Joint Committee on European Affairs
Dé Céadaoin, 20 Márta 2002.
Wednesday, 20 March 2002.
The Committee met at 2.10 p.m.
Deputy B. Durkan in the Chair.
The Joint Committee met at 2.10 p.m.
Chairman: We are now in Public Session. Item No. 1 concerns the minutes of our last meeting. Are the minutes agreed to? Agreed. Is there any business arising therefrom? No.
Item No. 2 concerns correspondence which is contained in this folder which is being presented to each member of the committee. It encompasses the submissions received from various groups in response to public advertisements placed in newspapers by the committee in pursuance of a decision by the committee seeking further elucidation on the enlargement of the European Union. As the meeting progresses we will have oral submissions which comprise a selection therefrom. In a moment I will also read out a list of the bodies that will make oral submissions.
I wish to give the usual warning that members of the committee have absolute privilege, although witnesses do not have such privilege. For the purpose of this exercise, that should be borne in mind. It should also be borne in mind that persons or groups outside the House shall not be named in a derogatory fashion, or in any way impugned, or identified in such a way as to be impugned in the course of the proceedings.
We have a group of observers at today’s meeting from the Danish School of Public Administration. This is not their first visit to Ireland. They are very welcome and we hope they have an enjoyable afternoon. I also wish to welcome an observer group from University College, Galway.
I wish to thank our ushers for their ability to handle the crowds here today. I understand that one of the ushers will be retiring later this year but we cannot afford to allow anything like that to cross his mind at this stage.
The groups that will make presentations are taking their places now. The spokespersons include Deputy Gormley of the Green Party. Each group will make a submission lasting approximately five minutes, followed by questions from the committee. Only members of the committee can cross question. There is no provision for members of groups to cross question each other.
At 2.12 p.m. we will hear also from the Institute of European Affairs, Irish CND at 2.19 p.m., the European Movement (Ireland), at 2.26 p.m., Mr. John Temple-Lang at 2.33 p.m., Mr. Conor O’Brien of Attack, at 2.40 p.m.
We have been asked to place Irish CND as the second participants, while the Institute for European Affairs takes fourth position. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Deputy Gormley: Thank you, Chairman, and members of the committee. I am delighted to be here today. Unfortunately, due to pressure of work and the forthcoming election, I have not been able to devote as much time to this subject as I would like. I wish to bring to your attention, Chairman, a number of key points. The Green Party strongly believes that the democratically expressed will of Irish voters in defeating the Nice Treaty referendum should be fully respected. The Irish Government should have conveyed the finality of this result to other EU Governments. That is has not done so, only serves to highlight some of the main reasons the Irish people voted “No” to Nice - that is, a belief that our democracy is being eroded, that there is a lack of accountability in the EU institutions and in the Oireachtas, and that there is a growing democratic deficit between the EU and the citizens of the member states, and between the Dáil and Irish voters. The “No” vote clearly illustrates just how out of touch the Government and the larger Opposition parties are with public opinion on a major issue confronting this country - the future course of the European Union and Ireland’s participation in shaping it.
Aside from the issue of democracy, there were a number of other aspects of the Nice Treaty that the Green Party objected to, including: the enhanced co-operation provisions - the main constitutional reason the referendum was required - which would enable the EU to develop into a two-tier Europe with first and second class membership; a shift in voting strengths in the Council of Ministers to favour larger states over smaller ones, regardless of whether any new states join the European Union; the eventual loss of Ireland’s right to a commissioner; the removal of the veto in a number of new areas; the increased militarisation of the European Union with the EU taking on a direct defence role and an elaborate command structure being established.
Our opposition to the Nice Treaty was not an opposition to enlargement. During the Nice Treaty campaign the Green Party, along with the vast majority of those campaigning for a “No” vote, made it emphatically clear that we fully supported the enlargement of the European Union. We also argued, and still do, that the defeat of the Nice Treaty does not halt the enlargement of the European Union. After the Nice Treaty defeat by Ireland, the preparations for enlargement have continued. Indeed, they have been speeded up with the idea of ten new states finalising membership negotiations before the next European Parliament elections in 2004. This enlargement process does not require ratification of the Nice Treaty. To say that it does is a political claim, not a legal fact. The legal aspects of enlargement will be dealt with later on.
I would like to move on to those quickly, however, because our time is limited. Following the defeat of the Nice Treaty in Ireland, the EU Commission president, Romano Prodi, made the following statement
Legally, ratification of the Nice Treaty is not necessary for enlargement. It is without any problem up to 20 members, and those beyond 20 members have only to put it in the accession agreement - some notes of change, some clause - but legally it is not necessary. This does not mean that the Irish referendum is not important but, from this specific point of view, enlargement is possible without Nice.
I have taken that quotation from The Irish Times of 21 June 2001.
This was precisely the case that the Green Party and other activists against the Nice Treat constantly made during the referendum campaign. As Danish MEP, Jens-Peter Bonde, has outlined before the National Forum on Europe in Dublin Castle on 19 November 2001: “The institutional conditions for EU membership for the applicant countries are not a part of the treaty.” All that the treaty’s protocol on enlargement would do is remove the system of one Commissioner per country once there are 27 member states. The treaty abolishes the protocol enlargement of the Amsterdam Treaty, which currently allows five new countries to join the European Union without institutional changes taking place. The Articles in the protocol which provide for the reallocation of seats in the European Parliament from 2004 and for a new weighting of votes in the Council from 2005 come into force irrespective of whether any new members have joined the European Union.
The section of the Nice protocol on enlargement dealing with the loss of a Commissioner - Article 4 - has been heavily criticised by a former top Irish official in the EU Commission, Eamonn Gallagher, who I understand will also address the committee, and by John Temple-Lang, in a joint submission to the National Forum on Europe. It was also heavily criticised in the Dáil by Fine Gael and the Labour Party, yet these two parties then campaigned for a “Yes” vote. Eamonn Gallagher and John Temple-Lang have argued that Article 4 should be reconsidered and that this should not halt enlargement in any way. They state: “This Article has no direct relevance to the current enlargement process, which will bring membership up to a maximum of 25.”
The trade-off by the large member states in giving up one of their Commissioners for greater voting strength in the Council was envisaged in the Amsterdam Treaty but it did not include the concept of an individual member state not having a Commissioner at all for a period of time. Therefore, the Nice Treaty so-called protocol on enlargement has very little to do with EU enlargement and much more to do with shifting the balance of power between the current 15 states. The proposed allocation of votes to the applicant states in the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament are just that - proposals. These allocations are not contained in the Nice Treaty itself but in a non-binding political declaration attached to the treaty.
We would question whether the “big bang” theory of ten new states all entering the EU together is, in fact, likely. There are major issues still to be resolved in a number of the negotiations, primarily in relation to agriculture. However, with the convention and a new crucial treaty to be negotiated on the future shape of the EU, the more applicant states that can take part in this revision as full members of Community, the better. The Nice Treaty provisions would have stacked the decks against the applicant states, especially in terms of the enhanced co-operation provisions, where, up to now, the equal partnership concept of the EU could be transformed into a two-tier EU, with the newer states in the lower tier.
If there is the political will to do so, the enlargement of the EU without the Nice Treaty can occur. There is no legal block to it. The only blocks are political. A basic principle of the EU is that it is open to all European nations who want to join and who can meet the essential criteria. During the Nice Treaty referendum campaign, the “Yes” side for the most part refused to acknowledge that the Amsterdam Treaty allowed for the straightforward addition of five new members. It eventually admitted this fact but, after Ireland voted no, argued that now the “big bang” of adding ten new states was to be pursued and the Amsterdam Treaty provisions could not cope with this. Therefore, it was argued, the Nice Treaty was and is required for enlargement.
Our view is that this is not the case. It is worth looking at the Amsterdam Treaty protocol on enlargement on this issue. Article 1 states: “At the date of entry into force of the first enlargement of the Union, the Commission shall comprise one national of each of the member states provided that by that date the weighting of the votes in the Council has been modified, whether by re-weighting of the votes or by dual majority, in a manner acceptable to all member states, taking into account all relevant elements, notably compensating those member states which give up the possibility of nominating a second member of the Commission.” This Article states that if agreement can be reached on trade-offs between the loss of the big states’ second Commissioner for a gain in increased voting strength of the large states in the Council, then each state will have only one Commissioner. Nowhere does this Article state that this has to be done. It merely says that provided by that date the agreed trade-off has been agreed, this will then be done. One Commissioner per state is conditional, not the entry of the next applicant state to the EU.
Article 2 states: “At least one year before the membership of the European Union exceeds 20, a conference of representatives of the Governments of the member states shall be convened in order to carry out a comprehensive review of the provisions of the treaties on the composition and functioning of the institutions.” Again, this does not stop more than five additional states from joining the EU. The Article only states that there must be a comprehensive review of the treaties but it does not state that a new treaty is necessary. The negotiations leading to the Nice Treaty could be seen as the comprehensive review mentioned and some of the findings and conclusions of that review could be transferred to the individual states’ accession treaties. Again, as the Commission President Prodi put it: “It is without any problem up to 20 members and those beyond 20 members have only to put it in the accession agreement.”
A comprehensive review of the treaty is now being done through the convention process and the envisaged new treaty in 2004. I hope this review will yield a more equitable European Union for the applicant states and a Union set on a more sustainable path. The Green Party, therefore, reiterates its position concerning the enlargement of the EU and the rejection of the Nice Treaty. We completely support EU enlargement. We reject the claim that the Nice Treaty is legally necessary for the enlargement process to proceed. We continue to support the decision of the Irish people to reject the treaty and consider it is bad for democracy and bad for the future of the European Union to force the Irish people to vote again on this issue. If another referendum is forced on the Irish voters, the Green Party will once again vigorously campaign for a “No” vote and vigorously dispute the claim that a “No” vote halts the enlargement of the European Union.
Chairman: Thank you, Deputy Gormley. The second presentation, on behalf of Irish CND, is to be made by Mr. John Goodwillie. I must remind delegates they have five minutes to make a presentation.
Mr. Goodwillie: The organisation I represent, the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, approaches the question of Europe as a peace movement. We see a trend towards developing the European Union into a military superpower and we believe this path does not tend towards building peace in Europe or the world. We see European countries locked into structures which centre around NATO and the nuclear armaments of Britain, France and the United States, armaments which we believe to be immoral, wasteful and illegal. When I say illegal, I refer to the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice in 1996.
NATO was an organisation which justified its formation and existence on a threat from the Soviet Union. Now that the threat has gone it would have been logical for NATO to have wound itself up. Instead, it has sought to rebuild and strengthen itself, extending its influence through the Partnership for Peace. When people suggest that those of us who advocate neutrality are advocating something which is out of date, I answer it is those who wish to retain a military structure designed for the Cold War who are out of date.
Ireland has been able to make a substantial contribution towards peace through the United Nations. It has done this through the contributions it has made to international peace keeping forces and also through the independent attitude it has been able to take at the United Nations, starting with Frank Aitkin first proposal of what became the Nuclear non-proliferation Treaty. The increasing integration of security policy, which is envisaged in the Nice Treaty, moves us away from an independent position and towards an aligned position, one which can be expected to be close to the positions of NATO countries.
Many people throughout Europe have reservations like us about the militarised structures within Europe and as a peace movement we see our attitude as one of looking outward towards these other strands of European opinion and not as one of isolation. Attention of Europe is focused on Ireland because we alone had a referendum to endorse the Nice Treaty. The evidence of public opinion polls shows that scepticism about the treaty was widespread and there is no guarantee it would have been enforced by a popular vote in all the other 14 member states. The vote of the Irish people was, therefore, almost a proxy for those in the other countries who were not able to question the treaty by a vote of their own. Indeed, even among those who supported the treaty, there were many who voiced their disapproval of aspects of it, such as the way that parts of it were cobbled together late at night, and this is one of the reasons for the formation of the convention which is now to consider the future structure of the European Union. Given that this convention has already started work on the task of revising the treaties, why is it necessary to put through the inadequate and questionable changes of the Nice Treaty instead of waiting for the conclusions of the convention?
In the context of enlargement, it is surely more democratic to allow the candidate members to put forward their views at the convention, which they are being allowed to do, instead of altering the existing structures at the very time that the admission of the candidate countries is being negotiated. At every stage of the construction of the EU we have been assured that amendments to the treaties must be made unanimously. It is now being suggested that we have no right to stop the onward march of the other nations of Europe, but the rule of unanimity is the one that we signed up to and they should have no cause for complaint if we now exercise our right of veto.
The fact is that enlargement does not depend on the ratification of the Nice treaty. Those sections of the treaty dealing with voting strengths, number of members of the European Parliament and so on are unnecessary for enlargement. The changes necessitated by the addition of member states can be inserted into the treaties of accession to the extent that they are not already covered by the Amsterdam treaty. The treaties of accession do not require any process of referendum. Indeed, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Sweden, Austria and Finland have already joined two such treaties without anyone’s questioning the status of such treaties under the Irish Constitution. The desire of other member states to see the Nice treaty ratified before any enlargement is a political decision and not one necessitated by legal provisions. It is possible to disagree with a political decision.
Chairman: The next presentation is from European Movement Ireland. We have with us Ms Patricia Lawlor, chief executive, Mr. Alan Gillis, chairman, and Ms Eimear Ní Bhroin, press and information officer. Mr. Gillis, a former MEP, will make a presentation.
Mr. Gillis: Since all the Members have a copy of the submission to hand there is no point in reading through it. I would like to touch on a few of the major points and perhaps in so doing we might be able to expand our discussions later on. The European Movement Ireland, in common with the European movement internationally, is fully supportive of enlargement. At all of the forum meetings around the country, and I have attended them all - not the Forum on Europe but the mini-forums and the ones in Dublin Castle - not one speaker spoke against enlargement. Let us establish that everybody supports the principle of enlargement.
How do we achieve it? We must recognise that it is the largest enlargement ever undertaken - in fact, it is four times larger than any other step ever taken, including our own entry in 1973 - so it is impossible to bring about such an enlargement of ten to 12 countries without substantial institutional reform. The system will simply not cater for it. That view is not ours alone: it is supported by many other people including the Commission and the heads of state and governments who made the decision on the Nice treaty during its run-up and discussions. We take that reform as being absolutely necessary. It is critical if the EU is to function properly.
We see Ireland’s role as being absolutely vital. We have always punched above our weight as a country since our membership in 1973. We wish to be very clearly and actively involved in decision making from now on. We do not want to allow ourselves to be turned into second class citizens of the EU. The input of recommendations from regional and local level must be taken into account and we try to involve citizens everywhere we can along the line. One of the weaknesses that has been shown up in the light of the Nice treaty and the referendum result is that people feel uninvolved. They have not been allowed to take ownership of this project. There is a huge gulf between the ordinary citizen, which we all are at the end of the day, and the institutions. To help to bridge that gap is a task we have embraced.
Greater emphasis must be placed on answering the needs of citizens when it comes to information and access. In the last few weeks European Movement Ireland has held a series of branch meetings around the country and that is continuing. We had meetings in Waterford, Galway, Sligo and Tralee last night and in Cork on Monday night and a meeting in the north east is to be arranged in the next few days. We are trying to involve citizens and to get the discussion going. One of the things coming out of those discussions is that people wonder what is the point in making suggestions and recommendations if they are to hit a wall. The Commission, in its own white paper, is trying to break down that wall and make accessibility simpler for the citizen. The language is readable and understandable but the concept of a two-way flow of information is very important.
If I can digress, one of the things common to all the meetings we have held so far has been the feeling that national government, including those present, could and should be more involved in setting time apart - and I realise what I am saying because I know, having been an MEP, that there are no minutes available, much less hours, on a weekly basis to do what I am suggesting - to take a closer and more detailed look at legislation, at the proposal stage and as it goes through and trying to pass that down to involve citizens to a greater degree. If we can achieve that we will have taken a quantum leap towards bridging this huge gap.
Within the European movement we held a consultation process on enlargement and institutional reform, with which I am sure all the Members are familiar, in 2000. That was the report which finally came out of that series of dialogues. In Ireland we had eight regional meetings. Twenty other countries, including EU member states, applicant countries and a few pre-applicants, were involved in that. Almost 100 meetings took place right across Europe during which we tried to involve citizens and encourage them to give their views on how we might loosen this up. That documentation was passed on to the Commission and was found to be relevant. We have also continued to make submissions to the national forum and we will continue to do that. Our members around the country have addressed the national forum on a number of occasions.
The message I want to get across today is that we need to involve citizens and to use the Houses of the Oireachtas to consider proposals and legislation and be very clear what it is about before it passes into European law. That is a huge task and it places a huge responsibility on Members, but this sort of thing must be done if we are to succeed in building this bridge. Rather than keeping on about this, I will just say that the most significant thing to come out of our recent meetings was the view, common to all, that the Oireachtas, rather than helping the situation - these are the views of ordinary citizens, not necessarily my views - is acting as an impediment to, rather than supporting, this flow of information. Everything seems to stop at the level of national government. I know that is not absolutely true but there is some element of truth in it. We should not ignore this. We should take it on board and see whether there is anything we can do about it.
I acknowledge the workload of Members - that goes without saying - but somehow we must set aside time to do this.
Otherwise we are losing the major link in this very important chain. The communications between Brussels or national government and the citizens is a vital element and that is the weak link, in our view. We wish to see that strengthened as much as possible. Patricia wishes to make a few points before we finish our presentation.
Ms Lawler: People have told us that if they had been given more information and had more consultation with people like yourselves that they could have bridged the gap. The overwhelming response from everybody is that people are in favour of enlargement because they believe it is good for Ireland and that it is good for Europe in general. They see that there will be challenges and that we will have to look at things but they see the benefits for the applicant countries and for ourselves. We should be doing this as a matter of urgency. People would like more discussion with you, and more knowledge of your discussions about European matters. All are in favour of enlargement. The next step should be taken openly and together and everyone should be clear about what it is.
Chairman: The next presentation is from Mr. Eamon Gallagher.
Mr. Gallagher: My remarks are confined to the text of the Nice treaty and not to anything surrounding it. The paper submitted to the committee by John Temple Lang and myself draws attention to a provision in the Nice treaty that is part of article four of the protocol on the enlargement of the European Union which requires that when the Union arrives at 27 member states, the number of members of the Commission shall be less than the number of member states. The current enlargement process is limited to accepting a maximum of ten new member states, making a total of 25 member states. This article is not necessary to the Nice treaty.
The trade-off between the major member states giving up one of their existing two nominees on the Commission in return for gaining relatively greater voting rights in the Council which is a principal feature of the Nice treaty, is a self-contained bargain that was envisaged by the Treaty of Amsterdam. Reducing membership of the Commission to less than the number of member states was not part of that earlier understanding. It came out of the blue, so to speak, without public debate before Nice and very little since then.
Chairman: It is a bit difficult to hear you, Mr. Gallagher. Please sit nearer the microphone.
Mr. Gallagher: No information in given in the Treaty of Nice as to what figure less than 27 is in mind for the eventual size of the Commission. We have good reason to believe that 20 or even fewer is the intention of the authors of article four. This would mean that one quarter or more of the member states would be without a nominee on the Commission at all times if and when this clause comes into effect. We believe this is a much more fundamental issue than whether a particular member state is granted a nominee on the Commission for a period of five years.
The Commission was set up as an institution independent of national governments to make majority voting acceptable to states that would sometimes be outvoted. The Commission was given both the duties to devise policy in the interests of the whole Community and the sole power to propose legislation for consideration by the Council. Individual member states could not substitute their own proposals and only a unanimous Council could change a Commission proposal. These powers were not granted for prestige purposes. They are necessary to safeguard the general interest, to ensure that minority interests are fairly considered and to preclude domination of the Community by the major member states. This still remains the essential characteristic of the Community method. The Community method is unique in relations between independent states and more than four decades of experience have shown its value. Several member states including Ireland expressed the view in the Nice treaty preparations that to ensure a strong and effective Commission it was necessary to include a nominee from each member state, including the newly admitted member states candidate countries.
We fully agree with that view and we regret that it was abandoned at Nice especially as it was not part of the Amsterdam trade-off. The only justification we have seen for abandoning this view is the assertion that when the time comes all member states, big and small, will be equally without a nominee on the Commission, thus preserving the legal equality of member states. This is hardly convincing for two reasons. It implies that a small member state is as influential as a major member state and does not therefore need the Commission anymore than does a major member state. It does not in the slightest respond to the point that a Commission that is not fully representative of the Community is a diminished body in every respect because its capacity to defend the Community as a whole and the smaller member states generally, will be weakened. Its credibility will be questioned and its authority under the Treaty of Rome as the sole provider of legislative proposals will ultimately be challenged.
As to the case for reducing the size of the Commission no real evidence as distinct from assertions has been produced to demonstrate that a smaller Commission is more efficient than a larger one, that there will not be sufficient portfolios to go around in a large Commission and that a large Commission would lead to a system of senior and junior Commissioners. There is no evidence for any of these propositions; they are simply assertions. In any event the Commission’s size and internal organisation should never be given priority over the interests of the Community as a whole or of its member states. We believe that other member states will come back to that view when the realisation settles in. That the Commission is not fully representative of the Union directly conflicts with what has been a remarkably successful institutional invention.
We are suggesting that article four should be submitted to the Convention on the Future of Europe for early examination. Such an exercise need not re-open other aspects of the Nice treaty nor cause delay in the enlargement process if given the necessary priority. As a consequence of debate at the convention, which is an open forum unlike inter-governmental conferences, public opinion in other member states may begin to persuade their governments that it is in their interests to agree formally and record appropriately that the criticised part of article four will not be implemented and will be removed from the treaty on the earliest future occasion. Whatever is adopted at the convention and subsequent decisions of the member states on a revised framework for the European Union, it will have to be acceptable to public opinion in all member states. In our view, having a nominee of each member state on the Commission at all times is necessary to the long-term acceptability of European integration. On the question of democratic legitimacy we maintain that the problem lies with the Council. This is especially the case in the European Council of Heads of State and inter-govemmental conferences, in which the Commission has no real standing. We strongly recommend that Council meetings dealing with legislation and IGCs should be open to the public. A greater involvement with national parliaments is also clearly necessary to prevent the Union from further losing touch with the citizens.
Chairman: Mr. Gallagher is a former Director General in the Commission and EC ambassador to the UN. Our next presentation is from the Institute of European Affairs represented by Mr. Joe Brosnan, Mr, Brendan Halligan and Ms Jill Donoghue. Mr. Halligan is a former Member of the Oireachtas.
Mr. Halligan: I thank the committee for the invitation to make this presentation. We responded to your invitation by making a submission on 7 February 2002. In that regard, the institute is almost specifically devoted to the strategic policy analysis, that is the analysis of the strategic policy options arising from Ireland’s membership of the European Union. We made our submission to the committee with that focus. I will briefly summarise it again from the point of view of strategic policy analysis, in this case in respect of enlargement.
This is a process we have been tracking for over ten years and particularly the most recent phase, relating to the Nice treaty. Beforehand we published two reports and subsequently we published a book length analysis of the treaty together with a synopsis. We are in the process of preparing a series of pamphlets on issues that arose in the referendum campaign, four of which have already been published and seven of which are in preparation. The summary we made originally was based on the following five propositions: enlargement is imperative; this enlargement is unique; it is irreversible; it is conditional; and it is inevitably going to happen.
It is imperative for reasons familiar to the committee on the basis of its own previous analysis and reports. There is no need to recount the fact that it is a moral and political imperative because the European continent will be reunited, peace will be secured, democracy entrenched, respect for the rule and law and human rights cemented throughout the continent and the opportunities for economic growth and prosperity will be provided throughout the entire continent. It is important for us to understand the sense of a historical imperative when eventually analysing the options open to this country in respect of the Nice treaty.
The second proposition is that the current enlargement is unique for the following three reasons at least: the number of applicant states to be admitted; their collective impact on the institutions; and, perhaps in many ways the most important, the effects of the applicants on the balance between the large and small member states, particularly in the Council and the European Parliament.
The problem arises because 11 of the applicant states are small. Only Poland falls into the category that might be classified as large. Therefore in a Union of 27 states, there will be 21 small states and only six large, whereas originally the community had three large and three small - a 50:50 balance. If the present weighting of votes in the Council were simply applied to a union of 27 member states, this would result in the paradox that those 21 small member states with a combined population of 140 million would have more votes than the six larger states with a combined population of 340 million. That explains why reform of the council was deemed absolutely essential prior to enlargement.
Enlargement is irreversible because of the political commitments given by the current member states to the candidate countries. That commitment included commitments from this country. The commitment is that membership of the European Union is open to any democratic state in Europe that met four basic criteria laid down in Copenhagen by the European Council in 1993. As we know it has now been decided by the European Council that it is to commence in the early part of 2004, just prior to the elections to the European Parliament. As of now it is probable - I would say certain - that ten of the 12 candidate countries will be deemed eligible for membership on the basis of the Copenhagen criteria.
However, the fourth proposition is that enlargement is conditional on institutional reform. That conditionality was laid down in the Amsterdam Treaty, which was approved by the Irish people. The basic requirement is a reallocation of member state representation in both the Council and the European Parliament. In the Council it is essential that its decisions reflect the democratic will of both a majority of the member states and a majority of the Union’s population. The Nice treaty provides the means whereby that objective can be met. That explains why enlargement is conditional on institutional reform.
It is inevitable because of all the reasons given: the historical imperativeness, the fact that ten of the candidate countries are about to meet the criteria for membership and because the member state governments agreed a reform package at Nice and 14 of them have the will to implement it.
These propositions lead on to two other propositions, one legal and one political. The first one is no great news to anybody. It is self evident that the Nice treaty cannot come into effect until it has been ratified by all 15 member states. The political proposition is that if any one member state fails to ratify the treaty package of institutional reforms prior to the completion of the accession negotiations by the end of this year, it will precipitate a crisis in its relations with the other 14 member states, who have already or are about to ratify the treaty and with those candidate countries ready to accept it as the basis of their membership.
Let it be recalled that the declaration on the future of Europe in the Nice treaty says: “With the ratification of the treaty, the European Union will have completed the institutional changes necessary for the accession of the new member states.” Were Ireland not to ratify the Nice treaty, it is self evident that the necessary reforms will not have been completed. It is equally self evident that the other 14 member states wish to complete them and that ten of the candidate countries also wish them to be completed. That is the reasoning behind the proposition that a crisis in our relationship with 24 current and prospective members will have been created.
That this crisis will ultimately be solved is self evident, but the manner of its solution is not yet evident. The options available to this country need very careful analysis. Some of them would have profound political and economic consequences for Ireland and some of them could reverse the whole thrust of national policy since the early 1960s when Ireland first applied to join the European Economic Community. That constitutes our submission and I am most grateful to the committee for hearing it.
Chairman: The last contributor today is Mr. Conor O’Brien from ATTAC. You have five minutes to make your submission and questions and answers will follow later.
Mr. O’Brien: [Gaeilge from 7.49 to 7.56]. If I can be forgiven for resorting to sound bites, my message today would be, first, to wake up to the GATS, the General Agreement on Trade in Services, and the potential threat it poses to Irish public services, and second, it is time for the Tobin tax. That is the message; what about the messenger? I am from ATTAC Ireland, which is the association campaigning for the implementation of the Tobin tax, which is the common name for the currency transaction tax. ATTAC would be one of the most prominent groups known collectively as the anti globalisation movement. I am not very happy with that label because this movement is perhaps the most internationalised movement in the world. It relies significantly on the technology of globalisation to do what it has done. I prefer to call it the international citizens’ movement or the civil society movement.
ATTAC internationally has approximately 60,000 to 65,000 members. It started in France, following a now famous editorial by Ignatio Ramonet the editor of Le Monde Diplomatique. In Ireland we have approximately 100 members, with a hardcore of about four or five activists, who are all working full time outside of ATTAC. We are working on a fairly small level and we have no corporate funding. We campaign primarily on the Tobin tax and also try to draw attention to the potential threat posed by the General Agreement on Trade in Services.
The idea of the Tobin tax has been around for some time. In the early 1970s, Professor Tobin, who only died last week, first suggested the tax as a means of controlling instability on the currency markets following the breakdown of the Bretton Woods agreement. It was resurrected in the early 1990s, following the EU financial crisis and has since become the flagship proposal of the International Citizens’ Movement. At first, it was widely dismissed as entirely impracticable or utopian but, bit by bit, it has managed to work its way on to the agenda and it seemed to reach a critical mass of support last August - September when a number of politicians, including Prime Minister Jospin in France and Chancellor Schroeder in Germany, made positive noises about it, for whatever motivation. In the words of The Economist magazine, which does not like the Tobin tax “Like them or not, the anti-globalisation movement people have managed to change the agenda at the top.”
At the ECOFIN meeting, under the Belgian presidency in September, it was on the agenda and that was really a significant breakthrough for the campaign. However, that meeting kicked it over to the Commission to prepare a report in the context of the report on globalisation. The Commission reported back in February, rehashing a lot of the arguments against the tax which the quite extensive technical literature rebuts, so it was disappointing to find that they were not coming up to speed on the very detailed technical literature. However, it remains on the agenda and there remains a very vibrant civil society movement campaigning for it. To date, the Irish Government has been particularly hostile, in that it feels that any perceived Irish support for the Tobin tax would be detrimental to Ireland’s position against tax harmonisation.
For those not familiar with the Tobin tax, it is a proposed tax of between 0.1% to 0.5% of currency transactions and its beneficial effects would be two-fold. First, it would dampen down currency speculation and make less likely the occurrence of crises such as the Asian crisis of 1997 or the current Argentinean one, to which currency speculation has contributed significantly. Second, it would be a significant revenue raising tax which could be used to significantly address the most basic forms of global poverty. My main point is that the Tobin tax is the type of proposal the EU should be supporting. It is eminently practicable, it is a practical proposal to deal with the scourge of poverty and yet it is largely dismissed for, primarily, ideological reasons. It is a realistic proposal which has gained significant acceptance. The Labour Party has come out in favour of it, as have the Green Party, the SDLP and the French National Assembly. Fine Gael’s position is somewhat uncertain but that party certainly has not dismissed it - its response has been quite thoughtful. The Government parties for, I submit, ideological reasons, are simply not entertaining it.
In relation to the general agreement on trade in services, this is a potentially far reaching agreement. It is one of 20 agreements under the World Trade Organisation which, inexplicably, has received virtually no coverage, either in the Dáil or among journalists. It commits the signatory states to a progressive liberalisation of public services and, again, a vibrant civil society movement is pointing out that this poses potentially very serious threats to public services. The WTO response is that it will not pose such a threat because there are clauses ruling out public services. However, the exemption is extremely ambivalent and the argument is that there will be a NAFTA on steroids. The GATT will be NAFTA multiplied by a significant factor, so that the cases we saw under NAFTA, whereby state attempts at regulating corporate activity for social ends were deemed illegal. It is a major concern and, if I may repeat, the lack of coverage on the issue is inexplicable.
Specifically in relation to the Nice Treaty, while the extension of QMV (qualified majority voting) is, of course, is justifiable on many grounds - when the membership is broadened, one has to engage in some kind of reformed decision making - but, in this context, in relation to GATT, QMV will remove Ireland’s veto in relation to EU trade policy. Accordingly, the scenario is that Irish public services will be faced with possible corporate take-over, despite the wishes of the Irish people and despite the possible objection of Irish representatives at the EU. My two key messages are in relation to GATT and the Tobin tax. Sin a bhfuil. Go raibh maith agaibh.
Chairman: Thank you. Before I open the floor to questions, I wish to mention a few matters. This is the third occasion this committee has invited public submissions. One was prior to the signing of the Nice Treaty, one was prior to the Nice referendum and this one is at the instigation of Deputy Jim O’Keeffe, who brought a motion before the committee in support of the steps taken by the committee - and the Oireachtas generally - to pursue the objectives of European enlargement and integration and to bring the issues to the notice of the people again. Present this afternoon are Deputy Jim O’Keeffe, Fine Gael Spokesman on Foreign Affairs, Deputies Seán Barrett, Pat Carey and Seán Haughey and Senator Dan Kiely. I wish to ensure that every member present has an opportunity to raise questions with the witnesses and I propose to take questions in tranches of about three at a time. The questions should be directed to the particular group concerned, in the interests of orderly procedure. However, if more than one group wishes to reply to a question, that can be accommodated.
Deputy J. O’Keeffe: This meeting is hugely important at this time when Ireland stands in real danger of being in a minority of one in Europe as the only country blocking the enlargement of the European Union. In that situation, Ireland is facing into the abyss of isolation and would bear the sole responsibility for impeding or delaying the enlargement of the Union. If that happens, I believe Ireland will face the most fundamental crisis in international relations since we joined the EEC in 1973. That is the nature of the problem confronting us and, accordingly, I welcome the fact that the groups represented at this meeting are joining with us, as representatives of the Oireachtas, in confronting this issue. Last December, the Dáil voted overwhelmingly in favour of a resolution which I tabled to the effect that Ireland should take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that we do not delay or impede the enlargement of the European Union. In many ways, the follow-up has been through this committee, which received a huge response to its invitation for submissions as to how that objective might best be achieved.
Our meeting today is part of the follow-up. It is clear at this stage that the accession negotiations are likely to be completed with ten of the applicant countries by the end of this year. It is also clear that 14 of the 15 member states have ratified or will have ratified the Treaty of Nice by that time. That leaves us on our own, delaying or impeding enlargement if we do not confront this issue. The question that I want to focus on is how we ensure that we do not delay or impede enlargement if we are faced at the end of this year with ten applicant member states with whom accession arrangements have been completed. Legally, the Treaty of Nice will not be in force. The institutional arrangements are agreed by all 15 member states’ government representatives, including our own, and also approved by the Government representatives of the 12 applicant countries. That is what the Treaty of Nice is.
There are certain aspects of the Treaty of Nice of which I was highly critical. However, no member state wrote the treaty to suit its own requirements and, for good or ill, the govermment of this country was represented by the Government at the time. I particularly take up Mr. Eamon Gallagher’s point criticising the focus before the treaty vote. Retention of a Commissioner was to be an article of faith as far as this country was concerned. However, the treaty was agreed by the governments. At this stage, 14 member states and 12 applicant countries will be standing by that. We will still be left holding out.
We must return to the fundamental question of what we must do. From my discussions in Europe with ministers and ambassadors of member states and applicant countries, I understand that no member state or applicant state envisages in any way a re-negotiation of the treaty. That is set in concrete as far as they are concerned. If we are not to delay or impede enlargement, what do we do about this situation? I produced a document last September setting out the various steps that I believe should be taken. In particular, the issue of neutrality should be taken off the table. The Treaty of Nice has nothing to do with neutrality but people think it does. It should be taken off the table and I set out certain ways of dealing with that.
I thank the delegation for attending the committee even if they do not agree with my point of view. The bottom line question, leaving aside what anybody might like to have in the treaty, is how we ensure that we do not delay or impede enlargement. No-one says that they are against enlargement in any of the submissions that have come before the committee. That is a major plus yet it is quite clear that the view of the other 14 member states and of the 12 applicant states is that the Treaty of Nice is necessary to establish the institutional arrangements to allow enlargement. What do we do at this stage to ensure we do not delay or impede that? I have my views although I will not force them on the groups represented at the committee.
The window of opportunity is closing all the time. I do not know whether the time available will permit the steps that I have suggested, such as a White Paper on neutrality, with the election and the formation of a new Government looming. I am keen to hear what the groups present believe should be done, whether the representatives of the various groups here today believe in enlargement and whether they think we should delay or impede enlargement.
Deputy Haughey: I thank the six groups for their presentations which were all extremely interesting and thought-provoking. I ask Deputy Gormley whether the Green Party campaigned against the Single European Act, the Masstricht Treaty and the Amsterdam Treaty. I believe that the Green Party opposed all of those referendums and advocated a “no” vote. Does that not make the Green Party a eurosceptic party? For the European project to succeed, it must at intervals expand, integrate and develop. If it does not do that, the European project will eventually collapse. Is the Green Party eurosceptic? I ask this to test the credibility of Deputy Gormley’s submission today.
In relation to the Irish branch of CND, Mr. John Goodwillie mentioned the issue of Irish neutrality which certainly surfaced in the public debate on the Treaty of Nice referendum. What is Mr. Goodwillie’s view on the outcome of the summit in Barcelona and the suggestion by the Taoiseach of a declaration on military neutrality? Does Mr. Goodwillie feel that goes some way towards articulating our traditional policy and alleviating the concerns of people in relation to the European Union.
That brings me to the Institute of European Affairs. Mr. Halligan raised the issue of a crisis if Ireland does not ratify the Nice Treaty and the options available need careful consideration. I do not know whether this is within the institute’s remit but the declaration on military neutrality is one option. Has the institute given any thought to the options, without coming down in favour of any? What are the options for the Irish Government and what are the implications of the various options?
Mr. Alan Gillis mentioned that EU legislation needs careful scrutiny by the Oireachtas and the involvement of the citizens. There is a major proposed package of reforms of the Dáil and a substantial part of that package is to bring about more careful scrutiny of EU legislation by the Oireachtas. Has Mr. Gillis any suggestions in that regard or is he happy with the Dáil reform package? Does he accept that one of the lessons of the treaty referendum was that the Irish people were not sufficiently informed of European developments, and that there is now a major effort to rectify that at Oireachtas level?
Deputy Barrett: I join with my colleagues in thanking the six groups for their very worthwhile submissions. As Deputy O’Keeffe said, we may not all agree with each other but there are certain things that we do agree on. It appears that we all agree on the need to expand the European Union and to take in new applicants. We have to find a way around this problem.
We forget that there is a possibility of changes taking place in the future in terms of the convention that has now begun its work. All who are interested in this area should endeavour to use that convention and to use their representatives. There was a meeting yesterday with Oireachtas representatives about the manner in which we can get across the ideas of the Irish public to those representing us at the convention. One of the proposals is to have a tour of the country to bring this committee, and whatever Members it has after the election, and the convention representatives to listen to people’s views. A lot of what has been talked about at the committee today cannot happen without an overall reform of the structures within the European Union.
While I do not like some of the things in the Nice treaty, like any package the question is whether one votes against it because one does not like one aspect of it, or decides that, in order to achieve enlargement and bring the applicant countries into the European Union, we have to swallow some of the things we do not particularly like. I hope there will be an open debate about the type of structures we need to manage the European Union at the convention which will be held in the future. This will be a very difficult and serious debate given the conflicting ideas about the question of whether to proceed to develop a union or if individual countries want to retain sovereign power.
Unlike some of my colleagues, I believe the real danger for small countries resides in the Council of Ministers. I do not accept that a small country should not have the same authority as a large country because we are all partners within a union. In forming its union, the United States of America gave every state, irrespective of size, two senators. How can one argue that the state of Delaware with its very small population should have the same number of senators as California? The reason is they are trying to build a union. We should not make apologies for having the same representation as Germany, France or other countries on the Council of Ministers, the body which takes the decisions. Either we are member states or we are not. I would trade our position on the Council of Ministers for a commissioner because the Commission brings forward the proposals and the Council of Ministers, together with the European Parliament, takes the decisions. It is at the point where decisions are made that we should protect our interests. I accept that this is not the case in the Nice treaty and I will argue this point at the convention where others may disagree.
We cannot reopen the Nice treaty at this point in order to promote our own prejudices. For this reason, I urge that we get on with dealing with the matter to hand, the Nice treaty, warts and all and use the convention to bring forward our own ideas as to how the management structure of the European Union should be shaped in the future.
I am fascinated by the view expressed by Mr. Goodwillie that there is a danger of building another world power and that the European Union could evolve into a very dangerous power. If a problem such as the war in Yugoslavia arises and we watch the slaughter and mistreatment of human beings on television, who do you expect to act by calling a halt? Will we permanently look to NATO or the United States of America or will we decide at some point that we have a responsibility to look after our fellow Europeans? If one accepts that we must take such a decision, then some sort of structure is necessary, which is the reason for the Petersberg Tasks and the Partnership for Peace.
This does not constitute the formation of another world power. Not one of us wants war - who would fight against? The reality, however, is that from time to time one must intervene to protect innocent life and stop aggression by monsters who could cause extreme damage and loss of life in various parts of the world. I do not understand why Europeans are afraid to tackle their own problems and expect others to do it. If this has to be done through the United Nations, it is fine provided the United Nations is properly structured, funded and managed.
We need to get away from the constant argument we have about neutrality and a European army every time we have a referendum or debate on Europe. I can understand and appreciate your concerns - nobody wants war or to support an arms trade. How do you foresee Europeans will be able to protect fellow Europeans from slaughter and aggression?
I thank the witnesses for their submissions. I found it fascinating to listen to different views. I ask everybody to remember that a convention will take place and there will be another forum. I look forward to accepting the challenge of having the debate there on how Europe should be managed in the future. In the meantime, however, I accept the Nice treaty warts and all. As Deputy O’Keeffe stated, Ireland cannot be the only country holding up ten applicant countries from joining the European Union and losing our friends in the process.
Deputy P. Carey: I must attend another meeting shortly. Before others do so, I point that I am vice-chairman of the European Movement Ireland. I found the presentations interesting and while I have difficulties with some of them, I agree with some aspects of them all. I will not go over much of the ground covered by colleagues.
The Chairman and several others will be most aware that even in the last few months the workload of this committee has increased significantly because of the package of reforms introduced recently. I welcome this, it is time we did what the Danish Parliament does which is to meet on Fridays to hear Ministers speak. As it transpires, we will meet this Friday to discuss matters brought to our attention by the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs. The members of the next Committee on European Affairs will have a considerably workload. The enhanced role of the Irish Parliament will significantly increase the connectedness between national Parliaments and the institutions, a matter of concem to us all. I make no secret of my belief that the Nice treaty will be ratified by way of a second referendum.
I ask the delegations, particularly the Green Party and CND, how they view the suggestion to negotiate a declaration to clarify the issues of concern around the issue of neutrality raised during the last treaty referendum campaign? The fact that I feel that these issues are red herrings is neither here not there because it would be worthwhile to reassure the Irish people that neutrality, as understood, would not be prejudiced by the Nice treaty. If such a declaration was made, how would the delegations regard it?
As others have said, the convention on Europe has been a worthwhile exercise and the fact that it engaged with many throughout the country. The Chairman and I have had discussions on engaging with civil society. It is important that, firstly, we understand what we mean by civil society and, secondly, that we continue on an ongoing basis to engage with Irish civil society. It was done quite effectively in Finland during its presidency. It was done to a lesser extent in Belgium and I see no reason why, if we believe in the ethos of subsidiarity and such doctrines, we should not continue to engage with civil society. The fact that the convention on Europe will be taking place in the public arena will afford many of us an opportunity to tease out the directions Europe needs to take in the coming years.
What do the delegates feel about the idea of the declaration being annexed to the Nice treaty as a way of preparing for the next referendum?
Chairman: We have had a number of very interesting submissions and questions. Deputy Jim O’Keeffe asked a number of questions that will provoke responses. Deputy Haughey directed questions specifically at Deputy Gormley. Deputy Barrett directed questions at Eamon Gallagher, Brendan Halligan and Mr. Goodwillie. Deputy Pat Carey directed questions in many directions as well.
I want to add to those questions. In respect of the views of Mr. Conor O’Brien and my good friend colleague, Deputy Gormley, there is a certain cross-fertilisation of thought. Mr. O’Brien mentioned anti-globalisation, Tobin tax, currency transactions etc. and Deputy Gormley mentioned the “big bang” theory of enlargement.
Most people say that all who voted “No” or espoused the “No” vote are in favour of enlargement. To what extent is that really the case? Everybody says they are not against enlargement - it is like everybody saying they are not racists. The critical question is to what extent do the people who voted “No” support enlargement. How many countries do they see the EU enlarging by and when?
Will Mr. O’Brien tell us to what extent do protectionism, tariff barriers etc. support the interests of smaller countries, given that, in the past, we have experienced that the more powerful the country putting up the barrier, the less the chance the smaller country has in that union, whether it be on a global or international basis?
My next questions concern Mr. Alan Gillis’s views on the necessary institutional reforms. Deputy Barrett has raised those questions specifically as well. To what extent can Mr. Gillis convince the electorate about the validity of the case, encompassed in the Nice treaty, which entails certain losses or negatives from an Irish point of view? To what extent can he sell those arguments to the community? Obviously, those arguments were not sold sufficiently before the previous referendum.
Deputy Gormley: I will take the questions in sequence because Deputy Jim O’Keeffe asked the question specifically about enlargement. The Deputy knows I supported his motion in the House. To confirm my position for the Chairman’s sake, I am firmly in favour of enlargement. I made that quite clear. The comparison to racists who say they are not racist is a bit out of place.
Chairman: That was only for comparison.
Deputy Gormley: Enlargement, to quote Mr. Brendan Halligan, is irreversible, inevitable and an historical imperative. I did not hear Mr. Halligan say it was inevitable that the Nice treaty would be ratified. What I heard him say is what I have just quoted. I expressed my views at the forum as well and have no doubts about them. People say there will be a crisis if Ireland votes “No”. There is already a crisis within the EU. We need to wake up to that. Anybody who witnessed what was happening on the streets of Barcelona or Gothenburg will know that there is a crisis. It is about time we woke up and saw that. Whether we ratify the Nice treaty——
Chairman: What is that crisis?
Deputy Gormley: It is a crisis of confidence. There is a real belief that the institutions are distant from normal, ordinary people and that they are not listening to what people are saying. We spoke of civil society and Mr. O’Brien talked about the anti-globalisation movement. Are the people involved being given a fair hearing? I do not think so.
I have said in the Dáil when we had debates on the subject that the crisis will begin with protests on the street and, inevitably, will lead to the rise of the right in Europe. One will see worse than that.
Chairman: I do not want to interrupt, but I want to make a comparison that I made earlier. Mr. O’Brien made a number of references to the international citizens’ movement and civil society. This committee has discussed at length in the past the issue of the involvement of civil society. However, there was a point where Europeans could point to major movements, not civil society as such, culminating in what could be called governing by public acclamation. That is a dangerous route to follow.
Deputy Gormley: Yes. The Chairman and I have had discussions on that matter.
Chairman: We had.
Deputy Gormley: It is an interesting matter, but perhaps one on which we cannot go into great detail here. However, we should all accept that we have a crisis on our hands. It is reflected, not just on the streets of Barcelona or Gothenburg, but also in the very low turn-out for European elections and referenda. That is an undeniable fact. We need to address that crisis before we proceed. There is a belief among what I call the European elites that if we can just get over this hurdle and have the Nice treaty ratified, everything will be fine. That is mistaken.
Chairman: Is the Deputy, as an elected public representative, not in a position to speak for the people who were on the streets in Gothenburg and Barcelona as opposed to using a different system of promoting the argument?
Deputy Gormley: I am in a position in this House to represent the people who voted for me. I have a mandate from the Irish people. Those who are elected to the Swedish parliament can represent those who voted for them and those who are elected to the European parliament can represent the Irish people in that parliament and so on.
This reminds me of what Deputy Haughey asked me in respect of the Irish Green Party. We are members of the European Federation of Green Parties. Within the Green parties, some adopt what is very much a federalist approach - the Italian, French and German Green parties - and others do not adopt such an approach - the Swedish, British, Irish and Danish Green parties.
A major issue for us since the formulation of the Nice treaty is the common foreign and security policy. That has always been an issue. We saw that it was a thin end of the wedge, starting with the Single European Act, continuing to the Maastricht treaty. The Amsterdam treaty was very clear in the J articles and now we see it in the Nice treaty. A question was asked about the extent to which this declaration would satisfy us. We have made it very clear that we want a protocol. It may be a little late for this - Deputy John Bruton has made the point that it should have been done at Gothenburg if the Government is serious about it. I have outlined in the House the type of protocol I would like to see, which is the option of opting out of European defence and not paying for it either. We have made that clear. This declaration is legally non-binding.
In the context of respect for Irish neutrality, what does Irish neutrality mean at this stage? Deputy Barrett asked who we were to fight against. Clearly at this stage we will help anyone in terms of offering the use of our airports - we have given them to the USA already. There is even talk of a new expansion of the war against Iraq. Anybody looking in from the outside would ask himself whether Ireland is neutral or even non-aligned. We would like to see neutrality properly defined within our Constitution, but that is quite apart from what we are talking about here. A protocol is the bottom line as far as we are concerned. Mr. Goodwillie can speak for CND but I can only talk about the position of the Green Party.
I agree with what Deputy Barrett said and I made the point about equal representation in the House. The analogy with the USA is a good one in that each state has two senators. We do not have that in Europe. Instead the bigger states clearly get the majority of the votes. In a partnership of equals that should not be the case. I also accept the points made by Mr. Temple Land and Mr. Gallagher. They made a very good submission to the forum on that matter.
Chairman: There will be a further tranche of questions as they arise. The next questions were directed at Mr. Gallagher, Mr. Halligan, Mr. Goodwillie and Mr. Gillis. We will accommodate everybody.
Mr. Gillis: I will be very brief. Four questions were directed to me. Deputy O’Keeffe’s question asked what I thought had happened as a result of the Nice treaty referendum. Many fears and worries were expressed and most of those fears, on analysis, have been proven to be without foundation - not all of them, but most of them. However, that does not mean that we should not respect people’s fears. I tend to put this down as a gauntlet or a wake-up call: we need to get much closer to citizens. I said it in my presentation and I feel very strongly about this. The more I travel the country the more I realise the importance of that one single thing. If I may digress to answer Deputy Haughey’s question, I am delighted to see the Dáil reform proposals because they are a major step in the right direction. What I really want now is to see them in action and make sure that we get them working. It must be done and we had better realise that if it is not done the process will break down, whether it happens next year or in five years’ time.
Before leaving Deputy O’Keeffe’s question, I want to say that while fears are expressed - just fears and genuine concerns - I would like to think that we could trust the people we have appointed to do the business for us. They have done an exceptional job for the last 30 years and I have a lot of confidence and trust in them. I have been slightly involved, in an NGO capacity and more recently as an MEP, and have watched the operation in action and I am very satisfied with the way it works. We have made tremendous progress in 30 years and I want the Irish people to look at this positively rather than looking for pitfalls that are not there. My experience has been very positive and I would like to think that we could continue to look at it in a positive way.
I have spoken about Deputy Haughey’s question. I am happy with the proposals for Dáil reform so far, provided the programme goes into action. Deputy Barrett asked about the convention on Europe. At the convention, we are considering where we should go from here and the whole future, not only as a result of the Irish No vote but in terms of the major step which will almost double the number of countries in the union and add more than 100 million citizens to the total population. That is a huge management step and as the club, as we see it within the European Movement, gets bigger it is obvious that each of the members will lose a little influence. That does not mean we will lose overall clout. From a positive perspective, since 1973 we have lost nothing of our culture or heritage or anything we value. In fact I will go the other way and say that Europe has, on occasion, forced us to attend to things that we had a tendency to neglect. However, that is not something to discuss today.
Deputy Barrett mentioned the possibility of bringing the Joint Committee on European Affairs around the country. That is a great idea. We have been doing that in the European Movement and in other organisations. We must operate this way in order to connect directly with the people. Sometimes there are small meetings and sometimes there are huge ones but they are very valuable. Deputy Pat Carey and I work together on a weekly basis in the European Movement so I know what his views are. However, I am very glad that Deputy Carey has shown great enthusiasm at this forum for dialogue with civil society. I am labouring it, but that is the crucial point. If we do not get that right it will not work. It is essential for open debate. As I said earlier, EU policy needs to be debated much more freely and openly than it is now and it needs to be recorded and publicised by the Houses of the Oireachtas. I am convinced of that. It is also important to bring local and regional government into play.
The problem with the Nice treaty, at the end of the day, was to some extent - and it is not fair to everybody to say it this way - the result of a lack of understanding of the terms. The real concerns expressed to us by those participating in the forum are with issues that are not in the Nice treaty at all. However, that does not mean we can ignore them. We must deal with them, be positive and try to make people feel more comfortable with Europe. Finally, we should take account of 30 years of experience which has been very positive. Rather than looking for trouble we should base our judgments on that experience.
Chairman: In the event of a referendum, which will there will ultimately be as there is no other means of ratification, how saleable is the argument that if the Union enlarges to 27 members, Ireland will have the same representation, by way of a revolving Commissioner, as Germany, France, the UK and so on?
Mr. Gillis: It will not be easy because people will perceive it as losing something, but it can be explained. As I said, when the club gets bigger the influence of individuals becomes a little weaker but the overall influence is much stronger. I do not think we will lose anything and we can demonstrate this very clearly.
We can always use the example of the five larger countries which are prepared to give up a Commissioner before we start this process, which is a magnanimous gesture.
Chairman: The counter argument is that they can afford to give it up because of their power and size and the fact they will have influence in other areas. The argument was made both today and previously that they will be in a better position to concede but not to lose anything.
Mr. Gillis: That argument has been put forward, but 30 years has not shown that to be true. The reverse has been true. Some of the larger countries have acted against each other.
Deputy Barrett: We have made the Commission issue into a huge problem for ourselves. The people do not understand the structures in Europe. When were our Commissioners elected by anyone? They were not elected, but appointed. Some of them have been good. At least the Minister attending the Council of Ministers is elected by and answerable to the people. There should not be any reason the meetings of the Council of Ministers are not held in public so we can see what is happening and what is on the agenda. The members of the European Parliament are elected by the people. We must play down this issue. David Byrne is our Commissioner, but he has a job to do for Europe. He is not there to protect Irish interests. He is there to bring forward proposals in his portfolio. The Minister of the day - I realised this when I was a Minister - must take an active role in the preparatory work done by civil servants in his or her Department before going to a meeting of the Council of Ministers. Otherwise he or she will be in danger of handing over the decision-making process to civil servants. I am not saying there is anything wrong with our civil servants, but we are answerable to the Irish electorate. That is one of the problems. As long as we make the Commission an issue, the people will feel they are losing an enormous amount.
Did Mr. Halligan get advice when he was elected to the Dáil about the workings of Europe? He and other Members had to find out for themselves. I am sure many Members of Dáil Éireann do not know about the workings of the European institutions. How can we expect the public to know that?
Deputy J. O’Keeffe: I want to raise two other points. We retain our automatic right to a Commissioner until the Union consists of 27 member states. It is important to bear in mind that in any new system which comes into play after that we have the same right as everyone else, including the right of veto. It is not as if we will be helpless in that situation. There are possibilities of creative solutions if one accepts the approach proposed by Eamonn Gallagher, with which I agree. We should not agree to a Commission of 20 or to reducing the numbers. If we insist on keeping the full 27 member states and one or two others join, a possible solution to guarantee the principle of equality at the Commission table might be for the member state which did not have a Commissioner to appoint an Attorney General, a legal advocate or a Secretary General with the full powers of a Commissioner to the Commission table. There are possibilities of creative solutions in five or ten years’ time. We will be in a position to put forward such ideas because new procedures cannot be put in place without our approval.
Mr. Gillis: I agree with Deputy Jim O’Keeffe. Since 1973 Ireland has been part of every decision. Someone else has not been making decisions about which we do not know. It is important to keep telling people that because sometimes we forget to tell them and they think something different.
As regards an Irish Commissioner, in our dialogue with the 20 countries to which I referred earlier and at the recent meetings with hundreds of people around the country the problem of a country not having a Commissioner was not raised. If it was a big issue, why did people not raise it at those meetings? We should not worry too much about it. If the Commission operates properly, it operates as a college, not as a representative of a country on any given day.
Chairman: That was not my original question. I wanted to know how it could be sold to the people. The symbolic element must be dealt with.
Ms Lawler: I will answer that question. One of the things Ministers, politicians and other leaders kept saying after the Nice Treaty was that we will lose our Commissioner, but it will not be too bad. It did not come up at the consultation, but it did arise in all the other areas. We should explain to 99.9% of the people that what will happen will be the same as what will happen for every other country. We will be on an equal basis and we will not lose a Commissioner because it will be done on a rotation basis after a long number of years as everyone will be fighting to keep their Commissioner. Everyone will be on the same basis after 2004. The people are fair. If we explain that everyone will be on the same basis, there will not be a problem. People, particularly influential people, must be careful when they start talking about losing things or responding to decisions made. They must be careful that the language they use reflects what is happening. We are not at a loss compared to any other country, but on an equal level. We have organised meetings around the country. We have an information service from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and a number of people have come into us on an ongoing basis. As soon as we said it would be done on an equal basis, people did not question it. They then turned to other matters.
Deputy Barrett asked who gave advice on such matters. I recommend European Movement Ireland. We have an information service and a system of training courses which we are expanding. We not only have courses in Ireland, but we also bring people on two day study courses to Brussels. They have been outstandingly successful. People are crying out for that, particularly leaders and those involved in local government. Many people have said we should have told them about it.
Mr. Halligan: I do not know about civil society, but I hope I am permitted to belong to uncivil society, to use an Oscar Wilde type quip.
Chairman: To which we all belong.
Mr. Halligan: I will answer a question I was not asked.
Chairman: That is a new and welcome approach.
Mr. Halligan: As regards the Commission, we need not bother about it if the Nice treaty is not ratified by Ireland. After that, it will be of purely academic interest to us. The Nice Treaty, if ratified in one form or another, is only another staging post in the process of enlargement. One could think of at least ten countries additional to the 27 which will be members of the European Union in 15 years’ time.
My children in middle age will see a European Union of at least 37 member states. I could list them off very quickly. In those circumstances, the concept of a Commission of 37 members flies in the face of all organisational logic. At that point, it will have been accepted that the principle of at least one commissioner per member state is simply impractical. But, the sort of idea, that Deputy O’Keeffe has put forward, by way of ensuring greater equality in the system, will surely have been worked out by minds as inventive as Deputy O’Keeffe’s. For example, the secretaries-general of the Commission, Council, Parliament or Court, could always come from member states that did not have a commissioner. Political minds are never short of imagination when it comes to sharing out the jobs.
Deputy Barrett: Is Mr. Halligan leaving himself out?
Mr. Halligan: Yes.
Chairman: How would you address Deputy Barrett’s argument about the comparison with the United States? You could look at the recent special convention in Germany in regard to the settlement of the issues after the Afghanistan war, wherein almost every possible group - about 70 or 80 representatives groups - was around the table. The reason for that was to ensure that everybody’s view was taken on board.
Mr. Halligan: Yes.
Chairman: So how do you address Deputy Barrett’s argument?
Mr. Halligan: I am sure that I will not address it very well, and certainly not to his satisfaction because it is a point of view that I do not share. The European Union was not set up on that basis. It was set up on the basis for which his party - and your party, too, Chairman - campaigned in 1972, which was that member states in certain circumstances inside the Council were not represented on a one-to-one basis, which is a classic intergovernmental system. This was a system about sharing sovereignty. If one wants a classic intergovernmental organisation in which sovereignty is not shared in accordance with law, and enforced if necessary in members states that have voted against the decision, then go for that one. But if one wants the sharing of sovereignty - which is what Monnet and Schumann, who founded the Union, wanted, in order to prevent war between those member states - then you must take account of the fact that we are not all equal. The federalist principle upon which the Union is based, and which is borrowed from the German constitution, is that smaller units - smaller states with lower populations - are grossly over represented inside the system. In respect of Germany, we are over represented to the tune of over six to one.
Deputy Barrett: I accept the principle of representation in the European Parliament based on population, but that is a separate situation to where decisions are being taken at cabinet level.
Mr. Halligan: The United States’ system is not based on independent states that have their own separate and independent existence in international law. It is a federation of which the states are a component part and have no independent existence other than in the federation. Ireland is in a completely different situation, the same as the other 14 states. This is an argument for the future about which I am very clear where the answer is going to lie; the nation state is not going to go away. Nation states are not going to give up their sovereignty or their separate existence in international law. This system is designed to take account of that fact as best it can.
I would like to address the question that was posed in varying ways by the four Deputies who are still here. I will begin with Deputy O’Keeffe’s very important point that there will be no re-negotiation. He said that this is a reality. In strategic analysis it is important to begin with the facts insofar as one can determine them. Insofar as anything is a fact politically, it is a political fact that there will be no re-negotiation.
Deputy Haughey asked about the options in those circumstances, and Deputy Carey asked specifically about the question of a political declaration. Deputy Barrett addressed the question about getting on with the future. If it is accepted as a fundamental that there is to be no re-negotiation of the treaty, that also rules out a protocol because a protocol is a re-negotiation of the treaty, as we know. It would require ratification in the other 14 member parliaments, the same as in our own Parliament. There is little or no prospect of the other 14 member states agreeing to a protocol.
Deputy J. O’Keeffe: Does Mr. Halligan see any prospect of the Danish model being a possibility, with a declaration including a commitment to a protocol in the subsequent treaty? Does he see that as being a runner?
Mr. Halligan: The Deputy is stealing my thunder which is most unfair.
Deputy J. O’Keeffe: I was reading my speeches.
Chairman: It is most unparliamentary, as well. One’s thunder should not be stolen.
Mr. Halligan: I was about to say that we do have a precedent in the case of Denmark. The institute has looked at this case very carefully over a period of 12 months. It is also helped by the fact that there was a Danish white paper at the time after the first Maastricht Treaty referendum. They worked out a modus vivendi precisely along the lines that Deputy O’Keeffe has just described.
Deputy J. O’Keeffe: If I recollect, there was an interim government between both referenda.
Mr. Halligan: Yes, there was.
Deputy J. O’Keeffe: They were quite prepared to follow the precedent in full.
Mr. Halligan: The outgoing government really shaped the Danish response. The social democrats went into opposition and the government of the day was only too happy to go with it. The classical formulation of their response was, “How do we solve our problem without creating problems for others”? They, therefore, set the political declaration which became the protocol in the subsequent Treaty of Amsterdam. The saleability of that will surely depend upon the degree to which the Irish electorate will accept the credibility of such a procedure. Unlike the Danes, we at least have the advantage of saying that there is a precedent. In fact, the political declaration then being transformed into a protocol is working so well in the case of Denmark that there are many in Denmark who now regret the derogations they achieved for themselves in the declaration that subsequently became the protocol.
A fine study was undertaken by the Danish interior ministry on the legal effect of a political declaration. In certain circumstances - for example, if lodged with the UN by the presidency of the Council - it could take on force in international law to the extent that it would be recognised as part of its jurisprudence by the European Court of Justice. That is something that would be worthwhile exploring here.
Let me turn now to the options. If we are left with a declaration, we then have only two options vis-à-vis enlargement and our good selves. Here one must recall the words to the forum of the French minister for European affairs, Pierre Moscovici, “You cannot say ‘Yes’ to enlargement and ‘No’ to Nice”. That is an illogicality that has to be confronted. If we say “Yes” to Nice plus a political declaration, then clearly everything goes ahead as originally planned. If we say “No” on a second occasion then we will be confronted with a range of possibilities that the Danes looked at in their own white paper. I am using them as the authority for credibility purposes, and I believe them. They ranged from being politely ushered out the door or being pushed out the window, to a new European Union being created and the Danes being left in the corner as the member of the club with whom nobody would associate. If it was a golf club, nobody would go out on the golf course with them or nobody would buy them a drink and the European Union as it currently exists would simply fall into disuse.
Deputy O’Keeffe is a lawyer and I am not, but there is a Latin phrase in contract law which describes how a contract falls into disuse and becomes non est. That is what the Danes looked at. One might ask how that can be done. The draft treaty on European Union, adopted in 1984 by the European Parliament at the behest of Mr. Spinelli, and for which I had the honour to vote during my short sojourn as a member of the European Parliament - I nearly got expelled from the parliamentary Labour Party for doing so, on the grounds of neutrality - contained the provision which said that it would not require the treaty to come into effect until all member states signed it, but that it could come into effect when a given number had signed it. Therefore, it clearly envisaged a European Union of a hard core and, surrounding that, a European Community. Such a devise is not beyond political or legal minds to invent and it could be done in an afternoon in Brussels at a sitting of the IGC attended by the permanent representatives. It would then go through the various Parliaments. Alternatively, such an IGC could devise an exit clause for a member or it could devise a clause which forced somebody out.
Without the theatrical histrionics, I believe we are confronted with in terms of what you expressed as “the most fundamental crisis”. If we do not ratify the Nice Treaty in whatever way - Deputy Haughey raised questions about a protocol or a political declaration - then, and I put this a neutrally as I can, our membership of the European Union will take on a new form and could result in the effective non-membership of this country of the Union. That is what I meant at the end of my opening remarks when I said that this would constitute a fundamental reversal of national policy in this country since 1961, when the then Taoiseach, Seán Lemass, made our first application to join the European Economic Community.
For 40 years, Ireland’s economic policy has been predicated on its membership of the European Economic Community, now the European Union. Our international policy has been predicated on the same facts. If the treaty was rejected again we would be pushed into some form of isolation. Last night, I listened to a lecture during which a university professor recalled that in the 1950s this country was regarded as so peripheral from the point of view of international trade agreements that it was classified alongside Turkey and Iceland. At present we are an integral and central part of one the most incredible experiments ever in terms of international relationships and the largest trading block in the world, about to become substantially larger. Those are the choices and I shudder in terms of the consequences if the first is made when by default we stumble into it without having analysed all its implications in very great detail beforehand. I therefore almost beseech this committee to ensure that this work is done.
Chairman: Thank you. Were you always in favour of the European project?
Mr. Halligan: Yes.
Chairman: Are you still?
Mr. Halligan: I was the general secretary of a party which opposed Irish entry in 1972. As a good party apparatchik I campaigned against it, but I had to bite my tongue almost to the point where it fell off, but I subsequently sewed it back on.
Chairman: Thank you. We have three more speakers, Eamonn Gallagher, John Goodwillie and Conor O’Brien. I call Mr. Gallagher.
Mr. Gallagher: Since so much has been talked about the Commission in the last 30 minutes I feel compelled to enter the debate. I am rather enthralled at the idea that to enlarge the Community the first thing to do is to throw Ireland out. I do not agree with that analysis.
The point John Temple-Lang and I have tried to make is that enlargement of the Community should not be used as an excuse to change the institutional structure. In our view that is neither warranted nor acceptable and it would be very dangerous for countries to accept it. As it happens, Ireland is the only member state to have held a referendum. None of the other 14 member states have held one in their ratification process. Furthermore, one member state - Italy - has not yet indicated any intention to ratify. It has not made any moves towards ratification, so we do not know what it will do.
When people tell me or the committee that 14 member states have ratified and that Ireland will have to do the same, or else, I ask myself two or three questions. First, does it mean that the rule of unanimity has disappeared in the case of Ireland? Has it disappeared for the major member states, for example, when they say “no” to things they do not want? Has it disappeared, for example, with tax harmonisation, which seems to be an important subject at times, or does unanimity still exist? In which case should, by chance, the Irish Government not ratify what will happen vis-à-vis renegotiation Nothing else can happen except renegotiation
John Temple-Lang and I have carefully stayed away from—
Deputy J. O’Keeffe: The Irish Government agreed to the Treaty of Nice. There was unanimous agreement in Nice. In view of this it is hardly correct to say there was not unanimous agreement there. For good or ill, the Government agreed on our behalf. It is a constitutional quirk that the ratification procedure in Ireland requires a referendum, the only one of the 15 member states. Is that not relevant to your argument?
Mr. Gallagher: To call it a quirk is strange. Under the Constitution the electorate must be consulted on constitutional change. That is not a quirk, it is fundamental to our democracy.
Chairman: Does that mean that when the Government reaches any agreement on behalf of the people it should bear in mind that it must seek their approval?
Mr. Gallagher: Precisely. In a way, the present system for treaty change in Europe has come to the end of the road because of what is happening and what happened in Nice. What I mean by that is to say that what happened at Nice has been rejected by the Irish electorate under our constitutional system. The reasons for that are in dispute and I do not intend to consider them. I merely state that as a fact. The system of inventing treaties behind closed doors without prior political consultation on major and fundamental issues has come to an end. It cannot go on. It does not work. That is why it cannot go on, not because I say so.
John Temple-Lang and I have suggested that this kind of thing be avoided by asking the convention on the future of Europe to again consider the question of the size of the Commission. The Commission and the size of it - here I dispute what Brendan Halligan has said - is not an organisational problem. It is a fundamental political problem as to what it is and should be, including how representative it should be. It is not a question of whether Ireland has a Commissioner or not, or a nominee, whether elected or not, to the Commission. That is simply a by-product of a much more important question, which is that a Commission that is short of nominations from a number of member states is no longer truly representative of the Community as a whole. Therefore, its authority under the treaties to be the sole provider of draft legislation for the Council and Parliament to consider would inevitably be put in question. For example, in the last few days Germany has accused the Commission of bias. There are two nominees from Germany on the present Commission which, according to the German Chancellor, is biased against Germany. What happens when there is no nominee from Germany on the Commission? Do we think that kind of argument will stop or increase? I ask you to consider that. You are the politicians and you decide on what to do. However, do not ever suggest that consulting the electorate is simply a quirk, it is a constitutional profundity of great importance in our democracy.
Deputy J. O’Keeffe: It arose because of the Supreme Court decision in the Crotty case.
Chairman: Your case on prior consultation is interesting because the committee carried out a six month process of consultation prior to the signing of the Nice Treaty. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and the chief negotiator of the treaty appeared before the committee.
They gave a synopsis and response to the points made by the committee members. Most of the points raised by committee members were similar to the points raised here this evening. They have remained the same. The committee made a report which underlined the major areas of concern, which ultimately turned out to be the areas of concern during the referendum debate. We went through the process of addressing the question of prior consultation. In respect of other points that were raised, we now have a new process whereby everything comes before the committee. We have legal advice on the standing of that particular process as well.
I note the points that were made today. We have gone through this ad infinitum. I, and other Members, have attended every institutional affairs committee of the European Parliament and informal meetings set up by the various member states over the past four years. We gleaned considerable information from those particular hearings.
I thank the delegates. Mr. O’Brien was anxious to make a point.
Mr. O’Brien: Everyone is in favour of enlargement like they are in favour of apple pie, but it is a question of enlargement “into what”.
Chairman: That is my question. How much is Mr. O’Brien in favour of?
Mr. O’Brien: I am changing the question to one seeking to know what we are enlarging into. That is a question we should be asking.
Chairman: The question on enlargement pertains to enlargement of the community to encompass a greater number of member states - it is not a question of enlargement “into what”. The membership of the EU will then decide what it enlarges into. The question that was addressed to Mr. O’Brien is as follows: how far does ATTAC go in favour of enlargement?
Mr. O’Brien: ATTAC opposed the Nice treaty because we argue that we need to confront the reality of increasing corporate influence on the decision-making process in the EU. No attention was devoted to that aspect. There is a lot of pie-in-the-sky talk about the EU being some sort of opposition to the Anglo-American model of low wages and low jobs, whereas it seems fairly clear that the European Commission has bought into the privatisation agenda lock, stock and barrel.
Chairman: We have a problem. There is a vote in the House and, unfortunately, we will have to bring the proceedings to a conclusion.
Deputy J. O’Keeffe: I would like to hear Mr. Goodwillie for two minutes before I go.
Chairman: The point is that Mr. O’Brien needs to clarify to what extent he supports enlargement, or does he support it at all?
Mr. O’Brien: We did not campaign on that issue. I can safely say we support it but ask what we are enlarging into. Is it a Europe that prioritises corporate interests or is it a Europe that will prioritise the interests of its citizens?
Chairman: That is not the issue. The question is to what extent does Mr. O’Brien support enlargement. Is he in favour of enlargement as set out by the various speakers? For instance, Mr. Halligan set out a scenario in respect of enlargement. That is the question.
Mr. O’Brien: Yes, we are in favour of enlargement.
Chairman: Up to how many states?
Mr. O’Brien: Indefinitely, if we are referring to a Europe that advances the interests of its citizens.
Mr. Goodwillie: On the issue of the declaration, the Nice treaty has an impact on neutrality insofar as it removes matters that had previously been sidelined onto the western European Union and sets up a political insecurity committee within the EU to manage that area of activity. It has an impact on neutrality.
The point of a declaration is that it does not amend the Nice treaty as it stands, whatever its legal status. That is our problem with it. We would not accept it unless there was an alteration to the actual legal existence and legal effect of the treaty.
On the issue of what is to happen now, there should be a treaty on accession. However many countries join, there will have to be a treaty on accession. Any new provisions with regard to how many seats in the European Parliament or votes in the Council can all be included in a treaty on accession. Such a treaty on accession does not require a referendum because it does not transfer new power from Ireland to the European level. What happens now? There is a path forward that does not involve ratification of the Nice treaty.
Finally, Deputy Barrett’s point on the former Yugoslavia treated the area is if it were an area within the EU. It is, so far, outside the EU. Such problems have been dealt with in the past by forming peacekeeping forces under the UN, which we have participated in. We have no objection to that type of problem being dealt with through the UN or through the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe-
Chairman: Unfortunately, we have to conclude to vote in the House. I thank Mr. Goodwillie and apologise for cutting him short. The time constraints are a problem. I thank all the witnesses who came before the committee today for taking the trouble to make presentations and for showing an interest. The issue in question, whether one is on one side of the argument or the other, is of vital national importance and requires full participation by all concerned. I thank our visitors from the Danish School of Public Administration. I thank our own staff for their efforts and the diplomatic core for its ongoing interest.
The Joint Committee adjourned at 4.28 p.m. until 11.15 a.m. on Friday, 22 March 2002.
* In substitution for Senator Lydon.