It is vital that Dáil Éireann and the people ratify the Treaty of Nice in the referendum that will be held on 6 June. Ireland is the only EU country to have a referendum on that treaty. This is because in 1972 the Dáil decided that any new treaties agreed by Ireland in an EU context would only be protected against constitutional challenge by the original decision of the people in the referendum if they were "necessi tated" by EU membership. Originally, the then Taoiseach, Mr. Jack Lynch, wanted the constitutional protection against challenge to extend to treaties that were "consequent on" EU membership but the term "necessitated" was added with his agreement. This means that, uniquely, the Irish people have the power to stop the entire EU train at any station on its future route.
This inordinate, exceptional, and arguably anomalous power is one that the people must exercise with great responsibility. I was critical of the Treaty of Nice in the House last December but I recommend that it be accepted because Ireland's wider responsibility is to the peaceful development of Europe. We must respect the needs of other European peoples less fortunate than we are, less fortunate than we have been for a long time.
In the Dáil last December I criticised the fact that once EU membership exceeds 27 states, some countries will cease to have a Commissioner. This may seem a good distance away but when one takes into account the fact that there are over 40 European countries, it is a position that will definitely be reached. After that point there will come a five year term in which Ireland will have no Commissioner. That will be serious in terms of political legitimacy and acceptability in Ireland of Commission proposals and decisions, but it could be argued that Ireland, as a small country, could not go it alone anyway and will accept Commission decisions even though there is no Irish person on the Commission.
I do not believe the same argument applies to Germany, and that is the big flaw in the treaty. Under the Treaty of Nice, the time will come when the 90 million Germans, potentially 20% of the EU population, will be governed by a Commission of 27 people among which there will not be one German. That is not politically viable and the one Commissioner per member state rule will have to be restored and the treaty reversed. It is particularly a problem for Germany, not just for small countries. Germany is too big not to have a Commissioner. The same is true of France to a lesser degree.
I do not accept that a 40-member Commission is unworkable. Once the excellent reforms in the Treaty of Nice, to enhance the role of Commission President and give substantial power to reallocate portfolios and organise the internal work of the Commission, are put into effect, it does not matter what is the number of Commissioners. The work can be organised by the strengthened Presidency. The British Government has more than 40 Ministers and the Commission should work equally well with large numbers. Those who have been promoting difficulties have little political or administrative imagination. I do not believe the argument in favour of retaining a Commissioner per nation state is one that is only of relevance to small states.
Notwithstanding these reservations, let me explain why I believe it is vital that the people ratify the treaty on 7 June. It is vital because, without ratification, there can be no enlargement of the European Union to include Cyprus, Malta, Estonia, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Slovakia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria and Romania. Many of those are countries, like Ireland, which came into existence as parliamentary democracies in the wake of the First World War. However, due to economic pressures, political isolation, nationalistic xenophobia and war, they ceased to be democracies in the 1930s. Communism took over in 1945 and kept most of these countries in its thrall for 45 long miserable years. The prospect of EU membership, which will reduce economic pressures, end political isolation, counter nationalistic xenophobia and prevent war, is vital to underpin and guarantee the continuance of parliamentary democracy in these countries. That is what will be at stake when the people vote on 7 June. They will decide on that date whether such privileges will be extended to those about whom some of us know comparatively little. Who are we to say "no" to them as far as EU membership is concerned? If we say "no" to the Treaty of Nice, we are effectively saying that the Latvians, the Estonians, the Hungarians and the Poles are not entitled to enjoy the privileges we have enjoyed for so long.
As a nation fortunate enough to enjoy continuous parliamentary democracy since acquiring statehood in 1921, Ireland has a responsibility to allow the European Union to accept these countries into EU membership by ratifying the Treaty of Nice. It is true that Ireland's individual weight in EU decisions will be reduced as a result of enlargement. If the membership of any club is increased, the individual power of existing members is proportionately reduced. That is the nature of democracy and it applies in a Gaelic football club or any other organisation. All existing EU members, including the big states, will also see their individual power proportionately reduced. The changes in the Treaty of Nice in the voting weights in the European Council and Parliament are an inevitable and necessary consequence of enlarged membership.
There will be those who will oppose ratification of the Treaty of Nice. Opposing referenda gives some groups an opportunity to receive notice they would not receive and, perhaps, would not deserve in any other context. To those who will oppose the treaty I put this challenge, do you believe that the European Union should remain a smug western European rich nations' club, keeping the Poles, the Hungarians and people in the Baltic countries outside its doors? Do you remember or have you ever been told of the sufferings of the Polish people who, proportionately, lost more of their population in the Second World War than any other nation? Do you remember or have you ever been told of the sympathetic outpourings of the Irish people when Hungarian refugees arrived here in 1956 after the suppression of the rising against communism? Do you remember or have you ever been told of the way in which three countries, which gained their independence in the same year as Ireland – Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia – were wiped off the map in a cynical deal made in August 1939 between Hitler and Stalin, von Ribbentrop and Molotov? Do you believe that these people should be kept waiting at the door when there is room for them in the European Union?
Some, those proclaiming their Christianity and Catholicism, will oppose the Treaty of Nice. To them I say: have you never heard of Cardinal Mindszenty of Hungary or Cardinal Wyszynski of Poland who fought for their countries' freedom? These same countries now have a chance to underpin their liberties and protect their human rights, including the right of religious practice, by joining the European Union. Is Ireland to tell them there is no room for them at the inn?
The Treaty of Nice is not the last word on EU institutional reform. I hope one of the Nice reforms – the ultimate ending of one Commissioner per state – will be reversed before it takes effect. There is still time to do so. It was agreed at Nice that the following further four issues would be examined: the delimitation of the respective powers of the Union and the states; the incorporation of the Charter of Fundamental Rights in the treaty; the simplification of the treaty and the enhancement of the role of national parliaments. There is one very important and glaring omission from this agenda, but before I come to it, I will refer briefly to the above items.
The attempt to delimit the respective powers of the Union and the member states will prove to be an impossible and time-wasting exercise. The reality is that there is shared responsibility between the Union and member states in virtually every area of governmental activity. Hardly any area of governmental activity is the exclusive preserve of a member state or the Union. This list will either be as long as a telephone directory or contain meaningless and valueless abstractions. A new delimitation of respective powers will introduce artificial difficulties in the smooth functioning of the Union and member states alike and create an expensive playground for lawyers. Lawyers will be able to go to the Irish courts to object to something the Union is doing and the European courts to object to something Ireland is doing. Delimitation will set back the process of European integration. There are far better ways of reassuring citizens that the Union will act in their interests and with their consent than could ever be provided for in this artificial list of respective functions, a list which it will prove impossible to formulate in any intellectual or workable manner.
I also envisage dangers in incorporating the new Charter of Fundamental Rights in the treaty. If this happens, it will create a direct conflict of jurisdiction in regard to fundamental rights between our Supreme Court and the European Court. There is no reasonable ground on which to fear, as some claim, that the European Union could force Ireland to introduce abortion in certain circumstances, for example. However, if the new Charter of Fundamental Rights is incorporated in the treaty, this could make room for two different interpretations of fundamental rights to be created, one in the Supreme Court through the invocation of the Constitution and another in the European Court through the invocation of the Charter of Fundamental Rights included in the treaty. That could undermine fundamental rights as defined in the Constitution. That would be a backwards step for Ireland and Europe as a whole. Most other European countries have not developed their fundamental constitutional rights to the same level as Ireland. The best course of action for them to adopt is to create stronger fundamental rights provisions in their own constitutions. We should not take the shortcut of trying to do this for them by means of the EU treaties. To the extent that fundamental rights issues are to be dealt with at all at EU level, they should be dealt with by political means, not through the EU courts.
Let me turn to the major omission from the agenda for further work outlined at Nice. That omission is the question of how to enhance the political legitimacy of the European Union among the general population of all member states. There is a crisis of legitimacy among the electorate in most countries in terms of EU actions. The omission of this issue from the explicit agenda for the next Intergovernmental Conference is an indication that the statesmen and women who gathered in Nice were out of touch. This omission will become more important, the more the Union is enlarged. While people vote directly for their MEPs and indirectly for the members of the Council of Ministers, there is no real emotional sense of participation among the general population of the European Union in EU decisions. The people of Ireland and other EU countries do not feel that the decisions of the EU are decisions in which they have had a part. This lack of a sense of participation in EU decisions is a potentially fatal flaw in the whole project. This is not a flaw that can be cured just by giving more powers to national Parliaments.
Members of national Parliaments are seen as much a part of the insider EU elite, with trips to Europe and so on, as MEPs, Commissioners and Ministers. We must change the Constitution of the European Union to create a direct emotional and legitimate link between each European citizen and the key decision-making institutions of the Union. That can be done if we allow the people of Europe, when they vote at European Parliament elections, to vote, directly or indirectly, for the person who, following the election, will be the incoming President of the European Commission. There is a number of ways in which this can be done. As Taoiseach, I commissioned academic research on this topic, which was published. This is a proposal I will promote at every opportunity because I believe that, until that happens, until people have an opportunity in each member state to vote for the President of Europe, they will not have a sense that Europe belongs to them, that there is a personal link between them and the European Union, that Europe for them is a person.
It is a truism of politics that, at the end of the day, people vote for people, not for ideas. As far as the European Union is concerned, we are simply being asked to vote for ideas, not people. We all know that voting for an MEP does not create any real link between what happens in the European Union and our vote because the individual MEP in one's constituency does not have that much of an impact on what happens. If, on the other hand, every European could vote to choose either the leader of the socialist group, the leader of the European People's Party and the leader of the liberal group to be the President of the Commission, while the same debate was taking place in the coffee houses of Greece and the public houses of Donegal about whether Mr. X, Miss Y or Mrs. so and so would be the better President of the European Commission, that discussion of the same choice throughout the whole Union would cement a sense of commonality and citizenship between all the people, no matter where they live in Europe. The essential requirement is that Europeans, whether they live in Palermo or Pettigo, vote on the same day on the same choice, between two or three people who represent alternative visions of Europe.
Just as the presidential elections have bound all United States citizens together in a joint act every four years of US citizenship, thereby keeping that great union together, I believe that a similar joint act of European Union citizenship is now needed if the Union is to have the emotional cement to hold it together in face of the many stresses and strains it is bound to face in the years ahead.