Private Members' Business. - European Union Enlargement: Motion.

Tuesday, 11 December 2001

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 546 No. 3

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Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe  Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe  I move:

That Dáil Éireann confirms its support for the enlargement of the European Union and calls on the Government to take all appropriate steps as soon as possible to ensure that Ireland does not impede or delay the accession of applicant states to the European Union.

With the approval of the House I propose to share my time with Deputies Durkan and Gormley.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe  Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe  Europe's future is an enlarged, efficient and democratic European [512] Union and Ireland's future is at the centre of this enlarged, efficient and democratic EU. Ireland's full and committed participation in such a European Union will be for the good of Europe and the good of Ireland, yet facing into 2002 Ireland stands in danger of being in a minority of one in the European Union as the only member state that will not have ratified the Treaty of Nice.

Last month the European Commission issued a report which suggests that ten of the 12 applicant countries will have wrapped up negotiations before the end of next year. At that stage Ireland could be staring into the abyss of isolation, solely impeding and certainly delaying the enlargement of the EU. The damage to Ireland of being so isolated would be enormous. Enlargement of the EU is very clearly in our national interest and nearly all of those who opposed the referendum on the Treaty of Nice made it clear they supported enlargement.

Every democratic European state has the right and entitlement to join the EU and enlargement of the EU is, for Ireland and all the other member states, nothing less than an historical, economic, consumer, social, environmental and above all a moral imperative. The EU's member states therefore have the duty to ensure the swiftest possible accession of the applicant states, a task that will finally put an end to the Cold War and the consequent division of Europe.

Enlargement will reunite the peoples of central and eastern Europe with their brethren in today's European Union and will consolidate democracy, human rights and the rule of law as well as strengthening peace and security throughout the entire Continent of Europe, including the Balkans. Without enlargement the EU will not reach its full potential. The new member states will reap the economic benefits of permanent access to the markets of today's EU and Ireland in turn will benefit from permanent and guaranteed access to our goods and services from the markets of the EU, which will have increased by approximately 100 million new customers. Europe's environment will be transformed with the new member states having to comply with exacting EU requirements.

However, it is clear that the context of the debate has changed considerably since last June in that the pace of enlargement negotiations has accelerated for nearly all applicant countries, giving rise to the latest Commission report confirming that ten of them are not just knocking at but rather are halfway through the door to EU membership. What is needed now is leadership to confront the reality of the situation as it is now rather than as it was in the past. That reality involves steps being taken now to ensure Ireland does not impede or delay the accession of applicant states. Already questions are being asked throughout Europe as to where we stand on the issue. It is therefore important that this Parliament should state clearly and unequivocally that [513] it supports enlargement of the EU and that we do not want to impede or delay it.

It is also important that we have a full appreciation of the consequences of rejecting enlargement. It is inconceivable that 1% of the population of the EU would be able to stop the march of history. Undoubtedly, if Ireland is blocking enlargement a creative solution will be found at EU level which will probably provide a mechanism to enable enlargement to go ahead. Ireland would then be faced with unenviable choices and it is important to examine those choices.

The most extreme option would be a complete withdrawal from the EU, though some might say there is no provision in the treaty for such an eventuality. However, de facto of course it would be possible and there is already a precedent for a province or territory administered by a member state to withdraw. Greenland created that precedent but it is not one that is in our interests to follow in any circumstances.

We first made overtures to join Europe in 1961 and it took us 12 years to get in. Those who really want us out of the EU should consider it might take only the next 12 months to achieve that objective, a prospect at which I shudder. I do not expect that to happen but it is one of the options that will confront us if we persist with a position in which we effectively reject enlargement.

Another possibility is that a new legal structure could be created to accommodate the other 14 member states which support enlargement and the 12 applicant countries. Effectively, we would be on the outer margins in a type of shadow or shell EU without power or influence of any kind on further developments in the EU. We should not underestimate the legal ingenuity of the EU in coming up with creative ideas to resolve obstacles in the way of political imperatives – enlargement is a political imperative for most member states and of course for the applicant countries.

Schengen is an example of a creative solution. The arrangements for the euro on 1 January could also be so considered in that it is going ahead without the UK, Denmark and Sweden. Being in a Euro-shell away from the centre holds no attractions for me and this view would be shared throughout the country. While we would have access to the internal market, we would have virtually no influence and little claim on EU funding whether it is the CAP or regional, social or cohesion funds. To coin a phrase, we would undoubtedly lose power, money and influence.

If we support enlargement, as the people of Ireland do, it is essential that we learn lessons from the Treaty of Nice referendum. Those lessons have not been learned by the Government, as it has failed to put forward proposals of any kind for debate or consideration as to the way forward. Whether this arises from inertia, apathy, wanting to avoid the issue until after the election or just absence of leadership is not clear.

The consequences of further delay are clear, however. If one believes it is necessary to learn lessons from the failure of the referendum and [514] that it is necessary to put in place measures before this issue is put before the people again, we must use the time available. However, we need proposals to put in place such measures.

In that regard, I have put forward proposals on behalf of Fine Gael. I have made it clear that enlargement of the European Union can best be achieved through the adoption of the Nice treaty by all 15 EU members. Others may put forward a different approach and I am particularly anxious to hear the Government's proposals. It is absolutely critical that we learn from the electorate's rejection of the Nice treaty last June, which stemmed from concerns about military neutrality and our perceived remoteness from the European Union. It is easy to argue that these issues do not arise in the Nice treaty, but we have to confront the perceptions of the public. It is important that six issues are addressed before the Nice treaty is the subject of a further referendum. Action is needed from the Government, as all it has done so far is reflect, examine, analyse and delay. The Government has achieved paralysis by analysis. I wish to address some of the six points in my party's consultation document, which has been published to inspire discussion.

An EU declaration confirming that nothing in the Nice treaty obliges Ireland to introduce conscription or to be involved in a European army is needed. It may be argued that such a declaration is unnecessary, but many people expressed concerns about military matters during the referendum campaign. The results of a questionnaire which was distributed with my consultation document show that people are worried about such matters. It is important that I make clear that Ireland is not and cannot be neutral in the war against international terrorism, ethnic cleansing and other gross violations of human rights. The Fine Gael Party favours open involvement in discussions on peace and security in the European Union. Military neutrality is not compromised if we ensure that decisions on participation in military operations are made by our sovereign Government and Parliament. It may be necessary to spell out that we intend to preserve sovereignty as I have no doubt that scare stories about Ireland participating in foreign missions and introducing conscription against the will of the people led to great confusion during the referendum campaign.

The European Union declaration to which I referred must specifically affirm that nothing in the Nice treaty obliges Ireland to join a European army or to introduce conscription. It must be made absolutely clear that future participation by the Defence Forces in missions under the European flag, for example, as part of the Rapid Reaction Force, will be subject to the exclusive consent of Dáil Éireann and the Government. Any such declaration must be underpinned by domestic legislation. I appreciate that it takes time to deal with these issues, but to ignore them will get us nowhere. I do not suggest that we abandon military neutrality by joining NATO or any [515] organisation with a mutual defence pact, but a comprehensive White Paper should be produced to address the issue of military neutrality in the new Europe and in an uncertain world.

I am not sure there is a huge difference between the Government and Fine Gael on this matter, but I should make one point clear. During the campaign on the Nice treaty referendum, the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs emphasised that we will not take part in a military mission that does not have the approval of the UN Security Council. I do not agree that Russia or China should have a veto on Irish operations. Military neutrality means that a sovereign decision can be made by the Irish Parliament and Government.

A range of issues needs to be dealt with at home. I am glad the chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Affairs, Deputy Durkan, is here tonight. I propose an enormous increase in powers for the committee. It should have sufficient resources to enable it to examine, track and report on all policy and legislative proposals made by the European Commission. The committee should have the power to vet nominees to European institutions, such as the Commission, the European Court of Auditors and the European Investment Bank. Such nominees should not be allowed to take up posts in European institutions without having been approved by the Joint Committee on European Affairs. The committee's reports should be regularly debated in this House.

A copy of my document, which contains the six-point plan, is available in the Oireachtas Library and I am willing to circulate it to interested parties. One of the proposals in the document is that much greater powers be given to the Seanad. I suggest that representatives of the European Commission and Council be allowed to regularly attend the other House to report on European legislative proposals and policies. Irish members of the European Parliament and Deputies who are members of the committee on European affairs should be able to attend Seanad debates and hearings on European matters. I see the Seanad as a bridgehead to Europe.

I strongly propose the appointment of a Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs, attached to the Departments of Foreign Affairs and the Taoiseach. Such a Minister of State would be allowed to attend Cabinet meetings and would be responsible for co-ordinating Government and departmental policy in the area of European affairs. My consultation document, currently under consideration by members of the Fine Gael Party, proposes a major review of the functions of the Referendum Commission. My colleagues have responded to a questionnaire which I submitted with the document and the results of the survey will be published shortly. Members of my party generally support the [516] approach suggested in the consultation document.

Fine Gael has laid out its stall on these issues. The proposals were criticised as prescriptive, but they are not meant to be so. They are included in a memorandum which is intended to facilitate consultation and discussion. Fine Gael has demonstrated its concern about European issues by setting out specific proposals which should be debated. I call on the Government to stir itself out of its inertia and apathy. It should either accept the Fine Gael proposals, in whole or in part, or put forward an alternative approach. Time is not on our side and certain measures, which will take time to arrange, are necessary before we go back to the people. We need to use our time while it is still available.

I am not sure what the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs will say at the Laeken summit this weekend. Will our European colleagues be given an outline of preparations for a second Nice treaty referendum, including additional measures to be taken before the poll? Will the Taoiseach continue to pretend that he is tackling the problem by reflection, examination and analysis? I am certain Ireland's political credit in Europe will be further diminished if the Taoiseach persists in the latter approach.

I note that Deputy Ó Caoláin intends to table an amendment to my motion. I am not sure whether it is in order to refer to the amendment, but the proposal it outlines amounts to a prescription for withdrawal from the European Union. I am glad that Sinn Féin stands for military neutrality and I presume it is now prepared to condemn those who take arms, other than by the sovereign decision of the Government. I am not sure it is worth dwelling on Deputy Ó Caoláin's amendment, as it is clear that Irish people support enlargement of the European Union. The Government needs to put forward proposals to ensure that we achieve that objective.

Mr. Durkan: Information on Bernard Durkan  Zoom on Bernard Durkan  I am honoured to have the opportunity to contribute to this debate and to emphasise the points made by Deputy Jim O'Keeffe. The eyes of Europe and, in many ways, the eyes of the world are on Ireland in an effort to determine what we propose to do about the Treaty of Nice. The treaty was rejected by the people and, rightly or wrongly, the Government established a forum which is in session. There is a general opinion, which I share, that the forum is not achieving the intended results. However, without doubt the applicant countries throughout Europe are deeply concerned as to what Ireland is doing to address the issues raised in the Treaty of Nice and rejected by the people.

We should be clear that we cannot afford to proceed as if nothing happened and on the basis that things will be all right next time if we do nothing in the meantime. We cannot afford to assume that the people will change their minds because they know a little more about the issues. There is a grave danger that the reverse might [517] happen and that, having learned more about the issues, the people might vote in a way which would not be advantageous to Ireland.

Two issues present themselves as we go forward, first, whether the Government will have to intervene in the debate with our European colleagues and set out certain parameters within which it might be possible for Ireland to proceed having regard to the people's decision. There is no sense in suggesting that, with a bit of luck, the people will give a different decision next time. Such an approach would be dangerous. I share the opinion that the danger is that we would relax, go back to the people and get a worse decision. Where will we be then?

The second problem is the short amount of time available. There will be an election and various referenda within the coming year. The possibility of ratifying the treaty by this time next year is difficult at best and slim at worst. Such a scenario would create a more serious problem. The question being asked throughout Europe is whether Ireland, as a former leading member of the EU, is serious about European enlargement and the European project in general. The only thing we have to go on at this stage is the decision of the people in the referendum and we will have to come up with something else.

The kind of declaration referred to should be worked on as a matter of extreme urgency with a view to identifying the areas within which the Government can present to the European Presidency what it sees as the means whereby we will at least have a fighting chance when we go back to the people. I say so notwithstanding the McKenna judgment and the other issues involved. There are issues which we can address and do something about in the meantime.

The Minister, Deputy Cowen, is deeply committed to the European project as are his officials and the Department. However, I am not sure that all members of the Government and all its backbenchers are as deeply committed to the project as the Minister. That is unfair to the Minister, to this country and to the EU.

What are we to do? We must consider a declaration which, I hope, will give some indication as to the parameters within which the next Intergovernmental Conference in 2004 is likely to emerge. In other words, we must round off some of the concerns expressed during the recent debate and encompass them in the next Intergovernmental Conference in such a way as to reassure those concerned and ourselves that there is nothing with which we are unhappy. Such a process can, and should, be undertaken at Laeken.

One week ago at a meeting in Brussels organised by the EU Presidency, the European affairs committees of the various member states adopted a document for submission to Laeken which contained no reference to the fact that one country had rejected the Nice treaty in a referendum. I could not understand this omission which I pointed out.

[518] I wish to refer to an issue that is important to the whole question of European enlargement and to the future of Europe. This issue will be referred to by those writing the history of Europe in 50 or 60 years' time. Up to 1990 or 1991 there was a vision of what Europe should, and could, be and the reasons it had to be that way. Those reasons were the Cold War, the events of the Second World War and the need to put matters together in such a way that Europe would be an entity going in the same direction as opposed to its member states fighting with each other. These factors remained constant until 1990 and 1991.

However, the situation has changed since and no one seems to know what comprises the vision of Europe. Almost every European country has its own vision in this regard. During the course of the debate on the Nice treaty scarcely a day went by without some leading European politician making a speech which contradicted one made the day before, a process which was not helpful to the debate taking place in this country. In this day of modern technology, surely it is possible to get people to at least be in the same choral society, if not singing from the same hymn sheet. If the Minister can do something at Laeken to convince our colleagues of this fact he will have done a great day's work which will bear rich fruit in the foreseeable future. If a vision of Europe is not identified, the vision will change and become flexible with every year which passes, depending on the political situation in any part of the EU. Such a scenario might suit some, but it would not suit Ireland. That is the problem.

Deputy Jim O'Keeffe referred to the possible outcomes. What options are available if the worst happens and we are unable to ratify the Treaty of Nice? Such a scenario would be a disaster for this country and for the Union as we would become second class citizens within the EU. Such circumstances would severely impact on everything for which the EU stands and 50 or 60 years of hard work in putting together a cohesive Europe could be set aside. Some suggest there is no possibility of such an outcome. However, one would not have been believed if one suggested before the referendum that it could be defeated. No one would have believed such a prediction until the last three or four days before polling. Some of us had a different view.

All Members would support the view that it is important for this country that we maintain the major role we have played in Europe to date. We have played a major role in stabilising Europe and we have a large role to play in the future with all other small member states and the applicant countries. If we fail to move the agenda forward and be seen to be active, we will fail the Union. It is not beyond us to address this issue and move the debate on by making proposals to our European colleagues.

There will be no salvation for Ireland or any small country if we occupy the lower tier in a two-tier Europe. Let there be no doubt that in such a scenario, small countries are pushed to one side [519] and control remains in the hands of the larger states. A serious price will be paid in the event of a two-speed or two-tier Europe which some may contemplate. We should recall recent debates regarding opposition to global economies and so on. We in this country know better than most what it is like to be dependent on one neighbour or trading partner, particularly when that partner is a stronger and more powerful one.

I support the motion. It is good that we are having this debate. We do not debate European matters enough, despite the fact that in the future Europe will affect our lives to a much greater extent than in the past. I hope the Minister will be able to influence the situation in Laeken in a way which will be positive and constructive and will give hope to the applicant countries as well as to the existing members of the European Union.

Mr. Gormley: Information on John Gormley  Zoom on John Gormley  I thank my Fine Gael colleagues for sharing their time with me.

I have no difficulty in supporting the Fine Gael motion. Neither do I have difficulty in supporting the amendment proposed by Deputy Ó Caoláin. The Green Party made it clear throughout the Nice treaty campaign that we supported enlargement. We repeated that declaration of support over and over again throughout the campaign. Of course, many people were opposed to enlargement. It was clear from the result of the referendum and from anecdotal and empirical evidence that people were concerned about the fact that we were about to become net contributors to the European Union. That is an indication of a certain selfishness but it would be foolhardy not to recognise this as a factor in the defeat of the Nice treaty.

How do we proceed to achieve enlargement without the Nice treaty? It is important that we clarify the Government's position. We have heard over and over again that the Government has not made up its mind with regard to Nice II. Yet, when I speak to my colleagues in Germany and elsewhere they make it clear that the Irish Government has made a decision to hold a second referendum. The Taoiseach has said the Government will have to revisit the subject. How does one revisit this subject if not through a new referendum? I would like clarification on that subject this evening.

The pieces of the jigsaw have been put in place. As the McKenna judgment unravels we see that the Government parties and others have no time for the Referendum Commission and it looks as if it is to be dealt a severe blow. Blame has been placed on the commission for the defeat of the referendum. Is it not curious that people dislike the idea of giving the public impartial information? I supported the Government's Referendum Commission legislation and voted with [520] the Government on that occasion because I believed the commission was a very good idea.

The problem with the commission was that it was not given sufficient time. It was recommended that it be given a lead-in time of approximately 90 days, but that was not done. People in the Referendum Commission told me at the time of the Nice treaty campaign that there was total chaos in the commission, as a great amount of information had to be published in the required format. Other formats could have been used if the commission had been given time. It is clear that the commission is to be shelved and this is regrettable. This sends out a signal to ordinary people that the Government does not really want them to know the truth. When it comes to Nice II, I will have no hesitation in telling people the Government did not want them to have the information about the treaty.

A number of Members have referred to the idea of a two-speed Europe, with the bigger states taking control. They are right and that is precisely what I said during the referendum campaign. What is the Nice treaty about? It is not just about enlargement. There is no such thing as a free lunch. In the Nice treaty the bigger states said yes to enlargement but they wanted something in return. What they got was the reweighting of the votes on the Council of Ministers, enhanced co-operation, the removal of vetoes, the incorporation of the Western European Union into the European Union and the establishment of the military and security committee.

People like Mr. Noel Dorr fought very valiantly at the time of the Amsterdam treaty to stop enhanced co-operation but it remained on the agenda. This will lead to a two-tier Europe. Deputy Durkan says he wants to avoid such a development but if we go ahead with the Nice treaty that is what we will get.

Can enlargement be achieved in the absence of Nice? Following the referendum, Mr. Prodi visited Ireland and confirmed the stance of those of us who said enlargement can go ahead. He was clear about that point. Mr. Verheugen, the Commissioner for enlargement said the same thing, although he subsequently changed his opinion. In a recent article in The Irish Times Mr. Ben Tonra said enlargement could go ahead. It was not clear what Mr. Tonra had in mind and I would be interested to hear his opinion regarding the reweighting of votes on the Council of Ministers.

Deputy Durkan expressed the opinion that a declaration would solve our difficulty. The Green Party is not seeking a declaration. We want a protocol. We have been told over and over again that not an iota of the treaty can be changed and, therefore, a protocol is not possible. Yet, when we were discussing the abortion referendum, in answer to a question on the Maastricht protocol, the Taoiseach told the House that there was no problem with regard to protocols because “they [521] can be nodded through”. If a protocol can be nodded through that easily, surely one can be nodded through in relation to the Nice treaty. Perhaps the Minister will clarify the matter this evening.

The Taoiseach and Ministers will attend the Laeken summit next week and no doubt they will promise their European colleagues that they will hold a second referendum and that everything will be fine. This sends a message to the Irish people that we can have our little bit of democracy and vote as many times as we like but we must keep voting until we give the right answer. Surely this gives a clear message about the democratic deficit. The message is one of arrogance and contempt.

In last Sunday's edition of The Sunday Tribune Mr. Stephen Collins wrote about the attitude of anti-Nice campaigners who maintain there are no negative consequences for the country in voting “No” again because the rest of the EU will be legally bound by that decision. Of course, that is legally the case. Mr. Collins goes on to say: “Unfortunately this cloudcuckooland approach to politics will have devastating consequences for Ireland if a majority of those who vote are foolish enough to believe it for a second time.” It is Mr. Collins's opinion that we supporters of the No to Nice campaign are in cloudcuckooland. It is incredibly arrogant to think that those of us who believe in the legal way of doing things are living in cloudcuckooland. He goes on: “Technically they are right but practically they are hopelessly wrong.”

I am in this House because I believe in legality and that there is a right way of doing things. One cannot say it is all very well to pass laws but that they do not really matter. That sort of approach has brought us the many recent tribunals but, nevertheless, it will be endorsed by certain journalists and probably by the entire political establishment. Europe is at a crossroads and we have an opportunity to re-examine the entire project and ask if we want a federalist or an inter-governmental approach. I am unashamedly pro-European. If it is Boston versus Berlin, I choose Berlin. My approach is also unashamedly inter-governmental. I do not want a federal Europe and if we go down that road, more and more people will be alienated from the European project. I say “yes” to enlargement, but “no” to Nice.

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Cowen): Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  I wish to share my time with Deputy Conor Lenihan.

I affirm the Government's broad support for the thrust of the motion and thank Fine Gael for tabling it. It offers this House a worthwhile opportunity to address an issue of fundamental importance for Ireland and for Europe. In particular, I hope that everyone in Dáil Éireann is [522] prepared to confirm their support for the enlargement of the European Union and to do all they can to ensure that Ireland does not impede or delay the accession of applicant states.

I assure the House that the Government is taking all appropriate steps within its power to ensure that enlargement can proceed on schedule. However, it is important to realise that this is an issue which should rightly concern not just the Government, but everyone in Ireland, inside and outside the Oireachtas, who is committed to the development of the European Union and to achieving its goals of peace, stability and prosperity in Europe. Those aspirations are shared widely in this House, including by the Fine Gael Party which has an honourable tradition of support for Ireland's national interest in Europe, irrespective of the political complexion of the Government of the day. It is good that it has today demonstrated its willingness to participate in the national debate.

It is also the case that the endorsement of the Treaty of Nice changes needed to bring enlargement about is ultimately a matter for the people. It is they, and not us, whom we need to convince to demonstrate their support for enlargement by endorsing the institutional changes required for it. For that reason I query any assumption implicit in the phrase “as soon as possible”, that it is somehow possible or desirable for the Government to set or adhere to a timetable which does not reflect and respect the serious public concerns about the Union which were revealed in last June's referendum.

However, the fact that the Government is continuing to consider how best to address these concerns, in particular as they are being explored within the National Forum on Europe, must not be taken as implying any ambivalence or hesitation on fundamentals. It is the clear and united position of the Government that enlargement must proceed on schedule and that this requires the ratification of the Treaty of Nice by all member states of the European Union, including Ireland.

The enlargement issue has continued to develop and firm up since the referendum. This time next year should see the end of negotiations for the accession of up to ten new members of the EU. The highest political priority is being given, both by the members states and by the candidate countries, to making it happen. Negotiations are continuing in line with the Commission's road map strategy and the majority of candidate countries are proceeding well in their preparations for EU membership. This assessment is endorsed by the Commission in its strategy paper on the enlargement process, published last month. The Commission paper confirms that it should be possible to complete negotiations by the end of 2002 for those candidates that are ready and makes clear that a “big bang” entry of [523] ten new members together is highly probable. The objective set by the European Council in June in Gothenburg, that they should be able to participate as members in the European Parliament elections of June 2004, remains achievable.

These views are shared by the Governments of all the EU member states. At the General Affairs Council yesterday we recorded this agreement in a set of conclusions which will be endorsed by heads of state and Government at the Laeken European Council on Friday and Saturday. The tempo of the accession negotiations has undoubtedly increased during this year. We have now reached a point where substantive and, at times, difficult issues are being addressed and solved in the negotiations and real progress is being achieved. This was confirmed yesterday and today in Brussels at a meeting of the accession conferences, where both member states and candidate countries agreed to finish discussions on several sensitive chapters or policy areas.

An important conclusion of the Commission strategy paper is that the financial perspectives agreed in Berlin in 1999, which provide the framework for the financial aspects of enlargement, are adequate to accommodate the accession of up to ten new member states. Ireland welcomes this clear statement; it concurs with our own estimation that for the purposes of enlargement there is no need to re-negotiate such fundamental agreements. The accession process is based on the principle of differentiation, whereby each candidate proceeds towards accession according to its own merits and level of preparedness. The speed with which they have adapted in recent times to the demands of EU membership is a tribute to their political leaders across the spectrum and a tribute to their people, who must carry through the necessary changes.

For this year there have been no major problems or requests from the candidate countries to which Ireland cannot agree. We do not underestimate the very difficult political choices these countries have to make. Ireland judges each transition request by the candidates on its merits, with an open mind and a full understanding that candidates, in certain areas, have particular needs which must be taken into account in a spirit of fairness and flexibility. However, in being sensitive to the specific short-term adjustment needs of individual candidates, Ireland, like all other member states, will want to be satisfied that any transitions granted to candidates do not distort the functioning of the Single Market, a corner stone of the EU.

Enlargement is, therefore, a profoundly important development not just in the history of the European Union, but in the history of Europe. It is in Ireland's economic interests, including in the areas of trade, investment and agriculture, as was made clear in the two forum [524] sessions devoted to those topics. It is in Ireland's political interests to see a stable Europe and a European Union in which small states form a clear majority. There is, rightly, a strong consensus in this House and more widely that we should do all we can to support it and bring it about.

We are doing so in a number of ways. Ireland is playing an active and positive role in the formulation of the Union's detailed positions in the continuing negotiations. Through the so-called “twinning” scheme, a number of Irish officials are, or have been, seconded to work in candidate country administrations offering practical advice based on our own experience of adaptation to the demands of membership. We offer financial support to their officials to come to Ireland to take part in courses and seminars. We are expanding our network of diplomatic missions in the candidate countries, with the recent opening of embassies in Cyprus, Estonia, Slovakia and Slovenia supplementing those in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland. This means that we are much better placed than before to interact with them on an informed and intensive basis. My Department and I also value our useful dialogue with the embassies of the candidate countries in Dublin.

However, the most critical and significant thing we have to do, with our existing partners in the EU, is to make the institutional changes necessary for enlargement. The necessity that further treaty change takes place before enlargement was recognised in the Treaty of Amsterdam. Unfortunately, during the Treaty of Nice referendum campaign, and since, the contents of the Amsterdam treaty and specifically its protocol on enlargement have been repeatedly misrepresented. It was suggested that up to five new member states could join without treaty change. This is not what the protocol said. It envisaged some treaty change taking place before any new member joined. It is untrue that five new members could have joined on an unchanged basis. The protocol also stipulated that at least one year before membership of the Union exceeded 20, there would be a comprehensive review of the treaty's institutional provisions. I do not know how people can, in good faith, read that deadline for further change as allowing enlargement to proceed without change.

It is almost certain that many more than five new members will join at or around the same time. While this was apparent even before the referendum, the situation has crystallised further since then, as set out in the Commission's report last month. Even if the minimalist interpretation of the Amsterdam protocol was true, which it is not, it has ceased to be relevant. I note that none of those who have sought to rely on it has taken the logical step of selecting which five of the applicants they would choose to admit and which [525] they would tell to wait outside for some indefinite period.

In the run-up to the launch of last year's intergovernmental conference, which led to the negotiation of the Treaty of Nice, the intentions of the EU and the purpose of the Intergovernmental Conference could not have been clearer. The Cologne European Council of June 1999 decided that:

In order to ensure that the European Union's institutions can continue to work efficiently after enlargement, the European Council confirms its intention of convening a Conference.early in 2000 to resolve the institutional issues left open in Amsterdam that need to be settled before enlargement.

Six months later in Helsinki it was declared that:

The Union has made a firm political commitment to make every effort to complete the Intergovernmental Conference on institutional reform by December 2000, to be followed by ratification. After ratification of the results of that Conference the Union should be in a position to welcome new Member States from the end of 2002.

It has, therefore, been the consistent and settled view of the European Union for over four years that further institutional changes are required for enlargement to proceed. Those institutional changes were negotiated during 2000. The marathon final negotiating session, at the longest European Council ever, finished exactly one year ago today. The Treaty of Nice is the final outcome of the negotiations and provides the legal framework within which the EU is pursuing the enlargement negotiations. To put it bluntly, the Treaty of Nice is necessary for enlargement. If it does not enter into force, the accession process will be thrown into chaos and for it to enter into force it must be ratified by all 15 member states, including Ireland. For us not to ratify would indeed be, in the words of the motion before the House this evening, to impede or delay the accession of applicant states to the European Union. I am sure that there is no wish in this House, or more widely in the country, for this to happen. We have been assured by the great majority of those who have opposed the Treaty of Nice that they do not oppose enlargement. I do not doubt their sincerity but I do doubt their logic because the inevitable consequence of a failure to ratify Nice would be to impede and delay enlargement.

There is simply no question that our partners are prepared to abandon the Nice treaty and proceed in some other way. Nice represents the results of a long and difficult year of negotiation. There are numerous careful and delicate balances within it and, being aware as I am of the firmness of the positions held round the table, there is no [526] reason to believe that any different outcome either was or would be available. At the General Affairs Council on 11 June, just after our referendum, Ministers, while expressing their readiness to help Ireland find a way forward, excluded any reopening of the text signed in Nice. They said that the ratification process will continue on the basis of this text and in accordance with the agreed timetable. This was confirmed by the European Council at Gothenburg.

That is the situation in which we now find ourselves. On the one hand, there is the Nice treaty which is necessary for enlargement and to which the European Union as a whole is committed. I should add that the applicant countries themselves strongly support the ratification of Nice on schedule. On the other hand, there is the fact that the referendum enabling Ireland to ratify the treaty was defeated.

This places not just the Government but Ireland as a whole in an unprecedentedly difficult position. In such a situation, the wisest course has to be to take the time to reflect carefully on the situation, to assess its causes and its meaning and to work out calmly and methodically how to move ahead. That is precisely what the Government has been doing. In so doing, we have been criticised on both sides.

Many of those who oppose Nice have accused the Government of failing to represent the views and interests of the Irish people. They say that we have been apologising for the referendum result. That is false. We have said that, as the Government which negotiated Nice and being committed to the European Union and to enlargement, we regret the result – as we do, but we have apologised to nobody. The sovereign right of the Irish people to exercise their own choice has never been questioned either by the Government or by our partners – as Prime Minister Verhofstadt said again last week. Some of our critics argue that, immediately after the referendum, we should simply have gone to our partners and told them, and by extension the applicant countries, to forget about Nice, that it was dead. What they think would have happened then is not clear. Some suggest that our partners would have simply accepted that no treaty changes were possible and that enlargement could proceed regardless. Others say that it should have been possible to negotiate some radically different treaty – even if they omit to explain how they would persuade other member states to do so or what dramatically new elements could have been agreed.

Frankly, this line of argument is quite unrealistic. It holds out prospects which are simply illusory and without any foundation. It would have us dictate to the other 14 member states what they should seek to do. Just as others did not seek to dictate to us, we are not in any position to ask other member states to stop their pro[527] cedures for the national ratification of a treaty which they negotiated, agreed to and support. Just as I do not apologise for what the Irish people said, neither do I apologise to anyone for seeking to pursue our national interest in remaining at the heart of the European Union and in enlargement. For us to block enlargement through a failure to ratify Nice would have potentially catastrophic consequences for our situation within the Union.

However, while our partners have ruled out any changes to the text of the treaty as negotiated – just as happened after Denmark initially rejected the Treaty of Maastricht and indeed when General de Gaulle himself tried to change the Treaty of Rome in the 1960s – they have indicated their willingness to assist us in whatever way possible. It may be that there are aspects of the Treaty of Nice, or of the development of the Union generally, on which reassurances could be useful. This possibility is one which the Government is bearing in mind, including as we monitor the debate in the National Forum on Europe and elsewhere.

Just as we could not have simply turned to our partners after 7 June and instructed them to throw the Treaty of Nice in the rubbish bin, it would equally have been wrong and counterproductive – and ultimately, in practical terms, impossible – for us to have proceeded as if nothing significant had happened. For the truth is that what happened was a surprise and a shock – to the Government, to others on the “yes” side, and indeed, I believe, to some on the “no” side. It was certainly a grave disappointment to the other member states and to the applicant countries, so many of which looked to Ireland as a role model for small country success in the European Union. For many, it was this last aspect which was most extraordinary. Ireland is recognised throughout Europe as having made outstanding use of the opportunities offered to us by EU membership. In surveys, our people are consistently among the most positive in their assessment of the benefits of membership. These surveys also suggest a strong level of support for enlargement. For many, it was as if Europe's poster child had become the prodigal son.

In that situation, it was and remains essential to analyse what happened, to explore its immediate and deeper causes and to consider how to address the concerns which have been identified. It is more important to do things right than to do them quickly, bearing in mind that the deadline for ratification of Nice is the end of next year.

In the immediate aftermath of the vote, one thing upon which all commentators agreed was that there were multiple reasons for the “no” vote, and in many cases had little or nothing to do with enlargement or the Treaty of Nice itself. Another critical factor was, of course, the disap[528] pointingly poor turnout. These initial impressions were broadly confirmed by the European Commission survey which appeared at the end of October. It revealed alarmingly high levels of public apathy and confusion about the treaty and about the European Union generally, which underlay both the abstention rate and the “no” vote. While this factor was statistically the most significant, specific fears were expressed about issues such as the alleged loss of national sovereignty, perceived threats to our policy of military neutrality and the power of large member states as against small. It was also apparent from the survey, as from the referendum itself, that most people had found the campaign lacklustre, uninspiring and uninformative. I am by the way amused, but not surprised, that Patricia McKenna, MEP, is so strongly opposed to any attempts to amend the legislation governing the Referendum Commission so as to improve the quality of debate and to enable the public to be better informed.

Given that such a range of issues contributed to the outcome of the referendum, what is needed in response is a comprehensive and multi-faceted approach which takes the time needed to work through the problems. The Government has adopted such an approach. The Nice treaty is, in itself, comparatively modest and insignificant in its content, though its purpose, enlargement, is deeply important. It has triggered a debate on the far wider question of Ireland in Europe. That is a debate which the Government is happy to have, and one we are confident which we, and others who are committed to Ireland's playing its full part in the Union, can and will win.

Even before the referendum, it had become clear that, just as the European Union itself is changing, so is Ireland's place within it. The Union itself has successively, over a series of treaties, broadened out the scope of its activities and concerns from the original socio-economic core. Ireland has gone from being one of the poorest and least developed members of the Union to one of the wealthiest and most economically dynamic. In any circumstances, this would make it necessary to reflect on our priorities and objectives within the Union. The Government had intended, even before the referendum, to establish a forum for this purpose. We saw that this would dovetail well with the broader future of Europe debate which is taking place within the Union, the next stage of which will be launched at the Laeken European Council this weekend.

I am happy to commend the forum for its work to date and to pay tribute to its participants and the skill, wisdom and dedication of its chairman, Senator Maurice Hayes, and its secretariat. I believe the forum is succeeding in its objective of fostering a broadly based and inclusive debate on the place of Ireland in an enlarging Union. The [529] focus of the initial phase of its work has been on enlargement and in the short space of time it has been meeting, it has explored the issues with considerable thoroughness. The forum has heard from a number of candidate country representatives, and from experts on sectoral aspects such as agriculture, trade and investment, the environment and social policy. It has heard from those who support enlargement and the Union and from those who oppose both. Its structure has allowed parties and groupings represented in the Oireachtas to have their say and has also involved, through the special observer pillar, the social partners and other groups with a particular interest in EU matters. In the new year it will be travelling widely throughout the country building on last week's session in Cork.

Within the forum, and I understand the elements of this may usefully be drawn out, there has indeed been, as the Government would have hoped, a substantial consensus on the importance and desirability of enlargement. It would be valuable to have that message clearly underlined, in particular outside Ireland.

My one regret is that media coverage of the forum has so far not been equal to the importance of the issues it is addressing and the substance of the contribution it is making. I know, as do all of us in this House, that the dumbing down of the coverage of politics and public affairs is a wider problem, but I find it irritating that very often those who lecture us on the inadequacy of political debate themselves constitute a large part of the problem by failing to report on substantive discussion when it does take place.

That said, the value of the process so far has been two-fold. First, as indicated earlier, it has, in a systematic way, underscored the importance of enlargement and its potential benefits for Ireland while placing the challenges and potential risks in their proper context. I said to them at the time that this was not so, that the Government wanted open debate, that we were prepared, even at our own disadvantage, to skew the structure and procedures of the forum towards smaller groups and parties and that we were not interested in trying to establish an artificial consensus where none was possible. I said we would appoint a chairman who would be scrupulously fair.

Our good faith and sincerity have now been clearly demonstrated by how the forum has evolved and I hope that this will be acknowledged. At times I have heard it suggested that we have gone too far to appease the “no” side and that we have given it a privileged and undeserved platform from which to sustain its attack on the Union. My response to that is two-fold. First, whether we like it or not, more than half of those who voted in the referendum, albeit in a low turn-out, voted “no”. It may well be that many of them do not necessarily share the views of those most active [530] on the “no” side, whose direct mandates tend to be very limited. However, there is no point in pretending that the “no” vote did not happen or that it does not highlight real issues.

Second, there is a real debate under way and the way to win it is to take part in it actively and constructively, to make one's arguments as cogently as possible, and to refute those of one's opponents. That is what my colleagues and I are trying to do with others in the forum. We are arguing that enlargement is good for Ireland and for Europe and that committed membership of the EU will continue to be firmly in Ireland's economic and social interests into the future, just as everyone knows it has been so far. We are arguing that pooling sovereignty within the Union enhances Ireland's influence over the turbulent external environment in which it must operate and that we need European co-operation against crime through measures such as the European arrest warrant, which is to be debated in this House tomorrow. We are also arguing that small states have much more say within the EU than they would outside it, and that their role is protected by the treaties.

We are also addressing our opponents' untruths and exaggerations about the Treaty of Nice and about the Union. We are showing that the changes to be made by the Nice treaty are of a modest character and do not alter the fact that our relative position in the institutions will continue to be greatly in advance of what our population size alone would suggest. We are pointing out the facts about the Union's developing crisis management and humanitarian capacities and exploding the myths about a European army.

The EU is continuing to develop, with Ireland's support, its common foreign and security policy as a means of playing a greater role for peace, stability and security in Europe and in the wider world. A core element of this work is the framing of a security and defence policy to equip the Union to undertake humanitarian aid, conflict prevention and crisis management tasks as provided for in the Maastricht and Amsterdam treaties. Against this background, Ireland is fully committed to the European security and defence policy and is playing an active role in the development of both its civilian and military aspects. In doing so, Ireland has the opportunity to play a constructive role in promoting peace and stability. If we have learnt anything from the horrific events of 11 September, it is the critical importance of co-operating to enhance the prospects for peace.

Our participation in European security and defence policy is in the full knowledge that it is consistent with Ireland's excellent record in UN peacekeeping. It is also fully in keeping with our foreign policy principles and objectives and takes account of the changing and more complex nature of peacekeeping. Involvement does not entail [531] any mutual defence commitment and does not affect our position as a non-member of a military alliance. We are satisfied with developments in the security and defence area during the Belgian Presidency. The progress made, in both the civilian and military spheres, will be outlined in the presidency's report to the Laeken European Council.

My understanding is that Fine Gael shares this positive approach to Europe. The party needs to think again about its refusal to take its seats in the forum. While it will calculate where its own political interest lies, it is strange to see Fine Gael adopting an abstentionist posture. It would be in the broader national interest for the party to bring its views and opinions on these issues to the pro-European side in the forum. Fine Gael's perspective would strengthen the hands of all of us who wish to see the Nice treaty ratified and Ireland's position in Europe copperfastened. A place at the forum will be kept open for Fine Gael indefinitely, as it moves on from focusing on enlargement to debating wider Future of Europe issues.

Some of those who query the role of the forum place it in false opposition to the Oireachtas. That is unjustified. We need not limit or confine debate but should encourage it by every possible means. Debate in the forum complements and underpins that in the Dáil but does not replace it, as the debate on this motion demonstrates.

The Government is conscious that one of the most telling arguments in the Nice campaign – even if it had nothing to do with the treaty itself – was the allegation that the inadequacy of the role of the Oireachtas in scrutinising European business contributed to a substantial democratic deficit. We can all agree in this House and in the Seanad that Oireachtas scrutiny has not been as systematic or intense as it should have been, despite the good work of the Joint Committees on European Affairs and Foreign Affairs. In responding to the Labour Party's European Union Bill last June, I promised the Government would bring forward its own proposals in this area. Work has been continuing in my Department and at interdepartmental level since then, including a careful examination of practice in other member states. Simultaneously, the Whips' committee has been looking at proposals for reform of Oireachtas procedures and Standing Orders generally. I hope the Government will, early in the new year, be in a position to present a package of measures relating to the handling of EU business which will place Ireland among the Union's most advanced member states in this regard, while taking account of how negotiations in Brussels proceed.

The lesson I would draw from experience elsewhere is that a culture of dialogue and consultation between the Executive and the Legislature [532] is as important as formal structures and procedures. This requires the investment of political will, energy and resources on both sides. The role of national Parliaments in the architecture of the Union is one of the subjects identified for further consideration in the future of Europe debate. This week's European Council will establish a convention to explore the options in relation to this and many other issues in advance of the Intergovernmental Conference to be held in 2004.

The Future of Europe process is an entirely separate exercise from the Treaty of Nice. In an ideal world we would not need to deal with both questions at the same time. The purpose of the Nice treaty is to make the minimum changes necessary for enlargement, while the Future of Europe debate is a broader one. As it happens, many of the issues which arose during the referendum campaign have much more to do with it than with the Nice treaty. To ratify the Nice treaty would not be to prejudge the outcome of the Future of Europe process. Its basic purpose is to address the sense of disconnection between Europe and the people by making the Union more transparent, intelligible, democratic, and closer to the people.

Second, while some sensationalist headlines might be generated from time to time, the reality is that nobody is contesting the fundamental primacy of the nation state as the basic building block of the European Union, now and into the future. What is involved is the possible improvement and development of existing arrangements, not the creation of some kind of federal super state. Third, having said that, we in Ireland should have the confidence to play an active and positive role in the convention and the eventual Intergovernmental Conference. The objectives of this exercise – such as the simplification of the treaties or greater clarity about who is responsible for what within the Union – may in practice not be easily achieved but they are in our interests and in the interests of all who care about the Union and popular support for it. The future of Europe debate has the potential to address many of the concerns which arose during the Nice treaty referendum campaign.

I reiterate my and the Government's appreciation for this motion. It is imperative that the steps necessary to allow enlargement continue be taken, whether in Brussels, in the member states or in the candidate countries. We in Ireland have a specific role to play. The Government is acutely conscious of the obligations upon us but the sensitivity, complexity and importance of the issues involved require us to be measured, careful and comprehensive in our response. I urge all those who support Ireland's full engagement in Europe to play their part, with us, in doing what is needed to make enlargement possible.

[533]An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  I call Deputy Conor Lenihan. The Deputy has two minutes.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  On a point of order, if Deputy Lenihan would like an extra three or four minutes I would be happy to cede.

Mr. C. Lenihan: Information on Conor Lenihan  Zoom on Conor Lenihan  I do not wish to intrude into Deputy Quinn's time. He might change his generous offer had he read an article I have written about him which will appear in tomorrow's Evening Herald. However, I thank the Deputy for his offer and will take his four minutes in the generous spirit in which it is offered.

I praise all the Members of the House who over the years, at both backbench and ministerial level, have tried to encourage a level of awareness about Europe that is not shared among the wider public. It is a tragedy that as the country becomes more prosperous and content we appear to become increasingly ignorant about public affairs and wider issues, such as Europe and global development. However, it is wrong for the politicians to accuse the public of ignorance on subjects because it assumes a degree of arrogance on our part. Many years ago I had the wonderful task of trying to sell the idea of Europe in the UK. I was involved in promoting for the European Commission's speakers' panel in London the idea of Lord Colefield's campaign for 300 new directives to integrate and complete the Single Market. It was not an easy job and the levels of ignorance in the UK were far higher than I have experienced here, although in view of the referendum vote on the Nice treaty we are catching up fast.

There appears to be enormous public confusion about the Nice treaty referendum campaign, which was not assisted by the McKenna judgment. It effectively prevents the democratically elected and mandated Members of this House from projecting themselves on a national level in terms of party size. The recommendations of the All-Party Committee on the Constitution are sensible in that it proposes that at least half of campaign funding should be allocated in proportion to the size of parties in the House.

As parliamentarians we must take the initiative and not merely complain about ignorance among the public. However, as other speakers in this debate have pointed out, it is prevalent among the public and in other member states. In a sense, political and administrative elites have dominated Europe for much too long and the people have been left behind in the debate on the development of Europe. The irony in Ireland is that the people voted against what was, essentially, a harmless compromise that had been arrived at in Nice. It was interesting to note that the great European, Jacques Delors, was rather scathing about the French Government's role in relation to the emergence of the compromise in Nice and [534] his remarks should be noted. It was, indeed, a compromise but it involves the practical integration of the candidate countries in central and eastern Europe.

I spent some time working in central and eastern Europe, setting up a radio station in Prague and working in Poland. Those people aspire to the lifestyle that we now happily enjoy. It seems tragic that the Irish people are turning their backs on those people. During a recent all-party visit to Slovakia, led by you, a Cheann Comhairle, I was forcibly struck by the fact that serious politicians in those countries, particularly Slovakia, were grossly disappointed by the result of our referendum. There is no point in pretending to the public that they were not disappointed and they felt we were turning our backs on them. They had almost modelled themselves on our success. They saw Ireland as the ideal model of a candidate country for EU membership, having joined in 1973 and, by some almost magical process, as it were, 30 years later our country had been transformed and modernised and had become very wealthy indeed.

Deputy Quinn may have some points to make about how we distribute that wealth and I would probably share his concerns, but the fact remains that we have become an enormously wealthy country because of our access to markets. As Mr. Peter Sutherland recently pointed out, it is the access to markets that has sold Europe both to Germany and ourselves. At one point in recent years, we were exporting more per capita and had a higher GNP per head than Japan at its height as a trading nation. That underlines our dependence on trade and, I hope, our dependence in future on these emerging new countries in central and eastern Europe.

Perhaps, after the Forum for Europe has met and gathered its thoughts – though I am in two minds as to the relevance of that particular forum – I would like that debate to return to this House through its elected committees. We need to democratise the European Commission. Some of the commentaries, including, surprisingly, from Commissioner David Byrne, are extraordinarily arrogant in relation to the failure of politicians to sell this referendum. That is unfair not just to the Government but to the political class at large. That is why I say we need to democratise the European Commission. Clearly, when some people arrive in Brussels, they become European as distinct from their ethnic origins. That is a bad sign, indicating that they are slipping away from reality at home, and we all know the consequences of that. If we lose touch with our electorate, it ends in defeat.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  I have listened with interest to this debate and I hope we will have more debate in this House and elsewhere. I commend the speakers for their contributions so far. In summary, the [535] case for enlargement is a moral one first and foremost, an economic one, a democratic one, a strategic one and a global one because a strong, united and integrated European Union is of critical importance for the rest of the world, particularly the world that is rapidly experiencing the process of globalisation. From Ireland's point of view, it is my belief – this was reinforced very much in some of the submissions made at the Forum on Europe, to which some speakers referred – that it is in Ireland's national, geopolitical and economic interests that enlargement goes ahead and that we are central to it.

I wish to put on record what is involved in enlargement, to look beyond the current list of candidate applicant states and try to get some sense of what might be the final shape of Europe. Recent discussions on Europe convey an impression that people have not got a sense of what might be the final territorial configuration of Europe. The ten central and eastern European states would bring the border of a future European Union up to the frontiers of Moldovia and the Ukraine and not beyond that point. I do not believe anybody contemplates a European Union going beyond that eastern boundary. There are other countries to the south-east of Europe which, in time, will I hope achieve a level of both political and democratic stability that will enable them to participate fully and to be fully integrated into Europe. I refer to the republics of former Yugoslavia. There are also two countries which, for their own reasons, have chosen not to participate – Norway and Iceland.

Taken with the existing 13 prospective member countries, including Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Malta and Cyprus, there is a possibility of about 35 member states. Therefore, any constitutional configuration we want to put in place has to have regard to a confederation, or a federation or post-federal combination. There is no constitutional or legal word to describe the type of entity we are putting in place. The one that seems to gain most acceptance currently is a federation of nation states. However, I agree with the Minister and others that we are not in the process of constructing a federal super-state Europe. That is not on the agenda and I do not believe it would be acceptable to the vast majority of European citizens. I accept, as the Minister has said, that the building block for the foreseeable future will remain the nation state, whether it is a large centralised state like France, a federal state like Germany or a small nation state like Ireland.

We should understand what we are asking the applicant countries to do in terms of enlargement. First, we are asking them to take on, simultaneously, three sets of transitions. We expect them to move, in the space of 14 years, from a command economy to a market economy and to accept an acqui communitaire which is much [536] more rigorous and onerous than anything we had to accept back in 1973. Both external global competition and the rigours of the European Union's internal market are now much more demanding, invasive and intrusive into areas of national economic activity than was the case in Ireland in the 1970s and 1980s. In itself, that is a very difficult transition for any country to make.

Second, we are asking them to move from a one-party state to a pluralist democracy – I am not just referring to the advent of communism after 1945 or 1948 in the case of Hungary or Czechoslovakia. Most of those countries collapsed into dictatorships very soon after the Versailles treaty and into the rigours of depression and the immature political entities that they were in the 1920s. They were not the only countries to have that experience. Countries in western Europe disintegrated into fascism and the failure of democracy, as in Italy, Germany, Spain, Portugal and Greece. Indeed, democracy was a very small island in Europe between the 1920s and the 1940s. Therefore, we are asking those who have no tradition of a pluralist democracy to move from their tradition of a one-party state or dictatorship into a pluralist democracy.

The third transition we are asking them to make – this is critical for a market economy – is to move from the nomenclature of an integrated and compromised administration that is not seen as being independent from the rule of Parliament or Government, or indeed independent in relation to the operation of the market itself, to where the Civil Service, as in this country, is seen to be impartial. We should be much more sensitive to the difficulties associated with that transition because we have had, within the living institutional memory of people in this House and our grandparents, the necessity for the establishment of the Civil Service Commission, the necessity for the cultural acceptance that canvassing will disqualify and the realisation that we had a very corrupt local administration system that necessitated the establishment of the county managerial system. None of us, hand on heart, would say that we now have the model perfectly correct. It is like a garden, one has to return frequently to aspects of it, improve it and get it right, hence our need for freedom of information legislation or scrutiny in respect of various aspects. Every one of them is poorer in absolute terms than Ireland was when it joined the EEC. We are asking them to undertake an extremely difficult process, but they have made extraordinarily good progress to date.

Quite a number of sessions of the Forum on Europe have taken place at Dublin Castle. I recommend to Members the newsletter published by the Institute of European Affairs, to which I now wish to refer. The newsletter states that a number of spokespersons from different candidate countries offered their reasons for wanting [537] to join the European Union, first among which is the fact that they want to consolidate their recently won or restored democratic systems. The spokespersons point, properly and correctly, to the experience of Greece, Spain and Portugal. Nobody in their right mind would believe that Greece, for example, would return to the anarchy of the dictatorship which held sway in that country as recently as 1974. No one could ever have dreamed that in less than 21 days the Greek drachma and the German deutschmark will be merged into the single currency of the euro.

The newsletter goes on to state that the countries in question also want to become a law-based community of states which believe in peaceful relations with their neighbours – in contrast, they refer to the fact that many of them share a troubled past with the Balkan states; that they are greatly encouraged by the clear political determination on the part of the member states to proceed with enlargement; that they refer, inevitably, to particular problems in public administration in their legal systems; that they acknowledge the help they have received for many years from the Commission and member states, including Ireland; and that they point to the great advances they have made in economic development, in parliamentary, administrative and legal reform and in civil society – advances acknowledged by the Union, most recently in the Commission's report of 13 November which suggests that ten candidates may be ready for entry this time next year.

In the report to which I refer the Commission points out that of the 31 chapters that comprise the body of negotiations relating to the countries in question, with their weak historical systems, Cyprus has completed 23 chapters, the Czech Republic, 21; Slovakia, 20; Hungary, 22, and Slovenia 29. The two weaker countries excluded from the negotiation process, Bulgaria and Romania, have completed 12 and eight chapters, respectively. These countries have made extraordinary progress in the face of great difficulties at a time when, in many cases, their populations have found it hard to accept the rigours of competition, austerity and correction. They have been confronted with a decision made by the people in this country which seemed to slam the door upon them. I share the view expressed by Deputy Conor Lenihan that, notwithstanding their polite statements to the effect that they respect the decision of the Irish people, politicians from various countries cannot understand the outcome of the referendum on the Nice treaty and, in some respects, they take it personally.

We have not properly conveyed to the Irish people the real benefits of pooling and sharing sovereignty. Ireland has achieved far more as a national entity – politically, economically and culturally – since it began pooling and sharing its sovereignty. That is a reality which those [538] opposed to enlargement and the European project failed to engage with and recognise. As the Minister and Deputy Jim O'Keeffe stated, we must confront the inward isolationist assertion that an exclusive and excessive focus on sovereignty is in Ireland's best interests. Our experience since independence in 1922 shows that the more we have shared sovereignty, the more enterprising and wealthy – how that wealth is distributed is a secondary issue – we have become. If we contrast our pooled sovereignty – in economic and political terms – with the isolationist “sinn féin” economics of the 1930s, there is no comparison in terms of which model is the more successful from Ireland's point of view. Successive results in elections and the progress made by various Administrations are a testament to this.

I listened with interest to the comments of my constituency colleague, Deputy Gormley, in relation to intergovernmentalism and the role of the Commission. This is not the first occasion on which I have heard the Deputy speak on this issue and I get the sense that his party has a complete lack of understanding of the unique political and institutional role of the Commission within the European Union and the fact that its strengthening as an institution – or set of institutions – is absolutely critical for the survival and enhancement of the autonomy of small member states within an enlarged Union. If there is any deficit in the political discourse among those of us who share a common commitment to the European project, it is that we have not yet fully or properly conveyed to the Irish electorate – whether through articles in the Evening Herald or elsewhere – the nature of the role of the Commission.

We have allowed the lie to be placed frequently on to the record in successive debates that the unelected, unaccountable, bureaucratic Commission in Brussels imposes legislation upon the Irish people. That is simply not true. On occasion, Ministers and officials, for whatever reason, have blamed Brussels when, as everyone knows, it is the Council of Ministers which makes political decisions on foot of initiatives and proposals emanating from the Commission. It is that particular triangular set of institutions, with the Commission at its core, which is the unique creative and innovative component of the European project. It is at the very centre of the success of the European Union, which has replaced 500 years of conflict, civil war, devastation and economic disaster brought about by a certain form of intergovernmentalism. I have stated on many occasions that the most elegant monument to European intergovernmentalism is the Arc de Triomphe in the centre of Paris on which are listed the battles entered into by one large country against other European states in an attempt [539] to enforce one form of intergovernmentalism on them.

It was, therefore, the movement of the European Union and its peoples away from that historical legacy which brought into existence the Commission as an institution. We have not adequately conveyed to our people the importance of the Commission and the fact that sharing and pooling sovereignty are in Ireland's best interests because they will achieve the best possible outcome for them.

I listened carefully to the Minister's outlining of where we must go between now and the end of next year. There is no doubt that it will be a difficult journey. We must confront those who see no contradiction between being in favour of enlargement, on the one hand, and not recognising that we must engage with the Nice treaty, on the other. That will not be easy. The Forum on Europe was not originally proposed by the Labour Party as a vehicle to achieve a debate on Europe prior to the ratification of the Nice treaty, of which we were in favour. However, we believe it essential in terms of teasing out the options for the Irish people in terms of what will be the end destination of the European Union and what it will look like when complete. The original clause in the Treaty of Rome which refers to an ever closer Union is no longer, of itself, adequate and needs to be replaced with some form of picture which will show the people what we are asking them to buy into. This is what the debate on the European Union and its future is about.

I will conclude by stating that our colleagues in Fine Gael could continue to make their constructive contribution to the debate on Europe by taking up the seats available to them in Dublin Castle at the Forum on Europe.

Debate adjourned.


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