I wish to share my time with Deputy Walsh.
Order of Business. - An Bille um an gCeathrú Leasú is Fiche ar an mBunreacht, 2001: An Dara Céim (Atógáil). Twenty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 2001: Second Stage (Resumed).
Is that agreed? Agreed.
It is worth our while to have a look at the Nice Treaty before we deal with some of its critics. The purpose of the Treaty of Nice is to complete the programme of institutional reform which was designed to prepare the European Union for significant expansion in its membership. In this regard it is worth reminding ourselves that the institutional arrangements on which the European Community is based are largely the same as those put in place in 1950 when the ECSE was first proposed. It is timely, therefore, to upgrade and examine the continued efficacy of those institutions. The Nice treaty continues the process which began in the Maastricht Treaty and the Amsterdam Treaty. The main element of the Nice treaty is a range of changes across the EU institutions.
The agenda for the Nice treaty was set in Helsinki in December 1999 when it was decided that the intergovernmental conference would deal with three specific and fundamental issues, namely, the size and composition of the Commission, voting within the Council and the possible extension of qualified majority voting in the Council. This has been a thorny issue in the side of the EU from the time the original six member states were moving from the first to the second stage of integration and when the Luxembourg Accord was necessary to paper over cracks which appeared at that time.
During the course of the negotiations which lead to the Nice treaty the future size and composition of the Commission became a primary focus for member states. It is worth our while recording exactly the role of the Commission. There is a complete and indeed mendacious representation on the part of those currently leading the charge against the treaty, for example, Deputy Gormley of the Green Party, on the role and function of the Commission of the EU. The Commission serves as guardian of the treaties, is the exponent of the Union interest, the executive arm of the Union, the administrator and controller of var ious Union funds and the initiator of Union policies. It is not the role of the Commission to represent the interests of member states. Specifically, the Commission is charged with the task of representing the Union interest. The changes in the Commission, therefore, are of no significance whatsoever in terms of representing the interests of individual member states, and to suggest as some of the critics on the national platform are doing that somehow the changes will have an impact on this nation is utter nonsense. It is worth reminding ourselves that when members are appointed to the Commission, commissioners give an undertaking or oath effectively saying they will not be guided or instructed by any member Government or any other institution and that their primary concern must be for the Union.
Notwithstanding this, the changes being effected in the Nice treaty are not as earth-shattering as they have been portrayed. It was eventually agreed in Nice that from 2005, the date of the appointment of the next Commission, the five large states will forego their current right to nominate a second member to the Commission. This has been put forward and advocated for some time by pro-European observers such as myself as a way of overcoming some of the difficulties in the growing size of the Commission. Each member state will nominate one commissioner to the Commission until the Union has 27 member states. Only then will the Council decide by unanimity on the size and scope of the next Commission. Therefore, it is not the end of the world in terms of an Irish nominee on the Commission. The changes mean each member state, including the newly admitted members, will nominate one member to the Commission until the Union has 27 members.
The doom sayers have also drawn attention to the fact that there are changes in the Nice Treaty relating to the presidency of the Commission. Changes in the role of the presidency have been ongoing since the time of the Single European Act. The role of the president has necessarily grown and developed over the past ten to 15 years because the Union has become a far more significant place, the Commission has become much bigger, the role the Union is playing in the lives of all citizens of member states is greater and there is a need for more coherence and co-ordination and a more focused approach.
The Nice Treaty will increase the powers of the presidency of the Commission, which was also a feature of the Maastricht Treaty and the Amsterdam Treaty. The president will have authority to decide on the internal organisation of the Commission, to allocate tasks among Commission members, to appoint vice-presidents with the approval of the Commission, and subject to the approval of the Commission require a member of the Commission to resign. These roles which are now being explicitly being given to the president of the Commission are not new – he has effectively fulfilled them to date. The idea that the president of the Commission can require a mem ber to resign with the approval of the Commission can hardly be portrayed as a novel or revolutionary move forward, particularly given the difficulties which existed in the Santer Commission. Such provision makes good common sense.
Another issue is the reweighting of votes which again has been portrayed as threatening or a disaster or potential disaster for Ireland. The reality is that the redistribution of the weighting of votes and the enhancement of qualified majority voting is not a threat in any sense to this State. Post-January 2005, Germany, France and Italy will have 29 votes, Spain will have 27 votes, the Netherlands will have 13 votes, Greece, Belgium and Portugal will have 12 votes, Sweden and Austria will have ten votes, Denmark, Finland and Ireland will have seven votes and Luxembourg will have four votes, a total of 237 votes. It is agreed in the treaty that from 2005 to adopt a decision of the Union of the 15 it will be necessary to secure 169 of the 237 votes, which is 71.31% of votes. The current qualified majority is 71.26%, so if we are to be pedantic, the reality is the voting powers of countries such as Ireland is marginally improved and is certainly not disimproved.
Ireland will ultimately have seven out of 345 votes in a Union of 27, the equivalent of 2.03% of the total voting strength of the Council. It is worth reminding ourselves that our proportion of the population of a Union of 27 is 0.8%, so we are hardly being hard done by. Qualified majority voting in a series of technical areas does not threaten the sovereignty of this or any other member state. It has been an issue in the EU since the very first stage of integration. At the end of the first stage of integration, from the Treaty of Rome, it was necessary to move to a situation where more qualified majority voting was used. There were difficulties with the French at the time, and it was patched over by the Luxembourg Accord, which has been misrepresented since as a ministerial veto in the Council. It was misrepresented here last night by the Green Party,quelle surprise. Following implementation of the Nice treaty, qualified majority voting will be expanded to a number of specific areas, none of which threatens sovereignty.
The other issue concerning critics is that of enhanced co-operation and the changes in the size of the European Parliament. Enhanced co-operation has been established within the Union for some time, and what we see in the Nice treaty is a more structured basis on which that can happen in future. The treaty also sets out specific areas to which it can and cannot relate. Other institutional changes include changes in membership of the European Parliament. We will lose three members in the Parliament. It currently has a membership of 626, and is maximised under the Amsterdam Treaty at 700 members. Our 15 members, who do not sit in a national group in any sense, depend for their influence on their personal capacities – some of them represent us very well and others do not – and on their membership of committees and groups. That will not really change as a result of reducing the figure from 15 to 12 in a 723 member Parliament. It may have an effect on some people here who have aspirations to be elected to the Parliament, but that is the only effect it will have.
I will address one or two of the arguments put forward, in particular by the National Platform. The National Platform decided that we would engage in a federation of theavant garde. It referred to something Joschka Fischer and Jacques Delors said. It is very selective in its quotations. It argues that even by joining the euro with Northern Ireland staying in the sterling area, we have added a new dimension to partition. It suggests that particular treaty will further partition this island. This is a truly bizarre argument. It seems we should halt the onward march of the European Union because the authorities that govern in that part of the island have adopted a head in the sand attitude to the euro. That is what the National Platform members suggest. Talk about a piece of post-colonial self-consciousness. It is utterly bizarre that serious-minded people would put forward that type of argument on an issue of some importance to this nation.
The second issue which they have put forward is that there is somehow or other a threat to fundamental rights, because the fundamental rights charter will be incorporated into European law. They make the allegation that somehow or other the Supreme Court will lose out to the European Court of Justice and to the Court of First Instance. This is a total misrepresentation of the role of those courts and more to the point, it is a total misrepresentation and a mendacious representation of the history of those courts. The European Court of Justice has added very considerably over the past 20 years to our understanding of the economic human rights of the individual. To suggest that there is a threat to fundamental human rights is bizarre.
Militarisation is another issue which is trotted out for argument. This argument has been going on since 1972 and the sky has not yet fallen. If I had more time I would speak at greater length about the decisions which I regret were made about the Western European Union. What we have here from the doom sayers and the nay sayers is a reiteration of all the old arguments, the Chicken Licken arguments which say that the sky will fall if we adopt this treaty. Nothing of the sort will happen. We will simply be reasserting that we are now a self-confident democracy.
The Treaty of Nice is the latest in a line of treaties which have had as their purpose the deepening and broadening of what started as the European Economic Community of six member states and is now the European Union of 15 member states.
Each of these treaties has been crucial to the development of the process of European unity. The Oireachtas, and the Irish people, have strongly voted for the legislative and constitutional changes necessary to allow these treaties to come into effect. In so doing, both the Oireachtas and the people have seen clearly where Ireland's best a interests lie. As a result of past treaties, Ireland is now a prosperous member of the most powerful trading bloc in the world with a Single Market of 375 million people and a single currency.
The Treaty of Nice is no less crucial than any of its predecessors. It is another stage in the European Union's development process. It will prepare the Union for its further enlargement to include ten applicant countries from Central and Eastern Europe as well as Cyprus, Malta and, later, Turkey. The accession of the twelve Central and East European and Mediterranean countries will add more than 100 million people to the Union's population and increase its land area by one-third. While this development will take place over a period of years in a phased way, the absorption of such a huge addition to the Union's population and land area, with all the diversity – economic, social and cultural – that is involved, will be a major challenge.
The Treaty of Nice prepares for that challenge. It is designed specifically to ensure that the enlarged Union will continue to function in the interests of all its citizens, both existing and prospective. The Minister for Foreign Affairs has explained the changes in the Union's institutions and decision-making procedures enshrined in the treaty and I do not propose to go into them again. I emphasise their importance for Ireland's interests. Ireland has benefited enormously from membership, right from the beginning in 1973. The benefits have been widespread throughout the economy. The social and cultural benefits have also been considerable. However, I will concentrate on the benefits to the agriculture and food industries and to rural areas.
In the 28 years from 1973 to 2000, Ireland has received almost £22 billion in price supports, including direct payments, from the guarantee section of the European Agricultural Fund. In addition, our farmers have benefited from receiving higher prices for their exports to the highly supported Union market. All of these benefits have enhanced farmers' incomes and transformed their living standards in line with those of the rest of society. The consequences are obvious throughout rural Ireland. They take various forms such as new houses, refurbished houses, increased car ownership, increased general purchasing power, and the full participation by farmers in the life of local communities.
In addition to these benefits in the form of price supports, agriculture, the food industry and rural areas have all benefited from receipts from the guidance or structural section of the European Agricultural Fund. These benefits have amounted to £2 billion over the 28 years since our accession. These structural moneys have lever aged matching funds from the Exchequer and, together with the contribution of the beneficiaries, amount to a massive investment in agricultural, food industry and rural structures. Our farms have been modernised and have been made more productive and there has been major investment in anti-pollution and hygiene measures. There has therefore been benefit not only to the farmers in the form of higher productivity, but to the general public in the form of a better environment and higher levels of food safety.
Our food industry has made a major leap into value-added and consumer-ready production with assistance from these structural moneys. These moneys, together with matching Exchequer funds and contributions from the industry itself, have enabled major capital investment in plant to be made and have assisted research and development, training, marketing and promotion. There is no doubt that the level of investment, particularly in research and development, training and marketing and promotion, would not have been as high without the assistance available from the European Union.
The development of the food industry which this investment has permitted has underpinned farmers' incomes by providing remunerative outlets for their products, has contributed massively to our balance of trade because of the high domestically-produced content of food exports, and has generated considerable additional employment throughout rural Ireland because of the food industry's extensive regional spread.
Rural areas have benefited directly from Structural Funds also. There are hundreds of small development projects throughout the country which have started because of Structural Funds assistance. Perhaps more important than the benefits which flowed from the projects is the confidence that initiatives like Leader have given to rural people. There are many rural areas which were depressed for generations, where the people had become despondent, even hopeless, about the future. Leader gave these people not just funding but some measure of control over their own futures. The change of attitude, from near despair to confidence, has been one of the hallmarks of a rapidly developing rural Ireland over the past decade or so.
It is clear that the benefits of EU membership for the Irish agriculture and food industries and for rural development, have been enormous. These benefits have happened because the EU institutions function well. They allow the voice of a small country to be heard and its interests taken into account. They also allow for decisions on the running of the Union and on the formulation of Union policy to be taken at reasonable speed. It is in Ireland's interests that this process continues in an enlarged Union. The institutional changes and changes in decision-making procedures in the Treaty of Nice are designed to protect this process and that is why I believe the Oireachtas should approve the legislation now, and later, the people should strongly endorse the changes by referendum.
I will refer briefly to the future of the Common Agricultural Policy in an enlarged Union. Many people may be concerned that the CAP will be altered fundamentally by enlargement. The accession negotiations which are being conducted with the applicant countries are about how those countries will apply the CAP as it stands. The end result will be that the vast bulk of existing agricultural policies will apply to the new member states from the respective dates of their accession, with transitional periods allowed for difficulties where some time is needed. The one exception where there cannot be any deviation from the strict application of EU standards from the beginning, is the crucial area of food safety. In other words, the new member states will apply the CAP, the CAP will not be adjusted to the new member states.
I do not suggest that there will not be further adjustments to the CAP. It has already been the subject of a series of reforms to bring it into line with changing internal and external circumstances. It is unrealistic to expect a policy instrument of such magnitude to stand still. What is important is that any adjustments are sensible and properly balanced, and that the overall vision and philosophy of the policy is one to which we can subscribe. We have been able to defend successfully our position and views in the past, and I have no reason to believe that we will not be able to do so in the future.
In considering the direct effects of enlargement on the agriculture and food industries, the enlargement of the single market is of major significance. The enlarged EU will have more than 100 million additional consumers. This is a clear opportunity for a country like Ireland which has to export so much of its food production. I look forward to enlargement and see it as an opportunity rather than a threat. It will bring many opportunities not only for the agricultural and food industries but for the country as a whole. However, these opportunities, and the existing benefits which we enjoy from membership, can be assured only if we adapt the European Union's institutions to the new situation. This is what the Treaty of Nice is about and why I urge the House to approve the draft legislation now before it.
As the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development has said, and while some might disagree, there are now fewer people living in rural Ireland, fewer in farming and many dissatisfied with legislation from Europe. They feel that if this legislation from Europe continues there will be even fewer in farming.
I commend the Minister and his Department on the handling of the foot and mouth disease crisis. Action was slow in the first week but the Minister got his act together and has done a good job. Deputy Walsh has probably been the most unlucky Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development ever to hold that office. However, people do not realise he is probably the longest serving Minister for Agriculture – I think he has been in that Department for 17 years. The officials in that Department know his form by now. The Minister was unlucky with BSE, which occurred when the sheep and cattle markets were depressed, but he has done a fine job during the foot and mouth disease crisis. He has received support from all sides of the House on what is a national issue.
The Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development should tell the Government that this referendum should be called off due to the foot and mouth disease threat. It could be held with the general election later in the year or next year. The Taoiseach has always said the election will be next June and that is a proper time frame for discussion on the treaty. The Nice Treaty is being pushed through this House and pushed at the people. There is not enough discussion on it.
There was a time when it was possible to express a different view without being categorised. That is gone now. Everyone must sing from the same hymn sheet or be considered wrong. This is a democracy, a free country, and people should be able to express a view whether for or against. The media and the political parties should not categorise people who should be able to openly express their views. That is what I intend this morning. I will ask questions and say what I believe although this may not reflect my party's policy. I was elected by the people and will represent them.
EU Commissioners currently are not elected and some have failed to be elected. In some cases, Governments picked Commissioners to remove unwanted politicians from domestic politics. Yet, these people form legislation in Europe for the people of both Ireland and Europe. This worries me and I agree with the Green Party position in this debate, although I do not often agree with that party. It seems likely that we will have a European Prime Minister and a European Government at some point in the future. The Government may not agree with me.
There are 166 TDs yet this House is nothing more than a talking shop. The urban councils and Leader boards have more power than this House because all legislation is coming from Europe. If I asked a question of the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development in this House he would probably give me two answers. The first would be no answer at all and the second would be to say that he is governed by EU legislation on the matter under discussion. He would say that we have to implement policy as EU legislation demands.
For what are Members elected to this House? Those who died for Ireland in 1916, 1921 and 1922, including my grandfather, would turn in their graves if they saw how we are handing over our powers to Europe. All legislation is determined in Europe, some good and some bad. Some is not suitable for Ireland, yet we are tied into it. I am worried about possible future legis lation and worried that people will not know what they are voting for in the Nice Treaty referendum. The Minister may say to the House following the referendum that this is what the people voted for, but they may not have known what they voted for. This referendum should be postponed until the general election, which the Taoiseach insists will be held next year.
The people should know what they are voting for and why this referendum is necessary. They should be fully informed on all future legislation whether it concerns abortion, a European army, or other matters. The Government is pushing this matter through the Dáil due to Ms Patricia McKenna's High Court action. She did not do the people any favours with that High Court action on referendum information. Previously, it was easy to distinguish those for and against a referendum topic. Ms McKenna's case has damaged democracy. Money should be provided for both sides to make their case to help voters decide. The way this referendum has been pushed on the people is worrying, especially as correct information is not being supplied.
We first had the Common Market and then the EEC, before the EU came into being. Members of this House will tell voters what they want to hear while not telling voters what has been agreed in this treaty. For example, during the referendum campaign on entry to the Common Market, the big selling point for voters was that an Irish person could go to any part of Europe and buy what they wanted. There would be no borders or barriers, just the Common Market. Any person could go to any member country and buy a foreign car – perhaps a Passat, a BMW or even a Mercedes – and then bring that car back to Ireland without paying extra tax or duty. That did not happen. The Common Market had been the big selling point of that referendum yet it never happened. People must pay to Customs and Excise the difference between what the car costs in the other country and here. They must pay two taxes – the ordinary tax and an extended tax. VAT must also be paid and that is outrageous. We are either in the Common Market or not.
We are discussing enlargement. We want to enlarge the EU to 28 countries. That enlargement should not go ahead until the existing EU members begin to take part in the Common Market. How can anyone in Europe justify bringing in a new currency in January, 2001, while customers travelling to Britain will have to change their money to sterling? That is not a Common Market. That is not what we signed up to. People were told that all member states would obey the same laws. How can the EU be enlarged when current members cannot agree to implement the regulations as they are? This is wrong and should not be tolerated. Britain must decide whether it is a member of the European Union and should not be allowed to opt out of the common currency or other measures which it does not like. Much European legislation has been presented to the Oireachtas which the people, including myself, did not like, but like good Europeans we accepted it and have played our part in Europe. Britain must decide whether it is part of the European Union.
Ireland should play its part in the army of the European Union. We cannot allow other countries to fight our wars and protect our country. We cannot have people from Britain, Belgium and France protecting our shores while we preserve our neutrality. If we are part of the European Union, we must take the good with the bad. We cannot accept agricultural and other subsidies while not paying a price for them. We must play our part.
What has become of the free market we were promised many years ago? Why can an Irish person not take a car from any country in Europe into Ireland without paying extra VAT and other taxes? Are European markets open or not? When will an Irish citizen be liable to pay the same taxes as a citizen of any other European country?
I am sure the Minister of State, Deputy Molloy, has come across the problems of holders of UK pensions in his constituency. This issue has concerned me for many years. Many left Ireland in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s and sent money home to their families from Britain and other countries. This money helped to build the economy. When we did not have the support of the European Union we depended on emigrants' remittances. Emigrants put money into Irish banks and bread on many Irish tables. Irish citizens who are entitled to British pensions receive prompt and excellent service from the UK pensions service in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Successive Irish Governments, on the other hand, placed every possible obstacle in the way of those who sought their entitlements. It is only in the recent past that this attitude has changed. Those whose pensions are made up partly of Irish and partly of British payments lost out when the Irish pound was stronger than sterling. At that time the Irish Government did nothing to help them. However, when sterling became stronger than the Irish pound the beavers from the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs reduced their Irish pensions to allow for the strength of sterling. Was that a nice thank you for those had to leave this country and kept it going by sending money home? The Government should examine the matter. Many are upset by it and are waiting for a Government politician to call to their doors, whether to canvass for the Nice referendum or a general election.
I ask the Government to give the people all the information they need to make up their minds on this constitutional amendment. The people should be told the contents of the Nice Treaty and what they are voting for, rather than have the spin doctors of Fianna Fáil, the Progressive Democrats and other political parties tell them the treaty is the greatest thing that ever happened. The people should be told the truth. They should be told what future legislation will be affected by the treaty. This is not happening. People are being criticised because they hold different views. They have a right to hold different views, question legislation and ask what will happen in the future. No one should be criticised for asking questions.
The Taoiseach and EU Heads of Government met recently, but we do not know what they agreed. Because of the McKenna judgment we are not being given all the information. The contents of the treaty and its future effects on the country and legislation should be spelt out clearly. If abortion legislation or a future EU army is to follow from the Treaty of Nice we should be aware of this before we vote. The people have always voted wisely. They have never been afraid to make a decision. We know the benefits and disadvantages of Europe. However, people are afraid of a hidden agenda. If the Government and the Opposition parties which have supported the Nice Treaty tell the people exactly what is involved, they will receive a positive response. While some European legislation is good, some is bad or unsuitable for Ireland. I hope the people will vote wisely in the referendum.
The referendum should not be held on 31 May. Foot and mouth disease is a serious issue and we should not take chances with regard to it. The referendum should be held on the same day as the general election. The Taoiseach said that the general election will not take place until next year. I will be ready to fight it whenever it is held. However, the referendum should be held in conjunction with it. I have received many letters from people who are concerned that they have not received sufficient information about the Nice Treaty. Central government appears to be telling us that everything is fine and that we should do what it tells us. I believe in Europe, but I respect those who hold the opposite view. People become afraid when they are not given complete information. The Government should give people the full facts and spend whatever money is necessary to do so. The people are wise and can be trusted to make the correct decision. The referendum should be postponed for at least 12 months in order that we can have an open and honest debate on the subject. People should know what they are voting for in order that if unpopular legislation is introduced in two or three years time, they cannot be told that they voted for it in the Nice referendum. We must know what we are voting for.
I thank Deputy Ring for complimenting the Government, in particular the Minister for Agricuture, Food and Rural Development and his officials. I thank the Opposition for its co-operation and urge people to continue to take every precaution.
The ratification of the Nice Treaty is an extremely important exercise for Ireland and the overall development of the European Union. The details of the treaty were agreed by EU leaders on 12 December 2000 in the French resort of Nice and the treaty was signed by EU Foreign Ministers on 26 February 2001. EU Governments have now signed this treaty and it is incumbent on all of us to ensure it is ratified.
I wish to make some preliminary remarks about the importance of ratifying this treaty and analysing Ireland's present relationship within the overall context of the European Union. The Berlin Wall collapsed in 1990 and communism as the means of governance in eastern and central Europe came to an end in that year. New democratic governments have been set up in eastern and central Europe and since that date they have been seeking to join as full members of the European Union. Accession to the European Union is a difficult exercise. Accession negotiations are broken up into more than 30 different rounds of discussions covering all key economic and social sectors of activity.
Before any enlargement of the European Union can take place, a number of key changes must be put in place before any new member state can become a full member of the EU. The enlargement negotiations must be concluded and there are still a number of difficult chapters of discussions which have yet to be concluded between the European Union and prospective new members. Difficult chapters of discussions include the agricultural round of talks, consumer health, environmental issues and the implementation of social legislation in eastern and central Europe, just to name a few. However, from the perspective of the existing member states, the decision making procedures within key EU institutions must change before any enlargement of the European Union can take place. The European Economic Community was founded in 1957 with six original members. Decision making procedures within the European Commission and within the European Council which represents the 15 Governments of the EU were decided on at that stage.
In 1973, Ireland, Britain and Denmark became full members of the European Economic Community bringing the membership of the EEC to nine. Greece became a full member in 1981, Spain and Portugal became full members in 1986 and Sweden, Austria and Finland became full members of the now European Union in 1995, bringing the existing and total EU membership to 15 member states. Decision making procedures which had been originally agreed in 1957 and altered in part via the Single European Act in 1987 were still the order of the day with regard to the implementation of new directives and regulations within the EU. This situation cannot continue in a European Community that will have up to 27 member states over the next ten to 12 years. It is incumbent on the Governments of the European Union and the decision makers within key EU institutions to reform their internal procedures so that decisions can be taken in the European Union in a more streamlined and structured man ner. The deal secured at Nice by the Taoiseach is a very balanced one. It will ensure the enlargement of the European Union can take place once the provisions of the Nice Treaty are ratified across the territories of the 15 member states of the European Union. Equally, the interests of smaller member states have been fully protected within an evolving and changing European Union in which we now live.
From 2005, when the next European Commission comes into office, the five largest states will forego their right to nominate a second member of the European Commission. Each member state from that date will nominate one member to the European Commission until the European Union reaches 27 members, at which point the Council will decide unanimously on a size for the Commission of less than the number of member states. Membership of the European Commission will then be based on strict equal rotation among the member states. The powers of the President of the European Commission, including the power to request the resignation of a commissioner have been augmented. It is important that Ireland retains its right to nominate a member of the European Commission because the European Commission is still the body within the EU which initiates all EU legislation. The European Commission is also the institution which controls the administration of the Common Agricultural Policy, the Common Fisheries Policy, the Common Transport Policy and EU competition affairs.
I do not want to see a European Union that is simply dominated by larger member states alone. The prospective reform of the European Commission will ensure smaller member states still play a key and central role in the decision making process within this institution. This is an excellent achievement which has been secured by the Taoiseach and one which I hope will be supported by the Irish people when this matter is put to a referendum. Also in 2005, as anticipated in the Amsterdam Treaty which was ratified by the Irish people, there will be a re-weighting of votes within the European Council. This is to compensate those states who are giving up their second commissioner which includes Germany, France, Spain, Italy and Britain. It is also agreed that decisions taken by qualified majority must have the support of at least half of the EU member states. On request, decisions will also require the support of at least 62% of the European Union's total population. Ireland will continue to have the same voting weight as Finland and Denmark.
All decisions within the European Union cannot be taken by unanimity. If this was the case, one member state that may be unhappy or dissatisfied with certain legislation can hold up the enactment of such legislation across all the territories of the European Union. We live in a European Union of more than 370 million citizens. Post-future enlargements of the EU, this population is set to increase to more than 550 million. Decision making procedures must be fair and balanced. Reform of the decision making procedures within the European Commission and within the European Council are balanced and will also protect the interests of smaller member states. The European Union has made excellent progress, particularly in the past 15 years. The enactment of the Single European Act in 1986 and the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 and the Amsterdam Treaty in 1998 have all reformed decision making procedures within the European Union which is making the EU more efficient. The ratification of the Nice Treaty will, in turn, make the European Union even more efficient in the manner in which it takes decisions.
Thirty new areas of economic and social policies will also move from the unanimity requirement which I referred to earlier as a decision making process to the system of qualified majority voting. This will help improve decision making procedures within the European Council and new changes in this regard include important areas such as international agreements and services and trade related aspects of intellectual property, the nomination of President of the European Commission, the implementation of Structural funds after 2007, and certain EMU articles.
At this juncture I wish to mention one small matter. Taxation issues into the future will be decided by individual member states. This is an important concession particularly to the Irish Government and to other member states because matters of taxation whether of a local or national level should be decided by individual member states alone. If Ireland lost the right to decide on its own internal taxation matters, in the medium to longer term, that would result in higher taxation for taxpayers. This will not now be the case as a result of the enactment of the new provisions in the Nice Treaty.
The provisions of the Nice Treaty greatly enhances the social rights of the citizens of the European Union. New changes envisaged under the treaty in this important area of social affairs include an extension of powers to EU Governments and to the European Parliament to do away with anti-discrimination measures in the workplace; new proposals will be brought forward to promote the modernisation of social protection and social insurance schemes within the European Union; greater power will be given to the European Union to combat social exclusion and to protect workers when their employment contracts are terminated; conditions of employment for third country nationals legally residing within the European Union will be updated; a new social protection committee will be set up in the European Union to promote co-operation between member states; and a new EU charter on fundamental rights will also be put in place. This is the first time the European Union has brought together in a single comprehensive document the civil, political, economic and social rights and freedoms to which the citizens of the Union are entitled.
The Irish people should not be afraid of enlargement of the European Union. The opposite should be the case. Ireland is an exporting country and enlargement of the Union will provide more markets for our goods and services and will help build a more peaceful European continent. It will also help to consolidate the building of new democracies and civil societies in eastern and central Europe. There will also be greater co-operation among the 15 member states of the European Union to combat organised crime through a new body to be called the European judicial co-operation unit.
Ireland has benefited enormously from membership of the European Union since it joined in 1973. At that time our averageper capita income was 55% of the EEC norm. This figure has now risen to a point where Ireland is one of the EU's wealthiest member states. The widespread implementation of EU Structural Funds programmes, particularly since 1987, has ensured the building of new infrastructures and the modernisation of our educational training systems. These developments have guaranteed our competitiveness within the Internal Market and the euro zone.
As an exporting country with a GNP of almost £70 billion, we need to ensure market penetration in existing and new markets where no import duties exist. Equally we are implementing proposals at national and European levels to guarantee that priority assistance is given to the less well off in our communities and to areas which have not built the necessary infrastructures to attract new investment.
The Common Agricultural Policy has been of tremendous importance to the development of our economy. Inper capita terms, agriculture is more important to Ireland than to any other EU member state. This has become particularly self-evident from the stringent and important measures which the Government has implemented in recent weeks to restrict and defeat the spread of foot and mouth disease. I compliment all involved in the implementation of these measures. Important new agricultural initiatives to be implemented over the next seven years include the early farm retirement scheme, the dairy hygiene programme, the rural environment protection scheme, the young farmer installation aid programme and re-afforestation measures.
Ireland has contributed to the development of the European Union. We have a positive foreign policy which seeks to assist the United Nations in carrying out humanitarian and peacekeeping operations around the world. We also have a strong Third World development programme which is structured to help the poorest countries combat absolute poverty. In addition, we are continually promoting these important political causes within the overall framework of the European Union.
As the European Union integrates more closely, it is also important that we protect cultural and linguistic diversities within the context of an ever-changing Union. That is why I welcome the fact that this year is the European Year for Languages which seeks to recognise all languages, whether minority, official or otherwise. Commitments to public broadcasting which protect lesser used languages are also an important element of this process.
The Nice Treaty is a good deal for Ireland and the European Union. Ireland's future rests as an active member of the European Union and we must ensure this is the case for many years to come. We must also ensure the provisions of the Nice Treaty are ratified by our people so we all benefit from these new provisions and the proposals to be brought forward once the Nice Treaty is ratified by the 15 member states of the European Union.
I admit to being a European federalist but the movement towards that goal in the Nice Treaty is not what I would have wished for. However, I am a realist and recognise that the structures and mindsets built up over centuries will take many years to disappear and that federalists in particular have to be patient.
The Treaty of Nice represents another step on the road towards a larger EU which could incorporate more than 30 countries in 15 or 20 years. Some commentators have described the issues discussed at Nice as "leftovers". However, they were not just leftovers from earlier reforms but unresolved questions of power and parity in European policy. One astute observer noted that, for the first time in many years, the principles governing how countries and their citizens are represented were up for renegotiation and that an understanding was reached only as a result of the pressure arising from the imminent accession of the new member states.
It is not surprising that it was difficult to reach agreement. All politics worth its salt is about power and few matters are of more fundamental concern to nation states, governments, politicians and bureaucrats than the institutions through which power is wielded – the number of players, who will participate in the power stakes, the way in which votes will be calculated and where the power pressure points will be located. The stuff of politics, power and these issues were matters of concern and debate at Nice and elsewhere.
The agenda for the Nice summit was to bring to a conclusion the process of preparing the Union for the accession of a significant number of new member states. The summit was an undoubted success in that, subject to ratification by each member state, the Union will be in a position to admit those new states which are ready from the end of 2002.
I am an idealist as regards Europe. The EU has made an enormous contribution to world peace. The two world wars in the first half of the last century were deplorable and awful but Europe learned lessons from them. The sovereignty of areas such as Alsace and Lorraine were disputed for centuries. Almost every acre of such areas was stained in blood over the centuries. However, Alsace and Lorraine are now at peace and their futures are decided. The rest of the world can learn lessons from Europe.
Europe has also made a contribution to peace in Northern Ireland. The precedents set by Europe can be used by politicians who wish to bring about a peaceful solution. The models provided by Europe as it proceeded towards its current state are of great use to people working towards peace in Northern Ireland. Europe also provided practical help which gave an impetus to the solving of problems in Northern Ireland.
That Britain and Ireland could meet as equals in EU Councils and on the margins of the Union to discuss the problems of Northern Ireland was particularly valuable. On occasions the EU provided an excuse for political leaders taking steps they wished to take but found difficulty doing so because of opposition from some quarters.
Some of the countries which, following Nice, will now be able to join the EU have had anything but nice histories – countries like Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Many of them suffered under communism and some of them suffered under Hitler and Nazism as well. Some of these countries are ones in which democratic institutions are a relatively new fragile plant and whose democratic future will be ensured and guaranteed inside the EU. The people and the Governments of and public opinion in those countries have welcomed Nice and I understand why they have done so.
I was in Berlin in the Soviet sector and in Poland shortly after the wall came down. I have some memories which will never leave me, of the poverty of the people at that time. An abiding memory is of concrete apartments, concrete roads and of grey concrete everywhere – a symbol of the sort of regime they were just leaving. I remember seeing three men building a house. I counted five types of brick in one wall of that house. It was obvious that they saw the use of this brick, which they clearly had some difficulty obtaining, as a symbol of the new order. I remember thinking how welcome a load of good Tyrone rustic brick would have been to those people. The wall with five different types and five different colours of brick was a symbol of the new order as far as they were concerned.
There are those who do not want enlargement, who are opposed to this treaty, who tell us it is not in our interests, nationally or personally, to support the Nice Treaty and who tell us the addition of new members will mean less for us, particularly in the agricultural sphere, and that at a time when we are about to become net contributors, why should we cut a rod with which to beat ourselves. We have heard those arguments and have seen them in print. Does it occur to these "ourselves alone" cynics that had these selfish motives motivated the movers and shakers of Europe when we were applicants, we would not have been admitted to the EEC in the first instance in 1973? However, most of those who oppose the Nice Treaty are precisely the same people, or their ideological successors, who opposed our entry in the first place and have opposed every step we have taken to make the EU what it is today.
I listened to Deputy Ring and I do not put him in that category. He told us that he, along with others, had believed that the free movement of people, goods and services would mean that one could buy a car at the same price throughout the EU and that one could go to Germany, Belgium or wherever, buy a Mercedes or any vehicle and bring it back without any difficulty. Deputy Ring obviously thought in terms of common market, common Merc. I understand what he said and I hope we will evolve to that. It is not the fault of the EU but of our Government and of successive Governments that this is the situation. He regretted that Britain is not part of the euro. I regret that too and I hope that will not be the case for long and that when Tony Blair and his very pro-EU Chancellor, Gordon Brown, get the majority they expect and deserve that situation will change reasonably quickly and the pace to join the euro will quicken. I believe that will be the case.
There are other reasons Deputy Ring had reservations about Europe and some people I suppose would describe him as a euro sceptic, but I would not. On the basis of what he said today, it is clear he is not a euro sceptic because he came out very strongly in saying that if we are members of the EU, of such an institution, it was demanded of us that we be prepared to defend that institution. Surely, there is no stronger mark of commitment to Europe than a determination to defend those institutions. That was what Deputy Ring said and there is no greater reason to describe him as European. The mark of a real European is the willingness and commitment to defend Europe against anyone who would attack it.
There is still room for idealism in politics, nationally and internationally, but man shall not live by idealism alone and bread must also be considered. Europe has been good to us in bread terms. An enlarged Europe is an enlarged market and we are already doing very well in some of the applicant countries, particularly in Poland. The Nice Treaty will help to make the world a safer place for our children and grandchildren as it has helped make it a safer world for us.
On my travels I am pleased to meet young supremely confident Irish people. I have had the pleasure of meeting them in places like Paris, Rome and Berlin. They are doing worthwhile jobs and many of them are excelling in those jobs. The experience of Europe has proved them to be second to none. I was acutely aware of the inferiority complex so many Irish people had in relation to the British, in particular, and, I sup pose, of the inferior complex which so many people from Northern Ireland had, particularly those from a unionist background, in relation to the British. When one meets these young people in other parts of Europe, they no longer have an inferiority complex and they are confident of their place in the world and of their ability to do the job. This is something new which is to be welcomed. Membership of the EU has contributed very substantially to that. One does not have to go outside the country to realise the difference in attitudes from those 20 years ago. Being part of Europe has played a very considerable part in that.
There are people who are opposed to the role of the United States in the world and take every opportunity to castigate it and all it stands for and yet some of these people tell us that we should not support a stronger more integrated and united Europe capable of playing a greater world role. I am, and have always been, pro America. The United States has its own interests which will not always coincide with European interests, as has been the case in the past. There has been an example of American short-term self-interest being promoted over the interests of the rest of humanity in recent days in regard to the Kyoto Protocol. It is almost inevitable that American interests will move more towards the Pacific and Asia. US foreign policy will become more dominated by considerations relating to China, in particular. A strong European voice will be a factor for stability in the world in those circumstances.
I have some reservations about the upcoming referenda. I share the reservations of those who doubt the wisdom of holding three other constitutional votes on the same day. Only one is likely to excite an interest and a constitutional change to ban capital punishment in circumstances where there is little chance of it ever being used again does not appear necessary to many people. I also support Members who wonder what the rush is about and why it is necessary at such short notice to push a referendum that could be held at any time up to the end of 2002 following proper debate and rational discussion. I support Deputy Ring's comments in that context. People have a right to know.
However, principally, I am concerned about the possibility of a low turnout and I wonder whether a referendum is necessary. Garret FitzGerald wrote an article inThe Irish Times last Saturday, under the headline, “Complexity of Nice Treaty likely to turn off voters”. He stated: “Popular rather than parliamentary ratification of treaties is an unusual process in international affairs and, as became clear at the time of the referendum on the Amsterdam Treaty, it poses considerable problems when the content of such a treaty is complex and does not centre on a single issue that can be clearly put to the electorate”. He illustrated his argument by demonstrating that there is a parallel between the increasing complexity of the issues that people have been asked to vote on and a decreasing turnout. He speculated that a turnout of 56% for the referendum on the Amsterdam Treaty was only possible because it was combined with a referendum on the Good Friday Agreement.
The likelihood is that future treaties will be even more complex and unclear to everyone except those who drafted and negotiated them. If Dr. FitzGerald is correct we could arrive at a point where a low poll could be the result and that would not have credibility with anyone. The Minister stated: "The decision to have a referendum is based on the clear legal advice that ratification of the treaty by the State requires constitutional change". He added: "Overall it is clearly desirable that any risk of legal uncertainty on matters of such importance to the State as the treaties establishing the Community and the Union should be avoided". Presumably the clear legal advice to which he referred is that of the Attorney General. Perhaps, when replying, the Minister will elaborate on the advice.
If we are to be bound by precedent on this matter and as a result future referenda on more complex issues are to be decided by fewer votes, at some stage we might be forced to re-examine this issue. Ireland has a written Constitution but it is the only country which must hold a referendum on the Nice Treaty. While I agree "it is clearly desirable that any risk of legal uncertainty on matters of such importance . . . should be avoided", I wonder whether other legal advice might have been different or whether the Bill could have been referred to the Supreme Court to remove any uncertainty.
I have reservations on these matters of procedure and timing, but they pale into relative insignificance in the face of the unconditional support I give to a larger, stronger, more integrated Europe. I hope for a large poll and a resounding majority.
I wish to share my time with Deputy Michael Kitt.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
The purpose of the Nice Treaty is to make changes to prepare the European Union for enlargement. Enlargement in this context means an increase in membership of the Union from 15 to 27 member states. The Commission's strategy paper on enlargement, published last November, envisaged substantial progress with the advanced applicant states by mid-2002.
Ireland has benefited and continues to benefit greatly from Community membership and it is in its interest that the Community can operate and take decisions even with the larger membership. Ireland is well placed to take advantage of the benefits offered by the enlarged Union. The Single Market will expand to more than 500 million people and the opportunities for our exporters are obvious. Companies such as AIB and CRH have already demonstrated that the applicant countries also provide excellent opportunities for Irish investment in growing markets.
The decisions take at Nice fully protect Ireland's essential interests. First, we achieved our priority objective on taxation. All decisions in this area will continue to be by unanimity. Second, there was a balanced outcome to the formation of the Commission beginning with the next one in 2005. The five larger states will give up their right to nominate a second commissioner and there will then be one commissioner per state. When the Commission membership reaches 27, which could be more than a decade away, a rotation system will be used. However, an Irish commissioner will serve on the same basis as a French or German commissioner.
Third, as part of the deal for giving up their second commissioner, the larger states will have an increased voting weight. However, Ireland's voting weight is only marginally affected and remains the same as Finland and Denmark. In any event, most Union decisions are taken by consensus and in practice issues rarely divide on a big-small state basis. Another important safeguard and valuable protection for smaller states agreed at Nice was that decisions must have the support of the majority of member states.
Critics of the treaty will no doubt point out that there is a related requirement that decisions also necessitate the support of 62% of the Union's population and this could be perceived as beneficial to larger states and Germany, in particular. This change is more apparent than real. It is lower than the level which applied in practice between 1958 and 1995. The outcome in regard to the European Parliament is also satisfactory. With 12 seats Ireland will continue to have a better ratio of seats to population than every other state with the exception of Luxembourg.
An objective assessment of the relatively limited changes proposed by the Nice Treaty must be that Ireland has nothing to fear and much to gain from equipping the Union to face the challenges ahead. Ireland has demonstrated over the past three decades that it is fully capable of adapting to and taking advantage of the benefits and opportunities which full participation in the Union has offered. Change holds no fear for Ireland. We have benefited enormously from being to the forefront of the EU economically, politically and socially.
The people have consistently rejected those who have argued for an inward, introverted vision based on a lack of confidence on the capacity of Ireland to advance its interests successfully in the EU. However, the increase in size of the Union will have an impact on Ireland. If the money given to Ireland under the CAP is excluded, this year, for the first time, it will be a net contributor to the Union. That will continue and our contribution will increase when the applicant states become members.
There are significant opportunities for Ireland in the emerging states. I am concerned that in terms of business, as a nation, we are not aggressive in seeking out opportunities in these emerging economies. While I have mentioned AIB and CRH, there are many other examples of opportunities for Irish companies in the emerging economies of Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Cyprus. Cyprus will probably be one of the first applicant countries to join the Union.
It is important that we open Irish embassies in these countries. The Government should lead the way for the Irish business community in taking up the opportunities that exist. There are good opportunities in the areas for which I have responsibility, such as forestry and fishing. Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia have large forestry developments and some Irish people are already investing in them. Coillte is involved in consultancy work in those countries. There are exciting opportunities for Irish investment in the forestry sector.
That is equally true of fishing. The Common Fisheries Policy is currently being reviewed but there are opportunities for Ireland to get involved in Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia in terms of investing, joint ventures and exploiting the market opportunities in those countries. Ireland has not yet seen the significance of those opportunities. Some Irish companies have investigated the potential of those markets but only a small number. One can see the interest those countries have in Ireland by the number of delegations that come here and the amount of help they seek from us, both in Brussels and in Departments. Those countries want to be involved in Ireland but we, unfortunately, have not wanted to take advantage of the opportunities they present. I hope this debate will highlight that.
The European Union has been good for Ireland in the areas for which I have responsibility. The forestry premium scheme, launched in 1990, was an important incentive for forestry development. The support provided by the EU in the 1994-99 period was significant and the national development plan for 2000-06 is critical for the success of the strategic plan for forestry. Under the plan there will be a total investment of approximately £540 million, of which the EU will contribute approximately 50%, to support extensive new planting to deliver on the Government's objective of sustainable development of forestry in line with sectoral and environmental targets.
Substantial increases in incentives for new planting, averaging approximately 30%, were introduced last year under the plan. There will be much greater compatibility between forestry and other farm supports, notably REPS, and it is anticipated that 128,000 hectares will be planted during the period of the plan. In the same period more than £90 million will be provided to support strategic measures on harvesting, access roads and downstream developments.
The common fisheries policy is under review. The economics of the EU fishing sector are increasingly worrying in a scenario of high costs, labour market difficulties and a shrinking resource base. Politically, the challenges are to secure the involvement of the stakeholders in the decision making process and to create a level playing field in compliance and enforcement. To prepare the Irish position, the national strategy review group of the CFP was set up in December 1998 under the chairmanship of Padraig White. The group presented me with a series of reports, culminating in a comprehensive set of proposals and recommendations which were published last November. That was in advance of the Commission's Green Paper in order to influence the Commission's thinking.
The report has been circulated widely throughout the EU and the Green Paper on the CFP, published two weeks ago by the EU, was strongly influenced by the policy positions we put forward. In that respect, Ireland will have a major influence in the review of the CFP, which we hope will be to our benefit.
I congratulate the Government and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, on signing the Nice Treaty. It is a major step towards the historic enlargement of the Union which opens the way for the admission of up to 12 candidate countries. Negotiations are currently concluding with these countries.
We must ensure the European Union functions effectively when enlargement takes place. This is a major concern about enlargement. There should be a strong message that the Union will adhere to the agreed timetable and ensure enlargement proceeds on schedule. This is not the first enlargement of the European Union. Ireland joined the original six states of the then EEC with Denmark and the United Kingdom in 1973. Greece joined in 1981 and Portugal and Spain joined in 1986. The last enlargement in 1995 brought the membership to 15 when Austria, Finland and Sweden joined.
The move towards the forthcoming enlargement was triggered by the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Before that, there was no political process in many of the present candidate countries. I was a member of the Council of Europe in the late 1980s and early 1990s and some of the countries in question could not join that body because they had no democratic process or respect for civil liberties or minorities. A procedure was put in place to give those countries what was known as "guest status". It gave them an opportunity to establish a democratic process, a foot in the door, as it were, so elections could be held in those countries and a civil and human rights regime put in place. It has often been suggested that guest status should be available for countries joining the European Union. I do not know if it is feasible but I am sometimes disappointed that no effort is made to see if countries are fulfilling their commitments in that regard. That has been mentioned in relation to many of the countries already in the Union.
Representatives from the candidate countries have visited the Oireachtas and attended meetings of the committees on foreign affairs and European affairs. It was clear from them that they are anxious to be part of a dynamic and exciting European Union. The Nice Treaty must be ratified by the 15 member states and I am confident that, as on four previous occasions in the past 30 years, the Irish people will again say yes to the European Union and enlargement in the referendum. A major effort will be required by all political parties that support the treaty because there is a degree of complacency about Europe.
When many people hear the words "environment" or "area of conservation" they immediately blame the European Union. Many EU directives have caused difficulties, particularly for hill farmers in the west of Ireland. Obviously, issues such as over grazing on mountains, turf cutting and special areas of conservation have caused problems. The relevant Department, under various Ministers, has tried to handle these issues sensitively. I pay tribute to the Ministers and Ministers of State in those Departments over the past number of years. It was an area that had to be handled sensitively. The interests of Ireland and the European Union are intertwined and affect many aspects of our national life. Enlargement will lay the basis for a new era of stability and prosperity across the European continent, as well as bringing new opportunities for Irish exporters when the extension of the single market is taken into account. The Irish economy will grow, as will employment. Irish business people are already exploring new markets in the candidate countries. The Minster for the Marine and Natural Resources referred to AIB and CRH, which are already major players in Poland, and I know of Irish business people who have already invested in other countries such as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Irish people have seen the benefits of the European Union and when opportunities have presented themselves we have taken the path of closer integration. For example, we decided to participate in economic and monetary union and to sign the social charter, despite the difficulties caused by our then considerable dependence on the British market.
There is great interest in the west of Ireland in regional development. The new status of the Border, midland and western region is very welcome. It is important to get new investment for the BMW region and we should obviously see a bias towards and priority for that region when it comes to investment. There have already been major job announcements in Cavan, Donegal and Longford, areas which did not get enough investment in the past.
We have taken advantage of the opportunities offered by membership and we have received assistance from the EU Structural Funds, which contributed to turning the economy around. One of the biggest water schemes to have received investment is the Tuam regional water supply, which not only supplies north Galway but is earmarked for extension into the city of Galway. That scheme was originally costed at more than £20 million and the costs have increased since but it is a worthwhile regional scheme for the whole county. Motorways, dual carriageways and bypass routes have all been funded and these developments are shortening routes both east to west and north to south. The major development sanctioned for the Galway to Ballinasloe route is part of the £1 billion development of the Galway to Dublin route.
The social charter leads me to praise social partnership. Employer organisations, trade union representatives, farmers and the community and voluntary sectors have all been very important in achieving progress in this regard. Farmers have supported the various referenda on these issues. Given the foot and mouth disease threat, it is vital to continue EU support, having regard to the benefits of schemes involving farm modernisation, farm retirement and the installation aid scheme.
I agree with many of my colleagues, including the Minister, that we should have widespread public discussion of European issues before debating further changes. The Irish experience is very relevant to what we are discussing. A booklet produced by the European Movement states that in 1973 when Ireland joined the EEC our GDP, at current market prices, per head of population equalled 58.8%, while by the same measure the 2001 figure is 111.7%. The EU average at both times was 100% and the figures for the majority of applicants are currently less than half the EU average, so our experience has the attention of those candidate countries. I hope we vote for enlargement and give these countries the opportunity we got back in 1973.
It is important that the debate on this legislation, which enables a referendum to take place and the debate during the referendum campaign itself are tolerant. It is also important that this is the last time we have a discussion of a European treaty with such poor preparation. As contributions are made and people arrive at different conclusions, it is important they listen carefully to the reservations expressed and the circumstances in which those reservations arose. The construction of what a "yes" or "no" vote might be are both equally important and on balance, despite many criticisms I may make, a "no" vote would be disastrous, particularly in relation to the future of Europe and the position of the applicant countries.
The manner in which the Intergovernmental Conference was conducted meant there was very little public participation or attempt to make contact with the citizens. The arrangements were almost regarded as technical and intergovernmental, part of a diplomatic process, which is only true in part. I say this in an attempt to be positive. Also, in preparation for the ministerial meetings, it would be far better to have a dialogue preceding the meetings which gives an opportunity to articulate issues. Otherwise one is sinking into different versions of spinning the outcome. Some British newspapers suggested, for example, that the Taoiseach was pleased with the British Prime Minister's success with taxation. Others printed a story that the Taoiseach had a great success in relation to taxation with the assistance of Tony Blair.
I am not interested in that kind of thing; I am interested in matters such as the conclusion in Annex 4, which specifies the need for an Intergovernmental Conference in 2004 to re-examine some of the matters on which it is hoped to make progress, particularly in relation to the institutions of the European Union, on which there was great failure. In terms of the French expectations expressed for it, Nice fell disastrously short of what was hoped. That being the case, our preparations, in terms of public debate, were disastrously exclusive.
It is important now to commit ourselves to a different kind of debate. I am trying to be positive but perhaps my last negative comment is to say that I have listened carefully to all the speeches, including that of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, and there is something paradoxical and ironic about some of the Government speakers' contributions. On one hand they talk about their bigger vision for Europe, for which I am inclined to applaud them, and then they talk about the new population of Europe, with the applicant countries admitted, as being a market of 500 million. No speech has yet referred to these people as 500 million citizens with whom we might interact in different ways. There has not been a single reference to the number of languages involved or the different cultures and ethnic origins, the problems and promise of cultural diversity, issues of recognising ethnic differentiation and different forms of memory as well as different contributions to many different roots of civilisation. Having made a Boucicault gesture with a grandiose statement, we are collapsing back into stating how many people will be available to buy Irish meat, fish or milk products.
It is time we steadied ourselves in relation to language. It is very clear that the process of the shaping of Europe will be entirely different with 27 member states than it was with 15 or, going back further, with six. I hope it is. If that is the case, our approach to Europe must be one in which we appreciate the complexity and depth of the peoples of Europe and the challenges and prospects beyond a narrowly economic vein.
The only people more tedious than the confused language about Europe are those who belong to what may be described as the guilt brigade who wander around the country telling us to be ever more grateful. I accept that the transformation of Ireland's social and economic infrastructure could not have happened as it did with out European assistance. That is a challenge for us not to delay the opportunities available to other countries, especially applicant countries.
It is time to move the debate on to address dimensions that may have been neglected. I have given one instance in relation to culture. There are others which, in a curious way, feed into the missing dimension of citizenship, including aspects of governance. We should be positive in addressing them in terms of the peoples of Europe. If we stick to this, we will get a better result.
The Government's approach suffers from the disability of a particularly backward set of statements by Ministers before and during the Nice process. Only two weeks ago the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, when replying to a question about a EU directive, told the House it knew what she thought about EU directives. In an interview in Hot Press the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, Deputy O'Dea, praised his colleague, the Minister for Finance, for telling “that Spanish guy where to go”. The Minister for Finance recently told Olivia O'Leary that he was especially pleased with his performance as one of the few centre right Ministers for Finance in Europe. If these and other Ministers believe we would be happier Americans than Europeans, they had better make up their minds because their views are of crucial significance in relation to the applicant countries in which they express an interest, mostly as a market rather than as a set of new colleagues in Europe. That is their tedious low grade version of those applying for membership.
The countries usually described as transition economies must address the process by which the transition is to be made. Is it to be made by the crude, unqualified model of the marketplace that prevails in the United States or the social market model prevailing in Europe and from which the Minister for Finance is at such pains to distance himself? It is interesting how the Minister never addresses the kinds of statistics that could answer his question. He prefers to pride himself on what he claims to have achieved for the economy, practically single-handed. He likes to describe the transitions that have occurred, but does not tell us about comparisons between Sweden and Ireland in 1999 which show that of all foreign direct investment in the European Union, Ireland secured 6% while Sweden secured 18%. Of the investment by other EU countries within the Union, Ireland secured 3% while Sweden secured 23%. Of non-EU foreign direct investment, Ireland secured 12% – reflecting the scale of American investment – while Sweden secured 6%. According to the most recent assessment by Eurostat of where countries are placed in relation to the information economy, Ireland is placed twentieth while Sweden is placed first.
There is a wonderful model available in Europe for social inclusion. It is the social model and strikingly different from the North American model that the little clique within the Cabinet seems to favour. It is also important that, in relation to the conduct of negotiations with the applicant countries, such transitions as their economies will be making would be better served by following the social model rather than the other crude model with its enormous capacity for the destruction of social cohesion and social security and the dislodging of the opportunities for education, culture and participation in societies. That is the kind of debate we want to have about the shape of the new Europe. The notion that we can be Americans in Europe is backward, narrow-minded and, curiously, ill-informed.
My party leader spoke about the establishment of a forum on the future of Europe in which we would discuss all the issues, of which democratic scrutiny is one. We need to consider how we handle what is happening in Europe and the way it is relayed back to the Legislature. We also need to consider issues of transparency and changing the language in such a way that people can be invited into the discourse. Issues of common values based on democracy, rights and common projects and those relating to effectiveness and efficiency are also aspects of a good debate.
If we are to establish such a forum, a strong case could be made for not rushing this referendum. Why not allow the European Parliament, as an institution closely involved, express its opinion? Why not take the incomplete agenda at the Nice Summit and use it as an opportunity to say that we will be well prepared for the Intergovernmental Conference in 2004 by having the fullest possible involvement of citizens and establishing a forum in which we will hear about different visions of Europe? It is time to seek clarity in the language in contentious areas, such as security, governance and co-operation.
The member states of the European Union are very different in terms of the network of alliances and the nature of their commitments to different international institutions. Examples include Britain's relationship with the United States and France's strong diplomatic relationships that are not always inclusive of EU interests. There is a need to start looking at the interlinkage between institutions and countries. There is no longer any point in dodging the role of the United States in Europe, the role of NATO, the connection between NATO in a logistical military sense and the rapid reaction force and the relationship of both institutions to the United Nations.
I find depressing the attitude of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and his predecessors, who are thoughtful people, to the reform of the United Nations which has slipped off the agenda. A document or White Paper may include the term "mandated by the UN", but how does this handle the issue of the veto and the Security Council? Where is the evidence that there is an agenda of action in terms of seeking the reform of the United Nations? The groundwork has been done in the work of Erskine Childers and Brian Urquhart, published in 1994 which contains a wonderful critique of the institutions.
Statements by the Minister only refer to the United Nations in passing. It is an interesting suggestion that having gone ahead and structured, for example, a participation in peacemaking, peace building or peacekeeping activity, one must seek the approval or endorsement of the United Nationsex post facto. No matter how the Minister for Defence wriggles or no matter how the Minister for Foreign Affairs makes different statements in this House and in committees, they have a problem regarding the Defence (Amendment) Act, 1960, in the context of the rapid reaction force. The Defence (Amendment) Act, 1960, speaks of institutions established by the United Nations. This is not the place to go into the meaning of this word “established” but if the Minister were to say he would commit troops more than 12 in number for tasks other than peacekeeping and that he would secure a mandate afterwards, does that mean the same as “established” in the 1960 Act? I am only using it as an illustration that we should honestly and openly discuss the couplings between institutional involvements which exist in Europe. We should look at the different membership which different member countries enjoy. We should look vigorously, energetically and positively not only at our attitude but at the attitude of others towards reforming the one great institution which exists, the United Nations, which, with all its defects, still is a marvellous model and tool for governance, given the right reforms. It is time to have a debate on this openly, not at a time when one must just decide to vote “Yes” or “No” with three other issues on one given day. I would welcome this kind of debate. It is a debate which will become more important, particularly in the light of the applicant countries.
The word "governance" was not used until about a year ago. It has become fashionable now rather in the same way as the word "community" became fashionable in the 1970s. I presume that governance, properly approached, would mean that we are talking about strengthening the institutions of the civil society. Here again there is not a single model to be exported. In the White Paper I would have preferred if the Minister spoke in a way which recognised there is a diversity of cultures and many structures of habit and memory which inform different people in terms of the way they allow themselves to be governed. On the question: "How does one consent to be governed, why and in what circumstances?", there is not a single model. It would have been better, when the word governance is used, if it had been preceded by a better reference to the importance of the institutions of the civil society and how important they will be, particularly as one moves to a Europe of 27 member states.
With regard to co-operation, there is a huge problem about being open with the public about the areas in which the State will co-operate and in which it will not. If the process was open and less covert than it is at present, the Minister would demolish much of the criticism made unfairly in this instance, that there is some great conspiracy afoot.
There is, therefore, a second section. Beyond the transformation of economies, there is the question of the civil society – how social cohesion is to be established and inclusiveness built, and how different peoples will interact with each other.
I noticed that in his speech launching the White Paper the Minister mentioned culture and said that we had somehow or other been massive beneficiaries of the European Union in this regard. I regard it as the most disappointing area. My successor rarely attends the meetings of Culture Ministers. That is deplorable, particularly regarding the important issues which must be decided, includingtelevision sans frontiers, public service broadcasting, etc. What it has revealed in that one area is that, while culture has never been strong even in the college of Commissioners and has been neglected in Europe because it was assumed that the Council of Europe was handling that and it had a bad history anyway, particularly in relation to war, it was and is neglected and yet it is perhaps the most important dimension for some of the applicant countries. One of the net results has been in areas like broadcasting and film. In all of these areas one has seen the “commodification” of Europe rather than the strengthening of its cultural diversity, and the Minister run off the field.
On balance and taking everything into account, including, for example, the appalling arms production still going on in Europe, however critical I may be, to vote "No" would give a dreadful message to the applicant countries and to vote "Yes" is the right thing to do. The debate, however, should be characterised by tolerance and, in particular, take into account the people of the expanded Europe rather than be reduced to an argument about how many tonnes of beef or fish we will be able to sell to people who are presumed to have an insatiable appetite for Irish products.
I think it was General De Gaulle who spoke of Europe extending from the Atlantic to the Urals and this Treaty is a short and very modest step in that direction. I am somewhat surprised that an amendment to the Constitution is required to introduce this Treaty. The Treaty facilitates the enlargement of the European Union. When one looks at the history of this member state since 1 January 1973, the progress we have made and the opportunity participation in European institutions has given us, one would have to say that it would be churlish, mean spirited and low spirited of us to deny that opportunity to other European countries, many of which had to live under ideologies, which still find faint expression in this House and which inflicted considerable tyranny and suffering on those peoples.
To return to the constitutional question, because all that is proposed in this Bill is that the people authorise us to implement this Treaty in the domestic legislation, when we joined the Community in 1973 a form of words was put to the people which authorised our participation in the European Communities, as they then were. Those Communities were changed by subsequent treaties, which facilitated the departure of Greenland from the European Community and which gave the Community a singular name, and none of those treaties required an amendment to the Constitution.
Then there were the proceedings brought by Mr. Raymond Crotty against the Taoiseach, Ireland and the Attorney General which gave a clearer definition to the constitutional provisions. What was impugned in the Crotty proceedings was the Single European Act, and it was argued that the provisions of the Single European Act, which proposed changes from unanimity to qualified majority and which extended the competences of the European Community in certain respects, infringed the Constitution. It was also argued in those proceedings that the Constitution did not permit the State to link the concept of co-operation in political and foreign policy matters with what had been agreed by the people in 1972.
The High Court and the Supreme Court considered all these matters. The High Court decided to uphold the position of the State, that the provisions regarding qualified majority voting and conferring further competences on the European Union did not infringe the Constitution. Mr. Justice Barrington stated in the High Court that it was clear that what the founders of the European Communities had in mind was a growing dynamic Community gradually achieving its objectives over a period. Clearly the view was taken at that stage that what the people signed up for in that referendum late in 1972 was a dynamic developing Community, and the courts accepted that.
That view of the High Court was confirmed on appeal. The Supreme Court stated that its opinion was that neither the proposed changes from unanimity to qualified majority nor the identification of topics, which, while now separately stated, were within the original aims and objectives of the EEC – the original treaty, the Treaty of Rome, contained a very wide list of objectives in its preamble – brought the proposed amendments outside the scope and authorisation contained in the Constitution.
Therefore, the people have authorised us to join the European Community. The Maastrict Treaty required a constitutional amendment. There was no question but that it represented a fundamental change in the character of the Union. That treaty was submitted to the people and approved by them.
When it came to the Amsterdam Treaty, the Government took the view that there should be a referendum and one was held. I do not understand why this proposal does not fall within the scope of at least what the people authorised some years ago in voting to approve the Amsterdam Treaty. It seems to be a concession on the part of the State to say there is a constitutional impediment here because I fail to see it. The Government view, as I deduce from what the Minister said, seems to be that the expression "necessitated by the obligations of membership" in Article 29 means that every singular Act, which it is proposed to bring into our law as a consequence of European Union membership has to be established to be necessitated in the sense of not stemming from a fresh international obligation. If one takes that view, it is at variance with what the Supreme Court said in the Crotty case, that there was a broad authorisation given to the State and that the State treaty making power was not so limited that we cannot modify, in some minor way as this treaty does, the Community provisions. This is an important point.
We are the only member state in Europe that will vote on this treaty. It may be as a matter of political prudence, as we have had so many referendums on European membership, that we should have another one. As a citizen of Ireland, I am glad and proud to be in a position to vote for a legal instruments that will facilitate further membership and participation in the European Union.
I have some sympathy for General de Gaulle, but Deputy Dukes might not go along with me on this one. I believe generally in theEurop de patrie as well. I believe the interest of this patrie has been well safeguarded by this treaty and that there is not any danger to Ireland in its provisions. I was astonished to hear Deputy Gormley highlight yesterday what he considered various perils and dangers in this treaty. This treaty is simply the left-over treaty from Amsterdam. It tidies up a number of matters that were not addressed in the Amsterdam Treaty. Much of the European, continental and international criticism of this treaty has been that it does not go far enough away from the Europ de patrie, that it does not do enough to consolidate Europe as a growing federal organism, with which I personally do not agree.
This treaty is a good practical compromise. It is like all the treaties. A large number of member states were represented and there was great difficulty inducing all of them to sign up to the final instrument, but eventually they all did. It facilitates participation by other member states. Fine Gael and the rest of the Opposition will say it would be great if we could always have an Irish Commissioner, but the practicalities are that as the Community extends and we move beyond the figure of 27—
Members of Fianna Fáil have been heard to say similar things in the past – the odd one here and there.
They have on occasion, but the practicalities are that as the membership of the Union extends, there is an inevitable requirement that the Commission should be efficient in its decision making. It is in the interests of smaller member states such as ourselves that the Commission can act as the guardian and protector of the treaties and of the interests of smaller member states.
It is difficult for Fine Gael, a party founded on the principle of a sensible compromise, when Fianna Fáil proposes the sensible compromise on this occasion, but it is a sensible compromise in relation to the Commission. The larger member states have abandoned having a second Commissioner. That will impart to the Commission a greater quality of independence and detachment from the member states concerned.
I wish to raise the constitutional question, which I consider important, as we have a right, as members of the legislative assembly, to ensure our capacity to enact a treaty is unimpaired and that we do not have to have a referendum every time a treaty is presented.
Other questions about foreign policy were raised by Deputy Gormley yesterday. Before I deal with them, I wish to say how interested I was in Deputy Higgins's comments. I agree that we need to strengthen the United Nations and to put forward sensible proposals about how it can improve its working and operation. In so far as the foreign and security area is concerned, there is nothing in this treaty that imposes a single additional obligation on this State that was not already in the Amsterdam and Maastricht arrangements. Reference to the Western European Union has been deleted from the treaty provisions, as it is no longer in operation, but there is no additional obligation imposed on Ireland in that area by this treaty. The Government said, and it is clear in the White Paper, that it is its policy to continue our policy of military neutrality and that we will participate only in operations that have United Nations sanction. I do not know what the opponents of this treaty's provisions on that ground are proposing. Are they suggesting something should be written into the Constitution on our participation in peacekeeping operations or multilateral operations to preserve peace or emergency operations? I would consider that as a wrong development and I would not support it.
The original framer of the Constitution made it clear when it was drawn up that the whole idea about international relations was that it would be put outside the Constitution. The question of membership of the Commonwealth of Nations was left outside the Constitution and our international policy generally was left to the Government of the day to decide. When people talk about neutrality in this House it must be remembered that when the Constitution was drawn up we did not subscribe to a policy of neutrality but to one of collective security through the League of Nations. That machinery broke down and we then adopted a policy of neutrality. I am not saying it was a wrong policy. It was the correct policy at the time from the point of view of our needs and interests. We have participated in the collec tive security arrangement of the United Nations and I agree with Deputy Higgins that we should see how that system can be improved, but as long the Security Council system is there and the veto is in place on the Security Council, there is a certain weakness in the collective enforcement machinery of the United Nations. What is wrong with our participation in a European collective security arrangement devoted as it is to certain minimal tasks relating to peacekeeping and emergencies? I do not see anything wrong with that.
I was concerned yesterday when I heard Deputy Gormley link this question with the question of arms acquisition and procurement. He suggested that this State was engaging in extravagant armaments expenditure. As I understand it, this State has invested in the purchase of armoured personnel carriers, which protect our personnel when they are on peacekeeping missions, be it with the United Nations or any force to which the United Nations will lend sanction under these arrangements. I cannot see what is wrong with that investment or why our soldiers should not be protected in the same way soldiers and sailors of other jurisdictions are protected when they go on these missions.
Many Members of this House – I am not one of them as I was only a child at the time, but growing up in a garrison town I recall the memory of it – will remember what happened in the Congo when many of our soldiers went out with inadequate equipment. It is correct that the Minister should invest in whatever equipment is required to protect soldiers on peacekeeping missions. To link that with some sort of Bismarcian suggestion of an expansion in armament is ludicrous. If that is the standard of debate that will be conducted on this referendum, I would be concerned about the outcome.
It is important that people understand the issues in this proposal and that they vote on them. I propose to do all in my power in my constituency to urge people to vote on this. The key issue in this proposal is that it will give other countries the opportunity to participate in the Community in the future. They are longing for that. It is misleading to suggest, as has been suggested in the debate, that somehow the provisions in relation to enhanced co-operation are to their disadvantage. The people in those countries are crying out for Community membership. To suggest this treaty has been designed to put them at a disadvantage or to trap them in some way is inaccurate. There will be accession arrangements negotiated with these countries. That is where the crunch issues will be determined, but at this stage there is nothing in this treaty that will disadvantage them. Quite the opposite is the case. A rejection by Ireland of this treaty would not alone damage our standing in the current membership of the European Union, a far more serious consequence is that it would damage our standing in the countries that wish to apply to the Union. These countries have been crying out for mem bership for so long that it would be churlish of us to obstruct any instrument which would facilitate it.
Another change is that the Court of First Instance in the European Court of Justice is being given additional jurisdiction. That is practical because the current arrangement in relation to the court is that preliminary rulings have to be referred to the full court which acts as a court of final resort. The court sits in chambers for the purpose of disposing the large volume of business it has to conduct. Any court or tribunal in any member state can refer a question to the European Court of Justice, but because that means the full court, it does not assist its efficient organisation. The Court of First Instance will now be in a position to deal with some of the referrals, a welcome change.
On the question of enhanced co-operation, it is important to indicate that nothing is being done which will interfere with the sovereign rights of individual states. What is being proposed is that where a group of member states wish to come together and pursue a common purpose, they will be free to do so, notwithstanding the objections of one member state which does not wish to participate. Closer forms of co-operation are not intrinsically wrong. We are living in an era of globalisation and the challenge, well addressed by Deputy Higgins, is how we address it in deepening our concept of citizenship, participation by citizens in civic institutions and the securing of social justice. To continue to analyse documents of this type in the light of the 19th century idea of sovereignty popularised in this country by the Britishjurisdice whose echoes live on in some of the minor parties, most extraordinarily Sinn Féin, is not a—
The National Platform, the Green Party and Sinn Féin.
It is not a realistic way of looking at our place in the world today. We could, for example, look at the regrettable and deplorable decision of the United States Administration in relation to the Kyoto accord. We must be realistic, however, and realise that Ireland on its own will not be listened to on the issue. We must work with our European partners to effect progress on it. The people must understand this. We must give leadership and explain to them that that is where we see ourselves going. There is tremendous confidence in Ireland about the European idea, judging from voters in my area. Some of us apologists have suffered from being like an oversubsidised industry and are somewhat out of touch with the mood of the population. In general, the population is well disposed to Europe and would welcome the treaty if it was made clear what it is all about and if the various canards were ignored.
Deputy Higgins was right to recall the human and cultural dimension of enlarge ment which is being overlooked in much of this debate. It is a matter about which I know something as I have spent time in nine of the candidate countries and a substantial amount of time in seven of them where I have been involved in advising their Governments or their administrations on issues connected with enlargement, institution building, public administration, trade policy and other areas. I know them fairly well and have political links with another two. There are three which I have not yet visited, but I hope to do so in time.
What struck me is the way the populations and political systems of those countries view enlargement is unknown here. All these states and their peoples want to be a part of the European Union. They want to be part of the enterprise that is the Union, of which they have a wider appreciation than many of us seem to have because we get too tied up with the details.
Another striking aspect is that they want to join because they want a guarantee of continued economic and political independence and security. This is shared by the vast majority in every candidate country except Cyprus and Malta where the situations are entirely different. They are not sure that there is a guarantee of stability and adhesion to democracy to the east that would allow them to be happy in remaining outside the grouping that is the European Union. This means that they all want to join NATO because they do not see the European Union, as currently constituted post the Amsterdam and Nice Treaties, as being the kind of community that can offer them physical security in addition to economic and political security. That is an interesting reflection.
That is the view of the vast majority in those states, but one which the opponents of the treaty, the Amsterdam Treaty, the Maastricht Treaty, the Single European Act and our Accession Treaty consistently ignore. They oppose every move by the European Union to place itself in a position where it could give a better guarantee of social, political, cultural independence and freedom to these countries. What do they propose in its place? There is only one expression, that I know of, of what they want to put in its place and it is a muddled one shared, apparently, by the National Platform and the Green Party. It is set out most completely in the Green Party Ireland's bible, a book by Richard Douthwaite entitledGrowth Illusion. They call it sustainable local development, a system under which we would all voluntarily return to living our lives in our home parish, adopting the romantic green system of economy that they propose and using a paper token system instead of money. That is the alternative vision of Deputies Gormley and Sargent and Patricia McKenna, MEP. They propose this alternative for the people of Bulgaria, Romania, the Czech and Slovak Republics, the three Baltic states and Slovenia who are ten years from their history of extreme oppression and deprivation of liberty. That is what the opponents of the treaty propose. That is the basis on which opponents construct all the niggling arguments about what the treaty proposes, as we heard yesterday evening from Deputy Gormley.
Cuireadh an díospóireacht ar athló.