Address by Noel Treacy T.D.
It is an honour for me to address this highly respected institution and such a distinguished audience. I would like to thank the University for affording me the opportunity to discuss the issue of European Union enlargement. This is a timely discussion on an issue which is rightly receiving increased attention from politicians and public alike.
Enlargement concerns the expansion of the membership of the EU. Ireland benefited from the first such intake of new members in 1973 and since then there have been 4 more rounds of enlargement bringing the Union's membership from 6 at its foundation in 1957 to 25 today.
On 1 January next year, the historic 5th enlargement of the EU will be completed. This will see Bulgaria and Romania becoming the 26th and 27th Members of the EU. I would like to take this opportunity to welcome the Ambassador of Bulgaria to this discussion. I am sure you will agree that 1 January next will mark an historic moment for your country and I hope that your experience of EU Membership will be as positive and successful, as our own has been here in Ireland.
Speaking as I am in an academic forum, I would like to avail of this opportunity to address two issues connected with enlargement. In the latter part of these remarks I will, in my capacity as a government Minister, return to policy issues. First, however, I propose to take a more speculative approach. I want to explore the question of how much further the EU could conceivably expand. I will look at the question through different lenses: legal, geopolitical, institutional, economic and social. My aim is to provide some raw material for further debate on the question of Europe's destiny.
As Minister of State with responsibility for European Affairs, I cannot overstate the importance I attach to public involvement and debate on European issues. If Europe is to be properly understood, and if it is to move forward as we want it to do, it is essential that Europe's journey be one that carries our people along with it. We are all responsible for creating a shared European future. The future of Europe is not something to be determined by Governments or politicians, but by each and every one of us.
In that spirit, let me try to answer the question: “how far can enlargement go?” The legal basis for enlargement is Article 49 of the Treaty on European Union. This states that, and I quote: “Any European State which respects the principles set out in Article 6(1) may apply to become a member of the Union”. The principles in Article 6(1) are “liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law”. These are core principles, shared by all EU Member States and becoming a Member State requires unconditional respect for, and adherence to, these principles.
I'm sure people here will have spotted the key words in Article 49. These are: “Any European State”. The term “European” is a broad, evocative, adjective. The Treaty does not define what it means by “European”. The term combines geographical, historical and cultural resonances which all contribute to a general idea of European-ness as an inclusive concept. It is difficult, perhaps foolish to impose theoretical boundaries to what we mean by “Europe” or indeed to the European Union.
For argument's sake however, let us look at the membership of Europe's oldest political organisation: the Council of Europe, which was founded in 1949. No country has ever joined the EU without first being a member of the Council of Europe. Today its membership stands at 46. Two more countries, Belarus and Montenegro, have applied to join. If we include the two applicant countries as well as the Holy See, the maximum possible size of the EU would be 49. In summary, if I have done my sums correctly, a further 22 countries, could legally be entitled to apply to join the EU. Theoretically then, the answer to the motion is 22 countries.
This is, of course, a wildly unrealistic scenario, having regard to these country's varying aspirations and states of political and economic development. For all kinds of practical and political reasons, EU membership will never approach the scale of the Council of Europe, which has a different, distinctive mandate. It would frankly be a great conceit of the EU to imagine that every other European country would wish to join or that the Union would be able to accommodate them all. Nothing brings this home more than the withdrawal of Greenland from the EC in 1985 after winning home rule from Denmark.
Council of Europe and European Unity
I would like to dwell briefly on the role which the Council of Europe plays in European construction and integration. Until 1989, owing to the post-war division of Europe, membership was confined to the countries of Western Europe.
Following the revolutions across Europe from 1989 onwards the Council had to reinvent itself. It sought to become, in the words of Mikael Gorbachev, a “common European home”. The new emerging democracies, each seeking to reform their societies, applied for immediate membership. A courageous decision was taken to admit them even before many of the fundamental reforms to ensure functioning democracies were completed. From being a community of values, the existing members sought to convert the Council into an active agent of change providing practical assistance – in effect building democracy from the bottom up.
Increasing the membership from 22 in 1989 to 46 member states today, its rapid enlargement has enhanced the political relevance of the organisation. In a sense, the Council can be seen as embodying the fundamental unity of the continent of Europe – from Ireland to the Caucasus and from Finland to Malta.
From the outset Ireland has been and remains a consistent supporter of the Council's role and values. Today, despite the increased competences of the EU, we continue to see the Council performing a key function in European construction. It has a central role to play in ensuring that fundamental human values form the basis of democratic societies throughout the continent. It is however the case that, because it rapidly took in so many newly established post-communist states, ensuring full compliance with the obligations of membership remains a major challenge.
Like the Council of Europe, the EU also seeks to advance democratic reform in the countries of the former Soviet Union. Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan are each a focus of the European Neighbourhood Policy, or ENP, which is likely to become more of a priority as the Union seeks to build more constructive, cooperative ties with our neighbours. This policy encompasses not only these European countries, but also the EU's North African and Middle Eastern neighbours.
The objective of the ENP is to share the European Union's stability, security and prosperity with neighbouring countries in a way that is distinct from EU membership. The trade-off is that the countries which benefit from this must show evidence of political, economic and institutional reforms. The ENP shares with our neighbours some of the benefits previously associated only with membership of the Union, such as a stake in the internal market, involvement in EU programmes and cooperation in transport and energy networks. By offering closer political, security, economic and cultural cooperation it is hoped that the emergence of new dividing lines in Europe can be avoided. Ukraine and Moldova are further along in the ENP process than the countries of the South Caucasus who signed five year Action Plans in Brussels only this week. Subject to the progress they make, the membership aspirations of Ukraine and Moldova stand to become a more pressing question for the EU in the coming years.
Leaving that aside, there are currently 7 countries that have a real prospect of joining the EU in the coming decades. Some are closer than others but all have had their membership perspective confirmed by successive European Councils. The 7 are: Croatia and Turkey, both candidate countries and both in accession negotiations with the EU; the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, which is also an official candidate for accession but has not yet begun its negotiation process. Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia (including Kosovo) are not yet candidates but are considered potential candidates. That is to say that they have the prospect of eventual membership.
The EU has stated repeatedly that it will concentrate on these last seven countries and will not, for the foreseeable future, take on any extra commitments. Developing the accession process with these seven countries will be essential for ensuring the future security and prosperity of the Union. That is not to say that this process should be rushed. It must not be. The priority is to get the enlargement process right. We need to take our time on this.
As it stands, Croatia is likely to be the first of these countries to accede. This is unlikely to happen before 2009 at the earliest. The tragic events witnessed in the Balkans throughout history should demand that we view its stabilization at a priority. The accession of Croatia will be the first step in a process which can ensure a brighter, European future for that beleaguered region. To successfully achieve peace in the Balkans will be as great an achievement as bringing France and Germany together was in the past.
A fortnight ago in Dublin I attended the Forum on Europe to listen to the views of Turkey's chief negotiator on EU accession, Mr. Ali Babacan. He made a strong case for the benefits Turkey's membership could bring to the EU. As a country with borders with some of our region's more volatile areas: the Balkans, the Middle East, the Caucasus, and Central Asia, Turkey can help to provide stability on Europe's fringes.
Turkish accession could strengthen Europe's global role and improve East-West relations. Turkey's negotiations are a positive expression of the coexistence of cultures, and of how the western and Islamic worlds can relate to each other in a collaborative, cooperative manner in the future. Turkey also has vital energy links with energy producer countries which could help the EU achieve security of supply in the years ahead.
The process with Turkey is under considerable pressure at the moment and Turkey will have to show a renewed commitment to both its internal reforms and to normalisation of its relations with Cyprus. As these issues continue to gain prominence, it will be important not to lose sight of the long term goal. A Europeanised Turkey which respects and upholds the principles and values we adhere to is of vital interest to the EU and to Europe as a whole. This would only strengthen the Union.
The key to Turkish membership will be conditionality. Turkey will have to meet all of its commitments and all of the membership criteria in full. This is a process which may take as long as decade. The process itself is recognised as being as important as the outcome.
Institutional Limits: Nice
The limits of Enlargement are of course not simply geographical or political. The Union itself has a very obvious limit imposed by its own institutions and their capacity to manage a larger membership. The current operating rules as laid down by the Nice Treaty only provide for a membership of 27. In September the President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso stated that, after Bulgaria and Romania join, an institutional settlement must precede any further Enlargement. I personally think he is right. The Nice Treaty will not suffice to manage the challenges of the kind of Union that will come into being if our membership goes into the mid 30s as it could well do before the next decade is out.
The Union must be able to function properly if it is to continue to deliver for its citizens. We must ensure that an enlarged Union of 27 or more does not simply become a talking shop for intergovernmental discussions. It must be able to arrive at decisions and to implement them fully. It must be able develop further the EU's internal market and the whole array of collective policies that makes the Union so unique. Institutional reform should not be seen purely in terms of enlargement, but as being necessary for the basic health of the Union.
Social and Economic Limits
There are also social and economic limits to future Enlargement. The economic viability of the EU must be secured as we develop and grow. The last enlargement of the EU was an economic success. It introduced dynamism into the economies of the accession states, some of which still lead the EU in terms of economic performance. The economic advancement of these states benefits the Union as a whole.
For Ireland, the 5th enlargement has provided a vital boost for our labour market as well as new opportunities for trade and investment. An increasingly open Europe brings challenges to be met as well as opportunities to be maximized. We now have an increasingly diverse, highly skilled workforce. Workers from the Member States who joined in 2004 are making a vital and essential contribution to our economy and society. As a Union we must ensure the highest standards are adhered to in the enlargement process to ensure the smooth integration of acceding countries. This does not mean putting new obstacles in the way of candidate countries. It means ensuring that the existing conditions are applied rigorously and fairly so that the Union's core principles and achievements are properly advanced.
The people of Europe must have a sense that enlargement is being managed responsibly. This can only be done by providing more information on the process, publishing key documents and involving the general public more in the enlargement debate. That is why occasions such as this are so important. Ultimately public opinion will be the true limit to the expansion of the EU. A government can't lead a democratic state to where it does not want to go. If we are to win the debate on the advantages and necessity of further enlargement, it can only be with the full support of our people.
As EU members, we believe in the ideals enshrined in the Treaty: liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law. The EU is defined by these values, not by its geography or its economy. These are standards we believe in and to which other countries aspire. We have a moral imperative, not to foist or force our values on others, but to hold them up because they are dear to us and have relevance to others.
The accomplishments of the 10 former Warsaw pact countries in meeting the conditions for membership have been extraordinary. The benefits to their people of these reforms will be felt far into the future. As an Irish nationalist and firm European, I believe that we cannot deny any country the opportunity to share in this experience. Parnell's great speech in Cork on 21 January 1885 is as relevant today as 120 years ago:
“No man has the right to fix the boundary to the march of a nation. No man has a right to say to his country: 'Thus far shalt thou go, and no further'; and we have never attempted to fix the ne plus ultra to the progress of Ireland's nationhood, and we never shall.”
Parnell's words could well be a motto for Europe's future course. In sporting parlance, 'It is all to play for'!
If we believe that the EU is the basis for economic and social success throughout Europe, we must give it the capacity to act internally and externally through the Constitutional Treaty. If we believe in our values, we must promote them. If we believe that it does benefit a country to join the EU, we have a duty to share that perspective with those who are ready to embrace the challenges involved. That would guarantee a win-win scenario for new and old members.
We must ensure, however, that all future members are really ready for membership and that the Union is really prepared to accommodate them. There is much work to be done on the Union's future enlargement agenda, but there is time to get it right. We must do so. We cannot set the outer limits to the Union's future. Our responsibility is to shape today's Union so that it can meet the challenges of the future including those that concern our future relations with other European nations. We look forward to all of those challenges in the exciting years ahead, for a growing and evolving European Union, with a much more important role in global affairs, to the benefit of all mankind, European and non-European alike.
Thank you for your attention.