State of the Union address by the Minister for Foreign Affairs
An Roinn Gnóthaí Eachtracha
Department of Foreign Affairs
Preas Oifig, Teach Uibh Eachach, Faiche Stiabhna, Baile Átha Cliath 2
Press Office, Iveagh House, St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2.
Tel: 353 -1- 478 0822 Fax: 353 -1- 478 5942 / 475 7476
Speech by Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Micheál Martin T.D.
IIEA, 9 February 2010
State of the Union Address
It is a pleasure to be here at the Institute of International and European Affairs to deliver this State of the Union address on this spring day
With Lá Le Bríde a week behind us we have, I hope, brighter weather prospects now after a winter that saw more than the usual quota of flooding, snow and ice. Spring is a time of thaw, of change and of growth: useful metaphors for the consideration today of the state of the European Union and of Ireland’s participation in it.
Allow me first to mention the change in your own organisation as Daithí O Ceallaigh takes over as Director General and Jill Donoghue moves to become Director of Research. I want to wish Daithi every success as he applies his many talents and wide experience- most recently at the UN in Geneva and in London- to the Institute’s endeavours. Our thanks and appreciation go to Jill for the huge double-hatted effort she has put in over the past number of years. Best of luck as you harness the Institute’s impressive research resources.
Both the European Union and Ireland are much changed compared to when I stood before you a year ago. One feature that is common to that evolution in both cases is the Lisbon Treaty. The Union, with the entry into force of the Treaty on 1 December last, has ended a period in which a considerable part of its effort and resources was directed internally, at institutional debate. It has now equipped itself with a stable and lasting institutional framework which will allow the EU to concentrate fully now on the many challenges of our time. As this new phase begins we have also a new Parliament in place and, it seems likely, we will have the second Barroso Commission later today.
Lisbon Treaty/Irish ratification
Ireland fully agrees that EU engagement with economic, climate change and foreign policy challenges should be our focus now. But a few minutes first on lessons learned from the ratification process.
When I spoke to you a year ago the signs were not quite so spring-like. The Treaty had failed to pass the democratic test of the first Lisbon referendum, a decision, as I said then, that we fully accepted.
Research which we commissioned on the vote fed in to a political and diplomatic negotiation which resulted at the June European Council last year in a commitment regarding the future composition of the Commission and in the provision of legal guarantees in a number of areas of preoccupation for voters. It was a package which the Government felt it could strongly recommend to the people. The two to one outcome in favour on 2 October was, as we said at the time, a good result for Ireland, and for Europe. It has certainly been a help in underlining our fundamental commitment to the Union and removing any question marks which the first vote may have occasioned.
Success of course often has many parents but on this particular issue I think it fair to say that there was indeed a wide range of factors, and of people, that contributed:
1 We have had some further opinion research done since the October vote. The data is still being analysed but the preliminary indications include (i) that the legal guarantees and the commissionership change played a significant role in the choice made by voters; and (ii) that the perception of a link between Irish economic prospects and a Yes vote played a major role in determining vote choice.
2 There was a very extensive mobilisation of effort, particularly raising the activity level by supporters of the Treaty. That included members of the Government and main opposition parties. There were also very significant efforts by a number of civil society groups – I am happy to acknowledge the presence today of some individuals who were active in this way.
3 An all-round lifting of the quantity and level of information about the Treaty, and about the Union. Many contributed here: the Department of Foreign Affairs through the White Paper, the lisbontreaty website, the lo-call number and the information leaflets; the referendum Commission headed by Mr Justice Clarke; the media; and indeed this organisation, the IIEA through its publications and its hosting of informed debate.
But this level of information, and of debate, should not just occur when we have a referendum. The Union is present in so many aspects of our political and everyday life. It is relevant, and beneficial. It provides the framework through which this country interacts with many of the issues in our external environment- whether in the economic, climate change or foreign policy areas. The need for informed debate is constant. The full range of the EU agenda, calls for a joined up analysis and approach to advancing our interests. I am working with the Taoiseach on the mechanisms for a sustained approach to facilitating this. New proposals will be discussed at cabinet very shortly.
The need for a bridge between the Union and its institutions on the one hand and the national space on the other is not uniquely Irish. And indeed the new Treaty expressly provides for greater transparency and interaction with citizens- the Citizens’ Initiative a case in point. It gives national parliaments new powers, including in relation to checking subsidiarity. We have legislated for that in the European Union Act 2009. More than that, there is recognition that national parliaments can contribute more actively. The Joint Committees on European affairs and on European Scrutiny are now undertaking a comprehensive examination of the future role of the Houses of the Oireachtas in EU affairs, with a view to a report by the summer, and I am looking forward to engaging with them in that exercise.
Beyond the Oireachtas and political debate there is work to be continued- and new activities initiated were necessary- on “communicating Europe”. The research done after both referenda will be a guide to themes to be covered, information channels to be used and particular sectors of population to be covered.
The second broad theme of importance for Ireland in the Union, now that Lisbon has been ratified, is engagement. The Union is considerably larger than the one we joined; contrary to some caricatures it is not a highly centralised organisation but one in which power and influence are distributed over the institutions. As an administration we need to be present- putting our own views and gathering those of others- in all these bodies, not just when proposals are tabled but as they are being shaped. This requires considerable effort but it is essential in view of the breadth of Union activity.
In reflecting on the state of the Union the Parliament is a good place to begin while looking at the new institutional landscape. President Barroso has been presenting the new College and his programme to the Parliament this morning. The vote on the College and to appoint the new Commission is expected later today. The recent confirmation hearings have been an impressive exercise in EU democracy. Maire Geoghegan Quinn, by the way, came through her examination very well- displayed integrity, as the report says, and it commends her approach as a robust but collegial politician. I wish her every success in the exciting and crucial research and innovation area she will now manage.
The Treaty has been in force for just over 2 months. The text on the page now has to be turned into operational reality, quite a task in an entity as unique and complex as the European Union. Some of this implementation is for later on- the move to double majority voting, for example, will only occur in 2014. Some is already the subject of inter-institutional contacts: the Commission and the Council are adjusting the frameworks for their relations with the European Parliament to factor in the extension of the use of co-decision and the generally enhanced role of the European Parliament.
A good deal of attention has zeroed in on the European Council and the Council of Ministers and I think it worth commenting on the developments here, the area where the member States have their most direct input and involvement.
The European Council
The European Council has now taken on more formal status as an institution of the Union, with a mission to give the EU the necessary impetus and define its political direction and priorities. Greater continuity in the carrying out of this task is what motivated the creation of the post of President of the European Council, now held by Herman Van Rompuy. I had the pleasure of meeting him when he visited Dublin last year, and he came across as thoughtful, incisive and deeply committed to the European project. He is settling into his new role and clearly aims to make the European Council focussed and strategic in its deliberations. He is also required by the Treaty to “facilitate cohesion and consensus within the European Council”.
General Affairs and FAC
In the Council of Ministers, that now has two formations: General Affairs, and Foreign Affairs.
The importance of the General Affairs Council- again with a clear Treaty reference- is that it is to be closely involved in the preparation and follow up of the work of the European Council. This implies a coordination effort to ensure a joined up approach, no small undertaking given the range of EU activity now. Our General Affairs Council meeting later this month is to begin preparation of the Spring European Council. The opportunity the Spanish Presidency has created for the Ministers to meet President Van Rompuy on that occasion is therefore most welcome and, I hope, the beginning of a pattern.
The now separate formation of the Foreign Affairs Council is being chaired by Catherine Ashton, appointed as the Union’s first High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.
Later today if as we expect, the new Commission is approved by the Parliament, she will also become the Commission’s Vice President in charge of external relations. This double-hatting reflects the aim of the Treaty negotiators to bring more coherence to the Union’s external dimension. This is one of the aspects of Treaty implementation where the devil is truly in the detail and Ms Ashton is faced with an enormous task in bringing together the multiple strands of external relations in the Council and Commission frameworks.
Catherine Ashton has deployed a down-to-earth manner and excellent inter-personal skills in her appearance before the European Parliament, in chairing the January meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council and in her first external contacts, including with Secretary of State Clinton.
Ashton does not yet benefit from the full support mechanism that the Treaty provides for the High Representative: as the European External Action Service- the EEAS- may well turn out to be one of the most significant innovations of the new Treaty.
Priority is being given to the work to have the formal decision on this ready for adoption by April. It is complicated as it brings together streams of personnel from the Commission’s existing external relations directorate and offices, from the Council Secretariat and from the member states. But some head of mission posts in EU missions coming vacant this year are already being opened up to competition by all and I hope that formal recruitment arrangements would be in place in the latter half of the year. Getting the EEAS up to full operational capacity and strength will be a gradual process with much learning along the way; wisely, a review is envisaged after three years.
Irish approach to implementation
With regard to all of the new institutional arrangements and posts Ireland has been contributing actively to the implementation process. We are well aware that procedures and precedents set now may influence how we work for years to come. We played a prominent part, including in the Convention and in our 2004 Presidency, in shaping the Treaty we now have. We wish to see it fully and faithfully implemented so that the Union can function optimally and reinforce its presence in world affairs. You will not be surprised if I use the word “balance” as the guideline we have taken in our approach to implementation: balance between efficiency and coherence on the one hand and ensuring, on the other, that the decision-making process facilitates and takes account of input by all; balance between large and small member States; and a balanced approach to staffing bodies so that a common sense of ownership is fostered. I mentioned earlier the need for us to engage consistently and widely. This new institutional landscape and the greater use of majority voting underlines that building alliances will be more important than ever. We need to play here to our strengths.
By way of a final word on the institutional changes to the Union I should mention the impact on the system of rotating Presidencies. With semi-permanent chairs now in place in the European Council and the Foreign Affairs Council, those bodies will no longer be chaired by the Council Presidency of the day.
It is a difficult enough transition and I want to commend the Spanish Presidency- Prime Minister Zapatero and Foreign Minister Moratinos- for the skilful and sensitive way they are managing this. But the Presidency in Office system is maintained otherwise and entails the chairing of the usual wide range of Council formations and of the associated preparatory bodies.
The Treaty has formalised the Trio system of groups of three member States planning and working together over an 18 month period. We are observing with interest how the current Spain/Belgium/Hungary Trio is managing the new system and the working relationships with President Van Rompuy and High Representative Ashton. Ireland will take on the Council Presidency in the first half of 2013, working with Lithuania and Greece who come after. Ireland, and the Irish public service, is rightly proud of the contribution we made under 6 previous Presidencies and we are beginning to plan now for the 7th, under this new framework.
Economy and EU 2020
We have adapted and equipped our Union for the tasks of the 21st century.President Van Rompuy has been right to highlight the link between EU economic performance and our standard of living and way of life. To sustain that, our economies collectively will have to grow at a higher rate. The first order of business is to weather the current financial and economic crisis, the most severe in living memory.
The impact of the crisis is being felt by people across the Union. There has been a coordinated and concrete response by the EU, a welcome reminder of the strength that membership provides. That has come in the various forms of the European Economic Recovery Plan, the EU's voice in global actions through the G20, the legislation to strengthen banking regulation and supervision, and the availability of significant levels of liquidity for Eurozone members via the European Central Bank.
Of course these short term measures are not sustainable longer term. Thinking about exit strategies is now part of the EU agenda, while taking account of the individual circumstances of member States.
It is heartening to note from the IMF report a couple of weeks ago that the global recovery is off to a stronger start than anticipated earlier", even if at different speeds in various regions. What is important for the EU, and Ireland, is to be positioned to participate in and draw full benefit from the recovery when it comes. We have taken measures domestically to repair the banking system and restore sustainability to the public finances. Improving competitiveness is crucial to our exporting performance and through that to employment creation.
That is what we would like to see incorporated in the EU 2020 Strategy, under discussion by heads of government this Thursday as the successor to the Lisbon Strategy.
Its primary focus should be firmly on sustainable jobs and growth, using a range of EU policy tools including
Ÿ Measures on competitiveness
Ÿ Research, Development and Innovation (RDI)
Ÿ Exploiting the full potential of the Single Market
Ÿ Employment activation measures and training
Ÿ Sustainable use of resources including in the development of agriculture and the food industry
Ÿ Openness to the wider world.
Let me just pick out the research area to underline the relevance to Ireland. Irish researchers are currently securing an average €1m per week from the EU framework research programme, with funding going to sectors such as ICT and health sciences as well as alternative energy sources.
The External Environment
....beginning with climate change
Energy security and climate change are emblematic of the new type of complex issues we will increasingly face on the international agenda.
We had hoped, with partners, that the Copenhagen Conference would provide a comprehensive agreement to reduce global emissions. This was not realised but the need for, and our commitment to a new climate change agreement remains.
The Copenhagen Accord has its positives, in its recognition of the need to limit global average temperatures to not more than 2 degrees centigrade, in its involvement of countries responsible for 80% of the world's emissions, and in its commitment of $30bn of funding from developed countries. These are important achievements. We are determined to build on them, and to press our international partners to commit to a legally binding agreement as soon as possible.
The Copenhagen conference was unprecedented as it was complex both in substance and organisation. A detailed analysis will take time. We are engaged in doing that
Ÿ in relation to our own EU performance
Ÿ with regard to the adequacy of the UN framework
Ÿ and in terms of our interaction with major partners, notably the US and China.
The Union has an advanced and comprehensive position on climate change. It has had some influence already which we should not discount. The diplomatic task is to project that more cogently and persuade others of its strengths.
The continuing attractive power of the Union is shown by the expanded list of countries in accession negotiations or applying for EU membership. The prospect of membership is itself an important tool in the Union's external relations, encouraging progress on the relevant criteria.
EU in the world
Ireland has a strong interest in making the Union's new external relations arrangements work well. We know that our voice on world affairs carries better and reaches a wider audience through being combined with those of our partners. Whether in terms of GDP, trade, investment or aid the EU is at the top of world rankings. The full potential and leverage of this needs to be drawn out. Our informal meeting in Cordoba next month will be a chance to reflect in some depth on EU foreign policy under the new Treaty arrangements.
Haiti should be mentioned here. Our national response has been swift and effective, through our NGOs, the specialised personnel we put on the ground and the 84 tonnes of emergency supplies shipped to Port au Prince. At EU level the reaction has been prompt and practical. A meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council- the first under Catherine Ashton's chairmanship- was convened quickly and took a number of decisions, mobilising €300m in aid and looking to the longer term recovery needs, including via convening of a donors' conference. The new arrangements have enabled the EU to act speedily and decisively, lending strong support to the work of the UN. Shortcomings, if there were, had more to do with presentation and communication than with the substance of the response.
The Lisbon Treaty’s enhancement of the European Security and Defence Policy has provided Member States with an improved toolkit to face the multiple challenges to global and regional security. Europe is now better equipped than ever to respond effectively to political conflict and instability around the world.
Many such challenges lie ahead. The war in Afghanistan and with the threat of an Iran armed with nuclear weapons, in the ethnic divisions of the Western Balkans and in the unresolved problems in the South Caucasus. There are also the wider global agendas of disarmament, non-proliferation and human rights.
Never has it been more important that Europe speak with one voice in global affairs; and there is a real need for united and decisive European action. The EU has the potential to make a profound contribution to the search for global peace and security. Ireland will play its full part in the work of ensuring that this potential is fully realised.
I spent as you know a considerable part of the past weeks in Northern Ireland. The agreement on the devolution of policing and justice powers is a hard won and welcome completion of the devolution process of the Good Friday Agreement. It marks a new start to relationships in the devolved administration.
It may seem rather far from EU business, but in fact the continuing commitment of the EU, through programmes such as PEACE and INTERREG, to bolstering the agreements reached in NI is yet another illustration of the Union’s wide relevance to us. I was struck recently when looking into Tom Garvin's recent book on Sean Lemass by Lemass' far-sighted appreciation more than 50 years ago of how both the NI issue and the question of Ireland in Europe would likely evolve. His own trip to Stormont, in a cold January 45 years ago with hindsight was the beginning of a thaw, even if slow and interrupted. He lodged the application to join the EEC in 1961, a radical new departure which only came to fruition after his death. Both illustrate that difficult-to-achieve balance between the visionary and the practical. They could just as well serve as watchwords too as the EU moves into a new phase and with it Ireland’s participation in European integration.
09 February 2010