Other Questions. - Treaty of Nice.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

6 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if the Government proposes to adopt a particular stance at future intergovernmental or European Council talks regarding the unresolved matter of ratification of the Nice treaty; if he has had discussions with his EU colleagues in this regard; if he has sought or has been offered assistance towards a resolution; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3941/02]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

59 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the Government's plans to make proposals regarding the future of Europe with particular reference to the ratification of the Nice treaty at the next meeting of heads of Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2577/02]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

84 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the extent of the preparation to date undertaken within the EU in preparation for the next inter-governmental conference in 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4055/02]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

85 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his plans to hold a referendum regarding the subject matter of the Nice treaty or part thereof; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4056/02]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

86 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the degree to which he and his EU colleagues have discussed modifications to the Nice treaty with a view to ratification throughout the European Union; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4057/02]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

87 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the extent to which those who voted "no" in the Nice treaty referendum have been convinced to change their voting intentions in the event of another referendum; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4058/02]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 6, 59, and 84 to 87, inclusive together.

I have addressed most of the issues raised in the Deputy's questions in the answer I gave to Priority Question No. 3, but I would like to respond to the other points he raises.

As regards any possible modification of the Treaty of Nice, it was made clear in the immediate aftermath of the referendum, including at the Gothenburg European Council, that although our partners are willing to contribute in every possible way to helping the Irish Government to find a way forward there is no question of re-opening the text of the treaty.

With regard to preparations for the next intergovernmental conference, the Laeken Declaration describes the Convention on the Future of the European Union as providing, together with the outcome of national debates, "a starting point for discussions in the Intergovernmental Conference". It is in the convention, therefore, that much of the substantive preparation for the Intergovernmental Conference will take place. Closer to the time, issues such as the precise agenda, organisation and timing of the Intergovernmental Conference will be for the European Council to decide.

With respect to the question of the degree to which those who voted "No" last June have been persuaded to change their voting intentions, I do not believe it would be helpful or productive to engage in speculation of this nature at this time. The ratification of the Treaty of Nice is ultimately a question for the people of Ireland to decide. It is the duty of all of us who support the ratification of Nice and Ireland's continuing place at the core of the European Union to make a persuasive case to them.

I thank the Minister for his extensive replies both today and at the committee yesterday. However, I remain slightly concerned by one issue. In the event that we fail to ratify the treaty in a future referendum, surely it would be a good idea for the Minister and his European colleagues to anticipate this eventuality by putting in place procedures to respond to it. I am aware that it would be inadvisable to allow this to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Nevertheless, if it did transpire, what proposals are in place to deal with it?

There are no such proposals. As I stated last week when the matter was discussed, the European Union proceeds on the basis of the rule of law and the treaties. The Treaty of Nice was negotiated by the Heads of Government and ratified by all 14 other member states through a parliamentary procedure. Due to our constitutional requirements, ratification of the treaty, if it occurs, will be conducted by way of referendum. The international legal position is that, in the absence of one country ratifying it, the treaty falls. The suggestion that there is another unspoken way forward which will allow for implementation of the treaty is incorrect and it certainly will not occur by the end of 2002, which is when the applicant states will have concluded their negotiations.

The idea that everything will be hunky-dory one way or the other greatly minimises the damage which will be done to our national interests, a point which I will consistently make. Suggestions to the contrary do not take into account the impact failure to ratify would have, not only on the European Union, but also the members thereof. This is not to say that other member states or citizens do not respect our democratic decision making. It is simply a fact of life. We need to face the fact that we will hold up the ratification of the Treaty of Nice if we are unable to resolve matters satisfactorily by the end of the year.

The matter is vital and central to the national interest, so much so that I hope that on the next occasion it is put to the people the issues will be dealt with on their merits. The concerns people have about the future architecture of the European Union will, I hope, be dealt with in the proper forum, the Future of Europe debate. There is no question that enlargement can only proceed on the basis of the Treaty of Nice. It is the basis on which the negotiations by the 12 applicant countries are taking place. Although the negotiations are at various stages, ten countries are expected to complete them by the end of the year.

Will we make it clear that if the Treaty of Nice is rejected in the next referendum, we alone will be impeding or delaying enlargement? I do not wish to go over too much ground and will confine my remarks to one proposal which I floated recently. This is the idea of making a commitment to have an EU declaration incorporated as a protocol in a future treaty. Did the Taoiseach recently hint that he was inclined to a similar view? What is the Minister's view about following what is essentially the Danish precedent set at Maastricht?

It is genuinely idle to speculate at this stage about what will be the ultimate Government proposal. People are putting forward many ideas and points of view for the purposes of debate, which is fine. They will all be taken into account when final decisions are taken by the Government. It is open to successive Governments to put forward different viewpoints. In case there are doubts, there is no question that the Deputy's first contention is correct – failure to ratify the Treaty of Nice will not allow enlargement to proceed as envisaged by the institutional arrangements agreed at Nice, which have been expressed in treaty form and must be ratified by all states.

Acting Chairman:

The time has concluded. We must move on to Question No. 7.

May I ask a brief supplementary question?

Acting Chairman:

The Deputy may be able to put his question when we deal with the other questions.

As Deputy Gormley has a somewhat different viewpoint on the matter, I would agree to allowing him a brief contribution.

Acting Chairman:

I will allow a very brief supplementary.

I have listened carefully to the Minister who stated enlargement must proceed as envisaged under the Nice treaty. Does he accept that enlargement will proceed and it would be naive to believe we could block it? While we may block the Nice treaty, enlargement will proceed.

The problem with that contention is that the Deputy has not provided a legal basis on which it will proceed. Enlargement cannot proceed except on a legal basis.

There are precedents.

There is no precedent. There is an air of total political unreality to the contention that the applicant states are negotiating for full membership of the European Union on any basis other than the Treaty of Nice. The treaty is the political consensus which has emerged among the 15 member states for enlargement to take place. Any suggestion to the contrary is so totally divorced from political reality that it cannot be treated as a serious contention.

It will proceed regardless.

It will not proceed. I want to nail this canard. Enlargement cannot proceed in the absence of a legal agreement as set out in the Nice treaty. If the Deputy thinks that the political consensus we have now compared to that of a year ago—

The Minister is a betting man. I will put a bet on it.

He can place whatever bet he likes on it. The reality is as I outlined.

A spell in opposition will work for the Minister.

I do not like to bet on our national interest.