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.