I, too, welcome this Bill as a limited step on the road to ensuring greater democracy at the European Community level. It is important that we do consider the basic question as to why we are introducing direct elections to the European Parliament. The fundamental reason is that there has been a real transfer of power from the Irish level to the European Community level. Unfortunately, this transfer of power has been a transfer of the exercise of power which was subject to democratic parliamentary control at the Irish level to European level where it is not subject to the same degree of democratic control.
I was rather surprised by the content of Senator Murphy's speech. It was an entertaining speech about the Community which he described as "monumentally boring". He wondered why we were bothering to introduce an attempt at more democracy through direct elections to the European Parliament. Indeed, University College, Cork must be more remote from reality than I had believed and constitute an academic ivory tower, if the Senator is unaware of the degree of power being exercised at the EEC level and its influence on so many aspects of the lives of the citizens of this country. I do not believe that the people of this country are bored by the European Community. I think they are very concerned about certain aspects of it. I think they are disenchanted about areas where their expectations had been—perhaps artificially—raised, or where they had believed some of the commitments to a strong regional policy and a better social policy than has been realised. But people are not bored in the sense that they are increasingly concerned about the influence of the European Community on prices, on jobs—or the lack of jobs here—and on key matters such as farm prices. This Bill is not an academic exercise, it is not an unreal exercise. Our membership of the European Community leaves us with the serious duty to ensure that decision-making in the European Community conforms to minimum standards of democratic control. We can only give a limited welcome to this Bill as a limited, even modest step, towards realising democratic control at the European Community level.
The year before Ireland joined the EEC I was privileged to participate in a working party set up by the European Commission to examine the question of enlargement of the powers of the European Parliament, direct elections to it and the structural balance of the institutions of the Community. This working party—known as the Vedel Committee because it was chaired by Professor Vedel of the University of the Sorbonne—reported in March, 1972. The report is contained in the Bulletin of the European Communities Supplement No. 4 of 1972. In its report the working party pointed out that there was an unequivocal commitment under Article 138 of the Rome Treaty to provide for direct elections. That commitment goes further than the convention which was eventually adopted, and the decision of the Council of Ministers in September, 1976. The commitment in Article 138, paragraph 3 of the EEC Treaty, was that:
The Assembly shall draw up proposals for elections by direct universal suffrage in accordance with a uniform procedure in all Member States.
The Council shall, acting unanimously, lay down the appropriate provisions, which it shall recommend to Member States for adoption in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements.
Therefore, at the time we joined the European Community, there was an explicit commitment in the Rome Treaty to have direct elections and to have them by a uniform procedure in all the member states. This Bill, which will allow us to comply with the convention which was passed at European level, does not go as far as that. It provides for a minimal amount of uniform procedure, and then leaves a great deal of leeway in implementation to individual member states. In that context I will refer to some matters contained in this Bill which, although implementing our obligations under the convention, may be potentially in conflict with the approach adopted by other member states towards the question of the voting rights of nationals of member states of the European Community.
One of the initial problems which the Vedel working party had to face, and which has not been discussed at length in this debate, is the dilemma of electing representatives to a parliament which does not have real legislative power. The working party were very concerned not to allow a vicious circle of debate to develop between those who said you could not have direct elections to the European Parliament until it was a real parliament, and those who said that until the parliament was directly elected you could not give it real power. At page 59 of the report the working party rejected the notion of a pre-condition that you must either have legislative power in the European Parliament if it is going to be directly elected, or it must be directly elected if it is going to be given real power:
First of all, the system of the pre-condition, because of a logical trap, leads to a vicious circle. For if one cannot imagine a Parliament with real powers which does not draw its mandate from direct universal suffrage, it is even more difficult to imagine the election through direct universal suffrage of a Parliament without extended powers. In this way two equally desirable objectives are making each other's implementation impossible. The only way to break the vicious circle is to refuse to let one of the two objectives depend on the achievement of the other one first. Neither has priority over the other, nor is their simultaneous achievement necessary. If any logical links exist between them, these are expressed in the fact that any progress made towards achievement of one will be a step towards achievement of the other. Moreover, experience has shown that, even without its recruitment procedure having been changed, the European Parliament has managed to acquire new and legally important budgetary powers.
Since the Vedel Report was published in March, 1972, the European Parliament has, as Senator Yeats mentioned, acquired further budgetary powers under the Treaty in 1975 which was ratified only recently by this Parliament. Now the European Parliament has a very significant degree of budgetary power and control. It also has increased possibilities of using its influence in a consultative capacity, of exerting some political weight over the exercise of legislative powers at the European Community level, but it does not itself have real legislative powers—the normal legislative powers of a parliament. This is a very real defect. We must not assume that because there will be direct elections to the European Parliament that this will satisfy the necessity for greater democratic control.
I agree with Senator Keating's view that there is a very real problem of accountability at European Community level in the decision-making process because it is not subject to close monitoring. The problem about the decision-making process arises from the fact that although in one sense it is a relatively open process because the draft regulation or directive is submitted to various institutions—to the European Parliament for its advice, to the Economic and Social Committee, to the COREPER where it is examined by a committee of national experts and there is a certain flexibility in that approach—when it comes to the hard decisions on what the final text will be, it involves a very secret and closed procedure. It can often be difficult to get the relevant final text, to ascertain what the time limits will be, and even to know what the trade off may be for a particular measure against another measure. At a certain stage, the procedure is not one that can be easily monitored. It amounts to the enactment of legislation basically by an executive body—representative of the Governments of the members states but not democracticably accountable.
The basic legislative sovereignty in our Constitution which conferred on the Oireachtas the sole law-making power in the State, has been changed dramatically. We now share that legislative power with an executive organ at the European Community level. We share it in extremely important areas. Senator Yeats mentioned the area of agriculture. It would have astonished the Irish people, even five years ago had it been put to them that we would allow another body outside Ireland to fix farm prices for this country. The same is true in so many other areas. Really significant decisions are taken which vitally affect a particular sector, a profession, the type of product available to the consumer, information about a product, our social policy, and the realisation of equality of opportunity in the country. It is unacceptable that this degree of power be exercised without greater democratic control and accountability.
Too much faith has been placed in the fact that Ireland as a member of the Council of Ministers has a veto on important decisions in the Council of Ministers. An attempt has been made to argue that this is better protection for us than giving legislative power to the European Parliament, because in the Council of Ministers we are one of nine whereas in the European Parliament the representation by either ten delegates or 15 directly elected representatives would be diluted in the much larger forum. That is a dangerous illusion. There are too many examples of cases where the supposed veto by Ireland has not been an effective way of safeguarding our vital interests or preventing a decision being taken at European level. Even though it might be possible technically for the Irish Minister in the Council of Ministers to veto one particular proposal, he may be aware that this would have an adverse effect on a whole series of other proposals. Therefore in the negotiations the Irish Minister must be prepared to compromise and bargain. It is a process which is not open to the possibility of influence by informed European opinion, public participation is necessary for the development of the Community in providing the political momentum for a balanced development throughout the Community through the operation of a realistic regional fund and regional policy, a realistic social policy, and a genuine attempt to eliminate the disparities between the centre and the more disadvantage areas, to close the regional and social disparities which exist in the Community.
It is in Ireland's interest as a small country to support the strengthening of the European institutions, including the European Parliament, and to ensure that there is democratic control over and accountability for decision-making. The reason why we need direct elections to the European Parliament is that there has been a very substantial transfer of power from the Irish level to the European Community level. But we should go further and insist that any transfer of power which was previously exercised subject to the control of the Oireachtas should now be exercised subject to the control of the European Parliament when it has been directly elected. Therefore, the holding of direct elections is only a step on that road to a more democratic and accountable structure and framework at the European Community level.
The kind of issues being decided at European Community level are key decisions affecting the lives, the opportunities and the life-style of the citizens of this country. Take, for example, issues like the attainment of full employment throughout the Community and the co-ordination of national common policies in the area: we gave up a number of potential instruments we might have used to help create employment in Ireland. Therefore, we are to some degree dependent on the achievement of effective policies at European Community level in this area. Obviously the Oireachtas would have had much greater control if we had retained all our instruments for job creation. Members of the House could have scrutinised what the Government of the day was doing and we could have urged more steps to be taken for job creation. Now we are not able to use the same range of job creation instruments in a national context because so many of the possible instruments would conflict with our commitments at the European Community level. For example, we could not introduce State aids which are unacceptable, or set up protective tariffs and barriers which would be illegal, although these would be useful instruments for job creation and job protection.
It it essential that we, who subscribe to the principles of democracy, ensure that at the European level the decisions which are being taken and the priorities that are being set are democratically accountable and closely monitored so that they reflect the real priorities of the citizens of Europe. Other relevant areas include the attempts to attain price stability, the enactment of an energy policy—there are discussions at the European level in the area of energy policy which have immense significance for this country and yet we are hardly aware the debate is going on. Only a very tinyélite in this country is aware that at the European Community level there is a vital debate on energy policy which will have extremely important implications. Once again, I think it is essential that there be a greater sensitivity to the amount of power being exercised at the European level, a greater attempt by public representatives to ensure that the people are sufficiently informed and aware of this dimension. One of the ways of doing this is to have directly elected representatives to the European Parliament who will be accountable to constituencies, who will have to answer questions—and hopefully some awkward questions—and who also have to represent their constituency at the European Community level.
The question is an extremely serious one for us as a people. We are not talking about a sterile and meaningless institutional change. It is a modest institutional change but it is in the right direction and as such it is extremely important. It is still under-appreciated how legislation at the European Community level can affect a particular section of the Irish population and leave the people involved with a feeling of helplessness when it comes to trying to influence locally the decisions being taken. I would like to use a specific example to illustrate this—the proposal for a draft directive to allow for freedom of movement of architects. A draft directive has been under discussion for a very considerable time but it has now been re-tabled as a high priority and is, I understand, going to come before the COREPER this week and for decision by the Council of Ministers in or about 15th December. This directive is of a very considerable concern to the architects' profession in Ireland because we are the only country in the European Community which does not have a system of registration of architects. Therefore we are vulnerable to some of the implications of this draft directive to the question of standards in the profession of architects, to the possibility of engineers—particularly from Germany—coming in under free movement in the European Community and perhaps taking some of the top jobs available in the Irish context, exercising their right to free movement. The draft directive raises the question of what are the basic standards in training both for the Irish profession and for nationals from the other member states who wish to avail of free movement within the European Community?
The difficulty for the architects is that this process of decision-making is remote from any real democratic control in Ireland. It is not something that can be raised in the Dáil or the Seanad except by way of example in talking about a Bill on direct elections, as I am doing. However, it was discussed by the Joint Committee on European Community Secondary Legislation, and the Joint Committee reported on it in its 35th Report—which was not debated in either House as were none of the other reports of the Joint Committee—on proposals concerning the right of establishment and freedom to provide services. The report considers draft directives relating to a number of professions, including architects. At page 13, paragraph C.7 under the title "Views of the Joint Committee", it stated:
There is at present no Irish legislation covering the registration of architects or their training and qualifications. Such legislation will have to be enacted as soon as a Council Directive is adopted and the Joint Committee understands that a Bill is being prepared by the Department of Industry and Commerce. In the Joint Committee's opinion such a Bill should be introduced and considered by both Houses before a Council Directive is adopted so that members can have the opportunity of considering the implications of the Commission's proposals and debating the views of interested professional bodies.
We see here a very precise example of the lack of real democratic control over decision-making at the European Community level. The only control we have is an indirect watchdog control through the Joint Committee on EEC legislation. When the Joint Committee is in operation—which is another story —it can report and state in its report that there should be an Irish registration Bill before we enact any Council directive, but, alas, there is no way of having any Irish democratic accountability on this point. Perhaps if that report had even been debated in both Houses control could have been exercised on the floor of the House.
I assure Senator Murphy that a section of the Irish population is not bored at all about the EEC, but is deeply concerned about the implications for its profession, for the basic standards for students studying architecture. It is a matter which should be fully discussed and debated in an Irish context before we commit ourselves to a directive of the European Community which is going to change the situation and where we are the most vulnerable of the member states because we have no internal system of registration. We have not ensured that our own shop is in order before we engage in harmonisation and freedom of movement at the European Community level.
Turning more now to the text of this European Assembly Elections (No. 2) Bill, I would first of all welcome the fact that the constituencies provided for are the result of the establishment of an independent commission. Like other Senators I commend the commissioners involved for the very thorough job which they did, for the report which they compiled and for their recommendations in relation to the constituencies. I think that in the time scale involved—which was not a very long time scale—they did a commendable piece of work. The result is to provide the possibility of very interesting regional development in Ireland at a political level, which we have not had heretofore, and which might be an unforeseen spin-off of providing for direct elections to the European Parliament.
The Bill provides that there will be the four constituencies and it is worth looking at the potential population of these constituencies. Rough figures from the last census suggest that in Dublin, which will have four directly elected representatives to the European Parliament, the population per member would be roughly 213,055, and the number of electors per member would be approximately 149,732 electors. In Leinster, which will provide three seats, the population per member would be approximately 215,307 and the number of electors per member 154,533. In Munster, which would provide five seats, the population per member would be approximately 176,400 and the number of electors per member 124,482. The last of the constituencies, Connacht-Ulster, providing three seats, will have a population per member of approximately 199,369 and the number of electors per member of approximately 144,556.
In all cases there will be more than 120,000 electors per member, and the constituencies as they are set out in the Bill cover substantial geographic areas. This poses very interesting possibilities for internal political development as well as for the development of the European Community, because we have not had regional political development so far in Ireland. We have had other kinds of regional development. We have had, perhaps, too many regions for other purposes: tourism, health, and all sorts of other purposes but they have not included political representation from the region as opposed to from the local area. In a European Community context this is potentially a very healthy and interesting development because it is possible that the priorities and concerns of the different regional constituencies will be different and, indeed, at times may even be in conflict with regard to European Community policies and influence on Ireland through legislation and programmes. It is a potential area where the representatives may find that their constituents—there would be a very significant number of them so it would not be a very personal relationship— demand of them identification of the needs of their region in Ireland and that an attempt be made to represent those needs and priorities at European Community level. This could be a healthy and necessary development.
For that reason I would have preferred if the convention providing for direct elections, and the Irish Bill implementing our obligations under the convention, had eliminated the dual mandate. Neither the convention nor this Bill, rule out the dual mandate, and it is regrettable that the practical realities of political representation in Ireland make it likely that a number of people, particularly initially, will attempt to carry a dual mandate of membership of either the Dáil or the Seanad and membership of the European Parliament. Indeed, they may well carry a triple mandate and also be members of a local authority.
This is regrettable. If a member of the European Parliament is to do the job properly then it is a full-time job. If the member of the European Parliament is going to seriously and responsibly participate at the specialised committees—whichever of the 12 committees he or she is assigned to—if he wishes to have a sufficient impact in the political grouping to which his party belongs, or if the individual wants to take part in Question Time and in the plenary sessions, then it is undoubtedly a considerable, onerous and rather specialised task which will require a great deal of homework, a great lot of reading of briefing papers by the individual. That, of course, is only half the job of the representative in the European Parliament. The other half, which is an equally important one, is to relate to this large regional constituency, to be able to identify in a meaningful way the needs of the people in the constituency, the priorities and the possibilities, for example, of availing of the funds, the regional fund, the social fund or whatever it may be, of providing possibilities of loans from the European Investment Bank, use of the FEOGA and the common agricultural policy funds. All this is very demanding and a full-time job if it is to be done well.
Regrettably, the harsh political reality will probably deter all too many candidates for the European Parliament from committing themselves not to carry the dual mandate. The fear will arise: "even if I get elected the first time, how am I going to get elected the next time, how am I going to prevent the possibility that others will be nursing the area; that I will cut off my roots and that I will become remote both from the local political machine and from the grassroots in the area and that although I may seem to be doing a good and effective job at European level and even at constituency level representing it I have endangered the possibility of being re-elected, or even being renominated, and of going forward under the PR system?" That is one of the problems and one we should dwell on a bit more and that the parties should face. It would be in the interests of the country to try to ensure so far as possible, that of the 15 directly elected representatives to the European Parliament as many as possible from the beginning do not carry a dual mandate and that it become something that is politically not acceptable, in the sense that it is not possible to do an adequate job in both parliaments.
I should like to turn to some problems I have with certain sections of the Bill which may require the tabling of amendments on Committee Stage. I should like to ask the Minister to elaborate on the reason why it was provided in section 71 of the Bill that there would be a prohibition on a person voting in the European elections here and applying to vote in any other state. Rule 71 (1) provides that:
(1) A person shall not in any year in which an Assembly election is held both (a) apply for a ballot paper or vote at the election, and
(b) apply for a ballot paper or vote at an election being held as regards any member state other than the state in pursuance of any provision laid down under any or all of the treaties.
That is the prohibition, and it is an offence to contravene it. Under Rule 91 there are fairly severe penalties for this and other offences. On summary conviction one can be fined a fine not exceeding £500, or six months imprisonment, and on conviction or indictment a fine not exceeding £1,000 or possibly two years imprisonment.
Apart from my difficulty in seeing why the offence was created, it is an offence which is subject to very substantial penalties. It seems to me—and it is not something that I have had the possibility of doing adequate homework on at this stage but I will try for Committee Stage—that the approach of several other member states is different to the approach in Ireland, and that the intention is to allow voting rights to nationals of those other member states who are not resident in the country at the time, through a system of postal voting. For example, it is my understanding that the French Bill, which was enacted in June last, would provide for voting by French citizens wherever they might be and would establish a system of postal voting.
It is also my understanding, from a brief summary prepared by the director of research of the European Parliament, that the Danish legislation will give a right to vote for Danes in EEC member states. I believe that the Irish system as provided in this Bill is the best approach to European elections, in affording a voting right to nationals of other member states, provided they satisfy the residence requirements, that they are resident in a constituency on the operative date. That is the right approach. I am pleased that this provision has been retained in the Bill as reintroduced by this Government.
In itself, it is an important step psychologically. It is ironic in a way that it raises all sorts of other potential anomalies in that we give local election and European election voting rights to British citizens, but we do not give them national election voting rights; whereas reciprocally they give us local and national election voting rights but may not give European election voting rights. There is a certain lack of synchronisation. I join with Professor Murphy in saying that perhaps the whole question of postal voting might be looked into, and we might consider giving postal votes to Irish citizens living in Britain. That is another question.
Returning to Rule 71, it is a realistic possibility that French citizens who were resident in Ireland when the register was compiled and who wanted to vote here would be entitled to vote under this Bill in one of the constituencies where they were resident for the candidates offering for that constituency. At the same time, that French person would have a right under French law to vote in the French direct elections, and to exercise his vote by way of a postal vote. If he tried to do that, or if his Danish counterpart tried to do that, it appears to me that he would be committing an offence under section 1 of the Bill. If that were to be the case this could be harsh and undesirable. Until we have a uniform system we are not going to have a standard pattern in all member states. There are going to be some anomalies. I would prefer the Irish way of resolving this problem. I would prefer if all member states gave voting rights to the nationals who are citizens of those states but in the meantime, I do not think we should penalise a national of another member state whose own country gives him a postal vote in that country for exercising a choice of where to vote. That seems to be an unnecessary and undesirable provision.
I also join with Senator McDonald in hoping that the Minister will be prepared to give postal voting rights to Irish non-residents and, particularly, to Irish citizens living in Belgium and Luxembourg and I would have thought hopefully, to Irish citizens living in any of the member states. The greatest hardship occurs in relation to the significant number of Irish citizens now working in the European Community institutions in Belgium and Luxembourg but who have close links with Ireland and come back regularly and who would not be able to participate in direct elections in Ireland. It is not as yet clear whether they would be able to participate in Belgium or Luxembourg or whether they would be entirely disenfranchised. Their knowledge from the inside might be very helpful in deciding to cast their votes and influence the election here to the European Parliament.
This Bill has been welcomed by Senators on both sides of the House as a measure to ensure greater democracy at European Community level. I would be more persuaded by their eloquence in supporting democracy if we took greater steps to ensure at the Irish level more democracy and control of decision-making and participation in decision-making by Irish Ministers and Irish representatives at European level. I find discouraging and depressing the degree to which we do not appear to be as concerned as we might be about trying to ensure better accountability for decisions being taken at that level back here to the Irish Parliament until such time as the European Parliament is not only directly elected but also has real legislative power, which may be a very considerable time in the future.
I do not intend to delay the House on this matter but I am tired pointing out the serious neglect of democratic control in not ensuring the re-establishment of the Joint Committee on the Secondary Legislation of the European Communities. I hope that motion went through the Dáil today and that we will have an opportunity tomorrow of passing it so that the Joint Committee can be established and meet before Christmas. Six months have been lost, and at least three of them unnecessarily, in establishing local scrutiny of the draft proposals at the European Community level and the implementation in Ireland, through Ministerial regulations, of the directives or regulations at European Community level. To me that is not evidence of a real concern about ensuring greater democratic control and accountability.
Similarly, I do not think that the Oireachtas exerts anything like the same control as the parliaments of the other two new member states, the United Kingdom Parliament, which is closer to us in parliamentary tradition, or the Danish Parliament, in getting real accountability for decisions at the Council of Ministers. The United Kingdom Parliament has exerted much greater control in demanding more information about precisely what is going to be decided at a meeting of the Council of Ministers and what the attitude of the particular United Kingdom representative is going to be. The Danish Market Committee, as it is called, has a considerable prior control over Danish representatives at the Council of Ministers.
I see real problems, and indeed it is a retrograde step to try to introduce a sort of blocking control at national level which ties the hands in an inflexible way of representatives of a particular member state at the Council of Ministers but if we have not got prior control—if we are willing to be European minded and not insist on prior control—it is absolutely essential that there be more accountability afterwards to the Houses of the Oireachtas and to the Joint Committee spelling out much more specifically what the Irish position is and what the nature of the negotiations and the problems and so on is. I do not blame Irish Ministers, and Irish civil servants, if they can get away without being closely monitored. I blame us for allowing them to get away without being much more closely monitored and required to account for themselves.
The point was made by some Senators that the whole framework at European Community level and the whole system of decision-making was much too complicated. If we allow that to be a reason not to have democratic control then we will have abdicated a basic principle which we are inclined to shout from the house tops in an internal context; we will have said that because it is complicated, because it requires home work, because we have to understand where power is being exercised, it is a bit harder to exert that control, so it is not something that really can be subject to democratic scrutiny. That would be a poor reflection on us as a people. It is unnecessary that it be so but it tends at the moment to be too often the case. The complexity of the process is preventing a proper democratic monitoring and a proper degree of democratic accountability afterwards.
I will conclude by repeating that I regard this as a modest step in making the European Communities more democratic. Direct elections to the European Parliament, as provided for in this Bill, will have a useful function at European Community level in strengthening the legitimacy and political weight of the European Parliament. It may also be potentially a constructive development here in politicising the regions, in providing for the possibility of a dialogue between the four regional constituencies and the European Community level and a possibility of development of the priorities and prospectives of these regions.
However, I believe that we must not fool ourselves into thinking that this measure is going to, in itself provide democracy in a real and meaningful sense and democratic control at the European Community level.
In my view, we are negligent at home in the degree of democratic control over the European Community institutions. Nonetheless, we must continue to argue for greater strengthening of the powers of the European Parliament if it is going to move from a consultative assembly with certain budgetary powers, to a genuine Parliament with legislative power. Subject to the points I have raised, and a number of other points I hope to discuss on Committee Stage, which will possibly be the subject of amendments, I welcome this Bill.