Wednesday, 10 May 2006
European Communities (Amendment) Bill 2006: Second Stage.
I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
Is cúis mhór áthais dom a bheith anseo agus an Bille an-tábhachtach seo a chur faoi bhráid na Dála. Tá mé ag súil go mbeidh díospóireacht iontach againn agus spéis mhór ag mórchuid na ndaoine ann.
The Bill amends the European Communities Act of 1972, enabling certain parts of the treaty, providing for the accession of the Republic of Bulgaria and Romania to the European Union, to become part of the domestic law of this State as soon as Ireland ratifies the treaty. The content of this Bill is in line with earlier amendments of the European Communities Act 1972 through which provisions of previous EU treaties have been given domestic legal effect.
The Bill may be short but it is significant. The forthcoming accession of Bulgaria and Romania, will mark the completion of the Union's fifth and by far its largest, most ambitious and most important enlargement to date. Ireland has been positively associated with this process from its inception to its completion. Shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the communist regimes in central and eastern Europe, a special meeting of the European Council was convened in Dublin in April 1990 during the Irish Presidency. At that time, it was decided to enter into agreements with the emerging democracies in those countries. This marked the first step along a path, that has led to their EU membership.
It was a source of great pride to us that, almost 15 years later, Ireland hosted the Day of Welcomes for the ten new members states who joined the Union on 1 May 2004. This was a defining moment in the history of the Union. It was a day that will live long in the memory. However, work remained to be done. Under the Irish Presidency, accession negotiations were significantly advanced with Romania and provisionally closed with Bulgaria. So it was that Ireland assumed a lead role in completing the historic fifth enlargement.
On 13 April 2005, the accession treaty for Bulgaria and Romania was approved by the European Parliament. The treaty was later signed by Ireland, our fellow member states and the acceding countries on 25 April 2005. The passage of the Bill before the House is one of two necessary steps towards Ireland's ratification of the treaty. The House has been requested to pass a motion approving the terms of the treaty. This was referred to the Dáil select committee yesterday. Ireland's formal ratification can proceed when these two steps have been completed.
To enter into force, the treaty must be ratified by Bulgaria and Romania and by all the current EU member states by 31 December 2006. The Bulgarian and Romanian parliaments ratified the treaty in May 2005 and, since then, 14 member states have ratified it. Those yet to ratify have confirmed that they will complete the process in good time. It is important that Ireland should keep pace with our EU partners in ratifying the accession treaty.
As member states move to fulfil their obligations under the accession treaty, important work remains to be done in the two acceding countries. Today's debate comes at a crucial time for both Bulgaria and Romania. Their accession to the European Union is not in doubt and our objective is to welcome both countries as members on 1 January 2007. However, under the terms of the accession treaty, the Union could postpone the accession for one or both countries for up to a year if either is not ready to meet the requirements of membership in 2007.
A decision on the date of accession will be taken by the European Council on the basis of a recommendation from the European Commission. Its decision will be based upon the findings in the European Commission's comprehensive monitoring reports which will become available for both Bulgaria and Romania on Tuesday next. These reports will provide an objective assessment of the progress made by them and will identify any remaining shortcomings and obstacles to their early membership of the European Union.
On 3 April last, the Enlargement Commissioner, Mr. Olli Rehn, presented a preliminary assessment to the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament. At that time, he noted that many positive developments had taken place in both countries since the Commission's last reports in October 2005. He commended both countries on their achievements so far as part of their democratic and economic transformation. However, he indicated that the forthcoming monitoring report would focus on some important areas where further reform is still required.
In particular, significant progress will need to be made in judicial reform and the fight against corruption. In Romania, the focus in these areas is very much on consolidating the steps already taken and ensuring that the pace of implementation is maintained. On Bulgaria, Commissioner Rehn noted that judicial accountability, efficiency and transparency needed to be enhanced. The structures supporting the fight against corruption and organised crime are seen as being in need of further reinforcement. The adoption, however, of important constitutional amendments in late March and of a new penal procedural code on 29 April represent encouraging steps. These positive developments will require solid implementation leading to tangible results in the months before accession.
Commissioner Rehn touched on other issues of common concern in respect of both countries. Bulgaria and Romania both need to continue their efforts to combat the trafficking of human beings and to step up the integration of minorities. They must ensure that their administrative structures can cope with EU Structural and Cohesion Funds and they need to address some outstanding concerns in the field of agriculture. Most crucially, however, Commissioner Rehn emphasised that the target of accession in 2007 remains achievable for both Bulgaria and Romania so long as the necessary reforms are completed and implemented. Both countries are clearly committed to maintaining the pace of reform and they are being encouraged to make full use of the time available to them to address those issues highlighted by the Commission.
As the date of accession approaches, it is easy to focus only on what remains to be done. However, one should never lose sight of what has already been achieved by these countries. The task of negotiating and agreeing the terms of membership has been a mammoth one. It involved alignment with tens of thousands of pages of EU legislation. In the process, Bulgaria and Romania were required to make difficult economic choices and brave political decisions. The transition in both countries from the oppressive and corrupt regimes of the communist era to the functioning democracies they are today has been nothing short of spectacular. The speed and conviction with which this has been achieved is a reflection of the commitment in both countries to the values and ideals shared by all member states. The prospect of EU membership has been a major driver of political and economic change. In the course of the accession negotiations and in the intervening period, Bulgaria and Romania have emphatically shown that their true place lies within the European Union. They have been attending all EU meetings for more than a year now and contributing to debates at all levels. They are, in practice, already very much part of the European Union.
Their comparatively rapid transition, reflects positively on the Union's enlargement strategy. It must be doubted whether their advancement would have been quite as rapid or as profound without the lure of EU membership. Throughout the process, the EU has worked closely with them, measuring their efforts against the exacting conditions of membership. For our part, Ireland carefully monitored the entire process, especially the conduct of the accession negotiations in policy areas of particular significance to us such as agriculture, regional policy and institutional questions.
Ireland has taken a constructive approach to helping both countries with their preparations for EU membership. As major beneficiaries of the first EU enlargement, we have had much experience to share with our future EU partners, especially in areas such as ensuring the optimum use of Structural and Cohesion Funds. The Government has allocated over €1 million annually for the provision of training and assistance to the candidate and acceding states. This has been money well spent. Our accession training programme has provided real benefits to the beneficiary countries and has proved to be an effective way of building up new contacts which will serve to benefit both sides when we work together as full partners within the European Union.
As both Bulgaria and Romania have progressed towards membership, our bilateral relations with them have deepened considerably. New embassies were opened in Sofia and Bucharest last year and we have seen notable increases in bilateral trade in recent years. These may be relatively less developed countries but both have considerable growth potential. For example, trade with Romania increased from less than €5 million in 1992 to over €175 million last year. Trade with Bulgaria has multiplied more than eightfold since 1994. Last year alone, trade with Romania increased by 75%, while trade with Bulgaria showed an 11% rise. The number of Irish tourists travelling to Bulgaria doubled in 2005 and that trend is set to continue.
As can be seen from these figures, we are learning to engage more fully with two countries with which our traditional links have been very modest. There is clearly considerable scope for further mutually beneficial interaction with them in the future. I would expect them to grow in importance as economic partners for Ireland once they settle into the EU and begin to reap the benefits of membership.
Although the fifth enlargement has pushed Europe's geographical boundaries further from us, we are satisfied that our economy possesses the strength and vigour to take full advantage of the opportunities provided by a Union of 27 member states. Moreover, a stable and unified Europe is in our best interests. The spread of characteristic EU values and standards throughout Europe is a major achievement and is something from which Ireland manifestly benefits.
The free movement of workers has proven to be one of the most sensitive issues surrounding the fifth enlargement of the Union. In 2004, most of the EU-15 chose to maintain restrictions on workers from the ten new member states. Ireland was one of only three countries to fully open its labour market to the EU-10, with Sweden and the United Kingdom. It is a pity that more countries did not follow Ireland's lead in this respect. We are proud of our positive attitude and of the success that has been achieved.
As a result of Ireland's decision to facilitate the free movement of workers, the number of nationals working in Ireland from the EU-10 rose dramatically to reach an estimated 2% of the working age population in 2005. While this has been a novel experience for Ireland, as we have no history of inward migration on this scale, the effects have been positive for the most part. In particular, there has been little or no negative impact on unemployment, which remains at a historically low level. The availability of workers from the new member states has helped our economy to sustain strong growth rates. Concerns have been expressed about possible exploitation of migrant workers and there is unanimous agreement that such abuses must not be tolerated.
Earlier this year, the European Commission published a report on the functioning of the European labour market following the accession of the ten new member states. It showed that labour mobility is conditioned not so much by the restrictions put in place by governments but by the demand for labour in the receiving states. In other words, workers from the new member states come to Ireland because there are jobs available and not because there is no requirement for them to have a work permit. In light of the Commission's findings, it is disappointing that only four other countries have chosen to join Ireland in fully opening up their labour markets from 1 May last. I hope the remaining member states will decide to follow suit before too long.
The European Commission has observed that Ireland, Sweden and the UK have experienced better employment performance than those who maintained restrictions. Our decision in 2004 to open up our labour market was taken on the basis of a combination of practical and moral considerations. Our economy needed an increased workforce, but we also felt a need to be supportive of people who had experienced many decades of economic and political hardship. We could clearly remember a time when Ireland was a less fortunate place than it is today, a time when emigration cast a sombre shadow over Irish society.
While Ireland took a decision to facilitate the free movement of workers in 2004, I wish to make it plain that the Bill before the Dáil today does not prejudge Ireland's decision on whether to allow Bulgarian and Romanian workers to enter our labour market without work permits. This decision will be taken closer to the date of accession and will be based on full consideration of all the relevant issues. The prevailing labour market conditions and the intentions of our fellow member states will be among the factors to be taken into consideration when arriving at this decision.
It is sometimes argued that the Union's post-Cold War enlargement, of which the accession of Bulgaria and Romania forms part, has been achieved at the expense of the Union's coherence and against the interests of its existing members. This is not the case. Last week, the European Commission presented a paper to the Council entitled, Enlargement, two years after — an Economic Success, which sets aside the political-strategic dimension of the last enlargement and focuses on its economic impact. Overall, the paper shows that the recent enlargement has created the conditions for the whole European economy to become stronger and more dynamic. Europe's strength as a trading bloc has been increased and it is now better equipped to face stiffening global competition. There has been steady economic growth and a significant increase in trade. The emerging market economies have added new vitality to the financial sector.
The paper also addresses the fears commonly held in the EU-15 that companies would choose to relocate to the new member states in search of more competitive labour. The Commission's paper concludes that while there has been a substantial increase in investment from the EU-15 in the new member states, this has largely occurred in the context of privatisation programmes and new, fast-growing markets which are being serviced as a result of new opportunities. It has not to any great extent involved the transfer of activities previously carried out in the home country.
Moreover, it appears to be the case that the labour market skills in the new member states broadly complement those of the EU-15. As a result, the outsourcing of parts of the production process to the new member states has often allowed firms in the EU-15 to strengthen their competitive edge, resulting in a net favourable impact on employment. Recent research in the EU-15 has indicated that relocation to the east has accounted for less than 2% of the overall annual job turnover.
It is clear that the fifth enlargement has brought new economic dynamism into the European Union. By and large, the economies of the new member states are growing more robustly than those of the EU-15. Average GDP per capita in the EU-10 has grown from 44% of the EU-15 level in 1997 to 50% in 2005. The EU-10 have very open economies in which trade represents 93% of GDP, compared to the EU-15 average of 55%. Nevertheless, the EU-15 continue to run a large trade surplus with the EU-10. A number of the new member states are already planning to join the euro in the coming years.
Last year, the prophets of doom had a field day at the expense of the European Union. First, there was the rejection of the EU constitution in France and the Netherlands and then the June European Council failed to agree the Union's budget for 2007-13. It was gleefully argued by some that a Union of 25 had overstretched itself fatally and was destined for institutional paralysis and, possibly, ultimate dissolution. Enlargement was widely seen as the culprit on both fronts.
Happily, the Union's horizons have brightened considerably in the interim and the challenge of enlargement can now be seen in a more positive light. In December last, the European Council agreed a budgetary package amounting to €860 billion over a seven-year period. This means that the enlarged Union now has the budgetary resources to support its key policies, notably in agriculture and economic and social cohesion which will benefit the new member states. This will afford them the opportunities from which Ireland has profited so richly during the past three decades of our EU membership. The EU's 2004 enlargement represented a win-win situation in which the enlarged Union is a stronger Union. I expect the accession of Bulgaria and Romania ultimately to strengthen us also.
Any discussion of the accession of Bulgaria and Romania inevitably raises broader issues about EU enlargement. Ireland is in an ideal position from which to survey the pros and cons of enlargement. After all, we were part of the EU's first intake in 1973 and have witnessed several subsequent stages as the Union extended itself successively to the south, the north and the east.
When Ireland joined the European Community in 1973, it was the poorest Community country and among the least developed in Western Europe. Many Europeans at the time saw Ireland as an odd man out and an outpost of economic under-achievement in a Union of wealthy, advanced societies. At home it was argued that we would be structurally incapable of living with the competition from our highly developed neighbours. In 1972, the common sense of a great mass of people dismissed the scare stories of the pessimists, who favoured isolation over active engagement, with more than 80% voting "Yes" for EC membership.
At that time it was suggested that Irish culture was doomed to extinction. How could the seemingly fragile plants of our distinctive traditions in music, literature and art survive the relentless European forces to which they would be subjected? More than three decades later, our culture has never been more vibrant. From 2007 onwards, Irish will become an official and working language of the European Union. By embracing the values of the wider world, we have grown in confidence and national stature. Our writers, musicians, dancers and artists play to a global audience and combine critical acclaim with popular success. It is clear, on reflection, that the pessimists sorely underestimated the ability of the people to cope with what Europe had to offer. They were, however, correct in one sense in that they predicted that Ireland would be transformed beyond anyone's wildest imaginings, which has been the case. Even those who most ardently supported the European project could hardly have dared hope that Ireland would, in a little more than three decades, become the vibrant, prosperous, future-oriented place it is today. This is the destiny to which the peoples of Bulgaria and Romania rightly aspire with our full support.
It is not my purpose to pretend that everything in the intervening period has been plain sailing. Few, however, could doubt that joining the EC has provided an indispensable framework for Ireland's emergence as a successful modern European economy. Membership will act in a similar manner as a catalyst for Bulgaria and Romania in their future development. While Ireland's record within the EU has been an undoubted success story, it is just part of a wider European achievement. Despite the setbacks surrounding the ratification of the EU Constitution, today's EU is a very different entity from the one Ireland joined in 1973. It has an internal market in which goods and services flow freely and the euro is a well established currency shared by 12 EU countries, with more to join in the coming years. Perhaps, most significantly, the Union has 25 members, including countries that were still military dictatorships or communist autocracies only a generation ago.
EU enlargement, therefore, has transformed the Union and has helped to transform Europe. In the process, Europe has become a much better place in which to live than it ever could have been during the dark years of the Cold War or in the heyday of Franco, Salazar and the Greek colonels. While Europe has experienced more recent traumas in the Balkans, these are also being addressed actively and the EU is playing a significant role in promoting peace and stability in the region. As it has developed and expanded, the Union has become increasingly respected as a force for peace, security and prosperity in Europe and throughout the world. The desire of many of our neighbours to join is a testimony to the success of a great visionary experiment that evolved from such modest beginnings in the 1950s. Meanwhile, its critics have oscillated between, on the one hand, deriding the notion of greater European unity as hopelessly utopian and, on the other, sounding the alarm about sinister plots to deprive Europeans of their sovereign rights.
As we complete the Union's fifth enlargement, it is critical that we show the same faith in the future of Europe as earlier generations. It is imperative that we do not become disheartened by the inevitable setbacks that crop up from time to time. It is in the nature of things that periods of optimism and progress will be interspersed with moments of doubt and stagnation. We are living in the aftermath of last year's negative referendum results in both France and the Netherlands. While fears about enlargement were a contributory factor in these results, we should resist the temptation of ascribing the outcome solely to that factor. The question of enlargement is a sideshow in the bigger picture of the challenges that confront Europe in the period ahead. The global scene is undergoing a period of rapid change. Europe needs to face up to a range of issues, including the threat of terrorism, the energy crisis, the dangers of climate change, the aging of Europe's population and the dramatic rise of new economic powerhouses such as China, India and Brazil. Consideration of enlargement needs to be viewed against this more expansive backdrop.
The five previous enlargements have, in their turn, given the Union a new energy and a renewed ability to deal purposefully with changing agendas and emerging challenges. Each enlargement has increased its global weight. This needs to be borne in mind when we look to the future. Those who imagine that we can retreat to the certainties of a mythical past are sorely mistaken. We cannot rely on past glories and must deal with the realities that lie ahead. The Union is part of the solution to Europe's needs and a failure by the EU to come to terms with the dynamics transforming the world economy could result in increasing marginalisation. We must be careful that our horizons are not obscured by excessive navel-gazing and undue negativity. Europe's future is there to be shaped and there are important arguments to be won.
With the completion of the Union's fifth enlargement, our minds inevitably turn towards Europe's outstanding commitments. Accession negotiations have opened with Croatia while the other countries of the western Balkans have the prospect of eventual EU membership, although this is still a long way off. Negotiations are also under way with Turkey, although it may take a decade or more for them to meet all the criteria for membership. It is natural that doubts should arise about enlargement. Much work needs to be done before new members can be accommodated following the accession of Bulgaria and Romania. In the meantime, the Union needs to prove its worth and offer EU citizens a clear strategy for future enlargement. If Union membership is to be further extended, it will need to acquire the economic, political and institutional wherewithal to make this possible. The public will have to be convinced that a further expansion of membership will bring benefits akin to those generated by previous enlargements.
The careful preparation of the Union's most recent enlargement was a key factor in its success. As a result, the EU's most ambitious and symbolic enlargement was also its best prepared. The "big bang" did not result in a catastrophic crash. There is an important lesson in this, as we turn our minds towards the Union's future strategy. Concerns about the functioning of the institutions, worries about the Internal Market and fears about the Union's budget have been part and parcel of every enlargement process. Each time the EU has confounded its detractors and learned to succeed with a larger number of members. The original design for Europe was a Union of six members. As far back as 2001, with the launch of the European Convention, it was recognised that an enlarged Union would need to adjust its workings to ensure it could continue to function effectively. The European constitution was a product of an open, transparent and inclusive negotiating process and it provided for carefully calibrated reforms, designed to meet the demands and needs of an expanded Union.
The House will be more than familiar with this Government's position on the EU constitution. The provisions of the European constitution represent the best option for creating a more efficient and effective Union capable of meeting the challenges of enlargement and a rapidly changing world. It offers a blueprint for a Union, with structures updated to take account of its increased membership. No alternative proposal could come close to commanding the unanimous support of all member states. In this connection, I warmly welcome yesterday's ratification of the constitution by Estonia. It became the fifteenth member state to complete the ratification process and it was highly appropriate that it chose to do so on Europe Day. With regard to enlargement, the Union will need to reconcile the misgivings that clearly exist with its obligation to honour existing commitments and to take account of its obligations towards its fellow Europeans.
There is much to debate. Ireland has profited from enlargement and we have been consistent in our support for all those wishing to accede to the Union. The Government recognises the opportunities of membership and believes these should be extended to others. Our immediate concern is to complete the fifth enlargement and to welcome two new members to the Union. We have an obligation to ratify the accession treaty by the end of this year and this deadline applies regardless of whether the date of accession is 1 January 2007 or a year later. The Bill will enable Ireland to ratify the treaty and will help to pave the way for a Union of 27 member states.
Bulgaria and Romania suffered greatly as a consequence of Europe's past divisions. It is completely fitting that they should become Members of the European Union. Their accession will complete the Union's post-Cold War enlargement and this represents a major historic achievement for Europe, one in which Ireland has played a proud role, especially during its 2004 Presidency. The time has come to welcome them back into the European family where they belong. In the years ahead, I am confident they will benefit from membership and contribute to the Union, as Ireland has done for the past 33 years. I am also confident both Bulgaria and Romania will enhance the European Union in the years ahead.
As a representative of a pro-European and pro-enlargement party, I fully support the provisions in this Bill. When we deal with this Bill, we must look at the background and its context. The referenda in France and in the Netherlands were a shock to the system. However, the results represented a warning signal that we could not take the people of Europe for granted. It was rightly decided to have a period of reflection, but I wonder whether we are reaching out to those people who have worries about the future of Europe and the direction it is taking. We should not have a smug attitude. We should not lecture people on how good we are doing in Europe. We should listen to their concerns and deal with them as they arise.
It is not a matter of glossy magazines, brochures or a single information campaign. We must convince European citizens that the issues we confront on their behalf will improve their quality of life and their standard of living. We must turn the European Union into a more democratic framework, ready to communicate with citizens and to deal with them in a realistic way, rather than in a patronising manner. Events of recent months have improved things and some of the decisions made relating to the EU budget, to European technology and to energy policy show that the European Union is on track despite the reversals. However, there is still a problem of communication and democracy. During the reflection period, we must listen to our citizens, our social partners, all of the political parties — irrespective of their opinions about Europe — the national Parliament and the local authorities, without prejudging the outcome of the dialogue and the debate.
Listening to the people I represent in Cork, I hear many things that concern me. If we had held a referendum in the past six months, I am not too sure that we would not have reached the same decision as that of the French and the Dutch. There are issues that worry people at the moment, such as the loss of industrial jobs on a weekly basis. People are equating that loss with a move of industry from the west to the east in the new Europe. It is not relevant whether people are right; we need to address their worries. The farming community, rightly or wrongly, believes that Europe is eroding its livelihood through the nitrates directive and other directives. People also question the ability of the EU to absorb enlargement to 25 and 27 states. I was in Macedonia a few weeks ago with the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and the people there feel it is only a matter of having an election in July and they will then be on board for further enlargement. The issue of Turkey will also be very difficult. People have concerns and the worst thing to do is to lecture them. We must listen and deal with those fears, explaining that such fears are groundless.
This Bill which amends the European Communities Act 1972 to allow for the accession of Romania and Bulgaria to the European Union, is important. These two countries have been moving ever closer to membership of our Union in recent years, and have been taking steps to ensure that they will be ready to assume the responsibilities of membership when the time comes. This enlargement follows the historic enlargement which took place on 1 May 2004, when ten new member states joined the European Union. Recent reports from the European Commission indicated that the economic benefits that have accrued to these member states through their membership of the Union have also been echoed in other states such as Ireland. These reports confirm that the decision to allow the citizens from the ten member states the freedom to travel to work in Ireland has paid dividends to both Ireland and to these new member states.
Fine Gael has always been a pro-European and pro-enlargement party. The enlargement of the European Union offers Ireland, as well as all EU member states, considerable opportunities. By spreading the economic prosperity and stability of the EU throughout Europe more widely, the continued stability and growth from which we have benefited can be enhanced and maintained. Without any shadow of a doubt, Ireland has benefited hugely from membership of the European Union, economically, socially, and politically. Ireland's membership of a common market for goods and services has been critical in our recent successes, and following the last EU enlargement Irish exporters have had open access to new markets in ten European countries, allowing access to tens of millions of consumers.
Our membership of the Single Market has been the main factor in encouraging foreign direct investment — notably from the United States — upon which the Celtic tiger was founded. We have less than 1% of the EU population yet a quarter of all American investment in the EU is in Ireland. Those firms would not be in Ireland if it was not a part of the EU. Ireland's exports of goods and services amount to approximately 90% of GDP, a high proportion by international standards. The EU Single Market has allowed our export trade to grow and to diversify. It has weakened the traditional over-dependence upon a small number of markets which hampered growth so much in the past. In January 2006, Irish exports were worth more than €7 billion. This amounted to an increase of more than €700 million since January 2005. The value of Irish exports to a number of the newer EU member states showed strong growth over that 12 month period, especially to the Czech Republic and to Poland. The enlargement of the European Union enlarges the Single Market area. As a nation heavily reliant upon export markets, this is good news for Ireland as long as we seize the opportunities that enlargement presents.
Ireland's membership of the European Union is about much more than simple economics. Citizens of all member states continue to benefit from membership. The EU has been successful as a guarantor of rights and freedoms and we possess rights as EU citizens as well as Irish citizens. Irish people have not only benefited from the freedom to travel, work, reside and use a single currency throughout the EU, but also from recognition of their qualifications by other member states. Ireland's membership of the EU has helped us to challenge the inequalities that were endemic to our society. The principle that we are all equal, regardless of sex, has been advanced. The EU continues to bring forward equality directives designed to combat discrimination on the grounds of racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation.
Ireland's membership of the EU has also helped us to realise our environment must be protected and that economic development can no longer equal environmental destruction. Substantial Structural and Cohesion Funds have helped to finance investment in infrastructure, education and training and in the production sector. EU reforms in areas such as deregulation have transformed the marketplace by helping to expand our economy and increase the value of our exports. These are tangible benefits which affect all of us on a daily basis and we should be aware of them.
When considering the course Ireland should take with regard to the European Union in future referenda, our citizens should consider these real benefits in making decisions on future treaties. Public benefits from Ireland's membership of the EU have not automatically accrued overnight. These benefits flow from the adoption of European treaties and the transposition of directives into Irish law. Unfortunately, the Irish Government lags behind other member states in this area. For example, the latest edition of the Internal Market scoreboard, a report which rates the speed at which EU member states implement Internal Market directives, ranks Ireland an unimpressive 19th for compliance out of the 25 EU member states.
The Minister of State should not raise matters of history. We are looking to the future. Ireland is one of eight EU member states that have not met the targets they were set for the implementation of Internal Market directives and faces 51 separate legal cases arising from its failure to adopt legislation in this important area. Over the second half of 2005, the Government's performance in the implementation of Internal Market directives deteriorated and Ireland was specifically called upon to take steps to address this unacceptable situation.
Irish people are losing out because of the Government's lackadaisical approach to EU directives. Some directives are long overdue for transposition, including directives pertaining to health and safety requirements — an issue which only yesterday brought people onto the streets of Dublin — engine pollution and emissions, as well as directives which could drive down the price of gas and electricity for consumers. At a time when energy prices are increasing, these directives should be transposed quickly and effectively. The delays must be addressed and the problem acknowledged.
We should also recognise that the European constitution will deliver benefits for Ireland and other EU member states. Enhancing the role of national parliaments in the European decision making process makes sense and the incorporation of the Charter of Fundamental Rights as a key European treaty is welcome. The Minister of State should clarify the current position and indicate whether he is confident that a way through the current impasse can be found.
Returning to the question of enlargement, Romania and Bulgaria are the next states to join the EU. It is clear these countries, as with all applicant countries, must meet the criteria for entry. These criteria, commonly referred to as the Copenhagen criteria, stress that applicant countries must meet three key requirements before membership can be extended. Applicant countries must demonstrate that they have a functioning market economy, that the rule of democracy and respect for human rights and the rights of minorities is upheld and that they can meet the legislative standards and requirements put on all members of the EU. These three criteria are vitally important and must be applied equally and fairly in all cases. Reports suggest that the European Commissioner for Enlargement, Mr. Olli Rehn, may delay until autumn his announcement regarding the timeframe for accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the EU. I acknowledge the considerable work that has been done by both countries to prepare for membership but the Commissioner's concerns regarding the strength of organised crime and reform of the judiciary in Bulgaria will have to be addressed.
Last week, members of the Joint Committee on European Affairs had the pleasure of meeting the ambassador from Bulgaria, Mrs. Benisheva, who outlined her view of the situation. Some members raised concerns about aspects of Mrs. Benisheva's presentation and questioned her on issues such as the rights of minorities and the independence of the judiciary. I inquired about the regulations in place to govern the operations of banks and financial institutions in the context of the allegations of money laundering which had been made last year. I also raised concerns about a number of outdated nuclear installations which need to be safely decommissioned but I did not receive a clear response on that from Mrs. Benisheva. As the EU may be forced to inherit the enormous cost of decommissioning the installations, I would like to have that matter followed up because, although my concerns may be found to be groundless, they were not addressed by the ambassador. However, I compliment her on the clarity she brought to other aspects of her contribution and hope we can say "yes" to Bulgaria and Romania at the earliest possible date.
I missed the Romanian ambassador's presentation, as I was discussing related matters in Macedonia when she attended the Joint Committee on European Affairs. The attitude in Macedonia is that, if the country holds an open and democratic election in July and addresses its ethnic divisions in a democratic manner, its path to membership is all but assured. I would welcome a country such as Macedonia if it passes the litmus test for entry. It is a small and historic nation which has been torn by ethnic tensions over the years and has suffered a great deal from the economic embargo recently imposed by Greece but its people are full of hope and ambition. They have crossed hurdles such as an earthquake in 1963 which levelled the capital, Skopje. I hope the Bulgaria-Romania expansion and Macedonia's application will be considered.
The western Balkans must be addressed. The question is whether one should balance the problems that enlargement will have for the structural absorption factors against peace and stability in the Balkans. Once Croatia can deal with the issues raised and has dealt with the war criminal, it would be in our long-term interest to deal with that. We must lead and bring our people with us and convince them that an expanded, strong European Union is in their interests.
As I said about Bulgaria and Romania, membership brings responsibilities to the European Union and to the citizens of all member states. We are focused on the steps being taken in prospective member states such as Bulgaria and Romania in their moves to meet the criteria for entry but are not as critical of our own responsibilities. For example, the Irish Government has allowed Ireland to be the only EU member state in which human trafficking is not a crime. We saw "Prime Time" on Monday night and one question that occurred to me was how young people from a non-EU state, targets for the sex trade and victims of human trafficking, got through the security and passport controls at the boundaries of the State. I would like to see the status and definition of human trafficking as a criminal act addressed in our legislation. Failing to categorise it as a crime is an abdication of our responsibilities to women here, in all member states and outside the EU. While there are proposals for all sorts of legislation, this is one of the most basic. It is not Deputy Treacy's responsibility. However, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, who seems to have an answer to everything, should have an answer to this most basic principle.
A decision must be made on the level of free movement granted by individual member states to the citizens of Bulgaria and Romania upon accession. I stated earlier, and recent reports from the European Commission confirm, that the move to allow citizens of the ten accession States freedom to work and live in Ireland brought with it considerable benefits, for us and for them. That was outlined in the good document on migration that we discussed earlier, albeit over a limited period. I remain disappointed, however, that other EU member states still retain work restrictions for people from these states and I acknowledge that this situation will have to be considered by Ireland when it reaches its decision later this year. Can the Minister clarify when the decision will be taken whether to allow citizens of Romania and Bulgaria the freedom to work in Ireland and what that decision is likely to be? One of the concepts we must impress on some of the stronger states in the EU is that they have responsibilities to abide by the fundamental principles of the EU: they are, the right to work and the freedom to move from state to state. We have adhered to our responsibilities and I hope we can continue to do so in the context of the accession of Romania and Bulgaria. I would like the Minister to address that in more detail in his response.
I, too, welcome and fully support the Bill. I noted the Minister's upbeat, stirring and rhetorical remarks. He is positive towards Europe. Many of us who were previously Euro-sceptics have seen the significant benefits of EU membership for Irish citizens, producing a better quality of life and economy and general improvements for the country. That must be acknowledged and should be the context in which we examine the contents of this legislation in which we propose to ratify the accession treaty to begin the statutory process to allow Bulgaria and Romania access to the European Union.
EU membership has been enormously beneficial for Ireland. It provided Ireland for the first time in its history with a secure and diverse market which allowed an island nation, which had to export to survive, to get prices that reflected the real value of its products. It provided structural and social funding, which underwrote many of our training and education programmes. It gave women equality in the workplace and before the law. The recent difficulties on the Nice treaty and the proposed constitution reflect not dissatisfaction with Ireland's membership of the EU but concerns among our citizens that the European project lacked transparency and accountability in its decision making, that it was becoming over bureaucratic in its structures and was not providing sufficient information to the citizens. The present "period of reflection" is important, and the national forum on Europe, an Irish invention, is doing sterling work bringing the European issues to people throughout the country.
Romania and Bulgaria await entry to the EU in 2007 and today we, as member states, are taking the first statutory step towards ratification of that accession. There should be no delay in granting that accession next year as the logical extension to the ten member states that joined in 2004 when Ireland held the presidency of the EU. The period of reflection should continue and all member states should establish the equivalent of our national forum on Europe, so that when the European movement advances again, it has a well-informed membership whose fears have been allayed and who are confident that the democratic deficit has been redressed.
Concern has been expressed that the European Commission is trying to delay the entry on 1 January next year. Speaking in the European Parliament yesterday the president of the Party of European Socialists said:
Bulgaria and Romania should enter the European Union in 2007 and I am concerned by claims circulating in Brussels that Bulgaria might not make it. Bulgaria must not become the victim of a right-wing anti-enlargement backlash. It would be grossly unfair on the new Bulgarian Government, led by Sergei Stanichev, which has passed a remarkable 60 laws in the eight months that it has been in office. A rejection or delay for Bulgaria would merely fuel the vicious anti-EU, anti-foreigner, anti-minority campaigns led by the populist Attaka. Bulgaria is the Balkan success story achieving stability and economic growth in an unstable region, now largely in need of massive reconstruction. Both countries have made remarkable progress [Bulgaria and Romania] and both have more progress to make. They are both more likely to make that progress within the European Union than being pushed back out of it. So I expect the Commission to give the green light to both countries to become EU members from 1 January 2007. Any post-accession monitoring or safeguard clauses must be based on further evaluation in the coming months and be agreed at the Council meeting in December and in talks with Romania and Bulgaria. I say the European Union must say "come inside" to Bulgaria and Romania.
That reflects my views. Bulgaria has made significant progress in a short space of time, particularly with its new government, and it would be a shame if it were not allowed to join at the same time as Romania. This process is essentially an extension of the one that led to the accession of ten countries on 1 May 2004. The fifth enlargement process should be completed in 2007.
Commissioner Olli Rehn, to whom the Minister of State referred, completed his report on enlargement in 2006 and acknowledged that both Romania and Bulgaria had achieved quite a lot. He stated Romania has made progress in the fight against corruption and that reform of the judicial system is at an advanced stage. Non-governmental organisations acknowledge that much has been achieved in the area of child protection and rights for the disabled. Mr. Rehn also stated that while there are still problems in Bulgaria, it is clear that progress has been made in the area of human trafficking. As we have heard, both countries have problems with human trafficking. Mr. Rehn concluded as follows: "We all win as the citizens in the new Member States see their standards of living increasing."
When Bulgaria and Romania join the Union — I hope it will be in 2007 — the Union will have a population of approximately 484 million, 30 million more than it has now. It will also increase its membership to 27 and add two more official languages, namely, Bulgarian and Romanian. The Bulgarian language will be the first official language of the European Union to be written in Cyrillic script. This is another first for the Union.
Let me list the main advantages of enlargement, which the Commission presented in its report of April of this year. The newcomers will accrue an increasing number of benefits from EU regional aid, which totalled €28 billion over the past 15 years and which is bound to soar thanks to the recently approved EU budget for 2007-13. This will be a major boost to the economies of both countries. The existing members of the Union will continue to benefit from the large surpluses in trade with the newcomers and the latter will easily finance the resulting current account gap by foreign direct investment.
The Minister of State referred to the increase in trade between Ireland and Romania in recent years. It amounted to less than €5 million in 1992 and to over €175 million last year. Trade with Bulgaria has multiplied more than eightfold since 1994 and there has been great emphasis on tourism in that country. I have no doubt that Irish tourists, property developers and home or villa purchasers will be heading to Bulgaria and Romania, just as they went to some of the ten countries that acceded to the Union in 2004.
By opening up opportunities for legal work in the pre-2004 member states, the 2004 enlargement has helped reduce the grey economy and black labour market. Legal workers are less prone to exploitation and poor labour standards, and they also pay taxes and make social security contributions.
The European Union requires the new member states to adopt its health, safety and other labour standards, thus improving working conditions for people in those countries and contributing to fair competition between companies. There is no evidence that enlargement has caused any serious social dumping. On the contrary, through enlargement, harmonised social standards are slowly but surely spreading across the Union.
Enlargement enables the EU to extend its police and justice co-operation to the new member states, thus making the fight against crime and terrorism more effective. The more EU members integrate their crime-fighting efforts with their neighbours, the better they can protect European citizens.
Security and justice are areas in which the European Union can clearly do more to protect its citizens than any one country alone. The Union has developed police, customs and judicial co-operation to tackle terrorism, organised crime, drugs, trafficking in human beings and illegal migration. These developments are now part of the common rules that all member states must apply.
Co-operation with Romania and Bulgaria in recent years and co-operation with Turkey, which is engaged in talks with the Union, has involved many educational institutions. There has been much participation in programmes such as the SOCRATES programme in universities and schools. Adult education institutions are involved in exchanges of policy and modes of practice through ERASMUS, COMENIUS and GRUNDTVIG. Such co-operation has been very beneficial to Irish teachers and students. There is a substantial level of exchange involving schools doing projects on the Internet, groups of three or four schools working together and teachers and pupils participating in exchange programmes. In this context, the European project has begun regarding Bulgaria and Romania. The teachers and students of these countries are already visiting Ireland and communicating with the Irish over the Internet, and they are also engaged in joint projects. These developments are very helpful in improving the relationships between the various member states.
People have questioned whether we look towards Berlin or Boston and sought to determine Ireland's commitment to social and economic values. Those of us who grew up in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s or 1980s will know that in those decades, the Irish by and large looked to England or the United States and that had been the case for a century theretofore. However, that was not always the case. The Vikings, in addition to coming to Ireland, crossed the Danube and went as far as Turkey. The first contact with what is now the United States was by St. Brendan. In spite of his having done so, Ireland has generally looked towards Europe. It was known as the island of saints and scholars and it placed great emphasis on education and scholarship, which it transmitted to Europe during the Dark Ages and Middle Ages. Those involved in the Flight of the Earls or the Wild Geese went to Europe for assistance, resulting in the Spanish Armada.
Looking to Europe was the trend until the famine in the middle of the 19th century. Why did the Irish turn their eyes from Europe at that time? They had no choice because famines beset much of the rest of Europe also. The Swedes, Danes, Poles and others were also fleeing their countries because of famines of varying severity. In very recent times there has been a very significant refocusing on Europe. Historically, Ireland has always looked east more than west and this must be taken into consideration in determining where our future lies.
Since 1972, the benefits of membership of the European Union have accrued to Ireland. When we consider the accession of Bulgaria and Romania, we bear in mind, perhaps while wearing rose-tinted glasses, what has been achieved by Ireland. We note the enormous transfer of €35 billion in CAP funding alone, not to mention social and infrastructural funds. All these moneys benefited Ireland greatly, including in terms of education and training. One should remember that throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Ireland was a basket case in terms of employment and it had not made much progress in the areas I have mentioned. There was very little investment in the country at that stage but we emerged from that period with a bang in the late 1980s and early 1990s. This momentum was provided by infrastructure, training, education, funding and investment by companies seeking a stepping stone to Europe. These factors will have a bearing on the new accession states, poor eastern European countries formerly of the Soviet bloc, that have sent sons and daughters to this country, more so from Romania than Bulgaria. We should look at what is happening in a positive light. We had fears about migration in 2004 when ten new countries joined the EU and only Ireland, Sweden and Britain allowed free access to the workplace.
Interesting figures provided by the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, show that 3% of the workforce consists of those from the ten new accession countries. This is slightly different to the figure of 2% provided by the Minister of State. Some 9% of the workforce is made up of non-nationals and two thirds of these are not from the new accession countries. The Minister stated that only 62,000 of the 135,000 who entered our workforce in 2004 are still here. Some 73,000 workers have returned home or gone elsewhere. The pattern of migratory activity is cyclical and perhaps these workers have moved to another EU state. The projected growth in the economy is 4.6% to 5%, which allows for an additional 60,000 workers. If ten countries have provided 62,000 workers over the past two years and the optimistic growth projection is 5%, providing for 60,000 workers annually, we should scarcely be afraid of two new countries with a combined population of 30 million. This is in contrast to the population of Poland which is 45 million.
Based on this analysis we should not be unduly worried about displacement in the workplace or a race to the bottom. Commissioner McCreevy's social directive has been amended, making it more difficult for firms from other countries to usurp the standards, values and conditions of the workplace in the host country. I wish to see the effect of the accession of ten new member states clearly identified before the autumn. The National Economic and Social Council is conducting a survey on the management of migration. It is important to separate myth from reality and it is important that the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment can publish statistics on those coming here from accession countries. Are these people coming for a month as students? Why do they not stay longer if they are entitled to do so? Is it true that those from the accession countries make up between 2% and 3% of the workforce?
The downside of migration is trafficking, drugs, crime and the number of accidents on our roads. The number of those from Eastern Europe involved in serious accidents is disproportionately high. This must be examined and addressed. As an island nation we should be more protected from criminal activity, such as drugs, trafficking and the increased proliferation of weapons but the sea is no barrier to the arrival of such elements. Many weapons in this country are of Eastern European origin as well as some from Northern Ireland. Much of the trafficking of drugs, women and children to Ireland comes from accession countries and beyond.
There have been attempts to increase co-operation between the police forces but it has not been entirely successful and must be examined closely. When I was the Labour Party spokesperson on justice I saw a number of directives of this nature considered as well as legislation from Europe. The reality is that police forces do not operate in a sufficiently coherent and co-operative fashion. I refer to the "Prime Time Investigates" programme in which we saw some of the extent of the trafficking problem.
I welcome the two new countries that are close to joining. They are part of the fifth enlargement process. We have reached the stage where we cannot assume that any further enlargement proposal or treaty will be easily passed. Any new referendum will be treated with suspicion. The Treaty of Nice had a major effect on this country's psychology, and the proposed constitution withdrawn after being rejected by the Netherlands and France also had a substantial psychological impact. There is no sense whatsoever in putting a referendum to the people in the future unless one does so with a great deal of information on the provisions and substance of the text. All the political parties must line up to say that they support it, otherwise the people will not accept it.
From that perspective, the National Forum on Europe is extremely important, and work done under the chairmanship of Senator Maurice Hayes has been invaluable. There have been regional meetings around the country, with involvement on the part of youth and various pillars and organisations. The main point is that it has been brought to the people, something that must continue. If Europe is to be promoted as the way forward economically and socially — "sold" is perhaps the wrong word — it must be promoted with the people. It must be made clear that the democratic deficit is being eradicated and that the structures have the necessary element of democracy, with no decisions made that lack accountability or transparency.
That is the problem. Too many people took for granted the fact that decisions could be made quickly and short-cuts taken. That will not work, and in this country we have at least acknowledged that, since the Treaty of Nice in 2002 hit home very quickly. However, in other countries, where no attempt has been made to supply information to the ordinary citizen, I can imagine the problem that will occur, and the situation that arose in France and the Netherlands will be multiplied when there are further treaties or attempts to enlarge the Union in circumstances more controversial than the present.
I am delighted to support this legislation. As I said, I hope that the accession date determined is the earlier one of 2007 rather than 2008.
I am very pleased at the opportunity to speak on the Bill to facilitate the accession of Romania and Bulgaria to the European Union. The question for those two countries is when will accession take place. Despite the fact that comprehensive monitoring reports will be placed before the European Parliament in Strasbourg next week, it seems unlikely that they will receive an answer in the near future. If reports are to be believed, it may be next autumn before a final decision is made. I hope that is not the case since such uncertainty is in no one's interest. However, it seems that President Barroso has decided to postpone the decision.
From the perspective of Romania and Bulgaria, delaying entry will not solve any residual problems and might strengthen anti-European sentiment in those countries, which I believe is growing. There are issues regarding Romania and Bulgaria. There are concerns about corruption and organised crime in Bulgaria that must be dealt with more firmly. A great deal of progress has been made and one hopes that it will prove sufficient. We will have a much better idea next week.
In a broader context, we must consider the impact of the accession of Romania and Bulgaria, asking how it will affect the EU, which is still coming to terms with the accession of ten new member states. Concerns were raised in today's debate about the many worries of Irish people regarding EU enlargement. From my perspective, having listened to people, they feel that the pace of enlargement is an issue and that there has not been enough time for consolidation. There is a sense that we are moving too fast.
I support the entry of Romania and Bulgaria next January if the monitoring reports are favourable. However, thereafter we may have to press the "pause" button, not the "stop" button. Otherwise, I would be concerned that we might lose control over the European project. I know that many other countries are knocking at the door, and they have every right to do so. They see EU membership as an ideal. Many of them look to Ireland as a model.
However, the European project needs the support of its citizens, and people, not only in Ireland but, judging from what my colleagues have said in Parliament, across Europe, are currently a little unsure. The "No" votes in France and the Netherlands reflected that. I agree with a previous speaker that if we had staged a referendum in Ireland — something that we may still do — the result would have been very close, regardless of the fact that most major political parties would have supported it. In that context, we politicians must listen as well as lead.
Today I took the opportunity to read some of the questions and contributions from the public and it might be worthwhile mentioning some of those comments, since today is about informing people regarding Europe. Comments from the public on the issue of enlargement included how far we can go with the European ideal, what the Irish position is on Turkey's application for membership of the EU, how far the enlargement project can go and whether there are borders to it. Particular consideration should be given to Turkey's desire for inclusion in the EU. However, it must be stated that Turkey is not a European country. How many more Asian or even African countries will seek to join a so-called European Union? The last question is why the citizens of Ireland cannot vote on new countries joining the EU.
Those questions and others deserve to be heard. After all, today should not simply be about talking to or at Irish or European citizens, it should be about listening to them and engaging with those concerns. Regardless of how we view them, we must respond. In that context, a major concern for many Irish people will be what decision the Government takes in the context of workers from Romania and Bulgaria coming here. According to the Taoiseach, that decision is being postponed until all other EU states open their labour markets to immigrants from the new member states. I believe that he was reported as saying that yesterday in the press.
I agree with the Taoiseach on that question, since we need a properly managed economic migration policy. Ireland's economy has benefited greatly from immigrant labour, which has helped fuel our continued growth. We are a small country and must manage migration policy very carefully. The Minister told us this morning that in 1999, 5,000 work permits were issued. In 2003, that figure had jumped to 50,000 and by the end of 2004, it was 160,000. As I said, Ireland is a small country facing the issue of absorption and capacity. That has not yet become a problem, but it must be managed.
Today there are several students from Mercy College in the Visitors Gallery, and they and their parents will be concerned about their future and jobs. People require certainty or at least an element of predictability regarding their future. I agree with Deputy Costello that we need not be afraid, but we must manage the process, examining labour market trends and introducing some system that allows reasonable access for workers from Romania and Bulgaria while allowing the Irish economy to grow. It is a win-win situation for everyone.
I believe that Deputy Finian McGrath is supposed to be in this slot so I will finish now.
I welcome the opportunity to speak to the European Communities (Amendment) Bill 2006. The Bill is necessary to amend the European Communities Act 1972, to provide that certain parts of the treaty concerning the accession of the Republic of Bulgaria and Romania to the European Union shall form part of the domestic law of the State once Ireland ratifies the treaty.
Before going into the details of the Bill, it is important, on Europe day, to reflect on the whole European project and the direction in which the EU is going. It is essential that those in the EU respect and listen to the dissenting voices on this issue and not dismiss those of us who challenge the EU as a bunch of euro-sceptics. Many of us have concerns about the direction of the EU. We are normal sensible taxpayers who want full co-operation, and political, economic and social security. However, we do not want a super state. We want to make our own laws and we want more respect for our Parliament. We do not want to be a county council in the EU. We are democrats and internationalists. I am an Irish citizen and I respect on an equal basis French, Bulgarian and Spanish citizens. I do not want that citizenship undermined by a so-called European constitution.
I have concerns about outside forces trying to subvert or undermine our national Parliament. To those who say I am wrong I challenge them to read the 1916 Proclamation to see that there is a complete sell-out when it comes to these core principles. We need a new vision for Ireland; we need a new vision for Europe. This new vision should be built on equality, respect and diversity without sticking one's nose in the State's internal affairs. I will use the tax issue as an example. Deputies on all sides of the House object whenever the EU hints it might or wants to interfere in our taxation policy and I agree with them. Why does this not happen with regard to other areas? I certainly do not want to share a common foreign policy with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, on Iraq or with the nuclear power brigade in the EU. Let us call a spade a spade and stop trying to con the people. We should be honest and open. A constitution means a state. The Government should tell the people that and stop trying to drag them along hoping they will not notice.
The Commission and the European movement desire us to celebrate today the Schuman Declaration of 9 May 1950, which is why we are having special debates in the House. I draw Members' attention to the phrases in the declaration which state that it is "a first step in the federation of Europe" and that the proposal "will lead to the realization of the first concrete foundation of a European federation". These political objectives are usually omitted when the declaration is referred to and most people do not even know of their existence.
A federation is a state. However, for decades the champions of the EC for EU integration have all been swearing blind that they have no knowledge of any such plans. This is a lie they have been telling the people of the different European countries as the EEC, the EC and the EU have steadily acquired even more features of a super-national federation. We have a flag, an anthem, a parliament, a supreme court, currency, laws, battle groups and a code of fundamental rights. Now they hope to have a constitution with real citizens and citizenship obligations. This would leave the power to levy taxes as the only major power of government to remain at national level. The eurocrats clearly desire to obtain this right in time.
The Irish people do not want to become citizens of a federal Europe, which the Commission and its ideological hangers-on in the European movement have sought to construct for decades while pretending they are only concerned with jobs and economic growth. Do Members of this House want to become citizens of such a federation? Was that in the minds of the men and women of 1916, whom the Government purported to honour a few weeks ago? Already the EU is the source of two thirds of our laws, a matter not mentioned regularly in this House. Under the proposed EU constitution that proportion would increase. The power of the European Commission would increase correspondingly, as it has a monopoly in proposing all laws in the EU. It is no wonder the Commission has the gall to lash out millions of our money on Europe Day, with gimmicks, special supplements in our newspapers and political advertising in the print and broadcast media, all with the aim of persuading us to give it more.
On the Bill, I fully welcome the Republic of Bulgaria and Romania. I also encourage respect for nations and their citizens. I totally reject racism and I challenge those in this House and outside to tackle racism, like sectarianism, head-on in our communities. The problem exists: all we need to do is watch the rise of the BNP in England. We need to be vigilant and strong, and honest with our citizens. We need an urgent and honest debate on the European Union.
I am sharing time with Deputy Ó Snodaigh. I welcome the legislation and I hope that at some stage Bulgaria and Romania will join the European Union. In 1979 I went to Germany for the first time to earn money. I went there because, in the words of one Deputy, I believe Deputy Costello, Ireland was a basket case at that stage and it was possible to earn up to four times as much money in Germany. Many Irish people had the same aspiration. We went there and earned money. I subsequently put myself through college with that money. It was a very good experience.
It is interesting to look back on that period and consider how many Irish people remained in Germany. When migration patterns in Europe are analysed, it is clear that it does not resemble the United States of America, which probably relates to the greater cultural differences, language barriers etc. People in Europe emigrate for a period of time, do what they need to do and then return home. We will see that pattern with many people from the accession states, Poles, Latvians etc., coming here. We must respect them for coming here to try to better themselves — that is what it is about. I wish them all the best. I wish the Bulgarians and Romanians all the best because they are in the same situation as we were back in the 1970s.
It has always been assumed that the widening and deepening of the European Union was what the European citizen wanted. However, as we have seen from referendum results in France and the Netherlands, that is not necessarily the case. People have major concerns about the enlargement project, in particular the proposed accession of Turkey. I learnt this lesson recently when I appeared on a programme with the Turkish ambassador. I have never received so many phone calls about an issue, particularly from women who seem to be very concerned about the matter. I believe it will be a long time before Turkey will join the European Union. While in terms of diversity of the Union and building bridges with Islam, it would be good, it is a long way off and it may not be possible politically.
The Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, mentioned that enlargement may not have been the major factor in the defeats in France and the Netherlands. However, it certainly was an issue. The Minister of State referred to another issue, which is the perception among European citizens that they were alienated from the centre in Brussels, and that the Commission and other institutions had embraced the neo-liberal agenda.
Many states and their citizens want to see the development of the European social model. They want the European Union to be a bulwark against globalisation and not a vehicle for it. This is the crucial debate into which we are now facing. While we talk about the Lisbon Agenda, all the analysis shows that we are moving in a direction away from Berlin and towards Boston, which is not something I want to see. I believe in the Charter of Fundamental Rights and support it. It is interesting that the Government's White Paper states that principles are not directly justiciable but may be implemented either by the Union or by member states in their legislative or executive acts and only become significant to the courts or judicially cognisable when such acts come to be interpreted or reviewed. Examples of articles containing principles are those relating to the rights of the elderly, the integration of persons with disabilities and environmental protection.
I would like to see those social and environmental rights being justiciable but that is not what the Government wants. Major questions arise, however, because it seems there are different interpretations. For example, I recently attended a meeting with someone who would describe himself as a federalist, John Palmer, who said as far as he is concerned, it will be justiciable once the court gets its hands on it. Tony Coughlan agrees with John Palmer's interpretation, which is interesting. An eminent barrister and constitutional lawyer in Trinity College, Gerard Hogan, agrees with those two gentlemen and disagrees with the Government's interpretation. How can the Government go to the electorate and say this is what the charter and constitution mean when there are so many different interpretations? We need clarity on that issue.
This is important because the potential strength of the European Union rests on members coming together to tackle major issues such as the environment and the defining issue of our age, the energy crisis. This is where the European Union can and must play a role yet individual states refuse to play ball. It makes sense to have Europe-wide energy and ecological taxes. Imposing them on an individual basis will no longer work.
If the European project is to be successful we must empower the citizen and reconstitute the convention. We need a new constitution which must be put to a Europe-wide referendum. I am concerned by statements today suggesting that somehow at a later stage we can give the same constitution back to the French. That shows a lack of awareness of the human condition and of the French people. If that is done, the recent riots in France will look like a picnic. It is not in the French psyche to take things lying down.
The French Greens are split down the middle on this referendum and harbour a legacy of continuing bitterness to the extent that when their delegate was nominated for a position on the committee of the European Greens, her own people did not vote for her. The Minister of State should not underestimate the level of antagonism that continues there. He cannot succeed by giving the same treaty back to the French. I spoke recently to the ambassador from the Netherlands who said that as far as the Dutch are concerned, that constitution is over.
Several aspects of the constitution were moving in the right direction in regard to empowerment of the citizen, namely, the citizens' initiative. When I attended the convention I was asked to draw up the first draft of that initiative and I was happy to see it included in the constitution. It can happen without the constitution. I suggest that we proceed with that amendment to empower the citizen so that we can collect signatures and move away from the idea of the militarisation of the European Union which does not interest most citizens. They want to see action on the environment and energy. If the Government moves in that way, there is a chance of re-engaging the citizen and making the European Union relevant once again.
Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil leis an Cheann Comhairle as an deis fáilte eile a chur roimh bhallraíocht na Romáine agus na Bulgáire go luath insan Aontas Eorpach.
It is deeply ironic that today an unelected, politically appointed Commissioner, Mariann Fischer Boel, spoke here and participated in a political debate at the invitation of Deputy Deasy and his party leader, supported by the Labour Party and the Progressive Democrats. I too supported the call for her to speak here. While today's exercise was marginally useful in respect of the debate on agriculture within the European Union, it dramatically highlighted the hypocrisy of Deputies Kenny, Rabbitte and Harney, and their respective parties who have venomously opposed affording the same rights to democratically elected representatives of the Irish people living in the six north-eastern counties. Now that we have had an EU day——
I am not criticising the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Affairs but Deputy Deasy's party which has the gall to extend invitations to people while not even looking at the democratically elected people in this country——
If that is to set the standard for elected members of the European Union, including Romania and Bulgaria, it is a sad day.
My second point refers to the Minister of State's comments about allowing the free movement of workers. It is a disgrace that the Minister of State, despite what the Taoiseach has said and the stance taken by Ireland, England and Sweden to allow free movement of people, has not told the Romanians and Bulgarians that on accession they will be granted the same rights that we enjoyed when we joined the EEC. They should enjoy those rights from the first day and there should be no two-tier system. I welcome the fact that the Taoiseach had a go at the other EU countries which have not opened their borders to the last group of accession countries.
I call on the Minister of State to state that there will be no block and that on accession the Romanian and Bulgarian people will enjoy the same rights as the people from the last ten accession countries in Ireland and that we encourage all members of the European Union to be equal. That demand should go out from this House to the rest of the European Union.
The Roma people are the most disadvantaged ethnic group in Europe. We need to put more pressure on the Romanians and Bulgarians to address this disadvantage. The Travellers are our own nomadic and ethnic group but Ireland does not stand up as a model to either Bulgaria or Romania because we still discriminate against Travellers. We should encourage both countries and the European Union to do much more to address the disadvantage this group of people face. They lag behind in the areas of housing, education, employment, infant mortality and so on. A recent World Bank study found that many Roma live in conditions similar to those found in sub-Saharan Africa. In eastern Europe in particular there are Roma camps which would not be out of place in Calcutta or Bangladesh.
There is no easy solution to the plight of the Roma people. No one is under any illusion that this disadvantage can be erased overnight. This is also the case for Travellers in this State, even though we have had a longer time than the Romanian and Bulgarian authorities to deal with the issue. I hope they will not study our record on this issue.
Sinn Féin has a positive view of an independent Ireland in a Europe of equals that is a fully and truly inclusive Union in which all states, regardless of their wealth, population or military strength, have an equal say in planning to work together. Sinn Féin is eager to welcome all applicant states that fulfil the Copenhagen criteria of democracy and respect for human rights. Our vision is of a socially just, accountable and transparent EU that respects and promotes the equal and human rights of all and is run democratically from the bottom to the top, not controlled by large nations, powerful bureaucratic elites and transnational capital, as is the case today. Our aim is a demilitarised and nuclear-free EU with a renewed emphasis on the primacy of a reformed United Nations in international affairs so that this fully inclusive international forum can reach its full potential as a force for international unity, justice and peace.
Molaim an Bille, agus is trua é nach raibh sé os ár gcomhair roimhe seo. Chomh maith leis sin, is trua é nach raibh an tAire sásta tacú leis an méid a bhí le rá agam maidir le cearta taistil a thabhairt d'oibrithe ón Bhulgáir agus ón Rómáin ó thús. Tá súil agam go mbeidh sé in ann an ráiteas sin a dhéanamh go luath amach anseo. Sin an meon atá ag an Rialtas. Tá fáth éigin a bhfuil eagla orthu é sin a dhéanamh ag an bpointe seo. Tá súil agam inniu, amárach, nó lá éigin roimh i bhfad go mbeidh an méid sin á rá acu.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the European Communities (Amendment) Bill 2006 which deals with the accession of Romania and Bulgaria into the EU. Romania and Bulgaria have made significant progress in preparing themselves for accession to the European Union for which they deserve to be congratulated. It is to be hoped they can reach the targets set for them by the agreed date and then join the European Union.
However, we would be foolish to ignore certain reports which deal with the manner in which these countries deal with crime and corruption and these reports are of concern. We would be foolish not to debate the reports openly and state that certain criteria must be met before such countries can join the EU. These reports will be made public next week in Strasbourg and many people will be very interested in reading them. I hope the two countries will overcome these problems in time for their accession on the agreed date. Considering some of the issues which have been raised by Deputy Costello such as drugs and organised crime in Europe, such issues do not seem to have been properly dealt with in Bulgaria and Romania but I hope they can be dealt with before the end of the year.
Before the EU was enlarged to 25 member states, many people were of the view this would cause huge problems for workers in the original 15 member states, but this has not happened. In recent weeks, Commissioner Almunia published a detailed report which showed there had been very significant economic benefit for both the new accession countries and the original 15. Poland and Czechoslovakia were the chief beneficiaries but other accession countries have also benefited, as have the original ten member states. Some people warn that terrible things will happen when the EU is enlarged but if it is properly planned and properly done, it can and will be of economic benefit to all the citizens of the European Union.
The services directive was the cause of much concern in this House. I wish to correct Deputy Costello and inform him it was the Bolkestein directive, not the McCreevy directive.
He did not. When he spoke about it for the first time in the European Parliament last year, he said that it did not have, to use the term, a snowball's chance in Hell of being passed in its original form. He decided to put it before the Parliament for amendment, which has happened. It returns to the Commission and later to the Parliament. This was a good way of doing it and it was a good compromise. Serious challenges to the European Union can be overcome if we work together.
One of the greatest challenges facing the Union is the drift towards tax harmonisation and we cannot allow that to happen. If it happens, many international companies will no longer stay in Ireland. Part of the problem in the European Union is not that Ireland has low taxes, even though many countries complain this is the reason we are doing so well. If they want to have low taxes, we are not stopping them and they can do so. However, they must reform their own economies. Globalisation is a reality. We can react to it by putting our heads in the sand but we cannot ignore America or China or India. That is the economic reality.
Most people in this House want to strengthen the European social model but we must have a vibrant economy within the European Union. The people who most defend the European social model are people in France. Is it right to have more than 20% of people under 25 unemployed? I do not think so. We know what that is like because we experienced it in this country. It brought poverty and social exclusion on an horrific level to Ireland. We made fundamental changes in our economy to ensure we do not have those conditions any more. Is it right to have 50% unemployment in immigrant communities in France? The way to go is to be more flexible in one's economy which will in turn create jobs which is the best way of tackling poverty. Money can then be spent on enlightened social projects. I would rather have job creation and low unemployment than pretend to protect a European social model with a level of youth unemployment of more than 20%.
I refer to two opinion polls taken recently in France. They showed that more than 70% of people under 25 wanted to become civil servants. This gives an idea of how low people in France feel about the future if this is their ambition. France is a great nation.