Address by Minister for Europe, Dick Roche, Ireland Spain Business Association 26 September 2002
I am delighted to have this opportunity to speak to the Ireland Spain Business Association, to outline in person why I strongly believe, and as does the Government, that ratification of the Treaty of Nice is in Ireland's interests, in the interests of the other Member States of the Union and, especially, in the interests of those countries waiting to join.
There are, of course, long and historic links between Ireland and Spain. It is fair to say, however, that these have been enormously enriched and developed by our shared membership of the European Union.
In fact, in looking to our experience of previous enlargements of the Union, I was recently greatly struck by the fact that in the period since Spain joined in 1981, trade between our two countries has increased ten-fold to a current value of 3 billion annually. These figures speak volumes to anyone who might have the slightest concern about the capacity of the current process of enlargement to deliver tangible economic benefits, both to existing Member States and to the applicant countries waiting to join.
Spain and Ireland are allies in more than business. When we sit together around the table in Brussels and elsewhere, we bring with us a great deal of mutual understanding and common interest. This has most recently been demonstrated in our shared approach to current discussions on the future of the CAP and Common Fisheries Policy - key issues in both of our countries. We are working together closely, and with others, to ensure that our interests in these areas are fully protected.
And, of course, we were very grateful for the assistance we received from the Spanish Presidency earlier this year which, in addition to doing an excellent job generally, helped us to secure the agreement of our partners to the two Declarations on the question of Irish neutrality - by Ireland and by the EU - issued at the European Council meeting at Seville. Neutrality was a concern for many voters in the last referendum on Nice. The Declarations, and the inclusion of their terms in the new referendum, should greatly assist in laying people's minds to rest on this important issue.
Securing a positive outcome in next month's referendum on the Treaty of Nice is the Government's highest priority.
As Minister for Europe, I am very aware that there continues to be a considerable amount of confusion among voters on the issues involved. Frankly, this is not helped by the fact that in the debate, and through the media, a great many people are speaking without a great deal of coherence and, one must suspect, not always with the intention of clarifying matters for the public. The voters I speak to want to know what Nice is about. They want to understand the issues. And they want to cast their votes in a way which best protects their concerns and Ireland's interests into the future.
There is no doubt in my mind that they should confidently vote yes.
As an elected representative, I regard it as my highest duty to build awareness and to increase understanding. Between now and the referendum on 19 October, I will be taking nothing - especially not the Irish people - for granted. I will be working to convince, not to harry or to cajole. I will be taking my case to them in honesty and fairness, and I hope others will do likewise.
There has been a great deal made of the Government's decision to hold a second referendum - charges that it is undemocratic and, in some way, disrespectful of the electorate to ask them to look again at the Treaty of Nice.
Indeed, concerns that I expressed myself last year have been quoted back as if to suggest that I am somehow being inconsistent in advocating a yes vote now. Nothing could be further from the truth. I took a strong view last year that in rejecting the Treaty the people were sending a message that had to be listened to. That it would not be democratic to proceed without having moved to address the concerns that had caused people either to vote no or not to vote at all.
I would not now be supporting the holding of a referendum in October if I did not sincerely believe that serious and credible efforts have been made to respond to those concerns across a wide range of issues.
Last year, some people said that they were concerned about the direction and future of the European project and felt that there was little opportunity for them to contribute, in a meaningful way, to national debate on the subject.
The Government established the National Forum on Europe which has been doing sterling work in taking that debate to the people. Recent weeks alone have seen the Forum travel the country from Drogheda to Mayo, from Donegal to Cork, from Lucan, to Tipperary, Kilkenny and Clare. At public meetings, with invited speakers, issues of vital importance - ensuring democratic accountability, the future of farming and fisheries in Europe - along with aspects of the Treaty of Nice - the question of enhanced cooperation, for example - have been thrashed out in lively and interesting debates. This is how it should be.
During last year's campaign it was also clear that some people had a sense that Brussels was telling us how to run our lives without our elected representatives having an adequate say.
While this view fails to recognise the important role Irish Ministers play in the framing of legislation in the Council of Ministers, the Government felt that it was important to ensure that the Oireachtas had the structures and procedures necessary to ensure that elected representatives have the opportunity to make an input. Those structures have now been put in place. Since July, every piece of EU legislation can be scrutinised by the relevant Committee, which can send a view on the matter to the Government. We are working to put these new arrangements on a legislative footing. While they are new and, as yet, relatively untested, experience in other Member States suggests that proper parliamentary scrutiny of proposals can and does play an important role in bridging the gap between the citizen and the Union.
Neutrality was another obvious area of concern that the Government has moved to address.
Irish people are rightly proud of the role we have played on the international stage. Drawing on our constitutional commitment to peace and friendly cooperation among nations and to the pacific settlement of international disputes, we have been, I believe, a force for good - in peacekeeping, in development work, in promoting the values of justice and human rights throughout the world. These are values and principles that I personally share, and it is important that we not only cherish our achievements to date, but that we also ensure that they are protected and sustained into the future.
In last year's referendum some people voted no out of concern that our membership of the European Union, and the commitments and obligations to which it gives rise, would somehow undermine our neutrality. This is simply not so. The Declarations by Ireland and by the EU made at Seville in June, make it clear that nothing in the Treaty of Nice, or in any other Treaty, in any way compromises our traditional policy of military neutrality.
Furthermore, in the referendum in October, in addition to enabling the State to ratify the Treaty of Nice, the people will have the chance to ensure that Ireland could not become a member of an EU Common Defence now, or at any time in the future, without a further referendum. This places the question firmly in the hands of the people. If voters are concerned about neutrality, they should vote yes and put this guarantee in the Constitution.
But people should not close their minds to the positive role that the EU is playing in furthering its commitment to justice, development and international peace. Many people who are profoundly committed to the principle of military neutrality are wary of a situation where one power carries overwhelming influence in the world, and where it may seem difficult for other views to prevail.
I strongly contend that the European Union has a different voice, a voice that is in harmony and keeping with the views and beliefs of the Irish people. It, too, can be a force for good. The EU is making a difference. It has a serious commitment to sustainable development. It is working with the poorest countries on the earth, building their access to European markets. It cares about ensuring peace, stability and justice.
It is important that Ireland continue to play a full and active part in shaping its decisions and in advancing its work in this area. We should not underestimate the strength of our arguments or the extent of our ability to influence.
In a way, however, these issues that I have mentioned - the debate about the future of Europe, ensuring democratic accountability, neutrality - are not actually what the Treaty of Nice is about - although I might add in passing that I think that it is extremely useful and valuable that they are being discussed.
The Treaty of Nice is about preparing the Union for enlargement, the most important project it currently faces. There are twelve countries in negotiation to join, ten ready to come in. Without ratification of the Treaty of Nice there is simply no agreed basis on which they can do so. The outcome of the referendum is of critical importance to them.
But it is also of vital importance to Ireland. The damaging effects of a no vote for our economic well-being have been widely set out, not just by the Government but by people in business and by independent observers. A no vote risks undermining investor confidence and, in an increasingly competitive environment, this is a risk we can ill afford to take.
But I would also like to see voters focussing on the positive consequences of a decision to ratify Nice and to facilitate enlargement.
Since we joined in 1973, the European Union has grown and developed, and we in Ireland have grown and developed with it. Each wave of enlargement - Spain, Portugal and Greece, Austria and Finland - has increased our trade and developed our economy. With every step forward for the Union, Ireland has gained.
We have demonstrated an ability to network and to influence, to an extent way beyond that which our size would suggest. We are very well equipped to deal with the challenges of a Union of 27 Members and should have full confidence in embracing the challenge.
Increased markets and greater opportunities in Europe mean more jobs at home. Its as simple an equation as that.
Our businesses have already begun preparing the ground in the applicant countries. A great many SMEs, as well as larger companies including AIB and CRH, have established a presence. For our exporting sectors, EU membership for the applicants will bring 100 million new consumers into the Single Market. We are competitive, keen and ready to grow.
We will also gain politically from enlargement. Aside from the goodwill that a decision to vote for enlargement will generate, we also share a great deal in common with many of the applicant countries.
For some of them, as for us, agriculture is a vital concern. In the important debates on the CAP that lie ahead, they will be new and important allies.
Many of them are, like us, smaller countries. At present, in a Union of 15, 5 Member States are large, 10 small. In a Union of 27, there will be 6 large Member States and 21 small and medium sized ones. This is an important consideration in the debates on the future shape and institutional balance of the Union that will take place in coming years. Indeed the applicants are already represented in the European Convention where questions about Europe's future are being considered. Again, when it comes to protecting our own interests, many of the new Member States will be our natural allies.
The case for a yes vote is a strong and positive one. The Government will be fighting a vigorous campaign to get our message across. In this, we will have the support not only of other parties in the Oireachtas, but also of groups representing the rich diversity of Irish society - from business to trades unions, farming to disability activists. It is highly appropriate that this should be the case.
Our thirty years of involvement in Europe has been a shared endeavour, touching and enriching the lives of all parts of our community. We have grown and developed together. A yes vote will ensure that we continue to do so as we go forward.