Remarks by Minister Cowen, National Forum on Europe, 3 July 2003 Outcome of European Convention (Part 2)
It is also important that the draft Constitutional Treaty would oblige the Union to seek to accede to the European Convention on Human Rights. This would act as a valuable external check on the Union's maintenance of the highest human rights standards – just as national governments are held to account under the ECHR. Moreover, it should help to allay concerns about any possible inconsistency between the development of the EU's human rights regime and the jurisprudence of the Strasbourg court.
Of course, a great deal of media and political attention has been focussed on the institutional aspects of the Convention's work. These are of course vitally important – but we should not overlook other equally significant issues. What the Union does is, for our citizens, at least as important as how it is organised.
That said, the institutional balance – both among the institutions and among the Member States – has been critical to the success of the Union, and a fundamental aspect of its overall character. In the Convention, we made clear that preservation of the existing balances, and maintenance of the essential fairness and equity of the Union, was a key objective. But we also recognised the need for the Union to be effective and efficient, as it develops and as the world outside changes. All along, we made clear our willingness to contemplate change, and to listen to the ideas of others, so long as basic principles were respected. Ireland at the Convention played a very positive role both as a leader in the defence of these principles, which are of particular importance to smaller countries, and in working constructively for compromise in the final stages.
The overall institutional balance proposed in the draft is essentially fair and reasonable, and I hope and expect that it will stand throughout the IGC.
I have never believed that the relationships among the three main institutions – Council, Commission and Parliament – are a zero-sum game, or that one should be pitted against the others. As the text recognises, all three have their distinctive roles to play, and all three can simultaneously be strengthened and made more efficient.
Ireland has always placed a particular emphasis on the role of the Commission as guardian and promoter of the common European interest. I believe this has been sustained. Moreover, while the Commission does not represent national interests, a key to its political credibility and acceptability has been its balanced awareness of the diversity of concerns within the Union, and the identification of Member States and citizens with its work.
At Nice, we accepted a deal under which, once the Union reached 27 members, a ceiling upon Commission membership of less than 27 was to be agreed, with places to be filled on the basis of guaranteed equal rotation among the Member States. We understood that there were those who felt very strongly that a continually-expanding Commission could not be effective, but we wanted to make sure that each Member State had equal rights in respect of a reduced Commission. Despite great pressure from Giscard himself and some larger States, the draft Constitutional Treaty preserves the essence of the Nice deal – a smaller core of voting Commissioners, on the basis of strictly equal rotation. But at the same time, by introducing the concept of non-voting Commissioners, it ensures that every Member State will have a presence in the Commission at all times. There are some details which might be tightened up, but the overall outcome is very good and can reasonably be seen as an advance on Nice.
The European Parliament is to play an enhanced part in the election of the President of the Commission. Indeed, the European Parliament's role has been generally enhanced, mainly through an extension of its co-decision role in most legislation, including in the JHA area. Exactly how this will work in some areas, including in the details of the CAP, remains to be worked out. But for the most part the Government welcomes the strengthening of the directly-elected element of the institutional triangle. I hope that the expansion of the Parliament's powers will over time lead to greater public awareness of its role, and to higher turnouts in the European elections not just in Ireland but throughout the Union.
Ireland was not among the advocates of the creation of a permanent President of the European Council. But as the Convention progressed we always said we were willing to listen in a non-dogmatic way to the arguments in favour. While wanting to preserve the strengths of the current system of rotation, we also recognised that the increase in the size of the Union made some change both inevitable and desirable. In the final negotiations, our focus was, therefore, on defining the role of the European Council President in a way which did not cut across the role of the Commission or institutionalise a new centre of power. I believe that the job description as now set out in the draft is acceptable and basically reproduces the functions of the current rotating President.
We are also very pleased that the principle of equal rotation is to apply to other Council formations. The details have been left for further consideration, and possibilities including team Presidencies remain open. It will also be necessary to find a workable way to link the President of the European Council into the normal formations of the Council in a way which promotes proper coordination without unduly expanding his or her powers. One other proposal needing to be re-examined is that for a single General Affairs and Legislative Council. While appreciating the need for greater overall coherence in the Union's legislative action, I do not think this concept would be workable as it stands and I think most other Member States take the same view.
The Convention has also brought forward a range of proposals in the area of foreign policy, security and defence. In looking at the EU's external relations, the over-riding aim of the Convention has been to bring greater coherence, effectiveness and visibility to the Union's actions on the world scene. In doing so it is natural that we would also ask ourselves what kind of contribution the Union should make internationally.
As we survey the state of the world today there is a pressing need for concerted action by the international community to address the many and varied challenges which face us. The divisions of the Cold War have been replaced by new threats to international peace and security, including the proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction and international terrorism. We are confronted with the appalling loss of life from HIV/AIDS and other pandemics such as tuberculosis and malaria, and the chilling fact that half the world's population survive on under two euro a day. Despite progress in reducing carbon emissions the effects of climate change and environmental degradation are evident. It is only through common action that we can hope to find solutions to these problems, by tackling their root causes.
The European Union has a responsibility to play its part in meeting these shared challenges. As a Union of 25 Member States with over 450 million people producing a quarter of the world's Gross National Product, the European Union is a global actor. Our size and wealth brings not only opportunities but also obligations. We should be ready to use this position to share in the responsibility for global security and well-being, and this has been the Government's approach when discussing EU external action at the Convention.
I believe that it is in keeping with the traditional Irish approach to foreign policy for the Union to play a stronger role in support of peace and security, human rights and development. As a community of shared values, the EU is uniquely placed to carry out such a role. Together, we have at our disposal a wide range of tools which sets us apart from any other organisation. The Union's Common Foreign and Security Policy, including its developing capabilities in civilian and military crisis management, is just one element in this broad spectrum which also encompasses development cooperation assistance and trade relations. Bringing greater coherence and effectiveness to our external action means harnessing these instruments for shared objectives, enabling the Union to develop a holistic approach to the complex problems which face us as the international community.
The United Nations Charter will remain the fundamental framework for international relations. This central role is clearly reflected in the principles and objectives for EU external action. It is also reflected in the Union's preliminary thinking on a Security Strategy, prepared by Javier Solana, which was discussed at the Thessaloniki European Council and is now the subject of further refinement. The Union can make an important contribution in support of the UN, as it is currently doing in the Democratic Republic of Congo through its crisis management operation in Ituri.
The Union has shown the contribution it can make in the Western Balkans, where it has played a lead role in support of reconstruction and reconciliation. In the Middle East, as a member of the Quartet, the EU has a central role in bringing forward implementation of the Road Map for Peace. I have recently visited the Balkans and the Middle East and can testify to the invaluable work which the Union is carrying out on the ground, sometimes in difficult circumstances. This is the kind of role which I believe the Union should play in support of peace and stability, a role to be performed in partnership with local actors and international organisations including the UN.
The Convention proposals should better equip the EU to achieve some of these goals. In particular, the proposal to establish an EU ‘Minister for Foreign Affairs' will greatly enhance the Union's ability to contribute to international affairs, enabling it to speak with one voice on behalf of twenty five Member States. However, it will not be possible for one person on his or her own to simultaneously represent the Union's many interests across the entire world. I have, therefore, suggested the appointment of Deputy Ministers with regional responsibilities to assist the Union Foreign Minister.
I have already referred to the question of decision making in a Union of 25 or more. The Union's voice has been stronger for speaking on behalf of all its Member States and I believe it is important that we continue to move forward together. At the same time, we need to ensure that the Union can respond effectively to international events as they unfold and some flexibility will be required on the question of decision making in CFSP. I am confident that this will be achieved whilst preserving the necessary safeguards to protect national interests.
Proposals to modernise the scope of the Petersberg Tasks and the way in which ESDP activities are carried out should also enhance the Union's international contribution. The proposal for a solidarity clause will provide a framework for Member States to come to each other's assistance in the event of a natural or man-made disaster or a terrorists attack. As with a few other aspects of the Convention report, there is still further work to be carried out in this important area. I do not believe that some of the proposals in the area of security and defence, such as structured cooperation and mutual defence, are capable of securing consensus in their current form. This is a view shared by a number of other Member States, and these and other issues will be taken up in the IGC. I do believe that the Convention recommendations overall provide a solid basis on which to take forward discussion of the Union's international role in a manner which reflects the shared values and the different traditions of all the Member States.
In conclusion, then, I believe that the European Council was correct to salute the Convention's outcome as a good basis for starting work in the IGC. Indeed, I would go further and say that I expect the overall architecture, and much of the detail, to emerge unchanged at the end of the IGC. As I have said, we have, like other states, a number of continuing concerns, including in the foreign policy and defence area, and in relation to the voting procedure in the criminal law area. And while the provisions in the current text are not intended to allow for harmonisation of corporation or other taxation rates, the Government will be working hard to maintain the overall principle of unanimity in taxation matters, which are so central to the relationship of the citizen and the state.
There is some more work to be done, therefore. It is of course likely that we will have the honour and the duty of bringing the IGC to a conclusion during our Presidency. The Constitutional Treaty will be a fundamentally important landmark in the evolution of the Union. As a means of marking its significance to all Member States, new and old, the Taoiseach at Thessaloniki proposed an innovative approach whereby it would be signed successively by each member state in its own country, culminating in a ceremony in Rome, where all Treaties are deposited. This proposal was welcomed by the European Council.
In looking ahead to the IGC, however, I would in no way wish to take away from the immense significance of the Convention's work. It has been an experiment which has overwhelmingly succeeded. I think that its outcome will help to modernise the Union, to make its operation more rational and intelligible, and to equip it to face the future. This is in Europe's interests, and in Ireland's.