Deputy Harkin was in possession. The Deputy is sharing her time with Deputies Ó Caoláin and Gormley.
European Council: Statements (Resumed).
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle
One measure of immense importance proposed in the draft treaty allows one million European Union citizens to require the EU Commission to take an initiative. This gives the smallest nation the power to require action at the centre of policy determination, or it could give sectors of society the opportunity to force on to the EU stage measures needed at national level when they have been ignored by their Governments.
However, whatever is agreed at the forthcoming Intergovernmental Conference, it will encourage and force Ireland to hold a more realistic debate on its future in Europe, which I welcome. Hitherto, we could have conducted a debate in a vacuum. We could, and did, say "No" to the first draft of the Nice treaty, but for the most part we did not have to live with the consequences. Now, we can say "No" to Europe. The convention provides an opt-out clause. Now we can have a real debate because we have a real choice, to remain as part of the European Union and influence its decisions or say "No" to Europe, mean it and, therefore, choose it.
This places great responsibility on all politicians as well as the electorate. As politicians we have a duty to inform ourselves and act as a conduit for that information to the electorate and to do so in an even-handed manner by providing a fair assessment of the pros and cons of what is contained in the constitutional treaty. Part of the problem with Nice was one group telling us it was close to perfect while another issued dire warnings about the outcome. Few had the courage to say there were pluses and minuses which, when considered in the round, would hopefully lead to some balance.
The broad agreement on the convention documents and the continued expansion of the Union to the east will require Ireland to rethink its relationship with Europe. Romano Prodi said in Thessaloniki that the EU looked forward to the western Balkans taking up membership of the Union in time while 25 EU leaders promised aid worth €210 million to the region. They see this as promoting peace rather than war and are prepared to use the economic resources of the Union to realise its vision of promoting peace and stability in Europe.
The centre of gravity in the EU is moving to the east and towards central Europe. Within a number of years Ireland will become a net contributor. Our commitment to the European vision and our contribution to making it a reality will be tested in forthcoming years. There are interesting times ahead.
The main subject for discussion at Thessaloniki was the new European constitution, as submitted by Mr. Giscard d'Estaing. I welcome the Taoiseach's agreement to hold a debate on the new constitution in the House before the Intergovernmental Conference commences. I wish him, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, the very best because there is a difficult task ahead. I record also my thanks to my fellow representatives on the Convention, which was a worthwhile and, at times, enjoyable experience. As the previous speaker has said, there are pluses and minuses in all treaties. I was not one of those on the last occasion who issued dire warnings. The Green Party took a measured approach to the Nice treaty and it will continue to act in that fashion. The constitution is more readable and comprehensible than previous treaties and the convention method has established itself as transparent. It is a proven way to operate. The charter of fundamental rights is also a step in the right direction.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, has indicated in newspaper reports that the constitution as submitted will be the basis for negotiations at the Intergovernmental Conference. If that is the case, the Minister should bring his negotiating skills to bear in certain areas. I am concerned about Articles 40.3, 40.6 and 40.7. Article 40.3 obliges us to increase our military spending and capabilities, to which I object fundamentally. My party objects in principle. Given the hospital bed shortages and the problems in education, it is indefensible to spend more money on armaments. Articles 40.6 and 40.7 provide us with the opportunity to develop closer and structured military co-operation without a referendum. It should be remembered that closer co-operation can involve mutual defence and the fact that it can happen without a referendum is extremely problematic. It is interesting to note that the new EU security doctrine devised by Javier Solana was unveiled at Thessalonika. It recognises that the EU may have to use force to prevent the construction of weapons of mass destruction and indicates support for pre-emptive strikes.
All of this is very familiar and the debacle we are witnessing in Iraq should make it unacceptable. I would have thought people would have had qualms about using this sort of language. It is already there in the solidarity clause. I support the Government amendment on the solidarity clause which refers to prevention of terrorist threats, but does not state that no military adventures may take place outside the territory of the European Union. If we compete militarily with the United States of America, we run the risk of making the same mistakes the US has made. It is a very dangerous road to go down.
I would like to see a tightening up of provisions on sustainability. The green eight group in Europe has said that Article 3.3 is not strong enough and I support Margot Wallstrom who has said that we require the attachment to the constitution of a protocol on sustainability. I hope the Minister accepts that. There needs to be more democratic control and accountability in trade negotiations. The World Trade Organisation must become the fair trade organisation.
I have not had time to refer to institutional changes. There are a great many issues which will cause difficulties there. We cannot pretend to be opposed to Sellafield while accepting the EURATOM treaty as a protocol attached to this constitution. It is not acceptable.
The European Council meeting in Greece took place against the backdrop of continuing revelations of the way in which the Anglo-American alliance used lies and deceit to justify its invasions of Iraq. No weapons of mass destruction have been found and there is no evidence of their existence. The United Nations inspectors have not been allowed to return despite the fact that it was the alleged non-co-operation of Iraq with them that was used to justify the war. The head of the weapons inspection team, Dr. Hans Blix, has been sharply critical of the way the process was abused by the US and British governments. The illegal military occupation of Iraq is descending into repression, civil strife and guerrilla warfare.
The main focus of the summit was foreign policy and much was made of the agreement reached in the wake of divisions in the EU during the invasion of Iraq. The Council concluded that the development of trans-Atlantic relations on an equal footing remains of fundamental importance in every domain, not only for the two sides, but for the international community. However, the trans-Atlantic relationship is on anything but an equal footing. The British joined the US invasion regardless of differences with their EU partners and the Bush and Blair governments rode roughshod over the United Nations and disregarded opposition in Europe.
Instead of carrying out the necessary reformation and strengthening of the United Nations, the European Union leaders took another major step in Greece towards the militarisation of the EU. They are attempting to create a political and military power bloc in a futile effort to balance the power of the United States of America. The Government should have no part in this process as has been stated here time and time again. However, the Taoiseach and his fellow EU leaders agreed to establish in 2004 an intergovernmental agency in the field of defence capabilities, development research, acquisition and armaments. It is planned to develop defence capabilities in the field of crisis management, to promote and enhance European armaments co-operation, to strengthen the European defence industrial and technological base and to create a competitive European defence equipment market. It is a disgrace that the Irish Government was party to this agreement.
The draft European Union Constitution which emerged from the convention and which was presented to EU leaders in Greece proposes to establish a European armaments agency, the basis of a European military-industrial complex. This is contrary to our belief that multilateral disarmament, particularly multilateral nuclear disarmament, should be a central goal of Ireland and the European Union. In Greece, the Council agreed to a process of negotiation of the draft constitution at an intergovernmental conference, while at the same meeting it pre-empted this process by establishing an intergovernmental defence agency. There is no question that this is the case but this is not a people's process. The demand for an EU constitution and the transformation of the EU from a partnership of states to a single state does not come from the people. It is driven by a political and bureaucratic elite. It is widely accepted that there needs to be simplification and consolidation of existing EU treaties, but that should not be used to advance the superstate project.
The Government has already taken the people for granted in much of this just as they did in the context of the Nice treaty. I assure the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, that we will not allow the Government to do so in the issue of this proposed constitution.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle
A maximum time of 20 minutes is available for questions.
Does the Minister of State accept that we are witnessing a continuing shift of power due to the institutional changes I did not have time to touch on in my speech? The creation of the post of president of the Council, which I acknowledge the smaller countries oppose, including Ireland, represents a shift of power from the Commission to the Council. Does the Minister accept that this is part of a process and that, like the process initiated at the time of the Amsterdam treaty with the creation of a high representative which has now led to double hatting and the creation of a Minister for Foreign Affairs, at some point in the future there could be a single president, which is the wish of many of the bigger states? Does this cause the Minister concern and will he raise it in the Intergovernmental Conference?
Will the Minister outline in detail the Government's position on the EURATOM Treaty? This is of importance to the Green Party. Will the Minister make it clear in the Intergovernmental Conference that attaching the EURATOM Treaty as a protocol is unacceptable to the Irish Government? With regard to defence issues, what is the bottom line of the Irish Government? The Finnish Government has outlined its bottom line. It is prepared to accept enhanced co-operation in the area of defence—
One does not reveal one's bottom line in public. The Minister of State is not that naive even if he has an innocent expression on his face.
If there is democratic accountability in this House and if we are to discuss these important issues, perhaps the Minister of State would give us a clue of his position on defence matters, particularly with regard to Article 40.3 which commits us to further spending on defence.
I will take all the questions asked, both by the leaders of the parties and the recent specific questions. I will be as quick as possible so there will be time for further questions.
I am grateful to Deputies Kenny, Rabbitte, Harkin, John Bruton and Gormley for their kind remarks. I also pay tribute to Proinsias De Rossa and Deputies John Bruton, Gormley, Carey and my alternate, Mr. Bobby McDonagh. We worked extremely well as a team. It was a novelty for a government to leave the two lead positions in the parliamentary tier to opposition members. It was a good idea and it worked extremely well.
Deputy Kenny and other speakers were correct to point out that the convention has reached a positive point. It is a positive development. We have worked through a novel process and I agree with Deputy Gormley about the openness of the new way of doing business. It is a far better way. This point was also made by Deputies Kenny, John Bruton and Harkin. It is a more public process than the classical form of holding treaty negotiations in secret. It is a better process and the way of the future.
Deputy Kenny asked about the evolution of a common foreign and security policy. He also mentioned the European security and defence policy, as did other speakers. I will deal with specific questions in that area later. With regard to the common foreign and security policy, I agree with the point he implicitly made that there should be more clarity on this than there has been heretofore. I do not take the view, which was implicit in Deputy Gormley's comments, that the concept of an EU Foreign Minister is inherently bad. I would have a quibble with the title; Deputy Gormley is aware that I thought there should be a more appropriate title. However, the idea is welcome.
The new post will create more coherence and more visibility for the Union's external relationships. That cannot but be positive. That is not to suggest, to take up Deputy Ó Caoláin's point, that Europe should be a counterpoint, in terms of being a world power, to the United States. Europe should never aspire to being a world power. However, Europe is a significant economic giant in the world and it is perverse and odd that it does not have clear external representation. That would be the positive outcome of this. We would be anxious that the Union Minister for Foreign Affairs should not chair the External Affairs Council meeting. The reason we have given is that the Union Foreign Minister must be answerable to the Council. That issue will be discussed in the Intergovernmental Conference. It is not the biggest issue for us but it is a big issue for others.
Deputy Kenny also referred to neutrality and the evolution of the European security and defence policy. Deputy Kenny is aware of my view that the EU has a long way to go before it has a coherent security and defence policy. There is nothing in the convention that trespasses on or challenges the right of a member state to pursue a policy of neutrality or non-alignment. Deputy Kenny pointed out that a debate is needed on the issue of neutrality and I acknowledge the Fine Gael initiative in opening such a debate. I am firmly wed to the traditional Irish approach but I accept that others take a different view. It is time to have that debate and I hope it will be open, transparent, non-hysterical and will focus on facts.
I have complimented the role of Deputy John Bruton and his extraordinary energy. He raised a general point about global security and the role the EU must play. He also commented on the different visions that inform the European approach and that of the United States. Deputy Ó Caoláin was not present when Deputy Bruton made that point but it is a vital point. If Deputy Ó Caoláin examines what he said he will see that his interpretation, particularly of the Solana view, is wrong. What Deputy Bruton is saying and what is suggested in the Solana paper is that there should be a concept of positive pre-emptive engagement. It is close in terminology but a world away in fact from the US approach. Deputy Bruton illustrated this well in his contribution. There is a polarity between the American approach of a pre-emptive right to strike and the approach suggested by Solana, an approach which Deputies Gormley and Ó Caoláin would actually support.
The pre-emptive engagement suggested by Solana is engagement in helping to build democracy, to create good governance and societies which are based on justice and democratic principles. Every Member of this House would espouse such aims and would hope that Europe would develop in that direction. The language lends itself to misinterpretation but Members should read the Solana paper. A number of Deputies had difficulty getting it but it is available on the web or I can make it available to them. It requires a degree of quiet reflection.
Deputy Rabbitte asked about ECAP. ECAP means the European capabilities action plan and is an aspect of the development of a common foreign and defence policy through which the Union focuses on a range of humanitarian, peacekeeping and crisis management tasks. ECAP is intended as a process to try and remedy shortfalls in capabilities. One can take a negative or positive view of this. I prefer to take the positive view. If Europe is to be engaged in any form of peacekeeping, peace making or humanitarian activities, it makes sense to have an efficient and effective way of doing so. ECAP is not in any way threatening.
Deputy Rabbitte also asked if there will be a Green Paper or White Paper on this issue. We should be looking at ways of engaging the public in a wider debate. Two Deputies asked if the forum will continue. It will. There was some criticism of the fact that the forum does not get enough attention in the media. In fact, I am not sure we can engage in such a debate without the Fourth Estate being actively supportive of that role. Deputies and Senators in the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs have given a great deal of time to this, yet they do not get an inch of space. That is regrettable because there is a responsibility on all political sides to communicate but if the fourth estate, the print or electronic media, refuses to carry the communication, it is very difficult. In the initial phase we should continue the ongoing public and parliamentary process. I have already said to the party leaders that I would be willing to meet with them and discuss the issues further because the parties need briefing and I am available for that, and although people's time is pressurised we should look at that. The idea of a Green Paper or White Paper should come a little later in the process, particularly when we are approaching completion of the Intergovernmental Conference.
Deputy Rabbitte also asked about the reference to fundamentalism and terrorism. The report has yet to be considered in detail by the council but it was commissioned to examine the impact of the developments in those areas and how Europe can take a more studied view rather than give a hysterical knee-jerk reaction. Deputy Gormley touched on the issue of the Intergovernmental Conference and the future of the convention, as did Deputy Rabbitte. The convention's great success was that it was open, transparent and was a completely different way of doing business. I would like to see, in so far as it is possible, that type of openness and transparency carried over to the Intergovernmental Conference. I also agree with Deputy John Bruton's comment that the Intergovernmental Conference will not be able to unpick much of the good work that has been done in the Convention.
Deputy Harkin made an insightful contribution and I am grateful to her. She spoke about the benefits of a single treaty and a single clear text, and she is absolutely right. I agree especially that the use of the word "constitution" in the title may well confuse people. She also made a very realistic observation that this is a treaty which will be ratified by states—
I am reluctant to intervene but the time allotted at this stage was for question and answer.
I am answering questions.
The Minister of State is answering questions that were raised in the debate but it is a specific question and answer session. If the Minister of State would allow me, Deputies Bruton and Ó Caoláin want to submit questions.
Deputy Gormley had a question.
Could the Minister of State answer the three questions I asked?
Sorry, Deputy Gormley. Perhaps the Minister of State would like to answer them after we hear two more questions but we are rapidly running out of time. If he answers your three questions now, it will be time to move on to the next business so I propose to give Deputies Bruton and Ó Caoláin an opportunity to submit brief questions.
First, in regard to the proposed annual report on migration and integration of immigrants, which I heartily welcome, will the Minister of State elaborate on exactly what this is likely to contain? Second, in regard to the EU west Balkans initiative, which is an extremely important part of building democracy in the remaining unstable area of the Union, is the Minister of State satisfied that there will be adequate funds available for that? I have read some suggestions to the effect that it is under-funded or is liable to be so. Third, in regard to the issue of services of general economic interest, would the Minister of State agree that this term is extremely vague but that it represents a genuine issue of certain basic services which should be available, regardless of geographic considerations or the means of recipients. Would the Minister of State agree that further work might be done in the Intergovernmental Conference on refining this concept in order that it could be recognised even though it was not recognised by the convention?
On the extradition treaty with the US, which I understand is under negotiation – the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform may be helpful in his presence here – how is it to be assured that people, once extradited to the US, will not find themselves liable to the death penalty? Although assurances will be given before extradition, if further charges, for example, are preferred against them, which carry the death penalty, will the extradition warrant exclude the death penalty even in the case of such charges? Finally, would the Minister of State agree that there is a lacuna in our work in the convention in the matter of how sectoral councils are to be co-ordinated, given that the president of the European Council will not co-ordinate the line councils for good reason? Is the Minister of State satisfied from his experience that the General Affairs Council would be able to do this job given that it has a poor record and a poor level of attendance by Ministers? Will it be able to co-ordinate line councils adequately?
What position did the Government take regarding the proposal adopted at Thessaloniki to establish in 2004 an intergovernmental agency that would have a focus on and responsibility in the field of defence capabilities and the development, research and acquisition of armaments?
Does the Deputy want to give them some?
I am asking a question of the Minister of State. This agency would address and develop defence capabilities in the field of crisis management, promoting and enhancing European armaments co-operation, strengthening the European defence industrial and technological base and creating a competitive European defence equipment market. Did the Irish Government oppose that during the course of the summit and, if not, why not?
Does the Minister of State agree that the decision taken at Thessalonika pre-empts the proposal in the draft EU constitution to establish the European armaments agency and what is the Government's view of that proposal? Does he agree with me that the EU should have nothing to do with the establishment of a military industrial complex?
Perhaps the only point on which I agree with Deputy Ó Caoláin is that we should not be developing an industrial military complex. Nothing is further from the intentions of the proposal. Deputy Gormley asked several questions which I did not answer. The specific institutional question was whether we are witnessing a shift in power in the creation of an EU Council president and the answer is that we are not. Deputy Gormley and I discussed this at length during the course of the convention. He knows my views on the matter; what has been created is much closer to the chairmanship role which is currently played within the rotating presidency and does not in any way violate the balance.
Deputy Gormley is correct that one of the primary concerns of the smaller states, which many of us, including Deputy Gormley and I, shared was to retain and protect the institutional balance. That is certainly protected. I disagree with Deputy Gormley that there is no obligation whatsoever to increase defence spending. The EU needs capabilities in the area of the Petersberg Tasks. Armaments co-operation or co-operation in securing interoperability is far from a sinister development. If we are going to put our troops into the field to assist in UN-mandated operations, as we will from time to time, it is clearly sensible that there should be interoperability between them and other people in the field. It would be a threat to the lives and welfare of those young men and women if we did not do that. That is quite a nonsensical view of the issue.
How can the Minister of State improve military capacity without spending money?
Allow the Minister of State to speak without interruption, please.
Through co-operation, one achieves economies of scale, interoperability and other benefits. I answered the question already on the European capabilities action plan and Deputy Ó Caoláin asked me a separate question on it. This is an aspect of the development of security and defence policy through which the Union is focused on a range of humanitarian peacekeeping and crisis management tasks. It is not a sinister development, as the Deputy suggests, nor is it new. It did not arise out of Thessalonika because the idea was launched as far back as the Council meeting in 2001. It might be worthwhile revisiting the question. I am wide open for discussion on any issue with any of the party leaders.
Did the Government oppose it?
Deputy Ó Caoláin should allow the Minister of State to speak.
I am making the point that it is not a sinister development and there is no reason whatsoever—
Did the Government oppose it?
Deputy Ó Caoláin, I will have to draw the statement to a conclusion.
I am at least as interested in peace, security and harmony in Europe as Deputy Ó Caoláin, and my interest in that goes back a long way. Deputy John Bruton asked about the western Balkans. There were Commission proposals before the meeting of the European Council in Thessalonika regarding funding. The feeling is that the funding put in place is adequate. Extradition to the United States is an issue which I would like to pass over to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. I believe that the agreement is on the basis that the death penalty cannot apply. I may be wrong, but I will check.
Are there any restrictions if the person is charged after the event?
I apologise. In that regard, my understanding is that it certainly cannot be reversed after the event. There were several other questions. I dealt with openness and transparency.
Deputy Ó Caoláin dealt with another point, the question being whether the creation of an EU agency might only encourage an arms race against the US. I have mentioned the logic of some sort of common procedures. There is certainly no reason why that should create an arms race against the United States. There are economies of scale. The developments on arms, far from being sinister, are pragmatic. The general question was also asked about the background for arms co-operation in the EU. Co-operation in that area has a fairly long history, but it is outside the EU treaty, and it makes sense to move in the same direction as the Community.
Deputy Gormley raised a final question, also about the solidarity clause. Our response to the proposed treaty articles in the area has confirmed that we are open in principle to the possibility of a solidarity clause, and we discussed that at length. The issue was the subject of submissions from me during the course of the convention. We do not believe that the solidarity clause should extend to pre-emptive military activity, which I think was the Deputy's specific point. We certainly do not see it in those terms. As has been underlined, the idea is that, in the event of an emergency, the Union would be in a position to mobilise all its assets and call on those of its member states, both civilian and military. It is very much in keeping with our own tradition. In principle, Austria, Finland and Sweden, for example, have already indicated—
The time is up.
I have dealt with most issues. I will write to Deputy Gormley about pre-emptive engagement to draw his attention to it.