Speech by Minister of State Roche to Seanad Eireann on the EU Presidency (Part I)
Private Members Motion on the EU Presidency
7 July 2004
Speech by Minister of State Roche (Part I)
It gives me great pleasure to take part in your debate this evening on Ireland’s EU Presidency. The sixth Irish Presidency of the European Union will be remembered, as I think tonight’s motion recognizes, for the careful preparation, hard work and patient negotiation which led to the eventual agreement on the new European Constitution.
It will also be remembered for the successful enlargement of the European Union and the special occasion on 1 May when Ireland celebrated the “Day of Welcomes” with our new Member States.
If these can fairly be described as the highlights of our Presidency, there were very many other solid achievements, across the whole range of Government Departments. You will all have received by now a copy of the Report on Ireland’s Presidency of the European Union prepared by my Department. As the report shows, significant progress was made during our Presidency across all the main priorities we had set ourselves including in relation to the ongoing enlargement negotiations, the Justice and Home Affairs area and the wide external relations agenda. Your motion mentions in particular the Lisbon Agenda which was and will remain a particular priority for us.
I am also delighted that it proved possible, at the special meeting of Heads of State or Government on 29 June, to reach agreement on the nomination of the new President of the Commission, Jose-Manuel Barroso, as well as on other senior appointments.
I intend today to focus, as does the Seanad motion, on the new European Constitution.
Our Presidency brought to a successful conclusion the process that began in Laeken in December 2001. The Constitution’s text will now be prepared for signature by legal and language experts and it is expected that a signature ceremony will be held in Rome later in the year. Like the Treaty of Rome, the European Constitution will serve for many years as the foundation of a Union at the service of its citizens.
Once the Constitution has been signed, the process of ratification will begin. While it is for every Member State to decide how to proceed according to its own constitutional requirements, I welcome the fact that a significant number will be holding referendums. It is crucial that discussion of the new Constitution extends well beyond political or academic elites, and that the people of Europe are fully engaged and informed. In Ireland, we have all learned important lessons in this regard.
I look forward to what I hope will be a vigorous and informed debate. The Government will take all appropriate steps to ensure that people are as familiar as possible with the Constitution and all that it entails. I know that the National Forum on Europe and the Houses of the Oireachtas, including the Joint Committee on European Affairs, will continue to play a full and active role.
Laeken set in train the drafting of a Constitution for the European Union. To pave the way for the work of the IGC, it proposed that the first draft be produced by a European Convention, bringing together national and European Parliamentarians with representatives of the Union’s institutions. As the House knows, the European Convention did excellent work and it was right that the text it prepared was adopted largely unchanged by the IGC.
Laeken identified a number of key challenges. All of these have now been fully met.
The Constitution contains a clearer description than ever before of what the Union is and what it does. The early articles set out its aims and objectives in clear terms and in language with which anybody could identify.
The Union’s powers and competences are set out in a straightforward way, and its objectives and competences are clearly linked to its activities in the various policy areas.
The key principles underpinning these activities – conferral, subsidiarity and proportionality – are set out in plain terms. For the first time it is made absolutely clear that the Union only has those powers the Member States have conferred upon it, and that it can only act to the extent necessary to secure its objectives.
National parliaments will play an important new role in ensuring that these principles are fully adhered to. It will be possible for parliaments to challenge proposals brought forward by the Commission on grounds of subsidiarity, obliging it to think again. Some have sought to downplay the significance of these new arrangements. They are wrong. While the role of the European Parliament is very important, it is simply a fact that many citizens identify most directly with their national representatives. That those representatives can now act as a watchdog in the Union’s legislative process - ensuring that citizens’ interests are fully respected – should be welcomed by everyone.
The Constitution makes very significant advances in the protection of human rights. The Charter of Fundamental Rights will become an integral part of the Union’s basic law. The Union will be legally bound to recognise the rights it contains, and citizens will be able to access the Courts to vindicate them.
In addition, the Union is to accede to the European Convention on Human Rights, ensuring a coherent and consistent approach between the Courts in Strasbourg and Luxembourg.
I was very pleased that a representative of Amnesty International has welcomed these important new provisions. Top