Address by Minister of State Roche to the Wicklow Executive of the Irish Farmers Association Part 2
As members of the farming community you know how different the picture would be without Europe.
Insofar as Irish agriculture is concerned, it would make no sense whatsoever to put ourselves offside with the Community. The CAP may have its problems and frustrations but those problems can only be influenced from within the Union.
The reality is of course that in the forthcoming referendum on the Nice Treaty a No vote will put Ireland offside with Europe. We will be putting ourselves offside with almost 350 million people in the other 14 member states. We will be putting ourselves offside with over 110 million in the ten states who are about to become part of the enlarged European community if, and only if, the Irish people vote Yes. We hold the key to their future.
There has been an attempt on the No side of the argument to introduce a form of censorship in Ireland in recent times. We witnessed that in the crude response by the Green Party, hardly friends of Irish agriculture and certainly no friend to the son or daughter of any farming family waiting to build a home on family land in Wicklow, when the President of Ireland, the first citizen of this nation, a professor of law, made an observation of fact relating to the Nice Treaty. Ironically, the very Green Party members who attacked the President of Ireland stating a fact, were the previous week singing the praises of a past President of France for exercising his views on a matter of constitutional significance to this Nation.
We witnessed the same hysteria when a senior executive of the IDA made a factual observation as to the huge damage which will be done to Ireland’s efforts to attract and retain jobs if we frustrate the process of European enlargement.
The benefits of enlargement to Ireland are self-evident. We are a trading nation. In agriculture and in industry we must out of necessity export the vast bulk of what we produce to survive and to prosper.
Membership of the enlarged community will mean that we in Ireland will enjoy a domestic market of 470 million people. Ireland must be at the very heart of that market. The great advantage of expansion to Ireland at this point is that we have developed our economy to the point where we can be self-confident in our capacity to engage with and to trade into the expanded market.
There are those who continue to argue that with enlargement Irish agriculture will lose out. Wrong again. Undoubtedly there will be challenges as well as opportunities, but let us look at the facts.
Some people have said that because standards are lower, applicant countries will undercut us. Not true. The EU’s position is perfectly clear. There will be no compromise on food safety and consumer protection. There must be full compliance by the applicant countries with respect to EU requirements on veterinary and phytosanitary standards. Farmers in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe have a lot of catching up to do. It will be very difficult for them to reach the necessary standards to compete.
There are those who have said that there will be a substantial increase in the exports of cheaper foods, fueled by cheaper labour, into our markets. Again, the facts do not support this. While agri-food exports from the central and eastern European countries to the EU doubled from 1988 to 1998, EU exports to them increased almost tenfold. The result is that the net balance for the EU as a whole has risen from a negative balance of 1m to a positive 2m.
For Ireland, a new market of 100 million consumers gives us enormous scope to grow our trade, including in the food and drink sectors. From a roughly balanced picture in 1990, in 2000 total Irish imports from the countries of central and eastern Europe amounted to €635m, but Irish exports reached €1185m. As far as the food, drink and tobacco sector was concerned, exports were €58.4m while imports amounted to a modest €8.9m.
The experts in the field - an Bórd Bia, the Irish Dairy Board, ICOS and IBEC do not believe that enlargement represents a significant market threat.
The Nice Treaty is about Enlargement. It has a single focus. It represents the best assessment of 15 existing member states as to the changes which are necessary to prepare the institutions of the European Union for the most significant growth in its history.
Enlargement cannot take place within the timetable which has been set without the Irish people voting Yes to Nice. To suggest that Ireland can frustrate the entire process of Enlargement without some cost to ourselves is not dealing with reality.
As every farmer knows, we need friends and allies to wield influence in Europe. Since we entered the European Community in 1973 we have shown ourselves to be able and effective in this respect. We have been effective at building alliances. We have always been able to gather friends around us when we need to. We have consistently punched above our weight in the Council and with the Commission. Ireland’s reputation in Europe is high. Now as important decisions are to be taken, particularly in agriculture, is not the moment to lose our nerve.
Enlargement offers the prospects not only of new markets and customers, it also brings into the Union a large number of new States with whom we have something in common. In many ways these new Member states see Ireland as a role model for success. Many of these new states would be allies of Ireland in future negotiations on policies of central importance to ourselves such as the CAP. In the challenges we face in the period immediately ahead when the controversial CAP proposals are being discussed we will need all the allies we can get. We certainly do not need to be making enemies for ourselves.
Like the Taoiseach, I very much welcome the leadership that the IFA and the ICMSA have given in urging a Yes vote to Nice.
I of course know that there are some within the agricultural community who are unhappy or frustrated or annoyed about aspects of the CAP as it operates or about the Commission proposals for the mid-term review or the bureaucracy with which farmers must struggle. That should not, however, be translated into a No vote.
Our ability to influence the outcome of future discussions will certainly not be assisted by a No vote. As the Minister for Agriculture has observed recently, it would be particularly ironic if in a mistaken attempt to protect our agricultural interests Irish farmers were to exclude from the EU a group of countries who are in the main even more dependant on agriculture than Ireland is and who, therefore, would provide the type of allies we need and should welcome.
The Government is asking the people to think again about Nice. We are doing so not because we have any lack of respect for a decision taken by the people but because we believe that this is a matter of such crucial and vital importance to our future that we have a duty to reflect carefully the issues involved.
Ireland has nothing whatsoever to fear from the Nice Treaty.
One of the core issues mentioned on the last occasion, the question of an impact on Ireland’s neutrality, has already been addressed in the Seville Declaration and the Irish people can copper-fasten our neutrality by voting Yes in a referendum that will provide that we cannot enter into a common defence without having the prior approval of the people themselves in a referendum.
There are no benefits, economic or otherwise, for this country in voting No. I would challenge anybody advocating a no vote to say what economic or social benefit will flow from a no vote. What benefit will flow to agriculture from a no vote?
There is no benefit for putting ourselves offside with Europe. There is no benefit for creating the impression that somehow Ireland doesn’t wish to engage fully with Europe.
The overwhelming benefits and advantages to this nation are with a Yes vote. That is why we are asking the Irish people to think again.Top