Speech by Minister of State Mr. Tom Kitt T.D., 26th Amendment of the Constitution Bill
A Cheann Comhairle
No area of the European Union's activities better demonstrates its commitment to peace and justice in the world than its massive contribution to the needs of developing countries. The Union currently provides 55% of total international development assistance, making it by far the world's largest aid donor. The primary aim of this unique effort is the reduction of global poverty. Ireland can be proud of the constructive part it plays in this great enterprise that is targeted to the poor of the world.
Let me give you some recent examples of how the Union acting together has been able to make a difference in relation to development issues.
I come to the House today having returned from the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development where Ireland, as a member of the EU, was able to make a significant and decisive contribution to many of the more positive elements of the Summit's outcome.
None of us would try to claim that we achieved everything that we wanted in Johannesburg, but strong EU negotiation contributed to considerable progress being made in many areas, including the agreements on plans to increase access to clean drinking water and safe sanitation for the world's poor, and in other areas such as preservation of fish stocks.
Likewise, it was a united European Union front which can largely be credited with securing the strong commitments in the final text on corporate responsibility and accountability. I pressed for the inclusion of a full reference to the issue in the Summit's Political Declaration, a point of importance for Irish NGO representatives.
At Johannesburg, Ireland was also able to rely on support from our EU partners on the issue of negotiations on agricultural subsidies, where we were able to secure agreement that these negotiations would remain within the appropriate international rules-based processes of the Doha Development Round of the WTO, which are best equipped to deliver a fair world order in trade.
It is also noteworthy that, even in the area where we saw one of the major disappointments at Johannesburg, that of targets for the increased use of renewable energies, the EU has agreed and announced collectively that its Member States will proceed with implementation of the ambitious targets we have set for ourselves and will also continue to pursue others to take similar action.
These are real achievements which will bring benefits across the globe, particularly to the developing world. They illustrate the importance of European solidarity in international fora. As the Taoiseach said in Johannesburg, it is inconceivable that Ireland, as a small country negotiating alone, could have been able to make such a difference.
Let me give you another example of the EU's involvement in development. I have just returned from Southern Africa, where I saw at first hand the difference that EU Development assistance can make on the ground in Zambia and Malawi. Up to13 million people are facing the prospect of starvation in six countries across the region. The suffering of the people of Southern Africa is being aggravated by the impact of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. In some countries in the region, 1 in 3 adults is now infected by the disease.
The EU is taking the lead in the international response to both of these humanitarian disasters. It has given almost 150 million so far in assistance to provide immediate food aid and humanitarian relief across Southern Africa. To tackle the devastating impact of HIV/AIDS, the European Commission is providing 120 million to the Global Trust Fund to fight HIV/AIDS. When the contributions of Member States, including Ireland, are taken into account, the EU is providing over half of the total of $2 billion pledged to the fund so far.
In addition to aid grants and humanitarian assistance, the Union's development effort is strongly focussed on integrating developing countries into the international trading system. The EU is the world's largest single market and the main trading partner for many developing countries. As a former Minister for Trade, I am aware of the positive potential of international trade for developing countries. In the era of globalisation, trade is one of the most powerful engines of economic growth and development. I believe that helping developing countries to participate in the global economy can lead to a reduction in poverty. Our own experience in Ireland has shown us how trade can transform a country's economic growth. We need to help our partners in the developing world to participate in the global economy so they can also benefit from the opportunities offered by globalisation.
As Trade Minister leading the Irish Delegation to the WTO Ministerial meeting in Doha last November, I actively contributed to the EU's efforts to ensure that the concerns of developing countries would be at the core of the new World Trade Organisation round of negotiations. That this goal was achieved is evidenced by the fact that this round is called the “Doha Development Agenda”. The EU is providing leadership in the international effort to make globalisation work for the poor, both through its constructive role in the new Trade Round and, in particular, through its “Everything but Arms” initiative. “Everything but Arms” extends duty and quota free access to the European market for some of the poorest countries in the world for all their goods, except arms.
The Cotonou Agreement, which the Dail ratified in May, represents another milestone in the Union's efforts to promote sustainable development and to reduce poverty. This unique trade, aid and political agreement will make 25 billion in aid available to close to seventy -seven developing countries in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific over the next five years. No other international instrument is as global in its scope and none so effectively integrates the three interdependent pillars of political dialogue, economic development and substantial development aid. The Cotonou Agreement represents a solemn affirmation of the Union' s solidarity with our partners in the developing world, and of our determination to help them in their struggle for economic and social development, peace and justice.
I would like now to turn to the progress that has been made in the development of the common approach of the European Union to human rights. Europe is so much more than a free trade area or an alliance of convenience. It is a Union of values. Human rights are at the core of European integration. Ireland, along with our partners in Europe, is committed to the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for universal and indivisible human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law. These values are a compass that helps guide our external relations.
A major strength of Europe is the legal framework underlying all our action. We have treaties which legally enshrine democratic values and human rights, the promotion of social justice and sustainable economic development within and without the EU. Europe's political weight makes it a potent voice for promoting respect for human rights and for addressing the human rights situation in specific countries. In so doing, we can marshal the combined political force of 15 member states and more than double that number when the associated countries align themselves with EU policies and declarations. This means that we can speak with one voice to countries, bilaterally, in many human rights fora such as the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva and the Third Committee at the UN General Assembly and also at international conferences such as the World Summit on Sustainable Development.
I hope that what I have said about the role of the Union in the developing world and in the area of Human Rights demonstrates the extent to which we and our partners share a similar outlook on some of the greatest challenges of our time, namely, the bridging of the divide between North and South, the reduction of poverty and the building of a world based on the principles of justice and equality.
Throughout this debate, a great many speakers have pointed to the enormous benefit Ireland has gained through its membership of the European Union. Our membership has, I would argue, changed Ireland beyond recognition and significantly for the better.
It is for that reason that the decision now facing the Irish people is one of the utmost importance. In voting on the Treaty of Nice, they will shape Ireland's future relationship with the Union, with our current partners and with those countries waiting to join.
As someone who has been involved in promoting Ireland's interests in international negotiations for much of my Ministerial career, I cannot overemphasise the seriousness of this decision. We are faced with two options: to remain part of one of the most successful ever international groupings, and in which we have, as I have just shown, been able to play a constructive role, or to retreat into isolation.
I absolutely reject the contention, made by some, that a decision to vote No would be risk free, that it would carry no negative consequences, that things could proceed afterwards just as they had before. Nothing could be further from the truth. If we vote “No”, we block the best ever opportunity to unite the countries of central and eastern Europe with those of the west and in so doing, consign ourselves to the margins, where our voice will be weaker and our influence diminished.
This is a prospect so appalling that I am confident that no Irish voter, when aware of what is at stake, would wish to consider it.
There is no Plan B. In making a decision of this importance, voters need to understand the full range of outcomes and consequences. It does them a disservice to pretend that a decision to reject Nice would not damage our wider relations and take us out of the European mainstream. To pretend that it would not give foreign investors pause for thought is to ignore the advice of experts in the field who have worked hard to bring business to Ireland.
But what perplexes me about arguments for a No vote is that there is absolutely no objective reason why the Irish people should reject the Treaty of Nice. The Treaty itself, as the Minister for Foreign Affairs has rightly observed, is a modest one. It does what is necessary to prepare the European Union for enlargement, while protecting all that is important and that has worked well. It adjusts arrangements within the institutions to the extent necessary to allow them to operate effectively with 27 rather than 15 Member States, while protecting the interests of Members, especially, I might note, the smaller ones.
The government played a key and active role in the negotiations that led to the Treaty and the deal they secured is a good one. Ireland has nothing to fear from the Treaty of Nice.
Nor has Ireland anything to fear about our ability to protect our interests in an expanded EU. Quite the contrary. Ireland has made an overwhelming success of our membership of the Union. We have used the opportunities with which it presented us to the full. Our economy has grown, creating more jobs for Irish people at home. Our society has broadened its horizons - women in particular, have felt the benefit of the Union's focus on the principle of equality. Workers have benefited from higher standards, students from education and training opportunities. Our farmers used money from the CAP to modernise and diversify and as a result are now better placed to meet the challenges ahead.
There is only one realistic choice for us in this situation. The European Union has proven to be a unique force of enlightenment for government and public administration in Ireland. This is not just the case for Ministers participating in the Council, but also for our public service as a whole. From my experience, our public servants have always demonstrated great skills in negotiations on behalf of both their country and the European Union and we should never underestimate this fact. I have had many occasions to witness this e.g. in our negotiations to enlarge the Union from 12 to 15 members some years ago and more recently through participation in WTO negotiations and the Summit in Johannesburg.
The future of the European Union is an exciting one. The expansion to the east brings in new members, many of whom have a great deal in common with Ireland. It creates a market for our products. Enlargement will raise economic standards in the countries coming in. It creates new opportunities for Irish businesses in trade and investment terms. There will be a great many opportunities to be seized. It is vital that Ireland position itself to avail of them in full.
In voting for Nice, we are not being asked to make a choice between Irish interests and those of others. We are being given a chance to say that we are committed Europeans, that we want to play a full and central part in the important times ahead, that as a country that has gained so much through our partnership in Europe, we now want to offer the same chance to others. In voting Yes, we risk nothing and stand to gain so much. It is the only sensible approach. A Yes vote is a vote for Ireland's future. Top