Dáil debates

Tuesday, 20 January 2004

European Presidency: Statements.


4:00 pm

John Bruton (Meath, Fine Gael)

Deputy Haughey made an interesting contribution in regard to US-EU relations. It was his father who, during the Irish Presidency of his time, introduced the transatlantic dialogue between the European Union and the United States for the first time, creating a very useful structure wherein problems could be ironed out, much as the Anglo-Irish Agreement created a structure between the British and Irish Governments for discussing problems and provided almost a parking place for their anger, which in many cases succeeded in diminishing the anger. It is appropriate for Deputy Haughey to make the contribution he made in regard to that matter.

There are certain risks attendant on the Irish Presidency. There is a risk that it will develop into a sort of cook's tour of crisis spots in the world. We will do a little bit about Cyprus, a little bit about Palestine, a little bit about our relations with Latin America. We will have a lot of hot air about the Lisbon process where everybody will preach at everybody else about what they should be doing with not the slightest intention of doing anything themselves. That would be a very disappointing outcome. A Presidency will only be successful if it focuses on one or two key achievements which it sets itself to complete.

There is only one key achievement which the Irish Presidency must aim at, and that is agreement on the constitution. It will be very risky for the European Union to drift into a European election against a background of constitutional uncertainty. It would be very risky for the European Union to drift into the very emotional negotiation that is going to take place about financing from 2006 to 2013 in the absence of an agreement on the constitution.

In such a scenario one will have people who are looking for money being willing to be bought on one of their reservations in regard to the constitution or people thinking they can be bought by money and finding that cannot be so. If the two negotiations have to be conducted in parallel, they will have a negatively symbiotic relationship with one another. That is a very strong reason the Government must make a serious effort to nail this down before we get into that negotiation, which is already starting in regard to the money, and before people take fixed positions in the European elections.

In the run-up to the European elections there is a risk that parties campaigning to get seats will present themselves as being the better one to stand up to the French, the Germans, the Europeans or the Commission. People will take shapes in order to win votes in the election which will rigidify the positions their governments will take in the negotiations on the constitutional treaty. It will be more difficult for the Dutch Presidency to achieve agreement on the constitution after the European election than for the Irish Presidency to achieve it in advance of the election.

The Government should also be very wary about handing this over to civil servants. I have heard that initiatives are being taken where some committee of wise civil servants will be set up to look into the matter of the constitution. The constitutional draft is a political exercise drawn up by politicians who understand politics. It is not a technical business, it is a political business. It is very important that the politicians, and by politicians I mean particularly the Taoiseach, keep complete control of the agenda and do not allow it to slip away into the hands of people who could be crossing t's and dotting i's until kingdom come as far as this treaty is concerned. Undoubtedly there are lots of technical difficulties in the treaty that astute and practised defenders of civil service turf, and there are many such in the public administrations of all 25 countries, could find to keep themselves occupied for years arguing about the detail of this constitution and whether this or that phrase is right and if it prejudices the rights of a particular agency or country. I plead with the Government not to let them at it. It should not let them near this issue and should keep it political. It is not a technical problem, it is a political problem and it will be solved politically, by politicians.

I do not have the same sympathy as Deputy Mulcahy expressed for the position of the Spaniards and Poles. It is true that the Poles joined the European Union on the basis of the Nice treaty. However, they joined it knowing that the treaty was up for revision, that the Convention was in place and that anything in the treaty was subject to revision. They joined a moving train not a static train. For them to insist that the train stay exactly where it is now that they have joined is to say they want no constitutional progress in regard to the voting system. The great attraction of the double majority system is that it is automatic, three fifths of the population and a majority of the states. If ten new members are added to the European Union one does not have to change the formula. That is also the case if the population of one country falls and another country rises. The formula adjusts itself after each census in each country. If, on the other hand, one reverts to the system agreed in the Nice treaty, one will get to a situation where one has to haggle every time the population of one country rises or falls and every time a country joins or leaves for that matter. The whole negotiation about voting weights would have to start all over again because the Nice system is entirely arbitrary. There is no underlying logic to it, it is a case of figures being put beside particular countries to indicate the voting strength they will have. It has no guiding principle, whereas the double majority has a guiding principle. The Government should be loth, as I am sure it will be, to depart from the double majority.

The European Union is expanding to include many poor countries which need the same level of Structural Funds as was received by Ireland and Spain. However, it is not politically realistic to expect the Germans, as net contributors, to pay more if, when it comes to counting votes on how this money will be spent, two Poles will be equal to one German. That is not on. Over the years we have worked in the EU on the basis that as far as Europe was concerned, there were no politics in Germany — that the Germans, because of war guilt, could be expected to pay the bill. That era has passed. The war has been over for almost 60 years. It is not reasonable to expect the Germans not to have the same demands for equality of treatment as the Irish, the Poles or the Spaniards. The double majority gives them equal treatment. It does not give them a single vote more than they are entitled to but exactly what they are entitled to on the basis of population. The case being made by the Spaniards and the Poles against that has no substance in reality.

I agree with Mr. Jean-Claude Juncker, the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, who said this week that 1% of the Community's GDP is too little for the EU to be spending if it is to do its job properly. We should be spending closer to 1.5% of the EU's GDP at Union level, but there is no way the Germans will agree to that unless they have a fair voting system. The present system is not fair. There is not much point in saying who is to blame for this. I know who is to blame. Mr. Chirac, the President of France, is entirely responsible for this mess because of what he did at Nice. As Deputy Haughey's father once said, there is no percentage in that kind of recrimination. We are where we are.


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