Dáil debates

Tuesday, 20 January 2004

European Presidency: Statements.


4:00 pm

John Bruton (Meath, Fine Gael)

The Commission will be much more diverse than the rainbow coalition. Fifteen people is the most a chairman can hope to keep on the right track individually, giving them encouragement when they need it — a pat on the back or an encouraging phone call — so they can play as part of a team. A Commission of 30 will not work. We have a Commission of 20 now and it is not working. There is no collective responsibility in the present Commission. In today's newspapers we see Commissioners sniping at one another about the budget. Michel Barnier's proposals are being criticised by the Budget Commissioner. They are attacking one another, and this will become far worse with a Commission of 25 or 30 people. The Convention's proposal for equality of treatment between countries is the right approach. Under it every country would rotate into the Commission on an equal basis. We would have a Commissioner five out of every ten years, as would Germany. It maintains collegiality and provides for equal treatment for every country. To decide on a Commission of 25 or 30 members in which every country has a Commissioner, saecula saeculorum, is crazy. It will mean the Commission President will become a dictator, because the only way in which he can make anything work is to cook all the decisions with his vice-presidents before the Commissioners even come into the room. The Commissioners will be told the matter is already agreed.

Deputy Kenny referred to the importance of qualified majority voting in the area of crime with reference to paedophile activities. Lewd images of children are being promulgated through the networks of Europe at a furious rate. The only way this can be tackled is through co-ordinated action at European level. We have not been able to get a directive through on this because the Danes, taking advantage of the fact that unanimity is currently the rule, objected to it on the grounds that one could not be penalised for possessing pornography for personal use. They wanted to preserve this great right. We have had no progress on the matter because of the need for unanimity. In the Convention we proposed to use majority voting on a limited range of cross-border crimes. That is now being diluted. There is a proposal for what is called an emergency brake, whereby if one country is being overruled it can demand recourse to the Heads of Government. It can obtain permission to do this and the Heads of Government will presumably halt the process. If a country's justice Minister uses the emergency brake in the justice Ministers' Council, there is no way his or her Prime Minister can do anything other than press the matter again when it reaches the Council. This is, in effect, a reintroduction of the veto. If there is to be an emergency brake it should only be usable in the European Council by a Prime Minister. It should not be usable by anybody else anywhere else. A Minister for justice on his own, in his own Council, should not be able to use it. It should only be usable by the Head of Government at the Council on the day in question.

The Stability and Growth Pact is Deputy Quinn's and my joint achievement from the Irish Presidency of 1996. The idea of having rigid rules for economic policy is not a good one, nor is the idea that one can write down formulae dictating the right budget deficit at a given point in the economic cycle for all countries in the EU and that it can all be incorporated in a constitution — as in the case of the balanced budget amendment in the Polish constitution — or in the Stability and Growth Pact, which is an analogy to the European Union. Economics is an art, not a science — nor is it law. However, if the Heads of Government and the countries of the EU are unwilling to have an economic government, voting on economic policy by majority, there is no choice but to have something like the stability pact. The reason we have a rigid stability pact is that in 1996 none of the Governments were willing to decide that countries could decide these matters without the guidance of a rigid rule but on the basis of a majority. We were forced into rigidity because of people's timidity about allowing majority voting in this area. Some of the critics of the stability pact are getting it wrong because they do not recognise the political context in which this was negotiated. As one of the joint authors of the pact, I am the first to admit it is not a perfect document. However, if there is to be a document its rules must apply equally to everybody.


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