It is an honour for me to introduce this Bill. Its purpose is to provide for the holding of a referendum on 2 October 2009, which would allow the people to vote on the Lisbon treaty.
As the House knows, the people voted last June not to ratify the Treaty of Lisbon. The Government has made it clear throughout that it respects the decision of the people, as expressed in that referendum. Everything we have done since last June has been motivated by a desire to understand the reasons behind the referendum result and to find ways of accommodating the concerns that arose last year.
In respecting the will of the people, the Government has also had regard to the desire of other member states, our European partners, to see the Lisbon treaty enter into force. The desire to implement the reforms provided for in the Lisbon treaty has been sharpened by developments such as the global economic crisis, the disruption of gas supplies to a number of European countries last winter and the invasion of Georgia. Those events have served to bring home the importance of having a coherent and well-run European Union that can help us cope with this economic downturn, protect jobs and work together to rebuild prosperity.
Over the last 12 months, the Government has worked hard to find a way forward for Ireland in Europe which would give us what we wanted and could be accepted by all 27 member states. Following a period of internal consultation in which the Oireachtas Sub-committee on Ireland's Future in the European Union played a significant role, the Government began a process of consultation with the other member states aimed at identifying a solution that would deal with Ireland's concerns.
After intensive contacts and negotiations at the European Council in December 2008 the EU Heads of State and Government unanimously agreed "that provided the Treaty of Lisbon enters into force, a decision will be taken, in accordance with the necessary legal procedures, to the effect that the Commission shall continue to include one national of each member state". On 19 June, the 27 Heads of State and Government repeated this firm, unambiguous commitment. This means the Commissioner issue is settled. Backing Lisbon will mean retaining our Commissioner indefinitely. Claims that this arrangement is somehow time-limited are entirely bogus.
This is a considerable win for Ireland as some member states favoured a smaller Commission. Yet they were willing to accommodate Ireland on this point, because they accepted that his had been a real issue during our referendum campaign last year. Following further intensive discussions with the member states, last month's European Council agreed a package of legally binding guarantees that respond comprehensively to the concerns of the Irish people. Ireland's legally binding guarantees are in the form of a decision of the Heads of State and Government. The European Council further agreed that the contents of this decision will be incorporated in a protocol to be attached to the EU treaties after the entry into force of the Lisbon treaty. This will happen at the time of the next EU accession treaty.
Our legal guarantees state that the protections in the Irish Constitution on the right to life, education and the family are not in any way affected by the Lisbon treaty; Ireland retains control of our tax rates; and Ireland's traditional policy of military neutrality is unaffected by the treaty. The Council also adopted a substantive solemn declaration on workers' rights and social policy. The solemn declaration is designed to deal with the confusion that exists about the impact of the Lisbon treaty on workers' rights.
This treaty represents a real advance for workers' rights. This is because of the treaty's new horizontal social clause, which was originally inserted at Ireland's behest, and because the treaty gives legal effect to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU which contains important provisions relevant to the rights of workers. The decision of the Heads of State and Government on the legal guarantees constitutes an international agreement. EU leaders have accepted that these guarantees are legally binding and that they will take effect on the date when the Lisbon treaty enters into force.
If there is a "Yes" vote on 2 October, both the Lisbon treaty and the decision containing our legal guarantees will be registered with the United Nations under Article 102 of the Charter of the United Nations. Article 102 provides that all international agreements to which UN member states are party should be registered with the UN Secretariat after their entry into force. The Heads of State and Government also agreed that the legal guarantees will be set out in a protocol to the EU treaties at the time of the conclusion of the next accession treaty. As a protocol, the legal guarantees will form part of the fundamental law of the Union.
The Government is of the view that we should put the Lisbon treaty, and the package of measures provided for in the proposed constitutional amendment, to the people again for their approval. The fact that a "Yes" vote will enable us to retain our Commissioner and secure a solemn declaration on workers' rights and watertight legal guarantees on three key issues, means that the Lisbon treaty will be a different proposition for Ireland this year. All the main concerns raised last year have been dealt with and the way is clear for a serious debate on the merits of the Lisbon treaty and Ireland's future in Europe. The onus is on every Member of this House who believes in our European future to take this treaty to the people and to explain its importance for Ireland. Our future in Europe depends on being able to join with our 26 EU partners in ratifying this treaty.
The Bill before the House is relatively short, containing only two sections. Section 2 of the Bill provides the citation of the proposed amendment and the Title of the Bill itself. The substance of the Bill is contained in section 1 which proposes that Articles 29.4.3° to 29.4.11° of the Constitution be amended and I am happy to explain to the House how we propose to do so.
Article 29 of the Constitution covers Ireland's international relations and the provisions I have just mentioned deal with our membership of the EU. It is more than 35 years since Ireland joined the European Union. Over that period the Union has been at the centre of our engagement with our fellow EU members and with the rest of the world. The Lisbon treaty sets out for the first time a clear and succinct statement of the Union's values. The Union's values are our values.
The new provisions of Article 29.4 set out in a streamlined and more user-friendly form how our engagement with the EU is to be governed. It is proposed that part of subsection 29.4.3° dealing with the European Coal and Steel Community, the European Economic Community and the Single European Act be deleted since the references are redundant. The other subsections dealing with our membership of the EU, subsections 29.4.4° to 29.4.11°, will be replaced with new subsections 29.4.4° to 29.4.9°, which are set out in a Schedule to the Bill. Part 1 of the Schedule contains these new texts in the Irish language and Part 2 contains the text in English.
A proposed new subsection 29.4.4° would contain a short statement of our commitment to the Union "within which the member states...work together to promote peace, shared values and the well-being of their peoples". This reflects our highly positive experience of membership going back to 1973. It is in keeping with the values set out in Article 29.1, which affirms Ireland's devotion to peace and friendly co-operation among nations founded on international justice and morality.
The proposed new subsection 29.4.5° provides that the State may ratify the Lisbon treaty and be a member of the Union established by that treaty. Since the treaty establishes a new Union with legal personality, it is proposed that the current subsections 29.4.4°, 29.4.5° and 29.4.7° providing for the ratification of the treaties of Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice be deleted as they will be made redundant by the Lisbon treaty. The proposed new subsection 29.4.5° would take effect after a successful referendum whereas the rest of the amendments provided for in the Bill would have effect only when and if the treaty enters into force, following its ratification by all 27 member states.
The proposed new subsection 29.4.6° ensures legal compatibility between the Lisbon treaty and the Constitution. It carries forward constitutional cover for laws, Acts and measures "necessitated" by the obligations of our EU membership. This provision is not new. It is as old as our EU membership. Every time we ratify a European treaty — the Single European Act, Maastricht, Amsterdam, Nice and now Lisbon — we make the same point. Every time, the same claim is made that, suddenly, EU law will be superior to Irish law and the treaty will put the Irish Constitution out of business. Each time, the opponents have been wrong and they are wrong again this time.
The idea of primacy reflects a general principle of international law, recognised since 1937 by Article 29.3 of the Constitution of Ireland. This provides that states must comply with international legal obligations freely undertaken by them in the exercise of their sovereignty. The practical effect of the principle of primacy is that it offers certainty and clarity regarding the relationship between the Union's laws and those of the member states. It applies only in those specific areas where the member states have conferred powers on the Union.
This principle of conferral is an important feature of the Lisbon treaty. It makes it clear that the Union does not have any powers of its own. Its powers derive from sovereign decisions by the member states to give the Union certain powers. These powers are carefully set out in the European Union treaties. This is why European Union treaties tend to be somewhat complex. They need to regulate relations between 27 sovereign states and their unique partnership within the Union.
Let me make it absolutely clear that the Constitution of Ireland will continue to be the basic legal document of the State and will continue to determine, in the final instance, the precise relationship between Irish and European Union law. The ultimate locus of sovereignty will continue to reside with the member states rather than the Union.
The proposed new subsection 7° replaces the current subsections 6° and 8°. It allows the State to exercise certain options and discretions provided for in the European Union treaties. These include special arrangements Ireland has negotiated with respect to the area of justice and home affairs. The Government may only exercise these options and discretions after obtaining the approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas.
These arrangements provide for the participation of Ireland and the UK on a case-by-case basis in the following policy areas: general provisions for co-operation in the area of freedom, security and justice; policies on border checks, asylum and immigration; judicial co-operation in civil matters; judicial co-operation in criminal matters; and police co-operation.
We made a declaration at the Intergovernmental Conference in 2007 that makes clear our intention to participate to the maximum extent possible in the relevant proposals in these areas. Furthermore, we have made a commitment that we review our opt-out within three years. Ending the opt-out, in whole or in part, is one of the options covered in the proposed new subsection 7°.
The options and discretions also include the possibility of participating in a process known as "enhanced co-operation". Enhanced co-operation allows a group of nine or more member states to choose to co-operate on a specific matter in areas in which the Union has non-exclusive competence. Enhanced co-operation cannot expand the Union's competence.
The proposed new subsection 8° relates to the so-called passerelle clause under which the European Council can decide on a unanimous basis to extend the scope of qualified majority voting in the Council of Ministers or to extend the scope of co-decision arrangements between the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. The mechanism may be applied in the following areas: the adoption of qualified majority voting or co-decision, subject to a right of veto by each national parliament; the common foreign and security policy, but not decisions having military or defence implications; judicial co-operation in regard to family law, in respect of which Ireland has an opt-out clause with the right to opt in on a case-by-case basis; social policy; fiscal measures relating to the environment; the adoption of the multi-annual financial framework; and within the ambit of an enhanced co-operation process.
The subsection also gives specific cover for certain measures taken in the area of freedom, security and justice. These are the extension of the scope of judicial co-operation on aspects of criminal procedure with a cross-border dimension, the identification of other areas of serious crime with a cross-border dimension, and the establishment of a European public prosecutor or the expansion of the EPP's role.
Areas relating to freedom, security and justice covered in subsection 7° are mentioned again in subsection 8°. This is being done to retain control by the Houses of the Oireachtas over these measures, if we should decide at some point to end our opt-out in the area of freedom, security and justice. The treaty will give the national parliaments of the member states a direct input for the first time into European Union legislation. These new provisions are contained in two additional protocols, one on the role of national parliaments and the other on the application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality.
Under the protocol on the role of national parliaments, all Commission Green and White Papers, the Commission's annual legislative programme and all draft legislation will be sent directly to national parliaments. This requirement for direct and simultaneous transmission is intended to give national parliaments more time to consider Commission proposals. The same procedure will apply to the annual report of the European Court of Auditors.
The agendas for and outcomes of meetings of the Council of Ministers must also go directly to national parliaments. Except in cases of urgency, at least eight weeks must elapse between the forwarding to national parliaments of draft EU legislation and its being placed on a Council agenda for decision. In addition, the treaty provides that national parliaments must have at least six months' notice of any intention on the part of the European Council to use the provisions of the treaty relating to voting in the Council of Ministers and extension of the co-decision procedure between the Council and the European Parliament. Unanimity is also required in the European Council for any such move. Any national parliament can veto such a move. In Ireland's case, under the terms of the new subsection 8° of this amendment, the prior approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas would be required to change the voting rules in the Council. This means that, under the treaty, Ireland has a double veto, exercisable by either the Government or the Houses of the Oireachtas.
The Protocol on the Application of the Principles of Subsidiarity and Proportionality further develops the role of national parliaments regarding the implementation of these important principles. The principle of subsidiarity is designed to ensure that the European Union takes action only when this is necessary and appropriate.
Within eight weeks of the transmission to it of a draft legislative Act, any national parliament, or any chamber of a parliament, may send to all European Union institutions a "reasoned opinion" stating why it considers that the draft does not comply with the principle of subsidiarity. Account must be taken of these reasoned opinions. If, within eight weeks, at least one third of national parliaments, or chambers of national parliaments, issue such reasoned opinions, the draft proposal must be reviewed. It may thereafter be maintained, amended or withdrawn. In the case of proposals in the areas of judicial co-operation in criminal matters and police co-operation, the threshold is one quarter. This so-called "yellow card" system is a major development which will bring national parliaments directly into the EU decision-making process.
In recognition of the particular sensitivity of freedom, security and justice matters, the Lisbon treaty contains a number of specific provisions associating national parliaments more closely with the Union's activities in this area.
The various provisions I have just mentioned will expand very significantly the role of the Oireachtas in European Union affairs. In order to meet these responsibilities and reforms, it is essential that every Minister appears before the Oireachtas committee relevant to his or her portfolio prior to and after Council meetings to brief Members. That is an important change that needs to be made.
I am aware of proposals from Fine Gael and the Labour Party on scrutiny and how directives are transposed in Ireland. I look forward to further discussions in the Oireachtas in the months ahead on the arrangements for discharging these new responsibilities.
The proposed new subsection 9° repeats the prohibition on Irish participation in any European Union common defence. This provision was originally inserted in the Constitution at the second referendum on the Treaty of Nice. A change in Ireland's position can come about only if the people decide so in a referendum. As I have already explained to the House, the Government has now secured an additional legal guarantee which makes clear that the Lisbon treaty "does not affect or prejudice Ireland's traditional policy of military neutrality". The same guarantee makes clear that the treaty "does not provide for the creation of a European army or for conscription to any military formation."
The proposed amendment would delete Article 29.4.11°, which allows the State to ratify the agreement relating to Community patents. This agreement never came into force.
The text of this constitutional amendment is relatively accessible. It is available on our website www.lisbontreaty.ie together with the texts of the treaties and our White Paper which tries to explain as clearly as possible the provisions of the treaty and Ireland’s legal guarantees. We have a duty to inform voters of the treaty’s contents and implications. We will spare no effort over the coming months in helping voters make their own assessment of the Lisbon treaty and the important legal guarantees that now accompany it.
I hope the electorate will go beyond the detail and look at the big picture. Who can dispute the enormous positive influence that membership of the European Union has had on our country? Our farming community has benefited to the tune of €41 billion from the Common Agricultural Policy. A further €20 billion has come to Ireland in structural funding. European Union membership has helped transform our country. We would not be what we are today without our tradition of active and constructive European engagement. This is something we need to continue. IBEC put it well yesterday when it said:
The last year has taught us that our future success is inextricably linked to the ambitions and interests of our partners in Europe, and to the success of Europe in the wider world. The Lisbon treaty streamlines decision-making, gives Europe a stronger voice on the world stage and gives European citizens a greater say. It is a good deal for Ireland, and a good deal for Europe.
Looking back at our experience, we can safely say that the European Union has been faithful to the commitment it shares with the member states to work together to promote peace, shared values and the well-being of their peoples.
The Lisbon treaty is the culmination of almost ten years of discussion about institutional issues. These issues are important. Europe needs a properly functioning Union if it is to cope with the challenges of the future. Now that we have 27 member states, we need to make adjustments in the way the Union operates. Getting the balance right means making sure the Union can deliver better for us in the years ahead. I look forward to the day when we can turn away from debates about European Union structures and concentrate on its actions. There is much to be done in dealing with the economic and financial crisis, with the challenges of climate change and with the risks we face in the area of energy security.
Europe said "Yes" to us last month. Our European partners met all of our concerns with understanding. They agreed to accommodate us by agreeing to the retention of a commissioner and by giving us a series of legal guarantees. They showed themselves to be true partners, truly committed to Europe in which the needs of all member states are catered for and our interests reconciled. I hope that, when the time comes, our people will decide to say "Yes" to Lisbon and to Europe. A positive outcome on 2 October will be vital for Ireland and for our future within the Europe Union.