Article by Minister Foreign Affairs, Ray Burke, on the occasion of the signing of the Treaty of Amsterdam 2 October 1997
Article by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Ray Burke, T.D.
on the occasion of the signing of the Treaty of Amsterdam
2 October 1997
This afternoon in Amsterdam, I will sign, subject to ratification, the new EU Treaty on behalf of Ireland. When the Treaty of Rome, the first major landmark of European integration, was signed in 1957, Europe was still recovering from the ruin of war. The continent was in the grip of a deep ideological divide. For its part, Ireland was dogged by emigration and economic underachievement.
Forty years on, much has changed for the better, both in Ireland and across the entire continent. Once a cockpit of conflict, western Europe has been characterised over the last forty years by remarkable political stability and, on the whole, by steadily increasing prosperity. Countries that were once under totalitarian rule have now come within the democratic fold.
While many factors have contributed to this advancement, the success of European integration has had no small part to play. It has brought an end to age old European rivalries, facilitated economic progress and, in Ireland's case, has provided us with a constructive external framework within which to pursue our national interests.
What is now the European Union has not been an overnight achievement. It has evolved in successive stages. The first fledgling steps involved cooperation in the then economically-vital coal and steel sectors. The Treaty of Rome established the aspirations of European integration and founded the institutions through which these could gradually be made a reality. Decades of negotiation have seen key European policies mature, including those relating to cohesion and agriculture which have been especially important to Ireland. Successive enlargements altered the size but not the essential character of the European project.
Amsterdam sees the third significant Treaty change in just over a decade. This reflects a renewed momentum which has secured a significant deepening of European integration. The 1986 Single European Act promised the creation of a frontier-free internal market. This target was reached in 1993 and the European single market has been a considerable success, not least for Ireland with our highly export-oriented economy. The Maastricht Treaty extended the Union's policy horizons by introducing the goal of Economic and Monetary Union, which is due to be realised in less than two years time. Alongside EMU, and in response to the changes that swept Europe after November 1989, the Maastricht Treaty created a common foreign and security policy. Moreover, the Union acquired, for the first time, a degree of competence in the area of justice and home affairs.
The Amsterdam Treaty, which has been criticised in some quarters for an alleged lack of ambition, ought to be seen as the latest stage in the integration process. It is not the last word. There will be further developments in the years ahead. The coming into being of the Euro in 1999, the introduction of single currency notes and coins in 2002, and the likely further extension of Union membership in the early years of the next century are significant milestones on the road ahead. These, and perhaps other developments as yet unforeseen, will require the Union to evolve in new directions, all of course with the input and agreement of its membership.
What does the new Treaty set out to do? In short, it is designed to strengthen the Union's policies and the effectiveness of its institutions. The forthcoming White Paper will seek to inform the public of the Treaty's provisions and their implications. I would identify a number of key areas where the Treaty enhances the Union's responsibilities and capacities.
Firstly, the Treaty establishes an area of freedom, security and justice. In doing so, it reaffirms the principles of liberty, democracy and respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law on which the Union is founded. It introduces important changes in the area of justice and home affairs designed to implement the principle of free movement of persons between member States. The Union is being given enhanced powers in the fight against crime. The aim is to ensure that citizens can benefit from free movement while crime does not.
Second, the new Treaty provisions reinforce the Union's competence in such areas as employment, the environment, public policy, social policy, social exclusion and consumer protection. These are areas where the public expects the Union to be active and it is appropriate that the Union be equipped to address these at European level.
A further advance in the Amsterdam Treaty is in the area of a more effective and coherent foreign policy. This involves a sensible streamlining of decision-making procedures with a limited provision for qualified majority voting while preserving a national veto whenever vital interests are at stake. The inclusion in the new Treaty of the humanitarian and peacekeeping activities known as the Petersberg Tasks is a significant development.
I look forward to the debate on the details of the Treaty in the months ahead. Nationally, we have good reason to view the Amsterdam Treaty in a very positive light. The Union's powers are being strengthened in areas of importance to us. The institutional reforms promise a more effective and responsive Union while preserving our right to nominate a member of the European Commission. Top