26th Amendment of the Constitution Bill: Second Stage Speech by Minister Cowen, Part 2
It is because we believe enlargement is in the interests of the Union, of the candidate countries, and of Ireland that the Government has decided to hold a second referendum. The ratification of the Treaty of Nice is essential for enlargement to proceed as planned. We remain convinced that the terms of the Treaty represent a fair, reasonable and balanced deal.
This newly elected Government sought a democratic mandate to put the question again, and it is strange that there are those who would seek to deny the people the chance to have a final say.
It is also quite inconsistent and illogical to support enlargement, as many in the No camp sincerely do, but to oppose the only available agreed means by which it can be brought about.
In the preamble to the Treaty itself it is made clear that its objective is to make the changes necessary for the institutions to continue to function effectively after enlargement, changes which it has been agreed for years are necessary.
Consistently since then, most recently at Seville, the European Council has confirmed that the ratification of Nice is “a condition for enlargement to take place within the scheduled timescale”.
Were Nice not to be ratified there would be a major crisis in the enlargement negotiations, which would be seriously disrupted. There is no agreed basis other than the Treaty provisions agreed at Nice.
The sweeping allegations made against Nice are wholly unfounded. There is no new area in which the European Union will be entitled to act, no transfer of competence from the Member States. It does not in any way fundamentally alter the nature of the Union, the balances between the institutions, or the relationship between large and small Member States. It does not erode or destroy national independence and sovereignty. It does not allow for the creation of a two-tier Europe.
I want to highlight briefly the truth of four elements which are frequently the subject of misrepresentation.
First, as regards the Commission, it was agreed at Nice that, for the first time ever, all Member States will be exactly equal in terms of their right to nominate a Commissioner. The larger Member States will from 2005 lose their right to a second Commissioner. From then on, each Member State will nominate one each, until the Union reaches 27 - some way down the line. Membership of the Commission will then be on the basis of guaranteed equal rotation, with the details to be agreed unanimously. This outcome protects our strong interest in a coherent and effective Commission, while offering us absolute equality in this area for the first time. Ireland will be on exactly the same terms as Germany, France, Britain and every other Member State..
Second, as regards the Council of Ministers, it is true that the larger Member States have gained a little in relative terms - to balance out their loss in relation to the Commission. But we will continue to have about three times as many votes as our population would strictly suggest - or about six times as many as Germany's on a per capita basis. There is no large swing towards the big states.
Third, on the issue of Qualified Majority Voting, it is true that some thirty new areas will fall under QMV. This is portrayed by some as a huge loss of sovereignty. What they do not acknowledge is that most decisions can already be taken by QMV. This has worked to our advantage, in allowing for smoother decision-making. And, of course, some highly sensitive areas, including in regard to taxation, remain subject to unanimity, because we and our allies specifically fought to ensure that this would be the case.
Fourth, it has been alleged that the new provisions in the area of enhanced co-operation will somehow result in a two-tier Europe. This is just not true. In practice we already have examples, above all the Euro, where different Member States move forward at different paces. Enhanced co-operation is about creating the possibility of some flexibility on a case-by-case basis in a Union of up to 27. It is not about creating a permanent vanguard or inner core. Any Member State can join any group at any time. There will be an extensive range of safeguards put in place to ensure that the interests of the Union and of individual Member States will be protected. Enhanced co-operation cannot take place in such a way as to damage the Single Market. Under no circumstances can it take place in the security and defence area. There may be times when Ireland will wish to take part in enhanced co-operation: there may be other times when we choose not to.
As these four examples show, the approach of the Treaty's opponents to its actual provisions has mixed alarmism, hyperbole, and simple misrepresentation. The facts are quite different.
Since last year's referendum, the Government have taken a range of major steps to address specific concerns raised during it and since.
The National Forum on Europe has provided an invaluable platform for the sort of sustained and balanced debate on European issues which we have not previously enjoyed. It will continue to fulfil that role in the period ahead, up to the referendum, and as the European Convention moves forward.
A rigorous new system of Oireachtas scrutiny of EU business is now in place, with arrangements both for Departmental reports on proposals for legislation and for pre-Council briefing of Committees. We are working closely with the European Affairs Committee to ensure that the new system beds down effectively and that it fulfils its objective of ensuring greater democratic accountability. The Government has also indicated its willingness to place the new arrangements on a legislative footing at an early date.
We have it in our own hands, if we approach the new arrangements in the right spirit, to rectify much of the so-called democratic deficit. We must also work with like-minded states in the EU to achieve further reform at the European level. Across Europe, there is a widespread sense that the institutions of the Union are remote from its citizens, and that there is a need for greater simplicity and clarity about how and when the Union acts. The European Convention now meeting in Brussels is addressing these issues in a very open and wide-ranging debate which is intended to prepare the ground for a future Intergovernmental Conference which will take the decisions.
I would like to turn now to the question of the impact on the Nice Treaty on Ireland's traditional policy of military neutrality. This is, I know an issue of concern to many people this country.
During the last referendum campaign the Government made clear that the Nice Treaty would in no way threaten or undermine our military neutrality. Some among the NO campaign disputed this and made a number of mistaken and misleading claims. They argued, among other things, that the entry into force of the Nice Treaty would involve Ireland's membership of a military alliance and that the young men and women of Ireland would be conscripted into a European army. These claims were without substance and the Government has acted decisively since the last referendum to demonstrate that this is so.
In the first instance, the Taoiseach secured agreement at the Seville European Council to two declarations which set out an agreed interpretation of the relevant provisions of the Treaties, including as they would stand after the entry into force of the treaty of Nice. Taken together, these declarations:
‒ confirm that the development of the European Union's Common Foreign and Security Policy shall not prejudice Ireland's traditional policy of military neutrality;
‒ make clear that the Treaties do not impose any binding defence commitments and that the development of the Unions's capacity to conduct humanitarian and crisis management tasks does not involve the establishment of a European army;
‒ recognise that Ireland will not participate in a common defence arrangement without that approval of the Irish people in a referendum;
‒ confirm that Irish troop contingents will not take part in EU operations unless the operation is authorised by the UN, and the deployment is agreed by the Government and approved by the Dáil.
This is the shared understanding of the governments of the 15 Member states who negotiated the Treaty, backed up by the Legal Services of the EU Council. What more conclusive interpretation can there be? The No lobby claimed that the declarations are not legally binding. But the Treaties are, and it is the Treaties, into which successive Irish governments of different complexions have successfully negotiated specific safeguards for our policy of military neutrality which provide the necessary legal guarantees. The Seville declarations confirm that these guarantees are there and that they are respected by all fifteen Member States.
Falling back on their next line of defence, the No lobby then claimed that the Government could not be trusted to deliver on its promise to hold a referendum on any move by Ireland to join a common EU common defence alliance. Another false allegation. The Government have demonstrated this by putting forward a proposal which would make approval of the Nice Treaty conditional on an amendment of the Constitution to prevent Ireland joining an EU common defence alliance without approval of the people through referendum.
More specifically, the proposed amendment, if approved by the people, will have the effect of preventing the State from adopting a decision taken by the European Council to establish a common defence in accordance with Article 17.1 of the Treaty on European Union, and as set out in Article 1.2 of the Treaty of Nice, where that common defence would include Ireland.
In putting forward this proposal, the Government have not only changed the question which is being put before the people, but we have surely eliminated the last remaining doubts not only removed any reasonable outstanding doubts that the Nice Treaty poses a threat to Irish neutrality.
Our message is clear. We said last time out that the Nice Treaty posed no threat to Irish neutrality. We told the people there was no European army in the making. We explained that the threat of conscription was a fantasy. We promised that Ireland would not join a military alliance without the say so of the people. We have now demonstrated beyond all doubt that what we said was true and accurate. Those members of the electorate who hesitated last time out can now vote Yes to Nice in confidence. Ireland's traditional policy of military neutrality is safe.