Good evening and it is a pleasure to be in Athlone. I thank the Chairman and the committee for the introduction and I am glad a group opposed to the Lisbon treaty other than Libertas is getting to speak. There is a range of opinions, of which Libertas is not necessarily representative, on the "No" side.
I am here to represent an organisation called Action from Ireland, or AfrI, a justice, peace and human rights organisation which has been around since 1975. It organises activities such as an annual famine walk, which will take place tomorrow week in Louisburgh in County Mayo, which highlights issues of global injustice, resource access and so on, with a particular focus on issues affecting people in so-called developing countries or the global south. That is the perspective from which we come.
There is a brochure for that walk on the table by the door and there are other publications, including one more relevant to tonight, a position paper we have recently published detailing our arguments against the Lisbon treaty. Attendees should feel free to take a copy of that on their way out.
I welcome greatly the chance to engage in this debate, which is very valuable. I acknowledge there are arguments for a "Yes" vote and I look forward to hearing those. I am keen to emphasise there are at least two sides to this debate and those urging a "No" vote are not necessarily loolas or insane, to use the language of a former Taoiseach. There is a reasonable argument.
I wish to start that argument with a somewhat provocative statement, which is that in many respects, Ireland is no longer a neutral country. It is not the act of a neutral country to offer Shannon Airport as a staging post for the transit of US troops and supplies involved in the occupation of Iraq. It is not the act of a neutral Government to refuse to act upon the strong evidence of Irish airports being used for the purposes of extraordinary rendition, the kidnapping and torturing of individuals accused of terrorist involvement. It is not the action of a fully neutral Government to participate in European and NATO military structures.
Irish troops already serve at NATO headquarters in Brussels under the NATO-led Partnership for Peace initiative. They have participated in NATO-led missions, including in Afghanistan. There are also full-time EU military staff headquartered in Brussels, with whom Irish Army officers serve, along with various other committees and networks.
There is already a great deal of militarisation occurring. As a crucial starting point, that has implications for neutrality, which I will return to in a moment.
In so far as it is possible to work out what the Lisbon treaty, quite a complex document, is saying, the question is whether the new treaty significantly affects the existing scenario of EU and Irish militarisation, and, if so, whether it makes a difference for the better or worse. There are at least four specific proposals in the treaty, or elements of the treaty, that impact upon military matters. I will speak on military matters.
The first relates to a common defence arrangement, a very controversial issue. One of the articles of the treaty states that if a member state is the victim of armed aggression on its territory, the other member states shall have towards it an obligation of aid and assistance by all means in their power in accordance with Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. There is also a solidarity clause, which expresses quite a similar commitment in many ways.
The Chairman has mentioned that this is Europe Day, commemorating a speech made by Robert Schuman, one of the founders of what would become the European Union. In its explanatory guide to the treaty, the Robert Schuman Foundation has described these clauses as "a vital step towards the development of European defence".
The Government insists that Ireland's so-called traditional concept of military neutrality is unaffected by these provisions. This raises very thorny, vexed issues of what exactly neutrality means. Not only is there no agreement on whether Ireland is actually neutral but the meaning of neutrality itself is quite unclear.
According to successive Governments, Ireland's military neutrality is characterised by non-membership of military alliances. That is a very narrow definition. In the first place, formal membership of a military alliance may not be the only measure of neutrality or its absence. For example, Ireland did not join a formal military alliance when, as I mentioned, it granted US troops transit facilities through Shannon. Even people who support that decision would not argue that Ireland has remained neutral vis-à-vis the conflict in Iraq.
The notion of what constitutes a formal military alliance is itself routinely reduced to participation, or non-participation, in a mutual defence pact. Participation in what are clearly military structures at EU level would strike most people, including those who approve or disapprove of them, as participation in some form of military alliance or at least joint military undertaking.
For many people, neutrality represents something other than this rather narrow and negative concept which the Government claims. Many people see neutrality as an opportunity for Ireland to actively engage in the affairs of the world, promoting in a fairly even-handed way the peaceful resolution of disputes, generally pursuing a foreign policy that is not militarily aggressive. That admirable stance is made more difficult when Ireland is seen to be so closely allied to the military objectives of powers such as the US in Iraq or France in Chad. I will return to the Chad issue in a moment.
Present trends, including the Lisbon treaty, would undermine the capacity for what I would term "active neutrality". Ireland is no longer neutral in many important respects and it would become less so under the Lisbon treaty. Its potential to play a positive role in the world — active neutrality — would be further eroded by the treaty. The question of common defence is the first military dimension of the treaty.
The second important innovation in the treaty is the extension of tasks that EU forces may engage in throughout the world under the treaty. At the moment, EU forces abroad in Chad or elsewhere can already engage in a very wide range of tasks and the treaty proposes that the range of tasks be extended to include, for example, military advice and assistance tasks and "supporting third countries in combating terrorism in their territories".
I will come back to the concern that external interventions by the European Union are being given a very wide legitimising framework and potential agenda for action. For example, claiming to be assisting a third country government in combating terrorism through the provision of military advice and assistance raises quite legitimate fears of autocratic rulers being facilitated to suppress opposition. That is not scaremongering and Chad provides a very concrete example of that fear.
The third military dimension of the treaty is it allowing states that wish to do their own thing in military affairs to do so under what is called permanent structured co-operation. Subsets of EU member states may pursue their own agendas for military integration and co-operation without necessarily involving all other member states. Crucially, as the treaty puts it, this must be done within the Union framework. Those subset operations can be undertaken on the basis of a qualified majority vote within the EU Council.
Ireland may choose not to participate directly in such initiatives but by virtue of its participation in the general business of EU military co-operation, including its financing, Ireland would help lay the basis for other states to engage in such co-operation. That co-operation would rightly be perceived as an EU undertaking, even if not all EU members were directly involved.
Incidentally, the Lisbon treaty makes no reference to the requirement of a UN mandate for an EU intervention. Ireland insists its own troops would never be deployed without a UN mandate but there is nothing to prevent troops from other countries, unavoidably backed up by Irish planning and financial resources, drawing on the support of an EU infrastructure, to launch such an intervention. Subgroups could do so without a UN mandate.
There is lip-service to the UN in the treaty but there is a more concrete and real commitment to another international organisation, NATO. A protocol of the treaty declares that a more assertive EU role will contribute to the vitality of a renewed NATO. We must ask ourselves whether we wish to help renew and revitalise NATO. These subgroups and so-called permanent structured co-operation are the third dimension of the military aspect.
The fourth dimension of the treaty vis-à-vis military affairs is that Ireland is being urged, at the very least, to increase military expenditure. An Article 28A to be included, stipulates that member states shall undertake progressively to improve their military capabilities. It gives formal treaty status to what is called the European Defence Agency, which is intended to co-ordinate and promote military expenditure. As one commentator noted, that appears to be, on the face of it, an entirely unique case of obligatory military expansion being written into a constitution or EU law. It is interesting that the treaty does not say member states shall undertake progressively to improve their education services or member states shall undertake progressively to improve their health services. It says member states shall undertake progressively to improve their military capabilities. That commitment is a very significant statement of intent on the part of the EU.
These are the four elements of the treaty that seem to me to be most relevant vis-à-vis militarisation. They are brought into sharp relief by the current intervention in Chad. The EU’s military intervention there is, ostensibly, intended to protect refugees from Sudan and displaced people within Chad. Over 400 Irish soldiers will be involved. French troops stationed in Chad have, for many years, been instrumental in keeping a dictator, Idriss Deby, in power. When Deby’s regime was attacked earlier this year French troops helped defend the airport, directly fired on rebels and ferried ammunition to Government troops. A French Green Party MEP stated that at the moment France is basically supporting a dictator and has done so for some time. Deby’s regime is not only corrupt and repressive, it also helps foment conflict in Darfur and neighbouring Sudan. Organisations such as Human Rights Watch have highlighted the regime’s responsibility for human rights abuses and the near total impunity that has accompanied those violations.
Rebels in Chad, who are also guilty of human rights violations, rightly see the French as their enemy. Given the activities of French forces over the years, it is highly probable that the rebels will not distinguish between French troops shoring up an autocratic Government and those nominally serving under an EU flag. It is significant for an Oireachtas committee that Dutch members of parliament have expressed concerns about Dutch participation in the mission for precisely this reason. A German MEP described the EU mission as highly irresponsible, especially in view of the fact that intelligence will be shared between the EU force and the longer standing French contingent.
Existing French assets, including aircraft and camp facilities, are being made available to the EU operation and more than half the EU force will be French. An Irishman has overall command of the operation but his headquarters are in France and the commander of forces on the ground will be French. Gérard Prunier, a leading French expert on French African policy, said Idriss Deby is hanging on to power by the skin of his teeth but is likely to hang on only as long as Paris and Brussels continue their support under some kind of pseudo-humanitarian, face-saving dispensation.
I sincerely wish Irish forces serving in Chad well and I sincerely hope that my fears prove unfounded. I hope Irish troops do not become entangled in a civil conflict in support of a dictator. However, I think the prospect is there and we must take it into account. This matter highlights the fears of many Irish people regarding the direction of Irish and EU military developments. Ireland's very honourable record of impartial participation in UN peacekeeping, which I would include under what I earlier termed active neutrality, could be compromised by participation in EU operations that serve as fig leaves for the promotion of the interests of the French state or other EU states.
It is here that the proposals to extend the tasks that EU forces can engage in set alarm bells ringing. "Military advice and assistance tasks" and "supporting third countries in combating terrorism" might come to constitute euphemisms for helping the likes of Idriss Deby suppress those who oppose his rule. I will grant that the Chad operation shows that worrying interventions can already be undertaken but the extension of allowable tasks could facilitate the mounting of even more disturbing interventions and could make such interventions easier in future. Given this real concern, it is unwise to undertake progressively to improve military capabilities when the ends to which those capabilities can be deployed are so obviously problematic.
That is the bulk of what I wanted to say. If I have a couple more minutes I will point out that the rest of the position paper goes into some detail around another aspect of EU policy, namely, development and trade policy. We examine the EU's record in trade negotiations with poorer countries and argue it is largely negative and has damaged the interests of those countries. This is how the Commission has used its existing powers in the area of development and trade policy, the Lisbon treaty proposes to give the Commission additional powers.
Its common commercial policy would be extended to allow it to cover trade in services, commercial aspects of intellectual property rights and foreign direct investment. If the Lisbon treaty is ratified, qualified majority voting will be applied at the level of the Council of Ministers for the conclusion of trade agreements. The Irish veto on trade and agriculture was given away in 1997 under the Amsterdam treaty. If farmers are unhappy with the deal Commissioner Peter Mandelson negotiates at the World Trade Organisation, WTO, talks there is no capacity for an Irish veto and the second speaker may wish to comment on this. This will be extended to the services sector if the Lisbon treaty is passed.
The global liberalisation agenda will be advanced under the Lisbon treaty and this is a significant concern. We highlight the fact that this treaty refers to prohibiting all restrictions on the movement of capital between member states and between member states and third countries. We point to the fact that the treaty refers to the progressive abolition of restrictions on international trade and on foreign direct investment. The treaty says that the EU's negotiating stance in international trade negotiations must be exercised in the pursuit of the liberalisation of capital and trade in goods and services. We argue that legally ensuring this seems unlikely to advance the interests of poor countries. On those grounds alone there is an argument for rejecting the treaty.
The question I posed at the outset was whether the Lisbon treaty will change Irish participation in European and military structures for better or worse. I think it will constitute a change for the worse. We are moving closer to a collective defence arrangement, the range of tasks Irish and European forces may engage in will be extended, subgroups of EU members may use EU resources for external actions and member states are being urged to increase military spending. Such actions would be guided by an overarching commitment to trade liberalisation and other components of an external agenda prejudicial to the interests of poor countries. In short, the EU seeks to acquire enhanced military resources and options and there are strong grounds for doubting that such enhancements would be deployed in ways that would promote justice, peace, human rights and development. For these reasons there is a strong case for rejecting the treaty and voting "No" in the forthcoming referendum.