National Forum on Europe, Friday 1 February 2002 Remarks by Brian Cowen TD, Minister for Foreign Affairs
The overall theme of today's session is “Ireland and an Enlarging Europe After Laeken: What Are the Choices?”. The broad institutional issues facing the European Union have been summed up by our keynote speaker, Minister Neyts, in her analysis of the Laeken Declaration. These will be thoroughly debated in the Future of Europe Convention. Ireland will be an active and positive participant. I believe it is possible to maintain the best features of the European Union, which have served Ireland and Europe so well, while modernising and reforming its institutions, above all to bring them closer to the people. As always, there will eventually be tough negotiations and difficult choices to be made
As a country, however, we face one fundamental choice. That is, are we or are we not committed to being at the heart of the European Union? I do not believe that we can be half-in or half-out.
The Forum has performed a huge service in opening up our national debate on Europe and bringing it to many different parts of the country. The mini-session I attended was fascinating. Very many people who spoke have understandable fears and uncertainties about the European Union. But I believe that some opponents of the Nice Treaty are, despite what they may say, fundamentally opposed to the EU as it has developed. I believe there is a need to tackle head on the misconceptions and misrepresentations which underlie this opposition.
It is gratifying that there appears to be so strong a consensus in support of enlargement. This is a very important signal for the Forum to send.
But we have to be clear in our own minds that support for enlargement, while it is an historic opportunity, is not based purely on altruism. It is in our national interest - just as every previous enlargement has been.
It is in Ireland's interests to expand the European zone of prosperity and opportunity through bringing in potentially dynamic new members ; to increase the Single Market by 120 million; to develop new investment and joint venture opportunities for Irish businesses. Expanding the Union's borders to the East and South will widen our commercial horizons too.
It is also in our interests to promote political stability and liberal democracy in parts of Europe which have suffered much themselves, and whose difficulties have in the past had huge and negative repercussions for the whole of the continent. Ireland may not have been directly involved in World War II or the Cold War. But we were certainly affected by both.
The positive message that enlargement is good for the people of Ireland, for Irish businesses and workers, has to be got across. And we need to keep offering reassurance to those who are worried about the impact of enlargement on investment or on agriculture. Enlargement is possible within the existing budgetary provisions.
If we are serious about supporting enlargement, as we are, we then need to accept the necessity of ratifying the Nice Treaty. It does not make sense to will the end and deny the means: and, despite what is said about other options, the reality is that both the current Members and the applicants see the Nice Treaty as providing the legal basis within which enlargement should and can proceed.
Ireland and the Global Economy
The main advantages of our EU membership today, early in the twenty-first century, are intimately linked to the nature of our economy as it now is.
Ireland's is a phenomenally open economy. We export 95% of our GDP. The AT Kearney/Foreign Policy Magazine annual globalization index, published in January, ranked Ireland as the most globalised country in the world.
We are rapidly beginning to exploit new openings: in the period 1998-2000, our exports to China grew by 121%, to Malaysia by 132%, to Korea by 194%.
The existence of the Single Market, now buttressed by Economic and Monetary Union, has been vital to the attraction and consolidation of inward investment, and to the growth of Irish-based companies.
There is fierce competition for inward investment - from China, for instance. If Ireland were outside the EU and the Single Market our chances of competing globally would be seriously damaged.
Membership of the European Union, as a key player in the World Trade Organisation, also gives us an involvement in shaping the rules of international trade, including at the launch of the new round in Doha: again, our influence outside the EU would be minimal.
This is the real world in which we live. Our involvement in the international economy is fundamental to our living standards and to our levels of employment. Our prosperity and that of our children depends on the maintenance of a peaceful, secure, rules-based trading environment.
Not so long ago, someone announced the end of history. Business and the pursuit of wealth was all that mattered. 11 September blew away such complacency. History hadn't gone away and it was suddenly clear to most of us that there could be no security and prosperity - not even for a fortunate few until we tackled the threat of international terrorism and the root causes of conflict on which it breeds.
I am proud of the fact that Ireland's foreign policy has a strong ethical dimension, based on the respect and promotion of human rights and a commitment to development cooperation. But the prevention and resolution of conflict, the promotion of peace and justice, can also have direct and clear practical benefits.
We can and should continue to promote our own particular Irish interests and values in our international relations, but if we are to exert real, sustained influence we must also pursue our policies through the UN, the WTO and the European Union.
Being in the European Union gives us a voice in an body which can have a global impact. To adopt a policy of ourselves alone would be opt for splendid, lonely and impoverished isolation.
Ireland cannot afford to follow the proud, but ultimately vain example of the Skibbereen Eagle by making bold pronouncements to an unhearing world. We have to work within international system, both on our own and in cooperation with others, in an effort to ensure that the world can be a better and safer place.
The European Union, the world's biggest aid donor, has unrivalled experience and expertise in conflict prevention and conflict resolution. Through our involvement in the Union's Common Foreign and Security Policy, Ireland is in privileged position to make a real contribution to global security.
Basic Purpose of the Common Foreign and Security Policy
Regrettably, more myths and misrepresentations abound about the CFSP than about any other aspect of the European Union.
It is claimed that it is about the militarisation of Europe: in fact Europe is less militarised now than at any time since well before the Second World War. The proposed Rapid Reaction Force clearly and explicitly does not involve the creation of any kind of European army.
It is alleged that the CFSP is a vehicle for the nostalgic imperialism of other Member States. In fact, it is about drawing in an innovative, forward-looking way on our differing traditions, strengths and resources to promote a stable and just world.
Many of those who are most critical of the EU at the same time rightly expect the international community to act in a concerted and effective way in crisis situations.
As Pat Cox has said, in such situations it is not enough simply to pass resolutions. There has to be a willingness to act, to take a range of necessary steps. The primacy of the United Nations is fully accepted, but the UN itself relies heavily on the capacities of its individual members and of regional organisations.
The EU is working to develop integrated approaches to conflict prevention and conflict resolution, making use of all the tools at our disposal. These can as required include a mix of classic diplomacy; a focus on human rights; economic assistance; sanctions; assistance in building or rebuilding institutions; the promotion of free and fair elections; police and judicial assistance; and the deployment of military personnel and police.
Here in Ireland we are rightly proud of our contribution to UN operations in the field of peacekeeping, peacemaking, truce supervision and civil policing. It is entirely in keeping with our principles that we should be centrally involved with our EU partners in developing the Union's military and civilian capacity to carry out such tasks in the name of peace.
Ireland will participate in such EU operations on a case by case basis, subject to the triple requirement of a UN mandate, a Government decision and Dáil approval.
We will not be signing up to a European army. We will not be joining a military alliance. We will not be taking on any binding mutual defence commitments. Those who claim that the Treaty of Nice will oblige us to do any of these things are quite simply wrong. I defy them to prove otherwise.
Importance of Debate and Scrutiny
We are now, at last, having through the Forum a national debate on Europe. This would have been necessary in any case but undoubtedly the Nice referendum has given it a particular focus and urgency.
The Government welcomes this debate and is confident that, the longer it continues, the more people will come to appreciate the force of the case for full and continuing commitment to the Union.
One theme of the debate has been the importance of greater national awareness of and input into Brussels decision-making.
The role of national Parliaments in the architecture of the Union is one of the key issues in the Future of Europe debate. It is clear that, while this was addressed to some extent in the Treaty of Amsterdam, more needs to be done.
At the same time, there is a great deal to do at national level. The Government is conscious of the need for more systematic arrangements for Oireachtas scrutiny of EU business, in particular where the Union is acting in a legislative capacity. Detailed and ambitious proposals are now under consideration.
An enhanced system of scrutiny will have a number of advantages. Public representatives, and through them their constituents, will have a better sense of the progress of measures through the negotiating process in Brussels. They will have more opportunity to help shape our national negotiating position. The Government, for its part, will be required to explain more fully and clearly what is happening and how it is approaching the issues. And a Government negotiating position will be all the stronger for being informed by dialogue with the Oireachtas, and more clearly subject to scrutiny and accountability.
An improved system of scrutiny, if it is worked effectively, will enhance the Union's democratic accountability, and the role of our own national parliament.Top