I propose to share the remainder of my time with Deputy Neville.
Private Members' Business. - European Union Bill, 2001: Second Stage (Resumed).
Is that agreed? Agreed.
In the aftermath of the Nice referendum we must look again at the direction we propose to take and the degree to which we must live up to the expectations of our European colleagues. We must also recognise that the European Union is based on the combined desires and objectives of the 15 member states and not just one. The proposal is that it will enlarge and we must examine all the implications that have arisen since the Nice referendum. We must separate the questions that were raised and the manner in which they were dealt with. We must ask the electorate whether they wish to support the European project as they may have obligations under PFP.
The simple answer is that we can opt out. However, Ireland opting out of the European project does not mean that it will cease. The European project will go ahead. The original founding fathers of modern Europe saw the European Union, as it is now, as a means of ensuring we did not have another war or repeat the mistakes of the past. They saw it as a means of bringing the European people together in a sharing of sovereignty, power, culture and economic benefit and wealth in a way beneficial to all our people. We must put the question again to the Irish people.
It has been said that the Irish electorate did not vote against enlargement and one must assume that it did not. The question must be asked again as to whether we support the concept of enlargement unconditionally and allow other European people to join the European club. These aspects, which were not covered by debate prior to the Nice referendum but which are being debated almost frenetically in its aftermath, must be thrashed out.
In order to assess where the European Union is going, our relevant committees will have to spend a great deal of time at the informal group, institutional and constitutional affairs meetings that take place in the European Parliament and in the various Parliaments of the member states. If we do not we will be left out. Much work is done at those informal meetings and many decisions are made which have a bearing on the future of the European Union.
The Committee on European Affairs met the Minister for Foreign Affairs last week and he was most helpful in his response to the requests made to him concerning the extra requirements of the committee in the present climate. I hope that, in the end, we will have something that is beneficial to us all and that the debate taking place now will mean the public will be better informed than they were prior to the referendum. It should be recognised that some of us, from all sides of the House, did our utmost to generate debate.
I welcome the debate and the opportunity to speak on the Bill. It is my first opportunity to speak since the Treaty of Nice referendum took place. I spoke in full support of the treaty prior to the referendum. For those of us who campaigned the outcome was not such a surprise as it was to others. We received many negative vibes and many people told us they would vote "No" for a variety of reasons. People we knew previously as supporters of Europe, including members of the farming community, were concerned about the treaty. They were concerned mainly because of inadequate debate on the issues. There should have been more time and space for debate. An October referendum might have yielded a different result. Everybody says that the Irish people support the extension of the European Union and for decades we prayed for the conversion of Russia and Eastern Europe. Surely we should want to embrace Eastern Europe as part of our continent.
One good aspect of the result is that the political process and politicians must recognise that we are in a new era where Irish people will seriously review any decision to be made and will not blindly follow people who try to persuade them. The people will reflect on the various reasons for the "No" vote. There was not just one clear reason that people from extremely diverse ideologies voted the same way resulting in the defeat of the treaty. We must now ensure that the people understand what is happening in Europe.
When I first saw details of the Treaty of Nice it took me some time to understand it and it needed a lot of study. As a politician I had the motivation to study it but the ordinary person will not give it the same time. It is up to us to create the debate and an understanding of the treaty. We must question the role and performance of the institutions of Europe, the Commission, the Parliament and the Council of Ministers. The fact that the Council of Ministers meets in private is an indication of the democratic deficit. Why does it not meet in public and let the people see what is happening? We must query more and the Joint Committee on European Affairs should have a strong role to play in questioning what is happening in Europe. It should be a conduit for the people and create an awareness of the implications of decisions made so that they can judge them for themselves. It should probably be the most powerful of the Oireachtas committees. The challenge is to provide a medium for the people through which to question and criticise decisions. We should have more debate on decisions made. In the past few weeks, after the Order of Business, Directives went through the Dáil without debate. Every one of them should have been debated and there should be a forum for detailed debate. There should be active involvement by the Oireachtas in reviewing, criticising and ensuring that we know the implications of directives, especially with regard to the larger and more complex decisions that are taken within European institutions.
As a member of the Joint Committee on European Affairs I am glad of the opportunity to contribute to this Bill.
The Bill proposed by Deputy Quinn is a useful contribution to the debate on Ireland's role in the European Union. It is particularly useful in regard to how we can ensure effective scrutiny by the Oireachtas of European Union business, leading in turn to a better understanding by the public of this important issue. Although this Bill is being taken in the context of the recent referendum on the Nice treaty, the issues addressed in it are essentially matters within our domestic competence. I was surprised, therefore, that some critics used perceived shortcomings in this area as a justification for voting against the treaty. The reality is that the Nice treaty makes no change to existing practice in these areas. However, the referendum result highlighted that the public felt, in a sense, disconnected from the work of the EU. It is right that we should examine at domestic level how we can remedy that. The renewed interest in improved arrangements for parliamen tary scrutiny is to be welcomed. It is essential that we succeed in bringing Europe closer to its citizens and overcome the feeling among the public that they do not know what Europe does in their name, or how it does it.
The Bill indicates some, although not all, of the questions which need to be examined in this regard. It is appropriate that we should consider how the Oireachtas might deal with draft proposals for regulations, directives and legislation. It is right that we took at the division of work between the Joint Committee on European Affairs and the other Oireachtas committees which over the years have built up considerable expertise in this area. The role of these committees in reviewing and approving draft legislation merits further detailed study. There are clearly areas where there is overlap and duplication. The Committee on European Affairs meets on a very regular basis and experiences some problems in that its work overlaps with that of other committees.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs indicated in the Dáil yesterday that the Government fully supports the principle of greater parliamentary scrutiny and participation in relation to European Union business. He welcomed the overall purpose of the Bill in this regard while making it clear that this was without commitment to the specific content of it. It is necessary to examine the proposals in detail, and the Government intend to do so. It was correctly pointed out during the debate that such far-reaching changes are of fundamental importance to the role of the Oireachtas and should not and cannot be done as a matter of party politics. It is critical that the views of all sides are taken into account, including the views of those with direct experience in the area, such as the members of the Joint Committee on European Affairs.
The Bill, as drafted, raises a number of issues the implications of which for the conduct of Council business need to be teased out fully. The Minister indicated last night that he had referred the Bill to the Office of the Attorney General for consideration of some of these issues. For example, the Bill as drafted does not distinguish between the types of legal instruments which come before the Council of Ministers, a feature which would be unhelpful to Oireachtas committees in separating the important from the more mundane items which arise in the EU framework. Likewise, the Bill does not differentiate between the various procedures involved in the adoption of regulations and directives at EU level, including the role of the European Parliament as co-legislator in a wide variety of areas. This has implications for the timing of consideration of legislative instruments by the Oireachtas. Additionally, the timescales proposed in the Bill will need to be carefully considered to ensure they are consistent with the timeframes which apply in the normal process of Council business.
All parties will also wish to ensure that new scrutiny procedures are flexible enough to allow the Government of the day to represent Ireland's interests effectively at the Council of Ministers. As those with experience in this area will know, the Council, as befits its role, frequently negotiates and refines proposals which come before it. It will be necessary to ensure that Irish Ministers have the authority to intervene in such negotiations on a basis which does not put them at a disadvantagevis-à-vis their EU colleagues, and, more importantly, is consistent with protecting our national interest.
Critics of the Treaty of Nice have overlooked the fact that the referendum outcome has hindered the start of a debate, called for in the treaty, on the future development of the Union. This debate is intended to address many of the issues that have given rise to concerns in Ireland, including how to improve the democratic accountability of the Union's institutions and how to enhance the role played by national parliaments in the EU framework. This latter point is particularly important given that, for the vast majority of citizens throughout the European Union, national parliaments continue to be the primary source of democratic identification.
I expect that these and other questions concerning Ireland's role in Europe, covering all aspects, political as well as economic, will be the subject of detailed discussion at the forum on Europe to be established in the autumn. Against the background of Ireland's experience of EU membership, and the prospect of an enlarged Union, the forum will no doubt wish to consider issues raised during the Treaty of Nice referendum. It will also be able to consider proposals being made for the future development of the Union, expected to culminate in a further Intergovernmental Conference in 2004. The mandate for such a debate is contained in the declaration made at Nice on the future of the Union. Among the topics specifically listed for consideration are the "need to improve and to monitor the democratic legitimacy of the Union and its institutions, in order to bring them closer to the citizens of the member states", and the role of national parliaments in the EU framework.
Through a frank, open and thorough debate on the ideas proposed for future European co-operation and integration, the Government will be in a position to develop a negotiating position for the 2004 Intergovernmental Conference based on the widest consensus possible. It is worth digressing to point out that one of the key functions of Government is to act on behalf of citizens who have democratically elected them to office in assessing the national interest and representing that interest in international negotiations. The Government played such a role in negotiating the Treaty of Nice, not just over four days and nights at Nice last December, but over the previous year of continual discussion and negotiation. During that period the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, reported regularly to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Affairs and Committee on Foreign Affairs, while the Taoiseach and the Minister reported to the Dáil on an ongoing basis. The agreement reached at Nice protects all our essential interests while equipping the Union to move ahead with the vital task of enlargement. Each Government committed itself to the Nice treaty – an agreement viewed by all as an indispensable requirement for enlargement.
The possibility of enlargement somehow proceeding without the Nice treaty has been raised once again. There is a simple point to be made in response. All the member states, and all the applicant countries, are committed to enlargement on the basis of the treaty and according to the timetable confirmed at Gothenburg. That timetable aims to have negotiations with the most advanced countries concluded by the end of next year. This is the political reality. Furthermore claims were made that provisions of the treaty, such as increasing the number of areas subject to qualified majority voting, or strengthening the European Commission, are not in Ireland's interests. These claims are completely at odds with our experience of membership, where democratic votes, clear rules and strengthened institutions protect the smaller states from the arbitrary use of power by the larger states.
During the course of the debate on the Nice treaty it became clear that many people felt that there was insufficient transparency and accountability in the conduct of the business of the Council of Ministers. This is perhaps a valid criticism, but the Government was at pains to point out that whatever deficiencies exist should not be blamed on Europe, and certainly not on the Nice treaty which makes no change in this area. The solution to such problems clearly lies with the Oireachtas in devising new arrangements which satisfy the public demand for accountability while ensuring that Irish Ministers can operate effectively in Council.
Of course arrangements for scrutinising proposals for legislation coming before the Council of Ministers already exist. The Joint Committee on European Affairs already examines all proposals for Council regulations and makes appropriate recommendations. However, given the volume of material coming before the committee, there is merit in the proposal to review the functioning of Oireachtas committees in this regard. In particular it is worth examining whether the other Oireachtas committees might play a greater role in support of that undertaken at present by the Joint Committee on European Affairs. It will also be necessary to examine the arrangements for briefing committees on the constant flow of draft legislation, including through the use of modern technology, and to consider how that briefing can be made as useful as possible to committee members.
As the Minister for Foreign Affairs indicated during last night's debate, the Government has a positive disposition on the principle of strengthened parliamentary scrutiny and participation. The details of the proposed Bill need to be exam ined carefully to ensure the room for manoeuvre essential for Ministers involved in Council negotiations is maintained. All sides will agree that given the far-reaching implications of such changes, every effort must be made to ensure the Oireachtas is united on the proposals, and that changes are as workable and user friendly as possible. Given the seriousness of the issues involved, it is important we get this right.
This debate is important and timely. Accountability and transparency are not just buzz words, but vital aspects of democratic government. We need to explain fully the role Ireland plays in the European Union. I am convinced that the more these issues are outlined and discussed, the more the public will identify with our positive experience of membership.
In the time available to me I would like to focus on the parts of this Bill which relate to the European Union's Common Foreign and Security Policy, including the proposals for amendments to the defence Acts. A much better understanding of Ireland's contribution to the formulation and conduct of the Common Foreign and Security Policy is needed. There appears to be a lack of appreciation of the opportunity that Ireland's role in the CFSP provides for the pursuit of our foreign policy principles and interests. Certain mistaken perceptions need to be dispelled, for example, the idea that Ireland can be coerced into supporting EU foreign policy decisions to which we are opposed. Other fallacious perceptions include the belief that we can be silenced or ignored in the formulation of EU foreign policy, or that we are somehow prevented from pursuing policies or initiatives on a national basis.
Ireland's overall experience of foreign policy co-operation with our EU partners has been very positive and we have never been shy in putting forward our views and contributing to the European Union's voice in international affairs. As a small country with a successful economy dependent on access to world markets if it is to continue to prosper and grow, we want the European Union to play the fullest possible role. The full influence of the European Union should be brought to bear in support of a global order committed to international peace and security, the pacific settlement of disputes, human rights and the rule of law in international affairs. We have pursued these traditional goals of Ireland's foreign policy through our participation in the Common Foreign and Security Policy. Ireland's voice has been enhanced, not hindered through our involvement in EU foreign policy co-operation. As in other areas of EU activity, our experience suggests that pooled sovereignty gives us greater influence and control over our destiny, without surrendering our right to pursue issues on a national basis as we see fit.
Among the concerns voiced during the debate on the Nice Treaty was a feeling that the European Union is becoming a "superstate". Others expressed concern about the hijacking of the European Union, in some unspecified way, by larger member states who will dictate its future direction. I do not share such concerns as they do not reflect the reality of our experience of EU membership during the last 28 years. They do not stand up to close scrutiny when one looks closely at the provisions of the Nice Treaty governing EU foreign and security policy co-operation. The provisions to which I refer were drafted by Ireland and other like-minded partners in successive Intergovernmental Conferences when parties on both sides of the House were in government. Having said that, we need to explore concerns in depth to achieve much better public understanding of the European Union's role in the world and how EU foreign and security policy is negotiated and implemented.
The suggestions for future handling in the Oireachtas of joint actions under the CFSP, set out in section 5 of this Bill, are very useful in this regard. As the Minister for Foreign Affairs told the House yesterday, the Government is open to any suggestions or ideas that enhance discussion, debate and understanding of the European Union's international role and the breadth and scope given to Ireland to pursue foreign and security policy goals and objectives. Deputy Quinn's Bill also intends to facilitate Irish participation in humanitarian and crisis management activities which might arise in an EU framework with UN authorisation, an approach that is to be welcomed. The United Nations has encouraged regional approaches to peacekeeping and I am glad to note that developments within the European Union in this area are evolving along similar lines. It is encouraging to see that the close co-operation between the European Union and the United Nations on these matters is expected to develop further in the months ahead. The positive outcome of the meeting which took place last month between the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, and EU Foreign Ministers was an important indicator in this regard.
The proposals for amendments to the defence Acts in relation to service abroad by members of the Permanent Defence Force can be seen in the context of Ireland's role in the development of the European Union's security and defence policy. The Government has confirmed on many occasions that the deployment of Irish personnel and resources in overseas missions will be considered only if a UN mandate is already in place. Moreover, it is clear that the types of crisis management mission which might be undertaken by the European Union and in which Ireland might participate are consistent with those in which we have engaged, under the United Nations, for over 40 years. Much of this has been forgotten in recent weeks.
During the lead-up to the referendum, there was confusion as to whether Ireland could conceivably take part in a crisis management oper ation without a UN mandate, but that is not and has never been a possibility. However, in order to address any confusion which arose through misunderstanding or misinformation, the Government is positively disposed to further clarifying the position. As part of ongoing efforts to dispel fears and anxieties which arose during the referendum campaign, I expect there will be a full examination of the steps that can be taken to allay concerns. A centrally important consideration is that, in accordance with the provisions of the defence Acts, the approval of this House is an essential precondition before deployment of Irish personnel.
Ireland's distinguished record of involvement in UN peacekeeping is second to none. I share the view of the vast majority of the Irish people in expressing my pride about Ireland's role in this area. It is important that the record is maintained and developed, as to do otherwise would be to fly in the face of efforts to try to prevent events such as the horrific interethnic conflict in the Balkans from taking place again. The peacekeeping area is one where Ireland has, can, and will continue to make a positive contribution in keeping with our traditions and values. Our future contribution will take into account the changing and more complex nature of peacekeeping, which involves additional tasks such as humanitarian assistance, the protection of human rights and civilian police work. This is essentially what the European Union's security and defence policy is all about.
Unfortunately, whether by design or intention, some doubts have been created about Ireland's role in European security and defence policy issues and how we should play our part in the international community. Perhaps the description of the EU headline goal as a "rapid reaction force" has allowed those who are so minded to create doubts in the minds of others, despite the fact that the force is emphatically not a standing army. Ireland's involvement is fully consistent with a policy of military neutrality, to which the Government remains firmly committed. The European Union is putting together a pool of capabilities to provide the Union with the means to carry out humanitarian and crisis management tasks. It is important that discussion about developments in European security and defence policy take place on the basis of fact. We should not proceed on the basis of scaremongering, or exaggerated suggestions of what the European Union is doing in this area. In particular, we should not ignore the events which we have witnessed in the Balkans in the past decade. These events have made clear that Europe needs to be in a position to play a full part in maintaining peace and stability. Ireland should not turn its back on this challenge which lies at the heart of Europe's future well-being and prosperity.
I wish to highlight that European security and defence policy is not only about developing military capabilities. It involves developing a spectrum of tools which the European Union can have at its disposal with the objective of making the Common Foreign and Security Policy more effective and more visible. In this connection, the development of the European Union's conflict prevention and civilian crisis management capabilities has a central role to play. The civilian crisis management area was a particular priority of the Swedish EU Presidency, which is coming to a close. One of the main tasks in the civilian area has been to carry forward work on the establishment of a goal to provide police in support of peacekeeping operations. Good progress has also been made in other priority areas – the rule of law, civilian administration and civil protection.
The enhancement of the European Union's capabilities for conflict prevention has also received particular attention in recent months. An important EU programme for the prevention of violent conflicts was approved at the Gothenburg European Council earlier this month. This is a welcome development form Ireland's perspective. The programme sets out a comprehensive approach to conflict prevention. It identifies political priorities for preventive actions and measures to ensure early warning and policy. In doing so, it highlights the key importance of addressing the long-term root causes of conflict and emphasises the importance of effective partnership with international organisations such as the United Nations.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs has briefed the House regularly on these developments. However, the outcome of the Nice treaty referendum illustrated in very stark terms the need for greater efforts to keep both the Oireachtas and the public fully informed. In this light, the overall purpose of the proposals in Deputy Quinn's Bill are to be welcomed. I look forward to the opportunity for this House to debate these issues in more detail after all the implications have been carefully teased out.
I wish to share my time with Deputies McManus and Gormley.
I warmly welcome the Government's decision, announced by the Minister for Foreign Affairs last night, not to oppose the Bill on Second Stage. However, the Labour Party is aware of the less than subtle difference between not opposing Second Stage and allowing the Bill to be enacted. I take what has been signalled by the Government in good faith and hope the legislation will be processed through Committee Stage to permit a fuller debate on the numerous specific issues raised by the Minster for Foreign Affairs and others which need to be addressed by way of amendment.
However, the legislation essentially begins the substantial reform that this House is required to introduce to make the European project, to which the bulk of Members are committed, a more acceptable, real, transparent, vibrant and exciting concept for our people who are genuinely turned off and worried about the project through a lack of understanding and clarity from this House.
I read the contributions made by the Minister in response to Deputy Quinn last night and sympathise with his response. He denied the existence of a left-right divide among pro-Europeans in Ireland and even that there was a left-right divide in Europe. He has yet to offer himself for election to the European Parliament, although others who have held that office have done so. Should he do so he would no doubt be successful and then discover that there is such a divide in the European Parliament. Politics in virtually all European countries is characterised by a social and Christian democratic agenda. Ireland is unique in that such an agenda has not characterised its politics to date.
The Minister's party has evolved into a classic Christian democratic party but it cannot sit in the Christian democratic group in the European Parliament because the evolution of the Fianna Fáil Party to that position was much slower than that of Fine Gael and because Fine Gael is already part of the group it will not allow Fianna Fáil to join. The reluctance of the Minister for Foreign Affairs to acknowledge that his colleague, the Minister for Finance, is an ideological classic 19th century liberal and a self-acknowledged Eurosceptic, whose politics, I suspect, would be rejected by many of his Cabinet colleagues, cuts to the heart of the difficulties regarding political debate in Ireland, which is often devoid of ideological content and more is the pity.
The Minister's technical comments in respect of our Bill and the difficulties they might pose are not significant. The legislation takes account of the need to make speedy decisions and emphasises the need for prior consultation and proper reporting rather than mandating. However, it is important that if a decision is taken by an Irish Minister in Europe that is repugnant to the Dáil, a mechanism should be put in place to address this.
The Acting Chairman will be aware that the Select Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights dealt with a regulation that arises under the Fourth Protocol to the Amsterdam Treaty, which was referred to it by the House this morning. We are required because of an opt-in clause Ireland has under that protocol in regard to certain justice matters to have a debate and seek affirmation from both Houses of the Oireachtas. However, there is a plethora of other resolutions that impact on the daily lives of citizens which are not subject to such parliamentary scrutiny.
Even when there is a constitutional requirement, as provided for in the legislation, or a legal requirement for oversight by the House, Ministers often treat the process with contempt, as do Departments, by rushing proposals at the last minute saying they must be agreed today. The regulation we debated earlier was referred to the committee this morning, although the notices for the meeting issued yesterday. It was dealt with by the committee this afternoon because it had to be disposed of before the end of the session. That is a bad way to deal with important measures and it is something we must fundamentally improve.
The issue of the mandate given to Ministers before they attend the Council of Ministers is much more important. I have had the privilege of serving on two Councils and chaired the Environment Council in 1996. There is no parliamentary scrutiny of the positions taken on important issues and all parties are guilty in this regard.
I was amused by the recent comments of the Attorney General who referred to the deficiency of transparency at EU level. The only way I can obtain information about the Justice and Home Affairs Council is through the Commission's website. I can access the agenda for the Council's meeting and the position of most member states on the website. There is no natural reporting mechanism to the House on these issues and Ministers attend Councils without a mandate. They do not have an idea of the views of this House on those issues. Unfortunately, they are often represented at these meetings by officials. A colleague looked at the attendance records of some members of the Government. The attendance record of the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, for example, would not inspire confidence. It is bad when she takes it upon herself to criticise the institutions of the European Union yet she will not go to represent our position there as she is required and mandated to do in our name. We have a responsibility to take control of these matters. An external force will not do that. We must reform our actions so that the accountability we are demanding at the core is reflected here. That is reflected in the Bill.
When I became a Member of the Oireachtas, I was in the Seanad and was a member of the committee on secondary legislation. At least it was a mechanism that enabled us to look at such legislation. A more effective proposal, in light of the voluminous amount of secondary legislation by way of direction and regulation coming from the institutions in Europe, is to have individual committees. The select and joint committees we established are struggling to work well and are doing so reasonably well. As I suggested today at the Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights, we should have as a norm a secondary legislation sub-committee so that every regulation can be discussed and every Minister armed with the opinions of Parliament before he or she goes to a Council meeting in Europe. This gives more strength to the position being argued. If a Minister can outline the strong view of his or her Parliament, across all parties, on an issue, it gives a stronger mandate for the position being argued at the Council.
I support the rapid reaction force because I am an internationalist. We have seen horrible moral dilemmas on this Continent in recent times and we must be part of solving them. As an internationalist, I do not understand people who have a narrow view of intervention to protect the lives of people who are oppressed or being destroyed as, when we aspired to our national freedom, we were always prepared to look abroad for help. We should not look forward to isolationism. It stretches credibility when parties, particularly those with military wings, speak about isolationism and their abhorrence of military actions.
I look forward on another occasion to having a longer time to make a contribution, but I yield to my colleague, Deputy McManus. I hope there will be an opportunity on Committee Stage for a fuller debate and that the Government's signal last night is for real.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute on this important Bill. The leader of the Labour Party, Deputy Quinn, and those who helped to draft this Bill are entitled to the gratitude of the House for bringing this legislation forward. I also welcome the response by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, when he said he would accept the general principle of the Bill. I hope it is a genuine acceptance of the spirit of this Bill and not just an attempt to buy time.
We have not had good experiences on this side of the House with promises by the Government to accept in principle Bills put forward by the Labour Party. In June 1999 the Government decided not to oppose the Second Stage of the whistleblower's Bill introduced by Deputy Rabbitte and indicated its acceptance in principle. Two years later, the Bill has not got any further as the Government has refused to facilitate it being taken in Committee. Our experience with the Electoral (Amendment) (Donations to Parties and Candidates) Bill was worse. When the Bill was taken on Second Stage in May last year it was not opposed by the Government, a move we understood indicated acceptance of it in principle. In this instance, the Government not only blocked the Select Committee on the Environment and Local Government from considering the Committee Stage of the Bill but, after much delay and foot dragging, introduced its own Bill which sought to copperfasten corporate donations to political parties. This proposal was directly contrary to the spirit of the Labour Party Bill.
We will take the Minister at his word, but we also intend to hold him to it. We are more than willing to look at the technical details of the Bill and we will be happy to consider any possible changes, amendments or improvements on Committee Stage. However, we will not accept foot dragging nor will we accept any attempt to undermine the principles of scrutiny and accountability that are the core of this Bill.
The fact this Bill is being proposed by the Labour Party when it should be coming from the Government side of the House is an indication of how poorly the Government prepared the case for the Nice treaty and how dreadful its response has been since the people rejected it. We have had more debate on the Nice treaty since its rejection than was permitted by the Government prior to the referendum. Since the Labour Party pointed out this was a problem, we could have said we told the Government the people would vote against it. However, this Bill presents a way to guarantee debate into the future.
The Bill seeks to address two issues which arose frequently during the referendum campaign on the Nice treaty, though they are ones that stand apart from it. If the treaty had been endorsed by the Irish electorate on 7 June, these measures would still have to be addressed. If that treaty was not heard about again, these are reforms which should still be introduced. The Bill has two principal purposes. It seeks to introduce a set of new procedures that would significantly improve the level of scrutiny by the Oireachtas of measures proposed to be taken by the EU Council of Ministers. The Bill also provides for reporting and consultation with relevant committees of the Oireachtas by Ministers.
Those of us who have been in Government and who have attended Council of Ministers meetings know the way decisions are made at that level is unsatisfactory. They are not open to public scrutiny but are made on the basis that the work has been done by excellent civil servants. Ministers are wheeled in and given their speaking notes in the hope they will not stray too far from them. Many of us heard Eamon Delaney quoting a civil servant who referred to Ministers as chimpanzees. We did not totally dismiss that relationship. I am not criticising civil servants but the methods of decision-making at meetings of the Council of Ministers is not satisfactory and is bound to lead to a lack of accountability and scrutiny. That is the type of problem this Bill intends to address.
The second purpose of the Bill is to amend the Defence Acts to provide for participation by the Defence Forces with the EU's rapid reaction force but only where it is operating under a specific United Nations mandate. There was a range of reasons people voted "No", some of which related to domestic political issues while others were not so directly related. However, there were two recurring themes. One was a concern about the rapid reaction force and the other was a genuine concern among the electorate about a lack of accountability in terms of legislative measures introduced by the EU and agreed by Irish Ministers which have a significant impact on their lives. As a citizen and a Deputy, I share the concern about deficiencies in European structures as well as in our domestic political system. In many cases the first time the public, or Members of the Dáil, become aware of the position the Government is adopting on a crucial issue is after the Council of Ministers has signed off on a directive, and it is far too late at that point to influence the position our Government has adopted.
In my area of responsibility, health, the question about the working times of junior hospital doctors was an issue of extreme importance here. That issue deserved debate in this House, yet we were completely stymied in terms of being able to influence, and discover, the Government's position in terms of working out the working time directive and the position it was takingvis-à-vis other countries where there was a whole range of views in terms of the length of time of implementation of the directive. Some countries were of the view that a lengthy period of 13 years was required while others felt there was no need to implement the directive because the working times had already been reduced to a humane and proper level.
That was a crucial debate in terms of the future of our health service, but we were not part of it. It is a fundamental issue among many other fundamental political issues that need to be opened up to ensure decisions are made from the best possible position and strengthened by the debate in this House but also that the public can have confidence that the system is open to scrutiny and influences from the people to ensure their needs are taken account of; otherwise we will have a further distancing between the people and a bureaucracy which is moving further away rather than closer to them.
On the question of neutrality, we are dealing with our relationship on issues which are problematic but on which we need to have a real debate. If, for example, we had circumstances in Europe that occurred in the Second World War, would we take pride in adopting a neutral stance today?
Would we say that fascism is something we do not have to counteract or oppose? It is not likely to happen, and it is a very extreme example, but we need to define neutrality in a way that is appropriate to today's world. I have no doubt there is an important role for neutral countries, but we need to speak in terms that are relevant to today's world and not try to adopt, as Deputy Howlin said, an isolationist position, which is meaningless.
The approach some have towards neutrality is rather like the approach many have to abortion. It is all right as long as other countries are dealing with the issue. It is all right as long as the French or somebody else is looking after our women in crisis pregnancies, but as a neutral country we have to take responsibility, however difficult that is, in terms of dealing with the realities of the modern world.
I welcome aspects of the Bill. No doubt it has been prompted by the outcome of the Nice Treaty referendum where up to 54% of the people said "No".
Of those who voted.
While it does address the issue of accountability in relation to the Council of Ministers, it does not address the core issues raised during the referendum campaign. I hope the forum does not follow that sort of example where we will have a lot of window dressing, platitudes and even pious aspirations but where nothing concrete will emerge in terms of renegotiating the actual treaty. I hope it does not become a propaganda exercise.
That will not happen.
I see the Minister of State dismissing the idea of renegotiating out of hand. That is fine, but I would like him to clarify one point. When will we have a new referendum? All we have heard is rumour and statement from sources close to the Government, but no one has actually come out and said we will have another referendum. We have to have another referendum because if the treaty is not renegotiated, and Europe is depending on Ireland for this treaty to be ratified, we have to have a referendum. The Government should therefore come out and say it. The problem for the Government was that there was a lack of clarity during the referendum and we are now having the same sort of obfuscation after it.
Misinformation put about by the Deputy and his friends.
The issues raised during the campaign were militarisation, the voting strengths on the Council of Ministers and enhanced co-operation. This Bill addresses the idea of accountability. It is clear that up to now, when one of our Ministers went off to the Council of Ministers, we were not properly informed in this Chamber. That is a welcome development because now we will have some form of debate. We prompted that by urging people to vote "No". It would never have happened otherwise, but the question of the voting strengths has not been addressed here. This is the core idea about which we spoke during the campaign. The fact is that Ireland now has three votes out of 83. The Germans have ten out of 83.
Look at the population difference.
The Minister of State is talking about demographics, which I will address. Ireland will increase to ten. The Germans will go up to 29. Immediately one can see there is a shift.
The Minister of State referred to population. There was a proposal that we would have a dual majority, that it would be one vote per country and related to 50% of the population. That was rejected by the French, and the Germans decided to go along. We then had the system we now have in the Nice treaty. Throughout Europe, the smaller countries were not very comfortable with this. In fact, the Portuguese delegation walked out and said it was an institutionalcoup d'état. They got no support from the Irish delegation.
The Minister of State said it has to be about population. It is already about population in the European Parliament. When Gerhard Schröder talks about a second chamber, that second chamber being the Council of Ministers, will that be about demographics as well? We should contrast that with the model in the United States where, regardless of the size of the state, two Senators represent it. That recognises sovereignty, although our sovereignty is gone down the drain. It recognises statehood to some extent and is about equality, but with the Nice treaty, that is gone. The partnership of equals that we joined in 1973 is a thing of the past.
I do not agree with a single word the Deputy is saying.
Some 54% of the population did, and I hope they will again.
Of those who voted.
On the idea of enhanced co-operation, this is a dangerous concept and an integral part of the treaty. Incidentally, all these reforms will take place in 2005 regardless of whether any new states join the Union. Romano Prodi gave the lie to the claims during the campaign that this was solely about enlargement. He said that enlargement can take place anyway, that it is legally possible. It is not politically acceptable because the Germans and the French made it a precondition. That was the whole idea behind the Nice treaty. If we enlarge, the bigger states will get more power. In essence, that is what it is about and this forum and this Bill will not change that. The people will examine the arguments, as they did in the campaign.
I want to address the question of militarisation. The Bill, and particularly the explanatory memorandum, is very interesting. Referring to section 6, the memorandum states, "The section doesnot state that service outside the State by Defence Force contingents can only be with a UN Force: it stipulates rather that service with a UN Force can only be pursuant to a resolution of the Dáil”. That is precisely what we said during the campaign for which we were dismissed as scaremongers. The Government is tying itself up in knots again. It stated that we could only undertake such service with a UN mandate. However, this highlights the fact that there is a loophole. The Government now has to admit this fact. In the post Nice treaty debate the Government will find itself having to admit—
What will we have to admit?
The Minister of State should listen. The fact is that, at present, forces can undertake such missions without a UN mandate. However, Deputy Cowen stated during this debate that we can only undertake those missions under a UN mandate. The Minister of State should read the Government document and what civil servants have said.
If the Deputy listened to my statement he would know the Government's position. He is adopting anà la carte approach.
May I speak? I am seeking the Chair's protection as the Minister of State keeps interrupting.
Deputy Gormley, without interruption.
The central problem is that we are still talking about the rapid reaction force. This has not changed because of this Bill. During debate on the Amsterdam treaty we were told that the force solely concerned the Petersberg Tasks and peacekeeping and that it would be an extension of the UN. This view was repeated during the campaign on the Nice treaty. However, the Petersberg Tasks also include crisis management and peace enforcement. At no stage was this mentioned during debate on the Amsterdam treaty. We were never told that we would have a rapid reaction force. Irish people do not want to be a part of the European rapid reaction force. They want to be part of the UN, and we have a proud record in that regard.
I disagree. The people's views are being misrepresented.
Acting Chairman, I keep being interrupted.
The Deputy's party talks a load of nonsense on this issue.
We put our arguments forward during the campaign and we were believed. We have exposed further contradictions this evening which will not go away. We will pursue this issue every bit of the way and every time the Government comes out with more nonsense we will expose it. This Bill does not address the issue of the rapid reaction force and that situation will continue.
I have spoken to legal experts on the issue of the UN mandate.
A proud tradition going back 40 years means nothing to the Deputy. He should be ashamed.
The Bill refers to functions, but does not refer to the UN mandateper se.
The Deputy's time is almost up.
Most of my time was taken up with interruptions by the Minister of State. It is clear he does not want a debate. We will give him a debate any time he wishes and we will win the next referendum in 14 months.
The Deputy should talk about the issues.
This has been a most useful debate which has allowed the House to address in a focused fashion the important issue of Oireachtas oversight of European Union business. It is realised on all sides that we must do more to bring the Community closer to its citizens and to give the public a greater sense of ownership of its activities. We have to break down this sense of them and us which too many use when talking about the Community. We are the European Union; it belongs to all of us.
It is a measure of the achievement of the European Union that the candidate states, many of which are engaged in the difficult task of rebuilding their democratic institutions and revitalising their economies, attach such importance to realising their ambition for membership of the Union. The Government has emphasised, notwithstanding the outcome of the Nice referendum, that there remains broad support for enlargement across all sections of Irish opinion. In this regard, I am pleased to announce on behalf of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, who is undertaking an official visit to Prague today and tomorrow, that the Government has decided to open resident missions in four of the candidate countries, namely, Cyprus, Estonia, the Slovak Republic and Slovenia. This decision should be seen as evidence of the Government's continuing commitment to the enlargement of the European Union and as an earnest of its determination to work for the strengthening and developing of close and cordial relations with the candidate countries.
This process of extending the State's diplomatic network, including in the context of enlargement, will continue. The Government decided yesterday that resident missions will be opened in all candidate countries over a two year period. These decisions reflect the importance the Government attaches to strengthening our bilateral ties with the countries in question. Many of them look to Ireland as a model for what they hope to achieve through making effective use of the opportunities afforded by membership.
I am convinced that it was not the intention of the Irish people in the referendum on 7 June to deny to these countries their legitimate aspirations for a better future which potentially has important political and economic benefits for all of us who share the continent of Europe. Many of those on the "No" side have clearly stated that they are not opposed to enlargement of the Union. All of the indications are that people do not oppose enlargement. However, there are a range of issues relating to the European Union about which the public has concerns. The fact that many of these may not be soundly based does not detract from the fact that citizens deserve to have these issues addressed. All Members acknowledge that there are issues which need to be addressed.
Of critical importance in this regard is the capacity of our parliamentary institutions at national level to monitor and review development within the European Union. It has been recognised on all sides that the Joint Committee on European Affairs has made an important contribution in this regard, and that there has been insufficient public appreciation of what it has been able to accomplish. However, it is also acknowledged, given the sheer volume of issues with which it has to deal, many of which are highly technical, that the current arrangements require a comprehensive review.
The Bill submitted by Deputy Quinn makes a useful contribution in this regard. It raises many of the right issues, but the Deputy has been good enough to acknowledge that devising the appropriate responses which take account of the need to ensure that the Government can operate effectively within the EU system, is a complicated matter that will require detailed consultations. There is a need to balance the requirement for accountability with the need to ensure that Ministers are in a position to protect our national interests in a fast-moving negotiating process. A number of the provisions of the Bill, as drafted, raise difficulties in this regard.
As the Minister for Foreign Affairs stated yesterday, the Government does not intend to oppose the Bill on Second Stage. It is committed to improving arrangements for parliamentary scrutiny. We will closely examine the detailed provisions of the Bill, following which we will consult again with the Opposition. The Government will, in due course, bring forward considered proposals on issues raised by the Bill. We welcome the overall purpose of the Bill but without commitment as to the specific proposals pending further examination of the issues involved.
I welcome the opportunity to acknowledge that there has been a change of approach to the debate on Europe which many of us have been seeking for a long time. Members of successive Governments who have been involved in EU Councils have felt the need for a closer engagement, not just with the Oireachtas but also with citizens.
I hope the media will involve itself more vigorously on issues that might not always constitute a controversial or headline story. There are many good stories on issues that are relevant to ordinary people which need to be reported and I hope this will be the case.
In a previous Government I served as Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs when we initiated a process called "the communicating Europe". This process was pursued by the subsequent Government. We need to examine the issue of getting the message across and the media will have to be involved.
Deputy Gormley referred to the question of equality between larger and smaller states. My experience is that small states have benefited from their involvement in the EU. As Minister of State with responsibility for international trade I am involved in dealing with many issues in which Irish people would like to see us involved. For example, there is a strong commitment from the EU on international trade with the developing world. That is crucial with regard to our policies for helping the developing world which have been pursued by successive Governments. As a Minister representing the Government, I have been able to pursue the agenda for the next world trade talks in Qatar where we will pursue an approach that will support developing countries. My proposal is that this should be a development round.
Earlier today I met representatives of nine or ten NGOs, including Trócaire and Oxfam, to discuss these issues. That is an example of how we can deal with the question of communications. In addition, we discussed how best to pursue a development agenda on behalf of the Irish people.
The result of the Nice vote can do much good for all of us, including those who are genuinely committed to, and wish to argue the case for, the European Union. We are well able to do so. Equally, we can play an important role by punching above our weight at EU level and making an important contribution, in my case, on issues such as the need to care for the developing world community. That will be the Government's priority when it comes to the next round of world trade talks. That is an example of a small nation making a contribution.
Although we obviously did not explain this well enough, qualified majority voting helps smaller countries because under the unanimity situation a larger state will hold out and can block other countries from making progressive advancements. That has been my experience and the experience of others who have served at European Council level.
There are many issues to be taken into account and I will not start making accusations against anybody. It is difficult for any Government to dig deep into the Nice agenda, draw conclusions and get to the real issues. There is much jargon that we will have to try to deal with in future. Now is the time to move on, involve people and explain the issues to them. The people are entitled to know all the facts and I will do my best to get the message across. My areas of involvement include international trade, labour issues at the Social Affairs Council, and consumer issues. Those issues are at the heart of the matter. We can pool our resources and work in a united way in our approach to the European Union.
There are two aspects to the Union. There are ways whereby we can work well together in a united fashion and where it is best that we work as colleagues and there is the issue of protecting national interests. I predict that we will never see a European super state of which some people are fearful. It is not only Irish people who are concerned about such a development, people throughout the European Union would also be concerned if that were to occur. It does not need to happen, however, and as far as I am concerned it will not.
The rapid reaction force issue was well handled by successive Governments, going back to the Amsterdam treaty. We took a partnership approach to participate on a voluntary basis whereby Dáil approval would be sought case by case and with a UN mandate. We can provide people with clear arguments and explanations concerning the rapid reaction force. Let us get down to the nitty gritty of explaining what is really happening in the European Union. Hopefully, those involved in the media will help us to get our message across.
I thank the Labour Party for tabling this motion which has given us an opportunity to commence what will be a very important debate.
I regret that Deputy Gormley has left the Chamber and did not wait to hear a response to the quite childish points he put forward. To argue that Ireland has never been equal in the European Union does not reflect the reality. There has constantly been a bias in the European Union in favour of the small states.
We were treated as more equal than the bigger states. That has been reduced slightly by the Nice treaty but there is still a bias in favour of the smaller states. There are many other issues that I would like to debate and I look forward to doing so with Deputy Gormley in the forum on the future of Europe. He needs to look seriously at this reactionary alliance with which he is currently associated. This old style, re-heated, 19th century nationalism that Sinn Féin is promoting as some kind of Valhalla for the Irish people does not reflect the reality of the world in which we live where if one does not share one's sovereignty one has no influence whatsoever.
Over the past two years, the German state, which is one of the major economies in Europe, could not impose its will on the multinational corporations concerning corporation tax. Unless we combine our sovereignty as members of the European Union the multinational corporations will run over us. They will run riot and will rule the roost.
Enhanced co-operation will help the environment in Europe. As a member of the Green Party, Deputy Gormley should recognise the realities of life instead of parroting this Sinn Féinism with which Gerry Adams and Deputy Ó Caoláin, who is also absent from this debate, are trying to drag us down. They are trying to drag us back to at least the 1950s. I grew up in the 1950s and was fed this nonsense that Sinn Féin is going on about today. Much to my regret, I bought it and it took me a long time to get out of it. I do not want to see another generation of young people being led down the same road by Sinn Féin. It is promoting its exclusive, sectarian nationalism in Northern Ireland and is trying to import it into the Republic. I will not accept it. I will stand up against it and seek to defeat it at every hand's turn. I simply do not want to see Ireland dragged back into this sort of mé féin, green nationalism that it is promoting, and with which the Green Party is aligning itself.
We are promoting a Bill, not just a motion. I have not heard any of the Ministers who contributed to the debate saying they will introduce legislation. They said they would clarify the matter of the UN mandate and would introduce proposals in the Dáil concerning accountability but I have not heard any suggestion that they will introduce legislation. Yet, we need complete clarity in the legal sense.
One of the most common fallacies aired in all member states of the European Union is that Brussels, whatever that is, imposes or forces countries to accept courses of action against their will. This claim is complete and utter nonsense.
That is right.
Europe cannot and does not force any country to do anything that it has not accepted in negotiations.
That is correct.
European treaties have set out broad aims and objectives for the European Union. These include high levels of environmental protection, the establishment of a single market, the introduction of a single currency and minimum social standards. The treaties set out the means by which these objectives are to be attained.
Since 1987, when the Single European Act came into effect, more of these decisions have been taken by a qualified majority in the Council where each country is, supposedly, represented by Ministers. In recommending European treaties to the Irish people, Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats have expressly endorsed the objectives, decision-making procedures and outcomes of negotiations based on these objectives and procedures. It is well to remember that because a decision can be taken by a majority, it does not mean that it is actually taken in that way. Consensus is the overriding objective within Council and strenuous efforts are made by all sides, by the Presidency and particularly by the Commission, to ensure that as many countries as possible are accommodated in the final outcome.
In a complex bargaining process involving 15 member states, few decisions will completely satisfy every member state but if a Government represents its country's interests well, no country should ever be permanently dissatisfied. It is complete and utter nonsense, therefore, for Ministers to complain about Europe forcing issues on us. Take the complaints of the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, Deputy de Valera, and the Minister of State at that Department, Deputy Ó Cuiv, about unnamed European directives which supposedly undermine Ireland's cultural traditions. Even though neither of them has bothered to elaborate on what they mean, it is commonly understood that both are referring to two of the most important nature conservation directives, the wild birds directive and the habitats directive. Both directives were negotiated and agreed to by Fianna Fáil Governments, the wild birds directive in April 1979 and the habitats directive in May 1992.
In joining the Common Market in 1973, Ireland agreed to pool sovereignty with other countries in order to achieve things that we could not do alone but could do through common action. Under the terms put to the people by the Government in 1972 and in place since, the pooling of sovereignty weakened the scrutiny of legislation by the Oireachtas. Consequently, Deputies and Senators, and the people, have little or no idea of the positions taken on European affairs by Ministers within Council. We do not even know for sure if they bother to attend. What little information the Oireachtas gets about the actions of Ministers in Council is largely gleaned from unofficial sources – for example, the appalling attendance records of the Minister, Deputy de Valera, and the Minister of State, Deputy Ó Cuiv, at the Culture Council.
It is scandalous that the last Government six monthly report on European affairs, as required under the 1972 European Communities Act, dealing with developments in the first half of 1999, was published in October 2000. No action has been taken on appointing a Minister for European affairs. No action has been taken on the provisions contained in the Amsterdam treaty that all Commission proposals be made available to the Oireachtas at least six weeks before they are decided upon in Council.
The Common Market that Ireland joined in 1973 was deeply undemocratic. Legislative decisions were proposed by a largely unaccountable Commission and decided by an unaccountable Council, meeting behind closed doors. Despite the common perception, as well as the deliberate misinformation spread by Eurosceptics, considerable progress has been made in the last decade in strengthening democracy in Europe. The democratically elected European Parliament now shares co-decision powers with the Council over a very wide area of European activity – environmental protection, Single Market, consumer rights, energy, social policy etc. This means that approximately 70% of European legislation affecting all member states cannot come into effect until it has been thoroughly scrutinised by a parliamentary chamber representing voters in all member states. One of the unsung benefits of the Nice treaty is that it increases this democratic role further by obliging Council to share decision-making power with the European Parliament over the European Union's emerging equality agenda, Article 13. This increased role played by democratically accountable parliamentarians not only means that we have better European legislation and programmes but also that the public is more aware of them. Last year's directive limiting junior doctors' working hours is a prime example.
The introduction and progressive extension of co-decision between the European Parliament and the Council has also been accompanied by greater control of the European Parliament over the Commission and its President. It was the European Parliament which forced the resignation of the Commission in 1999, not the member states. I for one believe that there is some way to go before we can say that European decisions are transparently made – there clearly is a need for more co-decision and making the Commission and its President more accountable. Whatever about achieving democratic accountability at European level, not enough progress has been made at member state level. For this reason, the role of national parliaments in European affairs is one of the four main items the Nice summit decided should be examined in detail before the 2004 European Reform Council, Intergovernmental Conference. We should stop this Intergovernmental Conference business and say what it is actually about – the reform of the European Union – and call it a European reform conference.
The Labour Party's European Union Bill seeks to address the democratic deficit in Ireland over EU affairs. The Bill does something that should have been done when Ireland joined the EEC in 1973 and definitely when the Single European Act and greater qualified majority voting came into effect 14 years ago. In short, it aims to ensure the Government does not commit Ireland to a policy that is opposed by a majority in the Dáil, just as the people will not have a Government which is unacceptable to a majority within the Dáil. By obliging the Government to set out its European policies, the Bill will increase awareness and understanding of EU affairs among the Oireachtas and the public at large.
For example, the Government would have to explain the reason it negotiated an opt-out to the worker consultation directive agreed by the Social Affairs Council on 12 June. It would have to justify the hotchpotch two year anti-poverty plan presented to the Commission on 1 June under the anti-poverty strategy agreed at the Nice summit last December,and explain the reason, at the first discussion of the plan in Council, Ireland was represented by the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Tom Kitt, a very able man – I am not criticising him – rather than the Minister responsible, Deputy Dermot Ahern.
The Minister for Public Enterprise, Deputy O'Rourke, would have had to explain what position she is taking today in the Telecommunications Council in Luxembourg on the proposed directive to further liberalise European postal services from 2003. Will she go along with the line advocated by the Taoiseach at the Stockholm summit in March to push this measure through by the end of the year, or will she accept the recommendations I drew up for the European Parliament and accepted overwhelmingly by it, to take greater account of the regional and employment implications of hasty liberalisation?
The Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Fahey, would have to explain the reason he did not attend the joint Transport-Telecommunications Council on 4 and 5 April when the site of the new European Maritime Safety Agency was being discussed. The Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, would have to explain the reason he is repeatedly brought before the European Court of Justice for failing to implement agreed environmental directives. The Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, would have to assess the implications for Ireland of his 16 June signing of the 2001 broad economic policy guidelines and his stated intention to, once again, ignore these guidelines in next budget. The Taoiseach would have to outline the report he agreed to produce at the Gothenburg summit on the debate in Ireland on the future of Europe for the incoming Belgian Presidency, and all future Presidencies.
The Government and all future Governments would have to inform the Oireachtas about their negotiating stances on legislative proposals as well as major upcoming developments. The Oireachtas would have a clear idea of what is on the agenda of forthcoming Council meetings, what positions Ministers or civil servants plan to take or have taken, what is contained in the Commission's annual legislative programme, what is set out in the work programme of each Council Presidency, and what initiative proposals are planned by the European Parliament etc.
The second purpose of this Bill is to amend the defence Acts to provide for participation by the Defence Forces im the European Union's rapid reaction force, but only where the RRF is operating under a UN mandate. It is not enough for the Government to say it will clarify this, it must change the legislation if it is to reassure the people on this matter. It must be clear that a UN mandate is required before Ireland can participate in missions undertaken by the rapid reaction force. The Government should be able to accept these sections of the Bill given that it already claims this is the legal position.
I want to respond to the remarks of the Minister for Foreign Affairs last night when he said that all parties have sought to develop a social Europe – that is not the case. One of the most common criticisms made during the Nice treaty referendum was that today's Europe is not the same as the Europe that Ireland joined in 1973. I, for one, am very happy that that is the case – that we have moved on, that both Ireland and Europe have developed. For many conservatives, Europe was acceptable when it largely confined itself to lowering trade barriers and providing funds to develop our infrastructure, but it is a completely different ball game when Europe starts talking about letting workers know what their employers are saying in the boardroom, and asking the Government to justify the progress, or lack of it, towards meeting anti-poverty targets, implement agreed environment directives or stick to agreements made with other countries to co-ordinate economic policy.
It is no coincidence that most of the Eurosceptic comments emanating from Ministers in the last year have largely come from its individualistic low-tax, limited public services wing, which incidentally did not participate in this debate. This wing deliberately uses emotive phrases such as "superstate", "Boston not Berlin" and "700 years of oppression". I thought Sinn Féin was the only one to continue to trot out these hoary old chestnuts. This simplistic analysis is a deliberate misrepresentation of what Europe is trying to achieve – to build on the creation of a single market, a single currency and turn Europe into the world's most competitive economy and – this is the point the Minister left out last night – the world's most cohesive society. Other states have done it such as Sweden and France. It needs to be borne in mind that Europe is not just a market – it is a political and social union. It is about the people of Europe having a decent life and trying to ensure people in the rest of the world also have a decent life and that we can make a contribution. We can contribute to ensuring that peace prevails in the world as well as in Europe.