Conference on the Future of Europe after Enlargement, Remarks by Minister Cowen
It is, as ever, an enormous pleasure to come to Derry, home to one of Ireland's most famous, and most loved, figures. John Hume, in his remarkable service to the Irish people, has come to embody two concepts - both of them firmly linked together - peace in Ireland, and peace in Europe.
It is, therefore, most appropriate that we meet here today to discuss the vital issues confronting us as Irish people and as Europeans.
It has not been an easy week for the people of Northern Ireland. The political institutions in which we have invested so much hope and energy are again under pressure. As you will be aware, it has been a week of intensive discussions between those of us who remain resolutely committed to the Agreement and to its vision of peace, prosperity and reconciliation between the traditions on this island. We will continue to work hard to move things forward and, as the Taoiseach has made clear, the Agreement will continue to be our template.
In this, we will have the full support of our partners in Europe. Throughout the peace process, they have been staunch in their commitment to all that we have been working to achieve. Sometimes, unfairly, the role of the EU has been overlooked - it has been less political and less high profile, in many respects, than, for example, that of the United States. But it has, nonetheless, been hugely important and enormously valuable.
The EU has been both inspiration and friend. It has helped to remove the borders that exist in people's minds, and has diminished the importance of those that exist on maps. Our shared membership, has brought the people of these islands closer than at any time in our history.
It has been observed on many occasions that the European Union is one of the most successful examples of conflict resolution the world has known. Just because a phrase is well-worn, doesn't make it any less true.
While Ireland was not centrally involved in the two World Wars that ravaged Europe in the twentieth century, we shared the same imperative to peace in Europe as our partners in the Union. For countries such as France and for Germany, in particular, the European Union has been central to making the phrase ‘never again' a living reality.
John Hume has often spoken of this and I remember hearing him describe how, when standing on the bridge in Strasbourg - realising that on one side stood France, on the other Germany - the scale of what Europe has been able to achieve struck home.
The European Union has shown us how in working together - as John has said, spilling sweat, not blood - we can lay down the heavy burden of history. It has been a beacon in our search for peace at home.
Europe has also been the context within which a more mature and developed relationship between British and Irish Governments has been forged. Until our joint entry to the then EEC in 1973, it is fair to say that our relationship was focussed, to an undue extent, on our historic difficulties and on the painful consequences of partition.
Within the EU, we have discovered vast new areas of common interest and shared understanding. We have placed our difficulties in a broader context and gained perspective. Working together as equal partners removed any remaining imbalance that existed between us. Irish and British ministers meet each other regularly within the Council of Ministers, building personal relationships and important alliances in areas where our interests overlap. Successive Taoisigh and Prime Ministers have come to use European Council meetings as useful and regular occasions to take stock of developments across the range of issues.
As we have seen again this week, the relationship between the two Governments has been, and very much continues to be, the bedrock on which the peace process has been built. Without our shared engagement in Europe, it is difficult to see how this would have come about.
But the European Union has also offered its support for peace in Ireland in tangible ways.
The EU has been a major contributor to the International Fund for Ireland - second only to the United States. Since it was founded in 1986, the Fund, to which the EU has contributed 214 million, has created 37,000 jobs in Northern Ireland and the border counties. It has invested 185 million in the southern counties alone.
Through its programmes - PEACE I and II and INTERREG - the EU will have contributed about 1.33 billion to Northern Ireland and the border region by 2006 - that is 355 million in the South and approximately 1 billion in the North. Underpinning this funding has been a belief that progress towards a more peaceful and stable society can be achieved by increasing economic development and employment, and by promoting urban and rural regeneration, developing cross-border links and extending social inclusion. The EU has placed a particular emphasis on building peace from the bottom-up. In this it has played a crucial part in helping us to construct a wider political consensus for peace.
That this funding is more than a question of statistics was brought home to me by my colleague Deputy Cecilia Keaveney who, in the recent debate on Nice in the Dáil, spoke of the unqualified success of the recently launched Greencastle to Magilligan ferry, made possible in large part by 1.5 million from the International Fund, one third of which came from the EU.
The EU has made an important difference to peoples lives throughout the border region. The Shannon-Erne Waterway, to which the EU provided one third of the IFI stg£6 million funding, has opened large areas of Leitrim to tourism.
In Monaghan 600,000 venture capital provided by the International Fund, one third from the EU, was vital to Middlebrook Mushrooms in Tyholland. Such investment has enabled SMEs in border counties to expand their operations, generating jobs for local people. HITEC in Carrickmacross is another fine example. A community based venture providing Information and Communications Technology training to early school leavers, it received 400,000 from the EU PEACE programme.
The PEACE programme has also, for example, invested 305,000 in Cavan in the Erne Catchment Eel Fishery Project, aimed at creating 140 jobs for fishermen and administrative and processing employees.
In the peace process, as in so many other areas, Ireland has much to thank the EU for. We now have an important opportunity to give something back. As Mark Durkan, Deputy First Minister and leader of the SDLP told the Forum on Europe in Dublin in March, the EU has shown us great solidarity, it's time for us to show the same spirit to those waiting to join.
-Through enlargement - the admission to membership of the countries of central and eastern Europe- a unique opportunity exists to bring the historic project of peace and reconciliation among the peoples of Europe to completion. Earlier this week the Commission reported on the state of readiness of the twelve applicants and found ten of them on track for entry in 2004.
We should not underestimate the struggle it has take for them to reach this point. It has been a long, hard slog. Alongside work to ensure that political oppression was replaced by a strong and certain commitment to democracy and human rights, the countries of central and eastern Europe have had to prepare their economies for participation in one of the most dynamic free markets in the world. They have had to absorb more than 80,000 pages of legislation but, more importantly, they have had to take difficult and painful decisions. They have done so because, as we did in 1973, they see EU membership as offering their people the best prospect for a peaceful and prosperous future.
In the forthcoming referendum on Nice, in voting yes the Irish people will be facilitating enlargement, the single greatest challenge facing Europe and a task of historic importance.
And in reaching our decision, we should be very clear that enlargement is a win for us all. A win for Europe, a win for the applicants, and a win for Ireland.
Every time the membership of the Union has expanded, it has brought with it a new dynamism. On every occasion, Ireland has benefited. With the accession of ten countries, Irish business will have new markets in which to operate. New clients and customers, new companies with which to do business, sustaining Irish jobs at home.
If past enlargements are any guide, EU membership will offer the people of the applicant countries to grow their economies, develop their industries, create jobs and opportunities at home for their people too. As Ireland has benefited with the support of our partners, with our support they will be able to converge towards the European average.
The new Europe after enlargement will be a Europe in which the zone of peace, prosperity and security has been extended, stretching from the Baltic to the Mediterranean, from the Foyle to the Danube. It will be a Europe with a vibrant commitment to human rights and democracy, enriched by the many cultures and languages that meet there.
An expanded and strengthened Europe is in all of our interests, whatever part of Europe we live in. It will bring a new dynamic and new relationships into the Union itself.
Ireland, as a small country, will gain from the entry of a great many other small countries. At present, there are five large states out of fifteen. After enlargement the balance will have shifted. Out of 27 Member States, 21 will be small or medium sized. We hold a great deal in common with many of them. Agriculture, for example, is as great a concern for many of the applicants as it is for Ireland. We have shown that we are good networkers. We will be able to build new friendships with the new Member States.
This will be a vital consideration in the debates about Europe's future currently underway. Discussions are proceeding in the Convention and will feed into the Intergovernmental Conference planned for 2004. The Irish Government is approaching the debate in a positive and constructive way. We have a clear vision of the type of Europe which we support and are working to achieve.
We want the Union to continue as a community of nation states, not a federal superstate. It is my firm belief that this approach is shared with the Irish people by a majority of Governments and peoples in Europe. Most Europeans, as they do now, will continue to identify primarily with their own countries. But this is no impediment to a parallel commitment to the European ideal.
We will be seeking to maintain the successful operation of the Union. We believe that its institutions and policies - and the checks and balances already in place - are broadly working well and need only reform, not radical restructuring.
We believe that within the Union, the Member States should continue to cooperate and share sovereignty where that makes sense. There are a great many areas where we can achieve more together than separately.
But Ireland also wants to see real teeth given to the principle of subsidiarity, under which the Union should concern itself only with those matters where it brings true added value. Strong support for this approach has already emerged at the Convention, where a recent working group report brought forward some interesting proposals.
Likewise, there are matters where the key decisions must continue to be made at national level - matters such as education, culture, health. Specifically, the Irish Government believes that Member States must retain the ability to take their own decisions on taxation matters.
That is not to say that Ireland does not want to see any change. We want a Union which is easier to understand and which is more straightforward in its procedures. One key lesson from the debates we have had on the Treaty of Nice, is how difficult it is for people to get an easy grasp on matters relating to the EU. This is part of what has been termed the democratic deficit. But simplification should not be used as a mask for uniformity or for the eradication of necessary safeguards. Within the Union, there will always be some necessary complexities.
Irish people, like many people across Europe, feel a distance between themselves, their daily lives, and the European Union. Call it a deficit. Call it a disconnect. It urgently needs to be addressed.
Without a feeling of attachment and ownership, proper democratic legitimacy and accountability are difficult to ensure. Europe needs to be closer to its citizens. There is a need, at home and in Brussels, to bring forward measures to bridge that gap.
The Government has put in place new measures in the Oireachtas to ensure that within our committee system there is an opportunity for every EU legislative and policy proposal to be given proper scrutiny. We are pledged to operating them fully and enthusiastically. We are currently taking legislation through the Oireachtas to put these new arrangements, which have been working since July, on a legislative footing. We are also pressing at European level for a greater role for national parliaments and are finding, within the Convention, considerable support for such an approach.
We are also committed to a Europe that plays a constructive and positive role in the wider world. Ireland takes great pride in the role it has been able to play in the United Nations. As a neutral country, as a country with experience of internal conflict and conflict resolution, as a country with a sometimes difficult history, we have made a distinctive contribution. There is no reason why we should not also continue to bring that perspective to bear in the European Union.
We do not want to see Europe emerge as a military superpower. We would not support or participate in a European army - not that either are on the agenda. In line with our traditional policy of military neutrality - and in keeping with the commitment that will enter our Constitution if the people vote yes - we will continue to make decisions in this area for ourselves. We will only participate in missions with a UN mandate. We will take decisions on involvement on a case by case basis. This is an approach that is right for us and in keeping with our traditions.
But this does not mean that we do not want to see a Union that plays its full and active part in promoting the principles of democracy and human rights, of stability and sustainable development, throughout the world. The EU is a Union based on values and beliefs. They are values we should share with others.
Let me conclude by saying again what a pleasure it is to be here today. The issues you are addressing are of vital interest to all of us on this island, North and South. With an increasing number of people across the continent, we share a home in Europe and it is important that we play a full role in shaping its future. I very much look forward to a lively and interesting debate.