26th Amendment of the Constitution Bill: Second Stage Speech by Minister Cowen, Part 3
I know that there are those, many of who will have voted No to every EU treaty, who are possibly irreconcilable on this issue. I deeply regret this. The vast majority of these people share the Government’s deep commitment to the principles of justice, equality and the building of a better world. They fail to see that the Union is already a major vehicle for achieving these goals and can become an even stronger force for good in the future.
I accept that just like the individual citizens and the nations which make up the Union, the Union itself is not perfect. But it does bring together the collective resources and resolve of fifteen of the most wealthy and progressive nations on this planet. Through its common foreign and security policy it seeks to safeguard common values, to preserve peace and strengthen international security , to promote international cooperation, to develop and consolidate democracy and the rule of law, and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.
These objectives are pursued in full accordance with the UN Charter as provided for in the Treaties. The EU is not in competition with the UN. On the contrary, it makes a full and active contribution to the system of global security founded on the UN Charter and is involved in increasingly close cooperation with the UN in pursuit of UN policies and decisions.
Only last week, I participated in a conference in Sweden, which brought together representatives of European governments, the EU, the UN, the OSCE, the Council of Europe and NATO to discuss a more coherent and complementary approach to conflict prevention. This conference responded to the call from the UN Secretary-General to arrange regional workshops in order to discuss specific regional dimensions of cooperation in conflict prevention.
The reality is that the UN is increasingly relying on regional organisations such as the EU to implement the provisions of the Charter and to carry out tasks mandated under it. Europe is fortunate in have strong and well resourced organisations such as the EU to act on its behalf. In other areas of the world, such as Africa, there is a grave need to build up the capacity of regional organisations which can act quickly and decisively to head off and resolve regional conflicts.
So it is surely time to move on from alarmist talk of a European army and the ‘militarisation’ of the EU. The EU is not a defence alliance. Those European States which wish to enter into a collective defence pact see their security guaranteed through NATO, which seems certain to undergo a significant expansion at the end of the year. Ireland is not a member of NATO and we have no desire to become so.
Since its origins, fifty years ago in the European Coal and Steel Community, the European Union has been about peace, not war. Indeed, some commentators have justly described it as the most successful peace process in the world. The EU succeeded in turning swords into plough-shares, enabling our generation to enjoy the fruits of the longest period of peace western Europe has known. This considerable achievement will be consolidated through the historic enlargement of the Union for which the Nice Treaty paves the way.
The EU has sought to express the shared values on which it was founded through its Common Foreign and Security Policy. The CFSP has given the Union a stronger voice on the world stage. Who can doubt that Ireland’s participation in the CFSP has given us a stronger voice in international affairs.
Of course, the CFSP is only one aspect of the Union’s external outreach. Development aid, where the EU is the world’s single largest donor, trade, cultural relations and humanitarian assistance are some of the tools through which the EU is also able to act in support of the common values that we share with our EU Partners.
Since the Amsterdam Treaty, which was approved by the Irish people, the Union has also worked to develop a capacity in crisis management within the framework of the European Security and Defence Policy. The aim of this initiative is to enable the Union to undertake humanitarian and peace support operations, the areas of the Petersburg Tasks. Ireland should not flinch from participation in such missions as long as the triple lock requirements I have already described are fully met.
I have already mentioned that next January, the EU will assume responsibility for the UN Police Mission in Bosnia, where it will assist in training a multi-ethnic police force acceptable to all the people in that country. This will be the first mission under the ESDP and it is my intention that officers from the Garda Síochána will form part of this Mission as they have its UN predecessor.
This is what Ireland’s involvement in the ESDP is about – continuing the tradition of peacekeeping service in which we have justly earned a first-class reputation over the last forty years. Moreover, it is also entirely consistent with the wishes and approach of the UN with regard to peace keeping and crisis management. Ireland is not departing from our traditional policy by participating in such missions. On the contrary, it would be an abandonment of all that we have traditionally stood for in terms of our engagement in the international community and our reputation for peace keeping and conflict resolution, if we were to turn our backs on the European Union’s efforts in this regard. Approval of the Nice Treaty will signal a reaffirmation rather than a departure from that vocation.
At the end of the day, the choice to be made in the referndum is quite straighforward. This is not the time for us to hesitate, to turn away from the path we have followed for thirty years. Europe has been good for Ireland, and enlarged Europe will continue to be good for Ireland. For us to say No to Nice definitively would damage the European Union, the candidate countries, and our own interests. We would lose friends and influence, in Brussels and across Europe. That is most emphatically not in our interests. International perceptions of our commitment to the Union would be shaken, with consequences over time for investment, trade and jobs.
The Treaty of Nice need not be feared. It should instead be supported as a key to a better future for all Europeans. It does not harm Ireland’s interests, it protects them. Voting Yes will win us friends and will open up a new pool of political goodwill from which we can draw in future. It will enhance our interests, and will strengthen our position with the new Member States and in the debate about the future of Europe. Ireland needs Europe and Europe needs Ireland.
That is why the Government believes Nice should be ratified. A Yes vote is a vote for jobs, growth and Ireland’s future.
I hereby move that the 26th amendment to the Constitution Bill be read a second time. Top