I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
Is cúis mhór áthais dom a bheith anseo agus an Bille an-tábhachtach seo a chur faoi bhráid na Dála. Tá mé ag súil go mbeidh díospóireacht iontach againn agus spéis mhór ag mórchuid na ndaoine ann.
The Bill amends the European Communities Act of 1972, enabling certain parts of the treaty, providing for the accession of the Republic of Bulgaria and Romania to the European Union, to become part of the domestic law of this State as soon as Ireland ratifies the treaty. The content of this Bill is in line with earlier amendments of the European Communities Act 1972 through which provisions of previous EU treaties have been given domestic legal effect.
The Bill may be short but it is significant. The forthcoming accession of Bulgaria and Romania, will mark the completion of the Union's fifth and by far its largest, most ambitious and most important enlargement to date. Ireland has been positively associated with this process from its inception to its completion. Shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the communist regimes in central and eastern Europe, a special meeting of the European Council was convened in Dublin in April 1990 during the Irish Presidency. At that time, it was decided to enter into agreements with the emerging democracies in those countries. This marked the first step along a path, that has led to their EU membership.
It was a source of great pride to us that, almost 15 years later, Ireland hosted the Day of Welcomes for the ten new members states who joined the Union on 1 May 2004. This was a defining moment in the history of the Union. It was a day that will live long in the memory. However, work remained to be done. Under the Irish Presidency, accession negotiations were significantly advanced with Romania and provisionally closed with Bulgaria. So it was that Ireland assumed a lead role in completing the historic fifth enlargement.
On 13 April 2005, the accession treaty for Bulgaria and Romania was approved by the European Parliament. The treaty was later signed by Ireland, our fellow member states and the acceding countries on 25 April 2005. The passage of the Bill before the House is one of two necessary steps towards Ireland's ratification of the treaty. The House has been requested to pass a motion approving the terms of the treaty. This was referred to the Dáil select committee yesterday. Ireland's formal ratification can proceed when these two steps have been completed.
To enter into force, the treaty must be ratified by Bulgaria and Romania and by all the current EU member states by 31 December 2006. The Bulgarian and Romanian parliaments ratified the treaty in May 2005 and, since then, 14 member states have ratified it. Those yet to ratify have confirmed that they will complete the process in good time. It is important that Ireland should keep pace with our EU partners in ratifying the accession treaty.
As member states move to fulfil their obligations under the accession treaty, important work remains to be done in the two acceding countries. Today's debate comes at a crucial time for both Bulgaria and Romania. Their accession to the European Union is not in doubt and our objective is to welcome both countries as members on 1 January 2007. However, under the terms of the accession treaty, the Union could postpone the accession for one or both countries for up to a year if either is not ready to meet the requirements of membership in 2007.
A decision on the date of accession will be taken by the European Council on the basis of a recommendation from the European Commission. Its decision will be based upon the findings in the European Commission's comprehensive monitoring reports which will become available for both Bulgaria and Romania on Tuesday next. These reports will provide an objective assessment of the progress made by them and will identify any remaining shortcomings and obstacles to their early membership of the European Union.
On 3 April last, the Enlargement Commissioner, Mr. Olli Rehn, presented a preliminary assessment to the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament. At that time, he noted that many positive developments had taken place in both countries since the Commission's last reports in October 2005. He commended both countries on their achievements so far as part of their democratic and economic transformation. However, he indicated that the forthcoming monitoring report would focus on some important areas where further reform is still required.
In particular, significant progress will need to be made in judicial reform and the fight against corruption. In Romania, the focus in these areas is very much on consolidating the steps already taken and ensuring that the pace of implementation is maintained. On Bulgaria, Commissioner Rehn noted that judicial accountability, efficiency and transparency needed to be enhanced. The structures supporting the fight against corruption and organised crime are seen as being in need of further reinforcement. The adoption, however, of important constitutional amendments in late March and of a new penal procedural code on 29 April represent encouraging steps. These positive developments will require solid implementation leading to tangible results in the months before accession.
Commissioner Rehn touched on other issues of common concern in respect of both countries. Bulgaria and Romania both need to continue their efforts to combat the trafficking of human beings and to step up the integration of minorities. They must ensure that their administrative structures can cope with EU Structural and Cohesion Funds and they need to address some outstanding concerns in the field of agriculture. Most crucially, however, Commissioner Rehn emphasised that the target of accession in 2007 remains achievable for both Bulgaria and Romania so long as the necessary reforms are completed and implemented. Both countries are clearly committed to maintaining the pace of reform and they are being encouraged to make full use of the time available to them to address those issues highlighted by the Commission.
As the date of accession approaches, it is easy to focus only on what remains to be done. However, one should never lose sight of what has already been achieved by these countries. The task of negotiating and agreeing the terms of membership has been a mammoth one. It involved alignment with tens of thousands of pages of EU legislation. In the process, Bulgaria and Romania were required to make difficult economic choices and brave political decisions. The transition in both countries from the oppressive and corrupt regimes of the communist era to the functioning democracies they are today has been nothing short of spectacular. The speed and conviction with which this has been achieved is a reflection of the commitment in both countries to the values and ideals shared by all member states. The prospect of EU membership has been a major driver of political and economic change. In the course of the accession negotiations and in the intervening period, Bulgaria and Romania have emphatically shown that their true place lies within the European Union. They have been attending all EU meetings for more than a year now and contributing to debates at all levels. They are, in practice, already very much part of the European Union.
Their comparatively rapid transition, reflects positively on the Union's enlargement strategy. It must be doubted whether their advancement would have been quite as rapid or as profound without the lure of EU membership. Throughout the process, the EU has worked closely with them, measuring their efforts against the exacting conditions of membership. For our part, Ireland carefully monitored the entire process, especially the conduct of the accession negotiations in policy areas of particular significance to us such as agriculture, regional policy and institutional questions.
Ireland has taken a constructive approach to helping both countries with their preparations for EU membership. As major beneficiaries of the first EU enlargement, we have had much experience to share with our future EU partners, especially in areas such as ensuring the optimum use of Structural and Cohesion Funds. The Government has allocated over €1 million annually for the provision of training and assistance to the candidate and acceding states. This has been money well spent. Our accession training programme has provided real benefits to the beneficiary countries and has proved to be an effective way of building up new contacts which will serve to benefit both sides when we work together as full partners within the European Union.
As both Bulgaria and Romania have progressed towards membership, our bilateral relations with them have deepened considerably. New embassies were opened in Sofia and Bucharest last year and we have seen notable increases in bilateral trade in recent years. These may be relatively less developed countries but both have considerable growth potential. For example, trade with Romania increased from less than €5 million in 1992 to over €175 million last year. Trade with Bulgaria has multiplied more than eightfold since 1994. Last year alone, trade with Romania increased by 75%, while trade with Bulgaria showed an 11% rise. The number of Irish tourists travelling to Bulgaria doubled in 2005 and that trend is set to continue.
As can be seen from these figures, we are learning to engage more fully with two countries with which our traditional links have been very modest. There is clearly considerable scope for further mutually beneficial interaction with them in the future. I would expect them to grow in importance as economic partners for Ireland once they settle into the EU and begin to reap the benefits of membership.
Although the fifth enlargement has pushed Europe's geographical boundaries further from us, we are satisfied that our economy possesses the strength and vigour to take full advantage of the opportunities provided by a Union of 27 member states. Moreover, a stable and unified Europe is in our best interests. The spread of characteristic EU values and standards throughout Europe is a major achievement and is something from which Ireland manifestly benefits.
The free movement of workers has proven to be one of the most sensitive issues surrounding the fifth enlargement of the Union. In 2004, most of the EU-15 chose to maintain restrictions on workers from the ten new member states. Ireland was one of only three countries to fully open its labour market to the EU-10, with Sweden and the United Kingdom. It is a pity that more countries did not follow Ireland's lead in this respect. We are proud of our positive attitude and of the success that has been achieved.
As a result of Ireland's decision to facilitate the free movement of workers, the number of nationals working in Ireland from the EU-10 rose dramatically to reach an estimated 2% of the working age population in 2005. While this has been a novel experience for Ireland, as we have no history of inward migration on this scale, the effects have been positive for the most part. In particular, there has been little or no negative impact on unemployment, which remains at a historically low level. The availability of workers from the new member states has helped our economy to sustain strong growth rates. Concerns have been expressed about possible exploitation of migrant workers and there is unanimous agreement that such abuses must not be tolerated.
Earlier this year, the European Commission published a report on the functioning of the European labour market following the accession of the ten new member states. It showed that labour mobility is conditioned not so much by the restrictions put in place by governments but by the demand for labour in the receiving states. In other words, workers from the new member states come to Ireland because there are jobs available and not because there is no requirement for them to have a work permit. In light of the Commission's findings, it is disappointing that only four other countries have chosen to join Ireland in fully opening up their labour markets from 1 May last. I hope the remaining member states will decide to follow suit before too long.
The European Commission has observed that Ireland, Sweden and the UK have experienced better employment performance than those who maintained restrictions. Our decision in 2004 to open up our labour market was taken on the basis of a combination of practical and moral considerations. Our economy needed an increased workforce, but we also felt a need to be supportive of people who had experienced many decades of economic and political hardship. We could clearly remember a time when Ireland was a less fortunate place than it is today, a time when emigration cast a sombre shadow over Irish society.
While Ireland took a decision to facilitate the free movement of workers in 2004, I wish to make it plain that the Bill before the Dáil today does not prejudge Ireland's decision on whether to allow Bulgarian and Romanian workers to enter our labour market without work permits. This decision will be taken closer to the date of accession and will be based on full consideration of all the relevant issues. The prevailing labour market conditions and the intentions of our fellow member states will be among the factors to be taken into consideration when arriving at this decision.
It is sometimes argued that the Union's post-Cold War enlargement, of which the accession of Bulgaria and Romania forms part, has been achieved at the expense of the Union's coherence and against the interests of its existing members. This is not the case. Last week, the European Commission presented a paper to the Council entitled, Enlargement, two years after — an Economic Success, which sets aside the political-strategic dimension of the last enlargement and focuses on its economic impact. Overall, the paper shows that the recent enlargement has created the conditions for the whole European economy to become stronger and more dynamic. Europe's strength as a trading bloc has been increased and it is now better equipped to face stiffening global competition. There has been steady economic growth and a significant increase in trade. The emerging market economies have added new vitality to the financial sector.
The paper also addresses the fears commonly held in the EU-15 that companies would choose to relocate to the new member states in search of more competitive labour. The Commission's paper concludes that while there has been a substantial increase in investment from the EU-15 in the new member states, this has largely occurred in the context of privatisation programmes and new, fast-growing markets which are being serviced as a result of new opportunities. It has not to any great extent involved the transfer of activities previously carried out in the home country.
Moreover, it appears to be the case that the labour market skills in the new member states broadly complement those of the EU-15. As a result, the outsourcing of parts of the production process to the new member states has often allowed firms in the EU-15 to strengthen their competitive edge, resulting in a net favourable impact on employment. Recent research in the EU-15 has indicated that relocation to the east has accounted for less than 2% of the overall annual job turnover.
It is clear that the fifth enlargement has brought new economic dynamism into the European Union. By and large, the economies of the new member states are growing more robustly than those of the EU-15. Average GDPper capita in the EU-10 has grown from 44% of the EU-15 level in 1997 to 50% in 2005. The EU-10 have very open economies in which trade represents 93% of GDP, compared to the EU-15 average of 55%. Nevertheless, the EU-15 continue to run a large trade surplus with the EU-10. A number of the new member states are already planning to join the euro in the coming years.
Last year, the prophets of doom had a field day at the expense of the European Union. First, there was the rejection of the EU constitution in France and the Netherlands and then the June European Council failed to agree the Union's budget for 2007-13. It was gleefully argued by some that a Union of 25 had overstretched itself fatally and was destined for institutional paralysis and, possibly, ultimate dissolution. Enlargement was widely seen as the culprit on both fronts.
Happily, the Union's horizons have brightened considerably in the interim and the challenge of enlargement can now be seen in a more positive light. In December last, the European Council agreed a budgetary package amounting to €860 billion over a seven-year period. This means that the enlarged Union now has the budgetary resources to support its key policies, notably in agriculture and economic and social cohesion which will benefit the new member states. This will afford them the opportunities from which Ireland has profited so richly during the past three decades of our EU membership. The EU's 2004 enlargement represented a win-win situation in which the enlarged Union is a stronger Union. I expect the accession of Bulgaria and Romania ultimately to strengthen us also.
Any discussion of the accession of Bulgaria and Romania inevitably raises broader issues about EU enlargement. Ireland is in an ideal position from which to survey the pros and cons of enlargement. After all, we were part of the EU's first intake in 1973 and have witnessed several subsequent stages as the Union extended itself successively to the south, the north and the east.
When Ireland joined the European Community in 1973, it was the poorest Community country and among the least developed in Western Europe. Many Europeans at the time saw Ireland as an odd man out and an outpost of economic under-achievement in a Union of wealthy, advanced societies. At home it was argued that we would be structurally incapable of living with the competition from our highly developed neighbours. In 1972, the common sense of a great mass of people dismissed the scare stories of the pessimists, who favoured isolation over active engagement, with more than 80% voting "Yes" for EC membership.
At that time it was suggested that Irish culture was doomed to extinction. How could the seemingly fragile plants of our distinctive traditions in music, literature and art survive the relentless European forces to which they would be subjected? More than three decades later, our culture has never been more vibrant. From 2007 onwards, Irish will become an official and working language of the European Union. By embracing the values of the wider world, we have grown in confidence and national stature. Our writers, musicians, dancers and artists play to a global audience and combine critical acclaim with popular success. It is clear, on reflection, that the pessimists sorely underestimated the ability of the people to cope with what Europe had to offer. They were, however, correct in one sense in that they predicted that Ireland would be transformed beyond anyone's wildest imaginings, which has been the case. Even those who most ardently supported the European project could hardly have dared hope that Ireland would, in a little more than three decades, become the vibrant, prosperous, future-oriented place it is today. This is the destiny to which the peoples of Bulgaria and Romania rightly aspire with our full support.
It is not my purpose to pretend that everything in the intervening period has been plain sailing. Few, however, could doubt that joining the EC has provided an indispensable framework for Ireland's emergence as a successful modern European economy. Membership will act in a similar manner as a catalyst for Bulgaria and Romania in their future development. While Ireland's record within the EU has been an undoubted success story, it is just part of a wider European achievement. Despite the setbacks surrounding the ratification of the EU Constitution, today's EU is a very different entity from the one Ireland joined in 1973. It has an internal market in which goods and services flow freely and the euro is a well established currency shared by 12 EU countries, with more to join in the coming years. Perhaps, most significantly, the Union has 25 members, including countries that were still military dictatorships or communist autocracies only a generation ago.
EU enlargement, therefore, has transformed the Union and has helped to transform Europe. In the process, Europe has become a much better place in which to live than it ever could have been during the dark years of the Cold War or in the heyday of Franco, Salazar and the Greek colonels. While Europe has experienced more recent traumas in the Balkans, these are also being addressed actively and the EU is playing a significant role in promoting peace and stability in the region. As it has developed and expanded, the Union has become increasingly respected as a force for peace, security and prosperity in Europe and throughout the world. The desire of many of our neighbours to join is a testimony to the success of a great visionary experiment that evolved from such modest beginnings in the 1950s. Meanwhile, its critics have oscillated between, on the one hand, deriding the notion of greater European unity as hopelessly utopian and, on the other, sounding the alarm about sinister plots to deprive Europeans of their sovereign rights.
As we complete the Union's fifth enlargement, it is critical that we show the same faith in the future of Europe as earlier generations. It is imperative that we do not become disheartened by the inevitable setbacks that crop up from time to time. It is in the nature of things that periods of optimism and progress will be interspersed with moments of doubt and stagnation. We are living in the aftermath of last year's negative referendum results in both France and the Netherlands. While fears about enlargement were a contributory factor in these results, we should resist the temptation of ascribing the outcome solely to that factor. The question of enlargement is a sideshow in the bigger picture of the challenges that confront Europe in the period ahead. The global scene is undergoing a period of rapid change. Europe needs to face up to a range of issues, including the threat of terrorism, the energy crisis, the dangers of climate change, the aging of Europe's population and the dramatic rise of new economic powerhouses such as China, India and Brazil. Consideration of enlargement needs to be viewed against this more expansive backdrop.
The five previous enlargements have, in their turn, given the Union a new energy and a renewed ability to deal purposefully with changing agendas and emerging challenges. Each enlargement has increased its global weight. This needs to be borne in mind when we look to the future. Those who imagine that we can retreat to the certainties of a mythical past are sorely mistaken. We cannot rely on past glories and must deal with the realities that lie ahead. The Union is part of the solution to Europe's needs and a failure by the EU to come to terms with the dynamics transforming the world economy could result in increasing marginalisation. We must be careful that our horizons are not obscured by excessive navel-gazing and undue negativity. Europe's future is there to be shaped and there are important arguments to be won.
With the completion of the Union's fifth enlargement, our minds inevitably turn towards Europe's outstanding commitments. Accession negotiations have opened with Croatia while the other countries of the western Balkans have the prospect of eventual EU membership, although this is still a long way off. Negotiations are also under way with Turkey, although it may take a decade or more for them to meet all the criteria for membership. It is natural that doubts should arise about enlargement. Much work needs to be done before new members can be accommodated following the accession of Bulgaria and Romania. In the meantime, the Union needs to prove its worth and offer EU citizens a clear strategy for future enlargement. If Union membership is to be further extended, it will need to acquire the economic, political and institutional wherewithal to make this possible. The public will have to be convinced that a further expansion of membership will bring benefits akin to those generated by previous enlargements.
The careful preparation of the Union's most recent enlargement was a key factor in its success. As a result, the EU's most ambitious and symbolic enlargement was also its best prepared. The "big bang" did not result in a catastrophic crash. There is an important lesson in this, as we turn our minds towards the Union's future strategy. Concerns about the functioning of the institutions, worries about the Internal Market and fears about the Union's budget have been part and parcel of every enlargement process. Each time the EU has confounded its detractors and learned to succeed with a larger number of members. The original design for Europe was a Union of six members. As far back as 2001, with the launch of the European Convention, it was recognised that an enlarged Union would need to adjust its workings to ensure it could continue to function effectively. The European constitution was a product of an open, transparent and inclusive negotiating process and it provided for carefully calibrated reforms, designed to meet the demands and needs of an expanded Union.
The House will be more than familiar with this Government's position on the EU constitution. The provisions of the European constitution represent the best option for creating a more efficient and effective Union capable of meeting the challenges of enlargement and a rapidly changing world. It offers a blueprint for a Union, with structures updated to take account of its increased membership. No alternative proposal could come close to commanding the unanimous support of all member states. In this connection, I warmly welcome yesterday's ratification of the constitution by Estonia. It became the fifteenth member state to complete the ratification process and it was highly appropriate that it chose to do so on Europe Day. With regard to enlargement, the Union will need to reconcile the misgivings that clearly exist with its obligation to honour existing commitments and to take account of its obligations towards its fellow Europeans.
There is much to debate. Ireland has profited from enlargement and we have been consistent in our support for all those wishing to accede to the Union. The Government recognises the opportunities of membership and believes these should be extended to others. Our immediate concern is to complete the fifth enlargement and to welcome two new members to the Union. We have an obligation to ratify the accession treaty by the end of this year and this deadline applies regardless of whether the date of accession is 1 January 2007 or a year later. The Bill will enable Ireland to ratify the treaty and will help to pave the way for a Union of 27 member states.
Bulgaria and Romania suffered greatly as a consequence of Europe's past divisions. It is completely fitting that they should become Members of the European Union. Their accession will complete the Union's post-Cold War enlargement and this represents a major historic achievement for Europe, one in which Ireland has played a proud role, especially during its 2004 Presidency. The time has come to welcome them back into the European family where they belong. In the years ahead, I am confident they will benefit from membership and contribute to the Union, as Ireland has done for the past 33 years. I am also confident both Bulgaria and Romania will enhance the European Union in the years ahead.