Address by Mr. Brian Cowen, T.D., Minister for Foreign Affairs at the National Forum on Europe, Newbridge, Co Kildare
“How can Ireland ensure that its values, traditions and interests are promoted in the foreign and security policy of an enlarging EU?”
I passionately believe that our neutrality, sovereignty and independence have been given their fullest expression through our membership of the European Union.
I invite everyone to weigh- up whether our full participation in the European Union - and our opening the way for this next, historic, enlargement of the Union by saying Yes to Nice - is the best way to promote our values, traditions and interests in the world. The answer can only be YES.
A YES to Nice is a reaffirmation of the commitment of Irish people to our full engagement in Europe and the wider world.
A YES to Nice is the best way to assert the values, traditions and interests that Ireland has always stood for in the world.
A YES to Nice is a Yes to neutrality.
Our history as a nation has taught us that to survive and prosper, we depend on an international order that is as fair and just as possible and that operates under the rule of law.
Our values and traditions in foreign policy are for peaceful coexistence, peaceful settlement of disputes, international cooperation and the rule of law. We are for human rights and sustainable development. We believe in collective security under the Charter of the United Nations.
We have never shirked our responsibilities to give concrete expression to these values and traditions through our commitment to peacekeeping, and here in Newbridge tonight in particular, I want to commend once again the role our defence forces and gardai have played in the service of international peace over the years.
These are the values and traditions for which we stand.
These are also the values and traditions that are at the heart of the European Union. We know this because we helped shape the European Union as a full and equal participants in the successive Intergovernmental Conferences that have negotiated the EU Treaties. Our past experience has been clear. Only by being at the table, with negotiating capital and goodwill of partners built up over time, can our interests be protected and our values and traditions promoted.
The story of modern Europe is one of peace and cooperation. This is largely due to the creation, development and expansion of the European Union. This remarkable exercise in conflict prevention has brought harmony between nations whose relations were previously marked by hostility and mistrust.
The European Union has enabled our generation to enjoy the fruits of the longest period of peace western Europe has known. This area of peace and prosperity stands to be further consolidated through the historic enlargement of the Union for which the Nice treaty paves the way.
Our involvement in the EU has benefitted our political, economic and trade relations with the rest of the world, both through being seen as full and committed members, and through being part of the single market.
Our economic interests have been served by being at the heart of Europe - beyond the imaginings of previous generations. Of all the changes in Ireland in my life time, the one that I am proudest of, is the way this generation has been able to stay at home and prosper. That is real sovereignty and real independence. The recent success of the Irish economy - the Irish renaissance of the last decade - was not solely due to our membership of the EU. But our commitment to Europe was a significant and indispensable part of our success. This must not be put at risk.
We must sustain and build on the successes to date, and that means staying at the heart of Europe. That means welcoming in the new member States and deepening our ties and our trade with them. That means voting Yes to Nice.
There are no good economic arguments for voting NO. None.
Voting Yes to Nice is the best way to secure our jobs and future prosperity.
The statement from the 10 candidate countries last week recognised our success and said it was what these countries want to emulate. We can say Yes to Nice and build strong partnership relations with these countries, or we can say no and damage our future standing with these countries. We owe it to ourselves and to the candidate countries to vote Yes to Nice. A YES to Nice says to the candidate countries we respect the struggles you have made over the last decades and look forward to increasing partnership, cooperation and trade with you to the benefit of all our peoples.
Some have argued here again this evening that the EU is being militarised, and that this is compromising our neutrality and our sovereignty.
Let me deal with the so called militarisation of the EU. Here in Newbridge I know there is respect and understanding for the role of our defence forces. The No side would have you believe that “military” is a dirty word. The need for the EU to have a military capacity for conflict prevention and crisis management became self evident when the wars in the former Yugoslavia unleashed genocide and systematic abuses of human rights once again in Europe.
The EU did not have the capacity to prevent this. Now we are developing that capacity. The EU agreed in the Treaty of Amsterdam, ratified by referendum of the Irish people, that it should develop a capacity for conflict prevention, humanitarian and crisis management tasks. The Treaties make it clear that the military capacity that is being developed in the EU is for these purposes and these purposes alone.
The NO side claim that the EU's Rapid Reaction force can be used for offensive colonial adventures anywhere in the world. This is not only not true but deliberately disingenuous. Moreover, any decision by the EU to use the rapid reaction force could only be taken with the agreement of all member States. A decision of this kind would require unanimity. The capacity the EU is developing is through contributions from member States, that will be made available on a case-by-case basis - as is the case for UN operations. We will make our own sovereign decisions on whether to participate. We have made clear that Irish troops would only serve in such operations under a UN mandate and following Government and Dail approval.
The Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan, has welcomed the steps the EU is taking to enable it to work more closely in support of UN peacekeeping. The Secretary-General has said, and I quote “I am closely following the European Union's efforts to forge a common foreign and security policy, and look forward to many more instances where the European Union will act with and through the United Nations, in the cause not only of peace in Europe, but of peace and prosperity world wide.”
The EU is by far the largest contributor of development and humanitarian aid in the world. The EU when it acts together in its relations with other countries and regions, or in the UN and other international organisations, can exercise enormous influence for good. Through our role in the formulation and conduct of EU foreign policy Ireland enjoys a far greater voice in the world than we would on our own.
My experience as foreign minister, and the experience of my predecessors is the same - we have more influence in the world because we are members of the European Union. Our experience in the EU, including through holding the EU Presidency, which we will have again in the first half of 2004, has given our engagement in the world much greater range and depth than we would otherwise have. Full and active membership of the EU has given our values and traditions a much greater voice in the world than we could ever have achieved otherwise.
Let me make it clear.
I am committed to Ireland's policy of military neutrality. Fianna Fail is committed to our neutrality. This Government is committed to our neutrality.
That is why the Government made sure that all necessary safeguards to protect our neutrality were included in the Nice Treaty. In response to the genuine concerns of Irish citizens, we went further and sought the clarifications and confirmations set out in the Seville Declarations on Ireland's neutrality. These Declaration are crystal clear. They confirm beyond all reasonable doubt that all our EU partners, and more importantly the Council Legal Services, share the same understanding and legal interpretation of the Treaties in relations to what are our obligations, and what are the safeguards for Ireland's neutrality. These declarations confirm beyond all reasonable doubt that there is nothing in the Treaty of Nice or all the other EU Treaties that undermines Ireland's neutrality. That Ireland will not participate in a common EU defence unless the people decide otherwise in a referendum. That the EU is not engaged in the creation of a European army.
And, it was because the Government recognises that neutrality is a very important issue for the Irish people that we have changed the question to be put to people on Saturday, 19 October. The proposal gives constitutional effect to the commitments made by successive Governments and outlined in the Seville Declarations. I believe that the Irish people will recognize in the proposed amendment a firm guarantee for our traditional policy of military neutrality. The Green Party say they want a protocol in the EU Treaties to exclude us from commitments that do not exist. What we are proposing is the ultimate guarantee. If the people vote YES on 19 October, our position will be be copper-fastened in our own constitution.
We are asking the people to trust themselves - to put in our constitution a provision to prevent Ireland joining an EU common defence commitment. This ensures that it will be the people themselves who decide should the question arise in the future. Let there be no doubt this time. A Yes to Nice is a Yes to neutrality.