Is cúis onóir domsa bheith arís sa seomra álainn seo agus mé a labhairt arís ós comhair an tSeanaid. Is dócha gur Oisín i ndiaidh na Féinne atá i gceist ach tá áthas orm go bhfuil dream beag do mo shean-cháirdí anseo. Níl na Fianna go léir caillte fós don Oisísín seo.
I am glad to talk to Members about what I consider to be one of the most important problems facing our country, that is, our future in Europe and the future of Europe itself. I am also happy to be here because this occasion represents an opening out of the procedures of the Seanad and an indication that it is not, as many people say moribund and a thing of the past. In adopting this procedure, which it is operating for the first time today, it is showing a flexibility which is and always has been inherent in it. The Seanad has played a critical role at many times in the history of this country, standing above the more factional arguments of political parties.
I am happy to talk to Members about the report prepared by the Institute of European Affairs on the intergovernmental conference. This report is timely because that conference will be formally launched tomorrow in Turin and will shortly settle down to its important work. I would like to speak to you about the nature of the Institute. It is, as is stated on the covers of all its reports, a permanent forum for the identification and development of Irish strategic policy responses to the continuing process of European integration. Its work is based on objective analysis of the problems involved, not of advocacy of any particular view point.
It is a remarkable institution which represents all economic sectors. It has excellent close relationships with the relevant Departments and it draws on people from all walks of life and — it is obvious since I chaired this project — on retired politicians as well as many eminent retired civil servants. In the few years since its foundation, it has filled a void in Irish public life — I use the words "public life" in the broadest sense. It should be a matter of gratification to Members of this House that the inspiration and leadership for that came from Brendan Halligan, a former Member. He also acted as project leader on this occasion.
I will hark back to being a professor by saying this is the report but there is no written or oral examination on it. It is terrible to hold up a report before such a busy group of people. I want to put the report in context and to assure the House that an introductory shorter version will be launched next Tuesday, which I am sure Members will manage to get through.
Why did we spend two years producing such a report? It is part of the process of integration. We were admitted to Europe in 1973 on the second attempt having been vetoed, with our neighbouring island, on an earlier occasion. Critical turning points were the Single European Act, 1987, and the Maastricht Treaty and the associated referenda. We see a massive confusion when we look back to the Maastricht debate. The debate never became concerned with the fundamental issues or thought of the long-term future. Perhaps that was all right then but God help us if we try to do this again because we will find ourselves in a morass.
During the Maastricht process we saw, not only in this country but throughout Europe, what amounted to a revolt — not in the physical sense — by the electorate against what it perceived as an element of secrecy and elitism as regards proposals made and the manner in which they were arrived at. Following the conclusion of that process, the Institute of European Affairs asked how it could prevent this from happening again. We decided there was a duty on us to contribute as far as we could to ensuring that we would be better prepared when we reach the end of this Intergovernmental Conference which is now starting and the debate and decisions which will ensue. In this regard, as with so much else, there is a demand for openness and accountability which must be met. We have no option. Politicians cannot afford to wait until the bugle blows for the referendum campaign. If they follow that course, they will find themselves in considerable difficulty. We must start the job of communication among the policy making and the political community and among the public. There is much ground to be regained.
When the Institute decided something needed to be done, work was being arrived out on a number of projects, including studies on economic and monetary union, social issues in European, enlargement and the problems of security. However, it was decided that there should be an overarching project which would bring in specialised results from these projects and try to put together the essential things — the issues, the options and the implications for Ireland.
It may be of interest to Members to know how that project was carried out. Some 18 contributors, whose names are listed in the report, drafted chapters in early 1994. In 1994 and 1995 a series of different discussions took place. First, there were discussions among the contributors and members of the executive bureau of the project who were guiding the process. As a result, a degree of synthesis took place between the individual chapters. This report is noteworthy in that, unlike other reports by the Institute which have a number of contributors, the authors names do not appear on the chapters which they first wrote. Everything has been synthesised into a unit. They are recognised in the report as a group, not as individuals.
The report was circulated to relevant Departments and there was a free exchange of comment and discussion with them. It was also circulated to the working groups of the other project groups of the Institute of European Affairs and to a number of extremely senior retired civil servants. It was discussed on a number of occasions with the Brussels group of the Institute of European Affairs which had all the inside knowledge as 95 per cent of these people work for the institutions of the European Union.
In May 1995 a draft report was prepared to coincide with the meeting of the Reflection Group which was the first informal discussion at which the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Gay Mitchell, represented this country. Following on that and further discussions, this large report in my hand appeared in December last. It amounts to 262 pages and it is not easy reading. We attempted to produce a report in which all the issues, options and implications could be found. Dermot Scott of the Parliament Office in Dublin has, in his private capacity, produced a shorter report which I received only this morning. It will be launched next Tuesday and arrangements will be made to provide Senators with copies. It is written in a more popular way. Senators will be glad to know it contains a glossary at the back which will help them through some of the jargon. For those who want to contribute to this question of raising the whole standard of debate about Europe, this is an excellent starting point. If Senators are interested in any of the individual topics to greater depth, there are about 25 chapters in the large report. The report is intended as a background reference work.
There is, as I have said before, a need to communicate the essential points to the public and to encourage a rational debate. What is likely to be the attitude of members of the public to it? Possibly, they will shrug their shoulders and say "Europe, again; we have only just finished talking about that". Other matters are more important than Europe. Problems such as unemployment are much more important than the question of European Monetary Union. The questions of drugs and crime are much more important than the question of whether there should be a third pillar to the European Union. I am more worried about how to pay my mortgage next month than as to any of these developments. These are the internal issues that worry people nowadays. What I want to put to the House this afternoon, and what is backed up by the report, is that an essential element in a long-term solution to many of these problems lies in working within a European context and according to principles that are here in the report.
There are also external issue such as incidents which people see on their televisions and which concern them greatly. There is the whole question of these problems which come from the outside but affect our lives. There is the question of the growth of the global economy, the industrial competition from the tigers of the Far East. There is the external factor of all this talk about enlargement. Will our agriculture industry falter when the CAP must take care of Poland in addition to our own counties? There is the question of what we saw happening in Rwanda and in Yugoslavia. I am suggesting that these concerns are all tied in with the question of the future of Europe.
I want to outline what I think will be some of the main topics of such a debate. Essentially, what are the main issues? If you ask yourself that, you can turn to chapter five of this report which contains a summary of ten issues. Let me outline them quickly: "the future of the European Union and its relationship with the rest of the continent, that is, what is Europe when we talk of Europe in the sense of the Union? The balance to be struck between shared sovereignty and the traditional intergovern-mentalism that we have seen in the past, where Governments come together to co-ordinate not to share; the common tasks to be pursued under shared sovereignty and traditional intergovernmentalism. The institutions and the voting procedures through which they are to be achieved; the impact of enlargement on the institutions, common policies and budgetary requirements; the extent to which differences in political will and economic capacity can be reconciled; the relationship between the member states in view of the differences in size, development and national interest; the identification of building blocks for deeper integration or strengthened co-operation; the need to respect subsidiarity, efficiency, transferability, accountability; and, finally, the overriding necessity of securing democratic consent for the already established goal of ever closer union between the peoples of Europe."
When we come to tackle these issues, what must we decide? What are the issues which will be quarrelled about at the Intergovernmental Conference which is about to be launched? On the question of what is the appropriate overall speed, there will be differences. When people were considering the options in preparing their chapters, we took the analogy of a motor car. We asked them to consider the following; what would happen to Europe if things were to go into reverse? What would happen if the whole thing remained in neutral? What would happen if we went into first gear, only consolidated Maastricht and did virtually nothing else; and all the way up to going into overdrive towards the final step of a federal Europe? When we look at all those stages and ask what era we are in at present, if we say "Right, consolidate Maastricht" we are remaining in neutral with the handbrake on. That might seem a very safe position until you realise the car is parked on a steep hill and, in fact, the attempt to remain in neutral with the handbrake on will roll the car to the bottom of the hill eventually. The handbrake will not be able to take the strain forever.
What is the appropriate speed? Here, choices must be made. It seems that the position of this country and, hopefully, the general position which will be reached is not one of going into overdrive towards a federal union, not one of going into reverse as the Government of a neighbouring island may desire, not one of being in neutral but one of starting off, getting into first gear and, as one always does, getting rather quickly into second gear. Somewhere between second and third gear appears to be the appropriate speed from now on.
There is a lot of talk emerging about variable commitment which we must think about carefully. It is an intermediate stage between national action, to which going into reverse might give rise, and the supernational integration of going into overdrive. Here the question of opting out arises. Britain has already opted out of the Maastricht social chapter. Are we going to find ourselves with a mass of opt-outs? This is, indeed, a problem. Can we maintain the Europe we set out to build and have this mass of opt-outs? Other people will say that variable commitment is difficult. What we want is variable speed. Here, again, we must be careful to distinguish what these terms mean. With variable speed, there is a common objective, but we do not all travel towards it at the same time. The variable commitment is saying we are going to stay out and, as we see it now, we are going to stay out for all time.
It would not be possible to talk about the issues in more detail in a short address such as this. However, I want to deal briefly with each of what are called the three pillars. Pillar I is concerned with questions on which we have already achieved substantial agreement and which are ruled by Community competence and largely by qualified majority voting. Is Pillar I relevant to the problems I mentioned earlier which concern so many of our citizens? What can we say to a person whose chief worry is paying the mortgage on his or her house? Will economic and monetary union make any difference to this?
There are many estimates as to what will happen if we join economic and monetary union but it so happens that this is one of the problems that can be alleviated by economic and monetary union. We all know there is a great gap between the rate a bank pays on a deposit and the rate at which it lends money. Do we all realise that the gap in Ireland is several times greater than the gap in Germany? A country, the stability of whose currency is recognised throughout the world market, does not have to pay a risk premium. That risk premium is paid by the ordinary borrower, whether for starting a small industry or paying a mortgage on a house. It has been estimated that economic and monetary union could reduce real interest rates by 2 per cent. That that would mean £50 a month off the average mortgage in this country and normal calculations indicate that it could mean 30,000 jobs.
The problem is what happens if we want to go in and Britain wants to stay out. That is something we must face solidly. We must follow immediately economic policies which will benefit this country, whether we are in the position of being in the economic and monetary union alongside Britain — and that is not ruled out when decision time comes — or in the economic and monetary union with Britain outside. Thanks be to God we are already following such policies. The policies we have been following in recent years are valid in this situation.
There are dangers. Britain outside using a competitive devaluation could be extremely dangerous. We have seen that before and we know it. Senators may have read in yesterday's newspapers about a meeting between the Ministers for Finance of France and Germany. They are already discussing how to control members outside the core group of the economic and monetary union who attempt to gain benefit in such ways. This problem can and will be met. Meanwhile, we must make our own preparations.
There is an area of difficulty for Ireland in a common security policy but we must realise that there are several elements of security policy. We are already committed since 1981 to the political and economic aspects of security. This was then codified in the Single European Act. We must distinguish between the options now being considered. The question of a common foreign and security policy will cover aspects of security policy in regard to peacekeeping, which we have already done under the United Nations, and the question of peacekeeping in the future under the direct auspices of the European Union. This is one step. A common defence policy in which there would be agreement and co-ordination of national policies leading to a common defence policy is a second step. A common defence is a third and critical step. It is not in question at the moment but it would be wrong to say it will never be a matter for decision. This is a complex problem and we must approach it calmly. There is no opportunity to discuss it in detail today.
The third pillar is Justice and Home Affairs and it is a question of co-ordinating policies in these areas. I mentioned people's concerns about drugs and crime. There is already a high degree of co-ordination internally in regard to the drugs trade and crime. What is concerned here is closer co-ordination and a movement forward. There are other areas where there is already co-ordination which tends to be more obstructive than helpful. On the questions of asylum, external borders and the immigration of non-EU citizens, we are already tied to the UK and that is a problem. We broke the link with sterling many years ago because we felt strong enough to do so. We have to decide whether we are going to be bound by British ideas of asylum and what type of immigrant we will allow or by European ideas on asylum and immigrants. Will the type of asylum seeker be decided in Westminister or in concert in Europe?
There is a need for debate and it should be based on real issues and facts. Senators are well placed to play a key role. They are in touch with the public — sometimes they feel they are too much in touch with the public and they would like a little peace. They have access to expert information. I want to say, on behalf of the Institute of European Affairs, that the resources of that Institute are available to the Seanad, to groups of Senators or to individual Senators. If Members of this House are prepared to undertake that task, they will be performing a notable public duty and former Senators, such as myself, will be proud of them.