An Bille um an Ochtú Leasú Déag ar an mBunreacht, 1998: An Dara Céim. - Eighteenth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 1998: Second Stage.

Tairgim: Go léifear an Bille an Dara hUair."

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

It is an honour for me to move the Second Reading of the Eighteenth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 1998, which was published on 27 January. From the outset the Government's objective in this Bill was to ask the people to give the State sufficient powers to ratify the Treaty of Amsterdam and to implement its provisions as a member state of the European Union. To this end, the Government undertook a thorough legal examination of the treaty and of the powers which should be sought from the people to achieve its objective.

On the areas of the treaty related to free movement, Ireland secured, in negotiation, a number of opt-outs with the possibility of opting-in on certain conditions. The treaty also contains general provisions on "closer co-operation" or flexibility pursuant to which obligations may be entered into by a number of member states short of full membership under the First and Third Pillars. Flexibility does not apply in the Second Pillar, which concerns the common foreign and security policy.

The view was expressed that the addition of a single sentence to the Constitution stating simply that the State may ratify the Treaty of Amsterdam — the formulation used to ratify the Single European Act and the Treaty of Maastricht — would have been the best way to proceed. However, the legal advice given to the Government was that this formulation on its own could generate intolerable uncertainty over the State's ability to implement the flexibility provisions of the treaty and to exercise the opting-in rights secured in the negotiations. We concluded that a licence from the people to the State to ratify the treaty, and no more, would not suffice.

The Government will move a Committee Stage amendment to the proposed Article 29.4.6 in the Bill as published. The amendment reflects the fact that the specific articles and protocols of the new treaty which it identifies contain options and discretions. The modified wording does not prejudice, and is not intended to prejudice, any other provisions of the treaty which are, of course, covered by the proposed Article 29.4.5. In particular, the revised subsection 6 has no implications for the common foreign and security policy provisions of the Amsterdam Treaty.

Under the amendment Article 29.4.6 shall read:

The State may exercise the options or discretions provided by or under Articles 1.11, 2.5 and 2.15 of the Treaty referred to in subsection 5 of this section and the second and fourth Protocols set out in the said Treaty but any such exercise shall be subject to the prior approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas.

The proposed wording of Article 29.4.5 shall remain unchanged from that published in the Bill.

Article 1.11 covers police and judicial co-operation in criminal matters, while Article 2.5 allows for "closer co-operation" under normal Community business, known as the First Pillar and Article 2.15 inserts a new Title IIIa into the EC Treaty and covers visas, asylum, immigration and other policies related to the free movement of persons.

The second protocol sets out how the Schengen arrangements are to be integrated into the framework of the European Union. It provides,inter alia, that Ireland or the United Kingdom or both countries, who have not signed up to the Schengen agreements, may at any time request to take part in some or all of Schengen. The Council will decide on such a request. The fourth protocol establishes the position of the State in relation to Article 2.15. Ireland and the UK are exempt from the provisions of the new Title IIIa as long as they maintain the common travel area arrangements, although they may either together or individually opt in to specific measures. Ireland has stated in a declaration to the Final Act that it intends to exercise its right to take part in the adoption of measures under Title IIIa to the maximum extent compatible with maintenance of the common travel area.

The modified wording, which the Government will formally introduce as an amendment to the published Bill on Committee Stage, provides for prior parliamentary approval for the exercise of options or discretions. There is a general welcome for this amendment. I also welcome the endorsement of the modified wording by the three parties which formed the previous Government following a lengthy, detailed and helpful round of discussions.

The Treaty of Amsterdam will help to equip the European Union, internally and externally, to address the challenges of the new millennium. It provides the necessary basis to allow the process of further enlargement to go ahead. It will make it possible for the Union to address more effectively the concerns of citizens. The support of the Irish people for the Treaty will confirm Ireland's role as a full and active participant in the development of the Union.

The treaty represents the outcome of the intergovernmental conference, provided for in the Maastricht Treaty, which commenced in March 1996 and culminated in the agreement reached at the Amsterdam European Council in June last year. The Irish Presidency in 1996 was able to play a central role in the drafting of the treaty. I acknowledge the role played by Deputy Gay Mitchell in the intergovernmental conference.

The Treaty of Amsterdam is not a random step in the process of European integration. It represents a limited but important further step in the development of the Union. That process of development is based on the successive treaties agreed by the member states. In 1957, for example, the Treaty of Rome set up the European Economic Community. In 1985, the Single European Act gave fresh impetus to the completion of the internal market and the development of the policy of cohesion. In 1991, the Maastricht Treaty paved the way for economic and monetary union, the development of the common foreign and security policy and co-operation in the field of justice and home affairs. It should be clearly understood that the Treaty of Amsterdam is part of that gradual process. It consists entirely of a series of amendments to existing treaties on which the European Union and European Communities are based.

During negotiation of the Treaty of Amsterdam, the objective of bringing the European Union and its institutions closer to citizens was a primary concern of all member states. That objective was addressed not only by developing significant new treaty provisions in areas such as employment and the fight against crime, but also by publicising and explaining the work of the intergovernmental conference and attempting to stimulate debate on the issues under consideration.

In order to assist public understanding, the Government has published a detailed White Paper on the Treaty of Amsterdam which is comprehensive, factual and readable. It sets out the background to the various issues and the changes which will result from the new treaty. Copies of the White Paper and of the Treaty of Amsterdam are available in the Government Publications Sales Office. The Department of Foreign Affairs has also produced a summary in Irish and English of the White Paper which is available from the Department, free of charge, on request. I am confident that the White Paper and summary, as well as the establishment of an independent Referendum Commission, will facilitate a well informed public debate on the treaty.

I now wish to examine in more detail the content of the new treaty. The first of the five main headings for the work of the conference was "The Union and the Citizen". Existing treaties address the concerns of citizens in many practical ways. The new treaty is, however, the first which was negotiated with the priority aim of addressing as effectively as possible the most direct concerns of citizens.

The promotion of a high level of employment will now be an explicit objective of the Union. A new Title on employment will also be introduced into the EC Treaty which will provide a basis for more effective action at the level of the Union to address that objective. It adds new procedures to the treaty designed to produce a co-ordinated Community strategy on employment. It also provides for action by the Community in the form of incentive measures in the area of employment. A new employment committee will provide greater coherence between economic and employment policies. These new treaty provisions will ensure employment remains at the top of the Union's agenda and that the added value of co-ordinated action at the level of the Union is maximised.

On social policy, the social agreement of Maastricht, which did not apply to the United Kingdom, is to be incorporated into the body of the EC Treaty. This means that, in future, there will be a single coherent legal basis for action by the 15 member states in the social area. The Government welcomes the full incorporation of the social agreement into the treaty which had been a major goal for Ireland. Any potential since Maastricht to create two different social regimes within the Community, with possibly detrimental implications for Ireland as well as other member states, will be eliminated.

The social provisions of the EC Treaty will also be strengthened. In particular I wish to draw the attention of the House to the new treaty provisions on social exclusion. The inclusion of these provisions, which reflects a proposal by the Irish delegation, will allow the Union undertake actions of particular value, such as incentive measures and pilot projects in relation to social exclusion.

On the environment, the Treaty of Amsterdam emphasises that environmental protection must be taken into account in all Community policies and activities. The treaty, for the first time, explicitly incorporates the objective of promoting balanced and sustainable development.

In public health, the Treaty of Amsterdam will strengthen existing EC Treaty provisions in a number of ways while continuing to recognise that fundamental responsibility in health and medical care matters must remain at national level. The amendments will allow the Community to set safety standards in relation to human organs and blood and take measures specifically to protect human health against animal and plant diseases. The treaty also provides for the Community to complement the actions of member states in reducing drugs related health damage, including through information and prevention.

The internal market requires strengthened measures at European level to protect and inform consumers. The Treaty of Amsterdam strengthens the possibility of promoting their interests. It provides that consumer protection requirements shall be taken into account in defining and implementing other Community policies and activities. Importantly, the Treaty of Amsterdam also provides for greater openness in the functioning of the Union' s institutions as well as for a right of access to documents. The treaty also provides that any citizen may correspond with the Community institutions in any treaty language, including Irish.

I am convinced that, individually, these new provisions will provide a practical basis for bringing the Union closer to the citizens to whom it belongs and whose interests it is designed to serve. I am also convinced that, cumulatively, the new treaty's emphasis on the concerns of citizens signifies an important long-term shift in the priorities of the Union.

The relevance of the Treaty of Amsterdam to public concerns does not, of course, end here. The second main heading for the work of the conference was "Freedom, Security and Justice". Under this heading also, the treaty includes provisions which will be of significant interest to citizens. It will reaffirm the principles upon which the Union is founded, namely, liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the rule of law. It will make respect for these principles a condition which must be met by a state applying to join the Union. It will also provide for the possibility of sanctions in respect of a member state found to be in "serious and persistent" breach of those principles.

The treaty, moreover, incorporates a provision which would allow the Council adopt measures to combat discrimination on the grounds of sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation. The provisions of the treaty are designed to ensure that respect for the principle of equality between men and women will be strengthened.

The Union's power to combat crime, particularly crimes such as terrorism, trafficking in persons, offences against children and illicit trafficking in drugs and arms, will be significantly strengthened. Primary responsibility for action in pursuit of criminals will remain, of course, with national police forces.

Under the heading "Freedom, Security and Justice", the treaty contains a complex set of provisions on what were known as justice and home affairs under the Maastricht Treaty. The aim of these provisions is twofold: to strengthen the Union's capacity for action while at the same time strengthening its accountability for those actions by increasing the role of the European Court of Justice, the Commission and the European and national Parliaments.

This goal is to be achieved in the following ways: by moving certain aspects of justice and home affairs concerning freedom of movement from the largely intergovernmental Third Pillar to the more supranational First Pillar; by bringing the intergovernmental co-operation by the 13 continental member states in the Schengen agreements into the EU legal framework; by taking account of the situations of the two island member states, namely, Ireland and the United Kingdom and by increasing the role of the European Court of Justice in the Third Pillar.

The Treaty of Amsterdam inserts into the EC Treaty a new Title IIIa on free movement and related matters, such as visas, asylum and immigration. This is covered by Article 2.15 of the treaty.

The Schengen process has developed since 1985 outside the structures of the European Union. Schengen now involves 13 member states of the European Union as well as Norway and Iceland. It deals with a range of issues such as borders, immigration controls and policing which overlap with the provisions of the new Title IIIa. It also deals with other matters related to freedom of movement which remain within the Third Pillar and which are dealt with in Article 1.11 of the treaty and the second protocol.

For reasons related to the UK position on freedom of movement and the common travel area between the two countries, neither Ireland nor the United Kingdom participate in Schengen. Now that those arrangements are to be brought within the EU framework by way of the second Protocol, Ireland and the United Kingdom, if they wish, may continue to remain outside. Either or both will, however, also be able to opt into all or part of Schengen subject to certain conditions. Corresponding provisions apply, in so far as Ireland and the United Kingdom are concerned to the provisions of new Title IIIa as long as the common travel area arrangements are maintained.

A key aspect of the Treaty of Amsterdam is its introduction of democratic and judicial controls in the Third Pillar. One important element in this context is jurisdiction for the court to give preliminary rulings on action taken under the Third Pillar where member states make a declaration accepting such jurisdiction. The option of making such a declaration arises under Article 1.11 of the treaty. I wish to relate this to our particular circumstances.

The complex array of provisions in this area reflects differences of geography and practice. On the one hand, the United Kingdom and Ireland share a long-standing common travel area and have no land border with their continental partners. On the other hand, the 13 continental member states have been developing arrangements to ensure free movement between themselves. These 13 states share a single land mass with each other and with the prospective new member states of the EU in central and Eastern Europe.

Ireland generally wishes to participate fully in any significant area of co-operation at the level of the European Union. At the same time, we value the common travel area with the United Kingdom. A large majority of journeys out of Ireland is to or through the United Kingdom. Full free movement between Ireland and the 13 continental member states, if it undermined the common travel area, would in practice reduce free movement to and from Ireland.

In the circumstances, Ireland has negotiated in the Treaty of Amsterdam what is, in a sense, an ideal arrangement. Our right to preserve the common travel area with the United Kingdom is confirmed, but we and the United Kingdom may also request to participate in any actions at the level of the Union — either under the new Title or in the context of Schengen — where it suits us to do so.

The third major area of work of the intergovernmental conference related to the external policy of the Union. The European Union is a project for peace and security, founded on principles of democracy and human rights. The Common Foreign and Security Policy or CFSP provisions of the new treaty reflect the concern of citizens that the Union should make a greater contribution to international peace and security commensurate with its economic strength and its political responsibilities. The Maastricht Treaty of 1992 established the CFSP at a time of profound and rapid change in international life as the Cold War came to an end, but conflicts in former Yugoslavia, in parts of the former Soviet Union and in areas of Africa have been evidence of a new instability in international affairs. Accordingly, the EU members agreed that the CFSP should be made more effective, coherent and visible. Decision-making procedures have been improved with a view to enabling the EU to act more quickly and effectively on the international stage. A member state, however, currently cannot ultimately be outvoted where important national interests are involved. There will be improved planning and secretariat support for the Presidency of the day and the Council.

I am particularly pleased by the outcome of the negotiations in the security and defence area. In a positive response to the new crises and challenges of the post Cold War world, and in light of a joint proposal made by Sweden and Finland, which was supported by Ireland, the Petersberg Tasks of peacekeeping, humanitarian actions and crisis management have been included in the treaty. These tasks will be carried out by the Western European Union, at the initiative of the European Union. The EU member states which are not members of any military alliance, Ireland, Finland, Sweden and Austria, will be entitled to participate in these missions, on a case by case basis, if they so wish.

The inclusion of the Petersberg Tasks is in line with our long-standing and honourable record of contributing to UN peacekeeping operations, and responds to the new situation where the UN is increasingly mandating regional organisations to undertake peacekeeping and crisis management tasks. The treaty provides for the progressive framing of a common defence policy which will be structured around the development of the EUWEU relationship, already established in the Maastricht Treaty, and with particular focus on the Petersberg Tasks.

Ireland's policy of military neutrality remains unaffected by the provisions of the Treaty of Amsterdam. As was the case in the Maastricht Treaty, the Treaty of Amsterdam explicitly states that the Union's policy shall not prejudice "the specific character of the security and defence policy of certain Member States". This reference was inserted into the Maastricht Treaty to take account of Ireland's particular policy of military neutrality.

Like the Maastricht Treaty, the Treaty of Amsterdam evokes the concept of a future EU common defence only as a possibility and not as an agreed objective of the EU. Neither an EU common defence nor the integration of the Western European Union into the EU are objectives in the Treaty of Amsterdam. They remain mere possibilities and are subject to a number of locks.

First, they would require a consensus decision in the European Council, where Ireland has a veto. Second, even if the European Council were to take such a decision, this would be subject to adoption by each member state in accordance with its own national requirements. Third, in the case of Ireland, the Government has given a commitment that a referendum would be held if the issue should arise for decision in the future. I wish to reiterate that commitment. Fourth, an EU common defence would require substantial treaty revisions and thus a further intergovernmental conference, in which each member state has a veto. These substantial treaty revisions would have to be put to the people in a referendum.

Far from representing a threat to Ireland's policy of military neutrality, the European Union is responding to the various challenges of the post Cold War world and Ireland should play a full part in this endeavour.

The fourth main area of work of the intergovernmental conference concerned the institutions of the European Union. The negotiations on these aspects were important and sensitive. On the one hand, it has become necessary in a Union of 15, which is facing into significant further enlargement, to adapt the existing institutions which were designed for a Community of six member states. On the other hand, the existing institutional arrangements reflect principles and delicate balances which are the very foundation on which the Union is constructed.

As a result of the Treaty of Amsterdam the functioning of the institutions will be more effective in a number of respects. The use of qualified majority voting for normal Community business is to be extended. The number of legislative procedures is to be reduced. The complex co-decision procedure, which maximises the involvement of the European Parliament in the legislative process, is to be simplified and streamlined. The role within the European Commission of its President is to be enhanced. The decision-making mechanisms and instruments in relation to the Common Foreign and Security Policy and the fight against crime are to be improved.

The institutions will be also reshaped by the Treaty of Amsterdam to respond to concerns that they should be more open and democratic. The co-decision procedure with the European Parliament is to be significantly extended and Parliament's role within that process is to be enhanced. A Protocol to the treaty on the role of national parliaments provides for an improved flow of information concerning Commission documents and proposals to national parliaments. It foresees an enhanced role for COSAC, the Conference of European Affairs Committees of National Parliaments, both in making its own contribution to EU business and in examining certain legislative proposals and initiatives.

A number of institutional issues also had implications for the balance between the more populous and less populous member states. The outcome of the intergovernmental conference respects the interests of each member state and at the same time serves the interests of the Union as a whole. Essentially, until the next enlargement of the Union, there is to be no change in the size of the Commission or in the weighting of votes in the Council of Ministers. As from the entry of the first new member states to the Union, the larger member states will give up their second Commissioner. This is on condition that by then a solution acceptable to all, which compensates the larger member states, has been found for the issue of the weighting of votes in the Council. One year before the membership of the European Union is to exceed 20, another Intergovernmental Conference is to be convened to undertake a comprehensive review of the institutions of the Union.

The fifth area of the conference's work was the issue of so-called flexibility. Articles 1.11 and 2.5 of the Treaty of Amsterdam will add general provisions to the European Union and European Community treaties which will allow a group of member states, less than the full membership, to use the Union's institutions to develop "closer co-operation" between themselves under the First and Third Pillars. These general flexibility provisions will not apply to the Second Pillar.

I wish to recall briefly some of the significant things the treaty does not do. It does not affect Ireland's policy of military neutrality. It does not affect the existing provisions on economic and monetary union which were agreed at Maastricht. It does not alter the balance between the institutions. The Commission's role is fully preserved. It does not alter the balance between member states. Each member state will maintain the right to nominate a full member of the European Commission. In important and sensitive areas, such as employment and the fight against crime, the treaty provides for more effective action at the level of the Union but does not transfer to the Union the primary competence for such matters which remains at national level.

The principle of subsidiarity is fully preserved and the detailed rules for its implementation will now be elaborated in the Treaty. The ability to act at European level when necessary will thus continue to be combined with the right to act at national level when appropriate.

I wish to remind the House of the value to Ireland of our committed engagement in the process of European integration. A quarter of a century ago the people took the decision that our future belonged in Europe. Our current economic success and prospects are based largely on the benefits which flow to us from our membership of the EU. Those benefits have become particularly apparent over the past few years. There has been an unprecedented upswing in the Irish economy. The numbers at work have increased steadily. The level of our national prosperity is moving towards the European average. While our own efforts, especially in the sound management of the economy and the success of our national partnership agreements, have contributed to the improvement, the EU has provided both the context and the necessary support for that progress.

Unrestricted access for our exports to a single market of 360 million people has given us the opportunity to expand and to diversify our exports. Access to the Single Market has also been an important factor in encouraging foreign companies to invest in Ireland. Currently there are some 1,100 foreign companies operating out of Ireland, employing directly over 100,000 people.

It is difficult to overestimate the positive impact on farming and rural communities throughout Ireland of the opportunities and support provided by the Common Agricultural Policy.

The Structural and Cohesion Funds have been of exceptional importance to our more recent economic development. Between 1989 and 1999, it is estimated that contributions to Ireland from these funds will have averaged about 2.5 per cent of our GDP per annum. They have financed substantial investment in infrastructure, sustained activity in agriculture and in rural areas, contributed significantly to tourism and industrial development, and helped to finance the major investment in human resources which is essential to sustained economic growth. They constitute a permanent long-term investment in the economy which can sustain growth in the years ahead.

I should make particular mention of the EU Peace Programme as well as the Union's contribution to the International Fund for Ireland. The practical impact which that assistance has on reconciliation and regeneration in Northern Ireland and the southern Border counties is important.

The legal framework for EMU was set out in the Maastricht Treaty. Its provisions are not directly relevant to the debate on the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution. EMU remains, however, a very significant factor which should not be overlooked in any overall assessment of the benefits of our membership of the Union. The Council meeting at the level of Heads of State and Government in May will decide on the participants in the first phase of EMU. Ireland looks forward to being among that group.

The benefits of Union membership extend to many areas which are of vital importance in the daily life of our people — environmental protection, public health, the fight against drugs and organised crime, equality between men and women, education, and the rights of workers. In these and other areas, membership of the EU has transformed the quality of life in this country. Far from losing our identity in the Union, exposure to the languages and cultures of our continental neighbours has made us more confident of who we are and more aware of our own cultural values. At every level, Europe has been an enriching experience for Irish people.

One of the most important challenges facing the Union is its prospective further enlargement on a scale which is without precedent and which will require considerable resources. The Union must provide itself with a level of resources adequate both to face that challenge and to consolidate existing policies. We welcome the Commission's Agenda 2000 proposals which are designed to achieve both those ends.

Ireland is set to continue to benefit from the Common Agricultural Policy and from the Union's structural and cohesion policies. Our economic development must be consolidated on a sustainable basis. The Union's cohesion policy is a medium to long-term undertaking and we welcome the Commission's clear recognition of that fact.

The third millennium brings with it a daunting array of challenges: globalisation of the world economy and its impact on employment, competitiveness and job creation; new security challenges; terrorism, drug trafficking and international crime; migratory pressures and ecological imbalances. The Union must enlarge while preserving its nature and its strengths. The Treaty of Amsterdam better equips the Union to deal with these challenges. Its ratification by Ireland and the other member states is the next necessary step in preparing the Union for the future.

I pay tribute to the leaders of the parties then in Government for negotiating the Treaty and for the manner in which they met the proposed constitutional amendments.

Chancellor Kohl tells a story about an uncle, Walter Kohl, who died in World War I and a brother, Walter Kohl, who died in World War II. He has a son called Walter Kohl and he is determined he will not die in a third world war.

He might not survive the next federal election.

He will survive a lot longer than the Deputy and I will survive in our jobs.

If anybody asks what the Amsterdam Treaty is about, it is about Chancellor Kohl's son and about our children, about ensuring peace and stability into the third millennium and that we never revisit the way of "politics" and war in the first half of this century when 60 million Europeans killed each other in the service of the Kaiser, the king or whatever they considered in the national service. That is what the Amsterdam Treaty is about and that is why Fine Gael will canvass vigorously in the Treaty campaign for a yes vote.

We do not have the privilege of sitting down with a blank page and writing a constitution for a federal Europe. All Europe is not yet in the European Union — there are 15 member states and 11 waiting to join. In time it will be a Union of perhaps 30 member states. We must gradually bring in new member states and gradually write a constitution for a federal or quasi-federal Europe as we proceed. The Amsterdam Treaty is one of a series of important stages on that road.

Some people criticised the Amsterdam Treaty for not being sufficiently ambitious. I am disappointed it does not deal with some of the institutional questions, but at least we have set out how we will deal with them and, significantly from our point of view, we have tied the structure and size of the Commission in the future to the question of weighting of votes in the Council of Ministers. In Amsterdam some states wanted to deal with the weighting of votes issue and leave the Commission issue until later, but Ireland and other small states in particular were determined that would not happen, that we would deal with both issues in tandem.

If the Amsterdam Treaty seems to lack ambition — there is a considerable number of important provisions in the Treaty — it is because Chancellor Kohl in particular and others were determined to see economic and monetary union become a reality. To extend qualified majority voting across a wide range of areas was not on the agenda, to quote Chancellor Kohl, "for now". That is the clearest indication that Germany in particular is determined that economic and monetary union will succeed. It was not prepared to fight on two fronts and lose, it was determined to fight on one front, EMU, and win, and if that meant a less ambitious Amsterdam Treaty, that was a price worth paying. That is a reasonable approach in all the circumstances.

Many of the provisions in the Treaty have been overlooked. If we consider them in detail we will agree there are many more ambitions provisions in the Treaty than have been referred to heretofore, particularly recommitting of the union to basic human rights and freedoms; allocating new powers to the EU to combat discrimination, including discrimination against persons with a disability, for which we campaigned vigorously; reinforcing co-operation between customs, judicial and police authorities of member states in the fight against crime and drugs, which is vitally important. Crime is an international problem and the response must be in part international. We are at last equipping the European Union to assist member states in co-ordinating the response to this problem. Strengthening of the equality provisions of the Treaty, particularly for women, the disabled and minorities, is provided for, and protection of the environment is stated as a core objective of the European Union. Establishing consumer protection as a priority of the European Union is included, as is committing the Union to a high level of human health. Those are all very important.

There is also the important provision of ensuring that the fight against drugs is a specific objective of the EU, as is the strengthening of workers' rights by recognising the charter on fundamental workers' rights, the incorporation of the social charter, not as a protocol but as part of the treaty proper, and giving the EU new powers to tackle poverty. With regard to the latter, I hope the experience of local development in Ireland, which is a partnership between the EU and the State, is something other EU member states will copy. I also hope the Union and the State will have a renewed commitment to it after 1999.

The unique approach of partnership, not just between the EU and the State but between the social partners, State agencies and local communities in a participative democracy tackling the causes of long-term disadvantage means that in rural and urban areas we are at last trying to ensure that much of the benefits which have accrued since we joined the EU will reach those in the most needy parts of the community. I have a mixed constituency ranging from areas of great need in the inner city to areas of lesser need to relatively well off pockets. During the last general election campaign I met a constituent from one of these pockets who upbraided me because she did not see much of the benefits of the Celtic tiger and people at work were making similar complaints. I asked her to look down the road where she would see one or two cars in each driveway, telephone lines and central heating, carpets and colour televisions in the houses where most of the children were educated to second and third level. She dismissed that and pointed out that people in the golf club did not consider they were benefiting. It is true that some are not benefiting to the same extent as others. However, I told her that in her mother's time there were no colour televisions, carpets, telephone lines, cars in the driveways nor the same kind of educational provision and people did not attend golf clubs to complain.

Those of us doing well need to be told that it does not get much better. We should admit we are doing well and seek to share the provisions of our newfound wealth with those who are less well off. When we joined the EU our per capita income was approximately 56 per cent of the average of the then poorer community of nine countries. Today in a wealthier union of 15 member states ourper capita income on a GNP basis is 103 per cent of the average and 90 per cent of the average on a GDP basis.

And rising rapidly.

We still have some way to go to close the gap with the wealthier parts of the Union, but great progress has been made. I remember when the best road in the country stretched from Newlands Cross to Naas. When I became a Member of this House one of the issues on which I campaigned was the waiting list for telephones. Today we have a much better road network and our telephone and communications infrastructure enables us to have a financial services centre in Dublin. Much of this is down to our EU membership and the vision of those who, in the 1960s and 1970s, campaigned for us to join the Union.

We have held the presidency of the EU on five occasions since joining in 1973. Those who argue that membership has weakened our sovereignty or our role in the world are not telling the truth. It is time they were confronted. Who wanted the ear of Ireland before we joined the EU? Evidence of our role in the world can be taken from the number of embassies that have opened. They want our ear because we have an economic and political role in the world. In this, and in terms of our wellbeing, we have been well served by the EU.

If we want that to continue and if we want to ensure our prosperity we must have peace and stability, not only in Ireland and the EU but on the continent of Europe. If we do not want our children or Chancellor Kohl's children to go the way of 60 million Europeans in the first half of this century, most of them young men, we must ensure the continued integration of Europe and enlargement of the EU. We need enlargement not simply for selfless or altruistic reasons because we wish to help our neighbours who have suffered almost half a century of communist rule, but also for selfish reasons to ensure the prerequisites of prosperity — peace and stability on the continent of Europe. We must build this continent together. We speak of an agreed Ireland, North and South. We also need an agreed Europe, east, west, north and south. The Amsterdam Treaty is an important step in that process.

The employment provisions of the treaty have not received much publicity. The measures provided for include member states being committed to developing a co-ordinated strategy for employment, with specific regard to producing a skilled, trained and adaptable workforce. This work between member states will be backed up with support from community institutions. The EU Council of Ministers and the Commission will produce an annual report on employment in the EU. Member states who do not measure up to that report will be embarrassed, questioned and pressured to ensure that employment becomes a priority in their country and, therefore, across the Union. Guidelines based on this report will be issued which member states should take into account when drafting employment policies. The EU Council of Ministers will also be allowed to use incentive measures to encourage co-ordination in this area.

The action of member states in the field of employment will be improved through exchanges of information and best practice. Work done in different member states will be compared which, it is hoped, will promote innovative approaches to promoting employment. An advisory employment committee will be established, comprising two representatives from each member state and two representatives from the EU Commission. They will have the task of monitoring all aspects of employment policy and making recommendations as to how member states might improve employment.

This is a significant step forward. I was a member of the reflection group which set out in June 1995 to prepare an annotated agenda for the Intergovernmental Conference. We set ourselves the objective of being relevant to the citizen, transparent and of making the Union more effective and efficient. These employment provisions make the Union relevant — this is one of the most pressing issues as far as citizens are concerned — as does the fight against crime, environmental issues, improvements for the consumer and the health provisions. They relate directly to the improved running of the Union to the betterment of the citizen.

In terms of democracy we set out to ensure that the balance between the institutions of the Union and the member states was not upset. Within those parameters, the main institution to benefit from the Amsterdam Treaty will be the European Parliament. This is correct because we want a higher degree of transparency.

I regret that doubt was cast on the wording of the Eighteenth Amendment of the Constitution Bill. This matter could have been handled better but I will draw a veil over it. There is no point going over old ground. However, it is obvious the claims that Article 29.4.6 left options open on a future common defence policy are nonsense. The new wording of the subsection clearly relates to everything except defence.

I do not share the Minister's view that neutrality is not affected by the Amsterdam Treaty. I accept it is not compromised by it, but my reading of Article J.7 leads me to believe that, if the Amsterdam Treaty is passed, neutrality will be written into the Constitution for the first time in terms of our membership of the European Union. Ireland could join NATO tomorrow. I am not aware of any constitutional ban on such a move. The Houses of the Oireachtas could decide to join if they wished. However, if the Amsterdam Treaty, including the new Article J.7, is passed, and there is a European Union common defence policy in the future or a merger of the EU and the Western European Union, three steps would be required.

First, an intergovernmental conference must be held. This is provided for in Article J.7. Second, a decision must be made by the European Council. This decision must be unanimous on the part of all 15 member states because such decisions are based on unanimity. Third, under Article J. 7 if such a move was proposed it would require ratification in each member state in accordance with the constitutional position in each state. After the court ruling in Ireland on the Single European Act, this means a referendum irrespective of whether the Government gives an undertaking.

Some people said the Single European Act and the Maastricht Treaty were further erosions of Ireland's neutrality. They say the same about the Amsterdam Treaty but they should stop their Paisleyite approach to the debate on European integration. They should wear glasses for long enough to read the provisions and admit that far from compromising Ireland's neutrality, the treaty will ensure the three steps I mentioned must be taken. This includes a constitutional amendment in the future if the Amsterdam Treaty is passed.

We should make it clear to the public that Ireland may be invited in the future to join a common defence arrangement or agree to a merger of the EU and Western European Union. This may happen when the number of member states increases to 30. It is not on the agenda now and there is no pressure for such a move. It is not only resisted by neutral countries; many of the other member states, including some of the larger countries, do not want such a development. They view NATO as their defence umbrella and they do not want to know about a merger between the EU and Western European Union. Nobody is leading Ireland into such an arrangement.

However, if such a proposal is put forward in the future, our children and grandchildren should be allowed to decide the issue for themselves in terms of the integrated Europe in which they will live in the 21st century. We should not pretend they will never be asked to make such a decision. However, if the Amsterdam Treaty, including Article J.7, is passed, it will be their decision if such a proposal is made because a constitutional amendment must be introduced.

The way the Schengen agreement has developed is regrettable.

I agree.

I am glad it has been incorporated in the treaty. However, I regret that 13 member states will be part of the Schengen area but Britain and Ireland will be outside it. The simple reason Ireland is not a participant is that 70 per cent of journeys outside the State are to the United Kingdom and because it would not join, it was impossible for Ireland to be part of a common travel area with Britain and also in the Schengen area with the other 13 member states. This will be of concern to citizens and it will be difficult to explain that Norwegians and Icelanders will have greater rights and freedom of travel without passports within the European Union than British and Irish citizens.

I raised this matter with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions at a recent meeting of the Joint Committee on European Affairs. It has an enlightened approach to the matter and it told me that the British trade union congress also has such an approach. I hope the British congress of trade unions has some influence on the British Government. If there is to be freedom and security, our external borders should be secured but people should have the right to freedom of movement within the borders. A two tier Europe should not be created where British and Irish citizens have a different arrangement for travelling within the European Union from the other 13 member states. It will be a weaker arrangement than that for Norway and Iceland which are outside the EU.

I regret the Minister did not refer to the date for the referendum. It is time we knew when it is likely to be held. I welcome the other developments in the common foreign and security policy areas, such as the transfer of the Petersberg tasks, which include humanitarian aid, search and rescue, peace-keeping and peacemaking, from the Western European Union to the EU. I also welcome the creation of the planning and analysis unit which should act as an early warning system and a research facility for member states, the Council of Ministers, the Commission and others. I welcome the appointment of the Secretary General of the Council of Ministers as the high representative for foreign policy.

However, the European Union will remain ineffective as long as decisions are taken unanimously on the gamut of common foreign and security policy areas, for example, the position in the former Yugoslavia, Algeria or Kosovo, issues which have heated up in recent days. It will not have an effective influence in the Middle East or even Algeria. We must think in terms of having not only a decent planning and analysis unit, but also greater co-ordination of the approach to common foreign and security concerns. For example, Europe is the single biggest economic contributor to the Middle East, but it does not punch its weight politically. This is left to the United States.

I support the Amsterdam Treaty and the process of European integration. It is a welcome development and Ireland and western Europe should not stop reminding themselves of the benefits they have derived from membership of the European Union. We must set about sharing those benefits with our neighbours and planning the future evolution of an integrated Europe to ensure that it continues to play its role in an increasingly regionalised world.

I compliment the Minister for Foreign Affairs on the clarity of his speech. I join him in praising the excellence of the White Paper, particularly chapter 2 which summarises the structure of the treaties. Those responsible should be aware of the compliments of the House.

I also compliment my former Ministerial colleague, Deputy Gay Mitchell, on his work as Minister of State with responsibility for European Affairs. The present Minister has already referred to his work with task forces, and the benefits of his immersion in that work were amply demonstrated here today.

The absence of serried ranks of journalists is an indication of how the nation has been galvanised into hysteria about the forthcoming referendum on the Amsterdam Treaty. There is a problem shared by the three parties which negotiated this treaty and the two parties now in Government. The level of unanimity on the broad structure of the European project is seen as a cosy consensus, and there is thus no immediate story to be reported on. It also enables many people, castigated properly in their absence by Deputy Mitchell, to avail of a sense of fairness in our media and a statutory requirement for balance in our national broadcasting company. They have been given a platform to articulate contradictory assertions or plain nonsense. We had a very good exposition of this in relation to military neutrality.

The Minister should address the interaction between the forthcoming referendum and a referendum on the hoped for settlement in Northern Ireland. The House was told earlier there may be a referendum some time in May on the outcome of the Northern Ireland talks. It is obvious this referendum cannot be held before 1 May. If it is intended to hold the treaty referendum before 1 May, it would be unwise to do so prior to the final decision of the countries which will form the single currency group to participate in EMU. The debate on the Amsterdam Treaty between now and 1 May will be dominated by one issue, the single currency, which has nothing to do with the text before us.

Deputy Mitchell referred to the history of the European project, beginning with the story of Helmut Kohl and his son Walter. That story could be told by many people in continental Europe, but it could also be told in Ireland. It is a mistake to think we escaped the First World War and what is termed the "Emergency". We escaped conscription in the First World War, but many Irishmen from North and South fought in that war. Many Irishmen volunteered to fight in the Second World War — 99.99 per cent on the Allied side — and many of them died. The proof of this is on memorial tablets in Church of Ireland graveyards; two generations of part of our community met their deaths in continental battles. The suggestion that Ireland was somehow insulated from the military conflict of the Second World War does not accord with history. There were also incidents such as the bombing of Belfast and the North Strand.

The loss of life in the Second World War led to a series of stepping stones towards what the Treaty of Rome described as the ever closer union of European people. The ambiguity of that phrase was deliberately chosen to ensure that while the objective was constantly in front of people, the precise description was never put in place so that it could not become a source of dispute. However, we have been inexorably moving towards that ever closer union.

The Minister described the latest measure as another step in that movement. The Coal and Steel Treaty was negotiated in the early 1950s and the Treaty of Rome brought together six States in 1956. The first enlargement brought in three more States in 1973. Greece came in on its own in 1980 and two more States were admitted in 1985. Those States were admitted to consolidate their democracies. The collapse of Communism and the fall of the Berlin Wall was not the first occasion on which the EU was enlarged to embrace countries which had previously been denied democratic institutions. The Portuguese had been denied democracy from the early 1920s until 1974. The Greeks had been denied democracy on various occasions, most recently from 1967 to 1974. Spain had been denied democracy from the end of the Spanish Civil War until the death of Franco in the 1970s. Enlargement to the south of Europe was to consolidate fragile democracies in what had been previously western dictatorships.

The most recent enlargement brought in three neutral countries: Finland, Austria and Sweden. Norway almost entered. The addition of those neutrals has changed the balance of some aspects of foreign policy and the composition of the complex and diverse culture of the EU. The enlargement process has not been the only set of stepping stones. There were also measures like the Single European Act of 1987 and the Maastricht Treaty, which laid the groundwork for the single currency. This comes into effect on 1 January 1999 and the political decisions to give effect to that will be made within nine weeks of today.

The European project cannot be understood unless one looks at the entire series of steps taken to date and the steps that will have to be taken before reaching the end. Deputy Mitchell referred to that end as coming in 25 to 30 years, when there will be 25 and 30 member States in the EU. The Amsterdam Treaty plays a positive role in this regard. We have moved from a common market to a social community. Additional competencies are included in the Amsterdam Treaty such as employment, health and safety, discrimination, co-operation against crime and drug trafficking, equality, the environment, consumer protection and others are a clear extension of the dimensions of this project far beyond the commercial confines of a mere common market or its now vanished alternative, a European free trade area. It is the confusion between the common market and the community that is at the core of many misconceptions and misunderstandings that have bedevilled the debate on this matter in Britain.

Debate adjourned.