The House has agreed that Second Stage of the Bill and motions Nos. 4 and 5 on the Order Paper are to be discussed together.
European Communities (Amendment) Bill, 1986: Second Stage.
I recommend the Second Stage of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill, 1986, to the Seanad. The Bill has two operative sections. Section 1 will make certain provisions of the Single European Act part of domestic law. The provisions are those which amend the existing Community Treaties which are already part of domestic law. Section 2 of the Bill provides that references to the "Assembly" of the European Communities in any earlier Act or statutory instrument shall be construed as references to the European Parliament. This is required because the Single European Act provides, in effect, that the European Parliament be formally described as the Parliament rather than the Assembly as provided for in the basic treaties.
Title III of the Single European Act deals with European Co-operation in the Sphere of Foreign Policy. The provisions of Title III do not amend the Community Treaties. They do not, therefore, require to be made part of domestic law and are not covered by the Bill. Title III is, however, one of the subjects of a motion in the name of the Leader of the Seanad Senator Dooge, and Senator Michael Ferris, which the House will debate in the course of its consideration of the Bill.
The motion before the Seanad, in addition to the European Communities (Amendment) Bill, 1986, will permit the Seanad to reaffirm Ireland's position of neutrality outside military alliances and to note with satisfaction that the provisions of Title III of the Single European Act relating to the co-operation of the Twelve on the political and economic aspects of security and the closer co-ordination of their positions in this area do not affect our position of neutrality outside military alliances. Furthermore, the motion will give the Seanad an opportunity to note and welcome the provisions of the Single European Act on Economic and Social Cohesion which enhance and strengthen the commitment of the Community to the achievement of the objectives of Protocol No. 30 on Ireland appended to our Treaty of Accession.
The House also has before it a motion in the name of the Leader of the House Senator Dooge and of Senator Ferris to take note of report No. 34 of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Secondary Legislation of the European Communities, which deals with the Single European Act. I propose to comment on these motions in the course of my remarks.
The Single European Act has been the subject of extensive public debate — a debate which the Government have welcomed and encouraged. It is right that the modest but worthwhile step forward by the Community represented by the Single European Act should be the subject of such debate. The Single European Act does provide the opportunity to assess our position and experience as a member of the Community 14 years after we joined. This is to be welcomed as I feel that we have to a certain degree taken our membership too much for granted. I have no doubt whatsoever, and I am sure that this House will wholeheartedly agree, that the emphatic support for membership by the Irish people in 1972 has been amply justified by our experience to date. I welcome the contribution of the Oireachtas Joint Committee to the debate.
The Government's Explanatory Guide to the Single European Act sets out the background to the negotiations which led to the signature of the Single European Act and explains the contents of the Act and the implications of its provisions for Ireland. Nevertheless, it would, I feel, be appropriate for me to begin my remarks with a brief review of the background to the Single European Act and an explanation of its contents.
The Single European Act is the culmination of a series of efforts in more recent years aimed at the relaunching of the Community in the direction of closer and strengthened integration. The Solemn Declaration on European Union, which was adopted by the Stuttgart European Council in June 1983, was the first limited step in this direction. In February 1984 the European Parliament adopted the Draft Treaty on European Union — the "Spinelli Treaty". The Parliament's initiative gave an added urgency to the efforts of the member states and greatly contributed to focusing attention on the need for a relaunching of the Community. The Fontainebleau European Council in June 1984 decided to set up the ad hoc Committee on Institutional Affairs which had as its mandate to make suggestions for the improvement of the operation of European co-operation in both the Community and European political co-operation fields. This committee, established under the Irish Presidency, had as its chairman the Leader of this House, Senator James Dooge.
The report of the Dooge Committee was the principal basis for discussion at the Milan European Council in June 1985 at which it was decided to convene the Intergovernmental Conference which negotiated the Single European Act. This conference was formally convened on 23 July 1985 and its work was completed with the signature of the Single European Act by the member states in February 1986.
The Single European Act amends the Treaties establishing the European Communities and contains provisions on European Co-operation in the Sphere of Foreign Policy. These two elements, which were negotiated separately and are, in fact, distinct are brought together in one treaty — hence the title of Single European Act.
The amendments to the Community Treaties still fall under nine headings. I would refer Senators to chapter two of the Explanatory Guide to the Single European Act which deals in some detail with the Single European Act's provisions under these nine headings. In summary, the Single European Act contains provisions to facilitate and expedite the completion of the internal market. A new chapter is incorporated into the EC Treaty on economic and social cohesion. In order to improve the functioning of the Community institutions the Act includes provisions on the European Parliament, the Commission and the European Court of Justice. It adds a new chapter to the EC Treaty providing for co-operation in economic and monetary policy. It incorporates into the EC Treaty specific provisions dealing with research and technological development, the natural environment and the working environment.
In a separate title, Title III, the Single European Act contains provisions on European Co-operation in the Sphere of Foreign Policy. This is dealt with in chapter three of the Explanatory Guide.
The Single European Act must be seen, as I have said, as a modest but worthwhile achievement by the Community. It has disappointed the advocates of a rapid and more substantial advance towards European Union. It does not, as critics have maintained, alter the basic objectives of the Treaties we accepted when we joined the Community in 1973. On the contrary, it aims at enabling the Community better to achieve those basic objectives by dealing with some of the inadequacies which have emerged in the operation of the Treaties. Thus the critics of the Single European Act in Ireland who see it as undermining our Constitution, as a threat to our independent foreign policy, or as a threat to our economic interests are raising fears which have no foundation in fact.
The Government have always been open in expressing their positive views on the need for the kind of qualitative improvement which the Single European Act will bring to the Community. We have made this clear both during the negotiations which led to the signature of the Single European Act and since the Act was signed. The Government have sought to inform the public debate on the Single European Act and the debate which has taken place has been very welcome. There have been very useful contributions from various sources. The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Secondary Legislation have produced an extensive analysis of the Single European Act which is before the Seanad today
On the whole, I feel that the debate which has taken place, has enabled us to reassess our Community membership and on the basis of that assessment, to reaffirm our commitment to Europe.
I would now like to turn to the specific concerns which have been expressed about the Single European Act. In doing so I hope to lay to rest such concerns. Many of these concerns are, in fact, dealt with in chapter four of the Government's Explanatory Guide. Nevertheless further examination of the issues which they raise, will be worthwhile if I can convince those who have genuine doubts that these doubts are not in fact, justified. A number of the points which I will cover were raised in report No. 34 of the Joint Committee on the Secondary Legislation.
Before we joined the Community in 1973, many people were concerned that membership would involve a diminution of national sovereignty. This concern has been voiced again in connection with the Single European Act. It was pointed out in the 1972 White Paper, on the terms of accession, that the powers which we would share with our Community partners would be enhanced rather than diminished by the co-operation which membership involves. The people accepted this in 1972. The Single European Act does not change the position.
The question of the constitutionality of the Single European Act has been raised on a number of occasions. The Government are satisfied that the amendments to the European Community Treaties contained in the Single European Act do not require an amendment of the Constitution. The amendments of the European Community Treaties are limited in nature. They do not involve major institutional changes. They are directed to giving a new impetus in areas already comprehended by the Treaties.
The Community Treaties expressly envisage the possibility that they may be amended, for example, in the case of the EC Treaty through the provisions of Article 236, and they establish procedures for that purpose. The Treaties have been amended on a number of occasions since we joined the Community. They were amended, for example, to permit the accession of Greece, Spain and Portugal. They were amended to permit Greenland to leave the Community. In 1975 they were amended to provide for an increase in the budgetary powers of the European Parliament. On each of these occasions the Government of the day came to the Oireachtas with legislation to ratify the amendments and to make them part of domestic law. We are following the same procedures with the Single European Act.
By virtue of the Third Amendment of the Constitution, the State is constitutionally entitled to play its full part in the operation of the Community Treaties. This includes the provisions of those Treaties which permit their amendment by common agreement of the member states. For this purpose the Government are empowered to negotiate and agree to amendments of the kind involved in the Single European Act. The Government is then empowered to present the appropriate legislation to the Houses of the Oireachtas and the Dáil and Seanad are empowered to enact it. When the process has been completed the Government are empowered, on behalf of the State, to ratify the amending Treaty. It is on this basis that the Government have submitted the European Communities (Amendment) Bill, 1986.
It has been argued that the Third Amendment to the Constitution does not empower this country to ratify the Single European Act. This is an argument on which I have already had reason to comment and I would like to do so again in order to allay the concerns which have been expressed.
The considered view of the Government is that the State, by virtue of the Third Amendment, has authority to agree to amendments of the Treaties which remain within the scope, both as regards subject matter and as regards the nature and functions of the Community institutions, of the Treaties as they were were when we joined the Communities in 1973. When ratified pursuant to this authority, compliance with these amending Treaties becomes necessitated by the obligations of membership of the Communities.
The Government consider that this view of the Third Amendment duly recognises and accepts that the State is a member of the European Communities and that this allows for limited amendments from time to time of the Treaties establishing these Communities without the necessity on each occasion for a further referendum. This view does not open up a possibility of unlimited Treaty amendments going beyond what was envisaged by the Treaties as they stood in 1973. In this regard it is important to remember that the Third Amendment consists of two sentences: the first sentence provides that the State may become a member of the Communities. This provision did not lapse when we joined the Communities. It has a continuing legal and constitutional significance no less than the second sentence which refers to matters necessitated by the obligations of membership.
The Single European Act contains amendments of the Treaties which, though important, remain within the limits to which I have referred. I will mention, in particular, three aspects of the Single European Act: qualified majority voting, the position of the Parliament and of the Commission and the new court to be attached to the Court of Justice.
As regards qualified majority voting, this is already the usual rule under the existing Treaties. It applies, to give just one example, in the agricultural sphere. The extension of that rule to areas for which unanimity is now required, particularly in the sphere of the internal market, is subject to safeguards, particularly those now contained in Article 36 of the EC Treaty, for the important interest of member states.
Secondly, the European Parliament gains no direct legislative power from the Single European Act. The implementing powers of the Commission are not being extended beyond those already provided for in the Treaties. In the case of the Commission, all that is involved is to provide a more regular and systematic basis for doing what is already provided for and the Council, whenever it sees fit, may decide not to confer such powers on the Commission.
Thirdly, the court to be attached to the Court of Justice, which is provided for in Articles 4, 11 and 26 of the Single European Act, will be a tribunal inferior to and attached to the present Court of Justice. The only reason that it is not being made part of the Court of Justice itself is that there will be appeals on questions of law from the new court to the Court of Justice. The references in articles 4, 11 and 26 of the Single European Act to "certain classes of action or proceedings brought by natural or legal persons" does not open up the possibility that jurisdiction in actions or proceedings currently reserved to the national courts could be taken from them and transferred to the new tribunal. The purpose of the new court is not to make inroads into the current jurisdiction of national courts but to improve the efficiency with which the function of judicial review and control is presently exercised under the Treaties. Moreover, it should be noted that the new court, and its jurisdiction can only be established by the unanimous decision of the Council.
I have gone into the constitutional question in some detail because of its importance and because genuine concerns have been expressed on this point. It is a question to which the Government have given most careful consideration. I would emphasise that the Government are satisfied that a constitutional amendment is not required to permit this country to ratify the Single European Act.
Another criticism which has been made of the Single European Act is that it would somehow remove or weaken this country's ability to maintain and establish its own national provisions in the area of public morality. This criticism has focused on the areas of protection of the life of the unborn and on divorce. I should make one point very clear. The Community has not and does not seek any powers in the area of public morality. The existing Treaties do not give the Community competence in the area of public morality. The Single European Act will not change that situation.
The concerns expressed on the subject of public morality with regard to the Single European Act stem from two aspects of the Act. The first of these is the reference to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, that is, the European Convention on Human Rights, in the Preamble to the Single European Act. The second is the reference in Article 18 of the Single European Act incorporating a new Article 100a into the EC Treaty, to the major needs referred to in Article 36 of the EC Treaty. These grounds include public morality, public policy or public security and the protection of health and life of humans, animals and plants.
The reference to the European Convention on Human Rights in the Preamble to the Single European Act is there at the request of a number of member states who wished to give recognition to a convention to which all member states are party. Let me say straight away that the Single European Act does not authorise the Court of Justice of the Communities to interpret or apply the convention notwithstanding the reference to that convention in the preamble.
This follows from Articles 31 and 32 of the Single European Act. Article 31 provides that the powers of the Court of Justice of the European Communities under the European Community Treaties shall apply, pursuant to the provisions of the Single European Act, only to the provisions of Title II which contain the amendments of the European Community Treaties and to Article 32 of the Single European Act. Article 32 provides that subject to Article 3(1), to Title II and to Article 31 just referred to, all of which concern the European Community Treaties and nothing else, nothing in the Single European Act shall affect the treaties establishing the European Communities or any subsequent treaties and acts modifying or supplementing them. These two provisions taken together have the following effect: First, the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice remains confined to the European Community Treaties; secondly, the statements in the preamble including that on the European Convention on Human Rights do not affect the European Community Treaties, and accordingly the contents of that convention are not, by virtue of the preamble, in any way imported into those Treaties.
Finally, I would refer to fears which have been expressed that the implementation of provisions providing for the completion of the internal market could affect our right to make our own decisions in the area of public morality. We do not have any fears that the Community would seek to undermine our national provisions in this area. However, partly in anticipation of the concerns which have been expressed on this point, we decided in the negotiations to press for the inclusion of provisions which would further protect exclusive national competences in this area. These provisions are contained in paragraph 4 of Article 100A which will be incorporated into the EC Treaty by the Single European Act. These provisions ensure that a member state may apply national provisions on grounds referred to in Article 36 of the EC Treaty including on the grounds of public morality.
Fears have been expressed about the effect of the extension of majority voting in the Council of Ministers to a number of areas by the Single European Act. The extension of majority voting is in our interest. The main area affected by the extension of majority voting is the completion of the free trading market in the Community. Majority voting is the rule rather than the exception under the treaties at present. Decisions in areas of vital importance to Ireland are already taken by majority voting. For example, the annual community budget is established by majority vote and major decisions in the agriculture area are also taken by majority vote. We have succeeded in fully protecting and indeed successfully promoting our interests in key sectors of Community policy in which this type of voting already applies.
It has been suggested that the extension of majority voting by the Single European Act will leave us isolated with three votes out of 76 at the Council table. This would infer that we always have been, and always will be, isolated in our own particular concerns on every issue which before the Council. Moreover, it ignores the fact that in the vast majority of cases our interest lies in decisions being reached by the Community rather than in obstructing such decisions. Our interest is, in fact, that the Community should be equipped with effective decision making mechanisms. Furthermore, there will always be other member states who share our particular concerns and in alliance with whom we will be able to ensure that those concerns are met apart from the most exceptional cases.
In such exceptional cases the veto will continue to apply. We remain free to invoke it, like other member states, where an important national interest is involved both in areas where majority voting applies already under the existing treaties and in the areas to which qualified majority voting is being extended by the Single European Act. The veto is not undermined by the Single European Act and was not an issue in the negotiations. I might refer to remarks made by the French Foreign Minister in the debate in the French National Assembly on the Single European Act on 20 November. M. Raimond assured Deputies, as I wish to assure Senators today, that in fields where the qualified majority rule applies, the Luxembourg Compromise of January 1966 remains fully applicable.
As Senators will be aware, the Government are very conscious of the difficulties which tax harmonisation could cause for this country. That is why we insisted that Council decisions in this area should continue to be subject to unanimity. While the Community may consider steps to harmonise taxation, as it already does under the treaties as they stand, there can be no question of progress unless this country's interests and concerns are accommodated. The Oireachtas Joint Committee expressed fears on this point both in their report on the Single European Act and in their report on the completion of the internal market. I would like to reassure the Seanad that the Government have protected our interests in this area by insisting on the retention of the unanimity requirement.
Moreover, I would refer to statements which the Taoiseach has made, at the Luxembourg European Council, at which much of the substance of the Single European Act was agreed, and again at The Hague European Council, where he outlined Ireland's position on tax harmonisation. Similar statements have been made by my colleague, the Minister for Finance, at the Finance Council and I have also made many statements on the subject. I hope those who are concerned about the effects of tax harmonisation will now accept that our partners are well aware of our position and that, because of the unanimity requirement, any progress in this area will have to take full account of Ireland's concerns.
Fears have been expressed about the powers conferred on the Commission by the Single European Act to implement Council decisions. Again the joint committee referred to this point, especially in the area of the Common Agricultural Policy.
Under existing treaty provisions the Council of Minister already confers extensive powers on the Commission to implement basic decisions taken by the Council, including very significant powers in the area of the Common Agricultural Policy. The new provisions do not confer new powers on the Commission but offer scope for streamlining the Commission's implementing powers by providing a more systematic basis for conferring such powers in the future. This, however, will be subject to continued safeguards for the interests of the member states. These safeguards involve: first, the Council's continued right to impose requirements in respect of the exercise of implementing powers by the Commission; secondly, the Council's continued right in specific cases to exercise certain implementing powers itself; and thirdly, the requirement that, in future, procedures for conferring powers on the Commission must conform to certain principles and rules to be agreed unanimously in advance by the Council.
The Commission, in full discharge of the role prescribed for it in the EC Treaty, has a key position in the defence of the interests of the Community as a whole. This role is particularly important in so far as the interests of the smaller member states are concerned. Moreover, as is clearly set out in the Government's Explanatory Guide, the exercise of management and implementing powers by the Commission can be beneficial to member states such as Ireland with major agricultural interests.
Many of the concerns expressed in relation to the Single European Act have focused on the provisions on co-operation in the sphere of foreign policy. In large part, these concerns have dwelt on fears that the Single European Act will erode our neutrality and our independence in foreign policy matters. We have heard, too, the assertion that foreign policy co-operation has no place in what critics of the Single European Act mistakenly claim is a purely economic community. The political implications of Ireland's membership of the European Community have been both understood and accepted by every Irish Government over the past quarter of a century — since 1962 when membership of the European Community first became a genuine option for this country. The then Taoiseach, Seán Lemass, addressing the Foreign Ministers of the original Six in 1962, emphasised "that the political aims of the Community are aims to which the Irish Government and people are ready to subscribe and in the realisation of which they wish to take an active part".
This commitment was no less apparent in 1972 when a subsequent Irish Government stated in chapter eight of their White Paper on Ireland's Accession to the European Communities: "As a member of the Community, we shall participate fully in the work of shaping its future political development".
One of the means by which the Community decided to make practical progress in the political as distinct from the economic sphere of European integration was through the process known as European Political Co-operation — the Community's co-operation on foreign policy matters. This process was initiated in 1970. We were consulted about the development of EPC before joining the Community and have been involved in it directly since we joined in 1973.
I, therefore, fail to see why the European Community's political dimension has apparently come as a surprise to some of those who are opposed to the Single European Act. For my own part, I intend to ensure that Ireland makes the fullest possible contribution within the European Community — the grouping of western European democratic states which the Irish people decided overwhelmingly to join in full consciousness of all that was involved.
As to the claim that the foreign policy provisions of the Single European Act will undercut our ability to take independent foreign policy decisions, this is not sustainable if one looks at the terms of the foreign policy provisions themselves. I have stated repeatedly that the principal effect of these provisions will be to formalise the existing practices and procedures of EPC, as they have evolved over the years with our full participation and agreement. From 1973 onwards, we participated in this process without damage to our independence in foreign policy matters. We will continue to do so.
The essential characteristic of EPC will remain the joint endeavour of the partners to formulate and implement a European foreign policy by informing and consulting each other on foreign policy matters of general interest, by co-ordinating their positions and by taking joint action. Our undertakings under the Single European Act, which are quite specific, go no further than to endeavour to achieve common positions and common actions on the basis of consensus. We cannot be forced into a position of the Twelve against our will: there is no voting, majority or otherwise, in EPC.
The Single European Act poses no threat to our neutrality. Our neutral position outside military alliances has been fully accommodated by our partners and Article 30.6 confirms that the scope of discussions on security in EPC will continue to be limited to the political and economic aspects of security. As a corollary of this provision, and for the first time ever, our position is further protected by the provision that nothing in the Single European Act shall impede those states who wish to co-operate more closely on security questions, that is, on military and defence questions, from doing so within the Western European Union or NATO. We are not a member of either of these organisations and we have no intention of joining them. Ireland will, therefore, neither be involved in nor committed to any co-operation that takes place in those organisations.
The viewpoint has been advanced in the joint committee's report on the Single European Act that the clear limitation of the scope of EPC to the political and economic aspects of security in some way conveys an agreement in principle on our part to defence co-operation in the future. It was at Ireland's insistence that the scope of co-operation was limited to the political and economic aspects of security and it is straining interpretation beyond all reasonable measure to see in this provision an implication of a commitment going further than this. There is no such commitment.
Misgivings have been expressed about the provision of the Single European Act which speaks of maintaining the technological and industrial conditions necessary for security. I wish to set the record straight in this matter. The clause in question is not shorthand for associating Ireland with the weapons procurement of our partners, nor is it code for acquiescence in the operation of the Sellafield reprocessing plant. The reality is much more straightforward.
Security is a broad concept and the level of technological development of Europe compared to, say, the US or Japan is a legitimate long term concern which is of direct relevance to the economic and industrial security of this country. Article 30.6(b) of the Single European Act falls under the general heading of the economic aspects of security which the Single European Act specifies as the appropriate scope of Twelve co-operation. It reflects the growing realisation by Europeans, manifested for instance in the EUREKA project in which neutral countries such as Austria, Finland, Sweden, Switzerland also participate, that we in Europe must face up to the technological and industrial challenges we face internationally, from the United States, from Japan and from the other emerging economic powers of the Pacific area.
Ireland is nationally concerned with ensuring the conditions for its economic security; it is equally legitimate for us to share in a joint concern for the economic security of the Twelve. Contrary to claims that have been made, the Single European Act, in Article 30.6(b) or in any other provision of Title III for that matter, cannot oblige Ireland to co-operate in the production of weapons, nor can it restrict our ability to speak out on these issues which concern us. We shall continue to make decisions nationally in relation to our security. Any measures that we take in co-operation with our partners will be situated entirely within the framework of the Community and hence within the economic aspects of security.
Our neutral position, therefore, is totally unaffected by the terms of the Single European Act. Dáil Eireann has already recognised that this is so by approving a motion reaffirming Ireland's position of neutrality outside military alliances and noting that this position is unaffected by the Single European Act. I urge the Seanad to adopt the similar motion put forward by Senator Dooge which, I am convinced, meets fully the concerns expressed in the joint committee's report.
Ireland's involvement in EPC in general, and its formalisation in the Single European Act in particular, is clearly in the interests of this country. Our involvement in EPC, far from acting as a constraint on our independence in foreign policy, has afforded us the opportunity to work with our European partners, with whom we share basic ideals, to promote, to a greater extent than we could have done in isolation, our aims and priorities. The claim has been made that co-operation with our European partners somehow weakens our own positions on a range of international issues. I have not seen one shred of evidence to support this claim.
The reality is that the progressive elaboration of constructive common positions of the Twelve on the major international issues has led to a situation in which the Twelve have become an increasingly respected and influential entity in world affairs. The Community, through its collective weight in the world, has a great deal to contribute to the search for peace, security, reconciliation and the rule of law in international affairs. That weight has been brought to bear in a positive and constructive fashion in the crises facing the Middle East, Central America, Southern Africa and Asia, to name but a few. In a number of instances, the position of the Twelve has, as a result of the operation of the EPC process, been brought closer to the position with which Ireland started out. It is in our interest, the interests of the Community and the interests of the wider world to continue to play a full part in this enterprise.
I note that the joint committee stated in their report that they would have preferred to see the foreign policy provisions of the Single European Act fully separated from the rest of the Single European Act. I cannot agree. To have separated the foreign policy provisions from the Single European Act would have divorced foreign policy co-operation from its essential and original rationale: the achievement of progress towards European Union.
What is involved here is the incorporation of foreign policy provisions under the umbrella of the Single European Act in such a way that EPC remains legally distinct and separate from the Community Treaties, with its own rules and practices. This is clearly in our interests and reflects our view that the economic and political elements of European integration are interdependent and form part of the same dynamic of European construction; and our view that progress towards European Union, to be successful, must be realistic, balanced and coherent.
The balance, in our view, consists in the realisation that progress in the area of political co-operation should be fully based on a growing community of interests between the member states in the economic and social areas. The Single European Act strikes that balance. On the one hand, Title III accurately represents the appropriate limit to political co-operation at this stage of the Community's development and, moreover, sets those limits out in a juridically clear fashion. On the other, Title III, by being brought under the umbrella of the Single European Act, gives expression to the interdependent nature of political and economic progress towards European Union.
So far in my statement I have dealt with the concerns which have been expressed about the Single European Act. I would now like to take up a more positive theme. I would like to consider how the Single European Act will improve the operation of the Community and how it will be to the benefit of this country. Senators have before them, as I have mentioned, a motion in the name of the Leader of the House concerning Title III of the Single European Act which I have already dealt with in some detail, and the provisions of the Single European Act on Economic and Social Cohesion on which I will not comment.
The inclusion of a new chapter on economic and social cohesion in the EC Treaty is one of the most significant aspects of the Single European Act. Since we joined the Community we have received very substantial transfers from the regional, social and agriculture guidance funds. These transfers have made a vital contribution to our development programmes and to the development of our economy. They have enabled us to embark on infrastructural projects which are essential to our economy, to train our young people for employment and to develop our food industry.
However, significant though their impact has been, the serious economic disparities which exist between the peripheral regions in the Community, including Ireland, and the central regions have not narrowed appreciably since we joined in 1973. The report of the joint committee correctly identifies this failure of Community policies. Thus in approaching the negotiations on the Single European Act which is designed to chart the way forward for the Community in the years ahead, the Government felt it was essential that the Community's commitment to economic and social cohesion would have to be enhanced and strengthened.
At the intergovernmental conference which negotiated the Single European Act, we took a lead in pressing for the inclusion of provisions on cohesion. Our views are extensively reflected in Article 23 of the Single European Act. This article contains provisions which will oblige the Community to bring about progress on reducing regional disparities. It will reinforce the Community's existing commitment to Ireland's development which was recognised in Protocol 30 of the Treaty of Accession.
Protocol 30 has played a very important part in protecting our interests in the Community since accession. It has allowed us, for example, to maintain our investment incentives at a level which continues to make Ireland a most attractive base for international mobile investment. It has played its part in reinforcing the Community's commitment to the development of the Irish economy, for example, through the structural funds. The cohesion chapter of the Single European Act will ensure that the objectives of Protocol 30 continue to be a priority for the Community by recognising that the aim of economic and social cohesion is one which is central to the development of the Community in the future.
Among the major considerations which led to the negotiation of the Single European Act was the growing and increasingly urgent recognition that the Community was failing to keep pace with its major trading rivals. The provisions in the Single European Act on the completion of the internal market will enable the Community to compete more effectively and to derive full benefit from its larger market.
The years after the signing of the Treaty of Rome in 1957 were the boom years for the European Community. Visible barriers to trade were removed and rates of growth were achieved which far exceeded those achieved even during the industrial revolution of the 19th Century. By the mid-seventies, however, this picture had begun to change. The successive oil crises seriously weakened the European economy. Europe failed, unlike the US and Japan, to find employment for those thrown out of jobs by the decline of traditional industry. European firms found it increasingly difficult to cope with competition from their American and Japanese rivals. This stemmed partly from the fact that within the Community protectionist restrictions prevented firms from taking advantage of a market which has now grown to 320 million people.
The Commission has estimated that if the existing barriers to trade were removed and a genuinely unified market established, the benefit would amount to at least 2 per cent of Community GNP. This is more than twice the total budget of the European Community and puts into context the debilitating conflicts over the size of that budget.
The Confederation of Irish Industry have welcomed the Single European Act. In their newsletter of 4 November they outline in some detail the practical benefits and opportunities which the Single European Act confers on Irish industry. This country depends on exports for its economic survival. If barriers to exports are removed, opportunities for our exports will increase and the attractiveness of Ireland as a base for foreign investment will grow. Thus our national interest in the completion of the internal market is inextricably linked to that of the Community — a Community which will find in the completion of the internal market a new impulse towards renewing its economic progress.
I have already referred to the importance of the chapter in the Single European Act on economic and social cohesion. The cohesion dimension is also to be taken into account in the completion of the internal market. Consequently, to the extent that the removal of existing trade barriers will operate to the greater advantage of the central regions of the Community, the objective of reducing regional disparities will have to be given full and equal weight.
One of the major reasons the Community has fallen behind its Japanese and American competitors over the past ten years has been its failure to develop a coherent and comprehensive policy for research and technological development. European scientists and researchers have been at the forefront of many of the major scientific developments of the post war years. Yet the application of this research and the employment which that creates has often taken place in the US and Japan. European industry has failed to maximise the benefits of European research potential.
The provisions of the Single European Act on research and technological development are very significant. They do not take the primary responsibility for research and technological development away from the member states. However, they do provide a framework for the development of a coherent and comprehensive Community policy in this area. Member states can now enhance their co-operation and make a more effective response to the challenges posed by US and Japanese competition.
As a small member state, Ireland cannot hope to develop research programmes on the scale of the large member states. For that reason an effective and comprehensive Community programme of research and development will be to our benefit. It will allow this country to participate in large scale and advanced projects for which we ourselves do not have the resources. We already benefit significantly from the relatively modest co-operation already existing in this area in the Community. We can expect much enhanced benefits when the Single European Act puts Community co-operation on a firm basis.
One of the major investments being made by this country is on the education of our young people. Our educational system is producing scientists to a standard which is comparable with the highest elsewhere in Europe and, indeed, the world. The provisions on research and technological development contained in the Single European Act will provide an important boost for the Irish technology sector. Just as significantly, the benefits to European technology as a whole are bound to have a spin-off effect for the Irish economy which is so dependent on the well-being of the European economy.
I have no hesitation in describing the provisions of the Single European Act on the environment as rather modest. Nevertheless they do represent an explicit recognition by the Community of the importance of the protection of the environment. The member states now realise how much they depend on each other for the protection of their common natural environment. We now realise more than ever that individual countries cannot, on their own, protect themselves from environmental disasters. The Single European Act provisions on the environment, while they may be modest, clearly represent an overdue and welcome recognition that action at Community level must play an important part in protecting the environment.
These then are some of the ways in which the Single European Act will strengthen the Community and equip it to cope with the challenges which face it in the closing decades of the century. The Single European Act is not a revolutionary document. It cannot be compared in scale or importance with the original treaties. Rather it is a limited but significant and worthwhile step which, hopefully, will enable the Community to cope with the challenges which successive enlargements have posed. It takes account of the directly elected European Parliament. It provides an enhanced means of achieving economic and social cohesion and the completion of the internal market. It also provides for the formalisation of co-operation in the sphere of foreign policy. Nothing in these developments is in any way sinister or contrary to any of our interests. The fact that major economic interest groups, such as the IFA and the CII, have welcomed the Single European Act is further confirmation that we should not see it as a threat. Rather we should see it as we saw the prospect of membership 15 years ago, that is, as a challenge and an opportunity from which we can benefit substantially.
The public debate which has taken place on the Single European Act has, naturally, concentrated on specific aspects of the Single European Act itself. It is right that this should have been the case. I would like, however, to end with a few remarks about how we should view our place in the Community and the contribution which we make to it.
We should recall that we joined the Community not just because we expected economic benefits but also because we wished to contribute to the development of European integration. We have been able to make such a contribution under successive Governments since 1973. This Government's decision to support the convening of the Intergovernmental Conference which negotiated the Single European Act was a logical development of the approach which this country has taken to the Community since our accession.
A strong and efficient Community is vital to this country. The depressing succession of bitter disputes within the Community in recent years over, for example, the budget has had a debilitating effect on its development. There was growing stagnation and a real threat of member states seeking national solutions to problems which could best be solved at a Community level. Such developments could only be to the detriment of the Community and consequently to this country's detriment.
The Single European Act will strengthen the Community and provide it with a reason to face the future with increased confidence. Certainly there will be disputes. There will be crises — that is nothing new in the way the Community operates. However, the fact that the Twelve have been able to negotiate the Single European Act despite predictions that they would fail, does offer real hope for the future.
By ratifying the Single European Act Ireland will reaffirm its commitment to the Community and to its future development, a commitment which is unquestioned. We cannot opt out of this important step which safeguards our interests and reflects our aspirations. The Government are therefore, determined that, in common with our partners, we will honour our commitment to ratify the Single European Act by the end of the year.
The Single European Act is in our interest. It will strengthen the Community of which we are part and the development of which is so important to Ireland. It contains no hidden threats; rather it contains major opportunities. I therefore ask the House to express its confidence in this country's capacity to grasp these opportunities by supporting this Bill.
Before dealing with the Bill I should like to express my appreciation to the Joint Committee on the Secondary Legislation of the European Communities for the very useful report which they provided on this subject. It is also fitting that I should pay tribute to the Leader of the House for the very important part he played in preparing the proposals which eventually led to this Bill. We should all be grateful for the effort which he put into that and glad that the Leader of this House played such an important part.
In looking at this Bill there are two aspects which have to be considered. One is the political aspect: is it beneficial to Ireland? The second is the legal aspect: are we obliged to pass it, as has been suggested in some quarters, and are we entitled to pass it? Are we entitled to pass it without having a referendum? First, it is quite clear that we are not obliged to pass it. The reference to "necessitated by the obligations of membership of the Community" is misleading and does not mean that we are under any obligation to pass this Bill. Whether we pass it or not, therefore, is a political decision. We should look on it from the point of view of its merits and its advantages to this country. We are quite free to refuse to pass it, but it must be realised that if we do not do so, there will be very serious consequences for the country.
Secondly, are we entitled to pass it without a referendum? This is a very complex problem; it is a legal problem; it is one which I do not think can be answered with complete certainty. The Bill deals with proposals to amend the original treaties. First, it must be realised that the treaties contain provisions for amendments. The method for introducing amendments which are provided for in the treaties appears to have been complied with on this occasion. Obviously, although amendment is allowed in the treaties, that does not mean any amendments can be introduced. There are restrictions on the amendments. The amendments must be within certain parameters, within the concept of the original treaties.
Generally speaking, the amendments provided are refinements of the provisions of the treaties. They are modifications to make the provisions of the treaties more efficient and more effective, and it can be said that they do not appear to be breaking new ground or introducing anything which could not have been reasonably foreseen when the treaties were accepted in the first place.
The amendments include rationalisation of decision-making process, provision to ease the workload of the European Court, more explicit reference to economic and social cohesion, incorporating provisions dealing with research and technological development and with protection of environment, the conferring of European Communities Treaty status on monetary capacity of the Community and, finally, procedure to enhance the role of the European Parliament. It could be said that these are within the framework of the original treaties and that, in ratifying the original treaties, Ireland must be taken to have accepted the possibility of amendments of this kind. They would appear to have been envisaged by the original treaties and it must have been foreseen that such amendments might be introduced.
While taking that view and accepting that these amendments are within the framework of the treaties, we must acknowledge that by passing this Bill a further transfer of sovereignty is involved. It may not be a very major transfer; it may not be of such significance as to cause us any real problem. Nevertheless, it is another transfer of sovereignty, not much more, but more than existed.
I come back to the question: should there be a referendum? In my opinion a referendum is not necessary. The Dáil and Seanad are entitled to pass this Bill if they think fit. It comes back to being a political decision. Will it be a good thing for Ireland? Like most important issues of this kind there are good aspects and bad aspects. If we pass the Bill there will be benefits to Ireland but there will also be disadvantages and possible dangers. We have to decide, bearing in mind that there are benefits, should we pay the price. Is it worthwhile in all the circumstances? Weighing one thing against the other, should we pass the Bill and avail of the benefits in spite of the fact that there may be dangers in doing so?
In considering this question we should face up to the fact that we are really deciding whether or not we wish to remain a member of the Community. It may be legally possible not to pass the Act, not to accept the Single European Act, but from the political and practical point of view it would be impossible to do so. We might limp on as a second class member but the position would become intolerable as time went on. We would frustrate and antagonise the other members of the Community and, ultimately, there is little doubt that we would be required to renegotiate our position, to diminish our membership and become some kind of second class member.
Some critics of the Single European Act who suggest that we should not adopt it without a referendum, which is a way of hoping that it will not be passed in a referendum, seem to ignore, to shrug off the benefits of being a member of the Community. They seem to ignore the fact during the period we have been there over the past 13 years something like £4.7 billion of funds have been transferred to this country. Membership ensures access for industry and agriculture to a market of 320 million people and, contrary to what some people believe, industry has expanded and has taken advantage of these opportunities. We now export over two thirds of our production. Most of this is to new markets created as a result of membership of the European Community. It is not merely exporting goods; it is not merely putting money into the pockets of industrialists. In fact, two out of three jobs now depend on membership of the EC.
In spite of the criticism and complaints of farmers from time to time, particularly in the past few years, nobody in agriculture would advocate leaving the European Community. They may criticise it; they may say the help they are getting and the prices they are getting are inadequate. Nevertheless there is no serious voice raised to say that agriculture is no longer being helped by membership of the EC. Of course, we have also received significant benefits from the regional and social funds. As a result of the Single European Act the benefits which I have mentioned should be increased and improved.
Improved decision-making is necessary to eliminate the red tape, the anomalies and difficulties which make the Common Market less effective than it was supposed to be. Unless it is more effective and unless it becomes really a free market, we will not be able to fight the competition of the United States and Japan. If this Act is adopted, if the Common Market becomes more effective and the internal market becomes really a free market, this will be good for Ireland. I am saying that on the basis of the benefits to Ireland to date and on the basis of the fact that industry has already done very well in exporting to Europe and presumably will do even better if the difficulties which exist at present are eliminated in the new situation.
The Single European Act also gives the regional fund a specific legal basis and it strengthens the commitment to reducing regional disparities. In regard to the latter it can be said with a great deal of justification that the provisions in the original treaties dealing with reducing regional disparities have not been effective. It can be said that little may be expected of this because of the new situation, because in the past that provision was there. It was part of the original treaties and nevertheless very little was done to reduce regional disparities. Some people would argue that not merely was very little done but the situation is worse now than it was when we joined the Community.
Although this is in the Act and it appears to be strengthened in the new situation, everybody in this country certainly will be watching very carefully to see whether the provisions in the Single European Act in this respect will make any difference. It is essential that there should be political will to ensure that this is implemented. The Government must dedicate themselves to ensuring that it is implemented. There is little doubt that successive Governments have not been able or willing to ensure or have not known how to go about ensuring the reduction of these disparities.
The Single European Act has provisions for research and technological development. I say without any hesitation that this must be welcomed by Ireland. Europe in general badly needs this. If Europe needs it and the bigger countries in Europe need it, it certainly goes without saying that Ireland needs it even more so because with our limited resources we have to depend on the European Community to pass on the results of research and technological development to us because most of it is way beyond our reach. This is something which can be welcomed without any hesitation. I do not think anyone believes it has any sinister significance, or that we should be worried about it from that point of view. These are some of the main benefits which are advocated as being the likely developments of the new Act and if they turn out to be as good as there is a prospect of them being they certainly are to be welcomed.
As I said originally in every case like this there are good points and bad points. There are many criticisms of the Act. There are fears expressed about what may take place if it is passed. There are fears about change in the decision making process, fears in regard to the qualified majority. It must be realised that many decisions are already made by the qualified majority. It has always been envisaged that more and more decisions will be made by this method as time goes on. It is quite unrealistic to think that all decisions will be streamrolled under the new situation when the qualified majority decision-making process takes place.
The decisions in the EC will continue to be reached by discussion, by negotiation, by amendment, by compromise. It is only when all this has taken place that a vote, if necessary, will take place. It will not always be the three Irish votes against the rest of the Community as some people seem to think and, as has been pointed out, on very sensitive issues if the worst comes to the worst we can still fall back on the veto.
Generally speaking, the change in regard to the qualified majority is not something which should give rise to any undue fears on the part of this country. Inevitably, from time to time, it will be used in a way we will not like, but then it will be used in a way that many countries will not like from time to time. That is part of the handicap, part of what one has to accept from a membership of a Community of this kind — all of the decisions are not always in the interests of a particular country. We have to give and take. That is all we will be doing in this regard.
Grave fears have been expressed about the effect on our neutrality. Some critics have gone to ridiculous lengths and read into the Single European Act provisions and consequences which have no basis in reality. I am an unequivocal advocate of neutrality. If I thought this Act was any danger to our neutrality I would not be supporting it. In the course of this debate and even when the debate is over, we should make some positive efforts to examine our attitude to neutrality, to define our policy on neutrality. A great deal of lip service is paid to the ideal without coming down to defining what we mean by it, how far we should go when neutrality is threatened and exactly what our long term aspiration is in regard to neutrality.
For the moment in regard to this Bill and the fears and views which have been expressed. I see no inconsistency in belonging to the European Community, in acknowledging our common interest with the countries of that Community, in supporting the political ideologies and cultural values of the western world and, at the same time, stating quite bluntly that we have no intention of becoming involved in any military alliance with them. If there were more countries in the world dedicated to neutrality, refusing to join alliances, the risks of war would be very much diminished. I do not think international problems can be solved by war. I do not think Ireland should lend itself to this approach and in no circumstances will I support a departure from our policy on neutrality. I believe we can make a far greater contribution to Europe and to world peace by remaining as we are.
Some curious views have been expressed in relation to neutrality and whether or not we should remain neutral. The Minister for Defence said recently that we should not be neutral unless we can afford to, and are prepared to defend ourselves as a neutral State. The fact is that in the present nuclear world no country can defend itself no matter how much any country spends. The prodigious amounts some countries spend serve only to impoverish them in the world in general. In so far as there is any safety in the present world situation we are just as safe and probably more so by remaining out of any military alliance.
Deputy John Kelly shares the view of the Minister for Defence that we should not be neutral unless we can defend ourselves and calls our neutrality an unworthy sham, lacking in generosity towards our friends and self-respect towards ourselves. Joining a military alliance of one set of nations to brandish their arms and utter threats at another set of nations is not my idea of being generous towards our friends. I believe we can best maintain our self-respect by maintaining our own principles, by displaying good-will to all nations and by doing our best to reconcile such international disputes as arise by peaceful means.
To get back to the Single European Act, I do not think it threatens our neutrality. The references to co-ordination on political and economic aspects of security are no more than what they say and implemented with caution and with commonsense should present no difficulties, besides which there is no obligation to co-ordinate in any particular way. These are merely aspirations and we do not have to co-ordinate in any way that appears to us to be verging on a departure from neutrality, nor do I think the references to technological and industrial conditions need give rise to any alarm. These are aspirations which we are asked to co-ordinate in and we do not have to do so if we do not want to. I do not think they need give rise to any alarm on the part of anybody.
The political co-operation regarding foreign policy is of considerable benefit to Ireland. It gives us a voice in international affairs which we would not have as a small nation and we can use that voice to effect. We have already done so in recent years. It is in a sense a means of having it both ways because when we agree with the views which the European Community wishes to express we can avail of the fact that we are taking that line. On the other hand, no position can be taken up by the European Community or no action can be taken without unanimity. This is a right. This is one of the benefits of membership which we can welcome without any qualification.
The fact that no position can be taken without an unanimous view of the members of the Community has been demonstrated on several recent occasions where more than one country would not go along with what seemed to be the wishes of the remainder of the Community and took their own line and expressed their own views.
I should like to make one final comment about neutrality. We must not lose sight of the fact that if the European Community moves closer and closer to full union. I believe a time might come when neutrality might become impossible. In these circumstances we would have to make the choice between abandoning neutrality or withdrawing from the European Community. That is a long way ahead. I doubt that we will ever have to make that choice. If it does arise and I am still in a position to comment, my position will be quite clear. Very regretfully I would be advocating our withdrawal from the Community if we had to sacrifice our neutrality to stay within it.
In the meantime I would like to make a plea about our approach to the European Community as amended by the Single European Act. We should support the Single European Act and, having done so, we should adopt a positive and confident approach to the Community. Our industry has shown what it can do in the past and it should do even better in the future. Agriculture has benefited in the past. It is going through a difficult patch at the moment but with adaption and commonsense there can be great benefits from the Community. Agriculture must realise that they cannot keep everything exactly as it is; they must have regard to the kind of agricultural produce that can find a sale within the Community. Having regard to the difficulties that exist at present there is no doubt that agriculture is much better within the Community than outside it.
Under the new situation our regional and social problems will be helped if the Government have the will to ensure that we get every possible benefit available under these two funds. All of us should look on membership as a means of developing our resources, of expanding our economy and providing much needed employment. Nobody in Brussels or in the other countries of the European Community owes us a living. We must make a renewed effort to make membership of the Community as beneficial as possible. That can be considerably more so than it has been up to the present.
My first words must be words of thanks to the Minister for a comprehensive introductory speech that has set the scene for what I hope will be a constructive debate. I must go on and pay tribute also to Senator Eoin Ryan for his thoughtful and constructive contribution to this whole debate.
The Single European Act is the end of a process which emerged from a very real need on the part of all the European countries. It emerged from the realisation that during the economic storms of the past decade the countries of Europe with a population, with a productive power equal to that of the United States or to Japan had failed to weather those economic storms with anything like the competence with which they had been weathered by these two other similar trading powers.
The whole movement towards what is enshrined in this Act, the whole movement towards the completion of the internal market, the move towards the changes in regard to institutional balance and institutional powers arise not from a desire of people to tinker with the institutions as laid down in the Treaty of Rome or in a desire to produce a variety in the practices that had grown up in the Community under the Treaty of Rome. The anxieties that gave rise to this process are the very real anxieties that Europe has as to how Europe can deal with the problems of having a higher inflation than the USA and Japan, as having a lesser rate of growth than the USA and Japan, as having a higher unemployment ratio than the USA and Japan in spite of the fact that the economic systems are basically so similar.
What we saw during those economic storms was that despite all the idealism of the Treaty of Rome to which we subscribed in our turn in 1972 when the economic winds started to blow we reverted to national protectionism, not national protectionism in regard to tariffs because that was prohibited to us, but we reverted to economic nationalism within the Council of Ministers and within the other organs of the Community. Instead of doing as we had in previous times in history when countries resorted to a narrow, economic nationalism in the misguided idea that this was the best way through the storm, what the members of the Community did was they adopted a narrow, economic nationalism of abusing the Luxembourg Compromise so that we had "vital national interests" being invoked not in the Council of Ministers not even in COREPER but even in specialist committees. No sooner would a subject start to be discussed than the hints would go round that this could not possibly be done because "vital national interests" were involved. We had a paralysis of decision-making in the Community. We had an abuse of the veto based on vital national interests and we had its use at a trivial level.
Therefore, there arose the concern that unless we were to sink further and further in this form of economic despair and unless we were to fall further and further behind our great rival trading partners of the western world, something would have to be done. And so there was a great, economic motivation for what is being done and what has led to the legislation that is before us today. It did not arise only from that consideration because there was still the residual of the idealism which led to the founding of the Community.
The idea of Europe is, of course, an extremely old one but the Europe of today while in many respects, as we are all conscious within ourselves, has many of the characteristics of the Europe of the past but, like all the rest of the world, it has changed. The world has contracted notably in the past few decades. Life has speeded up remarkably in the last few decades and Europe has had to take account of that.
In a way it is remarkable that we have managed to make progress at all because in a sense what is happening in this whole process towards European union is the replacement of the fiercely independent national State believing in the divine right of sovereignty enshrined in national parliaments by a new system of States still independent but operating through common institutions in a shared sovereignty. In a way one can say that this transformation is in its turn almost as great a transformation as that from the feudal society based on local power to the centralised nation State, a process which took hundreds of years to achieve.
We had in the 19th century, and again in the 20th century, attempts to unify Europe by force under a single dictator. We had in the 19th century and the early 20th century attempts to establish a balance through diplomacy between completely independent States. We have now this new departure. In the next century people will look on the notions that are being floated today in this country in opposition to this measure in regard to the idea that sovereignty is an absolute indivisable thing, as old-fashioned as the divine right of kings. Its time is past. It is now part of history and it is time to move beyond it. This has been there in the consciousness of those who think and are concerned about the position of Europe.
We have had a number of attempts to grapple with this problem. I would ask the House to bear with me for a few moments in dealing with these because we can see the benefits of what is proposed to us today when we look at what happened to some of the false starts. We can look back at the effort that was made to get Europe moving along the lines that were advocated in the Tindemans reports. The Tindemans report is now a matter for the archives. Why? Essential to the operation of the Tindemans report was the idea of a two-speed Europe. The instincts of the leaders of Europe in shelving the Tindemans report were correct because the idea of a two-speed Europe in the long run operates against the whole idea of Europe moving forward as a whole towards European union. Senator Eoin Ryan mentioned in his excellent contribution here this evening that this is what we would face. If we reject this measure for one reason or another, this would be the reintroduction of the two-tier Europe and all that this will mean. Of course, we would be able to stand on our existing rights under the Treaty of Rome to which we have adhered. Of course, we could allow the others to regroup and go ahead with a new separate treaty to which we would not adhere. This would be a division of Europe. Where would we be after a few years because there would be two separate institutions and there would be two separate budgets? Which budget does anyone think would dominate under such a system? This particular path of trying to seek and refine the separate speeds is one that will not lead to a solution.
The next initiative in regard to Europe also tended to go down a blind alley. This was the Genscher-Colombo proposal. It made the mistake of basing itself on the political as being the major, if not the sole, driving force and forgetting the balance between the economic and the political which is the essential of the solution that must be found. It is no wonder that in that initiative there was the tendency with this great stress on the political to raise matters which would be a danger to our policy of neutrality and the concept of European political co-operation as at present enshrined in the Community and as will be formalised in this present instrument.
The instinct of the leaders of Europe coming together — the few days they come together leaving behind them for the moment their national preoccupations — was correct. What was the outcome of this initiative? It was the Stuttgart Declaration, a declaration not approving all that had been originally in the Genscher-Colombo proposals but approving the idea that there must be a move towards European union. There might perhaps have been a tendency on the part of the leaders of European Governments to leave things there without doing anything. We must all be grateful to the European Parliament, to its Committee on Institutional Affairs and to Signor Spinelli for the fact that they took up the running at that point and produced the Draft European Treaty.
This galvanised the heads of States and government again into action and they set up the Ad Hoc Committee on Instititional Affairs. In the very first meeting of that committee it was necessary for the members to decide what was their job and what they proposed to do. The agreement was made from the very beginning that their task was not one of the drafting of treaties, their task was purely to produce a political document — a document on which political action could be taken. It started out by saying that the very first essential in this regard was that Europe, faced with appalling economic difficulties, should have faith in itself. I quote from page 11 of the report of the Ad Hoc Committee on Institutional Affairs. It states:
Faced with these challenges, Europe must recover faith in itself and launch itself upon a new common venture — the establishment of a political entity based on clearly defined priority objectives coupled with the means of achieving them.
This paragraph was followed by a paragraph which I was particularly glad to see included in the preface to this report. It underlines the point that when we talk as we do of the Community and talk of it as Europe, we are talking in shorthand. We must always remember that just as Europe went from the Six to the Nine to the Ten to the Twelve there are many countries of Europe separated from us at the moment. We must realise that the task of full European union will not be completed until big changes, too big for us to contemplate at the moment, come about. These countries are also part of Europe. The ad hoc committee stressed that it was not just a matter of not forgetting these countries but that what was proposed to be done was something that kept them in mind and was in their interest too. It is worth quoting this paragraph which says:
The Community has not lost sight of the fact that it represents only a part of Europe. Resolved to advance together, the Member States remain aware of the civilisation they share with the other countries of the continent, in the firm belief that any progress in building the Community is in keeping with the interests of Europe as a whole.
What then should we do? I must confess that having lived with this problem intensely for a period of six months and having been a member of the committee that produced this report and having been one of those who recommended an inter-governmental council, I was initially disappointed with the outcome of the deliberations of the inter-governmental council which produced the Single European Act. The ad hoc committee asked for a qualitative leap forward — rather a strange phrase in English but it originated in French. I came to like the term. I prefer to talk of a “leap” rather than a “step”. I ask you to think of what is the difference between a leap and a step. In a leap you make sure you are going in the right direction and then you propel yourself with both feet off the ground. In a step you are more cautious, you again try to go in the right direction but you step always leaving one foot on the ground while the other is in the air. What the ad hoc committee was recommending was a leap and what the inter-governmental conference produced was a step. This was a disappointment.
I want now, speaking on this Act, to say that while one might commend the ad hoc committee for the greater level of idealism we must congratulate the inter-governmental council on a greater degree of wisdom because the most important thing about what is now being proposed is that is it acceptable to all of the Twelve. This was a remarkable achievement, one even the Parliament of Denmark was not prepared to accept. The conventional wisdom was that no move would be acceptable but perhaps it was right that no move would be acceptable to the Parliament of Denmark or to their particular committee and we will be returning, Senator Higgins, to a discussion on this topic again this evening.
And tomorrow evening.
The really essential point was that it was acceptable to the people of Denmark and in that we must applaud the wisdom of the negotiating foreign ministers and those who are assisting them in those negotiations. It is worth reducing ourselves from a leap to a step if it means bringing everybody along with us. Indeed Senator Eoin Ryan spoke of one of the key problems of whether in fact we needed a referendum in this country. We came to the conclusion that we did not need one but if Denmark had not come along with the other Eleven we could not have operated under Article 236 of the Treaty of Rome. We might well then have found ourselves in this country faced with a referendum with all the whipping up of wild enthusiasm and mistaken notions that referenda can sometimes involve. So we find ourselves with this proposition before us, one that is acceptable to all the Twelve.
What is being proposed to us? First, what is being proposed to us is the completion of the internal market. In other words, what is being proposed is that we should do what should have been done long ago. I forget the original target year and I am sure the year changed. Time and time again the target year for the completion of the internal market has been set and missed and the purpose of what is being done here in the Single European Act is to see that the present target of 1992 is not missed, that we do not just go calmly on and miss that particular target again. There is nothing essentially new in this idea of the completion of the internal market except a new determination and a new political will to see it achieved. As Senator Eoin Ryan said, this will involve for us certain difficulties but on the whole it will be beneficial.
This is one of the things that people in this country have been slow to realise. We, a small country dependent on exports for our standard of living, cannot exist and cannot prosper in an economic jungle. It is to our interest as a small country that there be rules in regard to this game and that there will be a referee to blow the whistle when the rules are broken. Without the protection of the Community rules, we would find ourselves in a deplorable condition. This is the realistic way forward for this country. This is the only path to growth — through exports in a true market of 320 million people, not something that calls itself a market and is littered with non-tariff barriers to trade that result in a lack of competition. I think we can all take heart from the fact that at the present moment we have one of our own countrymen acting with courage in order to break down the barriers to competition as the Commissioner in charge of competition policy.
If we look at what is in the Single European Act in Articles 13 to 19, we find here a number of provisions which at first sight might appear dangerous from our point of view such as the greater use of qualified majority rather than unanimity. I want to say I believe that we and the other small countries have suffered more from the lack of the use of the qualified majority than the larger and more powerful countries. Of course, we are aware of the number of cases where we would like to stop certain things happening or stop them happening in a certain way, but we do not read in our newspapers of the 20 other cases for every one case we read of where some of the other members have blocked progress in an area which would be beneficial to us. We will be, I trust, debating at another time the report of the Joint Committee on the Secondary Legislation of the European Communities on the completion of the internal market and these points can be discussed in greater detail at that time. What is proposed here is beneficial to us, particularly in regard to Articles 18 and 19 with the right to temporary derogation under special conditions.
What is the next major group of items that are proposed in the Single European Act? They are the extension of the competency of the Community. In other words, the giving of legal competency to things which the Community is already doing in an informal way because they were things which were necessary, things that required common action. We have now brought under the treaties the European monetary system, we have brought the social policy under the treaties and in particular we have now got enshrined in Article 23 an article on cohesion which should be of great value to this country. I want to compliment the Minister and his negotiating team on having that passage as part of the text. It is worth reading into the record from Article 23 of the Single European Act the words of the new Article 130(A):
In order to promote its overall harmonious development, the Community shall develop and pursue its actions leading to the strengthening of its economic and social cohesion.
Then it goes on in the next paragraph to define what it means by this:
In particular the Community shall aim at reducing disparities between the various regions and the backwardness of the least favoured regions.
I consider this a most notable advance. What was in the aspirations of the original treaty, and even what was in Protocol 30, are not worth as much as what is written there as the new Article 130(A). Up until now everyone in the Community has been saying that they agree with convergence but when a Greek says he is in favour of convergence he means convergence of living standards, and when a German said he is in favour of convergence he is in favour of a convergence of economic policies that would make Greece and Ireland follow exactly the economic policies of Germany. This ambiguity about convergence which bedevilled many a discussion, formal and informal, inside the Community is now resolved by abandoning the word and by putting into the treaty the purpose of social cohesion and the definition of social cohesion. This is something for which we can all be thankful.
So much for those things which have now been given treaty force. In addition to these we have Title III in regard to European political co-operation which has probably given rise to most of the discussion such as there has been in this country. Let us be quite clear in regard to the nature of what is being done and how it is being done. First, it is quite clear that it is outside the treaty: it is in a separate title. It is not in the Bill whose Second Stage we are discussing at the moment because it is not to be made part of Irish domestic law. If it were not for the fact that the affirmatory motion is down, the Cathoirleach might be tempted to rule me out of order for speaking about European political co-operation. It is something completely and absolutely different. Title II deals with the foundations and the policy of the Community and Title III deals with co-operation.
There were times over the past few years when proposals were put forward with regard to European political co-operation which might well have given rise to anxiety on behalf, not just of the individuals who had been vocal against this Single European Act but to people like Senator Eoin Ryan and myself and the Minister who are completely devoted to the policy of Irish neutrality. As I mentioned already, there was this tendency in the early stages of the Genscher-Colombo proposals. However, one of the problems in regard to the discussion that has taken place is that the arguments which have been put forward by people like the Minister, Senator Eoin Ryan and myself have not been listened to. I was amused in a wry sort of fashion on reading in a number of letters to the newspapers that one could disregard any argument made by Garret FitzGerald, Peter Barry or Jim Dooge in regard to neutrality because they would say what they were saying in this regard and one should not listen to them. In other words, one should not listen to three people who had attended meetings under European political co-operation and who knew how European political co-operation actually worked.
While those meetings were confidential, I want to give an example, and I am sure my colleagues of the day who have survived in the domain of Foreign Affairs will forgive me for this illustration. I think it brings home, and it brought home to me, the reality of European political co-operation. There was a proposal made informally at an informal meeting that there should be meetings of European Ministers of Defence. I said this was incompatible with Ireland's neutral status. There was no discussion, there was no attempt to persuade me that I was wrong or that it did not really matter whether our neutrality would not be compromised in any way. The chairman said in that case the subject would be dropped. That is the reality of our position. It means that we have our Minister there to say this every time one of our colleagues tends to stray beyond the barrier but the position is that there is never any attempt to force it. In many ways, having looked at the organisation and the operation of the two bodies, I sometimes think that there is far less danger to an independent foreign policy in our being concerned in European political co-operation than if we became full members of the organisation of neutral and nonaligned States where members often find themselves unable to maintain their independent position whereas under European political co-operation where consensus is the rule one can always walk away from the table saying "I do not agree, our policy is so-and-so and our policy remains so-and-so".
Does the Senator support the formation of the foreign affairs committee?
Well, I support the formation of a foreign affairs committee and perhaps we could take up this particular topic. Of course there are times we do not like this consensus rule. There are times we do not like the fact that it is a matter of consensus and I am quite sure that our own Minister quite recently would have loved to use qualified majority in order to deal with the two members who were not in favour of sanctions against South Africa. It would have been very nice for us and very much in line in what we wanted to do in regard to South Africa that the rule of consensus would not apply. However, it would be dangerous to go down that road because we, in our turn, need our protection.
It has been said that it is impossible to distinguish between the political and the economic aspects of security and the military and defence aspects of security. It is not impossible. It needs care at times but it is not impossible. If we were to say that these things cannot be distinguished and that we should not be concerned in security matters, all Ministers for Foreign Affairs from Frank Aiken to Peter Barry would be debarred from pursuing policies of disarmament. We find no trouble in being part of the Helsinki process. I found no trouble at the Madrid Conference in regard to the follow-up to Helsinki and I am quite sure the present Minister found no trouble at the Stockholm meeting in the further follow-up to Helsinki.
I chaired the first meeting.
I am quite aware of it and on that occasion the Minister was still able to set out the common policy without the slightest embarrassment, without the slightest commitment that would interfere with our neutrality. I think the joint committee were wrong to see these as two completely separate things. They are separate but related, very different in their natures. I believe that the political aspects of security should be discussed. I want my Foreign Minister to be able to talk to the Foreign Ministers of our Eleven colleagues about the situation in the Middle East, about the situation in southern Africa, about relations with the countries of South-East Asia, about the situation in Central America, about the Helsinki process on security in Europe and about disarmament generally.
I want the Irish viewpoint made and when that Irish viewpoint is made in general terms, for example, in talk about disarmament, there is no need to talk about what should be the particular negotiating stance of the West in East-West discussions about disarmament. That is where the distinction comes. This has nothing to do with the creation of a European pillar of NATO, but it has everything to do with our making an input, our being able on occasions to persuade our friends.
I ask people who have any doubts about this to look at the text of the Single European Act. I ask them even to look at the text of the report of the Ad Hoc Committee on Institutional Affairs from which I dissented, because it compromised our neutrality and did not discuss and had no hand in drafting. Even that text, which was unacceptable to me, talked about “the differing capabilities and responsibilities and the distinctive situation of the Community member states.”
If we look at the Single European Act, look at the actual text and ask where is the danger in it to our neutrality, let us look here under Title III. Under Paragraph 2(a), what do we have? An undertaking to inform and consult one another. Secondly, under 2(c), we have an undertaking to take full account of the position of other partners. Very reasonable. That makes every one of the Eleven take account of our position of neutrality because that is the position of all of us as members of EPC. Paragraph 2 (d) asks members to avoid any action which impairs their effectiveness as a cohesive force. I want Europe to be a cohesive force in the post-Helsinki process, in the UN and I think the more Europe as such, acting within the limits of EPC on the political and economic aspects of security, the more they act as a cohesive force, the less misunderstanding there will be in this country about our relationships and about our supposed entanglements with NATO.
We want a European identity on external policy on matters other than defence. It is remarkable that if you look at this particular Article 30, there is one particular section that does refer to NATO and to the Western European Union. It states:
Nothing in this Title shall impede closer co-operation in the field of security between certain of the High Contracting Parties within the framework of the Western European Union or the Atlantic Alliance.
Is there any reason for that to be in? The whole thing appeared to be so neutral that if that paragraph had not been put in, some people might be afraid apparently that they could not be members of NATO and suscribe to what is here at the same time. They had to put in specially that having adhered to this restrictive form of European political co-operation, they were not required to resign from NATO or to resign from the Western European Union. That is the only meaning of a saving clause for us. That clause is not in there to trap the one, that is an escape clause for the Eleven. Let us read the text as it is.
What is in the rest of this Title III? Some people have a fear that it is being made altogether too powerful. If you look at that, Article 2 (b) associates the Commission with EPC. What does it do in that? That is what has been de facto the position for many years but not since the beginning. That is the formal resolution of an argument long since settled as to whether the Commission was entitled to attend EPC meetings or not. Another article says that the European Parliament must be informed about what is going on, again highly desirable. Under Article 10 (a) we also have the actual operation. It says:
The Presidency of European Political Co-operation shall be held by the High Contracting Party which holds the Presidency of the Council of the European Communities.
In other words, they are distinct. The Title is saying that the one person will hold the two jobs at the same time so that is saying that there are two jobs, that they are two quite distinct jobs. It also provides for the meeting of political directors which is the normal means of communication and it allows for a small secretariat not for a bureaucracy. In fact, the position up to now is that I think this is definitely in everybody's interest. Up to now the position has been that the secretariat is being operated by a troika, the current presidency, the previous presidency and the forward presidency. There has been a danger in regard to EPC that it almost became a mystic priesthood among the political directors with no secretariat, no filing system which would say what are the precedents. This is the setting up of a very small secretariat and this will certainly not involve a new building of the size of the Berlaymont for example.
What else is done here in this Single European Act? There are certain provisions in regard to the institution and one is in regard to decision-making within the council. Unless this problem of decision-making within the council is solved within the next few years its effects will be felt throughout Europe. Our economic problems will not be solved. Our attempts to give a decent life and a decent job to our young people will prove to be impossible unless the decision-making procedures within the Council are streamlined. The giving of executive powers to the Commission is an improvement and something that is absolutely necessary.
I do not oppose the giving of what is called the Second Reading power to the Parliament but I think it is grossly inadequate. The Council of Ministers are storing up danger for themselves in the future by not having agreed during the intergovernmental council to more powers for Parliament than have now been given. This is one of the points on which I am particularly disappointed. To have made the decision that the Parliament should be directly elected and not to give it powers that are in some way consonant with this popular mandate is to put together an explosive mixture. I think there will be trouble here. The Ad Hoc Committee on Institutional Affairs suggested that Commission proposals should pass first through Parliament and then to the Council so that the Council would be acting on a Parliamentary text. As it is now, the Parliament will only act on a Commission text which has been to the Council and on which the Council have had an opportunity to take up positions. This is the major point on which I am disappointed.
In regard to the court, I believe that the establishment of this tribunal is long overdue. To clutter up the Court of Justice of Europe with cases that were really personnel matters is what happened. Cluttering this court with matters that were concerned with the rights of the personnel of the Community was an abuse of that particular institution of the Community and I am glad to see that is done.
I do not believe that the increased use of qualified majority will hurt us in this country. I do not believe that greater powers for the Commission will hurt us in this country. Non-ratification and non-approval by us of the ratification, which strictly speaking was made in the Dáil last week, would be a setback for Europe. They would find a way round that setback. They would find a way ahead but for us it would be a setback from which we might find it extremely difficult to recover. It would be economically disastrous for us, politically disastrous for us but, above all, I want to say I think it would be psychologically disastrous for the Irish people.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion and to say it is good to see again some indication of progress towards the eventual objectives of creating the ultimate union of the European peoples which, of course, has been the underlying objective of the Communities since their inception. It is an objective which has been reaffirmed on many occasions since including the time when we were joining in 1972 before our formal entry in January 1973. If we were to have a criticism of this Act, and of its content, it would be more an element of regret that the progress has to be, if I paraphrase Professor Dooge correctly, "more in the nature of a step rather than a leap forward". Like him I would have preferred to see something more in the nature of a leap. The reason I would wish to see that is that, in the nature of the modern world, things have been changing so rapidly over recent decades, and we have seen it in so many spheres, there is a sense in which frequently one finds time is running out not just for Ireland but for western Europe. It has been touched on and, indeed, it has been referred to even in the context of the debate on the Single European Act. The emphasis was on being able to achieve sufficient momentum in the area of technological progress and the recognition of, for whatever reasons — various ones were mentioned and perhaps I will come back to them — the way in which Europe appears to be lagging behind in its ability to compete in the modern world.
It is not just the question of Europe's own progress which I think is so important. The way we act is crucial, for example, to acquire a leadership role for many other areas of the world. In different contexts as we debate with, trade with, negotiate with and come in contact with peoples from Africa, Latin America and so on, we are conscious of the attitude which they have towards their participation in international affairs. We all know that in some spheres, not just in the sphere of military might many of these nations feel that, in some sense, they are simply almost unwilling participants sucked into an economic international structure which they can do virtually nothing to shape. We have seen the way in which different entities, different countries and different groups have sought to do something about this. Europe has provided the clearest and most effective example through the initiation of the European Communities, several decades ago and more important, through laying down some practical way for achieving their eventual goal of some form of ultimate union of the peoples of Europe.
Quite apart from the importance of the Communities for the European peoples themselves, they provide a very important exemplar role for people in other parts of the world. I support these actions to help bring about economic unions in Africa, Latin America and so forth. These are practical steps which can help to create not only greater degrees of solidarity and cohesion among those areas, but also provide more of a psychological and social climate which eventually contributes to a greater sense of stability and security in global affairs. Everybody does not share that view. Here in Ireland we have had to listen to some strong dissenting voices in recent months when the subject of the Single European Act arose.
I welcome this opportunity to make my own position clear and to emphasise that I totally disagree with what I regard as a national sense of inferiority. On the contrary, far from dragging our feet, we should be in the vanguard of seeking to encourage and promote even more rapid progress towards the achievement of our eventual European objectives. My reasons for saying this is that it is the nature of the modern world. No country in the contemporary context can afford to go it alone, not even the largest and mightiest of them and certainly the dominant economic power for so long. The United States who called the shots on so many issues for so many years, found increasingly in recent times that they too had to start substituting the word "interdependent" for the word "independent". There is no country in the world which is independent in any ultimate sense. In the long haul that is what will help us to create a safer world for our children and their children, a world in which they can look forward to some sort of prospect of a stable peace.
We are creating a world in which there can be no winners, whatever about losers, in any sort of new style conflict. We are learning that that applies not just to military conflict but even to any extensive form of economic conflict. No matter how reluctant some people may be to be dragged to negotiating tables I believe that the future lies in bringing home to all nations that their future and their future success depends on their ability to work and act through consensus, cohesion and compromise — some of the words we have been hearing here this afternoon. That is the central message we have to repeat and reiterate over and over again because it is very easy to be forgotten or overlooked in the heat of any one issue.
Of course it is understandable and correct from a tactical bargaining position that when any one specific issue arises, we should be active in advocating our own national interests in seeking to ensure an outcome that will adequately cater for those national interests. But — and the "but" is important — we also have to learn that our national interests are rarely, if ever, promoted by pushing some issue to the point where we end up being on some sort of extreme position with no supporters, no friends elsewhere in the European context, if we are talking about our membership of the European Community. That would apply to some other international arenas as well.
I welcome in this Act the emphasis on greater reliance on majority voting, the movement away from the exercise of the unanimity rule, I agree very much with Senator Dooge who said what we had seen happening for many years was a growing abuse of the Luxembourg Compromise, a compromise which had been originally introduced to deal with a quite substantial and important matter, but which was eventually being degraded and debased to the point where it was even being dragged in to relatively low level committee discussion. It is important that we should move away from the notion that countries or nations could go on living in this sort of fools paradise of reaching for the veto at the drop of a hat every time somebody opened their mouth and said something which was not to their liking.
The nature of the modern world requires a growing exercise and use of the formation of consensus and compromise decision making. The best way to give a very powerful encouragement to nations to develop that attitude when they are approaching the bargaining table is to realise that they will not have a veto but rather there will be some sort of majority voting outcome. They then have to actively exercise their diplomatic and bargaining skills in order to help construct a majority decision which will be a sufficient accommodation of their own interest. I said "sufficient accommodation" because, again realistically, any successful operation of a consensus bargaining structure implies that in general no one party is going to have his or her way all the time. We are all going to have to learn how to give and take and to settle for some acceptable level of recognition for our own particular interests.
That is the way in which Europe should more forward. For that reason I welcome the Bill. I also think it is the context in which wider international questions and issues must come to be resolved because, at the end of the day, if you will not approach the bargaining table with the attitude that you are willing to search for and work for an acceptable compromise, there is only one other logical alternative and that is that you are going to dig in your heels and if you feel you have the ability to do so you are going to resort to conflict as a means of settling a dispute.
As we know from our own experience here in Ireland, the Irish have a marvellous ability for resorting to conflict at the drop of a hat. We do not think of it in this military sense. We shy away from any references to military alliances and so forth. But if we look at the way in which we conduct a great deal of our economic and social affairs it seems as though our attitudes are still very much conditioned by a conflict approach. Rarely do we see many issues which ultimately have to be settled by some sort of bargaining procedure; but rarely do we see them approached in that spirit. On the contrary as we know even from reading our newspapers, we can see quite a number of instances where it is conflict first and talk about it afterwards. That would be another way in which Ireland could hopefully benefit and be educated by its European experience, if we were to learn how to carry over this concept of bargaining for compromise and consensus much more into our daily lives and more routine economic and social issues.
The other point which struck me listening to and more often reading some speeches people who are expressing concern are just outright opposed to supporting this Single European Act. Many of them are seeking to achieve a set of safeguards, writing some form of insurance policy which would hold, not just for today, but for the indefinite foreseeable future. Again, the modern world is not like that. Not even the most powerful country could seek to write out the terms in which it and the rest of the world will function in the years to come.
What you can do is to write out a set of proposals which provide you with a reasonable range of opportunities. What happens and how you make use of those opportunities would be partly the accident of circumstances, would be partly the consequence of the behaviour of your partners in your community, but it also can be influenced significantly by the behaviour of your own people. Perhaps if some of the criticism of our European colleagues and some of the regrets expressed about our experience in Europe were to be analysed more fully and more deeply it would be seen that very often the fault lies not in the stars but in ourselves, that if we are not as well placed in the Europe of today as we might have been and as we would have reasonably expected when we joined in 1973, we could look back over the 13 years of membership and see many actions of our own here in Ireland which certainly damaged our ability to participate more fully in the European experience and to be able to derive more substantial opportunities and benefits from that participation.
While I agreed with some of the sentiments expressed by Senator Dooge and his general attitude I have to say I think he made a bit too much of Article 23, the new article about cohesion in the Community. He was saying how much of an advance this represented over the earlier way in which some of these problems were approached by discussing them in the context of convergence. He gave the example of how convergence can mean one thing to a Greek, who will talk about convergence of living standards and another thing to a German, who will talk about convergence of policy. I have to say it does not matter whether we talk about convergence or cohesion. It does not matter what nice words you get into a statement of aims, which is what Article 23 contains. It does, indeed, contain the right kind of statement about aims for coping with the imbalances in the different regions in the Community.
Coming back to my remarks of a few minutes ago, statements of aims and statements of objectives, in themselves, are not going to deliver anything. They will butter no parsnips as somebody used to say. What will decide the outcome will be the actual policies adopted and, much more important, the effectiveness of the action taken to implement those policies. That will bring us back not just to the behaviour of our fellow member states in the Community but also to our own actions here at home. Even if we got the most noble expressions from our fellow members, even if we got the articulation of the right kinds of policies in conjunction with our fellow members, that would not guarantee the right of progress because we are quite capable here at home of acting in a way which would seriously handicap or negative many of those efforts. While I certainly welcome the sentiments expressed in Article 23, I do not see that, of itself, it will make any significant difference. It is more a reiteration of the sort of attitudes and sentiments which have been expressed on numerous occasions in the past.
I speak here with a relatively long memory because I was involved, from 1970, in the actual entry negotiations and I am familiar with many of these debates and many of these discussions. Indeed, on later occasions, I was involved in many of the negotiations which led to the formation of the European Monetary System. One can look back on those occasions and can see when there was an indication of a sufficient degree of understanding and support for Irish circumstances, for Irish aspirations and adequate commitment to helping with the kind of actions that were needed. At the end of the day we have to learn how to adapt and bring ourselves into line with European performance, rather than expecting Europe to share our behaviour in so many spheres of economic and social life.
I will refrain from making a longer speech because I know there are a number of other Members of the House who wish to contribute to this discussion. I wanted to avail of the opportunity to indicate my strong support for developments of this kind. I also want to close by emphasising how important the political aspect of these decisions is. There have been attempts to turn it into a legal wrangle — obviously I will not attempt to enter that debate because I am not a lawyer and because I do not believe that is at the heart of the matter. Many of these legalistic points are really a reflection of the underlying attitudes of people. People who want to support progress towards European union can find the arguments to justify their position in the same way as opponents of European union have been able to trot out various technical points.
At the end of the day it seems to me that the two key speakers here today, Senator Dooge for Fine Gael and Senator E. Ryan for Fianna Fáil, have both said that this is a political decision. I agree with them. I thought it was useful and interesting that, in the course of his speech, the Minister quoted from the remarks of a former Taoiseach, Seán Lemass. He also quoted from the Government White Paper of 1972 — one that I would be more familiar with. It was stated quite clearly in that White Paper that, as a member of the Community, we shall participate fully in the work of shaping its future political development. There was a recognition at that time, contrary to what anybody tries to say now, that membership of the Community did entail political implications. There is no way in the modern world in which you could divorce the whole range of economic issues which arise and try to pretend that they did not have political implications or political consequences and that decisions about them were not, in the best sense of the word, political decisions.
The European Community is a community of political economy. It may have had, in its early phases, a heavy economic content but we must never lose sight of the fact that its ultimate goal is, and always has been, some form of union of the European peoples. That is the ultimate question, the ultimate attitude which we in Ireland always have to bring to bear on these issues as they arise. At the end of the day are we committed to the idea and the ideal of trying to construct some form of union of the European peoples or are we not? If we are so committed then, whenever any difficulties or problems arise they should be tackled in this positive sense of approaching the bargaining table with the aim of helping to construct the sort of consensus decision which can accommodate all member states rather than, at the drop of a hat, reaching for the veto instrument. It would be a useful step forward in the construction of Europe as we gradually reduce and eventually eliminate that veto concept. I would go so far as to say that, of course, now that we have substantial interests and problems in the areas of tax harmonisation, it will not be too long before we can get away from the notion of having to exercise some form of veto in that area. I am happy to support the motion.
I should like to thank my colleague, Senator Michael D. Higgins, for allowing me to speak before him. Senator Higgins is our spokesman on foreign policy but he is aware that I have another task to fulfil after this and he has kindly allowed me to speak before him. The Single European Act makes an important step forward in the long process of achieving greater union of the peoples of Europe in the course of economic progress, social advance and the search for peace. Yet it is not a dramatic change. It is not a huge step beyond the Treaty of Rome. It is too small or too limited or too lacking in vision and challenge. Whatever view one holds, the Single European Act does take the Community forward into new territory and in some important areas it provides the framework within which further advances may be planned and implemented. I refer Senators in this House to some recent remarks of the Commissioner Mr. Peter Sutherland which for me summed up the whole question quite clearly and succinctly I quote:
... I believe that the Single European Act constitutes a modest but important step in the direction of improving the functioning of the European Community. It contains new procedural arrangements which should make it possible for the Community to decide more efficiently and more effectively. It involves a commitment to the completion of the internal market by 1992 and it enshrines in the Treaty a number of very important areas of Community activity which has hitherto been conducted on a rather ad hoc basis. For these reasons, I believe that it is crucial that the Single European Act should be ratified by all member states before the end of the year so that it can enter into force, as planned, on 1 January and provide the basis for a new departure in Community activities starting next year.
However, I have already had the occasion to point out that the Single European Act is not a magic panacea for the difficulties which we face in the Community. Indeed, some of the most important problems facing the Community are not directly addressed by the Single European Act. This is not surprising since the purpose of the Single Act is to provide a modification and the supplement to the legal framework set up by the Treaty of Rome. The key question, of course, is what use is made of this legal framework.
It is appropriate that I should quote the Commissioner Mr. Peter Sutherland — a man of understanding in this area — because I was very taken by what he had said. The use made of the framework is quite a critical one whether we are talking about neutrality, of regional cohesion, of the environment, of the powers of the European Parliament and, most important of all, of CAP and the reform of CAP and the creation of a single European market.
In every case the Single European Act provides a framework and an opportunity rather than a set of ready answers. The Act challenges us to argue constructively and, in the Community spirit, for new Community policies in the areas of social, economic and regional development to work with others of similar interests and needs for proper balance within all Community policies and to make full use of all the Community's institutions to promote good policies and to protect our interests, and to establish and then to implement a genuinely independent foreign policy.
The Labour Party supported the Single European Act, not unanimously but by a majority, in the forum in which we had discussions on it. As Senator M. Higgins is quoted as saying: "The real debate on the Single European Act and on our relationship within Europe always takes place within the Labour Party". The party give their support in the full awareness of the very real concerns which many individuals and groups within our party legitimately hold about various aspects. What is now at stake is not a constitutional wrangle or a pursuit of various compromise theories, rather it is time for a fresh, positive and well planned approach to the whole range of our relationships within the Community. The resolution adopted last week by the administrative council of the Labour Party very clearly sets out our party's position. The resolution is founded on the basic view that the Single European Act in itself does not present any threat to our neutrality or to our economic well being. In fact, the Act puts it up to us to promote our own neutrality and to work and to plan for our economic development within a set of rules and regulations which will be clear and more open in future.
The working of the resolution adopted by the party was that the administrative council of the Labour Party accept that the ratification of the Single European Act is in the national interest both economically and politically and I quote:
It provides, for the first time, Treaty status for effective regional cohesion within the European Community.
It protects the neutral status of the country and its right to pursue an independent foreign policy.
It provides for more efficient decision making while preserving the safeguard of the veto.
It enhances the role and influence of the democratically elected European Parliament.
The administrative council further recognises that the Single European Act creates a new and potentially more effective framework for policy development within which Ireland must.
Pursue with like-minded member states and with the democratic socialist movement, a comprehensive and properly funded regional policy.
Efficiently and democratically plan its own economic and social development while availing of the extended market.
Evolve and implement a strong, independent foreign policy line in favour of peace and disarmament while seeking common policy positions within the European Community on matters of mutual concern.
Accordingly, the administrative council resolves that the Parliamentary Labour Party, having clearly stated party policy on all of these crucial matters, support the ratification of the Single European Act in Dáil and Seanad Éireann.
The administrative council directs that the party now pursue actively.
The creation of a positive socialist response at Community level to the jobs crisis.
The support of the Democratic Socialist movement within the European Community for regional policy initiatives.
A genuinely independent foreign policy and the establishment of an Oireachtas joint committee on foreign affairs.
Senator Michael D. Higgins and I have already moved a resolution in this House and he will deal with it at greater length in his reply to the debate. We are anxious that this will come about. The document accepted by the administrative council continues:
Continued informed debate on the implications of the Single European Act and of Irish membership of the European Community.
The administrative council further directs that the Parliamentary Labour Party immediately table, in Dáil and Seanad...a resolution in connection with Irish neutrality.
That has been done by the Government in the Dáil and Seanad and, indeed, has been tabled by the Labour Party members of the Seanad in an expediency motion setting up an Oireachtas joint committee. The parliamentary party on a number of occasions have discussed at length the Single European Act and its implications. Indeed, we have adopted formal policy positions on the EC on three different occasions. In 1971 the party decided to oppose Ireland's application for full membership of the Community and to fight against the consequent proposals to amend the Constitution to permit Irish accession on the terms negotiated by the then Fianna Fáil Administration. The party campaigned vigorously on the themes of economic vulnerability, regional underdevelopment, loss of sovereignty and a possible threat to our neutrality. The option of associate membership was strongly advocated by us. In the event the referendum of 1972 resulted in an overwhelming vote in favour of accession, by 83 per cent to 17 per cent. The Labour Party at once indicated through our leader, Brendan Corish, our acceptance of the clear political will of the Irish people. Labour stated that we would work at all times and at all levels of Community life to protect and promote legitimate Irish interests and to seek the development of the Community in a positive and progressive direction.
In 1978 our party adopted a comprehensive policy statement as the basis for our campaign in the first direct elections to the European Parliament held in June 1979. The statement was adopted following a thorough discussion throughout the party branches, constituency councils and otherwise. A unique policy development programme introduced at that time indicated our party's acceptance of membership while outlining a wide range of policy considerations which we felt required change. We aligned ourselves firmly with the Democratic Socialist movement within the Community. On that occasion we were fortunate to elect four members of the Labour Party to that Community and to join with our socialist colleagues to serve the interests of Ireland. That was confirmed by the members at that time. I am glad that we have in the Seanad at this time my colleague, Deputy Séamus Pattison, Minister of State, who served as a member of that Socialist group within Europe.
In 1984 the Labour Party adopted two further major policy statements in preparation for the second direct elections. The first of these updated and clarified the positions taken in the 1978 document. The second dealt specifically with the controversial issue of European political co-operation stressing the possible dangers for Irish neutrality and demanding full transparency for this increasingly important process. In 1984 the party cooperated also in the preparation of the manifesto of the Confederation of Socialist Parties in the Community. I personally participated in those discussions in trying to reach a common manifesto in Europe among the Socialist groups. Among other matters this document, adopted by the 14 members at the time, dealt in precise terms with the question of Irish neutrality. I remember late one night ensuring in Luxembourg that Ireland's positive role on neutrality would be maintained. The manifesto published at that time stated unequivocally that the Community had no competence in military matters, that matters of a military nature were to be dealt with in the NATO ambit and not within the Community structures, and that Irish neutrality must be fully represented. I am quoting from the common manifesto of all the Socialist groups within the Parliament.
In the 1984 elections the Labour Party lost all their seats, unfortunately. People did not listen to the message we had. Since then everybody is expressing concern as a result of the Single European Act. From its inception in 1967 to the mid-seventies the EC has enjoyed almost uninterrupted progress with rapid economic growth, high employment levels and a remarkable political development in terms of overcoming the long history of Franco-German confrontation and war. If anything, the Community has achieved peace for the first time in its long history. Barriers to trade were significantly dismantled and a common external tariff institution and the Common Agricultural Policy were established. Institutions of decision-making were developed and, in the seventies, applications from the four countries, including Ireland, to join with them were on the table.
The first enlargement brought Ireland, Denmark and the UK into the Community in 1973, the year of the Yom Kippur war and of the first oil crisis. From then on the Community was confronted with the recurring problems of coping with the new member states and their needs, including the needs of Ireland, with a devastating socio-economic crisis as unemployment and inflation soared and economic growth, so long regarded as automatic, stagnated or went into reverse.
In 1976 we went into the second oil crisis. This added to the Community's difficulties and unemployment rose further. Today unemployment figures in Europe are staggering. Our own unemployment figures are extremely bad, probably a higher percentage than average in the Community. Taking the average within the Community, it is obvious that Europe, as a community, has been unable to tackle some of the problems that have arisen.
Today our Minister for Agriculture is fighting and initiating the veto to try to protect the Irish national interest in relation to beef. These are some of the problems that have arisen in Europe. We stated originally, in our opposition to the terms of membership, that these problems would arise. Nobody believed us. The Labour Party were a minority party of very little significance to many people. Today many of the problems we foresaw happening in Europe have happened. The prolonged failure of the EC to come to grips with the economic crisis — and above all the jobs crisis — has led to public alienation which was most dramatically exemplified by the very low turnout in the 1984 direct elections to the European Parliament, when no more than 59 per cent of eligible voters exercised the franchise.
It has become increasingly recognised that the Community was not meeting the impact of world recession with as much success as the United States, Japan or other developing sectors. The Community, in relation to them, has failed.
In the face of the many great problems of the economy and of society in general it was more and more open to question whether the Community possessed the appropriate legal and structural mechanisms to enable it to maintain and enhance its economic and political decisions in a world of harsh competition and rapid technological advance. It is that kind of failure which has led us into a situation where a change is needed.
Senator Dooge guided the Single European Act through most of its deliberations within the Community and brought forward what is now before us today — an opportunity for the first time for the Community to address itself and to decide where it is going, how effective its decision-making policies are, and how appropriate the cohesion and development of the market would be, into the next decade or beyond.
It has been recognised by most people that up to now the Community seems to be in a crisis because of its restrictions on its own resources and the fact that two or three members are the main contributors to it. They can actually dominate policy. As a major beneficiary nation our bargaining position within the Community is extremely weak. Even in the face of opposition at times it is important to be able to respond with a veto or a threat of a veto.
I am glad the Single European Act does not in any way remove from Parliament, in the national interest, the operation of the veto if such drastic action is required. Nowadays, with the changing face of Europe, it is imperative that we hold the ultimate power of veto. It is appropriate to recognise that it is not a legal instrument within the Community. It was never part of the original treaty and is a political decision between the Council of Ministers. The Council of Ministers also have the problem that they almost find they have a veto on their decisions or lack of decision. The Community, through the Commission, has the ability to freeze prices or to alter prices which in effect is almost using a veto on the Council of Ministers. It is appropriate that Europe should look at itself in this regard. We have had concern expressed, particularly in the Labour Party and in the trade union movement, about Ireland's neutrality. I do not think anybody has a clearer stance than the Labour Party on what we mean by neutrality.
I should like to quote from a speech of our party leader, the present Tánaiste, Deputy Spring, which spells out the central elements of our policy in relation to the development of the EC at this stage of its history. He stressed the following points at a meeting of the Socialist groups in Madrid in 1985. I quote:
The priority is the fight for jobs, the need to combat the policies of the new right. Approaches to economic union are unacceptable unless Community policies are so designed as to prevent growing regional imbalances and to promote convergence in living standards and in levels of employment. Regional policy must contain a commitment to extend the concept of integrated programmes to the north west of the Community, including Ireland. The decision making structures of the Community must ensure that in no circumstances will the legitimate and vital interests of any member state be overridden. Part of the Community which has a world political responsibility is neutral Ireland. Irish neutrality is not conditional; it is fundamental.
Those are the words of our party leader on the question of neutrality.
Certain key points then arise from the consideration of the Act and its detailed contents. It is appropriate that I should list the following five points for concerted national action in the period immediately ahead of us. One is action to enshrine the principles of neutrality in our Constitution. This is a longstanding Labour Party policy, as I have said, and the party leader clearly restated this in the other House last week in the debate on this Act. It has already been referred to by Senator M. Higgins and myself in our discussion on our Private Members' Motion. Action is also required to establish an effective and properly resourced Oireachtas committee on foreign policy which is quite essential if there is to be a truly independent foreign policy, subject to real democratic control, public understanding and support contained also in our resolution. We must have action to build the necessary network of policies, initiatives and supportive measures within the range of Community institutions to ensure that the cohesion objective will be translated into meaningful policies provided with fully adequate funding.
We must have action to create a proper framework of economic and social planning with full democratic involvement to avail of the opportunities provided by the developing internal markets and to ensure maximum protection against the inherent threats, and also action to participate fully and positively in the fleshing out of the important provisions in the Single European Act in the areas of the environment's social policy and other developments within the Community. Action is what is now required.
We have heard of all the negative reactions and all the arguments going back to 1972, refighting the referendum of that year. We should put all that behind us now and go forward with all like-minded people in the Community to use the Single European Act and to demand that the positive things it promises will be delivered.
The Labour Party are fully prepared to participate in all aspects of this campaign for meaningful European development and for a really effective Irish foreign policy. The Single European Act does not create or make any demands for these desirable things. We feel it is not contradictory to any of these things. It simply challenges us to bring our policies into line with the real needs of the future, the needs of Ireland within the Community with its member states and in complete support of actions that can be taken to address many of the major problems such as economic problems, unemployment problems and many other market problems we have within the Community. Ireland has always played a role in this regard. I hope the Single European Act will set up structures to enable us to do that in a much more positive way than in the past.
I wish to speak in this debate which is extremely important. It is a debate on an Act which has been discussed at length at meetings of political parties and of interested groups such as trade union meetings and employer meetings right throughout the country. There probably has not been any other single Act of Parliament before us which has created so much dissention. The debate has shown that there is a lack of knowledge to a large degree. It is not until a very late stage of the debate that the Government, on the advice of my party, decided to bring out a document which gave the broad outline of the Single European Act. The Government were singularly irresponsible in not giving the people of this country the opportunity to discuss this Act over quite a long period.
The joint Committee on the Secondary Legislation of the European Communities addressed themselves to this legislation in 1984 and indeed, produced an excellent document in that year which was discussed in the Seanad. A major debate took place on the Spinelli report and on the subsequent Dooge report.
Unfortunately those debates were not addressed by the press to any acceptable degree. If the press had taken note of what was said in the Seanad debates in 1984 and 1985 the public would have been more knowledgeable about the implications of the Single European Act. Of course, apart from The Irish Times and The Cork Examiner and occasionally the Independent group, the press ignore this House, but when they wanted to make hay in terms of the Single European Act and its implications they blamed legislators to a large degree for not bringing the implications of this Act before the public.
The press did not avail of the opportunity to listen to the contributions from members of the joint committee and, in particular, the deliberations of Senator Dooge, who was one of the people involved in the preparation of this legislation. The work that has gone on over the years was ignored not alone by the press but also by the Government. There was a singular lack of interest in the Department of Foreign Affairs and if there was not a singular lack of interest in that Department they were very reticent about sending out information. We have had information from every group in this country about this Act. There is no Member of the Oireachtas to whom I have spoken who has had a briefing from the Department of Foreign Affairs.
It is disgraceful that the Department of Foreign Affairs, who are so involved in this Act, should not have seen fit to brief Members of the Oireachtas. It is disgraceful that the Department of Foreign Affairs will continue to sit in their ivory tower in Iveagh House and not address themselves to the needs of the Oireachtas. I am not suggesting that Members of the Oireachtas should not, at times, get in touch with the Department of Foreign Affairs, but if the Single European Act can be of major concern to people throughout the country and to groups who have never appeared in public before, I feel the Department of Foreign Affairs should have had at least the courtesy or the diplomacy to brief Members of the Oireachtas on the implications of this Act. We cannot say we are a jury and suggest to them that they did absolutely nothing. We cannot be judgmental in real terms on them, but the country is being judgmental on them. We can criticise the Minister for not doing his job, but apparently we cannot criticise the Department of Foreign Affairs who have not briefed Members of the Oireachtas on this Act. It is not, as I said, the total fault of the Department. There is fault also on the part of the Members of the House for not continually getting in touch with the Department.
Much has been said in the newspapers over the past number of weeks about the fact that 300 laws would have to be changed as a result of the bringing in of the Single European Act. This created problems for a number of people throughout the country. When one went to find out what these laws were, one had to refer back to a White Paper produced by the European Commission in 1985 which listed 300 items which would have implications for the completion of the internal market. I was trying to get information about the implications of these 300 regulations. The Department of Finance were extremely helpful in giving the details as to where we stood in regard to the items for the completion of the internal market in that Commission report. The Department of Agriculture replied. Other Departments did not know what I was talking about when I contacted them.
It is disgraceful that a White Paper could be produced by the Commission and that Departments are involved in the bringing in of regulations which will have an impact in this country and yet in certain Departments of State, when there is supposed to be constant contact between the civil servants in Europe and here at home, when a Member of the Oireachtas telephones requesting specific information, he or she may not get the information quickly. A Member of the Oireachtas should not be shifted from one Department to another with civil servants saying they do not know, and it is not within their area.
The Single European Act will have a major impact on Ireland when it is enacted. It could be said equally that the completion of the internal market is the area in which the most impact will be felt. Unfortunately, the concerns which have been expressed by many interest groups about the internal market have not been addressed. A major debate has taken place about what will happen in terms of our neutrality. There is no doubt, whether the Government like it or not, that this is the area of most concern to the Irish people. There is no doubt in my mind that the Single European Act does have implications as far as our neutrality is concerned.
Senator Ferris referred to the fact that his Leader and his party have been proponents of neutrality and that they have always stood by our neutrality. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for some of the Government Ministers. I refer in particular to the Minister, Deputy O'Toole. He said over the past number of months that neutrality is an issue which we fudge on and that we cannot be neutral in all situations. We are talking about positive neutrality. We are not talking about sitting on the fence in terms of international affairs.
When we speak of our neutrality, it is accepted throughout the world that we are a nation which does not get involved in power blocs; we do not want to get involved in power blocs; and we never will get involved in power blocs. We will not get involved in power blocs from the point of view of joining one such bloc to gain power or to be supported by power. Equally, we do not want to be protected by a particular power bloc. In terms of a worldwide conflict between major powers, we would have no impact in the wide earthly world, whether we were involved on one side or on the other. There are military significances involved. If we have the old type of war we are a significant nation to a small degree. If we are talking about a major conflict, such as could arise at present with high powered technology in warfare, we could be wiped out overnight. Whether we were involved on one side or the other would make no whit of difference to us. We would just be wiped out. The fact that we were on one side or the other would have no significance.
The Minister, Deputy O'Toole, was wrong in what he said. I said this last week. I hope the Department of Foreign Affairs are taking cognisance of what he has been saying in terms of our involvement with the peacekeeping troops in the Lebanon. He suggested that, because of incidents in the Lebanon, we should withdraw our troops if it comes to the situation where there are dangers for us. There are always dangers for us because of our interest in keeping peace in the world. At present the greatest number of our troops are in the Lebanon where they are doing an exceptional job. Anybody who would suggest that they should be withdrawn from the area in which they are should have his head examined. I sincerely hope the Department of Foreign Affairs will tell the Minister, Deputy O'Toole, that the troops must be kept there and that he should keep to his Ministry of Defence and speak on defence matters, and not speak about foreign affairs matters.
The joint committee, as I have said, have been working extremely hard for more than two years. As has been indicated, they presented two major reports which are central to European Union — the report on the European Parliament Draft Treaty, establishing the European Union, and the report on the Commission's White Paper, on completing the internal market. I would like to acknowledge publicly the major work which has been carried out by this committee, including that of their technical experts, the clerical staff and the very many publicly-minded people who made representations to them and who appeared before them.
The joint committee regard the Single European Act as a most unorthdox amending instrument. It has been seen in this light also by many concerned individuals and groups throughout the country. The joint committee rightly pointed out the possibilities of conflict which might arise when the Act is ratified as it has been shown that member states have exploited in the past uncertainties in existing treaties which are lucidly drawn up.
The Government have been telling us for some time that the Single European Act had to be ratified by the end of the year. I heard Senator Ferris refer to this. Indeed, there is no truth in the suggestion by the Taoiseach or any Minister that the Act has to be ratified before the end of the year.
Article 33 (2) of the General and Final Provisions of Title IV states:
This Act will enter into force on the first day of the month following that in which the instrument of ratification is deposited of the last Signatory State to fulfil the formalities
The date for the Act coming into force is the first day of the month following that in which the instrument of ratification is deposited by the last signatory State. It does not have to be 1987 or 1988; it is the first day of the month following the signature of the last signing State. There is no truth in the statement that this legislation has to be on our books before the end of December.
Over the past number of weeks the impression has been given that, unless we ratify this legislation, we will not be good Europeans and that we cannot appear not to be good Europeans. The joint committee suggested — and from what has been said to them by the Department of Foreign Affairs — that we must appear to be good Europeans and that there should not be any amendments or the annexation of reservations.
I agree with the opinion held by many people that the Government should accept any amendment put to them which would strengthen our position on neumajor issues which are of concern to us and, in particular, our position on neutrality. If there is no fear by the Government that our neutrality will not be affected, why not allow an annexation of my party's reservations in this area. There is no doubt that the fragmentation of the European market has been one of the major inhibitions to economic growth in Europe. We have watched for the past number of years economic growth in the developed world slow down. Nowhere has this been more obvious than in the EC. For the past four years, however, we have seen America and Japan prosper in economic terms again and the SEATO countries, which were considered to be barely Third World countries up to a few years ago, are now major competitors in terms of the European market. The growth has taken place, not alone in America and Japan but in the SEATO group of countries and we have seen stagnation in Europe caused by a lack of will to address the problems we are facing.
We have watched the European area decline in economic terms and in social terms at a time when other areas were growing. We see industries here closing down every day and there is an unprecedented rise in the number of young people unemployed. There does not seem to be enough teeth in current legislation to ensure that Europe can compete with the rest of the world. We get on a bi-annual basis a report of happenings in the EC. Year after year, except for the change in terminology, change in words, the 1984 report, the 1986 report, the 1979 report could all be read and one would see the same things are being said — that more emphasis will be put on the creation of jobs and more emphasis will be put on social equality, more emphasis will be put on the equalisation of economies throughout Europe. Nothing happens; the reports just come out. I reckon the same man writes them and just changes the dates. They have no more significance than that. When we debate them in this House, all we can do is raise matters which are of current importance and continue to harp on the major problems which are confronting the people of Ireland and the people of Europe each day.
The completion of the internal market would seem to be the correct instrument which might give impetus to economic growth in the EC and a resultant benefit would be a growth in employment. The completion of the internal market will not be the panacea for all our troubles but there is no doubt that we should eliminate as many barriers to internal trade as possible and that the harmonisation of taxes especially VAT should take place and paper work be eliminated. I would like to see VAT and taxes eliminated.
It has been stated that if harmonisation did take place the Department of Finance would lose quite a large amount of revenue. Harmonisation should not be read as bringing the lowest tax regimes in the Community into being. If, on balance, harmonisation costs us some money, these revenue losses could be financed from a major growth in economic activity, ensuring more revenue from the growth in extra spending on consumer goods and in extra tax taken from PAYE, PRSI and the indirect taxes that would follow the stimulus the internal market could provide.
We must recognise the figures given to us by the Albert and Ball report in terms of barriers and technical, fiscal and bureaucratic situations which amount, it is suggested, to £8 billion a year or 2 per cent of the European gross national product. As a small country, exporting 66 per cent of our products of manufacturing industry, of which 80 per cent goes to the European Community, we have enormous financial benefits to gain from the elimination of barriers in a market of what is considered to be around 320 million people.
According to the Irish Council for the European Movement there are 850 foreign owned companies in Ireland, employing 80,000 people directly. These companies are giving indirect employment to a further 80,000 people in the services sector. It is suggested that, because over 400 of these firms have parent companies located in other Community member states, if there was a harmonisation within the regimes in Europe there would obviously be scope for attracting new investment in a more economically integrated Europe from within the Community as well as from Third World countries.
The elimination of barriers is a major block and this has been recognised by companies who want to do business within Europe. If a company operating out of New York want to send goods 4,000 or 5,000 miles across America, they can get to their major areas of trade without any customs barriers, without any paper work. They just fill up their vehicles and they travel with no barriers. This has given an impetus to their trading. We do not have the same.
We must attempt to have the same type of regime, or as close to it as possible, for transferring goods as there is in the States. We must be as hard on goods coming in from outside the EC as are the Japanese. Over many years the Japanese have allowed their exports to grow at an enormous rate. Their imbalance of trade is enormous. It is virtually impossible to export from Europe into Japan even though a certain small group of companies have been successful in the market. In terms of the usage of foreign goods, Europe is way behind when we look at countries like America or Taiwan.
The Republic of China and Taiwan have an imbalance of trade with America and Japan. They export a larger amount of goods into America and Japan than they import from them. Why cannot we do the same, as a Community of 320 million, with supposedly what is the best technology in the world? There has to be a reason because the same import restrictions are placed on Taiwanese goods into Japan as are placed on European goods going into Japan. Let nobody for a moment consider that Taiwanese goods are going in because they are cheap. They are selling high technology goods into Japan; they are selling high technology goods into the United States of America.
In the consideration of this Act, if I tend to talk more about the internal market than any other area, it is because it is important that we address ourselves to the internal market as it is the only area in this Bill which is of potential significance to us. There is no other part of the Act that will be of any great benefit to us. The other parts of the Act have inherent in them areas which could be potentially areas of conflict. We must attempt to establish close working relationships and joint ventures with other companies in production, research and marketing activities from within Europe. We must get to the stage in Europe that we have a common market in the real sense and in which there would be a joint opportunity within the states of the EC.
The Irish Council for the European Movement are correct when they suggest that there should be a new chapter in the Treaty dealing with economic and social cohesion of the Community to reduce disparities between the various regimes. This insertion will strengthen Ireland's opportunities within the EC. As I have said before the Single European Act does not prohibit reservations or permit only specified reservations. This is brought forward in the report of the joint committee.
We should have an insertion into the Act, a declaration which gives us protection under the terms of Protocol 30 of the Act of Accession of Ireland to the European Communities. The declaration that my party want just parallels the principles which govern our economic relations with the Community and our special situation which was recognised at the time of our accession and which is enshrined in Protocal 30. The declaration states that the provisions of Title III do not affect Ireland's long established policy of military aspects of security and that co-ordination of security does not include the military aspects of security or procurement for such purposes and does not affect Ireland's capacity to act or refrain from acting in any way which might affect Ireland's international status of military neutrality.
I have mentioned our peacekeeping efforts abroad. There is inherent in our peacekeeping efforts the knowledge of foreign countries that we are a nation which is neutral in military terms. If we were in any way to be associated with any power bloc, we would not be acceptable in countries which need our military expertise in terms of peacekeeping. There is the expertise which our Army have in their peacekeeping role. They are well trained, well disciplined and they perform exceptionally well in difficult situations. This House should be proud of the job our Army do abroad. On all occasions we should protect them. We should forget about the fact that implicit in our accession there is a declaration that we are neutral.
It is no harm at all that we put into this Act a declaration of our neutrality. The declaration states that the provisions of Title III do not affect Ireland's long established policy of military aspects of security and that co-ordination of security does not include the military aspects of security or procurement for such purposes and does not affect Ireland's capacity to act or refrain from acting in a way which might affect Ireland's international status in military neutrality. Government spokesmen have suggested that there is an implicit recognition of Irish neutrality in the provisions of Title III of the Single European Act. We do not accept implicit recognition as being valid. We must have the question of our Irish neutrality spelt out in the Act or as an addendum or reservation to the Act. Indeed, there has been only one reservation expressed by the Government so far, that is, in the area of protecting the Irish insurance industry. The protection of the Irish insurance industry is important. It is an area which needs protection from major companies from outside. Nevertheless it is not as important as the issue of our neutrality.
We have been an excellent member of the EC each year since we became a member and Fianna Fáil have been to the fore at all times in progressing the cause of a united Europe for the unity within the Community which would bestow on the member states an equal treatment, each according to their needs and each according to their aspirations. Unfortunately, over the past number of years it would appear as if there has been growing a two tier type of Europe and that the old catch phrase that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer is a definite statement of fact. The Irish economy has been helped in many ways by the EC but I am afraid in its social policies and in its attempts to divide the cake equally in Europe Ireland has fallen far behind. Now with the accession of three countries which could be considered to be poor countries, Greece, Spain and Portugal, Ireland's position will not be enhanced. We will be competing still on the periphery with countries which have similar economic problems to ours.
Be mhaith liom anois litir atá scriófa agam ó Chonradh na Gaeilge a chur os comhair an tSeanaid. Ba mhaith liom freagra a fháil ar na ceisteanna atá luaite anseo. Seo an litir:
I gCOINNE AN "IONSTRAIM EORPACH AONAIR"
Cuireann Conradh na Gaeilge i gcoinne an `Ionstraim Eorpach Aonair' toisc go laghdódh reachtú na hlonstraime sin smacht Mhuintir na hÉireann ar a saoil féin, go háirithe maidir le tosca eacnamaíochta, polaitiúla agus cultúir. Ghlac Coiste Gnó Chonradh na Gaeilge d'aon ghuth, ag cruinniú dá gcuid lé déanaí, le rún ag iarraidh ar an Rialtas gan dul ar aghaidh leis an bpróiséas trína dhaingneofaí an `Ionstraim Eorpach Aonair' agus ag iarraidh ar na páirtithe polaitiúla diúltú don Ionstraim.
Cealóidh an `Ionstraim Eorpach Aonair' d'aon turas na cosaintí sin a bhí in ainm is a bheith againn ar na drochthorthaí a bhainfeadh le ballraíocht na hÉireann sa Chomhphobal Eacnamaíochta Eorpach. Chuir na páirtithe polaitiúla a bhí i bhfábhar ballraíocht na hÉireann sa Ch. E.E. béim leanúnach ar na cosaintí sin. Cuirfidh an Ionstraim seo deireadh leis an gcosaint is bunúsaí díobhsan i.e. go bhféadfadh ballstát amháin feidhm a bhaint as `veto' chun stop a chur le beart ar aontaigh gach Ballstát eile leis ach a bhí i gcoinne a leas náisiúnta féin dar leis an mBallstát sin amháin.
Neodracht i mBaol
Is ábhar mór imní í an Rúnaireacht le haghaidh comhPholasaí Eachtrach atá le bunú ag an gC.E.E. tríd an Ionstraim seo. Tá sé mímhacánta dóibhsean atá i bhfábhar na hIonstraime seo a mhaíomh nach gcuirteadh seo polasaí neodrach na hÉireann i mbaol. Níl polasaí Eachtrach scartha ó pholasaí Cosanta. Trí ghlacadh le comhpholasaí eachtrach a bheith ag an gComhphobal Eorpach beifear ag glacadh le níos mó ná ceann caol na dinge a bhainfidh an bonn de pholasaí neodrach na hÉireann sa ghearrthodhchaí.
Dúirt mé nuair a bhí mé ag caint i mBéarla go raibh daoine ins an tír a luaigh na 300 dlíthe a bhfuil trácht futhu anseo ach ní ceart é go bhfuilimíd ag caint i dtaobh 300 dlíthe. Pé scéal é, mar a dúirt mé, tá daoine i ngach áit de'n tír with the impresion that there were 300 rules or laws to be changed. Críochnaíonn an litir le:
Iarrann Conradh na Gaeilge ar bhaill Thithe an Oireachtais áiteamh ar an Rialtas feidhm a bhaint as a `veto', agus é fós in ann sin a dhéanamh, chun diúltú glacadh leis an `Ionstraim Eorpach Aonair'. Réiteodh an Ionstraim seo an bealach chun an C.E.E. a fhorbairt ar dhóigh a bheadh éagsúil ó bhonn leis an dóigh sin ar chuir polaiteoirí a bhí i bhfábhar ballraíocht na hÉireann sa Ch.E.E. béim air nuair a bhí Feachtas Reifreann 1972 faoi lánseol.
I wanted to have that letter written into the record so that we can have an answer from the Department to the questions raised by the Gaelic League in this case. There are other groups who have written. All of their submissions have been taken into account but that was the only one that came in Irish and it should be replied to in Irish by the Minister.
Our membership of the Community has had a major impact on our economy. This impact has been particularly visible in the area of high technology industry. Some of our traditional industries have suffered badly as a result of the limited free trade area of Europe. There is a continuing downturn in these areas of traditional industry. Our agricultural industry has been transformed by our membership of the Community. There is no doubt but that our farmers have benefited from our membership and that there is a continued benefit for certain sectors of the agricultural industry.
The operation of the CAP is coming under excessive scrutiny and it is being blamed for all the ills of the Community. Even if CAP were, as traditionally operated, held to a reasonable level, because of the change in emphasis in farming in Europe with the arrival of Spain, Portugal and Greece, there will be a greater effort by these countries to have the northern European products eliminated from the CAP. They will be suggesting that the Mediterranean products be helped. These include fruit, vegetables, wine growing and so on. Statistics in relation to the benefits we are getting out of Europe indicate we are getting them legitimately. We are one of only four countries in Europe who has not fiddled the books to gain economic benefit from grants-in-aid from the Community.
I do not know if this is a good or a bad thing. If other countries are milking the system in Europe and getting away with it, if that is what has to be done then we should join those who reap the benefit rather than sit back and delight in the fact that we have not been involved in the illegal usage of Community funds. What is good for the goose is good for the gander and this gander is not getting very fat on the benefits that are given to other countries.
In today's news we heard of changes in the agricultural sector in Europe. The Minister for Agriculture voted against the regimes being brought in particularly in the dairy area. There can be short term benefits gained by people who want to get out of milk. This means that for the next seven years they will be paid 28 pence per gallon for their milk quota. This would seem to be a crude instrument in the sense that people will now be paid for doing nothing. I do not know whether it is better to pay people to do nothing than to subsidise people for overproducing. There could be an argument made on either side as to which is the better way of doing it. The effect of this ruling from Brussels will be to drive a large number of small farmers with low quotas out of farming. Of course their quotas will be taken up and will be for sale. Apart from giving up and getting 28 pence per gallon, it did not say that the quota would be taken away from these farmers. A milk quota system is of major benefit to farmers. I am not too sure where the balance of advantage will come.
It has been suggested that what has happened in terms of a reduction from last January of 8½ per cent in Ireland's milk quota will mean the loss of approximately 2,400 jobs in the agri-business area over the next two or three years. These 2,400 jobs will not directly go in terms of one co-op going out of business but it is the equivalent of one major co-op group and their suppliers going out of business. The question has to be asked now, where will those farmers who opt out of dairying go? Into which area of farming can they go? What will happen to their land? There is no room for these farmers in cereals or root crops. There is no wish within the EC to have an increase in dry stock because there is an overproduction of beef as well as an overproduction of milk.
In the short term there is a possibility to go into intensive market farming but that is an area which is also limited because it has a high capital content. There could be possibilities in the long term of investment in forestry. The Community should look positively at the situation regarding small farmers who will opt for the 28 pence a gallon for getting out of milk and possibly subsidise them to get into afforestation. Over the next seven years they will have an income as a result of giving up the milk quota and in that time there will be a certain amount of growth in their forests.
They will not get an income after seven years from afforestation but the EC will benefit considerably. If after the seven years they then subsidise these farmers for a further period so that they would have an income, this could be offset against the very high returns they would get when the trees mature. When we consider the amount of timber imported into the EC we should look at a major afforestation programme for Ireland. We have the ideal climate and land for afforestation. The importation of timber and timber products into Europe is at a very high level. There is an area of timber more than double the size of Ireland being taken from forests in Brazil and other countries and there will be a famine of timber and timber products by the turn of this century. If we started an afforestation programme with help from the EC, instead of being an importer of timber and timber products we could be an exporter of such products to mainland Europe which could have an enormous benefit. We should look at the possibility of giving aid to people who are getting out of the dairying sector in Ireland to get into forestry and to give them an additional seven years of subsidy until the timber matures.
I was speaking before the break about the impact forestry could have on our economy and I saw it as an area in which the EC could get involved, particularly as a result of the decisions taken in Brussels last night. I suggested that, since there is to be subsidisation of farmers who get out of milk production for the next seven years, they should be encouraged to get into forestry. Seven years is not a long enough period within which trees would come to maturity and become profit-making but at least the trees would be seven years into maturity. Farmers should be allowed very cheap loans against the profits they would make on the maturing of the trees. At all times there would be an income. One of the problems in afforestation has been the fact that in the initial stages income is a problem. I am glad to see that in certain areas it is being addressed. I would like to see further progress in this area under the aegis of the EC.
In the agricultural area we have been perceived by some of the economic "big boys" of Europe as being a drag on the EC. Of course, we have not been a drag on the EC because we are small fry in terms of input into anything in the EC. We are small fry as regards our contributions and we are small fry in terms of surpluses we create, whether it be in beef or milk. Nevertheless, we have had a political impact which was above and greater than the financial impact we have had. The effects we have on the cultural, social and economic scenes have been of benefit to the Community. We must ensure that this growth is not stultified.
There are problems in the EC which must be confronted and the greatest one of these problems is unemployment. As I said earlier, these problems have been highlighted in every report we have got from the EC since we started getting the half-yearly reports. Unemployment is one of the things these reports have suggested should be confronted. The problems have not been confronted. I am not too sure whether this is because there are a group of civil servants in Europe who spend most of their time travelling around Europe and they have not got a knowledge of the problems confronting the majority of people within the EC. I am not too sure about that but obviously they have not been confronting this major problem. I spoke earlier of a market place of 320 million people. This sounds good in terms of numbers but it does not take into account the fact that there are 16 million unemployed in Europe of whom, according to the Young Ireland Movement, 235,700 are Irish. I am not sure if this is an accurate figure. At this stage it is probably closer to 250,000 rather than 235,700.
I was looking today at statistics in the motor trade which is my business. As a small trader in terms of business I looked deliberately at these figures this morning and saw that I have lost 79 customers in the past five years. I did not lose one of those customers for any reason other than that they went out of business. The reason for this was stultification of growth, the lack of interest in business in Ireland by Europe and the lack of interest by civil servants and the majority of people in Europe, I was confronted with a situation which could have closed my business if it were not for certain things I was given time to do.
Every businessman in this country is facing these problems and Europe is not helping us. We are facing them in small businesses every day of the week. There are three Members here who are in what I would term the "non-manufacturing" area of business, or who have been associated with service industries. It is disgraceful that not one solitary penny of State aid goes to industries which are in the service area. We get no help from Europe. This is an area which supports manufacturing industry. We have to pay for the training of our people and we have to educate them. I guarantee that all of the people who are in small business are in the tax net and are not being supported by the Revenue Commissioners or anybody else in the same manner in which State-subsidised industries are allowed to operate.
I am afraid that in the future there will be no people to go into service industries. Nobody will go into a service industry because there is no impetus to help small businesses who are not in the area of industrial production for export. There is no impetus in the Department of Agriculture or the Department of Foreign Affairs to get the European Community to realise that the service industries which are to be helped are not service industries in the high tech areas. These are the only areas in which help can be given to service industries. When the EC talk about service industries being helped and grants being available, they are talking about sending our highly trained people abroad. That is the only area in which there is help.
The situation at present is that there are probably 250,000 people unemployed in this country. The Young Ireland Movement have attempted to highlight this. Equally there should be a highlighting of the fact that many thousands of jobs are being lost in Ireland because of the lack of rationalisation in the tax regimes. When I listen to people on the radio and watch people on television justifying the fact that they go over the Border to shop because it is much cheaper to shop there, I get very annoyed. They do not realise how many jobs are being lost in Ireland because of the fact that they are going over the Border to shop. There is a need for rationalisation between ourselves and Great Britain with regard to tax rates.
It has been said to me that we are one island and why not shop on the one island? I agree that we should shop on the one island but the major spending done in the North of Ireland is not done in shops owned by Irish people. Those shops are owned by people who come from New York, Canada and the United Kingdom. Another major group are going to take advantage of this cross-Border exodus to set up a major shopping complex to cater for the cross-Border traffic. Again it is owned by a British company so that the benefits are not going to stay in the Irish economy, in the Thirty-two Counties, but they are going to be repatriated to Great Britain. I appeal to anybody who is considering going across the Border to buy a television, a fridge——
We are talking about the Single European Act.
The VAT rate in the North of Ireland on goods of the type I mentioned is 18 per cent whereas it is 25 per cent in the South. There are other areas of tax in which there is a need for rationalisation. The British VAT rate is not the lowest in Europe but because of our closeness to the UK scene we must get closer to their VAT rate. There is a system where B & I are shipping people across to England and giving them free bottles of whiskey. You can get a trip to England and a bottle of whiskey cheaper than you can buy a bottle of Irish whiskey in Ireland. That is crazy. The Minister is suggesting we should not have tax-free shops at the point of entry into the country. That is a crazy idea. Tax-free shopping should be available at the point of entry from a safety point of view if not for anything else. If one were flying to Britain in a plane, I can guarantee that the most volatile fuel in the plane will be the whiskey that practically everybody is carrying. Why not allow people to buy it when they arrive back? We would do much better.
Farmers have benefited from our membership of the EC and I have suggested ways in which we could possibly have a continuing benefit. There is no doubt that because of regimes which were brought into the EC to curb farm profits there has been a flight from the land. Unfortunately this has not alone been a flight from the land in Ireland to cities in Ireland but it has been a flight from the land in Ireland to countries outside the EC. Education is subsidised to a large degree as a result of our membership of the EC. There are huge numbers of courses which are subsidised by the EC but, unfortunately, even Europe is not getting the benefit of this subsidisation. Because of its high unemployment at present, quite a number of our people from farms and colleges are going to countries outside the EC so the benefits are going outside the EC. If the EC is subsidising education and we cannot provide jobs for people in Ireland, I would like to see the benefits of the subsidisation from Ireland and Europe being of benefit to Europe and, therefore, of indirect benefit to the State. That is not happening. We have an increasing flight from the land and from the country and Europe is not able to take those people into its employment sector. There are 100,000 fewer people working on the land now than there were when we joined the EC.
The Department of Foreign Affairs have not spelled out the dangers to Ireland which might arise out of the implementation of the Single European Act. The harmonisation of indirect taxes will create definite problems, particularly for us as a small country on the periphery of Europe. We have huge problems in terms of the cost of transferring goods from our shores to mainland Europe. Harmonisation of indirect taxation will involve an estimated loss of £1 billion. There is no direct link between the completion of internal market and this figure of £1 billion because so many of the factors which will be involved in the rationalisation programme of taxes have not been confronted yet. There is much talk about cross-Border, trans-border rationalisation but committees have not met.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and the Commission suggest that 1992 is the date for final harmonisation of tax regimes within the internal market. There is no hope that 1992 will be the date by which harmonisation can be achieved. Unless people confront the problems resulting from rationalisation it could be 2092 before there is a complete rationalisation. Unless other countries get involved more thoroughly then it would appear our Government and Departments are involved, the year 2092 would be a more realistic date for the completion of the internal market than 1992 as is suggested. Regimes that were to be brought in in 1983, 1984, 1985 and 1986 have not yet been addressed in Europe. They talk about the completion of the 1987 regimes in 1987 when we have not even completed the 1983 proposals.
In dealing with this Bill it might appear that I have been negative, but I see positive aspects in it. I am very worried about our neutrality. There is no short statement a Minister can make that will give me confidence that we will not be sucked into some form of anti-neutrality position. The Taoiseach was wrong to stay at the meeting of Ministers the other evening when military matters were being discussed. He should have left the meeting and returned when they had finished discussing military matters even if, as he said, they were being discussed in an "informal" way. The formation of thoughts happens in an insidious way. If you listen constantly to people talking about something, the thoughts they are expressing can be transmitted to you.
I have no time for people who say you should not listen, you should not learn, you should not read, you should not watch, but in a sensitive area such as our neutrality and the increasing pressures being put on us by the Americans on the one hand — and it would appear by the Americans in collusion with the Russians in another situation — a Taoiseach has to be very careful who he listens to. I say the Americans and the Russians. Look at the lies President Reagan told in terms of his supply of arms to Iran when he made his address to the people of the world and said the only arms transmitted would have fitted into a small plane. Under the Single European Act we have not got a single European passport. We have not got a European passport, but McFarlane and North and his two other advisers had four Irish passports and a small plane load of arms for Iran.
Will the Senator do his utmost to stick to the Single European Act and refrain from expressing his opinion about people telling lies?
If a man says one small plane load of arms is all that was sent to Iran and it has been proven that he knew two full plane loads of arms were sent, then the man is a liar.
You should refrain from making such remarks.
I will withdraw the remark that the President of America is a liar. It is time we realised that there is an attempted manipulation of us within Europe by the very fact that Maggie Thatcher is a friend of President Reagan. If this Act is implemented, Britain will have a more major role to play than they have had in the past. Mrs. Thatcher has attempted and succeeded to a large degree in stultifying comment about major areas of European policy.
The Act has positive aspects and we go along with these. We will be putting down amendments on Committee Stage which will say what the Irish people want us to say regarding our nuetrality. They will be no more or no less than that. I hope the Minister will give an assurance on a number of points raised during the debate. I hope that at some stage a member of The Irish Press group will come in to the Seanad and report what is happening rather than, as they do at present, suggesting that there was not enough debate in the Houses of the Oireachtas on this legislation. The Irish Press group are a disgrace in their attitude towards this House. I sincerely hope that in future they will take a more positive attitude to debates in the House which have a national interest rather than criticising the Houses of the Oireachtas for not taking cognisances of the implications of the Single European Act.
I have a short contribution to make and I will confine myself to general terms. I welcome and support this legislation. In the early seventies the Irish people were faced with a very clear choice. They were helped in making their minds up with regard to that choice by many months of debate. They were armed with adequate information supplied by those who wanted this country to be part of the European Community and also by those who felt that our future best lay outside that Community. Having assessed all the information available to the electorate the voters made their choice. By a large majority they gave a clear decision — they decided that the future of this country best lay within the European Community. The feeling was that the best prospects for the development of the nation and its people lay in being part of a growing and progressing community of nations. During the years a number of surveys have shown that, if the same choice were put to the people again, perhaps at certain times not by the same massive majority, they would make the same decision.
The Single European Act is a natural progression along the road to European unity and to the more effective operation of the Community. Events have shown the wisdom of the decision that this country made in 1972. I concur with certain points made by Senator Lanigan especially with regard to unemployment not being confronted and lack of support for the small businessman. Once that kind of question is posed, it suggests that somehow or other unemployment and the success or the well being of the small businessman would be tackled better in alternative circumstances. I am not aware of any alternative circumstances which would be available to us in which these two issues could be confronted better than they have been to date. I admit the Community has not done all that I would expect it would have the capacity to do in relation to these two problems. But I know of no alternative position that this country could have occupied which would have afforded it better opportunities to deal with what are pressing matters.
It has not been a bed of roses all the way. There have been difficulties. There have been disappointments. Nevertheless, I feel the balance has been very conclusively one of advantage. The economic advantages and the benefits that have come to this country as a result of our membership have been very substantial. We must recognise that we are an economy depending on exports. I understand that 70 per cent of our exports go to the other member states of the EC. We can visualise the difficulties our economy would be confronted with if trade barriers existed between ourselves and the rest of Europe or the markets to which 70 per cent of our exports go.
The record also shows that the financial benefits to this country have been very substantial since 1973. Having read the debate in the other House — I was not here for the Minister's speech but perhaps it is contained in it — I understand that approximately £4.7 billion has come to this country from the EC since 1973. In the year 1985 alone about £900 million came to this country. Indeed, as other Senators have said, there is a market there of 320 million people. We have access to that market. If we did not have access to it the difficulties we would have to contend with would be enormous.
Much has been said and the debate has been intense with regard to the measure now before the House. I do not wish to be cast in the role of a reluctant European. I also feel that it would be to the disadvantage of this country and its people if we were cast in that role — the role of reluctant Europeans — or, as somebody else put it, conditional members. It is to our advantage that the Community should function effectively. This measure which, I expect, we will, in due course, endorse is a means of ensuring that there is a more effective and improved functioning of the Community, a Community which has increased in membership from six to 12 member states since we first joined it. I accept and believe that the Single European Act will also enhance the role of the Parliament. I accept that the principle of consensus will be largely retained and I believe that at the end of the day we will have a more effective decision-making machine in place. There are still adequate safeguards for the interests of member states concerned. I believe — and Senator Lanigan accepted — that there is a need to strengthen the Community. I am satisfied that it will be to our benefit to do so and I am satisfied that this Act is an effective way of doing that.
There is another aspect of our relationship with Europe which often concerns me. Our history has somehow bred an inferiority complex into many of us. To our detriment, we still carry that to this day. Because of that complex — I hope it is receding and I hope it will shortly disappear — we are prevented from expressing ourselves or utilising as effectively as we could the opportunities that are often presented to us in many fields, in particular this field.
Much has been said about neutrality. I accept what the Minister said in his opening speech as follows:
Our neutral position, therefore, is totally unaffected by the terms of the Single European Act. Dáil Éireann has already recognised that this is so by approving a motion reaffirming Ireland's position of neutrality outside military alliances and nothing that this position is unaffected by the Single European Act. I urge the Seanad to adopt a similar motion, put forward by Senator Dooge which, I am convinced, meets fully the concerns expressed in the Joint Committee's report.
That says enough to satisfy me. In relation to the matter of neutrality I believe it will remain intact for as long as the majority of the people of this country wish it to be so. I fully support and endorse the measure before us.
Like Senator Howard, and for much the same reasons, I will be comparatively brief in my contribution to this important debate. Because I am physically unable to be here when the debate resumes tomorrow morning I will say what I have to say this evening.
I begin by referring to a sentence in the Minister's speech, introducing the Bill to this House. He says:
The Single European Act has been the subject of extensive public debate a debate which the Government have welcomed and encouraged.
I do not agree with the Minister's view that the Government have welcomed and encouraged debate on the Single European Act. Regrettably, the debate began very slowly in this country. I do not blame the Government entirely for that. There is an important role for Opposition parties, and indeed those not of the Government parties, in drawing attention to an extremely important measure. In Denmark they had a referendum at the beginning of this year on the Single European Act. Here we are in the Seanad, in the last week of this parliamentary session — perhaps in some sense the last week of the life of this Parliament — debating an extremely important measure, and doing so under undesirable constraints. It is undesirable that an important Bill of this kind should be debated at the last minute in the Seanad, in an extended Second Reading with a Committee Stage and other stages tomorrow as I understand it. That is not in the public interest. It is regrettable that we are examining and teasing out the economic, social and constitutional implications of this Bill up against that sort of deadline.
I would like to begin — because it is my natural habitat — by looking briefly at the constitutional implications. I note that the Minister, in his speech introducing the Bill to this House, dwelt at some length on the constitutional implications. I welcome that and it is a due recognition of the concern that is felt in political circles, by the general public, and, to a considerable degree, in legal circles. There is a concern. We have — this is a richness rather than anything else — a complex constitutional framework. We amended our Constitution to enable Ireland to accede to the three Communities. Ireland not only adopted the constitutional amendment but went ahead and became a member of the three Communities.
We provided quite a tight formula that nothing in the Constitution would prevent us from taking any measures necessitated by our membership of the European Community. Serious questions have been raised by lawyers and others about whether the two separate components of this Single European Act — first, the proposed amendments to the three treaties which are really the part we are concerned about in the Bill before the House and also the other part of the Single European act which contains the treaty provisions relating to European political co-operation — fit into the parameters of the constitutional amendment and enable the ratification by Ireland to be achieved by a resolution of the Dáil — this House does not require to provide a similar resolution — and the Bill which proposes to make the amendments to the treaties part of our domestic law.
The Government did not give very adequate and full leadership in promoting an informed debate on the Single European Act. That informed debate, therefore, was not generated at an early stage on the constitutional implications. It was only because the Government were forced into it that the explanatory memorandum on the Single European Act was produced in November, a month before the deadline for completing the ratification by Ireland and the other member states. The debate, therefore, on the constitutional legal issues grew in a climate where there was not a very clearly set out position by the Government or by legal advisers on behalf of the Government. As a result, there have been a number of articles written by law-years, and a number of letters written to the newspapers which is one way in which lawyers can seek to communicate on an issue of public importance.
As it happens, I was one of those lawyers who in a sense felt constrained to enter the debate because it seemed extremely important to tease out in public and in adequate time the ramifications of the single European Act. In a two-part article which was published in The Irish Times on 24 and 25 November last I examined the two separate components of the Single European Act and noted as a personal conclusion that the ratification process does conform to the constitutional requirements and the constitutional framework. I concluded that on balance, and I stand over it. It is my view and that is the advice I would give if asked. I do not feel that this is a black and white issue on which it is possible to say that this is the case and there cannot be any doubt about it. I think it is my extremely difficult issue. It is only when you look at the situation that the complexity of it is brought home.
First, I would like to summarise briefly the core reasons why I came to that conclusion and to reiterate one point which I made in that article. That was that we have a mechanism for obtaining an authoritative view on the constitutionality of this Bill and, therefore of an important part of the ratification process, and that is by the Bill being referred by the President to the Supreme Court under Article 26 of the Constitution in order to have a determination by the Supreme Court of its compatibility. That is ultimately a decision for the President acting on the advice of the Council of State. If at Government level a view is taken that there may be some doubt a matter can be referred to the Supreme Court. For example, the proposed amendment to the electoral laws to enable British citizens to vote was referred to the Supreme Court who concluded that the Bill was not compatible with the provisions of the Constitution and, therefore, that Bill could not be signed by the President. It did not proceed. The alternative approach which was adopted, and which was carried successfully, was that we had a constitutional amendment because we required to amend our Constitution to achieve the objectives.
As an individual I remain of the view that if the Bill were referred to the Supreme Court under Article 26, that court would conclude — and there is only one judgment of the Supreme Court on a reference — that the Bill is constitutional but that would have a significant number of positive factors for our society. It would be an authoritative view. Any view expressed either by the Minister, by individual Senators or even by those of us who are lawyers and Senators, is only an individual view. It actually does not carry any more weight than the degree of knowledge or the degree of time and effort that the individual has put into looking into it or, in the case of the Minister the quality of the legal advice, which he has available to him, which I have no doubt on this occasion would be quite significant.
It is not a matter on which it is prudent to have a dogmatic view. I have not read the text of the Official Report of the Dáil as I do not think the debate is available yet but I was interested to read the contribution of Deputy John Kelly, an authority on constitutional law. It seemed he was sounding a somewhat similar warning, that this is a very difficult area and we have a mechanism for being able to invoke the authoritative, interpretative ruling of the Supreme Court. It seems to be politically desirable that we would do so. The only reason not to do so is because of this time scale where it is politically desired, and politically aspired to, that the Twelve member states would complete the ratification process by 1 January 1987. Can there be the slightest doubt that other member states would, and must, respect our ratification process if it is part of that process that the Bill in question be referred to our Supreme Court for an authoritative ruling on its constitutionality? Not another member state would dream of criticising us for taking to the fullest extent necessary the ramifications of our sovereign constitutional process. There would be no criticism politically, there could be no criticism politically because it would be recognised that this was a responsible and proper step to take.
It will be clear that these are extremely complex areas — not a black and white situation, it is valid or it is not valid, it is constitutional or it is not constitutional. These are quite innovative areas which require a unique consideration of issues which have never arisen before. This has never been determined in this way before. At present the Government are acting on the advice available to them, others are expressing concern on the basis of their advice and that is the height of it.
What I pointed out in that article — I note that a somewhat similar approach was adopted in the Government's explanatory memorandum — which was not available when I was compiling the article — was that the test of whether the Bill was compatible with our Constitution appeared to be along the following lines and I quote from my article in The Irish Times, 25 November, 1986, as follows:
... are the proposed amendments within the existing framework of the three original treaties, or do they go beyond the "four corners" of those original treaties and/or contain provisions that are inconsistent with our Constitution? If so, a new constitutional amendment to enable Ireland to participate in the same manner in which the Third Amendment of the Constitution Act, 1972, enabled us to participate in the original treaties.
The question requires a determination of whether the amendments as they are contained in Title II to the Single European Act, as summarised in the explanatory memorandum, are within the context and framework of the original treaties, or whether they go beyond.
To some extent a judgment on that is a political judgment rather than a legal one. It depends on what a person's understanding of the commitment to the European Communities is. The commitment is one which is understood by those who are supportive of Ireland's participation in the European Community as being an evolutionary process, one which is a step towards political union. It may take some time but that is the road we embarked on. Others do not necessarily see it in that light. In assessing whether Title II and the specific amendments to the decision-making process, qualified majority, a co-operative role for the Parliament in legislation, how a two-tier court structure will fit in, is to some extent as much a political as a legal judgment.
There is the other part of the argument as to the relevance in this context of the clause in the constitutional amendment of 1972 that it would have a saver that nothing in the Constitution would be invoked to invalidate any measures adopted which were "necessitated by the obligations of membership of the Communities". It will be recalled that the Bill to amend the Constitution, introduced in late 1971, or early 1972, had the wording "not necessitated by the obligations of membership of the Communities but consequent on the obligations of membership of the Communities." The debate on Second Stage in the Dáil at the time showed a concern about the phrase "consequent on", that that was broad enough to open up a kind of political development which we might not envisage, which might lead on to a political commitment which would cause concern. It could lead to a developing European Defence Community provided it was consequent on our membership of the European Communities. It was because of that that the wording was tightened by way of amendment so that nothing in the Constitution could be invoked to invalidate any measures adopted which were necessitated by the obligations of membership of the Community.
Those who are concerned about constitutionality have pointed out that the Single European Act is not necessitated by membership of the European Community and I would accept that it is not necessitated. It is a political decision for us whether we ratify it. We are not legally obliged to ratify it. Ratification is not necessitated by our membership of the European Communities so there is a difficult assessment to be made of what is the scope of constitutional immunity of a kind for measures taken.
In analysing it, it appeals to me that whereas the Single European Act is not necessitated by the obligations of membership if we decide to ratify it in this way and include the components of the Single European Act in Title II as this Bill proposes as part of the original treaties, then it will become part of the domestic law of the State and any steps supsequently taken by Ireland on foot of amendments to the Treaty would be necessitated by the obligations of membership. Is that what was intended by the constitutional amendment? I have expressed a view on it and I stand over that view. However, I would not like to have it put out that this is easy and obvious and that there was no doubt about it. There is doubt among lawyers about it. The general opinion is probably that the Single European Act and the ratification process of the Single European Act is compatible with our constitutional framework and that the approach adopted is one which conforms to the obligations under our Constitution. That would only be a dominant legal view. There would be a strong minority within that. There is a process for ensuring that there would be an authoritative ruling on it.
In my very limited time on this Bill I have found it necessary to focus a little on the issue of constitutionality because that is where I started my own assessment of the Bill. There is a separate issue, which is the development of accountability for what steps are taken under the Single European Act. In this regard I would like the Minister when replying to the debate to give a clear assurance to the House that the provisions of the Single European Act in relation to European political co-operation will be fully covered in the bi-annual report to the Houses of the Oireachtas. That report which is fairly regularly debated in this House covers developments in the European Communities.
Is that the report on the EC?
It is. There is a chapter on European political co-operation. I have found that that chapter is not as detailed or as revealing as some of the other provisions. I would be keen to see that incorporation of European political co-operation in a treaty format would result in a much more explicit and overt accountability. One of the means of doing that would be through a further development of the limited reference which takes place through European political co-operation. This is an area which gives rise to very acute concern in Ireland. I share the concern at a political level in that I take very seriously our commitment to neutrality. It is one of the most positive aspects of our foreign policy. I hope we will grow and develop in our approach to what it means for us as a member state, its potential both within the European Community and in particular in our relations with other countries and, in that regard, especially our relations with developing countries. I would hope to have another opportunity to speak on that in the context of the motion to establish a committee on foreign policy which will be resumed in this House tomorrow evening because I think it is a very relevant time to be considering such a committee.
In regard to the Treaty provisions in Part III of the Single European Act it appears to me, because like anyone else who has not been directly involved in the process it is very difficult to know what goes on at the moment on European political co-operation, that we are dependent on the extent to which either Ministers or civil servants are prepared to comment on what are basically private and very inaccessible sessions. Title III of the Single European Act appears to represent the state of the art of European political co-operation. I can understand why some of the provisions, particularly Article 6, give rise to acute concern. My view is that it is too late for us to disengage from a process which we have been thoroughly involved in since we became a member of the European Community. It is far better for us.