Let's Share in EU's Great Future
The purpose of the Treaty of Nice is to prepare the Union to admit the 12 candidate countries with which negotiations are currently in progress. These are mainly the former Soviet-dominated States of eastern and central Europe, which see membership of the Union as vital in consolidating their hard-won democratic freedom, and giving their people a chance for a decent life. This is the question facing the Irish people on 7 June. Do we give the Poles, the Czechs and the others the same opportunity we got 30 years ago, or do we shut the door in their faces? Make no mistake, that would be the consequences if Ireland voted to reject the Treaty. With all other Member States expected to approve the Treaty, the candidate States would be in no doubt who blocked their path; the damage to our interests would be serious and long-lasting.
But, I am certain that the Irish people will realise that the Treaty of Nice is a win-win situation for all concerned. All of us clearly have a vital stake in promoting greater stability in Europe. On the economic front, enlargement means a hugely increased market for Irish exports. Greater prosperity for the candidate countries means new trade opportunities: Irish companies are well placed to reap the benefits.
In his recent article, Mr. Adams makes clear that his opposition to the Treaty of Nice is based on rejection of the European Union as such. It is a sad irony that Sinn Fein shares the same position on Europe as the Tory eurosceptics. Sinn Fein are entitled to their anti-European views, but they are not shared by the vast majority of the Irish people. According to a recent opinion poll, 84% of people in Ireland believe we have benefited from EU membership. They know that the Union has been good for Ireland. They know too that Sinn Fein produces the same ‘superstate' scare stories each time a new Treaty is negotiated. It was not true before, and it is not true now.
The reality is that the European Union was and always will be a Union of peoples and of States. No Member State is about to give up its sovereignty or its independence. The Member States do however see the clear advantages of cooperation in a common institutional framework. Would the small countries of eastern Europe which fought so long to overthrow foreign domination be so eager to join the European Union if all it offered was more of the same?
Like the Taoiseach I see the true sovereignty of the Irish people as being "not a theoretical concept but a measure of how successfully we can protect and promote our basic national interests and our social and economic well-being as a people." I believe also that our consistent policy towards the EU over the past 30 years has done far more to achieve both purposes than any narrow policy of isolationism would have.
After the ratification of the Treaty of Nice Ireland will continue to punch above its weight. We will have more than twice our entitlement in population terms in the share of Council votes and in the number of MEPs. The large Member States are giving up their second Commissioner, and after enlargement all Member States, large and small, will be treated on exactly the same basis.
Similarly, reducing the number of issues where unanimity is required is simply common sense in a Union of 27, and is in Ireland's interest. Of course, on sensitive issues such as taxation or in the security and defence area, unanimity will continue to be required.
Consistent with their hostility to the European Union, Sinn Fein is also opposed to Ireland's participation in the euro, or to other forms of cooperation within the so-called enhanced cooperation framework. Deputy Caoimhin O Caolain's assertion in the Dail that the EU is reinforcing partition by way of the introduction of the euro is nothing short of astonishing. Ireland north and south has benefitted enormously from membership and EU programmes such as Interreg have contribution to reconciliation and re-development in communities which have suffered from 30 years of violence and conflict.
At the beginning of the 21st century it is surely time that Sinn Fein discarded its inward-looking and out-dated attitude to Ireland's role in the European Union. Indeed, their apparent inability to recognise the very significant contribution, politically and financially, which the Union has made to the development of the peace process on this island, suggests that they have a serious blind spot in this area. Thankfully, the Irish people have shown themselves to be considerably better informed in this regard.
It is also being argued by Sinn Fein that the Treaty of Nice will erode Ireland's neutrality. This has no basis whatsoever in reality. Let me give you the facts.
For a start, the Treaty of Nice makes no significant changes in the security and defence area. In fact, among all of the changes in it, only two amendments relate to security and defence: the deletion of references to the Western European Union and the provision of a Treaty basis for the newly established Political and Security Committee, operating under the direct authority of the EU Foreign Ministers. Mr. Adams has claimed that support for the arms industry is written into the Treaty. This is simply not true. Support for the arms industry is not mentioned anywhere in the Treaty of Nice.
Another much repeated and equally erroneous claim is that a European Army is being established, with Ireland's participation. The EU Headline Goal, or so-called Rapid Reaction Force, is emphatically not a standing army. Moreover, it is not just the Government which have been refuting this claim. The EU's High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Mr Javier Solana, clearly set out the position in a speech in Dublin last year when he said "All member States are agreed that the Union is not in the business of creating a European Army. That is quite clear". And if that is not enough, these facts have been repeatedly recognised by the conclusions of several European Councils, including most recently at Nice.
In fact, the Rapid Reaction Force is no more an army than the UN's arrangements for coordinating its peacekeeping contributions. Some 88 countries and almost 150,000 personnel are involved in these UN arrangements - are Sinn Fein seriously suggesting that this is a UN Army? Has Ireland's participation in UN missions over the past forty years made us part of a UN Army?
The reality is that the EU is seeking to play a greater role for peace, stability and security in Europe. To this end, the EU is developing the capability to undertake humanitarian and crisis management tasks - nothing more, nothing less. I am proud of the positive contribution of Ireland. These developments have their basis in the Amsterdam Treaty, approved by the Irish people in a Referendum in 1998. What is really at stake is an opportunity for Ireland to constructively participate in greatly improving Europe's response to humanitarian challenges which can arise, as we saw most recently in the Balkans. How could it not be the wish of the vast majority of Irish people to opt out and isolate ourselves in this area. On the contrary, I have no doubt that the Irish people want to continue our proud tradition of peacekeeping under the UN flag. Peacekeeping is an integral element of how we see ourselves in the world.
It is simply incorrect and misleading to suggest that what the EU is doing is inconsistent with the remarkable contribution we have made to UN peacekeeping. Contrary to misguided speculation, the Government remains determined to contribute actively to UN peacekeeping. Ireland will only take part in EU-led missions under a UN mandate on a case by case basis following a sovereign decision of the Government with Dail approval in accordance with the relevant legislation.
These are the facts. And it is on the basis of fact that we should present arguments in relation to the Treaty of Nice, not on spurious claims and assertions that distort reality. Let us keep discussion on the Treaty of Nice in perspective. The Treaty of Nice makes sensible and pragmatic changes to the European institutions to enable them to continue to work efficiently and effectively with a significant increase in membership. Enlargement offers great opportunities to the applicant countries, and to Ireland. Anyone who takes the trouble to look behind the propaganda will see that Ireland's interests are served by an unequivocal Yes vote on 7 June. Sinn Fein's fear of change is totally out of step with popular opinion here and the confidence and enthusiasm with which the Irish people have embraced the European Union.
Brian Cowen T.D.
Minister for Foreign Affairs
(This article first appeared in The Irish Examiner on Monday 14 May 2001).