The Progressive Democrats strongly advocate the ratification of the Nice Treaty. This legislation is to enable the people to express their support for the further enlargement of the European Union. Our party will campaign for a "yes" vote in the referendum.
The Nice Treaty is about the hope of a stable, peaceful and prosperous future for the nations of Europe. It is about creating an EU which is ready and able to welcome as many as 13 new member states and 180 million new people. This is a truly historic undertaking. The 12 applicant countries and Turkey stretch from the small maritime states of the Baltic to the small island states in the Mediterranean. They include the historic and venerable nations of central and eastern Europe.
The applicant countries include many people who have only briefly in their history enjoyed democracy, peace and stability. They suffered terribly in the 20th century from internal as well as external oppression. At the beginning of the 21st century we can offer them the chance to secure a peaceful and democratic future in rock solid democratic institutions.
We must not let this debate pass without bringing the real stories of these nations to the people of Ireland. What do we know about them? Do we understand their past, their present needs, their hopes and their hopes of us? After the traumas of the First World War and the break up of the old empires, the early seeds of parliamentary government were overwhelmed by fascism and totalitarianism in many central and eastern European countries. "Nor could they survive", one historian wrote, "in the face of bitter ethnic rivalries. By the end of the 1930s, right wing dictatorships had overwhelmed political liberalism in each eastern European nation, except Czechoslovakia". Country after country succumbed to authoritarian rule, internal oppression, political instability and economic stagnation. Bloodletting and the savage oppression of people continued throughout the 20th century and, in Balkan states, effectively up to now.
The scale of the achievement of ending that oppression once and for all, which becomes possible within European institutions, would be magnificent. I will not recount today the suffering of the European continent in the Second World War or the external and internal denial of freedom and human rights that followed across central and eastern Europe. However, we should never gloss over this part of European history, our shared history. These events are still within the living memory of many millions of people. It is only in the last decade or so that many of the applicant member states to the European Union have had any hope of a stable, liberal democracy based on respect for human rights, the rule of law and economic progress.
Sometimes Irish people take their democratic and parliamentary history too much for granted. In comparison with many European nations, we have had a high degree of peace and stability, notwithstanding the War of Independence, the Civil War and, most recently, paramilitary violence in the North. This must give us pause to reflect but should also lead us to actions and the right decisions. It is not too much to ask of Irish people that we share the foundations of our peace, stability and prosperity with other nations on our continent and elsewhere. As a people we have benefited greatly from European structural assistance and other acts of European solidarity. We, who are seen by many as a model of the strength of the European idea and integration, should be the loudest voice in support of further enlargement of the Union.
When we refer to the 180 million people of the applicant countries, we should consider the rich cultural and historic diversity of the nations from which they come. The EU is now actively engaged in enlargement negotiations with 12 countries and will expand during this decade from a membership of 15 to 27. For this to take place, we must adopt the changes agreed in the Nice Treaty.
The candidate countries engaged in enlargement negotiations with the EU represent, for the greater part, countries that historically belong in the European family of nations but who, because of the outcome of the Second World War, found themselves cut off from developments in Europe for 50 years. Enlargement offers the opportunity to welcome them back to their natural homeland. I am speaking of Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Slovakia, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Bulgaria and Romania. Cyprus and Malta are also actively involved in negotiations for membership of the EU and Turkey has been granted candidate status. The names of many of these countries resonate through European history and their people have greatly influenced the development of European culture.
The candidate countries from central and eastern Europe have made tremendous efforts in recent years to prepare their economies and structures for membership of the EU. Their leaders have invested their hopes for the future of their nations in EU membership. They are successfully moving their economies from a centrally planned, non-competitive basis to open market, free trading structures and they have engaged in major administrative and political reforms in order to restore full respect for human rights and to comply with international treaty objectives. These changes have not occurred easily or without considerable hardship. As a country which has benefited greatly from membership of the European Union, Ireland has been happy to lend assistance and advice to the candidate countries where possible.
Major progress has been made by all candidates in enlargement negotiations and the most advanced countries among them should be prepared to join the EU over the next few years. Their future rests with Europe as Europe's future rests with them. Their membership of the EU will also bring great benefits to the current member states. In Ireland's case, it will increase the size of the Single Market which is of major importance to the economy. Enlargement is also central to the future security and peace of Europe. An enlarged Europe will be better able to deal with transnational problems of drug trafficking, organised crime and trafficking in people.
Our sense of solidarity with the applicant states is a function of our wider solidarity with less fortunate nations. The evidence lies in our people's commitment to overseas aid and emergency relief. The European Community is the largest donor of multilateral development aid in the world. It is the fifth largest donor of development aid and the largest donor of humanitarian assistance. While the Community programme of development co-operation has been much criticised, it makes an important global contribution to the fight against poverty and has helped millions of people in the developing world.
The Community is also the major donor to the countries of eastern Europe and central Asia. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the economies of these countries were plunged into turmoil. Mismanaged transitions to market oriented economic systems have resulted in a huge increase in poverty. In 1988, the World Bank estimated that one million people in eastern Europe and central Asia lived in extreme poverty, which is defined as an income of less than $1 per day. By 1998, the number had increased to 24 million, a level of poverty which is normally associated with sub-Saharan Africa. Overall, more than 160 million people in the region live below the poverty line, of which at least 50 million are children. These are people living within driving distance of the countries of central Europe.
The flow of economic migrants from this region into western Europe, including Ireland, is a stark reminder of how the rapid increase in poverty has impelled many people to seek a better life in the more developed countries. We know there are people living in Dublin and elsewhere in Ireland who have fled appalling deprivation in their home countries to find a new life in our thriving economy.
Such a profound income and development gap on the continent of Europe is a cause of serious concern. It poses huge challenges to the European Union which is greatly increasing its development assistance to the region. The people of eastern Europe and central Asia look to the European Union for their future economic development. The Community is seen as their most important strategic partner in their efforts to deal with the collapse of their economies and the rise in poverty. It is, of course, also in the Community's interests to ensure that these countries develop into stable and prosperous democracies.
Rather than losing their people through economic migration and relying on large levels of Community assistance, the people in this region need to attract the trade and investment which, as Ireland has seen, is fundamental to economic development. Nobody in Ireland would deny the poor of the region the opportunity to make a better life for themselves through the development of their political, economic and trade relations with the European Union.
It is not possible to achieve this great goal of enlargement in a reasonable time without changing the EU decision making processes. Critics say that the Nice Treaty changes the original nature of the Union or the Community by allowing countries to engage in "enhanced co-operation". The EU is changing. It has changed a lot since it was a Community of just six member states which Ireland joined nearly 30 years ago. Ireland's relations within the EU will change too. Our pattern of trade and diplomacy will be altered by enlargement. Surely we must recognise that we have not built our peace and prosperity on our own, that we received critical help from our friends abroad, both on the economic and political fronts, in the public and private sectors? Our friends in Europe, in the United States, in Australia and beyond have helped us become what we are today on the island of Ireland.
It was never a matter of "ourselves alone" in Ireland. The whole European Union project since the 1950s has itself been the very antithesis of "ourselves alone". It has been "we together", we, the people, nations and states of Europe, pooling sovereignty for the great goal of mutual prosperity and stability. It is grimly consistent of Sinn Féin, a party of narrow nationalism, to oppose the Nice Treaty and the enlargement of the European Union. The party of narrow nationalism cannot rise beyond its own name to embrace a shared future for all the peoples of Europe and it is also a black irony to hear the party of the paramilitary republican movement falsely accusing the legitimate governments of the European Union of increased militarism, an irony that will not be lost on the Irish people. Here we have Sinn Féin looking for the demilitarisation of the whole European continent, while the decommissioning of paramilitary weapons is painfully slow in one small part of Europe.
Those of us who favour the Nice Treaty must appeal to the strong strain of generosity in the Irish people. This will contrast with the appeal to fear and insular approval of many of those who are opposing the Treaty. During the Amsterdam Treaty referendum, the slogan was put out: "If you don't know, vote no." That was an appeal to ignorance and suspicion, saying: "If you feel ignorant, stay ignorant" and it showed a very poor view of the intelligence and attitudes of the Irish people.
Like it or not, many people do feel ill-informed about EU decisions. As politicians, we should say this is a problem to be solved, not one in which to wallow. The Government has indicated that it is actively considering new arrangements to provide for an extended national debate on EU issues in this jurisdiction in parallel with the debate on the future development of the Union which, as agreed at Nice, is getting under way across the member states.
Other opponents of the Nice Treaty say it is not about enlargement but about the larger states getting more power, and small countries like Ireland losing power. The fall in Ireland's voting weight at the Council of Ministers from 3.4% of the total now, to 2.95% in a Union of 15 members in 2005 and 2% in a Union of 27 member states is the cause for their wild alarm. A fall of 0.45% in our voting weight at the same time as larger countries have lost their second Commissioner is a minor change and seems to me to be a fair balance.
The wider point, however, is that opponents of the treaty have no positive suggestions to offer as to how enlargement can practically be achieved. Do they really think a European Union of 27 member states can operate as it did when there were six, nine or 15 members? Have they put forward any practical suggestions? Did they recommend an alternative and viable negotiating strategy for the Nice summit, recognising the legitimate needs and positions of all member states? No, they never did because the politics of the Greens, of Sinn Féin and of single issue pressure groups are the lazy politics of opposition, of constant, unconstructive and grievance-laden opposition. What are they saying to the peoples of the applicant countries? Their bottom line is that they simply do not recommend that any country should join us in the EU if we ratify Nice. We in Ireland have a lot more than that to offer the applicant countries. We can offer a positive, constructive approach in a Union that will operate effectively for all its member states.
What are the opponents saying to the people of Ireland? They claim that Nice will mean Ireland will be absorbed in an EU federal superstate. We are against a European federal superstate too and I would not recommend the Irish people to vote for one, no matter who puts forward the idea. However, that is decidedly not what the Nice Treaty does.
These opponents claim the Nice Treaty removes our national sovereignty. We have maintained in the Nice Treaty a crucial national veto on tax policy, the core of economic democracy. As far as I am concerned, Ireland should continue to hold this position. and for that reason the Progressive Democrats can recommend a "yes" vote on Nice.
The opponents claim Ireland is getting caught up in a military commitment in the EU. That is nonsense. The Treaty of Nice in no way expands or alters the scope of the Petersberg task provisions as contained in the Amsterdam Treaty and as already approved by the Irish people. It contains no security and defence provisions beyond very limited changes to the existing provisions for the common foreign and security policy which are intended to make it more coherent, more effective and more visible. The Treaty of Nice does not introduce a mutual defence commitment into the EU. The EU is not a military alliance and is not about to become one. Otherwise, why would countries which want to be in a military alliance want to join NATO as well as the EU?
In Ireland the Government will decide on a case-by-case basis which EU peace-keeping and crisis management actions we will take part in. These will be only with UN sanction and Oireachtas approval will also be needed in accordance with the terms of relevant Irish legislation. The Irish people are proud of the peace-keeping record of the Irish military forces and of the gardaí and I am confident that they will continue to back our positive engagement in the creation of EU crisis management capabilities. Our firm attachment to our policy of military neutrality has been expressed clearly and unambiguously on numerous occasions, including to our EU partners, and we are not interested in joining military alliances.
What we are interested in is playing our part in contributing to international efforts to respond to events such as those we have all witnessed in the Balkans over the past decade. Europe needs to be able to move quickly and effectively in response to such humanitarian crises. We will play our part in a manner which reflects the values which have always been at the heart of Irish foreign policy.
I wish to broaden the debate about the developing European Union in this context. My party believes it is also important that Ireland should engage fully in the content of the policies of the Union, across all policy areas, as well as the structures for decision-making. Europe must have the right policies, as well as the right structures.
If we are going to achieve an enterprise economy and fair society across the whole Union, that will be the result of the right type of policies the Union and member states pursue. Our policies together in the Union and as individual member states do influence whether we achieve the quality, sustained employment we want, whether businesses create jobs and replenish the supply of jobs when old jobs are lost, and whether risk-taking, research and development find a supportive environment.
The European Union is not all about structures, procedures and rules. It must be and is about shared policies that deliver real progress. As a party in the European liberal democratic political tradition, the Progressive Democrats believe the best policies are ones which involve a light burden of Government intervention in the economy, across all areas. We believe we should clear the way for all forms of enterprise-business, community and individual enterprise. Our policies are based on human rights, the rule of law and respect for individual freedom. We seek peace, prosperity and security in a liberal, fair, democratic order.
I am glad this viewpoint has proponents among member states, in the Commission and the Parliament. It is normal that there should be a healthy contest of ideas in all political institutions, the EU institutions included, and that points to the strength of the institutions themselves.
Getting the policies right for Ireland and for the European Union is the most urgent task. Structure needs content. My party rejects attempts by the left, in Ireland and elsewhere, to paint the entire European Union into one political corner, a soft left corner that they themselves seek to own.
Too many Irish commentators and politicians have fallen into the trap of debating European policy in terms which are almost exclusive to Britain: eurosceptic versus federalist, social democrat versus Tory conservative. The reality is that the European Union, our Union, holds within it a great diversity of political views. There is a strong grounding of support for the liberal, democratic position that the Progressive Democrats share. We are rooted in that long and proud European tradition which has been developed and influenced across Europe – in Britain, Germany, France, the Netherlands and the Nordic countries – and in the United States. Many of the challenges for policymakers are the same in Europe and in the United States. We do not accept the false dichotomy posed by some people between our belonging to Europe and our affinity with America. Why should Irish people be forced to choose between our European home and our American friends? The world is not divided into Europe and the United States. In making policy for Ireland and for the EU, we are making policy in an interconnected world. We cannot forget this or become inward looking, either in Ireland or in the EU.
The fundamental challenge is how to secure sustained, high value employment, peace, stability and human rights in a global economy. That means we have to be forward-looking, we have to understand the trends and forces in the global economy, we have to position Ireland and build clear comparative advantage for Ireland in the EU and in the global economy. At the Nice Summit, the leaders of the European Union decided to open a more fundamental debate on the shape and direction of the European Union. Another conference will take place in 2004. The issues are profound for Ireland and for the European Union, and the German Chancellor has made one contribution to that debate in recent days. Other European leaders have made important interventions in this ongoing debate, as has the Government. As a Government, as political parties, as members of Dáil Éireann and as citizens, we should and will continue to make our views clear, so there is no democratic deficit in the debate or its outcome. There are no foregone conclusions as the debate has yet to happen. The Nice Treaty enables the Union, as it is now, to welcome more members. Enlargement of the European Union is an opportunity, not a threat. It will be seen as the major act of greatness by the EU at the start of the 21st century. The Nice Treaty changes are reasonable compromises between member states to make enlargement possible. I believe the Irish people will see it this way and vote for the Nice Treaty.