Patrick MacGill Summer School and Arts Week Opening Address by Dick Roche TD, Part 2
The Treaty of Nice is about enlargement. Its ratification is necessary for enlargement to proceed as planned.
The existing member states have been agreed for years that there is a need for some institutional changes before an enlargement of this magnitude could take place. These changes are set out in the Treaty of Nice. They affect both existing and new members. It would not be logical or sensible to make these changes in an accession Treaty as has been suggested by the No campaign. The institutional aspects of the Accession Treaty will be based entirely on the Treaty of Nice and on the assumption that it will enter into force.
The Treaty of Nice represents a hard-fought compromise. In the view of the Government - and, I should add, of all other small states - the deal done at Nice protected our interests while allowing for the changes deemed necessary. On the whole, the end result was much closer to our starting point than it was to those of countries like France and Germany. For example, this was true in relation to the Commission - where France was proposing an immediate cap of twelve to fifteen members. We secured the principle of equality of all Member States and ensured that there would be no reduction in size before the Union grows to 27 members. Of course it would theoretically have been possible for the negotiations to have taken another course. But they didn’t. And there is no reasonable basis for believing that any renegotiation would have resulted in any substantially different outcome.
People often ask what will happen if we vote No again. To be frank, there is no Plan B waiting in somebody’s back pocket. What we can say for definite is that
· there would be major disruption of the enlargement negotiations, which are now drawing to a close.
· there would be no legal basis for the changes all Member States believe are needed for the institutions to work effectively after enlargement.
· at the very minimum, there would be serious further delay, confusion and doubt, with no guarantee how a legally sustainable and politically agreed alternative could be found.
· this crisis in the Union would have been brought about by Ireland, a country which has benefited more than any other from EU membership. That perception - that reality - could not be other than damaging. We would squander goodwill and influence - for absolutely no good positive reason, economic, political or cultural.
Again, it is contended by the No side that it is undemocratic - some even say unconstitutional - for the Government to put the issue to the people again. This is quite incorrect. Let me be clear. The Irish people have the sovereign right to make up their own minds. But the Government believes that it not only has the right, but the duty, to ask people to think again. The two parties in Government made it quite clear in our manifestoes that we would do so. There are times in all our lives when it is right to think again. Frankly, we believe that the issues involved are of such importance to Ireland and to Europe, that the stakes are so high, that the people should be asked to reflect carefully.
Moreover, since June 2001, the context has changed. The enlargement negotiations have moved on very substantially, to a point where it is now highly probable that they will be completed with ten countries within months. The Government has tried hard to respond to the people’s concerns. We have obtained a Declaration of the Seville European Council confirming that Nice poses no threat to our policy of military neutrality. The proposed amendment to the Constitution copperfastens this by making it clear that Ireland will never be committed to a common defence unless the Irish people agree otherwise in a referendum.
There has been, for the first time ever, a structured national debate on Europe in the National Forum. And the Government has put in place rigorous new arrangements to assist the Oireachtas in the more effective scrutiny of EU business.
Insofar as there is a democratic deficit in relation to European issues - and at times the opponents of the Union use the phrase very glibly - much of it has arisen at the Dublin end. Successive Governments, and members of the Oireachtas, have not done enough to debate European issues or to communicate them either to interest groups or to the public at large. That is now changing, at long last. It may have taken the shock of last year’s referendum for everyone to realise what was needed. But I assure you that the message has been heard loud and clear.
In this context, it is more than a bit ironic that some opponents of Nice have objected to the preparation of a purely factual and objective revised White Paper and public information guide. The Government wants people to have full access to all the facts. We have set up the Referendum Commission in plenty of time and have given it a budget of €3.5 million. But we also thought that - like last time - we should produce additional information material, updated where necessary.
Over the past thirty years, opponents of Ireland’s EU membership have been allowed to peddle myths which too often have either gone unchallenged or been forgotten. For instance, at one time or another, it was alleged that
· there would be a loss of national identity and cultural distinctiveness
· Ireland’s capacity to develop its international trade would be hindered
· Ireland’s population would decline massively
· EEC membership would in no way help to bring about equal pay between men and women.
· Ireland’s neutrality would be abandoned.
Only this week I noticed that a flyer from the No to Nice campaign was alleging that tax harmonisation was a likely consequence of the Treaty - when the Taoiseach succeeded at Nice in maintaining unanimity on all tax matters.
These and similar myths are recycled from one referendum to the next, along with the narrow-minded preoccupations with an out-dated concept of sovereignty which I have described elsewhere as Mrs Thatcher’s hand-me-downs. The more that people have access to the facts, the more they will see how unsustainable these arguments are.
Why would anyone be worried about the prospect of an informed electorate? If people understand what is in the Treaty of Nice - and equally importantly what is not - they can make up their own minds. I believe when they appreciate what is involved they will vote yes. Unlike some on the no side, the Government has nothing to fear from making the facts available.
I believe that Ireland has everything to gain from a Union which consolidates its great achievements of the last fifty years and continues to develop organically and with the consent and support of its people.
Over the coming week, you can look forward to more detailed discussion of all these issues. I too look forward to debating them during the autumn referendum campaign. But, in the welter of detail, we should not lose sight of the original purposes underlying the Union’s creation, which remain valid today. I believe that the Irish people are open-minded, self-confident and generous enough to rally to them.