Wednesday, 12 March 2003
Convention on the Future of Europe: Statements.
It is indeed a great honour for me to address this House. I might have thought I would never have the opportunity to stand in this place again. I am very grateful to the Seanad for the honour it has done me in inviting me to address it as a humble Member of the Dáil. I have prepared some remarks which are available for circulation to Senators. I believe I have more copies than are required for the number of Senators in the House just now.
Before going in detail into the work of the Convention, I would like to deal with the contention that the European Union is developing into a super-state. Not only is the European Union not a super-state, it is not even a state. I say that because it has no right to use force and no right to raise an army – the key prerogatives that define a state. Furthermore, it has no right to raise taxes or to borrow money to meet current expenses. For all these things, the European Union has no prerogatives. It depends entirely on member states.
To underline the point, the key principle of European Union constitutional law is the principle of conferral. All powers of the Union are conferred on it voluntarily by member states. That principle is reaffirmed in the draft treaty being prepared in the Convention on the Future of Europe. What the European Union has is the power to make common policies and common laws, or laws in common, for the Union as a whole and its laws have supremacy over national laws where there is a conflict between them.
The European Union has been very good for Ireland. It has given us a method whereby we may manage our relations with all our neighbours in a constructive framework which protects the interests of small countries like ourselves, as well as those of bigger powers. The European Union, and its predecessor, the Common Market, were brought into being to create a structure of economic inter-dependence in Europe, based on rules, laws, frameworks and inter-dependence so close that war between European countries would be unthinkable. This objective has been achieved and the continent of Europe, apart from the former Yugoslavia, has enjoyed the longest uninterrupted period of peace in its history, perhaps since the 14th century – I am sure Senator Mansergh will assist me if I have exaggerated in that regard.
Of course all of this cannot be credited to the European Union. The United States military presence in Europe and the predictability that the Cold War gave to international relations also contributed significantly to fifty years of peace in Europe. Some American writers, notably Robert Kagan who has been much quoted in recent weeks, have belittled the European Union on the ground that it has naively tried to substitute its practice of rules, laws, and frameworks for the exercise of power in international relations as well as in its own domestic affairs. I rebut this criticism. The European Union's emphasis on rules, laws and frameworks does not exclude the use of the direst penalties, including military force, to ensure that the outcomes of those processes are respected, but it does create a framework of predictability in which those who might contemplate breaking the rules can rationally think through the consequences before it is too late.
The newly declared American preference for pre-emptive strikes, set out in the Westpoint address of the President of the United States and in the strategy document the US has produced, is very different from the previous doctrines which have applied. It creates the conditions in which in future nobody will be able to predict the outcome of any international behaviour and there will be no process whereby that may be determined and no predictability as to the outcome. That will create, in international relations, the law of the jungle. The law of the jungle is not just brutal. It is unpredictable and unpredictability is the greatest enemy of peace.
In light of the crisis over Iraq, the most urgent task of the Convention on the Future of Europe will now be that of equipping the European Union with a strong common foreign, security and defence policy which, unlike the present one, will work, be truly independent and protect our citizens in an increasingly dangerous world. Individual European nations, even those as great as Britain or France, do not have the resources for doing that job on their own. No European power is big enough for that.
Europe cannot subcontract its defence to the United States forever and, depending on its experience in Iraq, the United States will either go on to confront other rogue states in other parts of the globe in ways that Europeans will be unable to support or, more likely, revert to the sort of isolationism that allowed it to stand aside while Hitler took over mainland Europe in 1940. In any event, it is not feasible for 5% of the world's population, the inhabitants of the United States, to bear indefinitely the burden of maintaining military pre-eminence over the remaining 95% of the population.
What would be the ingredients of a common European foreign and security policy that would work? These issues are at the heart of the debate in the Convention in this area. The first ingredient would be that the Commission be given the principal power of policy initiative across the whole area, and that it administer a new European Union diplomatic service throughout the world. The second would be that the Council of Ministers would make the decisions, on behalf of the states, on the basis of Commission proposals, and that these decisions would be loyally followed by all members, big and small. The third would be that European military forces would become truly inter-operable and co-operate with one another so as to complement rather than, as they currently do, duplicate one another. That implies a European armaments agency, recommended by one of the working groups of the Convention, to co-ordinate purchasing of equipment.
The fourth, and probably most radical and controversial ingredient, would be that the European Union should have a single seat on the United Nations Security Council. As long as France and Britain have separate seats, both will continue to play to the gallery in New York and pursue prestige. Separate Security Council seats for France and Britain institutionalise foreign policy division in Europe and are structurally incompatible with the evolution of a genuinely common foreign and security policy.
If I had been making this speech to the Seanad four weeks ago, or even two weeks ago, I would not have put common foreign and security policy at the top of my speech. I would not have singled it out as the most important challenge, but the events of the past two weeks have required me to rethink my own set of priorities in this area and that is why I have stressed this first. It is a most important issue which obviously has major implications for this country and for all of the groups represented in this House, both in terms of the way all of us think about our place in the world and how we may preserve what we have come to enjoy.
After common foreign and security policy, the next big task for the Convention is to make the European Union more democratic. There is a democratic deficit in Europe. We must accept that the more complex the political system, the lower will be the turnout at election time. The European Union political system is incredibly complex. Therefore, simplifying the structure is essential to the creation of a genuine democratic base for Europe.
The citizens of Europe, in my view, should directly elect the President of the Commission, in the same way as the citizens of the United States directly elect the President of their union. A simple choice of candidates for the Presidency of the European Commission would attract people out to vote because ultimately people are more interested in people than in ideas. A current complex system that allows people to vote directly for one member in one part of Europe's Legislature, the European Parliament, but not for the people who will represent them in the other part, the Council of Ministers, is far too complex to attract the sort of turnout we need. Here at national level, voters can change their Government at election time but at European level, the most we are able to change at the time of a European election is one MEP out of 700 or more. That is not good enough. It does not give voters a sense that they can achieve change. Accountability and democratic responsibility require that voters be able to change the direction and the people at the top in Europe.
We should be able to change the person in charge, the President of the Commission. That decision should not be made behind closed doors, or in a back door deal between Prime Ministers and leaders of the parties in the European Parliament, as many propose. The people should be the ones to make that decision. Otherwise there is no true accountability.
That is what I would prefer. I would far prefer the proposals put forward by the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, on behalf of the Government, to any of the other alternatives. If I cannot get what I would like, the proposals of the Government are the next best thing. At least the Government's proposals leave the door open ultimately to popular election, whereas the proposals being promoted by the European Parliament, to my mind at least, have this fault of ultimately ensuring that these decisions will be made within a closed elite circle in Brussels and Strasbourg rather than by the people.
Part of the problem for Europe is that some of the most politically interesting decisions in Europe are taken, not at political level but at administrative level. For example, while it may be politicians in the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament who will decide on the broad legislative principles governing the safety and efficacy of drugs – a boring and abstract subject – the really interesting decision on whether, for example, to allow Viagra to be marketed was taken in some management committee.
It is dangerous to make any reference of this kind in the Seanad of all places, but I hope Senators will forgive me. While I would not wish to politicise such decisions, there must be a more developed mechanism whereby elected politicians, at national and European level, can get those who do make those decisions to explain their decisions or, perhaps more often, to explain why they are failing to make decisions.
To make Europe more democratic, we must simplify Europe's constitution so that every European citizen can easily find out who does what, and who is to blame. Without a blame-taker, there is no democracy. Each citizen must be able to find out easily what the European Union may do, and what it may not do. We have made progress in the Convention on these matters to date. We are almost half-way through the drafting of the first part of a new constitution for Europe which will answer those four basic questions, and it will be a readable document that will go a long way towards ensuring that people know who does what, etc.
In addition to protecting our external security, Europe must be able to protect its internal security. We must ensure there are no hiding places for organised crime anywhere in the European Union. There must be no equivalent of a fiscal paradise for crime bosses. Cross-border crimes, crimes over the Internet, multinational fraud, terrorism, and the trade in drugs and people can best be tackled on a European rather than an individual state basis.
The fundamental principle on which we are working is mutual recognition. Each EU country should recognise every other country's court decisions, fines, disqualifications and orders for discovery of documents and other information. It should also recognise every other state's arrest warrants. For this to work there must be some approximation of laws and court procedures. For decisions such as these to be made in a union of 25 countries we will need to move to majority voting in some areas in which unanimity is still the rule. This has been a matter of some controversy in this country but, unlike some controversies, has been useful in elucidating the issues.
I do not want to absorb too much of the allotted time with my presentation because the most valuable part of a discussion such as this is in the exchange between the Members and the speaker. In the interests of brevity, therefore, I have made a personal selection of the many interesting issues coming up in the Convention: common foreign policy, defence policy, democratisation and criminal law. There are a number of areas I have not covered which I will mention before I conclude.
What balance should be struck between promoting efficiency through competition and preserving universal services such as postal services in remote areas? This is a very lively argument in the Convention and has many ramifications and applications. What balance should be struck between the power of the Commission, a truly European institution, and the European Council, an intergovernmental one? The proposals from four of the bigger states for a full-time president of the European Council would clearly tilt the balance away from the Commission. This is controversial, especially among small states.
How should the European Parliament be elected? The Parliament is supposed to have devised for itself a uniform electoral system but has completely failed to reach agreement. As a result, the matter has now been referred to the Convention. Should it be a list system or our own system of proportional representation? Should we have trans-border European constituencies as well as ones within nation states?
Should the EURATOM Treaty, dealing with nuclear power, be updated to emphasise safety and affirm the European Union's right to close down unsafe nuclear activities? I have made a proposal to the Convention that we take this opportunity of underlining the fact that if Sellafield is dangerous, the European Union has the power to close it. It does have that power, as a result of a court decision last year. It may be useful to underline this in the treaty.
Should a national legislature such as the Seanad have the right to go to court to challenge an EU law as going too far in "Europeanising" an area of activity, thus breaching the protocol on subsidiarity originally negotiated in Amsterdam and now being carried forward? Should it have the right to do this independently of the Dáil? Should legislatures be involved in initiating legal actions at all? If this becomes the pattern, will it slow down the process of European legislation, perhaps to the disadvantage of smaller countries which may need European norms in a particular area to avoid having the norms of big states imposed upon them unilaterally? These are very important questions of striking a balance.
Is the present balance of power among large and small states appropriate? If every country continues to have one Commissioner only, is it viable that in the enlarged European Union 19 Commissioners should come from 19 countries with only 20% of the Union's population while the remaining six come from six countries which have 80% of the population? This is a very controversial and difficult issue. The big countries see it one way and the small countries another. It will not be an easy battle for the smaller countries but we should think it through.
Given that the European Union already has the power to strike down any tax policy that is discriminatory or constitutes unfair competition, as it struck down our manufacturing tax rate and export sales relief, what conceivable justification is there for the widespread demand, from every country except the United Kingdom and Ireland, for the introduction of qualified majority voting on tax matters in order to impose a minimum rate of corporation tax?
We are at a critical moment in national, European and global history. As the poet John Donne said, no man is an island. Ireland may be an island physically but as far as the forces that shape the lives of our people are concerned, we do not live on an island. The best way we can protect ourselves from bad forces and harness good ones is by working together with our fellow Europeans.
I welcome Deputy John Bruton and thank him for a stimulating address. He made very clear distinctions among the choices that we, Europeans, in the form of our parties and Governments, will have to make as we move forward to the next Intergovernmental Conference. He put those choices very starkly, thereby posing the question in a very useful manner. I also congratulate him for managing to fill the Chamber following our deliberations earlier this afternoon, which were a bit fractious. His calm presence was a great help to us all.
Would that it were. He is aware that the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Roche, and Mr. Proinsias de Rossa, MEP, have been in the House in recent weeks to tell us their experience of their work in the Convention on our behalf. Is it the case that members of the Praesidium, and the Convention generally, take positions according to the views of their political groupings in Europe rather than those of their national assemblies? How are they arriving at their conclusions? Is it the case, for example, that our conclusions from an Irish perspective are being arrived at as a result of discussions between the Deputy and other members of the Irish delegation to the Convention, or are his conclusions being arrived at from the point of view of the Christian Democrats?
Whatever the outcome of the Convention, it will feed into the next Intergovernmental Conference process. Will the Deputy explain to the House where he thinks the process will go? There is not much point in having a convention to direct the future of Europe in a straightforward way if this is completely rolled back by the next Intergovernmental Conference. From his discussions at European level, will he tell us where he thinks the choices will be in terms of future Intergovernmental Conferences?
The Deputy said one of the great challenges for Europe and those of us in politics generally was to ensure European documents, European law and our ambitions as a member of the European Union were easily understood or, to use his word, readable. When the President of the European Parliament came to address the House last year, he painted a vivid picture of that process. I would like to know if Deputy Bruton is in agreement with this. His explanation was that if one were to go into an Irish national school several years from now, there would be two charts. The first would outline one's rights and obligations as a citizen of this State; the second would outline one's rights and obligations as a citizen of the European Union. It would be a simple delineation of those rights from an Irish perspective and a European perspective. Does the Deputy agree with this illustration used by Pat Cox in the House last year?
On behalf of Fine Gael, I welcome the Deputy to the House and thank him for his stirring address.
I, too, welcome Deputy John Bruton to the House. We have had a series of contributions on the Convention of Europe through Mr. De Rossa MEP, the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, and Deputy Bruton. I recognise that all mentioned have worked as a team. I pay tribute to the work done by the Deputy both from reading the working reports that have come forward from the Convention and, secondly, as a member of the Presidium. There has been a huge commitment by Deputy Bruton to making this new Convention and its decisions work. This ensures that we will have a European Constitution that will stay the test of time, reflect the many views found in Europe and be easily read and accessible. There has been a criticism that such documents were far removed from the citizens of the European Union.
We have moved forward, which the Deputy mentioned. When the Union started, it was initially an economic union; then it moved to the monetary stage. We are now coming into the political stage which has become most important in relation to defence and security issues – more so, since the events of 11 September 2001 and the immediate threat of war.
I want to refer to the Deputy's thinking on the election of the President of the Commission. There are two schools of thought on this issue. The Minister of State's concept is that the electoral college should reflect both national parliaments and the European Parliament. This would be one way of overcoming the democratic deficit that seems to have existed heretofore. Deputy Bruton's thinking is that the citizens of European would go to the ballot box and they would have the power to change direction, should that be necessary. How far has that thinking moved? Are there many EU members going along with the concept? How complicated would it be to bring the idea into a working framework? It is all about democratic accountability and accessibility to representatives. The electoral college model may, in the end, work better if the direct election model does not. I would like to know the correlation between the two concepts and which idea is coming forward as the better approach at the end of the day. This is a major issue into which the Deputy has put much thought.
I also welcome Deputy John Bruton to the House. His statements were very interesting and stimulating. The House is in the Deputy's debt for the work done by him and his colleagues, the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, and Mr. De Rossa. I regret that this important work is not making a greater impact on Irish society as it should. What is happening in the House is an important part in the permeation of information. I am not surprised, considering the Deputy's nature, that he picked the thorniest issues and put them to the forefront. It has always been his way and it is a great way of addressing issues.
I agree there is a need to look at the common defence and security policy. I will put one pertinent question. Deputy Bruton talked about the importance for Ireland of having a position and the question of the Security Council. The Deputy did not explain how Ireland would balance its position between Europe and the UN. The argument made by many against the first section of the Deputy's statement is that the UN should police the world. I believe that Ireland should work out its position in Europe, have a position in the Security Council and then accept the democratically taken decision of the UN on world affairs.
On the issue of extradition, I do not agree with the Deputy. The then Attorney General, Michael McDowell, argued vehemently two years ago against the mutual recognition of arrest warrants. I agree with the principle but the problem lies in the implementation. It moves away from the very concept of extradition which can have no place in a properly organised Europe. On the other hand, I cannot see a situation arise where an individual can be extradited from one country for something that is not a crime in that country. The implementation of this seems to be impossible.
On the question of taxation, is it not also the case that applicant countries have views that are closer to ours than those of others? The entry of some of those countries might change the Irish view. Estonia and a number of the other applicant countries do not have corporation tax. There are many in Ireland who are very liberal in their views on corporation tax and do not wish to see it at the higher European level. However, when they see these countries enter the EU, I am sure this will change.
On the issue of the Presidency of the European Commission, I agree with Deputy Bruton on the direct election proposal. One issue that the Deputy did not deal with was the democratic deficit between the Commission and the Parliament and the difference between the large and small states. I suggest a model based on the US system – in terms of structure only – whereby every state, whether large or small, whether it be Alaska or New Hampshire with a few million inhabitants or California with tens of millions, has two people in the US Senate. Such a house – I understand "Senate" might give the wrong impression – would take much of the authority which is currently vested in the Commission. It would, therefore redress the democratic deficit by moving to an elected upper House where there would be two representatives from each member state. This would also act as a control on the Parliament. This aspect of the US structure works very well. Would the Deputy agree with this suggestion?
There are words that need to be defined –"confederation" as opposed to "federation". Whenever anyone mentions "federation" in Europe, it makes national headlines in the UK in particular, and it is picked up here by people who oppose the European project. What Deputy Bruton has described is much closer to a confederation than a federation, but probably somewhere in between. Yet if it were to be given a name, where would one put it? People discussing Europe should start making the distinction, even if only to contradict people who are applying certain qualities to a federation which do not exist, and using "federation" as a synonym for "super state". I agree absolutely with Deputy Bruton's rejection of that Thatcherite description of Europe.
I join previous speakers in welcoming Deputy Bruton and thank him for his very frank and direct speech. Once again he showed that he was not afraid to raise the thorny questions that so many people discussing Europe like to avoid. We must face these issues. The Convention is timely, given the European enlargement before us, and we must look at the management structures of the EU to ensure it works properly. We have learnt lessons here, particularly during the Nice referendum, and we could equate them with lessons learnt from the recent poll in Malta. There are issues to do with convincing people, and the Convention should take heed of these lessons.
For example, it is clear to me that the understanding among the public of general EU issues is very weak, and it is to the discredit of all of us that we have failed to communicate properly with the electorate in explaining these issues. Such failure plays into the hands of the Eurosceptics who can often attract many votes with simple and often incorrect slogans, while those of us who are pro-Europe must go into much analytical debate to get our points across.
We have also seen in the last Nice referendum that Irish people, like others, value their Constitution, and are concerned that activities of the Convention could downgrade or weaken it. Equally, we all value the democratic process and there are some fears of secret activities among small numbers of people who do not fully engage in the democratic process. We need to take heed of the lessons learned, particularly when we are trying to educate the public in the months ahead, and to bring them with us on these issues. Such issues are important to us as politicians, because regardless of our political differences, we are the ones trying to promote them to the electorate.
I would like to know if the Convention is taking heed of how we are to communicate our message to the people, because it is clear to me that the websites, brochures and various other means we have used to communicate the European message have not worked, because the people are not engaged. We all know how difficult it is to sell these European messages, and I wonder if the Convention is proposing any new ideas to bring forward its benefits to the people.
Deputy Bruton also touched on the Iraqi situation, and his views on security and defence were interesting ones which I would share. In recent weeks we have seen France wanting the EU to be a counterweight against the US, Spain wanting to play a bigger role in world affairs, a number of EU candidate states expressing their desire to be closer to the US. We relate this to Mr. Chirac's comments about the candidate states not having been very well-behaved. When all this is taken into consideration, it must be asked of Deputy Bruton what impact these national, EU and international priorities are having on the workings of the Convention over the past few weeks.
Deputy Bruton said that if he himself had been speaking in this House a few weeks ago, this issue would not have been at the top of his priority list. This shows how Deputy Bruton's priorities have changed, but have the Convention's priorities changed too? We have a problem in convincing the people that this issue is affecting the Convention, because if they think otherwise, we are losing the battle before we start. I would welcome Deputy Bruton's views on how we might change the emphasis, because with the divergence of opinions, it is hard to know how we can bring them all together under the Convention.
I too welcome Deputy Bruton to the Seanad. His presentation was interesting and forthright.
I want first to address the issue of the common foreign and security policy. Deputy Bruton's presentation today, and the article on this issue in today's edition of The Irish Times, were extremely forthright. If they represented the mainstream of Christian Democratic thinking, or indeed Social Democratic thinking within the EU, we would be in a very different situation from that we appear to be in now. I say that with a sense of regret, and with no wish to score points.
The last few weeks have been very depressing for those of us who believe that Europe should be trying to present a common face to the world, and to define its own interests vis-à-vis the rest of the world and indeed internally. Deputy Bruton's proposals regarding the common foreign and security policy are very far-reaching and positive. I would find it difficult to find fault with any of them. The proposal, for example, that Europe should have just one seat on the United Nations Security Council is a good one.
We are a long way however from some of those measures. Most of us in Ireland still think of foreign policy as basically touching on most of the states which are or will shortly be members of the EU. We are going to have to redefine what we currently think of as foreign affairs as being simply internal affairs.
Deputy Bruton's presentation concentrated greatly on process, on the means by which we would develop a common foreign security policy, rather than the principles that might underpin it. He concentrated on how it might be structured and articulated, rather than on the policy itself. I wonder which comes first, or must we develop both at the same time? We have struggled to develop, for example, a common EU policy on the Middle East. Some progress has been made in this area through the quadripartite talks continuing, but beyond that it is difficult to point to a success story in terms of major matters of international controversy.
The last few weeks have been an unmitigated disaster in terms of the EU projecting a common face to the world. Not only has it failed in that regard, but the main players have clearly given up trying. They do not even think that the European aspect of it is to be concentrated on with any degree of interest. Those of them in a position to do so are simply pursuing national interest, and those of us who do not have a major international role, by virtue of not being on the Security Council, are consigned to irrelevance. It is interesting to see the reflections of the smaller countries on the UN Security Council, many of whom would clearly prefer not to be there. It makes one wonder whether a UN Security Council which contains small states which cannot act independently without suffering serious consequences in terms of their relations with, for example, the US, is worth having.
I believe the time has come to agree to tax harmonisation. There are two separate issues here. One is whether we should have a low rate of corporation tax , and the other is whether we should agree to qualified majority voting in terms of taxation. We already have various measures, for example VAT, where we agree to harmonise rates within various European countries. I have always been uncomfortable with the notion that we could take subsidies from richer European countries while undercutting their rates of corporation tax with a lower one. Whether one is uncomfortable about it, it is in our own selfish national interests which, I acknowledge, justifies it. However, we have reached a point where it is no longer in our selfish national interests to do so for precisely the reasons Senator O'Toole mentioned. It will shortly be in our selfish national interests to defend our relatively low corporation tax rate against countries that want an even lower one. The time has clearly come where principle, convenience and pragmatism intersect. We should be pushing, therefore, for some level of harmonisation – not a specific rate – but perhaps a common low rate on which we could all agree.
The issue of trying to move towards some sort of common recognition of arrest warrants within legal systems is an interesting one. Deputy John Bruton will be familiar with a particular difficulty as he is a member of the committee which deals with it at the Convention, that is, what happens once someone is arrested? In some countries it is regarded as acceptable and normal practice that people are arrested and detained for quite some time before being charged. It is, therefore, possible for the charge to be investigated while they are still in detention. The legal requirement in this country is that a person must have goods on him on her before he or she is arrested and one must be in a position to charge him or her almost immediately. I am still uncomfortable with the notion that our citizens would be automatically open to arrest and extradition and could be detained in a Greek jail, for instance, for two years, before being charged. It is necessary to work out some of these issues before we can go down that road. However, I have no difficulty with the concept in principle, on the contrary, I support it.
I, too, welcome Deputy John Bruton. This series of three speakers has been remarkably interesting. Each has had a different style, giving a sense of novelty which would not have obtained had the three come before the House together to give their views. I admire the Deputy's force of opinion and determination. Life is odd and throws up events. The Deputy has been an ideal person to fill his particular post at the Convention. I was interested in his comments on common foriegn and security policy because the Iraq crisis has focused all our minds on the obvious path of aggrandisement upon which the United States has embarked. It cannot continue because it might gobble up Iraq today but tomorrow it might be another country which is gobbled up.
The Deputy's speech often touched on how we make the European Union acceptable to people in all member states. We can consider dumbing-down, making it more simple, printing posters and so on but it is clearly more fundamental than this. How does the Deputy think we can enthuse the electorate time and again, as we had to do for the second referendum on the Treaty of Nice? Collectively and individually, we made a mistake in our approach to the first referendum. We learned the lesson and went out and enthused people but I do not know if we can continue to do this. How can we make it simpler, more understandable and imbue it with a passion? There must be a passion for the European project because, if there is not, it will ultimately fail. There will be challenges and difficult decisions for countries and their citizens to address. However, some small changes have already been accepted without much fuss such as the provision for reduced numbers of MEPs and other provisions deriving from the Treaty of Nice. How will we continue to inject passion, interest and voting strength into all matters European, while remaining in touch with our own sense of nationality? How do we fundamentally reconcile European and national priorities?
I was interested by what the Deputy said about postal capacity as a universal service vis-à-vis competition. Market forces will dictate our services while non-market forces will affect their capability and the comfort zone of having the necessary things in life. I thank the Deputy for coming before the House.
One of the reasons I brought forward the notion of directly electing the President of the European Commission was not because the President would be in a position of great power but because it was a way, every five years, of allowing people in Ireland, Britain, Latvia and Italy to make a choice about an individual. That making of a choice about an individual would be the best way of getting people interested because the individuals campaigning would have to put forward their respective priorities and, in the process of the campaign, people would become interested. Whether we examine the "You're A Star" television programme or the election of the President of the European Commission, it is people and contests that get others interested. That sort of contest is the best way I can think of for meeting the real problem to which the Leader of the House referred.
In response to Senator McDowell, the principles which should govern the CFSP should be respect for international law and process. Process reduces the likelihood of disputes boiling over. The difference between the European and American approaches is that we are placing more emphasis on a process that allows people opportunities to back down, whereas the Americans see a problem and want to go for it. That is a fundamental psychological, as well as political, difference between the way the two continents approach issues which is founded in their different histories. Europe's history has been relatively unfortunate compared to America's fortunate one.
I am not convinced the time for tax harmonisation has come. As a person with a particular European conviction, I prefer not to have unanimity and do not want to be in a position of preserving it. However, I do not like the motives of those who seek for it to be done away with in this area. Their motives are suspect – they just do not want to have to compete. They do not want to face up to their problems and want to force everyone to have the same problems. I do not buy this. I have no hesitation in supporting the Government's position on the matter. However, we are quite isolated and it may be necessary for the Government to construct alternative positions in case the weight of pressure is too great. That is a matter which the Taoiseach is well able to assess in his own way and I have no doubt he will do so.
On the point made by Senator Minihan, the interesting thing is that on the surface the dispute over Iraq has not affected the equilibrium or equanimity of the Convention. There was a touching episode in which I saw the Spanish and German Foreign Ministers embracing one another in a friendly way. I presume it was done because we were in public but the relationship at the Convention – as one expects among sophisticated people experienced in politics – is quite good. Beneath the surface, however, the events of recents weeks have done terrible damage and will do more. If British soldiers come home in body bags from a war resolutely opposed by France and Germany, it is impossible to conceive this would not affect the dynamics of the relationships between the peoples concerned. However well members of the Convention may get on with one another, we must all return to our respective electorates and this will make it more difficult to get a deal.
Tony Blair is a key figure in European politics. For the next two or three months he will have his mind completely absorbed with the war and its aftermath. He will not be able to give the necessary time or mental energy to agreeing to the compromises that will have to be made on his behalf by Peter Hain if we are to get a deal at the Convention.
Senator Brian Hayes asked where the Convention is leading to. The members of the Convention are all investing a considerable amount of time in it. I do not think members would be satisfied to produce a document containing a series of options to be handed to the intergovernmental conference and ask it to reach agreement. Such an outcome would be a waste of our time. It would be a reflection of failure not just on the members of the Convention, but on the national Governments, all of which are represented in the Convention. While we will work to find a deal in the Convention, it will be difficult for the reasons outlined.
Senator Minihan and the Leader referred to the understanding of the electorate of the issues concerned and the prospects of a successful referendum on a treaty at the end of the process. The Convention is a novel way of engaging people. There was no debate in the Seanad prior to the negotiation of the Nice treaty. The negotiations for that treaty were carried out by diplomats in Iveagh House whom Members would probably struggle to name. Irish and other diplomats presented unresolved issues to the heads of government at an overwrought summit in Nice. I hope the people will understand the outcome of this much better.
Senator O'Toole asked about the relationship between the proposed CFSP and the UN. The EU should have one seat on the Security Council – France and Britain should cease to have a seat each. The EU will continue to conduct its common foreign and security policy on the basis of the UN Charter, as it already does.
A common European arrest warrant has already been agreed to. It was agreed to, perhaps reluctantly, in December 2001 by the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, with the assent and involvement of the then Attorney General who is now the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. While it is not present in law as yet, political agreement for it is in place.
If we are to have a common arrest warrant, minimum procedures must be put in place. There must be minimum guarantees about bail and, if one is tried in another jurisdiction, the translation of proceedings into one's own language or a language one understands must also be guaranteed. Minimum procedural guarantees are essential if the common arrest warrant is to work in a fair way. We will probably need qualified majority voting to achieve agreement on these procedures.
We are having a lively debate. A lively debate is also going on within the Government. The atmosphere among the Irish delegation to the Convention is open and frank. The Minister of State with responsibility for European Affairs, Deputy Roche, without breaking any confidences, tells me the concerns of the Government and the range of opinions within it. I respect that. Last week I sent him a seven page letter describing events at a confidential meeting of the EPP I attended. While we do not agree on everything, we are working together in a constructive way.
I pay tribute to the Taoiseach for allowing both of the principal seats representing the Oireachtas to be held by Opposition politicians – no other country has done this. I also express my appreciation to Deputy Noonan for having chosen me to be one of those representatives.
In my work in the Presidium, I represent the national parliamentarians of Europe who elected me to the position. I do not represent the Government or an Irish position. In chairing the group, I have to seek compromises, some of which Deputy Pat Carey, on behalf of the Government, did not agree with. I have a job to do and I try to reconcile different imperatives. I have imperatives from my party at national and European level, my country and my views on Europe. One is always trying to reconcile these and does the best one can.
Senator Ormonde asked how much support there is for my proposal for the direct election of the President of the European Commission. While most people agree with it, they do not want to see it done now.
If this is to be the basis of a constitution that is to last for 30 or 50 years as Giscard d'Estaing says, why not do it now? What is the point of complaining in five years' time that the people are not interested if they have not been given the opportunity to have a say? While I do not think the proposal of the Government is perfect, I am attracted to it because it leaves the door open. If this office is handed over to the European Parliament it will never give it up. While they dress this up as being in the European interest, the Commission, Parliament and Council are seeking more influence for themselves.
With regard to Senator Brian Hayes's last point, the President of the European Parliament was being a trifle poetic in saying that he thought the European bill of rights could be put on a school wall alongside the Irish bill of rights. It would take me too long to explain why it is not likely to be as simple as that. It will not work out quite that well. However, we will get a little nearer to it than we are at present.
I welcome Deputy John Bruton and thank him for his informative address. Hopefully, the states will all one day agree to elect the President of the Commission. Most people would be happy to know that it will not be a united federal states of Europe. Deputy Bruton explained it well. The Union has its own distinct qualities. It has accepted a number of new member states. There must be a vetting procedure with regard to minimum standards of democracy in new member states in their national election procedures. What concerns me and probably many other people in this country is the situation in an applicant country such as Turkey, which is not yet ready for membership and where 10% of the vote is required to get into Parliament. Will Deputy Bruton comment on that?
It is a great pleasure to welcome Deputy John Bruton to the House. I thank him for the enormous effort and the fundamental contribution he is making to the debate on the future of Europe, his great accomplishment of having chaired a working group on a contentious subject and brought it to near consensus and constructive agreement and for his work on the Presidium. It is good to know, where Ireland is concerned, that his mind has not been too broadened by travel.
I also thank Deputy Bruton for this contribution to the National Forum on Europe. He has readily come to the forum with his colleagues, straight from the Council Chamber, as it were, to give us a full flavour of the discussions. It is hugely important that all of us manage to engage the Irish people in this debate. The Leader is to be congratulated on organising this series of meetings with the people who are conducting the debate in the Convention.
I must also confess to being an Augustinian on the issue of an elected President. I have two concerns. The first involves recognition from the Aran Islands to the Peloponnese. The second is probably more substantial. I worry about what I see happening with the American Presidency, where the cost of maintaining a campaign is so large that the office is confined to people who either have the money or put themselves in hock to other people in order to obtain it.
It is difficult to explain the intricacies of qualified majority voting to the ordinary voter. Has anybody considered an alternative, such as a weighted majority vote along with a majority of the states voting? It is a type of double lock. How is it proposed to deal with the amendments that are coming forward and the other sections of the draft constitution as they are drafted? Where does Deputy Bruton see the charter of fundamental rights fitting in?
I thank Deputy Bruton both for his contribution and for his wider work at the Convention.
I also congratulate Deputy John Bruton on the work he has done. It is highly admired. Sometimes we use big words to try to sell things. I talked to somebody recently who had travelled to Barcelona for the weekend because he and his wife had got the flights at such a cheap rate. He credited this to the European Union, Peter Sutherland and the late Jim Mitchell. He knew that Ryanair could not have existed without them. He was pinpointing the specific advantages. When we are trying to draw attention to the benefits of Europe, it could be an easier task because there are so many good things for which we can be thankful.
A person from one of the candidate nations, which was previously a communist country, told me he did not want to substitute another big brother for the big brother that had existed in Moscow. He did not want somebody from Brussels to take away the power his country has become used to having. He was concerned, as are others, about Article 1, which talks about administering certain common competences on a federal basis. Deputy Bruton has already discussed this, but the person was concerned about the use of the phrase "federal basis" compared with the 1957 Treaty of Rome which talks about ever closer union. The word "federal" seems to give people the shivers.
The Deputy will say it is not intended to go in that direction but some people are concerned about the loss of national sovereignty, particularly with regard to subsidiarity. In 2001 the European Union was able to block a merger between two large American companies, GE and Honeywell. It frightened even those outside the European Union that it was capable of blocking the merger of two worldwide, although they are American, companies. I am sure it was correct to do so. However, it was that type of threat which reminded many of us of the dangers. Senator McDowell spoke about the tax harmonisation danger. It might be something we would welcome in a few years when Latvia or some other country is undercutting Ireland, but not at this stage. Will we be able to protect ourselves in the Convention and the new constitution against some of these new trends?
Deputy John Bruton's frankness today is most refreshing. I compliment the Leader on her initiative in inviting the Deputy, Mr. De Rossa and the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, to come before the Seanad. If Senators are to address the problem of the democratic deficit, this is one of the ways of doing it.
When the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, came before the House, I highlighted the fact that in the early days of the EEC we were able to point to many good reasons for being a member. In those days, for every £1 we paid into the EEC, we received £10 back and £9 of that went to farming. Over £8 of the £9 went to price supports. That is a relatively accurate recollection of the economic situation and the set of the relationships we had then. That is the simple way we sold it to the Irish people in the early days.
Within the next couple of years, Ireland will be a net contributor to the EU so we will have a new set of relationships. Senator Quinn spoke about the language that is being used. It is difficult for ordinary people to relate to and most of them simply turn away. Is there a simple way today, given the complexities that have crept into the institutions of the EU, to put forward that same message to the people?
The Deputy did not refer in his conclusion to No. 5 in the list of issues he brought before Senators. I might be wrong or I might not have heard his remarks. I would welcome his opinion on whether, in view of the need to underpin the euro, the European Commission should have a stronger role in ensuring member states do not over-inflate their economies.
Given that the European Union already has the power to strike down any tax policy that is discriminatory or constitutes unfair competition, as it struck down our manufacturing tax rate and export sales relief, what conceivable justification is there for the widespread demand, from every country except the United Kingdom and Ireland, for the introduction of qualified majority voting on tax matters in order to impose a minimum rate of corporation tax?
I have read with interest the summary of the contributions the Deputy has made to the Convention on the Future of Europe. I am committed to the idea that the Convention will have a significant bearing on the evolution of relationships within the European Union. There is, however, much concern that the proposed new European constitution might undermine the values and rights enshrined in the Constitution. That is a fundamental issue. I do not know how easy it will be to address it but it needs to be addressed well in advance of any European constitution being put to the people.
To take Senator Fitzgerald's last point, the European Union's charter of fundamental rights was drawn up to be an EU version of the European Convention on Human rights but with some additional social rights added on, including the right to free placement services, consultation in the workplace and other such matters not included in the original charter. It is likely to be introduced as part of the constitution of Europe but with the proviso that it only applies in respect of the application of European Union law. Unless the European Union was to be given competence in the area of abortion, for instance, which it does not have, there is no way that any interpretation of the charter of fundamental rights could have any effect. Furthermore, the Government has a protocol which protects the position of our current constitutional provisions on the matter. There may be other areas of our constitutional rights about which the Senator is concerned but that is a leading example.
As regards the role of the Commission and the Council in ensuring countries maintain fiscal discipline, my own view is that the Commission should have more power in this matter. I did not think the Government was wise to react as negatively as it did when Commissioner Solbes said we should have run a larger surplus than planned in the 2001 budget. We would be a lot better off now if we had run a larger surplus at that stage and the Minister himself would be much better off if he had taken the European Union's advice rather than following the advice he did. That is a political point, however, upon which I do not really want to dwell.
Objectively, it is right that if one is managing a currency, one has to be able to regulate the amount of money being printed. When governments run deficits, they are printing money. One cannot, therefore, manage a common currency without having some European authority that can tell people not to run deficits beyond a certain amount or, if they are running a surplus, that they should do so to a certain amount in order that when there is a deficit, they will not be in difficulty. As the present arrangements are not as effective as they ought to be, the Commission should be given more power of initiative in this area. At the end of the day, however, any such policy decision has to be taken by the Council of Ministers, not the Commission, although implementing policy is a matter for it.
I regret that the word "federal" was included in the treaty but now that it is there Ireland should not be kicking up about it. It is not a constructive debate in which to become involved. If the Government was to make a big issue of this – which it is not doing – it would be akin to tilting at a windmill rather than tackling anything substantial; it would cause confusion in the public mind rather than dealing with the real issue.
For the reasons I have outlined it is quite clear that the European Union is not federal. The United States was founded as a federal union in 1787 on the basis that the federation or union had the exclusive power to raise an army and run deficits. Those are two things the European Union does not have the power to do.
Senator Quinn referred to people in central and eastern Europe being worried about giving up one controller in Moscow for another in Brussels. The truth of the matter is, however, that if there was no European Union, they would be swapping one controller in Moscow for another in Berlin. Germany is so big in the centre of Europe that it will dominate its surroundings. The European Union regulates the way in which big powers can exert influence over small powers, as well as big companies over small ones. The European Union has been good for Ireland because it has provided us with a mechanism whereby we can ensure the British do not throw their weight around in this part of the world. Similarly for the Poles, the European Union will ensure Germany cannot throw its weight around in that part of the world. The choice for the countries concerned, therefore, is not between Moscow and Brussels but between Moscow and Berlin. The choice for us is not between Dublin and Brussels but between London and Brussels. It is much better to have these decisions taken in Brussels or Frankfurt where we have a say than in London as they used to be when our currency rates were set by the Bank of England in Threadneedle Street.
That is the choice.
Senator Maurice Hayes asked how the 114 amendments to the 16 articles would be dealt with. We will decide in the Presidium which amendments are best and put an amended version to the Convention. We could not go through each one of them individually. The idea of a double majority, to which the Senator referred, instead of the complicated qualified majority voting system provided for in the Treaty of Nice, is an improvement that will take place.
Concern was expressed by Senators about the cost of campaigns and the recognition of candidates in a European presidential election. First, the European parties will be funded and will, in turn, fund campaigns. They will not be funded out of individuals' pockets. Second, people living on the Aran Islands or the Peleponese know who Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac are, even though neither politician might address them in their native languages. There is, therefore, no reason people living in those areas and other parts would not know who the candidates in a European presidential election were. They would get to know them and it would be the business of the candidates to make sure they did.
To answer Senator Coghlan's point, any country joining the European Union has to put 80,000 pages of European Union law onto its statute book, and all have done so. The trouble lies with enforcement. There are genuine worries, for example, about the courts system in Romania. Whatever about the Romanians accepting European Union law, will their courts be willing or able to implement it? That is the big question.
We should be wary of singling out Turkey as the only country that has ever had question marks over its human rights record. Some of the legislation we have had to have on the Statute Book – including internment, which I supported at the time – would place us in some difficulty with modern thinking on human rights. We should recognise that some countries have bigger problems to deal with. We should not be unduly superior. However, if Turkey joins the European Union, it will be the country with the largest population. Within a short time its population will exceed that of Germany. If it joins, it will change the nature of the European Union in a substantial way but, on the other hand, it will be beneficial because its demographic profile is much more healthy than that of existing member states. It will not have a major pension problem because many babies are being born in that country and many young people are entering the workforce. The rest of Europe will face an appalling pension and ageing problem into the future. This is one of the issues about which the Convention can do next to nothing. Looking at the broad canvas of what is important in Europe, this is a major issue.
I thank Deputy John Bruton for his stimulating speech and pay tribute to the quality of the contribution of his advocacy for the European Union, something he shares in common with his two predecessors as Leader of Fine Gael. The quality of its advocacy is something about which the party can be really proud.
I agree entirely with what the Deputy said on the state and super-state. He may have noticed that I deployed some of the same arguments over the past 12 months or more. Equally, I agree with his comments on federalism on which we must have some rational discussion. The reference seems to be a factual one. It is the case that monetary policy is a competence run on a federal basis. I do not see the reason we should have to put up with constantly shooting down in public debate to kingdom come Thatcherite canards by those not prepared to discuss the issue rationally.
What I would really like to home in on is the discussion on the current international situation and its impact on common foreign and security policy. I saw an interesting and stimulating article which I believe was written by an American who said the United States inhabited a Hobbesian sort of world of power where the famous phrase "life is nasty, brutish and short" was used versus the post-War Kantian concept of a European confederation which is more idealistic and only resorts to use of power, certainly military power, as a last resort.
It is obvious that the Iraq situation has caused serious tensions, to put it mildly, between leading countries pulling in opposition directions. It is not only a question of Britain and France being members of the UN Security Council. Britain has always based its post-War foreign policy, above all, on its special relationship with the United States which seems to take primacy over Europe whereas the French have a concept of European unity which, to a degree, is meant to be a rival to the United States. With regard to the idea of a single UN seat on the Security Council for Europe – if one was French, one could say, "C'est tres beau"– the chances of that happening or of Britain and France giving up their seats are minimal.
I have two questions for the Deputy. On the assumption that his ideal of such a single UN seat is not entertained by the British and the French, how else does he see Europe acquiring a more coherent voice – that is perhaps a hypotethical question because we do not precisely what will happen – and how does he envisage we will repair the rifts? The European Union is about to expand greatly to include 25 members, perhaps more. This leads to strong suggestions, particularly on the part of larger states, that we need greater coherence and direction. There are certain dangers in this situation for small states. In the context of a union of 25 member states where it is necessary to have some coherence and direction, what is the best strategy for a small country like Ireland to maintain its influence at the maximum possible level?
I welcome Deputy John Bruton. From my brief experience in politics a significant event was the recent Nice treaty referendum. Without stealing the thunder from the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Roche, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, Deputy John Bruton championed the cause in relation to that referendum.
The Leader of the House in her vision in Glenties last summer – perhaps she was inspired while in county Donegal -spoke of decentralising the debate from this House. I congratulate her on doing so because it is important. Everyone of us as a political representative had to put up with a great deal of negativity and scaremongering during the last Nice treaty referendum because people felt they were disenfranchised and that there was a democratic deficit.
In line with the thinking of the Leader to decentralise the debate, I would like to go a step further and bring it to local authority level as councillors are in touch with the people. They hear the person on the street ask the reason are it is becoming a bland Europeanised project, a uniform European Union. Every area should be distinct and authentic in its own right in keeping with the theory of subsidiarity.
The Deputy said in one of his statements that there was a Europeanising of the European project which was in breach of subsidiarity. While that is not the language of the ordinary person, it is exactly what the ordinary person is thinking in west Clare, west Mayo or west Donegal. We should be treated differently even on an inter-regional basis nationally but also in a European context. The way to do this is to follow up the Leader's thinking on the matter on which I followed through at local authority level by putting a motion to Donegal County Council calling for the setting up of an EU sub-office to disseminate information from the European Union or perhaps even to bring European bureaucrats, or our own, to participate in each local authority on the island, as the people will be only allowed to debate the European project again come the next referendum.
At the Convention there is room to debate the need for decentralising the project further. I got unanimous support from councillors across parties – Fianna Fáil, Independent Fianna Fáil and my party – who agreed that a sub-office would be of great benefit in the dissemination of information which would enable the person who calls to the county council offices to be made aware of the tangible benefits of the European project, about which Senator Quinn spoke. I throw out that suggestion to the Deputy and would like to hear his thoughts on it.
I welcome former Taoiseach, Deputy John Bruton, and I praise him for his efforts to have God mentioned in a European Constitution. The history of Europe shows us that such a humble mention would only inspire us to greater things. Perhaps it is the lack of such an understanding that has caused so many problems in the past. I hope in the future we can see that pure secularism is arid and sterile.
Deputy Bruton should consider whether Russia and the Urals, from Vorkuta to the Caspian Sea, are also European centres. I am paraphrasing Margaret Thatcher, something I am not used to doing. Budapest, Warsaw and Prague were mentioned as European centres when the Iron Curtain still existed, but there seems to be an acceptance that Russia will not be included and will remain separate to the rest of the European community. That is not the correct way to deal with Europe. We must engage with and embrace Russia, which is a huge and marvellous country comprised of 11 time zones. It is part of Europe and we must try to include it within the European Union.
As functions are decentralised – the Ariane rocket, for example, is launched from French Guyana – would it not be proper if the Third World aid office was decentralised from Brussels to Dublin? We are in a unique situation: we have never had colonies and we have excellent Third World relations. We would be uniquely placed for any such decentralisation and Deputy Bruton should consider that.
I also welcome Deputy John Bruton and I compliment him on his input into the concept of Europe now and throughout his career; he has always been a good European.
During the past 15 years there has been a noticeable and unfortunate rejection of the concept of Europe by the Irish electorate. We used to be top of the league and were recognised as good Europeans, but we have fallen away. We have lost ownership of the European concept. One of today's newspapers details a serious development as a result of the current determination of America to go to war, which seems to have led to new alignments of States within Europe for and against war. The fallout may be that Irish diplomats and representatives dealing with the Fischler reforms will lose some of their supporters when it comes to securing certain reforms because of these realignments. Deputy Bruton should comment on this.
I welcome Deputy Bruton's suggestion that the Convention should deal with the possibility of an arm of the Irish Legislature, such as the Seanad, having the opportunity to challenge some European laws. That is one reason the electorate has lost confidence in Europe. We all recognise the positive aspects of Europe, such as the funding Ireland receives, but such positive impressions can be lost. There is a need for reform and for people to have a tangible input. If the Seanad could challenge some EU laws and directives, as Deputy Bruton suggested, there would be more tangible recognition among the electorate of such an input. The same goes for his suggestion regarding the direct election of a President; that could be another carrot to entice the electorate to get involved in Europe.
—in Ireland because of our fears regarding Sellafield.
I do not know how we will evaluate the results of the Convention, but new mechanisms to order business in Europe would be very welcome. I wish Deputy Bruton every success in his future deliberations in the Convention.
I echo the welcome for Deputy John Bruton. I know of his commitment to Europe.
Deputy Bruton mentioned the EURATOM Treaty and I agree with him that questions could be raised regarding the closure of unsafe nuclear facilities. I understand this treaty is to be reviewed, but I am concerned that treatment of the nuclear industry is too preferential. I have asked on previous occasions if there is any possibility of emphasising and supporting alternative energy sources, as we are all conscious of the Kyoto Protocol and there has been much talk of green taxes. Alternative energy sources should be supported.
Deputy Bruton discussed how the European Parliament should be elected, referring to PR, the list system and the first past the post system. Constituency boundaries are a major issue now, particularly in light of the review of those boundaries. Connacht-Ulster is a huge three seater constituency, stretching from Malin Head to the Clare border, and could be bigger again after the next revision. Has any thought been given to reducing constituencies to two or one-seaters? At present, the constituencies are huge.
Deputy Bruton has always pushed for a genuine union of people rather than institutions within Europe, something I have always appreciated. Since we joined the EU 30 years ago, some politicians have blamed Europe for bureaucracy, red tape and various directives. This has resulted in citizens becoming suspicious of Europe on certain issues.
Irish sovereignty should be thoroughly debated in a manner which engages citizens. It is important for the nation that we arrive at a common understanding of how we perceive our sovereignty in a more integrated Europe. We should commence this vital process now, rather than in the lead-up to a Dublin treaty. I ask Deputy John Bruton to outline his views in this regard.
On the question of the closeness of the institutions to the people, Article 1 of the Treaty of Rome refers to bringing Europe closer to its citizens. Senator McHugh raised several issues concerning the involvement of local and regional government. Will the Convention on the Future of Europe adopt the European charter on local self-government? The charter should be incorporated into a European constitution, treaty or convention at the earliest opportunity as it focuses on bringing the institutions closer to the people.
My apologies for my misunderstanding as regards the time of this debate. I am delighted to have the opportunity to respond to the points made by Senators.
Senator Mansergh is correct that persuading the French and British to give up their seats on the Security Council would be extremely difficult. While I am not aware of any serious efforts to push such a possibility, it is a logical position. Current events demonstrate the need to exert pressure in that direction as it would at least have the beneficial effect of making France and Britain realise that some people question their right to sit on the Security Council. They should show greater willingness to work within the context of the European Union, rather than escaping EU control by consistently relying on the argument that their ability to use a veto in New York means they do not have to listen to anyone in Brussels.
In noting that France and Britain would never give up their Security Council seats, Senator Mansergh asked what would be the next best thing. The European Union should return to the model which ultimately led to the construction of the Common Market, namely, the European Coal and Steel Community. By making countries interdependent as far as the sinews of war were concerned, the establishment of the ECSC ensured they could not go to war again.
We need to take a similar approach by establishing a European armaments agency. The creation of one agency with one method of purchasing arms for the various armies in the Europe would make countries mutually dependent and allow them to specialise in different military tasks. This would build structural interdependence, out of which would grow a common approach to issues on which one might have to contemplate the use of means of control. Apart from learning from the colossal mistakes we, in Europe, are currently making, I cannot think of a better approach.
I was going to say Superquinn. My message, in other words, is that one must have higher quality representation, which is the reason Superquinn came to mind. I do not mean to be critical of our public administration, but it is probably unavoidable. Its approach to European affairs must become less reactive, defensive and focused on identifying potential problems for us in proposals emanating from the European Union. It must try to invest our interest in a common European interest, in other words, to create a European interest under which our interest can develop, rather than taking a negative approach in which we reject this, that and the other. We need to be more creative.
My criticism is not so much levelled at the current Government as at the way in which people think about the European Union. There is, for example, a tendency here to react. This is probably due to low staffing levels in the Department of Foreign Affairs, which means people are stretched and can only deal with urgent matters. As a result, they do not have time to be as creative as they should be.
We need to harness our resources to be ahead of the game at all times. We must develop European solutions to problems which also happen to suit Ireland, as opposed to Irish objections to European solutions proposed by other member states. This approach should be summarised and pinned to the walls in Iveagh House, Merrion Street and other Departments.
With regard to Senator McHugh's comments, membership of the European Community has not created a uniform Europe. If, for example, one was to trace the flowering of Irish music, one would find it blossomed around the same time we joined the European Economic Community. Although there is not necessarily a connection between the two developments, the distinctiveness of Ireland has become more visible since we joined the EEC. When we were inward looking, others did not know much about us and were not particularly interested in us because we were so preoccupied with ourselves. As a member of the European Union, interest in Ireland has grown and we have developed a greater sense of ourselves due to the strong contact we now have with other countries. This would never have come about had we continued to direct our dialogue inwards. Europe should not be regarded as a threat in this regard.
I thank Senator Hanafin for his reference to—
The spirit of my remarks was addressed to the 60% of the population of Donegal who did not vote, rather than the Senator.
I appreciate Senator Hanafin's comments. The wording we proposed with regard to the question of including a reference to God in the proposed constitution is entirely non-sectarian. It includes people who do not believe in God as well as believers from the Muslim, Jewish and Christian faiths. I find it difficult to understand the reasons for the objections to the proposal. It is almost as if the people concerned have a problem accepting that other people believe in God. Perhaps they feel it is somehow wrong to acknowledge that others believe when they do not. The intolerance that used to be expressed by believers has been adopted by non-believers who have become as intolerant as believers ever were. I discovered this in the few weeks since I made my proposal and, while it should not have been the case, I was surprised.
I acknowledge the serious point made by Senator Ulick Burke about the potential effect of current divisions in Europe on the negotiations on the Common Agricultural Policy. I hope his concerns are not realised.
Senator Kitt is correct that there is preferential treatment for nuclear power. There is also preferential treatment with regard to the state aid regime and the research budget. Under current arrangements, nuclear power does not have to compete with other energy sources on the same basis. From our point of view, a renegotiation of the EURATOM Treaty is an opportunity to correct some of these matters. However, we will not be able to halt the production of nuclear power in Europe. We can at least ensure that it competes on a level basis with other possible energy sources, which it does not do under current arrangements. That is why it is worth raising the issue.
As far as constituencies for the European Parliament are concerned – I do not know whether Senator Kitt is contemplating standing for election – I believe two-seaters are about as low as one can go. I am not sure if Members are aware that Spain is a single constituency in terms of elections to the European Parliament. Furthermore, the candidates are selected by the party leaders. A Spanish MEP who is anywhere near the top of the list need not worry about any voter other than his or her party leader.
She is doing well. Her name is Ana Botella.
I do not know the answer to the question put by Senator Bannon about the charter of local government. I will investigate whether there is any recognition of that charter in the European Union. As the Senator is aware, that is a Council of Europe charter, which has a different provenance to the European Union, but there is no reason it cannot be considered to be something we would at least work towards in the European Union. I will take the matter up as result of what the Senator said.
The Senator is correct also in saying there is a tendency to blame Europe for measures that Ministers, on many occasions, agree to indirectly. Many actions taken in Brussels are not taken by the European Commission but by management committees and various other committees on which the Irish Government is represented. However, many of the people who represent Ireland on those committees have been members for years, do not tell their Ministers what they are doing, agree to measures and then, when the decision comes to be implemented, blame Brussels when it was the people representing Ireland, Spain, Italy, France and all the other countries who agreed to these measures.
No so much in COREPER because it is preparing for the Council of Ministers and the Ministers keep an eye on what is going on in COREPER. However, there is no scrutiny of some of the other management committees which implement legislation. One action we hope to take in the Convention is to introduce more scrutiny and visibility in terms of what is being done in these various committees. It will then be more difficult for people to blame Europe, as Senator Bannon correctly stated they do. Thank you, a Leas-Chathaoirleach.