Remarks by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Brian Cowen TD at the Launch of Government's White Paper on Nice Treaty
I would like to speak very directly today about Ireland's place in Europe.
Thirty years ago, we were about to join the EEC. There was a sense of excitement in the country about the challenge and adventure that lay ahead. We wanted - and passionately wanted - a place for a new Ireland in the Europe that was then taking shape. In many ways, we had always looked to Europe as our home. We now wanted to reclaim our rightful place there.
In the intervening years, we as a nation have changed and developed. And so too has the Europe of which we are part. As the relationship has matured and deepened, it has, inevitably, also grown more complex. There is no point in trying to ignore this reality. Last June, the Irish people made it very clear that all is not as it was. Too much had been taken for granted; issues had not been sufficiently discussed; communication had not been what it should have been.
We have heard this message loud and clear. I know that it has also been heard in Brussels and in the other capitals of the Union. It is a serious message. It deserved and required a serious response. Ironically in the Declaration of Nice itself, but also in the Seville Declarations, in the new Constitutional amendment, in our National Forum, in the European Convention and in Oireachtas reform, we have been seeking to craft that response, and to take the people's concerns fully on board.
But in addition, I would suggest, this is also a time to reflect on the foundations of our relationship with Europe. Why did we so passionately want to join? What has sustained our enthusiasm over three decades?
The cynics will say that the story has always been about material prosperity - that we were interested only in cash transfers. I reject this insulting caricature of our people.
Of course, we wanted to be sure that we would be materially better off in Europe. We, rightly and understandably, wanted a different kind of future, and we looked to Europe to help us deliver it. And it has clearly done so, in a host of different ways. Membership of the Union has been and remains absolutely fundamental to our prosperity and economic success. A definitive No to Nice would be deeply damaging to these prospects in the future.
But, thirty years ago, we were also reaching for something more. Europe held out a larger promise, which spoke to our idealism and to our values as a people.
In Ireland, we have always had a deep sense of the importance of community. This is well captured in the Irish phrase : "Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine" - we are all interdependent.
That is fundamentally what Europe is about: finding a way for a range of independent states to work cooperatively and effectively together rather than in isolation and rivalry. It is about healing the wounds of the past and creating a new dynamic of partnership. And this in many ways is what drives the present commitment to enlargement.
Of course it can be argued that the Union is not perfect. Of course the mix of national interests does not always readily fit together. Of course each of us will always fight to get the best deal for our own people.
But this should not obscure the larger picture. The underlying set of values is still there. Over decades, the Union has driven a range of equality legislation that is second to none. The empowerment of Irish women, for example, owes much to the impetus from the Union. The regional policies and structural funds - from which Ireland has benefited so much - are essentially a statement of solidarity between the richer and poorer parts of the Union.
And solidarity does not stop at the borders of the Union. The intensive engagement with the Balkans is testimony to Europe's sense of justice and responsibility. The Union is the world's largest donor of development aid, with up to 7 bn from the budget being spent on development each year.
Again, let me emphasise that no one is suggesting that we view the Union through rose coloured spectacles. The Government certainly does not. We have emerged successfully from tough negotiations in the past. And we will negotiate equally effectively in the future - including on issues like the CAP. In the debate on the Future of the Union, we are determined to advance our own vision - one in which the continued centrality of the nation state is key.
But we must negotiate such issues in the right context, and with a sense of historical perspective and of the overall balance sheet. It would be wrong to confuse them with Nice. Nice is, first and last, about enlargement. It is about giving other European countries - many of whom were relatively recently liberated from external domination - the same opportunities that Ireland received thirty years ago. When we look at Europe, we should look at the total picture: a Union that is rock solid in its essentials; and a Union that stands for values that the Irish people strongly believe in.
It is the privilege of our generation to be part of a great European endeavour - and to make our own contribution to it. As a large minded people, more confident and outward looking than at any time in our history, I believe that we will rise to the challenge of Enlargement. And also that Irish business will take full advantage of the new economic and trading potential which the wider Europe will make available to us.
It is important, finally, that the contents of this White Paper be fully understood. It is clear that last year there was a widespread feeling that the issues had not been made sufficiently clear. The Government recognises that it has a duty to explain. This White Paper is intended to describe the contents of the Treaty in a factual, objective way. It also takes account of developments since last year - including the Seville Declarations, which it reproduces in full.
The Government will also be publishing and distributing nationwide a summary Information Guide in early September, which we hope will explain the Treaty of Nice in a clear and straightforward way.
Furthermore, the Government has already established the Referendum Commission, with a budget of Eur3.5 million. There can be no doubt that it will have all the time and resources it needs to perform its twin tasks of informing the people and of encouraging them to come out and vote.
It is important that people have the facts. We are doing all we can to ensure this. However, over and above this, it is fundamentally the duty of political leaders - and of all others who care passionately, one way or another, about Ireland and Europe - to breathe life into the issues, to bring our views before the people, to argue and to respond to the ebb and flow of debate.
We are ready to enter detailed debate on the contents of this White Paper, on the Treaty of Nice, on the Union's policies and programmes. We are ready to make clear that enlargement will offer us real gains. But we should also look beyond the details, and reclaim our larger vision of Europe. It is to that larger vision that I hope the Irish people will now rally.