Speech by Minister Roche at Second Stage of European Communities (Amendment) Bill 2003 (Part II)
What was involved in the negotiations that led to this Treaty? First of all, the candidate countries needed to comply with the criteria established at Copenhagen Summit in 1993. Compliance with the economic criteria have to be achieved before accession.
Each candidate country is also required to demonstrate before they become members that it is able to take on the other obligations of membership. It must be able to adopt and implement the acquis communautaire upon accession - this implies the necessary administrative and judicial capacity to apply it. The applicant must also be able to adhere to the aims of political, economic and monetary union.
An important principle in negotiations, agreed at the Helsinki Summit of 1999, was that of “differentiation” within the negotiations, whereby countries proceed at a pace that best suits their individual ability. The pace of each negotiation depended on the degree of preparation by each applicant country and the complexity of the issues to be resolved This allowed four out of six countries who started their negotiations at a later date the opportunity to catch up with those who had started earlier.
On the Union side, the 15 Member States were the parties to the accession negotiations. The Presidency of the Council of Ministers presented the negotiating positions agreed by the Council and chaired negotiating sessions. Each applicant country drew up its position on each of the 31 chapters of the EU acquis, to engage in negotiations.
The European Commission proposed the draft negotiating positions. The Commission was in close contact with the applicant countries in order to seek solutions to problems arising during the negotiations.
Negotiating positions were approved unanimously by the Council. The results of the negotiations were incorporated into the Accession Treaty. This was submitted to the Council for approval and to the European Parliament for its assent.
The major strategy for negotiations was set down in November 2000, the Commission tabled a priority schedule ("road map") for the organisation of further negotiations until June 2002, and individual annual reports on each of the candidate countries. The road map indicated target dates for the adoption of common positions by the Union on individual chapters with the most advanced candidates so as to reach provisional agreement when the conditions are met.
The Nice European Council endorsed this strategy and added
“ together with the completion of the Intergovernmental Conference on institutional reform, will place the Union, in accordance with the objective set by the European Council in Helsinki, in a position to welcome those new Member States which are ready as from the end of 2002, in the hope that they will be able to take part in the next European Parliament elections”.
The Seville European Council in June 2002 was able to conclude that ten countries were ready to conclude by the end of that year. This happened on schedule in December in Copenhagen.
The negotiations were long and hard. No country secured everything it wanted in negotiations - we didn't in our negotiations in the early 1970s. But that is not the point; the European Union is an organic entity evolving and changing as its positions procedures and regulations are honed by internal debate and discussion. It is a unique institution which advances by compromise and agreement and not by force majeure or the diktat of the strong. It is precisely because of its momentum on all fronts that the negotiations have grown more complex with each succeeding enlargement as the acquis has grown.
Ireland's approach to the negotiations involved a close monitoring of the whole enlargement process, including the accession negotiations in policy areas that directly concern us, such as Agriculture, Regional Policy, the Institutions. We also followed policy developments in other Member States and the overall situation in the candidate countries.
Careful consideration was also given to the institutional readiness of the candidate countries. The Government decided to allocate over one million euro each year for four years to training and advising the administration of the candidate countries in preparations for membership.
At the same time Ireland promoted and supported transition compromises in areas of special needs for the candidates where vital aspects of the acquis were not threatened. Ireland also firmly believed that the already complex negotiations should not be further complicated by trying to anticipate future EU reforms e.g. the mid-term reform of the CAP and the new financial perspectives.
The reason the Government took this approach in negotiations is because we believe that enlargement will be of benefit to Ireland. Ending the artificial division of Europe which lasted for too long after the Second World War is very much in our interest.
Europe-wide surveys continue to show more Irish people in favour of enlargement than in most other EU countries. The Referendum on the Nice Treaty last year confirmed this open, positive attitude among Irish people. Several sessions of the National Forum on Europe, in which distinguished members of the Seanad took an active part, also bear this out.
Many candidate countries look on Ireland as a role model, in particular the way in which we transformed our country. Ireland has much in common with these countries. Many of them have natural empathy with Ireland, born of our historic experiences of oppression and poverty.
Enlargement brings a new dynamism to the Union. Each new member brings its distinctive identity and rich heritage, its own particular way of looking at the world. New friendships will develop among new and older member states. New alliances will form around common interests and values.
The addition of a large number of small Member States can only be to our advantage. We are already aware of the synergy and cooperation between our countries in the deliberations on the Convention. Another example of the potential for developing alliances is in agriculture. Many of the acceding countries are more dependent on agriculture than Ireland; it will be to our benefit that the agricultural interest in the Council of Ministers will be considerably strengthened.
Ireland stands to gain much from a greatly expanded marketplace with over 100 million new consumers. Assured and free access to that new market will bring substantial opportunities for this country. An essential contribution to our success story has been our presence in a highly profitable market of 380 million potential consumers
At present, only between 3% and 4% of what this country produces is exported to the candidate countries. The potential for two way trade and, as a result, improved employment prospects is very significant.
Irish trade with these countries has already grown six fold since 1993. Irish exports to these countries are over one billion euro and imports over six hundred million euro. It is clear that there is great potential for trade; these countries import 40% more than they export
Exports from the EU into the candidate countries in recent years have increased five times more than vice versa. There are huge gaps in health standards and food hygiene and much investment is needed to close the productivity gap.
Enlargement itself will not pose a threat to the CAP or to existing funding receipts. Irish agriculture and food industries will be well prepared to cope with any increased competition on the domestic market
Several comprehensive studies in the EU show that the impact of enlargement alone on agricultural prices will in fact be very limited. These findings were confirmed by well recognised Irish experts who addressed the Forum session on agriculture.
Many of the countries are small and not at all self-sufficient. As the Minister for Agriculture and Food made clear, the opportunities for Irish agriculture are greater than the threats from the incoming countries
As long as Ireland remains competitive and productive, we will continue our success in attracting foreign industry and developing indigenous companies.
Ireland will also gain from the further investment expansion which will take place in the European market-place when these countries join; this is no zero-sum game.
Preparations for enlargement are already helping improve Europe's environment, which affects us all. The EU is spending a huge amount of money assisting in anti-pollution measures. It is has already brought about the closure of unsafe nuclear power stations. This would not have happened if there was no enlargement process.
The accession of ten countries in 2004 forms part of a larger enlargement process. Negotiations are at an advanced stage with Bulgaria and Romania, and 2007 is the target date for the accession of these countries.
Meanwhile, progress was achieved in regard to Turkey's application for EU membership, with the Helsinki European Council's formal acknowledgement of Turkey as a candidate country. As with all candidate countries, negotiations cannot begin until the Copenhagen political criteria are fulfilled.
The accession process, which has been such a catalyst for fundamental changes in those countries who are about to join the Union, has much to offer as a framework for stability and prosperity. Many countries neighbouring the Union are aware of this. For example, Croatia has recently submitted its application for membership and will be given a considered a response early next year. Other countries in the Western Balkans have been given a European perspective.
Ireland, together with many of the acceding states who will form the new borders of the Union, is firmly of the view that enlargement should not lead to new dividing lines in Europe. During the Irish Presidency next year, the EU will consider a Commission proposal called the Wider Europe/New Neighbourhood which sets down a new framework for relations with these countries who do not currently have a perspective of EU membership.
Last year I had the honour and the privilege of helping to lead the Government's campaign in favour of the ratification of the Treaty of Nice. I believe that, ultimately, two issues were decisive in swaying public opinion, and in making possible the decisive Yes vote on 19 October last. Firstly, the simple fact that European Union membership has been good for Ireland for thirty years, and will continue to be vital to our prosperity and well-being as a people. Secondly, the forthcoming enlargement of the EU will be as beneficial for Ireland as were previous enlargements in helping this country develop and providing it with new friends and allies. When they saw the clear and necessary connection between the Nice Treaty and Enlargement, they responded positively and generously.
There is a strong feeling of empathy in this country with the Accession countries. The Union has been good for Ireland and we believe that the candidate countries are entitled to the same opportunities we were given. This enlargement is about widening the circle of prosperity in Europe, to bring in countries which have suffered grievously for half a century and to lay to final rest the ghosts of recent history.
I am looking forward to hearing the views of the Senators on this important issue which has the potential to have such profound implications for this country and for the entire European Union.
I am honoured to recommend this Bill to the Seanad.