Launch of the Treaty of Nice Campaign Remarks by Minister of State, Liz O'Donnell TD
• On behalf of the Tanaiste, Minister Cowen, and on my own behalf, I want to reiterate our strong support for ratification of the Treaty of Nice.
• The New Treaty is about a new beginning for the continent of Europe, and a fresh start for countries which have endured much over the past troubled century.
• These countries now look to Ireland.
• They look to us as a model of what they hope to achieve given the opportunity offered by membership of the European Union.
• More immediately, they look to Irish people to sustain their hopes and dreams for a better future when we come to vote in the forthcoming referendum.
• I am confident the Irish people will rise to this challenge, as they have done on every previous occasion when asked to indicate their support for the European project.
• I believe they will do so for a number of reasons, but primarily because they recognize that the applicant countries deserve the same opportunity to strengthen their economies and to modernize their societies as we received when we joined almost thirty years ago.
• The Irish people also understand that this is not, to use the jargon, a zero-sum game. Stability on the continent of Europe is in Ireland's interest. Greater prosperity for new Members means new markets for Irish business, and is in Ireland's interest..
• Rising living standards in the applicant States means increased opportunities for Irish companies to trade with, and invest in, these countries. This means an increase in exports, and more jobs for our young people.
• It is essential, if we are to serve the interests of the Irish people, that the referendum debate should be on the real issues.
• It has to be clearly stated that many of the issues raised by opponents of Nice have nothing to do with the actual content of the Treaty.
• In some cases, they seek to re-open issues already decided by the people in the Amsterdam referendum. In many cases, they reflect a consistent hostility to the very concept of the European Union, a position which places it proponents firmly outside the mainstream of Irish public opinion.
• The reality is that the Treaty of Nice makes a limited number of institutional changes to allow a much bigger Union to function effectively. To suggest otherwise is to distort the facts, and to seek to mis-lead the Irish people.
• There has already, for example, been serious distortion in relation to the common Foreign and Security Policy. The Treaty has made only limited changes to the existing provisions. Contrary to the impression that has been conveyed in some quarters, the development of the EU's security and defence policy is policy is based on the provisions of the Amsterdam Treaty. It does not affect Ireland's policy of military neutrality. Ireland's participation in any crisis management mission remains a sovereign decision to be taken by the Government, subject to Oireachtas approval, and on a case by case basis. Moreover, Ireland will only take part in missions authorised by the UN. This is clear and unambiguous.
• I also want to deal with unwarranted claims that the Treaty involves a major distortion of the balance of power within the Union.
• In relation to the Commission the most significant practical consequence until at least the end of the decade is that the five large States will give up their second Commissioner. Thereafter, they will have only one Commissioner, like every other Member State. At the point, some distance away, when the Union reaches 27, a rotation system will be introduced. One of the achievements of Nice, secured in response to pressure by Ireland and other small and medium-sized Member States, is that this will be operated on the basis of strict equality, irrespective of size.
• As regards decision-making in the Council, it is suggested that the role of smaller Member States has been radically undermined. Let me give you the facts.
• Ireland at present has approximately 3% of the total weighted vote. Under the new arrangements in a Union of 27 we will have 2% of the votes. Germany at present has 11% of total votes; in a Union of 27 this will fall to 8%. The same applies to UK, France, and Italy.
• Yes, these countries get some increase in their total number of votes, to take account of the fact that they are giving up a Commissioner. However to suggest that this undermines the Union as we know it is completely unsustainable.
• In any event, the European Union does'nt work because of weighted votes, number of Commissioners or Qualified Majorities. It works because there is a fundamental shared political will to make it work, derived from the people, governments, and institutions of the Union, and demonstrated through its history.
• Viewed from an Irish perspective, the position remains that, with 0.8% of the population of an enlarged Union, we will
: be represented on the Commission on exactly the same basis as every other Member State, large or small
: have a voting weight in the Council two and a half times our population weight, and
: have more than twice as many MEPs as our population would suggest, and have the best seat-to-population ratio of any existing Member State, with the exception only of Luxembourg.
• Opponents of the Treaty fail to recognize that an effectively functioning European Union is in Ireland's national interest. That is why we agreed to changes, for example, in relation to qualified majority voting or enhanced cooperation, subject to certain safeguards - because they allow an enlarged Union to move ahead as we wish, while, as with taxation, protecting our vital interests.
• I urge the public to continue to focus on the realities of this debate: the Treaty is about fulfilling the aspirations of the candidate countries to re-join the European mainstream; the Treaty provisions on institutional reform represent a fair compromise and fully protect Irish interests; the Treaty emphatically does not constitute a threat to Irish neutrality, or to the Government's absolute commitment that it will participate only in humanitarian and crisis management operations authorized by the United Nations, in accordance with the appropriate legislation and subject to Oireachtas approval.
• I am confident that the Irish people will not turn their backs on the people of Poland, the Czech Republic and the other candidate countries, but will reiterate their support for a Europe from which all its citizens will benefit.
• The central credo of the European Union which we mark today - Europe Day - is about shared commitment: its about we together, the peoples and states of Europe, building a peaceful and prosperous community of nations. That's the positive ideal which people should be proffered when they vote.Top