Address by Minister Cowen at the Publication of the White Paper on the Treaty of Nice
I am pleased to welcome you today to the publication of the White Paper on the Treaty of Nice. A key objective with any White Paper is to encourage and facilitate wider public discussion. This is particularly vital in the case of the European Union, given the importance of our participation in the Union for so many aspects of national life. The purpose of this White Paper is to describe and explain the changes which will be made by the Treaty agreed by the Heads of Government in Nice last December. The purpose of the Treaty was to prepare the Union for an historic enlargement. By providing a clear, factual account of the Treaty the White Paper offers a solid basis for a broadly-based, and informed, public debate on this important development in the life of the European Union.
In keeping with the Government's commitment to maximizing public awareness, a number of steps are being taken to facilitate the dissemination of information about the Treaty of Nice. In addition to widespread distribution of the White Paper to libraries, colleges, Citizens Information Centres and other public institution, copies will be available on request, free of charge, from my Department. These can be requested using post, fax, telephone or the specially created e-mail address. A CD-Rom version of the Treaty is also available. In addition the White Paper can also be consulted on the Department's web-site, together with the text of the Treaty itself.
It has also been decided to publish a Summary of the White Paper, in both English and Irish language versions, as was done for the Treaty of Amsterdam. However, in a new departure on this occasion, and with a view to facilitating maximum public awareness, it has also been decided to circulate a copy of the White Paper Summary to every household in the country. Arrangements are also being made with the National Council of the Blind to have copies of the Summary available in Braille and on audio tape for persons with a sight disability. I believe these public information measures, though more extensive than in respect of any previous EU Treaty, are fully merited, and provide the basis for a broad public debate in which all our citizens can participate.
The reason for convening the Intergovernmental Conference to agree changes to the Treaty was, of course, to complete the process of internal institutional reform required to prepare the Union for enlargement. It was necessary to ensure that a Union with a significant increase in its membership would be in a position to take decisions and to function effectively, while at the same time making sure that the essential balances which underpin the Union - between the Institutions, between the Institutions and the Member States, and between the Member States themselves - remain in place.
With the successful completion of the negotiations, and subject to ratification of the Treaty by each of the Member States, the Union is well placed to meet its commitment to complete preparations for enlargement by the end of 2002. Thereafter, the candidate countries with which accession negotiations are under way will be in a position to join as soon as they are ready to meet the obligations of membership.
It is worth recalling, therefore, that while many of the provisions of the Nice Treaty, relating as they do to institutional changes, may appear somewhat technical, the Treaty as a whole is about laying the ground-work for changes of enormous significance in the history of Europe. Against a background over the last hundred years of war, persecution and ideological division, there is for the first time a basis for the countries of Europe to come together in a framework based on democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights. This is clearly no small or petty undertaking, and offers the prospect, unimaginable even a decade ago, of a continent moving forward together on the path of peace, stability and prosperity.
Indeed, Irish people have watched in admiration at the efforts, still continuing, being made by the candidate countries to prepare themselves for membership of the Union. We perhaps appreciate more than most the scale of the challenge involved in bringing about a transformation of this order. However, we knew then that by adopting properly developed long-term strategies we could realise the benefits which membership offered. This same lesson is being put into practice today by the candidate countries. With the experience of those early years still fresh in our minds, we can do no less than offer every encouragement to the candidate countries to persevere in their efforts.
We in Ireland, of course, are well placed to take advantage of the opportunities offered by an enlarged Union. It is perhaps not realised that the economies of Central and Eastern Europe account for 10% of total EU trade. Moreover the EU has a trade surplus with each of those countries, and the total trade surplus amounts to more than the EU's trade deficit with the rest of the world. Irish exports to the applicant countries in Central and Eastern Europe rose from £134 million in 1994 to £586 million in 1999. The expansion of the Single Market to over 500 million people clearly offers further significant opportunities for Irish business.
In addition, as major Irish companies have already demonstrated, these countries also provide excellent opportunities for Irish investment in growing markets. Already, in Poland, Irish investment exceeds one billion US dollars and employs around 14,000 people there. This, therefore, is the background against which the Treaty of Nice has been negotiated. From an Irish perspective our objective was to put in place the institutional changes necessary for enlargement, while at the same time protecting our essential interests as a smaller Member State.
The White Paper provides a factual and balanced account of the outcome under each of the main areas under discussion. Looking at the issues resolved at Nice, I believe that any fair-minded reader will conclude that the outcome both served the cause of Europe and, from a national viewpoint, provided effective safeguards in key areas. It was agreed, for example, to extend the scope of Qualified Majority Voting to some 30 additional Articles, while at the same time ensuring that unanimity was retained in the area of taxation. This will allow an enlarged Council to take decisions while at the same time protecting our position on this important issue, at this critical stage in our economic transformation.
There was also a balanced outcome on the future composition of the Commission. Starting with the next Commission, the five large Member States will give up their right to a second Commissioner. Thereafter, there will be one Commissioner per Member State until the Union reaches 27. At that point a rotation system, the details of which have to be agreed by unanimity, will be introduced. In line with the terms agreed at Nice, this will operate on the basis of strict equality between Member States.
As regards the allocation of votes, while the voting weight of the five large member states giving up their second Commissioner is to be increased, as already envisaged at Amsterdam, Ireland will continue to have a voting weight more than twice that to which we would be entitled on a purely population basis. In an enlarged Union, we will have exactly the same voting weight as Finland and Denmark.
To those concerned about the protection for smaller states under these new arrangements, I would point out, firstly, that experience in the Council shows that influence comes primarily from building alliances with like-minded states, large and small, and that divisions in the Council are rarely on a big State/small State basis. Secondly, it was agreed at Nice, in response to a proposal from the smaller states, to include in the Treaty for the first time an explicit requirement that decisions have the support of at least one half of the Member States. This is an important safeguard for the smaller States in an enlarging Union.
The outcome with regard to the other EU Institutions was also satisfactory. We will continue to have representation in the European Parliament well above our percentage of the population. The inclusion in the Treaty, for the first time, of an explicit acknowledgement of the right of each Member State to nominate a member of the Court of Justice, and of the Court of Auditors, is also a welcome development from the point of view of Ireland, and other smaller States.
As regards the Common Foreign and Security Policy, the Treaty of Nice includes some necessary limited up-dating of provisions for putting into effect the decisions on humanitarian and crisis management tasks agreed at Amsterdam. There is no departure from the firm commitment, in line with the Government's policy of neutrality, that Ireland would participate only in operations authorised by the United Nations, in accordance with the appropriate legislation, and subject to Dáil approval.
Finally, the Treaty also provides for some changes in the area of enhanced cooperation, including removing the right of a single Member State to veto the establishment of an enhanced cooperation group, except in the area of the Common Foreign and Security Policy, but this will not contribute to the introduction of a two-speed Europe. For example, enhanced cooperation will not operate in the Single Market area. Its application to the Second Pillar will be limited to implementation of decisions already taken under CFSP procedures, and will not extend to the security or defence areas. The rules have been strengthened to make clear that it is open to any Member States to join in establishing an enhanced cooperation group. And, in a further safeguard, the Commission is required to work with the Council to ensure that enhanced cooperation activities are consistent with the policies of the Union and the Community.
With these safeguards in place, I believe to have allowed a single Member State in an enlarged Union to block a proposal which otherwise fulfilled the relevant criteria would have been a mistake. Indeed it is precisely these safeguards which have allowed the candidate countries to respond positively to the decisions taken at Nice in this area. From an Irish perspective, provided the rules are met, we are indeed open and ready to consider specific initiatives which may lead to the further development of Community policies through enhanced cooperation.
For these reasons I have no doubt that the Treaty of Nice is a good deal for Europe, and a good deal for Ireland. I am confident that this will also be the view of the Irish people in the forthcoming referendum on this issue. On every occasion when the issue has been put to the Irish people they have re-affirmed their support for the Union. This reflects the fact that the Irish public is fully aware of the overwhelmingly positive balance sheet of our membership of the Union. The economic benefits in terms of increased jobs, growth and exports have benefited every region in the country. The Union's contribution to the development of our infrastructure has also been unmistakable. During the 1990s Structural Funds alone averaged more than 2% of annual GNP. A single market of 350 million people, soon to expand to over 500 million, is of enormous importance to an open trading economy like ours. We have also being able to use our voice in the Union to promote an approach to international relations which takes account of our distinctive traditions and interests. Side by side with the economic and political benefits, our full participation in the Union has provided the backdrop to a wonderful increase in national self-confidence, reflected in the flowering of our cultural and artistic life, a development, which contrary to the claims of the critics at the time, has greatly benefitted from forming part of the larger and culturally diverse European mainstream.
I believe the case for supporting the Treaty of Nice is extremely compelling. However, the most important consideration at this point is that as many people as possible familiarize themselves with the Treaty. In this way we can help to ensure that at the appropriate time the citizens of this country will be in a position to deliver an informed judgement on its contents.Top