Remarks Minister Cowen at the launch of " Me, You and the EU " a CDROM for Transition Year Students
• EU issues are rarely off the front pages these days. At the week-end I attended the European Council in Stockholm, which concentrated on the Union's economic and social strategies. Tomorrow, we will be launching a White Paper on the Treaty of Nice, which aims to prepare the Union for the admission of a significant number of new Member States. There is a constant flow of information about things European.
• The importance of true, complete information about the European Union can not be stressed enough.
• There is a tendency to present the EU in terms of "us and them" "Brussels versus Member States". That does not reflect reality. We are part of Europe and Brussels is part of us.
• Decisions made in Europe are made by us - the Member States collectively - and, in most cases, co-decided by a Parliament including our representatives. We should not forget that.
• But it is true that, for most people, information about the EU seems complex and difficult to absorb. We need information which is clear and user-friendly.
• We also need information presented in an interesting way. Let's face it, texts of directives on environment or transport regulations can be dull and dry. But if they mean, for example, safer beaches and safer road vehicles they are important for all of us.
• The European Union exists to bring greater good (or "added value") to citizens. And if we look around we can see ample evidence of that, especially in Ireland:-
• Structural Funds (averaging well over 2% of GDP through the 1990's) have helped us build and upgrade roads and set up training in essential skills for our new hi-tech economy;
• Cohesion Funds have helped us to improve our infrastructure and environment;
• The CAP has provided our farmers with a secure market and support for modernisation and rural development;
• The Internal Market has brought tremendous opportunities and benefits to Irish business; arguably, we have benefitted more per head of population from the Single Market than any Member State;
• Without the Single Market our policy of attracting foreign direct investment would not be so outstandingly successful in boosting jobs for Irish workers;
• The Union is the instrument through which higher standards are brought to a whole range of issues of benefit to the consumer, from holiday travel to food safety standards;
• with full introduction of the Single Currency next January, we will be able to use our euro notes and coins from Achill to Athens.
• This is the true impact of the union on citizens.
• The CD I want to introduce today, however, is not about explaining the delicate inter-institutional balance which has served the Union so well. Neither is it about the vitally important detail of the Common Agricultural Policy. It aims to present facts about the European Union and about how it affects the lives of Irish people.
• Aimed at young people, specifically those in the 14 to 16 year age bracket, it presents these facts in a way which will interest, as well as inform, the user. It was prepared by a specialised production company with expertise in this area, as well as youth on their side.
• It contains an interactive mixture of video footage, images and text, plus links to websites which will allow the interested student to look further into areas which interest them, and to find out about the most recent developments. In the next few days, free copies will be sent to every secondary school in the country, accompanied by a teacher's guide. I am sure that it will be a useful teaching resource and will help to bring the EU closer to people.
• For the young people for whom this CD-Rom is intended - and I am glad to say that we have a younger population than most EU Member States - the frontiers between States are of little relevance. They rightly regard Europe - indeed the world - as their oyster, there to be explored and enjoyed.
• All the more reason, therefore, to find out how the EU works, how it affects our lives and how we can influence what the Union does and decides. There is a lot of information out there and, as I have said, it is much better to get a true and accurate picture than some second-hand, second-rate cliched version.
• If knowledge is power, then we should be eager to empower our youth by giving them access to real information, using the instruments of the information technology age.
• We will shortly be making arrangements for a referendum on the Treaty of Nice. This will give the Irish people an opportunity to show their commitment to Europe and, in particular, to approve the institutional changes necessary for the EU to proceed with Enlargement.
• My intention is to ensure that all Irish voters are properly informed about the facts and the issues of the Nice Treaty so that they can exercise their franchise - and we hope they will all turn out to vote - in an enlightened way.
• We are on the threshold of the most exciting development of the European Union since its formulation - the expansion from 15 to 25 or more Member States. This gives us an unparalleled opportunity to create a new, prosperous Europe in which the aspiration "never again war" will become reality and to put behind us forever the dark memories of Iron Curtain division and tyranny.
• This gives us also an opportunity to overcome fear and prejudice to enable the constructive forces of optimism and friendship to triumph. The key to this lies in the pursuit of truth and accuracy and a refusal to accept the hand-me-down isolationist cliches so much favoured by the "nay-sayers" and eurosceptics.
• The rewards for Ireland are potentially great; I am confident that a dynamic, young well-informed new generation of Irish people will choose the constructive path.
• This CD-ROM was commissioned about a year ago and funded by the Communicating Europe Task Force, which brings together people from government Departments, the European Commission, the European Parliament, the European Movement, Ireland and the Institute for European Affairs and is chaired by the Department of Foreign Affairs.
• Since its inception in 1994, Communicating Europe's aim has been to increase the profile of EU issues in the current affairs arena, and to improve public awareness of the EU. With a modest annual budget, it works by funding, or co-funding, projects aimed at the wider public audience.
• I wish to thank all the Members of the Communicating Europe team for their work, and particularly the Dublin office of the European Commission which provided £25,000 in funds towards this project.
• The team from MIDAS Productions Ltd. have worked hard to ensure that this project was tailor-made for its intended audience. I think they have achieved this goal, and I am delighted to invite you to review the new CD.
27 March 2001