Treaty of Nice: "Ireland will say Yes to Enlargement" - Cowen
The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Brian Cowen T.D., told the Dáil this afternoon that a negative vote on the Treaty of Nice "could be construed as giving succour to reactionary forces to the detriment of democratic forces aiming to restructure the economies of the applicant countries." Speaking at the Second Stage of the 24th Amendment to the Constitution Bill, 2001, the Minister said that anyone who considers the issues at the heart of the Treaty "will conclude that it is right for Europe and right for Ireland in Europe."
The Treaty is intended to prepare the way for a significant enlargement of the European Union and, according to the Minister, it is no exaggeration to say that the issues at stake are of historic importance. "With the end of the Cold War, and the historic changes in Central and Eastern Europe, it is hardly coincidental that so many countries in the region, having newly regained their individual voice in international affairs, have made plain their determination to move forward within the framework of an enlarged European Union. They recognise, with perhaps greater clarity than some inside the Union, that broadening the Union to embrace the applicant States can serve both to consolidate newly won democratic freedoms and to lay the basis for a new era of stability and prosperity for the continent as a whole."
He emphasised that a peaceful and stable Europe is clearly in Ireland's interest. Small countries in particular benefit from a settled international order and for an open economy like ours it is in addition a vital underpinning of our domestic economic well-being.
"We in Ireland," he said, "are in an excellent position to take advantage of the opportunities offered by enlargement. Irish business currently has access to a market of 370 million people. With the completion of the current enlargement process this would expand to some 550 million people. Irish exporters are already well placed in these markets. Irish exports to the central and East European applicant countries rose by 337% to £586 million, in the five years to 1999. These countries also provide excellent investment opportunities for Irish companies. Irish investment in Poland is already in excess of one billion US dollars."
Responding to critics of the Treaty who have claimed to be reflecting the concerns of applicant countries, the Minister highlighted the fact that reaction to Nice has been very positive in candidate states. The Polish Foreign Minister, for example, said "the Treaty of Nice is a sound and good starting point for European states on the threshold of the Third Millennium". The Romanian Foreign Minister described the outcome as "very encouraging"and his Cypriot counterpart said that he was "very satisfied with the outcome of Nice".
The Minister went on to spell out how the changes in the Treaty protect Ireland's essential interests:
• with only 0.8% of the population of the EU Ireland will have a voting strength more than 2½ times our population equivalent in the Council of Ministers;
• we will continue to have representation more than double that to which we would be entitled in the European Parliament on a population basis; and
• there will be a guarantee that every new group created under enhanced cooperation will be open to participation by any member State, great and small.
The Minister concluded that the Treaty of Nice is about the continuing development of the European Union from which the Irish people have enjoyed substantial economic benefits, reflected in unprecedented levels of employment, growth and prosperity. "Our network of roads and services", he said, "have benefited substantially from structural funds - averaging more than 2% of GNP during the 1990s. Similarly, our education and training programmes have greatly benefited under the European Social Funds. We have gained from, and contributed to, important advances in the environment, social programmes, equal rights for men and women and consumer protection - all matters of direct concern to every citizen in this country."
"Nobody realises this more than our young people", he said, "and I am confident that the Irish people will say yes to enlargement".