"The State of the Union": Speech by Minister Cowen at the Institute of European Affairs (Part 2)
For many, the wars and crises in the former Yugoslavia, beginning in 1989/90, and continuing over much of the last decade, were seen as proof that the EU's foreign policy cooperation was a failure, and that the EU failed to live up to its responsibilities when faced with genocide and mass abuses of human rights on its own doorstep. Today, the scene in the Western Balkans has been transformed. The EU, through its early and decisive involvement, played a key role in averting the outbreak of full-scale war in the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia.
It was out of the cauldron of the Western Balkans that the EU realised it had a responsibility to be able to do more to avert crises and, when crises occurred, to be able to manage them and help bring them to an end. The basic provisions to enable the Union to play a greater role for peace, stability and security in Europe and the wider world were built into the Maastricht and Amsterdam Treaties. Successive meetings of the European Council have driven the process forward. The Laeken Summit represents another step towards equipping the Union to undertake humanitarian, conflict prevention and crisis management tasks.
Contrary to the impression sometimes conveyed from some quarters, there is nothing in the outcome of Laeken that points us in the direction of a European Army. Indeed, the fact that ongoing developments do not imply the creation of a European Army was again clearly stated.
In reality, much of the work being undertaken in the security and defence area is of a much more practical nature. For this reason, it may not always grab the newspaper headlines. Essentially, the EU - gradually and comprehensively - is making the detailed preparations and elaborating the necessary arrangements to put in place effective civilian and military capabilities to carry out humanitarian and crisis management tasks. Achieving this objective by the year 2003 continues to require a concerted effort.
Our participation in this centrally important project is in the full knowledge that it is consistent with Ireland's involvement in UN peacekeeping. Where appropriate, the UN has encouraged regional organisations to use their own potential, under a UN mandate, to carry out peace support operations.
The EU is one such regional organisation. But even where the EU is ready to respond in a humanitarian or crisis situation, participation by Ireland in a particular operation would be on the basis of a sovereign national decision. Our involvement does not entail any mutual defence commitment, nor does it affect our position as a non-member of a military alliance.
And what is more, the process does not start and end with increasing capabilities. It begins with conflict prevention. This is a core overall priority and one to which we attach great importance. If the EU can develop its effectiveness in preventing conflict, the need to carry out crisis management operations will diminish in parallel.
There is also the civilian crisis management area. Last month, in the first meeting of its kind, EU Ministers for Justice, meeting with their Foreign Affairs counterparts, met to take forward work to enable the EU to provide police – up to 5,000 – in support of peacekeeping operations. This work is focused on providing added value to existing UN and OSCE arrangements for international police missions, for example in Kosovo.
As well as policing, the EU has other priorities in the civilian crisis management area, such as strengthening the rule of law, civil protection and civil administration.
Much has been said over the past few days about the declaration at Laeken that the EU is now operational in the crisis management area. How does this square with the objective set at the Helsinki European Council that the so-called Rapid Reaction Force would be in place, not now, but by 2003?
The declaration at Laeken represents a staging post towards the achievement of the goal for 2003. It does not mean that this timescale has been brought forward. Rather, the EU is now saying that it has put in place the structures and procedures to conduct small or perhaps medium scale crisis management operations. It does not mean that there will be a rush to find a role for the Rapid Reaction Force. Nor does it mean that the EU is ready to take on anything very substantive in this area for the moment. It was regarded by the European Council as important to confirm the operationality of ESDP as a signal of the seriousness of the Union's intention to make a contribution to the provision of peace and security in today's world. Any decisions would have to be taken in the light of the circumstances of each particular situation, under the aegis of the General Affairs Council.
Inevitably since Laeken, there was been some focus on the contribution by NATO to the development of the EU's capabilities for crisis management. Let me emphasise that the EU is not, of course, a military organisation seeking to duplicate NATO. But if the EU is to carry out anything more than small crisis management tasks, it will need to rely upon NATO infrastructural capacity. For instance, airlifts for transport personnel and equipment. The two organisations will be looking to work out arrangements to facilitate this type of practical cooperation, without in any way implying any reduction in the autonomy of either. Ireland participates in KFOR and SFOR missions in Kosovo and Bosnia, which are UN- mandated and NATO- led and do excellent work contributing to peace and security in these troubled regions of Europe. The existence of a UN mandate is the paramount consideration for us in these matters.
Let me also clarify one aspect that has resulted in some confusion over the past few days. The EU is not yet ready to undertake a mission such as the international peacekeeping force being considered for Afghanistan. Discussions are currently underway in New York on a Security Council resolution authorising this multinational force.
As the Taoiseach has clearly indicated, Ireland will consider participation in such a peacekeeping force, under such a UN mandated peacekeeping force. It is nonsensical to suggest, as some have, that this would in some way represent a new European imperialism. Rather, this would be a contribution by EU member states to bringing stability to a country that has been riven with conflict and internal division for so long. I am struck that many of those who have called most strongly for Europe to be involved in alleviating the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan now view this peacekeeping force as an imperialist ploy. Their argument is simply misleading and without a rational basis. It distorts and misrepresents the facts of the situation- the European Union has been designed to end the imperial politics of centuries past. It is an analogy that has no relevance to the 21st century world we live in.
When they recognise the reality of interdependence, the Union's opponents often argue that Europe should operate in a looser, more intergovernmental way. Europe is full of monuments to the failure of this approach. Many of them are in the cemeteries of the First and Second World Wars. In the Dáil debate last week, Ruairí Quinn mentioned the Arc de Triomphe, which commemorates so many fierce battles, as another such example. The impulse which lay behind the creation of the European Communities back in the 1950s was a recognition that traditional big state balance of power politics had brought Europe to the brink of destruction.
What is unique about the European Union is that, through the solidarity and cohesion which are guaranteed by its institutions and its foundations of law, it goes beyond intergovernmentalism. Tough decisions can only be taken, and will only be stuck to, within such a framework, in which the interests of all are carefully balanced. There may be some room for flexibility on certain issues, but no room for a pick and choose approach. The Single Market, EMU, the CAP, the Structural Funds - none of these would have been achievable or sustainable were it not for the basic willingness of Member States to give and take, in their wider interest, and to bind themselves to continuing to obey objectively-determined rules, even when it might not suit them.
As I said, small countries, like Ireland, have through our committed membership and through the structures of the Union, a level of influence over policies and decisions which affect us which would otherwise be impossible.
Of course, one has to be realistic. The bigger Member States do tend to have a particular weight and influence. But this is not a consequence of some unfairness within the Union, but the inevitable result -inside or outside the Union - of their size and wealth. The question to ask is whether these disparities in power would be greater or lesser if the Union did not exist.
Of course, from time to time, as in every organisation, there are decisions we do not like. And, as we saw earlier this year on a couple of occasions, there can be issues over which we may disagree with the Commission or with other Member States. But any such difficulties have to be kept in proportion, and not presented as major crises which somehow call into question our overall approach to the Union.
Defending the Union from the ill-founded or disproportionate attacks of its opponents does not mean that I regard it or its processes as perfect. Indeed, having spent the weekend at a European Council, I can assure you that the imperfections of its working methods can at times be all too apparent. There is a need for a wide-ranging debate about renewal and reform, as the Laeken Declaration says, with the ultimate goal of bringing the Union closer to its citizens.
Ireland will play a full part in the debate. Its scope and depth are obvious from the
list of questions posed in the Declaration. These questions comprise a comprehensive agenda which, I suggest, should also inform and help to structure our own national debate. I believe that there is now a genuine awareness of the need to make the Union more democratic, more efficient, and more understandable. The challenge is how to achieve those objectives in a balanced way which takes account of the Union's unique character and the needs of all Member States.
Indeed, I think that the Future of Europe process may well hold the answers to many of the concerns which have been raised here during the debate on Nice.
I very much hope and intend that, as the debate proceeds, we will be able to construct a solid, coherent and forward-looking national position on these issues, which avoids the false polarities created in the Nice campaign.
Ireland will, in keeping with the Laeken Declaration, want to see a final document emerge from the Convention which sets out the full range of opinions on how to proceed. We do not wish for or expect some take-it-or-leave it text. Likewise, it is important to be clear that the Convention's final document will be a starting point for the Inter-Governmental Conference, which will take the decisions on Treaty change on the basis of unanimity.
As the current institutional arrangements have worked so much to our advantage, we will not be seeking change for its own sake. But we do recognise that there are current problems and future challenges which need a fresh approach.
One of the issues for discussion in the Convention is the question of a possible constitution for the European Union. I am not afraid of a discussion about such a concept. I am not concerned about labels, but about substance. Deng Xiao Ping once famously said that it did not matter if a cat were black or white so long as it caught mice. In reality, the Union's treaties, as the basic law of the EU, already comprise a basic constitutional text. Simplifying and reordering these, rationalising the institutional and legal structures where possible, clarifying who does what and when, makes eminently good sense. And it is clear from the thrust of the Laeken Declaration that nobody is seeking to erode the centrality of the nation state, but merely to ensure that what we do together at European level is done as effectively and democratically as possible.
At the same time and for the same reason, I would say to our partners that the last thing Europe needs is a speculative academic exercise. The genius of the European Union has lain in its capacity to build solidarity and partnership through practical achievements from which all its Members have benefitted. That must continue to be the purpose of our work together over the years ahead. This self confident nation will in a clear minded, focused and constructive manner engage in the forthcoming debate mindful of our interests and conscious of our responsibilities. We should face our future knowing that there was never a generation better equipped to meet the challenge of change as we shape a new and democratic Europe for the benefit of all its citizens.
We know that institutions must serve the people, and not themselves. The purpose of reform is to ensure that the Union can continue, with national Governments, to offer its people what they want: security, prosperity, shared democratic values and peaceful coexistence.Top