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.