Remarks by the Minister for European Affairs, Dick Roche T.D. at NUI Galway, on Ireland’s vision of European integration,
Remarks by the Minister for European Affairs, Dick Roche T.D. at NUI Galway, on Ireland’s vision of European integration,
Saturday 29 September 2007
I am delighted to be here today to speak on the Irish vision of European integration.
May I congratulate Dr. Pech for organising such a timely event to mark the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Treaties of Rome.
This conference is a welcome opportunity to pause and reflect at such an important time for the Union as we enter the final stages of the Intergovernmental Conference on the Reform Treaty.
I am very pleased that today’s conference is operating with support from the Government’s Communicating Europe Initiative.
One of the biggest challenges facing the European Union is the challenge of communicating with its citizens. There is all too often an arrogant assumption within what we might broadly call the euro cognoscenti and I include institutions, Eurocrats & miscellaneous Europhiles in that, that the European project is so self evidently meritorious that no right minded person would view it with anything les than enthusiasm. Such self delusion was a factor in encouraging the enthusiasts in the Convention on the Future of Europe from moving just that little bit too far of opinion in at least two member States with consequences that we are struggling to deal with today.
It is a pity that this should have been the case. The reality is that the story of the Union is a truly remarkable one, a story that demands better telling than it gets.
Looking back over the 50 years since the Treaty of Rome even the most begrudging must admit that the creation of the European Union has clearly been one of the outstanding political achievements of our time.
Just 60 years ago Europe was struggling to come to terms with the consequences of total war, the barbarity that was part of that war, the destruction of the bulk of Europe’s infrastructure, the horror of the camps, millions of displaced people, the countless individual tragedies of war, the strangulation of an Iron Curtain that was descending across the continent and in parts of Europe in the winter of 1946/47 with famine conditions and starvation.
How easy it is to forget – particularly here where we didn’t have total war – just the ‘Emergency’.
For all the occasional irritations, the excesses of Eurospeak, the regulations that look so mindless the Union and its predecessors the EEC & ECSC has helped bestow on two generations of Europeans the gift of peace in a manner quite unprecedented in all of our continent’s history long history.
The contrast with Europe’s pre-1957 existence is striking.
As the Berlin Declaration which was adopted to mark the 50th anniversary states:
For centuries Europe has been an idea, holding out for peace and understanding. That hope has been fufilled and European unification has made peace and prosperity possible.
By reminding ourselves of this transformation, we can put the developments of the last half century in their proper perspective.
It also helps us to retain a valuable sense of proportion about the issues currently facing EU Member States as we work to finalise the new Reform Treaty.
The difficulties encountered at European level this past two years have been those of a successful Union undergoing a period of understandable uncertainty in light, among other things, of the substantial 2004 enlargement and the impact of globalisation.
While not minimising the significance of these necessary adjustments on the part of the Union, I would much prefer to be where we are today than where Europe stood in 1957 as it struggled to come to terms with a dismal legacy of conflict and division.
Turning to Ireland’s vision of European integration, this is inevitably shaped by our experience during 35 years of membership. The balance sheet of European membership is an extremely positive one.
It is abundantly clear that Ireland has grown economically and changed for the better within the European Union.
Membership has been a powerful catalyst in the modernisation of our country and remarkable changes have taken place throughout Irish society.
Membership of the Union gave us access to a huge domestic market. It enabled us to sell Ireland to investors as a valuable gateway, a nation of ‘Young Europeans’. Membership played a vital role in overcoming our infrastructural deficits. It made us drag our thinking into the 21st century – think of the revolutionary impact of EU membership on women’s’ rights.
You need go no further than the city of Galway to see convincing evidence of this. In the early seventies, the population of the city and county of Galway was just over one hundred and forty nine thousand. Now it stands at just over two hundred and thirty thousand! This impressive demographic surge is in significant part due to EU membership. Our place in Europe has been vital in ending the haemorrhage of emigration
We can measure the impact in terms of GDP. In 1973, our national wealth was barely 60% of the EU average. Now we are above the EU average and are seen as a benchmark by others. Newer Member States look to Ireland as a source of inspiration for their own futures within the Union.
WE can also, I suggest see the impact in how we see ourselves.
In a real sense membership made us grow up and become more self confident as a people.
When we first joined in 1973, there was considerable fear over how membership would impact on our identity and sovereignty.
We were and still are small country, and we value greatly our hard won independence.
Far from suffering our identity and our sovereignty have both been enhanced by the impact of membership.
Working successfully and productively with our EU partners has been an emancipating experience for Ireland. It has facilitated the attainment of cherished national goals such as the ending of mass emigration and the creation of jobs and prosperity at home.
All parts of our society have benefited from the new freedoms and wider horizons that the Union has afforded us.
One of the obvious examples is manner in which the Erasmus programme has enabled thousands of European students to experience and embrace Ireland’s culture at first hand.
In Ireland, we have every right to be proud of our place within Europe and of the collective European achievements to which we have contributed.
As an active participant in EU deliberations, we have, for example, achieved more in the area of the human rights and the promotion of peace than we could have ever imagined doing by working alone.
The people of Europe now enjoy one of the best standards of living in the world. The Union has acknowledged the responsibility our economic good fortune brings with it. It has become the world’s largest provider of overseas development aid, giving over €50 billion to more than 150 countries and territories every year. This is a European achievement of which Ireland can be justly proud.
Looking to the Future
Returning to how we see Europe’s future, I want to make it clear that we are looking for a Union that can continue to deliver for Europeans as it has done so impressively in past decades.
We are not seeking to create a visionary new Europe. Instead, we want to ensure that our Union develops and evolves organically so that it can deal effectively with Europe’s changing needs in a changing 21st century world.
In essence, this is why the European Reform Treaty is so important. It aims to give the Union the capacity to function more effectively and to operate more democratically so that it can continue to deliver what Europe needs, for now and for the future.
We want a Union that provides an economic and political framework in which Ireland can prosper as we have done to such good effect in recent decades.
This is not a question of taking out a calculator and counting national gain purely in terms of direct receipts from the EU budget. As an advanced economy, we have a vested interest in a Europe in which goods and services to flow freely within a well-functioning single market governed by agreed rules that are fairly implemented.
We have an interest also in ensuring that the continent of Europe continues to be at peace and is a place where democracy and respect for human rights can flourish. This means that we value the Union’s efforts to spread the benefits of peace and stability to recently-troubled places like the Western Balkans.
Irish people also dearly want to live in a world which deals effectively with the scourges of poverty, disease and inequality, and the threat posed by climate change.
It is clear that these global challenges can best be tackled by Europeans working together and helping to move the international agenda along a positive path.
Within the Union, at the heart of Europe, our small country can play a real role. We should not doubt our capacity to influence policies – Ireland has always punched well above her weight in the Union.
Drawing on our own distinctive traditions of international activism and concern from those who endure oppression, we can be very effective, in collaboration with others of like mind, in pushing European policies in the proper direction.
The new Reform Treaty will have as one of its key aims to make the Union a more effective force for good in world affairs. This laudable goal is entirely consistent with our own national foreign policy traditions. Here in Ireland, we are strongly of the view that Europeans have a duty to help those in parts of the world less fortunate than ours. As the Berlin Declaration states:
“we are committed to the peaceful resolution of conflicts in the world and to ensuring that people do not become victims of war, terrorism and violence.”
The EU wants to promote freedom and development and to drive back poverty, hunger and disease. Only this week in the UN we saw how Europe can act to effect in a UN Resolution that will help to bring hope to Africa to Darfur & Chad and the millions of innocent people that have suffered so egregiously in recent years and over decades.
Article 29.1 of Bunreacht na hÉireann states that Ireland affirms its devotion to the ideal of peace and friendly co-operation amongst nations founded on international justice and morality. Participating in the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) is an ideal way for us to meet these noble objectives. It gives us an influence in international relations that we could never have had in the absence of EU membership.
At the same time, the CFSP is flexible enough to allow individual Member States to maintain their individual traditions. It remains the case that any deployment of Irish troops overseas is subject to the requirements of the ‘triple lock’ of Government decision, Dáil approval and UN authorisation.
The European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) is an integral part of the EU’s foreign policy. This is not something that Irish people need to have any qualms about. What is being done under ESDP is entirely consistent with our best Irish traditions in the area of international relations, including of course, our tradition of military neutrality. We should not underestimate the constructive contribution we can make in this area by working in tandem with our European partners.
At present, ten ESDP missions are underway, both civilian and military and I am proud of the role being played by members an Garda Síochána and of the Irish Defence Forces in a number of these missions. Members of the Defence Forces, and of the Garda, are participating in ESDP missions assisting the process of stabilisation in Bosnia Herzegovina. Irish officers are also providing technical assistance in the EU's operation in support of the African Union mission in Sudan.
We will be a major player in Chad. As announced earlier this week, subject to the necessary military assessment, Ireland will provide a substantial contribution of up to 350 soldiers to the planned ESDP mission to Eastern Chad, which will provide security and assistance to the estimated 400,000 refugees and displaced persons living there, many as a direct result of the crisis in Darfur.
These missions enable the Union to give practical effect to Europe’s characteristic values and our commitment to conflict resolution.
The new Reform Treaty will strengthen the coherence and effectiveness of the Union’s external relations, most notably through the appointment of a High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.
As for the future composition of the Union, it is clear that there is not another 2004 style enlargement on the horizon. We have opened accession negotiations with Croatia and also with Turkey, which will be a longer-term process. The countries of the Western Balkans have also had their EU ambitions recognised, even if they are different stages in their political and economic evolution. Yet it is clear that the prospect of drawing closer to the EU plays a vital role in their development.
In terms of our immediate priorities within the EU, the task at hand is to agree and implement the Reform Treaty. I believe that it provides the best means of equipping the EU to meet the challenges of the future. It will make the Union’s decision-making more efficient and transparent. It will also resolve long-standing institutional issues such as the composition of the Commission and voting arrangements in the Council.
At the level of policy I am pleased that, at Ireland’s suggestion, the European Council agreed to add language to the Treaty on the need to combat climate change. This is the first time that this issue will be included in an EU treaty.
Returning to Ireland’s vision of European integration, I want to conclude by reiterating three key points.
First, Ireland has been a huge beneficiary of European integration which has facilitated our remarkable recent advancement. With 35 years of membership behind us, we see the Union as an indispensable framework for our future national wellbeing and prosperity.
Second, as an advanced economy, Ireland has a real role to play in ensuring that Europe faces up with energy and imagination to the various challenges confronting today’s Europeans. We have shown, and will continue to show, that we are not a passenger on the European bus but one of its drivers with ideas of our own on its route and destination.
Third, we see the Union as having a vital role in enabling Ireland and Europe to cope with the major issues of the 21st century, for example energy security and climate change. Far from being shy about the Union’s international role, we are keen to shape that role and to ensure that it continues to reflect the values we hold dear.
As the Irish proverb states, “I ndiaidh a chéile a thógtar na caisleáin” (By degrees, the castles are built). This incremental approach applies firmly to the building of the European Union. It is a step-by-step project. Ireland is changing and so is the European Union. We will face these changes with a confidence and optimism founded firmly on the fruits of our positive European experience to date. I wish you all an enjoyable and productive conference. Thank you for your attention.Top