Address by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Micheál Martin, T.D., to the Diplomatic Institute of Bulgaria, 7 October, 2010
Ireland and the Union after the Lisbon Treaty
Address By Micheál Martin, T.D., Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ireland to the Diplomatic Institute of Bulgaria, Aula Maxima, University of Sofia, Thursday, 7 October, 2010.
Ministers, colleagues, Ladies & gentlemen, Friends of Ireland,
It is a great pleasure and privilege for me to address you here today on this the first visit by an Irish Foreign Minister since the establishment of diplomatic relations between our two countries.
This year, too, marks the 20th anniversary of the establishment of our diplomatic relations. Over the past twenty years the relationship between our two countries has flourished and today we are partners in a Europe that has put the divisions of the past behind it. I feel that we sometimes take this for granted but I suggest to you that twenty or twenty-five years ago such a rapid and peaceful evolution in the affairs of our continent was not so obvious.
Let me say first of all how pleased and honoured I am that Ambassador Ivan Stancioff, the first Ambassador of the Republic of Bulgaria to Ireland, is with us here today. The Stancioff family have contributed to the life of the country since the foundation of the modern Bulgarian State and today I would like to acknowledge, as well as his distinguished career in public service, the work that Ambassador Stancioff has done in the field of disability, helping to transform the lives of many and to change attitudes to these issues.
As Irish foreign minister I am particularly glad to come to Sofia. First of all it is an opportunity to get to know a new EU partner better and to understand its concerns. In a Union of 27 Member States, with so much on our common agenda, it is vital that we build up understanding and trust between us through frequent contact and dialogue at a political level. Furthermore, Bulgaria’s history and situation in Europe make it an invaluable interlocutor to assist us in understanding the complexity of some of the major challenges facing us today in the region. This is of particular interest to us in Ireland as we prepare for our OSCE Chairmanship in 2012 and our next EU Presidency, together with Lithuania and Greece, in 2013.
Enlargement of the Union is also an area where we can benefit from the knowledge and experience that Bulgaria possesses, in particular in ensuring a European perspective for the Western Balkans.
Ireland has been a Member State of the European Union for almost 40 years. We were part of the first enlargement of what was then the European Economic Community, founded in 1957 and bringing post-war Germany and France together. Since then we have been witness to five subsequent phases of enlargement.
Ireland has changed enormously in those years, and much of that in the context of EU membership. With the support of our partners, we have prospered within the Union and made use of the advantages it presented. We have put something back through active and constructive participation, through our Presidencies and through our people. I would like to think that we can share the positive aspects of our experience with our new partners.
This evening, however, I want to focus on the future of the Union and, in particular, on our expectations for it, following the adoption of the Lisbon Treaty almost a year ago now. In the last decade we witnessed a lengthy period of debate within the European Union about its institutional arrangements and the division of competences between the Union and its Member States.
This debate took on added urgency with the enlargement of the Union to twenty-seven Member States and the challenges this brought to our collective decision-making. There was also a persistent feeling that the European Union did not play a role in international affairs that reflected its size and potential influence. That debate, I believe, reached its logical conclusion at the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, at a time when we were all confronted with an unprecedented crisis in the global economy that has left no country in Europe untouched.
It is worth reflecting on how the new institutional arrangements we have put in place have fared in the face of that crisis.
Approval for the Constitutional Treaty was not forthcoming in Europe. Ratification of the Lisbon Treaty presented its own challenges, notably in Ireland. Having rejected the Treaty in the 2008 referendum, the Irish people last year voted by a 2:1 margin to ratify it. I do not want to go over the various arguments raised but the point I do want to make is that in Ireland we probably had the longest and most intense discussion and analysis of any Member State of the issues at stake. I believe that debate was healthy and served to clarify a Treaty that was by its nature complex and difficult to understand.
And the process, both in Ireland and other member states, underscores an important point about the post-Lisbon Union: it must be relevant, addressing the concerns that our citizens have, and it should communicate better the positive impact of measures adopted at EU level.
The Lisbon Treaty allows us to focus on advancing the Union’s values and collective interests in the world, and to forging common approaches where acting collectively makes obvious sense. I can give many examples; energy supply and security will be one that is of direct interest to Bulgaria. So too are relations with the Western Balkans or with Russia.
How do we engage with countries such as India or China or Brazil as they emerge as increasingly powerful political and economic actors in world affairs? I know that neither Bulgaria nor Ireland as relatively small States can do this effectively on their own; our strength lies in acting together with our partners in the European Union.
The year that has just passed has seen tumultuous developments in the world’s economic and financial situation.
The entry into force of the Treaty has left us in a much better position to confront and overcome together the challenges we face. Under the Treaty, the European Council, which brings together the heads of government of the EU, has been given formal status and sets at the highest level the priorities and general political direction of the Union.
Its first elected President, Herman van Rompuy, has rightly put the immediate emphasis on work in the economic area: first, coping with the impact of the turbulence caused by the global economic and financial crisis; and then working to position the EU to benefit fully from recovery when it comes.
Determined and coordinated action to safeguard financial stability in the euro area as a whole has been taken. In May, an €80 billion loan facility was agreed for Greece, Bulgaria’s neighbour and close trading and investment partner. This was followed by a comprehensive package of measures, totalling €500 billion from EU sources, which will be available to support Member States in difficulties. Continuing action by the European Central Bank to ensure stability in the euro area has been an important element in the response. A crisis of this magnitude has dictated as well that steps are required to prevent a recurrence. Better financial market regulation and supervision is one part of this and a package of measures to apply throughout the EU has now been approved. It also serves as a strong European input to the wider global consideration of this in the G20. The second accompanying element to the stabilisation funds is the work to strengthen fiscal discipline and provide for early detection and corrective measures where necessary.
It is well known that Ireland has been particularly badly affected by the global crisis.
The combination of the measures in the EU framework and the steps taken by the Government to restore stability to the public finances have underpinned Ireland’s capacity to deal with the financial crisis. Our situation poses challenges but the solidarity within the Union and the euro area is a vital asset in stabilising the economy and moving on to recovery. Any small open economy, such as Ireland or Bulgaria, has to be aware of competitiveness issues and the role that innovation plays in creating growth.
It is very encouraging to see the new ten-year Strategy for Jobs and Growth, known as “Europe 2020”, which has been agreed by the European Council. A key component of this will be the flagship initiative entitled ‘Innovation Union’ which will be brought forward by Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, in her area of Research, Innovation and Science.
As an aside to this, I would very much like to see greater research linkages between universities in Ireland and Bulgaria. It seems to me obvious that this is something that would be to our mutual benefit. Today’s world is a multipolar environment, with a number of powerful new actors in both the economic and political areas. Alone, our voice cannot resonate so loudly. Combined with those of our partners and speaking as the Union we can bring much more influence to bear.
The Lisbon Treaty has streamlined the arrangements for the EU to project itself in global institutions and to engage effectively with strategic partners. Catherine Ashton in her position as High Representative has to bring together the many dimensions to these relationships and to ensure a single EU voice. She is supported in this by one of the important innovations of the Lisbon Treaty, the new European External Action Service.
We look forward to a fruitful interaction with the EEAS as it gets up and running and to the participation both of Bulgarian and of Irish personnel in it, part of the process of making it a service of which all can feel some ownership.
In leading the Union’s response to the tragedies in both Haiti and Pakistan, Catherine Ashton, working closely with and supported by Commissioner Georgieva, has already demonstrated how the Lisbon Treaty can assist in achieving a sharper focus in the way that we act together in terms of development and in responding to humanitarian crises.
At the International Conference on the Reconstruction of Haiti, the EU pledged over €1.2 billion. Likewise, in the wake of the recent flooding in Pakistan, the EU also agreed a strong response. Much of the debate about Lisbon in Ireland centred on the institutions of the Union and their competences.
One positive aspect of the Lisbon Treaty that I believe has largely been overlooked, however, is its emphasis on enhancing the democratic legitimacy of the European Union and the centrality of creating a Union based on rights and the rule of law.
Already, we are seeing the greater level of democratic accountability that was envisaged by the Treaty, with both the European Parliament embracing their new powers with great energy and enthusiasm. National Parliaments also have a new role in the Union’s legislative process and in safeguarding the principle of subsidiarity. Preparations are at an advanced stage on the Citizens’ Initiative which will allow a group of one million individuals to call for Commission action in an area of its competence. This is an innovation under Lisbon designed to ensure that the structures of the Union can reflect better the wishes of the citizen and represents a new step forward in European participatory democracy. We have seen over the past year a necessary evolution of the Union’s institutions to reflect the political and economic realities of a rapidly changing global environment.
Standing still was simply not an option.
The Lisbon Treaty preamble speaks of deepened solidarity between the peoples of the member States and a promotion by Europe of peace, security and progress in the world. The task now is to ensure that the innovations and the new institutions under Lisbon operate to their full potential in achieving these goals.
The new procedures and arrangements are still evolving; we have the opportunity now to influence them so that they can reconcile, on the one hand the clear advantage of having the 27 act and speak as one, and, on the other, the need for the input and perspective of each to be respected.
I have mentioned the decisive role the European Council has played in confronting our economic problems. At their September meeting, the Heads of State and Government, assisted by the High Representative and by their Foreign Ministers, had an initial discussion on how the Union engages with its strategic partners.
This is an area where both Heads of Government and Foreign Ministers need to continue to develop our thinking. The European Council is due in the coming period to consider both longer term economic and energy issues, questions that are obviously vital to our future security and prosperity, and with a marked external dimension.
Looking ahead, we will have to elaborate and agree upon the budget of the European Union after 2013. We will have to also look at the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, a fundamental policy of the European Union.
Such issues may prove contentious but I am confident that the Union will benefit, as it has in the past, from robust debate, ensuring solid consensus in our subsequent decisions.
In closing, I want to return to the relationship between Bulgaria and Ireland.
The past 20 years of diplomatic relations have seen a significant development in links between our two States, both in terms of official and people-to-people contact. Resident embassies have been established in our capitals. The first State visit by a Bulgarian President took place in 2005 and this was reciprocated by the visit to Sofia of by President McAleese in 2009. Indeed it was in this very place that our President spoke of the friendship between Ireland and Bulgaria, both old nations and young countries.
I am pleased and honoured to have been invited to follow in her footsteps today.Go raibh maith agaibh; thank you. Top