I support this Bill, but before addressing the contents of the Treaty of Nice, some of which have been outrageously misrepresented, I say in passing that, as chairman, I accept in good faith the Minister's undertakings about the Joint Committee on European Affairs. However, we can only function if we have the necessary staff for the chairman, members and clerk of the committee.
There appears to be a view that there are only two alternatives for the EU, an association of nation states or a federal system. This view misses the point completely. The European Union is a unique development in that member states remain sovereign but have agreed to pool their sovereignty in certain agreed areas and have set up institutions and constitutional arrangements, by negotiation, to give effect to this. We do not have, nor have we had, the facility afforded to those who drafted the United States' constitution of starting with a blank page as we start from the basis of established states coming together after the devastation of two world wars to ensure that such terrible events would never again emanate from Europe. The difficulty is that we do not have in political science a name for such an entity. It is not an association of states nor a federation. Perhaps it is quasi-federal, but it is certainly unique and has been brought about in a civilised and democratic manner without precedence in world history.
Claims have been made that the Treaty of Nice will give rise to the formation of a European army. There is no such provision in the treaty. I formally protest at the minority of ordained ministers of Christian churches, whose duty is to preach the Gospels and, above all, to give witness to the truth, who have been among those pedalling this untruth. Unlike the previous referendum, the Government's current proposal elevates to constitutional language what is de facto the case, that is, if there should be implications in some future treaty which would give rise to common defence commitments on Ireland's part, this will be put to the people in a referendum.
I am not an enthusiastic supporter of that elevation of wording but I go along with it because it is the de facto situation. I do not share the extraordinary consensus – extraordinary because it has arisen without debate, discussion or adequate analysis yet appears to include all the left-wing parties, the majority of Fianna Fáil, most of the trade unions and most of the churches – which seems to believe that NATO is a four-letter dirty word. That consensus appears to believe that Irish neutrality, never defined and based on no known principles, is somehow a high moral policy which set us aside from and above other EU states, which, according to this analysis, are not worthy to tie our bootlaces.
In the calmest way possible, I want to say that the Republic of Ireland is one of the least protected states in Europe. This is the direct result of politicians being cowed into out-bidding each other to eulogise neutrality and denounce common defence arrangements without making any provision to equip ourselves to defend the State, unlike other neutral states. Political self-interest and lack of leadership has led to a critical failure to provide for the safety and security of our citizens, which is the first responsibility of the State.
Neutrality has always been a popular message to convey to an electorate not anxious to get involved and who hope that, by keeping their heads down, defence issues will be the care and responsibility of others. Not even Srebrenica moved us from our self-serving and self-satisfied policy. Irish politicians have always been reluctant to get involved in international defence issues and left this responsibility to others. It is no longer in our self-interest to bury our heads in the sand as the recent apparent attempted hijack of a Ryanair plane illustrates. In the run-up to the first anniversary of the horrendous attacks on New York's twin towers, it is frightening to imagine the possible consequences had the hijack succeeded. Could Ireland have been the destination of such a hijacked flight? Would we have been able to protect ourselves from a New York-type attack? What could we do to prevent an attack on Sellafield via Irish air space?
Make no mistake, Ireland is vulnerable because we have no comprehensive defence strategy. It is no longer acceptable that we are so ill-prepared for any such eventualities or that we are not a member of any security alliance capable of a rapid response in support of our needs. We cannot do this ourselves and we have not made arrangements by proxy for any other country to bail us out in the event of such a horror. We have denuded ourselves and have not attended to our first responsibility to the people. Who is standing by the Republic now?
Fine Gael set out in the document "Beyond Neutrality" how it believes Ireland and Europe's security and defence needs could be provided in the most beneficial and tenable way for Ireland. In light of recent events, the Government must, as a matter of urgency, put in place a contingency plan to meet such needs, in co-operation with friendly governments. In addition, a White Paper, unlike that previously published on our security and defence requirements, must be prepared and laid before the people as part of a public information process to ensure that everybody understands the reasons why changes in our defence policy are necessary.
Not since the cross-party consensus of appeasers in the British Parliament of the 1930s – some of whom collaborated to collect a petition signed by 11 million British citizens who wanted appeasement at all costs – has a country been so misled by a consensus of self-serving politicians who are failing to do their first duty, which is to provide for the security of the State. When will we stop running away from this issue? On behalf of Fine Gael, in a document entitled "Beyond Neutrality", I set out our views on how this issue should be addressed. I invite other parties in the House, before it is too late, to take stock and set out their proposals for dealing with it. Sadly – because false claims have been made about it – the Nice treaty does not deal with this issue.
I hope by the time the European convention report is considered by a future Intergovernmental Conference that Ireland will have put forward proposals acceptable to us to deal with the security and defence needs of Europe and of Ireland. We must become one of the architects. Security architecture should not be left to others who will make the rules just like the economic and monetary union rules to which those joining later will have to sign up.
An issue that has been raised scurrilously – if it is not racist it is certainly out of the same stable as racism – is the allegation that 75 million central and eastern European citizens will descend on Ireland if the Nice treaty is passed. This is too outrageous for serious consideration. However, I want to deal with the issue that somehow we might become swamped by unwanted immigrants descending on our shores. Most of the immigrants in Ireland today are here because the economy needs them. Their skills and energies contribute to wealth creation and, in the main, they provide for themselves. There is a second type of immigrant, the asylum seeker. The rules for asylum seekers are very clear and are being applied. I wish we had a more pro-active immigration policy which would identify the number of immigrants needed and allow us take them in, some of whom would not have skills and would be in need of opportunity.
The suggestion that huge numbers of unwanted and unneeded people will come in does not stand up. Let us look at the facts. When Ireland joined the European Union in 1973 and, later with the advent of the Single European Act, the Maastricht treaty and the Amsterdam treaty, large numbers of emigrants did not leave our shores for Germany, France, Italy and other countries. We had emigration, but it was to traditional markets – English speaking countries such as Britain and the United States. Often this was illegal but there were cultural and familial reasons for it. The same will prevail in central and eastern Europe. Ireland no longer has an emigration problem. Most of our citizens can now be employed at home.
The whole objective of extending the European Union is to have peace and stability in Europe, which are the prerequisites for prosperity. That prosperity will come to the EU applicant states as sure as night follows day provided we do not leave them out and provided we continue to build a peaceful and stable Europe. When that prosperity comes to those states, they in turn will not have an emigration problem – in fact they may need immigrants of their own, if the Irish example is to be followed as I believe it will. This is not wishful thinking. The European Union is about to become a market of approximately 500 million people, with an even greater free trade area which will include non-EU countries.
There are those who nonchalantly say, "Sure it doesn't matter, if Ireland does not pass the Nice treaty they will find some other way." Why should we not pass the Nice treaty? The Nice treaty is so innocuous that it is doubtful whether the Government is obliged in the first instance to hold a referendum. Other states, such as Denmark which held a referendum on the Treaty of Maastricht in 1991, and Britain, where the Major Government almost fell on the Maastricht treaty, have taken this treaty for what it is, little more than provisions "mainly of technical modifications and relatively minor reforms in comparison with those already agreed in earlier Treaties.", as pointed by Mr. Thomas Legge in his excellent pamphlet "Ireland and Europe, Institutional Change – the effect on small States", published by the Institute of European Affairs. I am greatly indebted to Mr. Legge for this very clear exposition of the contents of the Nice treaty and I will return to it shortly.
To deal with this nonchalant dismissal, I put on record the comments made by Mr. Seán Dorgan, chief executive of IDA, when launching his agency's annual report in July this year. He said:
Ireland's economic prospects depend on a strong confident and growing Europe. The vote on the Nice Treaty will be widely seen by investors and potential investors as indicating the degree of our engagement in the EU, whether we are participating at the heart of its future development or whether we are marginalised.
Mr. Dorgan further stated:
Member States have negotiated the Nice Treaty to provide for the future growth of the European Union and almost all have ratified it. A decision by Ireland not to ratify will be seen and represented as a withdrawal by Ireland from that European consensus. Because we are relatively small and so trade-dependent, more than any other Member State our economic prospects are tied to an intimate and central involvement in the EU.
Leading international companies are currently investing in excess of 5 billion Euro in new facilities in Ireland. We have every prospect of growing to this level of investments within the next few years so long as we are seen as outward looking, competitive and willing to take on each new challenge that faces us. Our attractiveness will quickly wane if we are seen to be turning our backs on the future of Europe.
Let those who do not want to see a return of the day when our citizens from rural and urban Ireland alike cried into their pints on the bar stools of Cricklewood public houses because they could not gain employment in this country vote to ratify the Treaty of Nice. There is nothing in the Nice treaty that is of concern to Ireland's interests and it does not contain anything of an objectionable nature. If we fail to ratify we will be putting at risk all that has been gained. This is not a time for indifference or bravado. This is a time for consolidation, taking stock and sober judgment.
As Mr. Thomas Legge pointed out, the EU is unique among international organisations because it is an association of sovereign states that nevertheless agrees to pool its sovereignty in certain policy areas. It is both an intergovernmental organisation in which each participant retains its sovereignty and a supranational organisation in which member states share sovereignty and have common responsibilities. The institutional arrangements of the European Union reflect this hybrid nature. I have tried to describe this and used the term quasi-federal, although I am not sure whether I have done the EU justice.
All the institutional changes proposed are intended to allow the European Union to operate as an effective political unit after its membership has expanded to include up to 12 new member states. The reason for that is that the current decision making structures within the European Union, for example, the voting rights assigned to countries in the Council of Ministers, were initially designed for a European Economic Community of six member states. The Nice treaty makes further institutional changes necessary for enlargement to up to 27 member states, but it only touches on one of the most important future questions: how to balance efficiency and democratic legitimacy.
An unreformed system of qualified majority voting would involve a voting system that the large member states would find unacceptable because small states together, representing substantially less than the majority of the EU's population, would hold a majority of the votes. The European Parliament in an enlarged EU of 27 member states would have so many members that it would be incapable of acting as an appropriate forum. The EU Commission would have 33 members under current rules if the larger states continued to nominate two members. Looking to the next Intergovernmental Conference, the European convention should go back to the drawing board and reinstate one commissioner per member state, but that does not arise at this time.
The Institute of European Affairs' document makes the point that, in general, rules-based international organisations are, by definition, "good" for small member states. At the price of pooling national sovereignty in some areas, small and large states alike agree to be bound by the same laws for their collective benefit. Once the rules are agreed they bind all states, regardless of the state's relative power. Smaller states, which could not hope otherwise to exert such influence on international affairs, have a particular advantage in this context. Similarly, by participating in international institutions like the European Union, small states have access to resources that they could not afford to maintain on their own. There is no more powerful argument than that put forward in the IEA document.
In relation to the European Parliament, the Treaty of Nice does not substantially increase the Parliament's power and marginally expands the policy areas covered by co-decision. The Parliament also has the right to approve the Commission as a group and, separately, the President of the Commission. The main effect of the treaty with regard to the European Parliament is reform of its composition to allow the entry of up to 12 new member states. Eventually, Ireland's MEPs will be reduced by three, not necessarily in the next European Parliament elections, but we will still have 12 compared to 99 for Germany. Germany will have approximately 1.5 seats per million people. Ireland's representation will be twice that rate.
The European Commission is an important institution because it is the sole initiator of legislation for a large number of policy areas. The Commission alone has the power to propose legislation. This right was granted by the member states as an exercise in pooled sovereignty and proposals can only be made on the basis of an article of the treaty. All the proposed legislation must go to the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament for adoption. As guardian of the treaties, the Commission also has the responsibility to refer member states that are in violation of community law to the European Court of Justice. The Commission also has an administrative role in implementing and enforcing community legislation and it acts as the Community's competition authority. A well functioning Commission is therefore particularly important for the small member states because the larger member states are better able to look after their own interests in the Council and the Parliament. That is because the Commission is independent of national interests and proposes legislation in the Community's interest, as Mr. Legge points out so well. This neutrality is particularly important for the application of qualified majority voting. Majority voting can only be acceptable if member states know there are safeguards to ensure that the adopted legislation is for the good of the European Union as a whole and not just for certain member states.
What is to happen with the Commission? The larger member states are to lose their second Commissioner. The following is the sequence for the reduction in the size of the Commission: up to December 2004 there will be no change in the existing position; in January 2005, the larger member states will lose their second Commissioner and the Commission will consist of one member from each member state; and when, in time, the European Community has 27 members, the Commission will be less than the number of member states and will be chosen in accordance with a rotation system involving all member states equally. It should be noted that the mechanism for rotation and the number of Commissioners must be decided by the Council on the basis of unanimity. If this rule is not later changed by the current convention, the maximum number then will be 26. However, this issue might change by the time that comes about and even if it does not, it is a long way down the road.
In respect of the Council of Ministers, voting strength is determined by an accommodation of the size of a country's population and the intergovernmental principle of equality between states. However, decisions are rarely taken in this manner. In the two and a half years during which I attended Council of Ministers meetings as Minister with responsibility for European Affairs, I cannot recall an occasion when a decision was taken on the basis of a vote. Decisions are usually taken by consensus.
Reform is needed in the Council voting system because each successive enlarging of the European Union has diluted the relative voting power of the larger states. It is now the case that, with the accession of up to 12 new countries in the fifth enlargement, based on the current allocation of votes, six large states with 70% of the EU's population would be left with only 49% of the votes. As a result of the decisions in Nice, the larger states increased their share of the votes from 42%, as it would be if the current system were expanded, to 49%. Nevertheless, the small states continue to hold disproportionate voting power in the Council based on their population. Under the new proposals, Ireland will have seven votes in the Council of Ministers, or about one per half-million people, whereas in the case of Germany, for example, their 29 votes will give them one per three million population.
The Treaty of Nice introduces a complicated triple majority QMV for a positive Council decision. This requires, first, 74.1% of the weighted votes, or at least 258 votes out of a total of 345 votes when there are 27 member states; second, that the votes of a majority of member states constitute a simple majority for Community measures and a two-thirds majority for pillar-two and pillar-three measures. This is an important new safeguard for smaller member states as the support of a substantial number of smaller states will be always required for a proposal to be adopted. A third requirement is a demographic threshold, requiring that a Council decision, to be adopted, has the support of votes representing 62% of the Union's population. This is a new criterion and it compensates Germany, which has the largest population in the EU, but has only the same weighted voting power as France, despite the fact that its population is greater by 23 million people.
As the IEA points out, the interesting question that arises from the Nice treaty's reforms of the Council is not the majority of votes needed to pass legislation, but rather the amount of votes that are needed to block it. The Council votes rarely, preferring to reach a consensus on most issues, but the ability of groups of member states to form a blocking minority is an important factor in the dynamics of the institution. In the current system, three states can form a blocking minority as long as at least two of them are large states. The Nice treaty allows a blocking minority in an enlarged EU of 27 member states to be formed by as few as three large member states and one small state. In addition, the treaty requires that a simple majority of member states must be in favour of a measure, which means that a coalition of small states could block a measure even though they do not represent the majority of the EU's population. As the IEA document concluded, the new voting structure in the Council will not fundamentally change the balance of power between small and large member states. Small states continue to be over-represented according to their population and, as today, decisions cannot be made if a substantial minority of the EU's population is opposed or if a majority of member states is opposed. I have referred to the role of the European Commission in initiating legislation. The Commission is the guarantee to member states that have been out-voted in Council that legislation is designed to serve the common interests of the Union as a whole.
In another IEA document entitled, Enlargement: An Economic Assessment, Mr. Peter Brennan identifies 11 key aspects to enlargement as follows. As the accession negotiations are expected to conclude this year, up to ten candidate countries will join the European Union in the near future. Given the economic size of the candidate countries, the impact of enlargement on the economies of the current member states will be small. In macroeconomics terms it will be of the same dimension as when Greece, Spain and Portugal joined in the 1980s. In GDP terms per capita, Ireland may become the second wealthiest member state when the EU is enlarged. This will inevitably influence Irish policy on the Community budget post-2006. The impact of enlargement on the single currency is expected to be modest. A clear strategy for the candidate countries has been determined by the European Commission, pre and post accession. Germany and Austria will receive the majority of migrants from eastern and central Europe. The quantum of foreign direct investment into the candidate countries will increase after enlargement. Provided business competitiveness is maintained, Ireland's relative attractiveness as a location for FDI will be unaffected. Outward direct investment from Irish owned companies to the candidate countries will accelerate. The current free trade area between the EU and the candidate countries will be expanded after enlargement to include the western Balkans, some additional Mediterranean states, Russia, Ukraine and the newly independent states. After enlargement the candidate countries will participate in a single market of nearly 500 million customers and will respect the same regulatory principles as EU member states. They will also have to take account of the dynamics of the single currency and negotiate as part of a single trading entity on the world stage and, finally, enlargement has the potential to be a win-win situation, both politically and economically.
Mrs. Thatcher and her likes fear the European Union. Of course they do. Do we remember the good old days before we joined the EEC when there were waiting lists for telephones, the only decent road in the country was the Naas dual-carriageway and if Britain got a cold we got influenza? When Britain devalued so did we. Our membership of the European Union has given us unparalleled sovereignty and independence, not only in the history of the State but of this proud nation. I wonder if we were ever truly independent before we joined the European Union. Our interest rates are decided by the European Central Bank, not by the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, and we have a member on the bank's governing council. We have access to a market which will soon have 500 million people. We could not have the International Financial Services Centre, which contributes one-third of all corporation taxes and approximately 7,500 jobs, not to mention the refurbishment of a derelict part of our capital city, if the European Union had not invested in our infrastructure.
When I look at the gallery of Taoisigh outside this Chamber, I often think that if those who founded this State could have looked forward and seen that we would hold the presidency of the European Union on five occasions and be on the threshold of holding it for the sixth time they would have been very proud. We should also be very proud. None of these things would have happened without the European Union. Wise Members of this Parliament and others outside brought us into the European Economic Community with the anchor of yesterday's men on their coat-tails. These sad and embittered men – they are mostly men – have not gone away.
Those of us who believe in the European ideal must stand shoulder to shoulder. There is no selfish interest in this for Fine Gael. When the referendum is carried, as I predict it will, it will be claimed as a victory for the Government. However, we will not shirk our responsibility to this State and to the peace and stability of Europe. We will campaign vigorously for the passing of this referendum and we will take our case confidently to the people.