Address by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern, T.D., to the Institute of European Affairs, Dublin, 22nd February, 2007
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I want to thank the Institute of European Affairs for their invitation to give this State of the Union address in the opening months of what I hope will be an auspicious year for Europe.
Next month we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome.
This is an opportunity to rededicate ourselves to Europe’s shared values and aspirations, which remain as powerful and relevant today as ever.
Now is the time to reinvigorate our 27-member Union so that it can build on the success of the past half century.
As we strive to agree the future course of the Union, we would do well to take our cue from the leadership and vision demonstrated fifty years ago.
In 1957, Europe was still emerging from the ugly shadow of war. Europeans lived in fear of renewed conflict. Out of war and wisdom six founding nations advanced out beyond purely nationalist lines on a hopeful road to enduring peace and prosperity.
Their vision has been richly vindicated. Their pioneering blend of idealism and practical cooperation gradually took root and has transformed our continent.
Let us reflect on what has been accomplished;
- Today conflict among EU Member States is unthinkable.
- We play a significant and growing role in world affairs.
- Our people enjoy one of the best standards of living in the world;
- And we are among largest providers of overseas development aid on earth.
Though Ireland was not present in Rome in 1957, we too have every reason to celebrate. We have thrived within the Union. It has been the great and positive catalyst of modern Irish development.
Since accession, as a people, we have been generous in our belief that the doors which the Union opened for us must be opened to others. We supported the recent enlargements of the Union, a remarkable achievement, reunifying our continent in a manner that would have seemed an impossible dream less than a generation ago.
But, change, however welcome, can still seem threatening and the challenge of adjusting to this new Union of 27 has caused some questioning of the viability of any further extension of membership.
There are doubts about the capacity of an expanded Union to function effectively and to act cohesively. Questions are being asked about the Union’s ultimate limits.
It is clear that future enlargements will pose major economic, political and institutional challenges for the Union.
The scale of the 5th enlargement has been unprecedented. A period of adjustment will certainly be required during which the priority must be to demonstrate the efficacy and delivery capacity of a Union of 27 Member States. With the accession last month of Bulgaria and Romania, there will now be a natural pause in the enlargement process. This is the time for us, to put it plainly, ‘to get our act together’.
We need to do this on two fronts.
First, we need to free ourselves from the semi-permanent institutional introspection that has been underway since the Maastricht Treaty. That means sorting out the Union’s constitutional framework once and for all.
That was one of the great virtues of the agreement on the Constitutional Treaty which we delivered during our 2004 Presidency. It provided credible, workable answers to issues that had dogged the Union for the previous decade. And it was intended to mark the end of the institutional debate for the foreseeable future.
Ireland continues to argue that the Constitutional Treaty is the best available recipe for ensuring the Union’s continuing effectiveness and relevance. Now, I do not want to go into a detailed discussion of the provisions of the Treaty.
But, allow me to make a few short points about it.
First, I accept that the Treaty is not a perfect document. No multi-lateral agreement ever is. It is, however, the product of more than two years of painstaking negotiations. It successfully accommodated the interests of both large and small Member States. And it goes a long way towards fulfilling the ambition of making the Union’s activities more comprehensible to its citizens.
Second, it sets out and establishes the basic principles, values and objectives, powers and institutions of the European Union. It simplifies the decision-making arrangements and makes clear distinctions between national and EU-level responsibilities.
And, finally, the Treaty has resolved such vexed issues as: the composition of the Commission; the Presidency of the Council; voting weights in Council; and the fundamental rights of citizens vis-à-vis the Union’s institutions. It also sets out sensible, workable, arrangements in the areas of justice and home affairs, and common foreign and security policy. The last thing we need at this stage is another lengthy round of Constitutional negotiations. This would undermine the Union’s credibility and be likely to produce an extended stalemate. The wisest course is to adhere closely to what was agreed in 2004.
Although the road ahead remains uneven, the fact is that the great majority of Member States have either ratified the Constitutional Treaty or, like Ireland, want to do so. As I see it, the responsibility rests on those who now have difficulties with the 2004 agreement to let us know what it is they need to enable them to ratify. And, while maintaining the essential substance and balance of what we all 27 agreed to in 2004, we will, as always, strive to accommodate the reasonable needs of our EU partners which may affect the ultimate form and presentation of the Treaty.
I want to move on to the Union’s second and, I think, more important challenge. The big picture as I see it is not the Treaty, but what the Treaty can enable us to do. It is fundamentally a means to an end. And the end is a Union that delivers tangible benefits to our citizens.
The key question to be asked here is: what are the key issues facing Europe and how can these best be tackled? I will list a number of basic challenges.
First, we need a strong, dynamic, knowledge-intensive economy that will thrive in the face of global competition. In the absence of this, Europe’s future prosperity and wellbeing cannot be guaranteed.
Second, we need to secure Europe’s future energy supply and, at the same time, tackle the grave and urgent problem of climate change.
Third, it is in our interests to help underpin stability and spread prosperity in other parts of Europe.
Fourth, promoting a more secure, more stable and fairer world serves European interests and reflects European values.
Let me pose a question. Can any of these challenges be tackled properly by any Member State, however powerful, acting alone?
Let us take the topical example of energy and climate change. No single European country has sufficient clout to secure its energy needs. Likewise, the problem of global warming will not yield to any national or even regional solution. Working together as Europeans, however, we can deploy the economic weight and credibility to bring about real change on both of these fronts.
It is clear that the single greatest, economic, environmental, geopolitical issue now facing us is climate change.
Its existence is beyond serious doubt. The evidence is extremely clear. That debate is over.
It is a force against which there is no hard-power, no military solution.
It demands unprecedented global unity of purpose.
Our actions now will shape the welfare of mankind for centuries ahead.
In this context, Ireland will argue for radical action against Climate Change, both at EU and at a global level.
At the forthcoming Spring Council we will support the following targets;
The EU to press for an international agreement among developed nations providing for a 30% cut in greenhouse gas emissions.
- In the absence of an international agreement, a unilateral cut in EU emissions by 20%.
- 20% of energy consumption to come from renewable sources.
- A 10% minimum target share for bio-fuels.
- And a 20% improvement in energy efficiency.
But Europe going it alone is not enough.
Unilateral moves, though welcome and necessary, must be followed with a global response.
In just four years, China has installed generation capacity equal to that of Germany, the world’s fourth largest economy.
Today, US per capita energy consumption is 13,000 kilowatt hours, against an 8,000 kilowatt hour OECD average.
Yet these two nations have not signed up to Kyoto.
China, America, the G8 and other large emitters must come on board now.
As I see it, the job of the Union – above and beyond its own domestic actions – is to be the Global Advocate for action on climate change.
The status quo is unsustainable: environmentally, economically or morally.
Ladies and Gentlemen.
On the international stage, the Union must develop its potential to be an effective influence for peace, justice and stability. The Common Foreign and Security Policy is complex. Inevitably, twenty-seven countries with different foreign policy traditions will not always have the tactical nimbleness or the strategic consistency a single state can have.
Ireland, as a neutral country, with extremely strong UN credentials has a particular responsibility to take a forward looking position on challenging issues – to influence the Union, to be in the vanguard of reform. To bring our values to the table - determinedly.
Today I want to spell out some elements of our reform agenda;
First, Cluster Munitions.
Ireland position is to seek a complete ban on the use of cluster munitions.
In the absence of a complete ban we support the call for an immediate freeze on the use of these munitions pending the establishment of effective international instruments to address definitively the deep humanitarian concerns regarding their use.
I accept this is a long-term objective, but we are playing a prominent role in international meetings, such as that being held in Oslo today and tomorrow. We will be hosting a further such meetins in Dublin over the next year.
On my recent visit to the Lebenon I was briefed at first hand by our Defence Forces on the horrific and needless use of these munitions in the recent conflict there. I am convinced that ours is the morally and politically the correct position – I am equally convinced that we can bring others to share it.
Second, The Chicago Convention.
Ireland is leading efforts to seek international support for the updating and revision of 1944 Chicago Convention to bring it into line with modern reality – our concern in this area springs in particular from our consistent and total condemnation of extraordinary rendition, and desire to take practical steps to prevent it.
A revised Convention is the only tenable vehicle for reform. In that context it was a matter of some concern that the recent EU Parliamentary Report on Extraordinary Rendition failed to support us on this issue– bolstering the widespread view that it was a political point-scoring exercise and not a serious effort at reform for the future.
We are arguing for creative and generous response within EU to the new Unity Government in Palestine. We do this despite, at this stage, some Israeli and US scepticism. Again, we have made the running at the PSC in Brussels on this issue and will continue to do so.
Fourth, a Leadership Role for Development Aid.
The effects of colonialism wrought lasting harm on Africa: Our continent was the primary villain: Europe owes most to Africa and Ireland wants to see us meet the debt.
Ireland, has set a 2012 date for reaching 0.7% ODA target - 3 years ahead of the EU 15 target. We do not tie our aid. Our development programme is seen internationally as a model of good practice and excellence. We have produced a White Paper – the first ever here – on the strategy for our growing programme in the years ahead bringing the development agenda from the sidelines to the heart of Government.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Europe’s period of reflection is over. We now need to come up with an agreed way forward that meets current needs. We ought to use this year to remind ourselves of the advantages that today’s Europe enjoys and to look forward with confidence and realism. Then we need to get on with the business of the Union, which is to do together the very many vital things that we cannot do separately.
Like Ireland in 1957, the Union in 2007 needs to set aside the mood of despondency that has descended in the past two years. We must concentrate on harnessing the enthusiasm and skills of our citizens, and particularly our young people, who may not be familiar with Europe’s history, but have a huge stake in its future.
My birthday wish for the European Union at 50 is that it may resolve the difficulties surrounding the Constitutional Treaty and concentrate on deploying its vast store of human talent and imagination in order to deliver a Union of even greater results. I often hear arguments about “more Europe” or “less Europe”. My own preference is for a “do more” Europe, and do it imaginatively and effectively.
The Union needs to devise a new narrative for the 21st century, one that will connect with the hopes and dreams of the coming generations in the way that the vision of its founders served to inspire such exciting changes in Europe, and here in Ireland, during my lifetime.
Thank you for your kind attention.Top