Treaty of Nice: Opportunity & Enlargement Remarks by Minister Brian Cowen
We see posters with the exhortation "No to Nice; No to NATO" on the lamp-posts outside here. This slogan is misleading. Let me explain why.
These posters seek to convey the impression that a vote for the Nice Treaty is a vote for NATO. Let me say categorically that this is completely without any factual foundation. Ireland has no intention of joining NATO and it is simply misleading to suggest otherwise. Equally, by voting ‘yes' to the Nice Treaty the people will not in any way compromise our military neutrality.
I am also hearing references to the annexes agreed at Nice. Let me clarify what we're talking about here. The European Council at Nice, separately to the Nice Treaty, approved a number of annexes to the report on security and defence policy presented to the Heads of Government. These annexes have nothing to do with the Treaty of Nice. They relate instead to the development of European crisis management and conflict prevention which have their basis in the provisions of the Amsterdam Treaty, approved by the people of Ireland in 1998. They are not in the Nice Treaty.
This is not just my interpretation. The Fifteen Heads of Government at Nice adopted a declaration stating that their decisions in this area were not in any way dependent on the Nice Treaty.
The Treaties are the legal basis for all European Union activities. The Treaty of Amsterdam sets out the legal framework for it role in peace-keeping, crisis management and humanitarian tasks. The seven annexes agreed at Nice contain detail on a range of issues covered in the Amsterdam Treaty ranging from civilian crisis management to the permanent structures for European Security and Defence Policy, such as for example the Political and Security Committee, to EU-NATO relations.
There is no secrecy surrounding the annexes. They were published at Nice. Anyone who wants a copy is welcome.
There are two annexes on EU-NATO cooperation which provide for consultation on the use of NATO assets, such as airlift and communications, for some crisis management and peace-keeping tasks..
In fact this type of cooperation is not new. The stabilisation forces in the Balkans, SFOR and KFOR, the UN authorised NATO-led operations in which Ireland participates have shown the need to rely on NATO assets for peacekeeping. Cooperation between the EU and NATO in relation to Macedonia is helping to provide protection for EU monitors. Each organisation remains autonomous and has completely separate decision-making structures
As the background to all this, I would again point out that Ireland would only take part in an EU-led crisis management mission with a UN mandate. The legal requirement for a UN mandate is contained in the Irish Defence Acts, which are not affected in any way by the Treaty of Nice, nor for that matter by the Treaty of Amsterdam. Moreover, participation by Ireland is a sovereign, case by case decision in every instance. The procedure for contributing Irish troops to EU peace-keeping operations is exactly the same procedure for contributing troops to UN peace-keeping missions. This Government can and will say "no" if the circumstances are not right.
Opponents of the Treaty cite the references to aircraft and ships and see this as evidence of ‘militarisation'. These references relate to the pool of capabilities offered to the EU by EU member States and others at the "capabilities commitment conference" in Brussels last November. In many instances actual offers exceeded forecasted needs, reflecting also existing resources rather than new defence expenditure.
The UN itself has such a pool of resources with the UN Standby Arrangements System (UNSAS). With this system, Kofi Annan has at his disposal some 147,500 personnel from 88 countries. Nobody would consider this a standing army and this does not of course mean he is going to use all of these personnel at one time.
The bulk of the so-called Rapid Reaction Force will consist of infantry, as one would expect in any peacekeeping operation. The aircraft and ships are there to be used for their protection if that should be proved necessary. It would be irresponsible for any Government to risk the lives of their personnel in a crisis management operation that was not, in extremis, adequately protected.
I fail to see how our opponents can expect to benefit from peace and prosperity in Europe while opposing the kind of conflict prevention activities that the EU is now promoting, as in the Western Balkans. I wish our critics could have been with me in Brussels two weeks ago at a meeting of EU Foreign Ministers when Kofi Annan stressed the role which the EU could play as a regional organisation carrying out peacekeeping missions under the umbrella of the UN.
With our EU partners and through the UN, both on and off the Security Council, we are involved in conflict prevention in the first instance. The role of the Rapid Reaction Force is limited by the Treaty of Amsterdam to peace-keeping, crisis management, humanitarian and rescue operations. That is the beginning and end of it.
It is not about entering a mutual defence commitment. Neither is it about conscription.
The fact is that most of the issues being raised by the ‘no' lobby are not in the Treaty of Nice at all. The Treaty, for instance, has nothing to do with divorce or abortion or, as I have seen in anonymous literature being passed around at church gates, about euthanasia.
As the Taoiseach has just explained, the Treaty of Nice is about preparing for enlargement. Pure and simple. When we opened the debate several weeks ago, we called for a free and fair debate on the Treaty. There have been some useful contributions on the implications of enlargement and the new institutional balances the Treaty sets out. But it would be a tragedy for all of us, if we were to spend the nine remaining days of the campaign getting lost in a fog of issues which have nothing to do with the Treaty itself.
Ratification of the Nice Treaty will pave the way for the enlargement of the EU. This enlargement will provide outstanding economic opportunities for Irish industry and Irish agriculture. We will have an extra 100 million people in the market who are currently importing 40% more than they export. It is my firm view that the vast majority of Irish people appreciate this and by voting ‘Yes' on 7 June we can all ensure our continuing economic prosperity.