"Our Chance to Put Europe Back on Top of the World" by Foreign Affairs Minister, Brian Cowen T.D.
"And That's Good News for Jobs in Ireland"
The 15 member States of the European Union have committed themselves to making Europe the most competitive and dynamic economy in the world. The population of these 15 countries is now 370 million. As an EU member State, Ireland pays no taxes or hidden charges on exports to the other 14 member States. Since we export over 85% of what we produce here, we benefit enormously from the single market in the EU. Readers of The Irish Sun will understand that, unlike some other countries, the European market has remained open for Irish food exports throughout the current foot and mouth crisis.
12 other countries have now applied to join the Union. These include Cyprus and Malta as well as countries such as Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. Many of the countries in central Europe suffered enormously under Soviet domination and have been making great strides to transform their economies since they regained their freedom in the early 1990s. The Czech Republic, for example, was as wealthy as Switzerland before the Second World War but lost most of its resources when it was run into the ground by communism. Like many other countries in the region it has been working hard to prepare itself for membership of the European Union. Today it is a different country to the one it was ten years ago.
When the current applicant countries join the EU over the coming years, the population will jump to over 500 million. New members mean new markets for Irish exports. And more exports mean more jobs at home. Because we export so much, Ireland stands to gain more than many other member States from enlargement.
The Treaty of Nice prepares the Union for enlargement. It provides for the internal changes which will be necessary to ensure that a bigger Union with perhaps 27 members will operate effectively. Voting strengths on the Council of Ministers and the numbers of MEPs from each country have been re-balanced. Ireland did well in the negotiations. Under the new rules, we will be punching above our weight. With less than 1% of the population we will have over 2% of the votes on the Council. To make space for the new countries, Ireland will have 12 MEPs, rather than the 15 we currently have. This is still more than the 9 MEPs which the European Parliament itself proposed we should have and more than double what we would have on a population basis.
In order to ensure that the Union of 27 countries can become the most dynamic and competitive in the world, decision-making has been speeded up in 30 different areas. But the Treaty is not just about gains for Ireland in purely selfish terms. It is also about sharing the benefits of peace and stability which we have enjoyed since we joined the Union in 1973 and about strengthening democracy in an area of the world which has suffered so much.
The Treaty will need to be ratified by you soon in a referendum since it involves changes to the Irish Constitution. A Czech poet, Jaroslav Seifert, described Europe in the 1920s as "a smashed chessboard". There have been many tragedies on the continent since then. But in the referendum, the people of Ireland will have an opportunity to play their part in putting the pieces back together again.
(This article appeared in The Irish Sun on Tuesday, 24 April 2001)