legislation to give effect to the stability and growth pact; adoption of a resolution on growth and employment — this resolution, with the new title on employment in the Treaty of Amsterdam, is evidence of the firm commitment to place employment at the top of the political agenda throughout the Union; adoption of a resolution which lays down the principles and fundamental elements of ERM II.
Deputies will be aware that Ireland is a strong supporter of action on unemployment at European level. It is essential that the special meeting of the European Council in Luxembourg next month seeks to produce concrete results to tackle very serious unemployment throughout the European Union. We are encouraged by the intensive ongoing preparations by the Presidency and the Commission.
References were also made today to the question of the future enlargement of the Union. One of the key objectives of the treaty review exercise which produced the treaty was to allow the Union to turn its attention to the major challenges which lie ahead. It is of huge importance to the Union and the member states, including Ireland, that these be successfully addressed, and that is Agenda 2000, the future enlargement of the Union and the financing priorities over the period 2000 to 2006. These issues are now being intensively addressed by the Union following the presentation by the Commission of its Agenda 2000 package in July.
Ireland is committed to the process of further enlargement which is in the interests of the European Union as a whole. In these enlargement negotiations we will, like every other member state, seek to protect and promote our interests and ensure that the consequences of enlargement apply in a balanced way to those existing member states.
Regarding the Union's financial framework post-1999 and the Structural and Cohesion Funds, which are of compelling interest to most people in the House and the general public, the House will be aware that what is involved at this stage are Commission proposals. It will be at a much later stage, after lengthy negotiations in the Council with key decisions to be taken at the level of the European Council, that the present proposals will be translated into the precise level of funding for each member state. As far as Structural and Cohesion Funds are concerned, the Government's aim will be to ensure the best possible outcome for Ireland and the maximisation of receipts in the next funding round.
Deputy Gormley rose.