Statement by Minister of State for European Affairs, Dick Roche -Europaisches Forum
It is a great pleasure to be able to be here. Having worked in both the academic and political worlds, I strongly share the Forum’s aim of reconciling the theoretical with the practical.
The world needs thinkers – the work of intellectual inquiry and exploration never ends - but it also needs the ability to act.
Ideas are like seeds, they must be planted allowed to germinate, brought on and nurtured before they blossom. Ideas must be tested. For this to happen they must cross the threshold from the abstract to the real. That is where politicians enter the frame. Although we work in very different ways, and sometimes with very different ends in mind, academics and politicians need each other. We bring different perspectives and insights to bear. It is important that we talk - dialogue between us can be creative and can bring richness and depth to our work. That is why opportunities for us to engage with each other, such as those sponsored by the Forum, are so particularly valuable.
So may I begin by thanking the Forum, and its President, Erhard Busek, for the kind invitation to participate in today’s discussion? Looking at your programme, I was struck by several things. Firstly, how many of your sessions are dedicated to the identification of boundaries and limits – the limits of European integration, the limits of international law, the limits of globalisation. Given the unknowability of the future, I wondered whether it is ever possible to know, with certainty, where these will eventually be found.
But then I looked at the title for this session – ‘Opportunities for the small and large in politics’ – and I was pleased that in this, at least, we were not seeking to determine limits. If by ‘opportunities’ we mean the ability to make a contribution and to make a difference, then I believe that these are pretty much unlimited. In Europe the scale of a member state’s contribution need not be related to the size of the nation itself. I also do not believe that, in positioning oneself to take advantage of such opportunities, size matters much. At least that has been my experience and the experience of my country. Yes, we must be realistic. In geo-political terms, the biggest countries will always continue to carry a great deal of clout. But we must also recognise that today’s world moves very quickly. To stay on top of the game, Governments, like businesses, must be light on their feet and responsive to change. This may be something that comes more easily to the smaller country. Each has a unique contribution to make.Looking at the question of big and small, rather than taking a broad and general overview, I thought it might be helpful if I looked more closely at a recent and specific example of how a small country tackled a large project. The Country I have in mind is Ireland and the project is the Presidency of the European Union. The Presidency which has just ended was not just a ‘routine Presidency’ if there can ever be such a thing. It was a Presidency full of challenge. The challenge of revitalising and reinvigorating the Lisbon Strategy Lisbon Agenda which was seen by so many as faltering. The challenge of bringing the largest ever enlargement of the Union to a successful conclusion. Most daunting of all, the challenge of breathing life back into the process of creating a Constitution for the People of Europe.
In the first half of this year Ireland undertook its sixth Presidency of the European Union. With the enlargement of the Union and with the extension and intensification of its fields of activity, it was, without question, our most challenging Presidency to date. We knew that others would be watching our performance carefully. Those who have argued for change in the system under which Presidency of the Union is rotated equally among Member States have made much of the demands of job and the difficulties these present to smaller Member States in particular. Frankly, there are some who don’t believe that a small state is equal to the task. It will be recalled that this view was openly canvassed during the course of the Convention on the future of Europe. More than one ‘conventioneer’ infuriated the representatives of the small and medium states be insisting that the rotating Presidency of the Union was an anachronism and an impossible task for a small state – in spite of the evidence that many of the Union’s most successful presidencies had happened with smaller states in the chair.
So when we took over the Presidency on 1 January 2004 we wanted to do a good job - for the Union, for its citizens and for all small and medium sized colleagues. As we began our preparations for the job, we agreed that two key principles would underpin our approach. The first and most basic of these is that Europe must work, and must be seen to work for its people. Too often, the debate on European issues is narrow, jargon fuelled and accessible only to the inside elite. This is a great shame. It risks losing the attention and, in due course, the support, of those who stand to gain most from the Union, its citizens. The European Union has made a real difference to hundreds of millions of lives. It helped Europe heal the wounds of the Second World War. Now it is helping us heal the wounds of the Cold War. We enjoy the enormous advantages of a single market and a single stable currency. Our people move freely within its borders. The work of the Union must continue to be relevant and responsive to the needs of its citizens. Their concerns must be the Union’s concerns. It is important that we continue to work together to address the key challenges of our times – jobs, security, protection of the environment, the challenges of an all too often hostile world.
The second principle underpinning our approach was that of fairness. Whether you are large or whether you are small, as Ireland is, rules matter. The fair, even-handed and transparent application of the Union’s rules matters. The European Union has created a zone in which the concerns of all can be respected, the identities of all can be strengthened and the fundamental interests and rights of all can be protected. It is essential that the traditions of equality, fairness and cooperation that have been the keystones of the European Union be reinforced in the new enlarged Union.
We began our preparations for the Presidency early. We wanted to be as ready as we could be. But even the best made plans are overtaken by events. So, to the extent possible, we also prepared ourselves to expect the unexpected.
As we took over in January five main tasks confronted us:
• We wanted to make a success of the enlargement of the Union to 25 Member States. In this we wanted to make sure that the historic nature of the event was appropriately marked.
• We wanted to ensure that the Spring meeting of the European Council helped to revitalise and reinvigorate the Lisbon Strategy, the Union’s drive for increased competitiveness and growth.
• We wanted to deliver more in the area of Justice and Home Affairs, realising the commitments made in the Amsterdam Treaty and in the Tampere programme.
• We wanted to bring renewed coherence and impetus to the Union’s external -And
• We wished to bring the Intergovernmental Conference on the new European Constitution to an early and successful conclusion.
The last of these was the task for which we could do the least preparation.
Our predecessors in the Italian Presidency did excellent work in the IGC during their term. Many people, if not most, expected them to complete the task in December. That they were not able to do so is no reflection on their creativity and commitment. The political will to finalise a deal simply wasn’t available at that time.