Committee Reports::Report - Enlargement of the European Union::22 March, 2002::Report


Enlargement of the European Union

Previous Enlargements of the European Union

The European Union is a dynamic partnership. Since its foundation in 1957 it has continually expanded its geographical borders. From its six founding members, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxemburg and the Netherlands, it first enlarged in 1973 with the addition of three states, Ireland, Denmark and the UK, one (Greece) in 1985, two in 1989 (Portugal and Spain) and three in 1996 (Austria, Finland and Sweden). In addition, the former German Democratic Republic had gained automatic admission at the time of German re-unification in December 1990.

In the Amsterdam Treaty in 1997, the EU agreed to continue its enlargement process to include other European countries that would be in a position satisfy the acquis communitaire.

Background to the current enlargement

After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the break-up of the Soviet Union, it became essential for the European Union to ensure that every assistance and encouragement should be afforded to the new democracies to go forward. Subsequently, the Central and Eastern European countries together with Cyprus, Malta and Turkey expressed a strong desire to be part of the Union. The European Union Member States, including Ireland, responded very positively to these overtures, firstly at the Luxemburg European Council in 1997 and then at the Helsinki Summit in 1999 when 10 Central and Eastern European countries in total, as well as Cyprus and Malta1, were invited to begin the process leading to accession. Since that time, each of these countries has begun a programme of change in its domestic legislation to make it compatible with the Acquis Communitaire. Ten of these countries2 have advanced a great deal in the process and many of the chapters leading to accession have now been completed by the ten, including some of the more sensitive issues such as the Free Movement of Persons. The progress achieved by candidate countries was endorsed by the European Council in Gothenburg (June 2001) when the process was deemed irreversible. The Laeken European Council (December 2001) named these 10 countries as the most likely for early accession and scheduled early 2004 as the timetable for accession. This enlargement will be the largest expansion of the Union both in terms of the number of States and also in relation to the increase in the Union’s overall population (from 350 million to 470 million people). It is expected that by the end of 2002, the current phase of negotiations will be completed. The most difficult and sensitive issues, such as the financing of enlargement, are now being tackled. However, it is believed that the Commission’s recent proposals in relation to these sensitive financial areas will provide a solid basis for negotiations.

Previous examinations of enlargement

The present Joint Committee has addressed the question of enlargement on a number of occasions in the past years in the context of the Nice Treaty and the Future of Europe3. In addition the Dáil debated the subject and adopted a motion on enlargement, by consensus, on 11 December 20014. In February 2002, the Joint Committee agreed a report on the future of Europe, which included enlargement.

Current examination

Following on from there, the Joint Committee decided to examine the question of enlargement in greater depth, having first called for written submissions from the general public including political parties, agencies, and NGOs. Since that time, the Joint Committee has met to hear oral presentations and to further afford Members an opportunity to express their views after taking into consideration the submissions made by the general public.

Views of the Joint Committee

This report contains the submissions made on the subject and the transcripts of the Joint Committee meeting of the 20 March 2002. The following are some of the main findings of the Joint Committee.

Support for enlargement

The Joint Committee fully supports the principles of enlargement and the declaration made at Laeken on the early accession date for the 10 applicants. This position is supported by the overwhelming majority of the written and oral contributions received by the Committee. The accession of the states of Central and Eastern Europe will be a historical moment which will strengthen peace and security in Europe as well as consolidating and strengthening democracy, human rights and the rule of law in these countries. In the case of Cyprus it will, hopefully, encourage a resolution of the problem of island’s division. There is also a moral imperative that cannot be ignored. Enlargement to the east represents an opportunity to heal the divisions of the past century. Ireland cannot deny this to European states which have been denied their freedom for over 50 years. We must give to them, in a spirit of generosity, the opportunities similar to those given to us a generation ago. Ireland’s advancement is proof that the EU is a success story. We should not deny others the chance to share in that success.

Membership of the EU has been, is, and will continue to be of enormous benefit to Ireland both in socio/economic terms and political terms. While it is very difficult to quantify exactly the benefits, which the Union has given in relation to a resolution of the Northern Ireland problem, there is no doubt that that contribution was enormous. For the above reasons, the Joint Committee looks forward to the successful conclusion of accession negotiations in the coming months and furthermore, to the prospect of welcoming up to 10 new member states into the Union during Ireland’s Presidency in the first half of 2004.

In addition to the political imperative of consolidating democracy in Europe, the Joint Committee is also very much of the view that enlargement is mutually beneficial to both the accession States and the current Member States. The Joint Committee believes that enlargement represents an excellent opportunity for Ireland both in relation to our political and economic interests. Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, trade with the Central and Eastern European candidates has growth considerably and this is reliably predicted to continue and further expand after accession. Our economic and business organisations predict that Ireland will gain enormously from enlargement.

In other areas too enlargement is good for Europe eg in relation to the environment the accession countries will have to bring their environment policies into line with the far more strict policies of the EU.

Agriculture is a very sensitive issue for Ireland and one which still has to be negotiated with the applicant states. Areas such as co-decision, food safety, the environment, quotas, direct income payments, “modulation”, “degressivity”, young people and rural development are all key issues and will be difficult to negotiate. However, there are great opportunities also to be gained and the Irish agri-food industry is expected to benefit considerably from a market of over 470 million people.

Nice Treaty

The Committee believes that the vote, in Ireland, against the Treaty of Nice did not represent a vote against enlargement. This belief has been reinforced by the submissions received by the Committee from the public as well as in the recent report by the National Forum on Europe.

The Joint Committee recalls that ratification of the Nice Treaty, which provides the legal framework within which the institutional aspects can be agreed, is necessary for enlargement (of more than 5 candidates) to take place. Believing that many citizens who voted against the Treaty in the June 2001 Referendum did so because they either felt disconnected from the process or because some of the issues involved were unexplained, or inadequately explained, the Joint Committee calls for a sustained and concentrated effort by all political parties, the social partners and all sectors of civil society, who support the ratification of Nice, to help demystify the EU, explain the issues contained in the treaty, and work for a positive vote in the next referendum on the Treaty. This referendum has to take place before the end of 2002 so as to allow the proposed enlargement to proceed on schedule.

The Joint Committee believes that in the run up to a second Irish referendum on Nice, a major effort must be made to address the concerns of the public and to comprehensively explain the provisions of the treaty to them, particularly in relation to the issues in the first referendum which caused difficulties for a substantial percentage of the population. In this context, the Joint Committee believes that the following are among the facts which should explained to the Irish public:-

There is no challenge in the Nice Treaty to Ireland’s neutrality and, indeed, Articles 17 and 23 confirm this. A declaration to this effect which was agreed in principle at Barcelona, in March 2002, will help to reinforce this position. The Rapid Reaction Force is not a European Army. Each EU Member State decides on a case-by-case basis whether to commit troops for each assignment. In Ireland’s case, it will be up to the Oireachtas to decide. A Defence Amendment Act confirming this point would provide additional reassurance. The Rapid Reaction Force will reinforce Ireland’s traditional commitment to international peacekeeping and it does not commit Ireland to any direct defence role in the EU.

While Ireland’s voting strength in Council will decrease under Nice it will have no significant bearing on Ireland’s overall positive position in the Union. The change in voting was justified on the basis that the larger states would have lost out significantly, in Council voting strength, in an enlarged EU with nine5 new small states acceding. In addition, it is reasonable to take some account of population sizes and in this respect the balance agreed in Nice is fair. It is useful to recall that all the smaller EU partner states willingly signed up to this and some of those have proportionately accepted bigger decreases than Ireland. In addition to the foregoing the Joint Committee Members, many of whom have direct experience of Council negotiations, are mindful that the overwhelming proportion of decisions are taken either at official or political level by consensus and decisions in Council are seldom decided by vote. Ireland has proved itself to be very good in relation to the negotiation of EU matters and our perceived pro-Union position often puts us in a position where we act as the facilitator for Union consensus. The Joint Committee wishes to retain this positive image of Ireland in Europe as we go into an enlarged Union of 25 States.

As partial compensation for gaining extra voting strength proportionately in Council the larger EU States agreed to give up their rights to one of their two Commissioners.

In relation to the right of each Member State to have an EU Commissioner the public should be informed that Nice does not do away with that right. It says that a decision on that question should be taken when the EU enlarges to 27 members. It also states that any decision reached at that time will have to be agreed unanimously by all Member States.

Enhanced cooperation will not lead to a two-tiered Europe. It will however, mean that some EU states can cooperate together outside the normal Community acquis. What is being agreed is that this type of cooperation will be structured and this will give more certainty and control than obtains now. Already, some States are cooperating together in certain areas in which others have opted out eg Schengen and EMU. Ireland, rather than losing, stands to gain from this. We have traditionally been among the frontrunners in cooperation eg the Euro. This is not a concept, which, in principle, presents problems for us.

In relation to the reduction in the number of Irish members (12 instead of the current 15) of the European Parliament after enlargement, proportionately Ireland has more than maintained its representation vis. a vis. the other smaller Member States. It is accepted that Parliament must have a ceiling on membership and that the allocation of seats, as agreed in Nice, has been accepted by all Member States and Applicant Countries.

Increased scrutiny of EU matters by the Oireachtas

The Joint Committee, recognising that a democratic deficit in relation to the EU exists, is determined to ensure that the public is kept better informed in relation to EU matters. Accordingly, it has increased its scrutiny of EU issues and, in addition, has demanded reforms to give the Oireachtas better scrutiny powers over proposed EU legislation. It notes the agreement between the Political Parties for measures, which are to be given effect when the XXIXth Dáil convenes.

EU Convention

The Joint Committee believes that the Future of Europe Convention, which has just begun its work in Brussels, will add to the public’s understanding of the EU and will bring the Union closer to its citizens. In addition, it is hoped that the Convention will come forward with proposals which can be incorporated into decisions reached by the Inter-Governmental Conference when it meets in 2004.

The presence of the accession states at the Convention will enhance the debate and give them an opportunity to have some input into the next IGC.


The Joint Committee:

Supports enlargement of the EU and the early accession of 10 applicant States agreed at Laeken

Recognises that there is a moral imperative as well as a political need to allow the central and Eastern European Countries to enter the EU

Believes that Ireland will gain from enlargement

Accepts that the Nice Treaty is necessary to accommodate the extent of enlargement agreed at Laeken

Calls for a coordinated effort to be made to explain the provisions of the treaty to the public and to address their concerns as evidenced in the June 2001 Referendum

Acknowledges that the Union must be more accessible, more comprehensible and more responsive to the concerns of citizens. It cannot continue to function effectively unless its institutions are grounded in the support of the people they serve.

recognises that Ireland has been well served by the existing institutional balances and policy mix and that this equilibrium must continue to reflect our position after the forthcoming enlargement of the EU.

1 In addition, Turkey, which had been turned down previously because of its human rights record, was reinstated as a candidate in Helsinki.

2 The Czech Republic, Cyprus, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. The other two current applicant states, Bulgaria and Romania, are deemed not to be advanced enough to be included in the forthcoming enlargement..

3 i). Second report on EU intuitional reform in the context of enlargement November 2000.

ii). Report on the Treaty of Nice May 2001

iii). Report on the Future of Europe January 2002

4 “That Dáil Éireann confirms its support for the enlargement of the EU and calls on the government to take all appropriate steps as soon as possible to ensure that Ireland does not impede or delay the accession of applicant states to the EU”.

5 Of the ten scheduled for accession in 2004, Poland is reckoned as “large”, the remaining nine as “small”.