Address by the Minister for Foreign Affairs to European business associations, 5 June 2008
Address by the Minister for Foreign Affairs to European business associations, 5 June 2008
I am very grateful to have been invited to speak here today.
The organisations represented in this room illustrate the depth and diversity of Ireland’s connections with our European neighbours.
Deep historical ties have bequeathed us a rich legacy of shared values and traditions.
Ireland trades extensively with our European neighbours who now account for 63% 0f our exports.
Our people travel with impressive frequency to other European countries and have built up a rich vein of personal and professional ties there.
Our young people study in each other’s universities under the wonderful Erasmus programme.
Our sporting teams play in European competitions.
As a Munster man, I am especially conscious of this aspect of the European scene!
In short, we are a deeply connected people. We are both Irish and European. The European aspect enhances rather than detracts from our unique and precious Irish identity.
The European Union is the political expression of these multifarious connections.
The Union to which we have belonged so successfully for 35 years now stands at a political crossroads and Ireland has a vital decision to make which could determine the EU’s path for the years ahead.
It is up to us to decide if Europe will move forward with confidence and grapple effectively with the many challenges of the 21st century. Alternatively, we can stall the Union and plunge it into uncertainty at a time of great global economic turbulence. At a time when action is required, we cannot afford a further unpredictable bout of EU reflection and introspection.
In seven days time we will have the opportunity to pass judgment on the Lisbon Treaty.
The referendum matters. It matters for Ireland and it matters for the European Union.
The Government’s support – indeed the huge cross-party and civil society support - for the Lisbon Treaty is an act of commitment.
A commitment to preserve the gains Ireland has made in the past three decades and more.
It represents a commitment to secure Ireland’s future development, our hard-won prosperity and the jobs of our people in an increasingly competitive world.
Thirty-five years of EU membership has seen Ireland transformed from a peripheral nation into one that maximises our effective sovereignty by combining with others in pursuit of agreed objectives.
In terms of effectiveness, the European Union is clearly greater than the sum of its parts. This is a fact which benefits every Member State. It is one from which we especially have benefited.
The Treaty will give the Union the flexibility and capability to face the major challenges ahead. And there can be no doubt that there is a need for reform, to take account of the much larger Union and of the challenging internal and external policy issues that face us.
This twenty-first century is still young, but it is already posing profound and often interlinked questions.
The sheer scale of the challenges – climate change, migration, the eradication of poverty and globalisation – means that no single country can possibly address these alone.
The century ahead will see us all increasingly dependent on multilateral and regional organisations. The EU is the most successful such organisation in the world by a long way.
It has an important role in helping shape a better future. It has a real responsibility to play that role effectively. The Lisbon Treaty will enable us to do just that.
Some argue that our involvement in the EU represents a loss of national sovereignty. I take a different view.
I believe that, by combining with others who share our values, we actually strengthen our hand and promote our interests.
The Europe made possible by the Lisbon Treaty will allow for the values held by the Irish people regarding international peace and security to be more strongly and consistently articulated and advanced.
Last Friday’s historic agreement in Croke Park to ban cluster munitions reminds us that, as a strong self-confident country, we have nothing to fear, and much to gain, from closer involvement with our neighbours and partners.
By working together, we can find solutions to international problems - be they cluster munitions, energy security or global warming.
Today’s Ireland is showing that we can take a lead on the world stage. It is our European Union membership which has helped give us that confidence and that platform.
I have no doubt that other countries around the globe are more willing to listen to us and give us an audience because we are part of the EU.
Our profile, our voice and our sovereignty have increased dramatically since 1973.
Some maintain that we should speak for ourselves only.
In a world where solutions can only be found at global and regional
level, turning our backs on the world is a road to
We have to ask ourselves how, as a small country, we can maximise our effectiveness.
The answer is very clear.
Put plainly, we have an interest in preventing and resolving regional and global conflicts.
We aspire to create a fairer international order.
We have an interest in bringing our influence and principles to bear.
The best way for us to do this is through active engagement within the Union.
This is not to say that our national voice or interests will be drowned out in situations where we have a different view.
The Lisbon Treaty explicitly recognises that in areas with military or defence implications decisions will continue to be taken unanimously.
Under the Lisbon Treaty, Ireland will be in a position to do more good in the world.
We should view the Treaty as an effort to improve the lives of people everywhere.
It is not, as critics would have it, a Machiavellian manoeuvre aimed at increasing the power of the Union or of the larger Member States.
The Treaty is a recipe for sensible, pragmatic reform on the part of a Union of 27 Member States so that it can continue to serve the needs of the Member States and their peoples in a changing world.
Most vitally, we need to see the Union as part of what we are.
It must not be seen as some sort of difficult bilateral relationship. Opponents of this Treaty are apt to see ‘Brussels’ as a malign external force hell bent on imposing its will on us. Nothing could be further from the truth.
This is not a case of ‘Us’ and ‘Them’. We are all in this together.
I would not be naïve enough to suggest that everything about the
Union is perfect.
Nor would I argue that membership has been plain sailing. Clearly, we have had to make adjustments and face challenges. However, the overall Irish experience has been strongly positive.
Despite this very favourable experience, we have witnessed a campaign against the Treaty which portrays the Union and Ireland itself in almost unrecognisable terms.
There has been an onslaught of negativity from a number of sources. These groups have painted a picture of the Union which is at total variance to the reality of Ireland’s experience in Europe.
Some will have us believe that the Treaty will allow the Union to provide for the legalisation of abortion, prostitution and hard drugs.
Others maintain that our national control over corporate tax and defence policies will be grabbed from us.
These claims are based on conspiratorial theories which assume the worst of our EU partners.
Among opponents of this Treaty, there appears to be a fixation with the larger Member States which are routinely portrayed as marauders or worse.
All of this says something about how opponents of the Treaty see Ireland and our future engagement with Europe.
They paint it as a defensive, threatened existence. This is a completely false picture.
The Union is not going to change its values and objectives of peace, prosperity and solidarity.
The Union is not going to change the principle of respect for the equality of all Member States which has served Ireland so well.
In other words, the EU leopard is not going to change its spots.
We should also stick to the winning formula we have pursued for 35 years as a committed EU insider and not a sulky, dissident member as No campaigners would wish us to become.
When I speak of Ireland being fully at home in the Union, I am not speaking in vague generalities. I have real, concrete, living examples in mind.
Ireland has a full seat in the Council of Ministers where we have equal status with all other Member States – large and small. The Irish language is one of the 23 official and working languages of the Union.
The Union has and will continue to offer us scope to prosper in all walks of life. In this respect I think it is worth recalling the recent comment of the Commissioner for Internal Market and Services, Charlie McCreevy, in describing the Single Market’s impact on Ireland.
He said that the Single Market “provided a playing field, a level playing field, and a much bigger playing field than we ever had before”.
This has allowed Ireland to attract foreign investment, and building on this, to catch up from a position where we were just about the poorest country in the EU.
There are a number of strong reasons for supporting this Treaty next Thursday.
The Treaty will make the EU more democratic by giving a stronger voice to national parliaments and the European Parliament.
The Treaty respects vital Irish national interests including a veto on corporation tax and on defence issues.
The Treaty allows the Union to act more effectively on the international scene, including by having a President of the European Council and a High Representative for Foreign Affairs.
The Treaty provides for equal treatment of Member States in terms of the right to appoint members of the Commission and the new voting arrangements where any proposal must have the support of at least 15 countries.
The Treaty allows the Union and Ireland to continue on the successful path that has taken us so far forward in recent years.
In addition to saying what the Treaty is about I want to take a few moments to confirm what it is not about.
The Treaty is not about losing national control over our corporate tax system.
This claim has been rejected, and shown to be false, by the Institute of Chartered Accountants, the American Chamber of Commerce, IBEC, the Referendum Commission and the European Commission.
The Treaty is not about halving our vote in the Council of Ministers.
In reality, the Treaty proposes a new double majority system. This means that any EU decision taken by majority vote requires the support of a certain minimum number of Member States – at least fifteen - representing a certain percentage of the EU’s population at least 65%.
These new voting arrangements have been described by the distinguished Irish EU expert, UCD’s Professor Brigid Laffan, as ‘elegant and equitable’.
In any event, votes are very rarely taken in the Council of Ministers. Consensus usually applies.
The focus on voting weights by opponents of the Treaty is another example of their misunderstanding and misrepresentation of how the union actually works.
The Treaty is absolutely not about introducing abortion, hard drugs, the death penalty or, as Libertas recently claimed, the removal of three-year-old children from their homes into State detention.
Regarding abortion, there is no question of the EU having any role. The Union has no competence in this area. This is recognised in a legally-binding Protocol to the Lisbon Treaty.
The independent Referendum Commission and the Archbishop of Dublin have indicated that the Lisbon Treaty does not provide for any change in this sensitive area.
But, in truth, our vote next Thursday is not only about the detail of the Treaty.
I believe that our experience in Europe has a very legitimate part to play in helping us to reach a decision on how to vote. Past performance is the only reliable indicator of future behaviour.
Looking at the overall balance sheet, it is clear that the Union has provided enormous economic benefits.
Employment in Ireland has doubled from one million to two million in the past thirty-five years. Foreign direct investment, which let’s face it is contingent on our EU membership, has mushroomed.
In 1972, just before we joined the Union, foreign direct investment was just €16 million. Today it is measured in billions.
Quite frankly, a No vote will be read very clearly and negatively in the boardrooms where international investment decisions are made.
The 2006 IDA annual report indicated that, in that year alone, there was new capital investment of €2.6 billion; €470 million invested in new research, development and innovation projects.
Multinational companies employed more than 135,000 people with an annual payroll of €15 billion euros and paid an estimated €2.8 billion in corporation tax. It should also be borne in mind that hundreds of thousands of other Irish people are employed indirectly as a result - often in the small and medium-sized sector.
I think as well that the past judgment of those on both sides of the debate must also be measured.
The “Yes” side is mainly comprised of those who have advocated support for previous Treaties.
The main political parties; the main business groups, – including IBEC, Chambers Ireland and the American Chamber of Commerce; the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the various farming organisations and leaders from right across civil society have all come together to support our further engagement in Europe.
Those on the “No” side include many who have taken an anti-EU position going back to the early 1970s.
They include Sinn Féin, which will tell you it is pro-EU but which
has opposed every phase of EU Treaty development.
They also include Youth Defence, with its long and reactionary anti-EU history.
They have been joined lately by Libertas, an organisation about whom little is known. It appears to have borrowed its ideas from a British eurosceptic stable.
The Irish people have made the right European choices in the past. I believe that the evidence of our EU experience, the positive facts of this Treaty and the credibility and judgment of the “Yes” side will again prove more persuasive to voters.
We are not taking a light decision next week. This is not a referendum on a local issue which we can revisit at our leisure.
We are making a decision with crucial implications for the EU, but, more importantly, with crucial implications for ourselves.
Common sense tells us that a positive outcome is in our best interests. Common sense tells us that we should vote Yes.
When Ireland was weighing up the prospects of EU membership in 1972, the then Taoiseach, Jack Lynch, was convinced that accession was essential for Ireland.
He was sure we would gain greatly from closer ties with our
He captured that sense very well when he said that not being part of Europe would be like "the choice faced by Robinson Crusoe when the ship came to bring him back into the world again."
As a country that has profited hugely from our European connections, and have played a significant part in steering the European ship, we need to remain firmly at the helm.
This is no time to become castaways or reluctant Europeans. We must make sure we stay at the heart of Europe, and continue to reap the economic benefits of active engagement, by voting Yes next Thursday.