Remarks by Dermot Ahern TD, Minister for Foreign Affairs, ICA European Awareness Programme, 25 November 2004 Part I
The European Constitution
Members of the Irish Countrywomen’s Association
I am delighted to be here at the third annual ICA European Awareness Programme. Of course, it is a particular pleasure to welcome those of you who have come from outside the boundaries of this county – I trust you have enjoyed good Louth hospitality over the past few days. I am also very pleased that my Department, through its Communicating Europe Initiative, has provided funding for this Programme.
There can be a tendency to think that European Union issues are difficult and remote – of concern just to lawyers, diplomats and economists. But I hope that it has come through this week that our membership of the EU has an impact on almost all aspects of Irish life. The European Union has helped to transform our economy and society over thirty years. Whether we’re urban or rural, young or old, male or female, we’re all affected by the EU. One of the objectives of the Communicating Europe Initiative is to demystify the Union. One of the best ways of doing this is to empower organisations such as the ICA to help their members to inform themselves about the EU and its policies.
I am aware you’ve had a full programme of talks and discussions over the last three days. Therefore I don’t want to speak at great length about the European Constitution - though I would be very happy to respond to questions. However, there is no question that the European Constitution and its ratification will be a major theme in the European debate over the next two years. Nationally, too, we will have a referendum. And, once ratified, the European Constitution will be of central importance as the basic legal text of the Union.
For all these reasons, the Government is eager that there be a full national debate, and that people inform themselves about the Constitution. I understand you have copies of the initial Explanatory Guide the Government recently produced - if you want more they can be obtained from my Department and the text is on our website.
As even a quick glance at the Explanatory Guide will make clear, there is a great deal in the European Constitution – and a great deal we could talk about. But this evening I want to set out briefly what I believe are six key positive reasons for supporting the Constitution. And in so doing I will address a few of the negative arguments which are already being advanced.
The first reason for supporting the European Constitution is that it introduces much greater legal and political clarity.
Up to now, the European Union has been based on a series of Treaties, dating back to the 1950s, which have been amended piecemeal over the years. The Constitution will replace that tangle of Treaties with a single document. Moreover, the Union’s basic values, objectives, principles and powers are set out much more clearly than before. The relationship between it and its Member States is described. Who does what in the Union is defined. The number of legal instruments is cut from 15 to 6.
I will not claim that the European Constitution is going to win any awards for its prose style. There is a great mass of detail which it was legally necessary to carry forward. But the first part of the Constitution, which sets out the basic values and principles underpinning the Union’s activities, is much more lucid and coherent than any previous Treaty in describing what the Union is and does.
At the same time, and while the Constitution makes some important changes, it does not substantially alter the current nature of the European Union or how it relates to the Member States. It is absolutely untrue to state that it creates some kind of federal superstate. It is made crystal clear that the Union only has the powers which its Member States have chosen, unanimously, to give it. The list of those powers is basically the same as in the current Treaties, under which Ireland has thrived.
The document is a Constitution inasmuch as it sets down in one place the basic law of the European Union, just as national constitutions set down the basic law of the Member States. Indeed I understand that the ICA itself has a constitution. But in legal form the Constitution remains a Treaty between sovereign independent countries. It certainly does not supplant or replace Bunreacht na hÉireann.