Report of the Joint Committee on European Affairs on EU Institutional Reform in the context of Enlargement: Motion.

I move:

That Dáil Éireann takes note of the Report of the Joint Committee on European Affairs on EU Institutional Reform in the context of Enlargement.

I wish to thank your office, a Cheann Comhairle, and that of the Whips, for facilitating this debate. While I appreciate that the time factor is not great, the issue involved is quite complicated and requires a good deal of discussion. This is particularly so because of the changes that are taking place within the European institutions at the moment. Discussions are taking place about the type of Commission and structures that will apply in the European scene in future.

One of the matters that is being discussed now is the future format of the European Commission in the context of enlargement. Quite an amount of pressure is being put on to try to reduce the number of Commissioners. A suggestion has been made by the UK delegation that 20 may be the maximum number of Commissioners allowed. One does not have to be an Einstein to figure out where that would lead.

I congratulate the Taoiseach for his recent forthright statement wherein he indicated that the question of Ireland's Commissioner is not negotiable. There are a number of reasons for this, some of which the Taoiseach has pointed out. To these must be added the fact that the existence of a Commissioner has a certain symbolism, both for existing member states and the incoming ones. If the European Union is to progress and mature properly in an inclusive way, any attempt to remove a Commissioner will only create a lack of confidence and undermine existing confidence in the Commission and the institutions generally.

Another issue that has risen and which we are told by some quarters is afait accompli is the future number of MEPs. This is something that could have serious implications for Ireland because the point will be made that the Parliament can only cater for 700 members. However, the House of Commons can cater for up to 600 MPs, and that is only one EU member state. Therefore, I do not see what the problem is in accommodating members from all over the European continent so they can represent their respective national electorates. That matter needs to be re-examined.

Qualified majority voting is currently the subject of considerable debate within the European Institutions. It also has implications for Ireland, as does the possible reduction in the number of MEPs. There will be those who will say that such a reduction is good but I do not think so. Nothing can indicate that such a move would be either positive or progressive, notwithstanding the proposals in some quarters to reduce the number of TDs. In fact, such a move would have the reverse effect to that which is being suggested; it would interfere with and impede democracy. It is a suggestion that should not be made, particularly at this sensitive time when negotiations are taking place on the enlargement of the European Union.

The impact of a reduction in the number of MEPs representing a small country is greater in terms of the creation of a democratic deficit than it would be on larger countries. If one removes ten or 15 MEPs from a large country it will have an impact and people will be aggrieved. If, however, one removes three MEPs from a country which currently has only ten or 15, it will have a much greater impact with serious implications.

A number of other points are being considered in the context of European reform, but the ones I referred to are probably the most important. They are, however, not the only relevant ones from Ireland's point of view. I would like to mention a few other matters that have been emanating from other EU member states. For instance, it has been suggested that at the time this report was compiled – it is over a year old now, but still relevant – there had to be institutional reform before any other discussions on enlargement could take place. Fortunately, the Helsinki Summit meeting was held in the meantime which had the effect of setting parameters which were positive and beneficial for the future. It also had the effect of focusing on where Europe was going.

When the founding fathers of modern Europe sat down 50 years ago to rebuild Europe from the ashes of war, they identified the situation as it then was and for as far as they could see it would develop into the future. Their plans were extremely effective in bringing together the disparate views, objectives and aspirations of a divided European people. They brought them together in a positive and constructive way which worked effectively up to the end of the Cold War.

What happened after that should have been much easier, but in fact it was not. We have seen a re-emergence of some of the very nationalistic aspirations that were the cause of many wars in Europe over the centuries. What is now unfolding in Europe is much more complex and will require a great deal more effort and more refined techniques in order to deal with it. The decisions and measures to be taken by the European institutions along with the input of the existing member states and the applicant countries will have a long lasting effect on the future of Europe. Whether positive or negative, it will impact on us for a very long time.

If the current number of Commissioners – one for smaller states and two for each of the larger ones – continues, it has been suggested that some nations might only be represented in the Commission by the equivalent of a Minister of State. That is no disrespect to Ministers of State.

Having served in that august office myself, I am fully aware of what it is like. The suggestion, however, is that there should be a Minister of State-type of Commissioner. The Joint Committee is very much opposed to any attempt to diminish in any way the status of the representation at Commission level for any country – either the existing member states or incoming ones.

The Joint Committee spent a considerable time considering the situation whereby issues of vital national concern could be discussed at COSAC meetings. When my committee was formed two and a half years ago one of its objectives was to try to improve that situation. Irish products had been interfered with en route through France and Britain, and we tried do something about that. We achieved something, and at least now vital issues can be discussed at the six monthly COSAC meetings in a way which will be a response to the problems which arise in the individual nations.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity of speaking on this debate and presenting this report to the House. The European institutions are changing fast and will change whether we like it or not. I hope Members will have ample opportunity to discuss these issues on a regular basis.

I thank the members of the Joint Committee on European Affairs, in particular the Chairman, Deputy Durkan, for bringing to the attention of the House their report on EU institutional reform in the context of enlargement. This debate is timely, given the recent convening of the intergovernmental conference to consider changes in the European Union's institutions necessitated by enlargement. As Deputies will be aware, the intergovernmental conference began in mid-February and is scheduled to conclude at the December European Council under the French Presidency.

The primary mandate of the Intergovernmental Conference, as the committee's report anticipates, is to examine the issues unresolved at Amsterdam, namely the size and composition of the Commission, the weighing of votes in the Council and the possible extension of qualified majority voting, along with other related institutional changes necessitated by enlargement. It was also agreed at the Helsinki European Council that possible additions to the agenda could be considered in the June meeting of heads of state or government. However, it is clear that the issues already identified provide a very substantial area for discussion.

Ireland has taken the view that further substantial expansion of the agenda is unwarranted, bearing in mind that the Treaty of Amsterdam only came into force in May of last year. We are also concerned that extending the agenda may make it more difficult for the conference to conclude its work in December with negative consequences for the enlargement timetable. With the prospect of a significant increase in the number of member states, the vital task facing the Intergovernmental Conference is to update the Union's decision-making machinery while ensuring that its essential institutional balances are maintained. This issue is of great importance for Ireland and for the future functioning of an enlarged Union. Ireland, which has benefited enormously from its membership of the Union, will play a constructive and positive part in these deliberations. I will outline briefly the Government's approach to each of these issues but first I will mention the framework within which the Intergovernmental Conference negotiations take place and the process of consultation that exists in developing our position.

As the Minister with overall responsibility for these negotiations, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, is an active participant in the monthly ministerial sessions of the Intergovernmental Conference which coincide with meetings of the General Affairs Council. The ministerial meetings progress the work of the preparatory group on which Ireland is represented by Mr. Noel Dorr, former Secretary General of the Department of Foreign Affairs. In view of the importance of these negotiations, arrangements have been made for wide-ranging interdepartmental consultations, chaired by the Department of Foreign Affairs, covering all aspects of the Intergovernmental Conference agenda, which in turn feeds into the work of the Cabinet Committee on European Union Affairs. At a time of major change, both within the Union and the wider international arena, Ireland's priority objectives for the Intergovernmental Conference are to ensure that the Union is equipped to function effectively in the context of enlargement and that the delicate institutional balance which lies at the heart of the Union is maintained in any new arrangements.

As a smaller member state, Ireland has a particular interest in ensuring that these balances, particularly between large and smaller member states, which contribute to the unique character of the Union, are maintained for the future. In this regard we have emphasised to partners, our view that the effective functioning of the Union requires that each member state retains the right to nominate a commissioner, a position which is also emphasised in the committee's report. This is desirable, not only from a rational perspective, but because it serves to reinforce the authority and credibility of the Commission across the Union. As regards a review of the weighing of votes in the Council, it will be recalled as provided in the protocol to the Amsterdam Treaty, that it is linked with the suggestion that large member states would be willing to forego their second Commissioner. We want to carefully consider any specific proposal which might be put forward under this heading to ensure that they contribute to the effective functioning of the Union without bringing into question the necessary institutional balances. However, any change would be dependent on the larger members states confirming their willingness to forego their second Commissioner and by confirmation of the right of each member state to nominate a Commissioner.

Qualified majority voting already applies to a very significant part of the Council work. We have found the operation of qualified majority voting to be generally helpful to Irish interests. For example, in the context of the Common Agricultural Policy and the completion of the single market, at Amsterdam, Ireland along with a significant majority of member states was prepared to consider extending QMV to some additional areas but agreement in the end did not prove possible. In keeping with our constructive approach to these negotiations, we are prepared to examine proposals to extend QMV on a case by case basis. In a number of sensitive areas such as taxation, the case for retaining the present unanimity provision remains overwhelming.

Enlargement can also be expected to have an impact on other institutions of the Union such as the Parliament, the Court of Justice, the Court of Auditors and other European bodies. While the discussions are as yet at a very preliminary stage, the Intergovernmental Conference will be examining arrangements to provide for participation by the new members in the work of these bodies. It will also consider how best the structures or working methods of these bodies can be adapted to the demands of an enlarged Union. Our approach is to ensure that any changes are of benefit to the institutions themselves while maintaining appropriate provision for member states' participation and representation. The Intergovernmental Conference attaches particular importance to working closely with the European Parliament. It was agreed at Helsinki that the Parliament would be invited to designate two of its members to participate in the preparatory group and that each meeting at the ministerial level would be preceded by an exchange of views with the President of the Parliament. These arrangements are working well. The meeting with the President of the Parliament, Madame Fontaine, and her colleagues has developed into a real dialogue and has helped ensure that both Ministers and the Parliament are aware of the other's views.

The purpose of the Intergovernmental Conferences is to ensure that the Union is in a position to absorb the new members when the admission process is completed. We are pleased to note the enlargement process is moving forward with determination on all sides. The current accession process was launched by the 15 member states, the ten central and eastern European countries and Cyprus on 30 March 1998. The following day, negotiations were inaugurated with the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Estonia, Hungary, Poland and Cyprus. Negotiations have continued with these countries, the so-called Luxembourg candidates, on a policy chapter by chapter basis. In December 1999, the Helsinki European Council added momentum to the enlargement process by taking the decision to open negotiations with a second wave of applicants – Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Malta – now referred to as the Helsinki candidates.

In recommending the opening of the accession negotiations with these countries, the European Council also agreed to implement a more flexible approach to the negotiations called "differentiation" whereby negotiations will focus individually on the policy needs and the preparedness of each country rather than attempting to go forward on each issue together. Regarding accession dates, it was agreed that the EU will be in a position to welcome new members from the end of 2002 as soon as they have demonstrated their ability to assume the obligation of membership and once the negotiation process has been successfully completed. An indication of the fast pace of events is that former negotiations began with the Helsinki candidates on 15 February this year, with substantive negotiations beginning on 28 March.

At Helsinki the historic decision was made to grant candidate status to Turkey and in doing so, answered the heretofore controversial question of how best to advance the country's relationship with the European Union. Turkey, as a candidate, will now benefit from a pre-accession strategy to stimulate and support reform. This will entail a political dialogue with a particular emphasis on human rights envisaged to help the eventual fulfilment by Turkey of the Copenhagen criteria and allow the opening of negotiations. These rigorous political criteria of democracy, human rights, protection of minorities and the rule of law are the same for all applicant countries.

I assure the House the Government is in favour of the enlargement process. We see it in the context of the European ideal of building a better future for all based on the reconciliation of old antipathies. We strongly support differentiation in the negotiation process, particularly the possibility of Helsinki candidates catching up, provided their level of preparedness merits it.

Enlargement is a major undertaking, but the scale of change is exceeded by the magnitude of opportunities both for Ireland and the EU as a whole. The decision on enlargement at Helsinki will have positive consequences long into the future in terms of stability and improved living standards for all the peoples of Europe. Ireland can play a positive role in the enlargement process and many applicant countries look to Ireland as an example of the path they wish to follow. The Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs have made it clear they stand ready to give any help we can. With memories of our European apprenticeship still fresh, we can do no less. For enlargement to be successful, it is essential that the Intergovernmental Conference does its work well and on time.

Considering how far the debate has moved on, it is bizarre that we are holding this debate on the basis of a document dating back to October 1998 on the Intergovernmental Conference which started two months ago. I know the Minister of State, Deputy Eoin Ryan, is not totally responsible for that—

—other than that he is now a Minister of State and must now bear some responsibility. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs are both absent and we do not have a Minister for European affairs – that is also significant. In many ways it is symptomatic of the Government's approach and the minor role accorded to this Parliament in influencing Government policy on European Union matters.

Over the last year the EU has witnessed a number of crucial developments relating to institutional reform and enlargement – the coming into effect of the Amsterdam Treaty, the Cologne Summit, which reaffirmed the need to convene an Intergovernmental Conference, the Dehaene report, the Helsinki Summit, which confirmed the Intergovernmental Conference agenda and which paved the way for enlargement negotiations with six additional applicants, the opinions of the other EU institutions in January and February and the actual start of the Intergovernmental Conference two months ago.

In order to make institutions and procedures originally designed for six work effectively for 25 it is obvious that wide-ranging changes have to take place. These changes touch upon vital issues that affect all member states. In an appalling dereliction of its duties, the Government has failed up to now to outline its position on these matters to the Oireachtas. It is not as if it did not see this coming. The Amsterdam Treaty clearly spelt out that an Intergovernmental Conference would take place at least one year before membership exceeded 20. The only possible point of reference we have is the speech given by the Taoiseach to the Institute of European Affairs on 21 March last, which was partly quoted in the media and which was partially quoted by the Minister of State. Significantly, he left out the Common Foreign and Security Policy.

The Taoiseach said that there is a "substantial body of work for the Union itself to complete in the preparations for enlargement". Surely he should then have developed a negotiating strategy, but this is not the case. The Taoiseach said the Government's "position will be refined over the coming months by the Cabinet Committee on European Affairs", which he himself chairs.

Meetings of the Government representatives to the Intergovernmental Conference have, in fact, been held on 15 February, 25 February. 7 March, 28 March and 4 April. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and other Ministers met on 20 March and 10 April. According to the Presidency work programme for the Intergovernmental Conference, the first of the two stages of the negotiations were due to finish last Monday and the whole thing by Christmas, yet the Taoiseach is talking about refining a strategy "over the coming months".

The Helsinki Summit expanded on the Cologne Summit by deciding that the Intergovernmental Conference should examine other necessary amendments to the treaties arising as regards the European institutions in connection with these issues and in implementing the Treaty of Amsterdam. It also allowed the possibility of adding additional items on security and defence to the agenda, which the Minister of State ignored today, on the basis of a report by the Portuguese Presidency at the Feira Summit in June.

Even more issues can be added. For example, at the Commission's behest, the European University Institute in Florence is currently preparing a study on the division of the treaties into two separate parts – basic texts and implementing texts. In the light of this study. the Commission said it "reserves the right to present proposals to the Intergovernmental Conference"– the Minister of State made no reference to this. The Intergovernmental Conference has already discussed issues such as the extension of qualified majority voting in taxation, social policy and the environment, justice and home affairs, article 308, which was formerly 235, the European Parliament, including the allocation of seats, decision-making procedures. its role in EMU, the CFSP and treaty revisions, and referrals to the Court of Justice. Again, those who prepared the Minister of State's speech deliberately left out references to the CFSP.

The Intergovernmental Conference has also discussed the Court of Auditors, the Social and Economic Committee, the Committee of the Regions, the composition, size, internal organisation and accountability of the Commission, the weighting of votes within Council and reform of the judicial system. What is our Government's position on any of these issues? When has it been presented seriously? There is no evidence of the Government taking this House seriously in relation to these matters, yet the Taoiseach says in his IEA speech that it would be very unwise to go beyond the so-called Amsterdam leftovers, which the Minister of State repeated. It seems to be obvious to all bar the Government that the agenda is already widening.

The reality is that these leftovers were in fact extensively thrashed out at Amsterdam. The problem was that no last minute deal emerged and they do not now require extensive discussion. We should remember that the Maastricht Intergovernmental Conference, which produced the complex Maastricht Treaty, lasted only one year.

Judging from the Taoiseach's speech, one of the reasons he wants to confine the agenda is to seek to get out of having a referendum on the outcome. That is my view, but it is also the view of some of his Fianna Fáil colleagues. Gerry Collins MEP said in the European Parliament that it would "be necessary to have a referendum in Ireland to approve any Treaty". Interestingly, he also said the EU should revert back into a "looser form of co-operation between 30 member states". Is this the Government's position? If it is we should be told, because it would be a major policy shift by this country with regard to our participation in Europe and it would explain more clearly the Government's reluctance to broaden the Intergovernmental Conference agenda.

Whatever emerges from this Intergovernmental Conference must have the support of the Irish people. To do so, there will have to be concrete advances. Amsterdam was a step forward in many ways, although it was not perfect. It introduced anti-discrimination clauses, an employment chapter and strengthened the EU's role in environmental protection, social inclusion, public health, consumer protection, culture and the fight against crime. It also made EU decision-making more democratic and open.

Ireland's approach to the Intergovernmental Conference 2000 should be based on a number of fundamental principles and objectives. It should aim to bring Europe closer to the people and make it more open, democratic and effective by streamlining and simplifying the decision-making procedures, by providing for more qualified majority voting at Council and more co-decision between Parliament and Council, and by involving national Parliaments more. It should seek to maintain the broad balance between member states. It should maintain the right of each member state to always nominate a Commissioner and the Commission's right of initiative. It should strengthen Europe's role where it is needed, in the fight against drugs, unemployment, social exclusion and in nuclear safety. It should broaden the concept of European citizenship. It should seek to establish Europe's capacity to act in the field of the common foreign and security policy in a way which is transparent and democratically acceptable to the elected representatives of the peoples of Europe, and be directed primarily towards conflict prevention and crisis management. It should aim to achieve greater democratic scrutiny and involvement in justice and home affairs. More specifically and, building on the Amsterdam Treaty, Ireland should seek the replacement of the unanimity requirement in Council for measures to be adopted under the anti-discrimination clause by qualified majority voting, and the greater involvement of the European Parliament by means of co-decision.

I know it is not the fault of the Minister who delivered the speech that it was so hopelessly out of tune with what is going on in Europe and the decisions being made there. Ireland, represented by this Government, seems to be standing back with its arms folded, refusing to engage in the serious debate taking place there.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this report. I compliment Deputy Durkan on his work as Chairman of the Joint Committee on European Affairs. He has advanced on a considerable agenda in the past three years. In the past ten days, Deputies Durkan, Wall and I met with the Slovak delegation to discuss their application to join the EU. In the past couple of days Deputy Durkan and I met with representatives of the Estonian and Lithuanian Governments to discuss their concerns regarding their applications. At this stage, the committee has met with all but one of the applicant countries. Hopefully, we will be able to redress that shortly. I also compliment Deputy Durkan on his participation, with Deputy O'Malley, in the special group dealing with the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms arising from Helsinki.

Since the 1973 enlargement, Ireland has benefited considerably from EU membership, especially in economic terms. The enlargement of the Union to the East will have an impact on Ireland's position in the Union. There was considerable concern that Ireland's loss of nationwide Objective One status would greatly affect the economic development of the poorer regions. However, the ongoing growth of the Irish economy and the prospect of a greater number of customers in an enlarged internal market will provide continuing opportunities for expansion and many challenges.

Ireland is historically a net beneficiary of the EU budget. In the past 25 years this has contributed to Ireland having the fastest growing economy in the EU. Our unemployment rate has decreased to about 4%. Through its membership of the EU, Ireland has developed into the Celtic tiger. However, there was much concern when Agenda 2000 was announced in 1997 that the rug would be pulled out from under Ireland if we lost Objective One status and therefore the Structural and Cohesion Funds which have greatly buoyed our economy. There was much negotiation between the Government and the Commission throughout 1998 and early 1999 in order to ensure the underdeveloped areas of Ireland would not lose out and the CAP reform would not grossly affect our farmers.

There is concern in certain sectors that a lower cost market will open with the accession of the central and eastern European countries which may threaten Ireland's competitive advantage in attracting foreign investment. However, and I hope Deputy Durkan would agree, from our con versations with the Estonian and Lithuanian delegations, there is unrealised potential. The ESRI recommended that Ireland can maintain its advantage by focusing on the high skill based sectors such as high technology, computers, engineering, etc. Ireland has the unique advantage of an English-speaking educated workforce on the edge of Europe. Nor are Ireland's domestic or export markets likely to be threatened to any significant extent by lower cost imports from central and eastern European countries. The accession of these new countries to the EU will open new markets for Irish goods and services.

In his speech marking the 25th anniversary of Ireland's accession to the EU, the Taoiseach said the accession of the central and eastern European countries is an historic imperative and that these new partners should be welcomed as part of the logical expansion of the EU to include the continent of Europe. As Ireland has for so long benefited from EU membership, it is now in a position to lend its expertise to the accession countries as a model of European success. Many civil servants and sectoral leaders from the candidate countries visit Ireland to learn from our experience, having previously been one of the poorer members of the Union. I was glad to hear the IPA is running useful courses for the Lithuanian and Estonian Governments. We met with some Irish consultants on our visit who are providing services to those countries.

Deputy de Rossa mentioned the shorter agenda of the Intergovernmental Conference. I hope there is unanimity on the extension of qualified majority voting. As Deputy Durkan said, the retention of a Commissioner by all countries, whether they are large or small is important, as is membership of the European Parliament, on which a ceiling should not be placed. I intended to deal with the thorny issue of common foreign and security policy but perhaps I will return to that another time.

I wish to express my appreciation of the work done by the Chairman of the Joint Committee on European Affairs, Deputy Durkan. It is a busy committee and we have meetings almost every week. Deputy Durkan has also met with many ambassadors and interested parties in his own time. As the Whip of the Opposition group, I wish to express my appreciation of his efforts on behalf of the Labour Party.

I commend the committee for producing this report on EU institutional reform in the context of enlargement. As a member of the committee, I know a great deal of work went into the production of the report and it is right that the House is debating its contents. The committee's work is all the more important given the absence of debate elsewhere. Discussions on Europe and its evolution have followed a familiar pattern in recent years. Proposals for change are made by the EU but they receive little attention in Ireland, outside of the usual Europhile circles. Eventually, change is agreed at an Intergovernmental Conference by our Government and, quite properly, a referendum is ordered. We then debate the fact that we have not had an adequate debate. The public are reported as being confused about the issues at stake and on amount of work by the Referendum Commission or the political parties can change that perception. That is one of the reasons the vote in favour of further European integration has declined at recent referenda.

The current Intergovernmental Conference which began on 24 February last is due to deal with what are referred to as "the Amsterdam leftovers". In effect, this means getting the Union ready for enlargement. Important issues are involved, including the possible loss or rotation of Commissioners and the extension of qualified majority voting. This has implications for this country and our relationship with Europe. For years, we have been fondly regarded as the most loyal member of the European club. Our support for integration, expressed through referenda, has won us friends and favours in Europe. However, the basis on which these referenda were supported has changed. Should there be a referendum on the outcome of the current Intergovernmental Conference, as my party believes there should, it will be the first one conducted in the context in which there is not an immediate and obvious financial benefit to this country riding on the decision.

Whether it is in the Commission or Parliament, or the loss of a veto on certain matters, Ireland will lose some influence in a process designed to increase the Union's membership. My party has argued in the past 18 months that Ireland should be prepared to play a new role in Europe. The days of Structural and Cohesion Funds are coming to an end and GDPper capita will soon reach the European average. We will soon be net financial contributors to Europe. We should react positively to these changes. We have been a member of the European Union for 25 years, we are well respected within it and work its institutions better than any other country. It is time we asserted our view on the direction Europe should take.

We should network closely with other countries – our fellow neutrals being an obvious example – to achieve our ends. It is time we counteracted the power of the larger countries. My party leader, Deputy Quinn, is on record as stating we should begin now to build up our contacts with the countries fast tracked for European Union membership. Like us, they are small countries with many similar interests to us. They realise they have a lot to learn from a country like Ireland, which has used the European Union to make up for 50 years of relatively slow economic development.

Central to ensuring the continued rights of smaller countries within the Union is the retention of our Commissioner. The Commissioner is, in effect, the friend of the smaller country. Commissioners meet as equals. While responsible for specific portfolios, they also represent their countries. It is essential – that is confirmed by this report – that we retain a Commissioner.

The current Intergovernmental Conference began last February. It has received scant attention in the media here and scant publicity from the Government. It is time this lethargy ended. The issues at stake are crucial, not just for this country but for Europe. We are a member of the Union and we should seek to influence it. The days of passive membership should be over.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I hope it marks the beginning of full and proper consideration of the issues involved. Otherwise, the next referendum on European integration might not be passed in this country. That would be particularly sad in an age when international co-operation is becoming increasingly important to deal with the day-to-day issues that affect our citizens. It is the clear responsibility of the Government to ensure that does not happen.

Question put and agreed to.