Tuesday, 20 January 2004
European Presidency: Statements.
Bernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
I am pleased to speak on this matter, pertinent as it is at this time. Like other speakers, I wish the Taoiseach and the Government well in pursuing the Presidency and ensuring that Ireland and the rest of Europe remain focused on the issues that require attention at this time. Hopefully, they will not be side-tracked, as suggested by one speaker, into chasing butterflies across the world in trying to resolve problems before they arise. If that were to happen our Presidency of the EU could become a farce with one photo-call after another.
This is an historic time for Europe and for the Irish Presidency. It is a formative time in the evolution of modern Europe. We do not want a reversion to the old Europe that existed at the beginning of the 20th century. We all know the lessons that, hopefully, were learned in the course of the 20th century in Europe where might overran right and time and again lessons that should have been salutary were not and targets were missed, in the course of which massive loss of life took place. We tend to forget that. Some news programmes from time to time introduce revisionism and put forward the view that the position was not that bad and that if this generation understood it a little better, we might perhaps look at these matters in a different light. That is rubbish, as we all know. One lesson we should have learned at this stage is that Europe, as it was then, failed. The new concept of Europe worked extremely well for the first 50 years of the EC, or the European Coal and Steel Community, currently the European Union. The test is whether from now onwards Europe remains cohesive and single-minded in pursuit of its original objectives. If it does not and deviates in pursuit of one member state's goals or objectives at the expense of another, therein will lie its failure and the makings of a future disaster.
I mentioned previously that an American arms manufacturer — we criticise arms manufacturers, most likely for good reason — at the turn of the previous century developed a new machine gun which was the last word in killing technology. He said to one of his colleagues that it would sell very well in Europe where they love killing each other. A commercial decision was made at the time on the basis of the market as that manufacturer identified it. He was not an idealist but saw a market for his product in Europe. Lessons must be learned from that.
A two-speed Europe has been mentioned. I fully understand that Ireland has played a major role in dictating the speed of Europe and in creating the kind of Europe we have, but some countries are impatient. I would be concerned if two of the larger states were to accelerate their speed and leave the rest behind. Therein lies a great danger, particularly having regard to European history. Where will we end up if we go back over that same old course? This is a particularly sensitive time, for some of the new member states who have sad and recent memories of alliances formed in the past to their detriment. The Irish Presidency has a duty to focus on those areas and ensure that the original concept, thought up by Adenauer, Monet and others all those years ago, of bringing Europe together with a single objective and vision, is not lost. If it were lost in pursuit of commercialism at this time, it would be a disaster.
Deputy John Bruton and others referred to the Stability and Growth Pact on which I wish to briefly dwell. The danger of allowing members states, particularly the more influential and powerful, off the hook in one area of policy cannot be allowed to happen without comment. If we allow that to happen today and ignore what needs to be done, tomorrow somebody else will do the same thing and we will be faced with the same problem. If there is a need to review the Stability and Growth Pact, it should be done officially and properly, but permission should not be given to the big boys in the class to move outside and operate at their own speed. That would not solve the problem but create another serious problem, particularly if small countries were treated in a different fashion as they have been in the past and if they envisage a likely repetition of such treatment. That is an issue the Irish Presidency must tackle and resolve, difficult though it may be.
In recent years when the Boston-Berlin debate was taking place, we heard much discussion about the necessity to defend our taxation system and not to consider entry into any area that might be covered by a Europe-wide taxation system. That argument has merit, but we should not forget that quite a number of aspects of European taxation are more beneficial to the European consumer than many aspects of the taxation system that prevails here. None of us should have the notion that we have the best and most consumer conscious system because we do not. One only needs to ask anybody in the motor business. Every so often we have seen notices in newspapers that cars will be cheaper here in the future, but that is rubbish. We have heard this before. In other European countries they are cheaper but for some unknown reason those lower prices have not yet percolated down to here. It is a bit like the case of St. Augustine — make us good, preferably sooner rather than later.
Deputy Eoin Ryan mentioned the Balkans and our likely responsibilities in this area in the future. There is no question that our Defence Forces have vast experience in that area. They have a useful contribution to make.
At some stage Ireland must stand up and be counted in the area of European security and defence, as we on this side of the House have said repeatedly. The Government must take that on board at some stage and now, during the Irish Presidency, is the time to do it. I echo, as Deputy John Bruton did, the words of the former Taoiseach, the late Seán Lemass, who said that, if we are part of the European project and have responsibilities to it, then we must be prepared to defend it as opposed to being offensive, which is a different matter. When the time comes, I hope we will examine these issues, try to put our stamp on Europe and be fair, equal, progressive and conscious of the less well-off in society.
Our society is not a great model at present, however, especially in the areas of housing, health, crime and education. One would not advertise Ireland worldwide as achieving the ultimate in progress in these areas. However, perhaps our failings in these areas will give us room to illustrate to our European colleagues the way in which we believe these issues should be dealt with.
Different speakers referred to the trafficking of human beings. With modern technology and the degree of interaction between the different EU member states and states outside the Union, I do not understand why it is so difficult to tackle modern crime. How is it possible for hardened criminals to live high on the hog in the EU? Other states seem to have difficulties extraditing criminals or getting sufficient evidence, be it the parent state in some cases or the sponsoring state in others. It should be possible to deal with these issues. It is done in less sophisticated jurisdictions so why can we not do so here? The Irish Presidency should deal with this.
The Presidency gives us a great opportunity to set out our stall as a democratic society and to welcome those states which have come in from the cold in recent times and which did not have the benefit of democracy. There will always be a sense in those applicant countries of the way it was and the way it is now. No society or system is perfect and there will be those in the applicant countries who will say that it was not as good as they thought. It is our job to ensure it is as good as they thought and to ensure that Europe evolves in a way that is positive, responsible and conscious of their needs and ours.
There are those in Ireland who talk as if every applicant state was a threat to us, which is rubbish. If we expect any society to kow-tow or lay out a red carpet for us, we are codding ourselves. It does not work this way. We live in a commercial world and must be competitive and attract investment. It is no use being a high wage economy which tilts itself at a specific segment of the market. We must be tilted towards all segments of the market. We must be prepared to encourage investment in the country to keep our people, and those who come here, at work. If we do not do so, we will fail in our job even though we have had the expertise and experience heretofore to be successful. It is important to recognise this. There is no sense in our blaming the new applicant states if we do not perform well. We must ask ourselves how we are doing, how we are marketing, whether we have changed our procedures, if we are up to date and whether we doing what others do. Every new state has the advantage of modern, state of the art technology instantly.
I wish the Presidency well and hope it is successful. It is time to light a beacon for a modern, evolving Europe and the Irish Presidency has a chance to do so. That beacon can become a focus for incoming countries and existing members of the EU. It is unfortunate that our next door neighbour, Britain, has remained on the periphery, especially on the currency issue. Other countries are in the same position. It would be hugely beneficial if the Irish Presidency could use its influence to encourage our next door neighbour into the inner circle, making it that much more effective.