Tuesday, 13 June 2006
European Communities (Amendment) Bill 2006: Report and Final Stages.
As we look forward to the completion of the fifth enlargement of the European Union, I express my satisfaction at the strong support for this Bill from all sides of the House. I sincerely thank all Deputies for their valuable and positive contributions.
Ireland has always been a strong supporter of the enlargement process, of which we were among the first beneficiaries when we joined the European Union in 1973. During the years we have supported each subsequent enlargement, extending the benefits of membership to those European countries that wanted to join and were ready to do so. I hope Bulgaria and Romania will strive in the coming months to satisfy the European Commission that they are ready to take on the responsibilities of membership of the European Union from next January. We look forward to working with them as full partners. Their accession will complete the Union's historic fifth enlargement, one of its greatest achievements. Passage of this legislation and Ireland's ratification of the accession treaty later in the year will play an important part in completing a process that would have been unimaginable less than a generation ago when Europe was still mired in the Cold War. We can all take pride in contributing to a process which has transformed our continent for the better in a much shorter time than we would have dared hope for just a decade and a half ago.
This is a fitting conclusion to the debate. It is generally accepted that part of the European project is its development and evolution through the inclusion of the various countries that apply to join. This case is no exception and follows the course this country followed some years ago. As a European country, we were lucky to have the support of our European colleagues as we proceeded. We did not have that support at the initial stages but ultimately we achieved our objectives and it was to the benefit to the country that we did. Romania and Bulgaria, the accession countries, will benefit tremendously from membership of the European Union. It is true they have to comply with the acquis communautaire and develop their services and protocols within their respective countries in accordance with the guidelines laid down by the European institutions. That is appropriate and as it should be. It is also a modern learning curve so far as the rest of the world is concerned.
It is hugely important that the European concept and the European project goes ahead and is seen to go ahead and gets the support not only of those states within the Union but of the countries that wish to come on board. It is an opportunity to focus attention on the requirements and membership of the European Union and to ponder on all that has happened since the initiation of the European Coal and Steel Community and the distance the European project has gone in the meantime without which many European countries would be far worse off. We need to applaud the concept.
We also need to look to the future which has to include the ratification of a constitution at some stage. Some means has to be found to gel together the thinking of all the constituent bodies. All the EU members will have to think about it and move forward. In the not too distant future there will have to be an extension of the euro zone. To make the European concept what it can become we must move towards a recognition of the common currency and the European institutions in the way they affect us in the future. That means we have a certain amount of independence but it is entirely up to ourselves.
We have come so far so well. A great deal has been achieved since the 1950s and we still must look to where we go from here in terms of the next phase. The next phase should include the ratification of the proposed constitution or something similar. The more the European institutions are seen to falter the greater the chances of failure. It is of critical importance, therefore, that these issues be kept alive with a view to resolution as opposed to having them around as a means of causing divisiveness. This is a milestone. Obviously, the procedure has been set down. We welcome and congratulate all involved in getting the process to this stage. There will be other requests for enlargement. It is important that those countries be treated in a fair and equitable manner because any intention to reject an application for membership could be misconstrued, particularly, if it comes from a country where a large proportion of its population resides within the continent of Europe.
Fáiltím roimh an Bhille seo. Mar a dúirt mé sa choiste, tá súil agam go nglacfar leis an Rómáin agus an Bhulgáir go hiomlán ar an chéad lá d'Eanáir an bhliain seo chugainn agus nach gcuirfear aon bhacanna rompu roimhe sin nó aon mhoill ar a mballraíocht.
Is breá an rud é dúinn agus do thodhchaí tíortha beaga má thagann tíortha nach iar-impireachtaí iad isteach san Aontas Eorpach. Tá an tAontas Eorpach bunaithe ar chaidrimh agus cairdeas idir tíortha beaga seachas smacht na dtíortha móra. Agus muid ag críochnú leis an Bhille seo, is é an príomhrud ar mhaith liom a rá, mar a dúirt mé cúpla uair cheana féin, ná gur cheart stádas iomlán a thabhairt don dá thír ón chéad lá. Is é an rud atá i gceist agam ná go mbeidh cead ag oibrithe ó na tíortha sin taisteal timpeall an Aontais Eorpaigh. Tá a fhios agam nach bhfuil an cinneadh sin déanta ag an Rialtas go fóill. Ghlac sé cinneadh cuíosach tábhachtach i leith na dtíortha eile a tháinig isteach roimhe seo, agus sheas mé féin agus daoine eile leis mar gheall ar an chinneadh cróga sin, a tógadh i gcoinne fhormhór na dtíortha eile san Aontas Eorpach. Le déanaí, tháinig trí thír eile leis an triúr a sheas amach sa chéad dul síos.
Tá a lán daoine á rá nár chóir go mbeadh cead ag oibrithe agus saoránaigh an AE taisteal agus obair i ngach uile thír san Aontas, gan aon bhacanna. Tá siad in aghaidh na critéir a chomhlíonadh go hiomlán. Níor chóir go mbeadh dhá stádas nó dhá chéim ann ó thaobh ballraíochta de, áfach. Má tá siad sásta glacadh leis an Rómáin nó an Bhulgáir mar thíortha san AE, ba chóir go gcuirfí é sin i bhfeidhm 100% ó thús gan aon darna grád a bheith ann, mar atá ann do na tíortha a tháinig isteach sa bhabhta deireannach.
Tá súil agam go mbeidh muid ag teacht ar ais ar an cheist seo go luath, ag gabháil comhghairdeachais leis an Bhulgáir agus an Rómáin go bhfuil siad ina mbaill iomlána sa chéad dul síos. Ba cheart don Rialtas bheith in ann iachall a chur ar thíortha eile an AE glacadh leo go huile is go hiomlán mar thíortha den chéad ghrád, gan aon darna grád a bheith i gceist. Cruthaíonn an dá ghrád sin go bhfuil easpa daonlathais san AE, mar a dúirt muidne thar na blianta. Má tá an Rialtas seo agus rialtais eile ag iarraidh cruthú go bhfuil mo leithéid mícheart ó thaobh daonlathais san AE de, is é ceann de na chéad rudaí ar chóir dóibh a dhéanamh ná glacadh leis na tíortha go hiomlán sa chéad dul síos.
I too welcome the passage of this Bill which amends the European Communities Act 1972 and provides for the accession of Romania and Bulgaria. It is the fifth European Union enlargement. The original intention was that it would be six and six but the European Union speeded up the process and these countries are the final extension of the fourth enlargement. In a short time the European Union has grown from 15 countries to 25 and now to 27, which is almost a doubling of the number of states. Nobody could argue that this is not a rapid enlargement of the European Union. There is no doubt after the accession of Romania and Bulgaria there will be a period of reflection and consolidation which, to some extent, is happening. The population will increase by a further 30 million to approximately 484 million. That is a huge number of people. This offers great potential for a country like Ireland which is a major exporter and requires an international market. One on our doorstep such as the European Union, which as an open and free market is particularly desirable.
Some problems remain to be ironed out, the most serious being the question of whether 1 January 2007 will be the accession date. For that we await the decision of Olli Rehn, the EU Commissioner dealing with enlargement, whose final decision will be made in the autumn. There are questions regarding internal matters, especially on corruption, drug trafficking and human trafficking, that give rise to major problems here too. It must be asked if it is better that both Romania and Bulgaria are inside the European Union, which might facilitate dealing with some of those stubborn problems, rather than being outside the union for an extended period. I would prefer that they were inside, as well as a much greater tightening up of the operation of Europol and Interpol.
On "Prime Time Investigates" last night we saw how little executive authority is operational with Europol. There is an exchange of information but there is low grade determination to deal with matters unless they are on individual member states' soil. Garda sources indicated a figure of about 100 Irish criminals abroad. Incidentally, RTE showed the wrong person in one shot involved. It was supposed to be George Mitchell but was someone else. Perhaps RTE might do its homework and get it right the next time, after spending three weeks' of taxpayer's money chasing the wrong person.
In any case, we need to tighten up in this area, not just regarding drugs but human trafficking, now a major phenomenon. Many countries other than just Romania and Bulgaria are involved and we must deal with these issues. However, these are not reasons we should keep Romania and Bulgaria out of the European Union. They are reasons we should tighten up all the procedures in operation on cross-border illegal and criminal activities. The budget agreed recently will assist this.
The labour market also concerns us. We have been good Europeans in that we have opened our borders from the outset. Ireland, Britain and Sweden have opened up our labour markets to the ten accession states from 2004. They have been greatly beneficial in progressing this country. An interesting fact is that the economies of the three countries that have granted access are doing far better than the countries which have refused access, which have applied restrictions. That is why a number of countries have now changed their minds, while three or four other countries have also agreed to open up their borders.
It was the major states such as France and Germany that were pressing ahead with enlargement. They were demanding it a few years ago, yet are now dragging their heels and refusing to allow the new member states to have access to their labour markets. We should now move ahead as a bloc of 27 countries rather than as a couple of countries which decide to pick and choose how they will open up their labour markets. Ireland could usefully negotiate that in advance, or do some work with the other major countries, particularly France, Germany and Italy, in smoothing the way, in order that when both Romania and Bulgaria enter the EU, we should all sing from the same hymn sheet.
I see this as the final stage of the fourth enlargement. It is welcome, and is the culmination of an enlargement involving many states, which has brought Europe to a stage where a period of — perhaps not sustained reflection but certainly a period of reflection — is required. We must then look towards Turkey, the Balkan states and the structures — the EU constitution was mentioned by Deputy Durkan — as to what changes are required in terms of states joining the EU in the future. I am glad the European project is operating healthily and it has certainly been of enormous benefit to this country. I would not like to lose the momentum. We should press ahead even if other countries do not join in the immediate future.