Speech by Minister of State Roche to Seanad Eireann on the EU Presidency (Part II)
Private Members Motion on the EU Presidency
7 July 2004
Speech by Minister of State Roche (Part II)
The Union will also be better equipped to play a more effective role on the international stage. There will be a Union Foreign Minister, drawing together the work of the Commission and the Council and ensuring coherence between them. The Minister will be served by an External Action Service, including officials from the Council, the Commission and the Member States.
These new arrangements will in no way supplant or reduce the responsibilities of Member States’ Foreign Ministers and their diplomatic services. Rather, they will complement and enhance their work. Such a joined-up approach is to be welcomed.
But there would be no point in having a more effective infrastructure if the policies being pursued were not the right ones. That is why the very clear presentation of the Union’s aims and objectives in the conduct of its external actions and relations is so important. Ireland made a key contribution to shaping the language in this area. In the wider world, the Union is to:
“contribute to peace, security, the sustainable development of the Earth, solidarity and mutual respect among peoples, free and fair trade, eradication of poverty and protection of human rights and in particular the rights of the child, as well as to strict observance and to development of international law, including respect for the principles of the United Nations Charter”.
These aims are totally in harmony with the provisions of our own Constitution and our commitment to the ideal of peace and friendly cooperation among nations founded on international justice. They are aims that, I believe, all Irish people can identify with and support.
I fully appreciate that for many, in Ireland and in this House, provisions on security and defence policy are of particular sensitivity. It is important that people study what has been agreed with great care.
Going into the IGC, the Government said that it would be seeking to clarify the parameters and operation of the various proposals made by the Convention in this area to ensure that they were open, accountable and fully in keeping with our policy of military neutrality. I am very pleased to be able to tell the House that I am fully satisfied that these requirements have been met.
It is made explicitly clear that the provisions relating to the possible establishment of a common defence at some point in the future “shall not prejudice the specific character of the security and defence policies of certain Member States”. This is existing Treaty language which protects the positions of neutral Member States and it has been carried into the new Constitution in full. I should also say at this point, that the Seville Declarations remain fully in place and the Government will ensure that their substance is fully protected when it comes to drafting any new amendment to the Constitution.
The provisions relating to structured cooperation, about which some people were concerned, were substantially amended by the IGC. It is made absolutely clear that, rather than creating a defence inner-core or avant garde, these arrangements are open to all Member States that wish to participate. Appropriate accountability has been ensured.
The focus has been shifted from the undertaking of operations, to the development of capabilities by Member States so as to be able to participate in the Union’s peacekeeping and conflict prevention activities. Arrangements for structured cooperation are set out in a Protocol attached to the Constitution. It is explicitly stated that it “does not prejudice the specific character of the security and defence policies of Member States” and also that the Union’s activities are to be “in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations”.
The Government does not need to decide at this time whether it would be appropriate for Ireland to participate. However, if we are to have an honest and informed debate about the European Constitution, we must guard against any distortion or misrepresentation of what is involved.
The Constitution does not alter in any significant way the balance of competence between the Member States and the Union. However, there are some important over-arching new provisions that have the potential to have a positive impact.
Ireland was a strong supporter of the inclusion of a new social article which requires the Union, in defining and implementing all of its policies and actions, to take into account requirements linked to a high level of employment, the guarantee of adequate social protection, the fight against social exclusion, and a high level of education, training and protection of human health.
I know that this provision has been widely welcomed within the voluntary sector, including the European Anti-Poverty Network.
We would have liked to be able to do more about the Euratom Treaty. Together with Germany and Austria, Ireland signed a Declaration calling for a review Conference to look at its provisions which are particularly outdated and inappropriate. However, any change required unanimous support within the IGC and this was simply not forthcoming. Nonetheless, I very much welcome the fact that, for the first time, the Constitution provides the Union with a competence to promote energy efficiency and saving and the development of new and renewable forms of energy.