Thursday, 27 November 2003
Address by President of the European Parliament.
It gives me great pleasure to welcome Mr. Pat Cox, President of the European Parliament, to Seanad Éireann. His attendance is particularly timely in view of Ireland's forthcoming EU Presidency. Over the past few years, President Cox has become one of Europe's most celebrated political figures. He has raised the profile of the European Parliament as well as being a strong ambassador for Ireland. One had only to be present in the House in October 2002 when President Cox addressed Seanad Éireann to appreciate his commitment to Europe. His enthusiasm and passion for the enlargement of the Union was also obvious. To this end he worked tirelessly and visited all accession countries. He has addressed many of their parliaments explaining both rights and responsibilities that come with membership. I call on President Cox to address Seanad Éireann.
I want to touch on a number of themes about the moment we are living through as Irish Europeans and in the European Union. We are on the threshold of 2004, a year of renewal and redefinition for the European project. It will be a year of renewal because the European Union will grow from 15 to 25 states. In a certain way we will fulfil two powerful visions from two very different sources in the act of realising that enlargement. One, I recall, was the first visit paid by the current Pontiff, Pope John Paul II, to his native land in Poland in 1978, when he said he believed that our old Continent would never really heal earlier injury if it could not breathe fully with its two lungs, east and west. Next year we will breathe on those two lungs. The other vision is to be found in the seminal speech in May 1950 by the then French Foreign Minister, Robert Schuman, which set out the thinking on new European institutions for the foundation states of European integration after the Second World War. Inside all of those institutional ideas was one big value, that of creative reconciliation. For our generation of Europeans, 1 May 2004 will be the most powerful generational act of creative reconciliation that our Continent has seen in our lifetime. The second act of renewal and redefinition is that we will have a new constitutional treaty, not yet ratified, but already available in the public market place of ideas and debate as we move into 2004.
A new European Parliament will be elected in June 2004. Its first job will be to vote on a nominee President for the new European Commission, whose first job will be to introduce a five year programme and appoint a new team of Commissioners. Considerable energy and focus will be required in respect of any new capacities this new Europe may derive from constitutional change. The Irish Presidency arises at an extraordinary moment characterised by a conjunction of Europeanness, growth and development of a scale and nature we have not seen before. I am so pleased, as an Irish person, that this happy coincidence should prevail from next January.
As President of the European Parliament, I express my gratitude to the Taoiseach, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister of State with special responsibility for European affairs, who in recent months have worked with us in the Parliament to establish an Irish presence. Many Irish Ministers have already been to Brussels and Strasbourg, where they met the committee leaders, across all parties, to discuss the work they must do.
The Irish Presidency will begin in a public way in January, but it has already begun many months ago in terms of planning and strategy. Although this process has gone unseen it should not go unremarked. It represents an intense level of necessary co-operation, and in this regard I thank the Government.
I thank the Irish public servants with whom Irish public life is blessed and acknowledge their extraordinarily high quality. I take a particular Irish pride in recognising that the first and only woman to be a permanent representative of a state before the European Union is the Irish EU ambassador Anne Anderson. She and her team from the Department of Foreign Affairs and other Departments are in the engine room preparing for the Presidency. It is proper that I should acknowledge, on the basis of my parliamentary work, the extent of their long engagement in the planning process.
Of the many distinguished Members of this House, I single out and thank Senator Maurice Hayes on behalf of the European Parliament. The leadership he has given through the National Forum on Europe was indispensable to Ireland's acceptance of the Nice treaty, which in turn was indispensable to realising enlargement next year during the Irish Presidency. Moreover, given that the Senator is so good at his work, the work he will continue and need to do when we have a new constitutional treaty to debate and ratify will remain central to Ireland's ongoing role in Europe.
The European Parliament was very impressed and pleased with the method of preparation of the constitutional treaty on the part of the Convention on the Future of Europe. We believe this is the way to open up debate to a wider audience. Even if people chose not to follow the debate, they cannot claim to have been excluded. The convention sat for 17 months and had, between full and substitute members, 207 members representing Governments and Parliaments from 28 states, including the Houses of the Oireachtas, and also the European Commission and European Parliament. The convention heard more than 2,000 spoken contributions on the public record, dealt with more than 6,000 amendments and considered more than 240 proposals. It published 23,500 documents, including amendments, proposals, analyses, input and revision, on the Internet as they arrived before it. This represents open engagement and not a Europe behind closed doors.
The European Parliament, in its resolution, supported the fruits of the convention's labour by an overwhelming majority of three to one. Could we think of ways in which it could be improved? Of course we could because each of us could do so, as could political institutions. However, we asked a different question, namely, is this better than what it replaces? Our answer was "Yes". We asked whether it will make Europe more democratic and our answer was "Yes". We asked whether it will create more rights for Europe's citizens and our answer was "Yes". We asked whether it spells out the current values and objectives of Europe and our answer was again "Yes". It spells out a Europe closer to the ideal of the citizens' Europe and a more parliamentary Europe. Therefore, it represents something very big, namely, the idea of Europe as a political and parliamentary entity and not merely an economic entity. This is a very powerful step towards a Europe in which we are prepared to invest more because we can understand it better and contribute more to it.
The European Parliament fully supports the proposition that the Oireachtas and national Parliaments throughout the Union should be involved in reviewing the Commission's annual legislative programme. This would serve as an early warning system. If one third of all Parliaments in the Union claims a Commission proposal offends subsidiarity and proportionality, that is, the issues of who does what and whether a certain decision is correct, then the Commission must pause. This warning system never existed before and it is a way of extending ownership, parliamentary engagement and accountability. We support it because now it amounts to not a competition of Parliaments, but a necessary expression of democratic accountability at each appropriate level.
Although 732 MEPs will be elected to the European Parliament next year to represent 25 states, the 28 states that participated in the convention will have more than 10,000 Senators and MPs between them. Connecting the 10,000 Members to this project is a powerfully positive step towards opening up and democratising and it contrasts with the circumstances that obtained in the past.
The European Parliament welcomes the idea of merging the functions of Javier Solana and Commissioner Patten. We welcome the idea of having a continuous Council Presidency to deliver more of what we say we want to do. However, the Parliament believes in a Presidency that gets things done and not in a super-Presidency that tries to oversell the capacity and function of such an office. We welcome the broad balance between the different institutions. It is important, especially in Ireland, that the Community method of making decisions remains strong in this treaty and that a new European Commission remains strong in articulating the Europe of tomorrow because the European Commission is the forum to which small states look for fair play and guardianship of the treaties.
Two days ago the Italian Presidency published a document which this weekend will be considered at a conclave of Foreign Ministers in Naples. This document is a step in the direction of trying to close the debate, not to close it down but to arrive at a conclusion. We in the Parliament earnestly hope that the Italian Presidency will succeed in bringing closure to this before the Brussels summit in mid-December. I know from our extensive contacts with the Irish Presidency that should that not be the case, the Irish Presidency is able and willing to pick up those pieces. I hope that will not happen for one political reason. We know all the questions and delaying the answers by several weeks or months will not change the essential questions so now is the time to decide.
I wish to comment briefly on one issue, more as an Irish European than in my role as President of the European Parliament. I find it interesting how members of the media here present one of the assertions the Government has made about a so-called red line, namely the question of maintaining unanimity in taxation. There is a vigorous debate on this but somehow in our reporting it frequently transforms almost to a decision. That is not the case. There is a debate and divided opinion but the opinion of the Government on tax and unanimity is not an isolated one. My personal presumption, and here I speak personally, is that the objective that has been set down will materialise in the essential fabric of the new document. The Irish Presidency, ignoring whether there is a spill over of the constitution, still has several powerfully important contributions to make. As the Senators know, we have for several years had the Lisbon agenda, an economic and social reform package to try to make Europe a truly competitive global player, a place that tries to show solidarity within and without, and that is capable of holding its own as a knowledge-based and information society. I do not wish to go into it in detail but there is a large identifiable and measurable gap between what we say we want to do and what as Europeans we are delivering. The March summit of the Irish Presidency could be a defining leadership moment in Europe for a State, regardless of internal controversies, which shows that reform can work and put people back to work. It will show that Spain, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden, Finland, Luxembourg, Denmark and Ireland with their very different kinds of politics and people in charge have one thing in common, each to varying degrees has reformed more than the large continental economies and each has established that reform delivers. We have to convey, deliver on and plant that kind of message.
Permit me to share a story which I told at the last summit meeting in Brussels about this agenda. It involves the famous Mayor Daly of Chicago, well-known in these parts for all the obvious familial reasons. In one of his many administrations he came to give the opening speech as the re-elected mayor. Someone had written the script for him and the honourable gentleman had not read the script prior to its delivery, something that would never happen in the Seanad. The speech writer had written "we commit our new administration to the achievement of ever higher plateaux of achievement", plateaux not being a very user-friendly word in anyone's mouth. The good mayor read it out and committed his new administration to the "achievement of ever higher platitudes of achievement". I tell the story because Ireland needs to put zip and attitude where today, and for the last few years, we have had platitude. We are up for it and are capable of doing it. It would be an important European contribution.
This Seanad, the Dáil and the Irish people have a deep and abiding respect for, and commitment to, the United Nations Charter and multi-lateralism. Multi-lateralism was severely tested at the time of the Iraqi crisis and Europe developed a severe internal strife. An Irish Presidency committed to multi-lateralism can do Europe a great service. If we carry it forward to add the other part, how do we discover effective multi-lateralism, and lead from Ireland a debate in Europe about the renewal of the UN Charter? It is the charter that looked at wars between states but we live in an era where, for the most part, states are not necessarily the antagonists with which we may fear war. We must look again at this and which state in Europe could be better placed than this one, with its history of commitment to the United Nations, to begin to develop and deliver this platform? On 29 January next, we in the European Parliament will have the privilege of a visit from Kofi Annan and I will have the privilege of presenting our annual Sakharov award to recall those who fell in Baghdad in our international public service, Sergio de Mello and those others. I have invited the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs to associate the Irish Presidency with this and I hope and believe we can take moments like that as Irish Europeans to bring our values of effective multi-lateralism on to a wider stage. Without labouring the point we have a very special relationship historically and, in modern terms, economically, with the United States of America. The Irish Presidency can do Europe another service, that of making running repairs to a robust but stressed EU-US relationship. We have a way about us that some others do not have in these things and we could deploy and employ that to powerfully positive effect for a wider EU-US dialogue.
Next week I will be in Naples attending a meeting of European Foreign Ministers on Euro-Mediterranean dialogue, involving north and south, and both sides of the Mediterranean including of course the difficult and at times apparently intractable problems of the Middle East. I will announce this officially next week but can tell the Seanad now that the European Parliament has worked with national parliaments of tomorrow's Europe of 25, with the parliaments of all the states in the Middle East and across the southern shores of the Mediterranean to agree to a European-Mediterranean parliamentary assembly. The Oireachtas will be represented there, as will the European Parliament, with the integrity of their political mandates. I would love if during the Irish Presidency we, who are geographically north in Europe, would take up this challenge and be the first to produce such an assembly to establish that we offer solidarity and are connected to the concept of the wider Europe, its new neighbours, old neighbours and its intractable and difficult problems. In that way we would not say to the Mediterranean states, Portugal, Spain, France, Italy and Greece, that is for them because it is their region, but rather that this is an issue for us, because we are committed Europeans.
I will develop one other theme. I am very proud of the Europe of values in which I believe, and what that Europe tries to do. I will give a few brief illustrations. We in the European Union have led a committed case, for which Irish MEPs voted, to establish an international criminal court with due process, and therefore to elevate to the highest standard of law and due process one message, that those who perpetrate wrong will pay, and will come before a court to answer for their wrongs, genocidal or otherwise. I would prefer the due process of the international criminal court any day to the absence of process in Guantanamo Bay every day.
Mr. Cox, MEP:
In the Europe of values I am proud we are giving a lead in sustainability, in global warming and the Kyoto Protocol. We need to keep that challenge before us because what we are doing is bigger than merely something for ourselves or our generation.
Mr. Cox, MEP:
I admit we should do more, but I am proud of the fact that the EU is the biggest donor community in the world, giving annually more than two and a half times what the USA gives in terms of untied aid to the poorest nations on earth. I am proud that we are the largest donor of humanitarian food aid, mostly bought in the places where we go, rather than by selling our goods by subsidy to others.
Mr. Cox, MEP:
I now present a challenge. I ask the Seanad to assist me as European Parliament President in an exercise which I hope the Irish EU Presidency might take up, which marries some of the issues I have mentioned. We are an ancient country with long traditions, one of them greatly recognised and celebrated across continental Europe, namely the missionary tradition. Times change and things move on, but there remains some kind of depth about Irish out-reach which has not gone away. Whether it happened during the Celtic tiger period or post Celtic tiger, we have become a digitally literate society. The biggest gap today does not relate to simply sending a goat to someone who is a farmer, or sending a cow where there is no cow. I do not dismiss these actions, all of which are positive, but the biggest gap for tomorrow's world is the digital divide between the haves who are on-line and the have-nots who are wholly excluded.
Mr. Cox, MEP:
With our missionary tradition, our digital literacy and a budget line on which I am working in the European Parliament for next year, let us try to give an Irish leadership to touch the idealism of European citizens much in evidence when the debate on Iraq got under way. People hanker in some way to be given a lead, to connect and reach out. Let us try to work together during the Irish EU Presidency to create a European development volunteer corps, and give an Irish lead to a missionary tradition, a digital literacy and a determination to bring solidarity for tomorrow through education, using the capacities with which we have been gifted in this generation.
Mr. Cox, MEP:
This is a wonderful moment for European affairs. It is so special that the two major European political institutions should coincidentally and for the first and only time in our 30 years in the EU be led by Irish Europeans. We are a people with pride, values and capacities. Let us together bring those to Europe in the next six months and leave a legacy of which I know we can be proud. Thank you.
We will now take questions, beginning with those from the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael group leaders, after which we will take questions from other Members until 12.30 p.m., when the President of the European Parliament will reply to the questions.
I welcome the President of the European Parliament, Mr. Cox. I was impressed with the detail given in his speech, and I am proud as an Irish person to witness his knowledge and his capacity to present the facts on the re-shaping of Europe, a prospect for whose realisation he feels deeply.
Mr. Cox has said so much that I hope we can get a copy of what he has said at another time, because some great ideas have been put forward. I have tried to jot them down as Mr. Cox spoke. He talked about giving us back the ownership of Europe and about subsidiarity. These are very powerful words. Up to the Nice treaty referendum we did not own Europe. Mr. Cox and the second Nice treaty referendum have helped us to do so, and helped us towards reaching a decision on where we will go in the reshaping of Europe.
Mr. Cox also referred to the concept of the future of Europe and the fact that we will have such a huge diversification in the expanded Europe, with 25 member states. With that diversification we will have a range of wealth, history, geography, language and people pursuing different interests. It concerns me that we could then have sub-groups emerging in the pursuit of their interests. There are implications for that in the future because of the diversity of so many small states coming into play from such a wide background. It is possible that all of us as Europeans will be called on to hold that Europe together. I would like to hear Mr. Cox's views on that.
We are proud that we will have an Irish President of the European Parliament and an Irish EU Presidency at the same time. That will certainly put Ireland on the map. As Mr. Cox said, we have the capacity, the ability and the personality. We should flaunt it.
On behalf of the Fine Gael party I welcome the President of the European Parliament, Mr. Cox, to the Seanad this morning, and I thank him for an interesting and inspiring address. One of Mr. Cox's colleagues, Mr. Joe McCartin MEP, was with us yesterday, and I was struck by his remark that when he first entered the European Parliament 24 years ago, many of the people he served with were the sons and daughters of people who had been slaughtered in the Second World War. He made the point that as we move further away from the last century and the terrible tragedy of two world wars on the Continent of Europe, we lose sight of that tragedy and forget about it.
When Mr. Cox referred to the new accession countries which will join the EU next year, I was very much taken by his remark on what he called creative reconciliation. We in Europe must never forget what happened, because the whole genesis of small countries originally coming together has resulted in a much bigger European Union. We came together because of our differences. Ireland is now an equal partner in the EU with Britain, which had a very belligerent relationship with Ireland for so many years. That fostering of a new relationship must never be forgotten, any more than the slaughter that occurred on the Continent of Europe. I welcome Mr. Cox's remark about creative reconciliation and how it can be developed.
Mr. Cox also referred to the EU method. I want to tease that out with him. The European system is one based on the equality of all countries, from the smallest country, Luxembourg, to the biggest country, whether it be France, Germany or Britain. Does Mr. Cox agree that last Tuesday morning, at a meeting of the Finance Ministers of the Council of Europe, that notion was destroyed when France and Germany got their way in not having penalties imposed on them despite clearly and deliberately breaching the rules of the Stability and Growth Pact? Either there is one law for every country or there is not and I would be interested to hear the President's comments on that development. It will clearly require a re-negotiation of the very pact that allowed the eurozone countries to establish the currency.
The decision has further implications because we will probably see interest rates rise within the eurozone. One could argue that we are at the bottom of the cycle and it would happen anyway but this brazen decision on the part of the two largest economies will lead to Irish mortgage rates increasing by more than they would ordinarily in the next eight months. I would like to hear Mr. Cox's comments on that in his capacity as President of the European Parliament.
I was interested in the President's remarks on the Lisbon agenda and Ireland's role in bringing the interests of the EU and the US together. I do not believe in the new European chauvinistic view of the US, we must repair that relationship because it is in all of our interests economically and in pursuit of greater democracy and justice in the world. Whatever the view of the current US presidency, we must repair that relationship and we are ideally located as a small country with great cultural and economic connections with Europe and the US to bring that about during the course of our EU Presidency.
Fine Gael has raised the notion of reviewing of the triple lock mechanism. Last week we sent 500 troops to Liberia under the UN banner but we cannot send troops to Macedonia, a potential future member of the EU, because the Chinese influenced the Security Council not to formulate a resolution. We must examine this issue because fundamental internal reform is required in the United Nations and as a neutral country with great experience of peace keeping, we must play our role. We must act in Europe, not just other parts of the world.
As a constituent of mine, I also wish the President good luck in next year's elections. I always hope that my constituents prosper.
I thank the President for his stimulating address. I have also been to some of the accession countries and the excitement about their entry is incredible. Some of them are linking up with countries that are already members of the European Union. The Estonians say that the Finns will look after them. One could almost walk from Estonia to Finland if the tide was out.
Senator Hayes mentioned our role during the Irish Presidency and the relationship between the European Union and the current United States Administration – there have never been such difficulties with any other US Administration. We all know what happened in Iraq but I am concerned about the change in attitude in the US Administration towards development aid. The US Administration has cut aid to some of the multilateral agencies of the United Nations which we support, causing great distress. While the EU has tried to make up the deficit, it is very difficult. Money promised to assist the global effort to combat AIDS by the US Administration has been diverted to developing a vaccine against anthrax. The only country in the world that has had trouble with anthrax is the United States and the anthrax originated there. Have we any moral influence?
I supported the changes in the Common Agricultural Policy and I am glad the Minister for Agriculture and Food favours decoupling. European farmers, and farmers in the rest of the world, are at a serious disadvantage due to the supports given to farmers within the United States. Many of the protective tariffs introduced in America are contrary to the regulations of the World Trade Organisation. Is there any hope of influence during the pregnancy? I apologise, I should have said Presidency. Great potential exists and we should hope for positive results.
The lead up to a pregnancy is a lot more exciting than the lead up to a presidency. I promise not to refer to the forthcoming European elections. It would be improper for me given my possible position.
I have frequently said that the achievement of the Presidency of the European Parliament by Pat Cox is an honour for the country and fully deserved. We may disagree on many issues, as we will see over the next nine months, but the achievement of the Presidency and the way in which the President has done the job have been a credit to the European project and to Ireland.
Teastaíonn uaim dhá rud a lua faoi stair na hEorpa. Tháinig rudaí iontacha as sin ach tá comharthaí a thugann an stair sin dúinn faoin gcontúirt atá ann i gcónaí fosta. It was the former Taoiseach, Deputy John Bruton, who first drew my attention to the fact that in the last century, there were only three European states with a longer period of independent, functioning democracy than Ireland. We are one of the most ancient democracies of the last century, even though we see ourselves as relatively new. Only Switzerland, Sweden and Britain are older. Democracy, however, is a fragile creation that is always at risk. As a member of the Joint Committee on European Affairs, I have been fortunate to visit a number of the accession countries and see the richness and depth of the civilised heritage that exists there. We must remember, however, that in spite of that cultural and religious heritage, the most ferocious wars ever fought took place in the same civilisation. That should give us pause and that is why, in spite of many criticisms, I am committed to the European project.
We subscribe to a set of values but there may be difficulties with their implementation and operation. How can we create the competitive European economy we wish to see while preserving the extraordinary uniqueness of the European social construct? There is no easy answer to that fundamental question.
The preservation of an economic order that provides prosperity and economic security for everybody and does not push us into a ruthless, competitive market, where those who are less successful literally fall off the table, is one of Europe's great successes since the Second World War. Many of the small countries of Europe have shown us how to achieve this, but there is a great danger that the need for reform in some of the big economies may undermine that, which is something that interests me.
The second concern I have, which is an old concern of mine, is the continuing degree to which civic society feels that many things in Europe are done in secret. I refer particularly to the continual lobbying of NGOs concerned with development issues and trade issues on the process by which the EU arrives at a single trade policy. Committee 133 is, rightly or wrongly, a bete noire to most of the NGOs because they do not know its agenda, its processes, or its outcomes. The idea that such a major issue as European trade policy would effectively be decided in secret, apart from being bad for democracy, is bad for the project. I want to know what are the future prospects of genuine openness? I believe President Cox subscribes to this, but it is not necessarily a part of the culture that has developed in the European Union. Indeed, a considerable part of his political achievement was to expose the more sordid side of that secrecy, an area in which he was particularly successful.
There is a moral issue here which is not embryonic stem cell research. It is a personal issue with which I have difficulty. What will be the position of the European armaments industry? Will we become a competitor of the United States of America, Russia and China, or are we to become moral leaders in an attempt to reverse the international trade in arms? So many of the world's problems, local conflicts, terrorism etc., are inextricably linked to the fact that the world is awash with, not weapons of mass destruction, but weapons of individual destruction that are killing thousands of people and literally hundreds of thousands of children every year. We have a role in that.
I join previous speakers in welcoming the President of the European Parliament, Mr. Cox. It is certainly a great honour. We, in Cork, always consider the city as the real capital of Ireland, but I am glad that President Cox, in his adopted city, has proven that Cork is the real capital of Europe.
That will not end at the conclusion of his presidency, it will continue when Cork is the European capital of culture in 2005. Hopefully, we will be able to educate the President even more. I will not mention the school of music although I would welcome any help on this. Could the President advise us?
President Cox has covered many issues in his challenging address. When preparing questions, it is advisable to have one or two questions ready in case they are covered. As usual, in the case of President Cox, one would have to have seven or eight questions ready as he covers so many different topics.
The challenges before us, in the lead up to our presidency, are issues we have highlighted in this House over recent weeks. We have continually referred to the six months ahead and the challenges that face us. The President of the European Parliament has come here and not only set challenges for us, he has set challenges for the Government that we all feel should get a response. I have a particular interest in what President Cox had to say about the Middle East. This is one of the big issues facing the world today and the problems there have been going on for far too long. Hopefully, during our Presidency, we as a Government will be able to work with the President of the European Parliament in advancing his proposals to bring about some form of settlement and greater understanding there.
Some of the previous speakers have covered a number of issues to which I hope President Cox will return, particularly the Stability and Growth Pact.
On the issue of the triple-lock mechanism, this is an issue I highlighted in this House 12 months ago. I appreciate and understand the Government's position on the triple-lock mechanism, but it is flawed in the light of what happened in Macedonia.
When President Cox speaks about revisiting the UN Charter and how the Security Council comes to its decisions, a mechanism must be found in order that when we in Europe want to partake in a humanitarian aid project – and 99% of the Irish people would support the ongoing mission in Macedonia – an EU resolution on a humanitarian aid project must be able to receive some kind of UN sanction to allow us to overcome this problem. I firmly believe that our non-participation in Macedonia is quite an embarrassment.
I welcome President Cox's comments on Guantanamo Bay, an issue that has been addressed in this House continually and must be aired more often. We had an interesting debate on overseas development aid in this House last night in which the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Tom Kitt, participated. The President of the European Parliament raised the issue of volunteerism; it is interesting that one of the areas about which the Minister of State spoke was on a proposal that he hopes to bring forward next month in connection with the extension of volunteers working through APSO into the international arena. Again, President Cox's ideas on that subject will have the ear of the Minister of State who takes this very seriously.
From an Irish position, how does the President feel the area of the mutual defence and solidarity clause will progress over the next 12 months? Does he feel that, from an Irish perspective, we will be able to retain the status quo that currently exists in our defence commitments in Europe?
I welcome the President of the European Parliament to the Seanad. These days we are immersed in a huge amount of European knowledge as the attendance of many of our MEPs has been an eye-opener for many of us.
We are all familiar with the terms of the Single European Act, Maastricht, Amsterdam, the first and second Nice treaty referenda and the Lisbon agenda, in particular, which sets out the social and economic pathway for the future. However, if we were to go on to Grafton Street now and stop people and ask them to list the Single European Act and all the other treaties I have mentioned to determine if they knew anything about them, they would not be able to do so.
President Cox spoke about next year being the year of renewal for Europe. It will fail if we cannot make the connection between the single citizen, be it Tom Kelly, Mary Brown or whoever, in whatever village or town in Ireland or Europe, as President Cox's brief is Europe. We must make the connection between that citizen and all the lofty ideals Europe epitomises.
I was listening to President Cox's address on the monitor in my room. I came to the Chamber because I was so impressed by the clarity and forthrightness of what he had to say. I particularly compliment him on his courage in what he had to say about the International Criminal Court and Guantanamo Bay. He should continue this, as it is one of the most important issues for humanity around the world.
His broadcast this morning was equally lucid and clear. Although I find difficulties with the invocation of God in our Constitution as it is troublesome, it is an historical fact that Europe derived benefit from its Christian tradition. A reference to that fact should not offend anyone.
I am in favour of the right of Israel to exist. I know and love that country. However, I know that the human rights sections of Israel's external trade agreement have only been tentatively triggered. I would like, as a friend of Israel and knowing the mind of many decent people there, to see this being ratcheted up and implemented in order to place the Sharon Government in a situation where it must recognise the human rights of the Palestinian citizens of Israel.
I thank the President for his kind remarks about the forum and about me. The forum was set up to communicate about Europe and to engage the citizens. The President's personality and profession are a good example of how that can be done. He brought a sense of vision to the issue today and he took Europe away from a collection of directives and orders and gave us a feel for the philosophical and historical basis of the enterprise, which is what the citizens need.
The President spoke about the Mediterranean grouping. How does he envisage the participation of Israel and Palestine in that? That is a place on which Europe should concentrate. If that boil could be lanced, it would reduce the political fever in that part of the world.
I was very interested in the President's thoughts about a type of digital volunteer core. Given that all the European countries are moving away from military service, young people need a right of passage to responsible citizenship. That is a wonderfully inventive and thoughtful way of doing it. Has the President thought about doing it on a national or European basis which would bring them further together? I thank the President for coming here today.
It is always enlightening to hear the President speak, but it is also a great pleasure. I am not sure if I should wish him well in the election next year because I hope he will move from being President of the Parliament to President of the Commission.
Unlike some colleagues, I believe we will have a European defence force. How does the President see that developing and how soon will it emerge?
Under the human rights section of the new constitution there is a statement that everyone has the right to life. In the President's opinion, does that include the unborn? If it does not, will the protocol, which we annexed to the Amsterdam treaty and which protects Article 40.3.3o of the Constitution, be overridden if and when we accept a new constitution?
Mr. Cox, MEP:
It is not my time about which I am worried. It is foreseen that I should meet the Minister for Foreign Minister and his advisers on the Intergovernmental Conference and he must leave to go to the conclave this afternoon. It is with respect to his schedule more than my own that I am constrained.
Mr. Cox, MEP:
I apologise to those Senators who, because of that constraint, have not had time to make comments or ask questions. Senator Ormonde spoke about groups and elasticity and she wanted to know if we could end up being all over the place as a result of becoming too flexible. The short answer, because I do not have time to develop long answers, is that we have flexibility because we have diversity and provided it is rooted within a system that can contain it – we do not want flexibility which ruins the fabric of the institutions of the Union – then we need flexibility. An example is Schengen and border passage. We and the UK are out. We are out pragmatically, not on principle but because we have many transit journeys to and through the UK and we do not need passports. Switzerland and Norway are not in the EU, but they are included, which seems to be sensible flexibility. Some 13 states are in the Economic and Monetary Union, but some are not included. That, once again, shows degrees of flexibility. Those are two solid examples. As we go forward, we need room and diversity for flexibility, provided the flexibility respects the basic fabric of the rules we put together. We do not need people building alternative power centres which undermine the fabric of the European process.
Many Members mentioned the Stability and Growth Pact. I have mixed feelings about it. On a strictly rules based approach, I agree with the sentiments of Senator Brian Hayes and others who asked why the big countries should get away with it. From that point of view, they should not if that is the essential question. The rules of the pact are relatively clear. However, while I accept that they were skirted this week, they were not necessarily entirely ignored. When there is a persistent breach of deficits, which is the case for France and Germany, there is, to avoid Euro-speak, a procedure where, ultimately, the European Commission shows a red card. However, the fine which might happen as a result of the breach does not follow automatically. Those are the rules in the treaty. It goes to the ECOFIN Council in the euro zone and it must figure out by judgment if it should be exercised as a fine. In those terms, exercising judgment is provided for in the rules and, as such, it is not a breach of the rules. In the rules based approach, the logic should be clear, namely, it is the same rule for everyone.
However, we now come to a different question. John Maynard Keynes used a wonderful phrase when someone said he had changed his mind because he had said something else at a lecture some years ago. He said: "Yes, for the facts have changed, dear boy. When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do?" Using that Keynesian expression, let me arrive at this point. France has just avoided recession and is in a low growth phase. Germany is just crawling out of recession. It is in our interest as a small trading state that they lift and grow. Does it make sense, therefore, to kick that dog when it is down? It seems that on the basis of economic analysis and interest the right choice was made. Half of the European Parliament will be deeply angered by what I have said because they want it to be rules only. However, if the rules – this must be for Europe, not only for this type of case – become so obsessive that we are asked to leave our common sense outside the door, there is something wrong with them. Common sense must come into play when making judgments. I make a 50:50 call on that.
Several Senators referred to the visit of my colleague, Mr. Joe McCartin, here yesterday. I have worked with him since I arrived in the European Parliament in 1989. He has served there since 1979. He has been a wonderful and consistent Irish public servant and he is deeply undervalued in this country. I am pleased the Seanad got a chance yesterday to share some of his insights because he has been one of the consistently best, high quality Members elected from this country and, curiously, one of the most consistently ignored in terms of media coverage. It is not for the want of knowledge, wisdom and literacy because he has all those qualities in abundance.
Several Senators mentioned the triple-lock. It is not my function in my role as President of the European Parliament to talk about Irish public policy per se, but the question was asked. It is my view that the Government entered some type of moral contract with voters before the Nice treaty when it offered the triple-lock mechanism. I understand – I am not talking about politics but about the right to expect a certain consistency of message and delivery – why the Government feels constrained in terms of decoupling from such a moral contract.
As regards the case of Macedonia, I had the privilege two months ago to speak in every Parliament in the western Balkans with a differentiated but European message. The people in Macedonia are struggling in the most desperate economic circumstances, but they are wonderfully good. They are trying to constitutionalise pluralism between a Slavic and Albanian population, to hold the line against threats of terrorism and to connect to a European vision. I am sorry Ireland will not be there for the triple-lock reason, of which we are aware. The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia recognised Taiwan, which led to the payback. This raises an operational question. If ever there was a place where the qualities of Irish peacekeepers and policemen could mean so much on the ground, that is it. I do not believe we would necessarily dishonour the triple-lock commitment if we explained to the public that this is such an exceptional case that it fits into the philosophy of the triple-lock even if there is a Taiwanese exception.
Senator Henry asked about EU-US relations and our relations with the current US Administration. We have many high-level values and principles in common. Interests are important in politics, and the EU-transatlantic investment and trade relationship is the deepest bilateral relationship in the world. In investment and trade terms it is worth more than $1 trillion per annum. In mutual jobs terms – Europeans working for US firms and US citizens working for EU firms – there are 13 million people on the payrolls on both sides. It is broadly balanced, although the EU has slightly more workers in the US than the US has in Europe. There are so many common interests that we would be negligent in our public responsibilities if we let the disrepair of the current relationship slip into breakdown.
When it comes to some of the differences in values, we need to speak with clarity to our American friends. I have a great grá for that wonderful republic; I have a bust of Thomas Jefferson, among others, in my office in Brussels and I have taken enormous political insight from Madison and others who wrote so beautifully and elegantly about the values of the Enlightenment which inspired the constitutional traditions in the US. Then I look at the abomination of Guantanamo Bay, which diminishes that great republic and traduces its very soul. We must tell that in honesty to our friends when we engage in dialogue with them. On that broad point, because I do not have the time to develop a longer answer, we must tell our American friends that they freely have our alliance but they have no automatic entitlement to our allegiance. Between those two concepts of alliance and allegiance, we have the dignity to be ourselves and carry to the table of bilateralism a sense of who we are and what we believe in.
This is why I mentioned the UN and effective multilateralism, because we Europeans are more committed by our preferences, state by state and collectively, to a multilateral order, whereas the US Administration perhaps fears the Gulliverisation of a giant – that the pygmies could tie it down through so many bonds of multilateral interconnection. Somehow we must develop multilateralism to be effective, keep the US engaged and avoid any tendency to drift towards selective unilateralism or selective multilateralism.
Rinne Seanadóir Ryan tagairt ar stair na hEorpa agus chuir sé ceist faoin daonlathas. Tá níos mó na trí stát ina raibh daonlathas ann sula tháinig sé go hÉireann. I have one thing to say to Senator Ryan about democracy. It is no accident that Greece only joined the EU after the despicable Colonel Papadopoulos left, that Spain joined after Franco was dumped, that Portugal joined after Salazar and that Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania are joining after the collapse of the Soviet empire. Pluralist democracy is the price, first and foremost under the Copenhagen criteria, to enter the club. It is a wonderful thing to remember, even with the distance of years, the maturing of our new State with the handover of power to Éamon de Valera and Fianna Fáil in the early 1930s. This was an act of mature pluralism in a maturing democracy and the same thing is happening all over central and eastern Europe with Governments of the left and right. Something good, deep and abiding is happening and the EU will help it last. This is the power of creative reconciliation.
The Senator spoke about the Lisbon agenda and, broadly, about the social market economy. I agree with his remarks. I recently spoke at meetings in Germany about economic reform and in a broad way, without entering into the detail – Germans own the detail of the reform debate – argued the case for reform as being something indispensable. The demographics of continental Europe are changing; people are getting older. To live longer in good health is a wonderful tribute to having a society and not just an economy. We should not treat ageing as a problem, but from a financial point of view it is a challenge. For this reason there must be reform.
Those who believe in solidarity must now confront themselves with the question of making it sustainable. This is precisely the value mentioned by the Senator, but sustainability and solidarity must be married if this social model is to continue. The example sounds bizarre, but it is true. Today in Germany, 38% of the male labour force aged between 55 and 64 is at work, while 62% of a working age are retired. This is because of crazy incentive and disincentive systems. These things must change because more people at work and in good health is not a bad thing in itself. We must say "Yes" to solidarity but also to sustainability.
The arms industry was mentioned. As Senators know, there has been some discussion about a European armaments agency. I incline to the view – I am sorry I do not have time to develop a more substantial explanation – that this makes some sense. Let us return to the question of effective multilateralism. If we want to make a European capacity contribution, as Kofi Annan has asked us to do so that Europe as a region will be able to contribute in crisis situations willingly and immediately on UN call, we lack the capacity. We have the developing Rapid Reaction Force, which is not a European army but a group consisting of contributions from European armies. In Europe today the 15 states spend half of what the USA spends each year on defence and we obtain only one tenth of its capacity to act. This is bad value for money. If we want to bring to the effective multilateral table our European capacity to act, we need better value for money. An arms agency can help us in this regard. Other points were made about weapons control and so on. We do not have to walk away from those values. Let us build them in and be more effective but also more cautious.
Senator Minihan asked about the Middle East and Senator Norris also touched on this. There was a recent Association Council meeting between EU Foreign Ministers and Israel. Taking place behind closed doors, it was the toughest session there has been in a generation. We insisted that the customs benefits for goods, which started in the Palestinian territories but were exported through Israel must go back to the Palestinians. Regrettably, the total amount involved is only about €10 million, but the principle is an important one and it is the first time we have insisted on this. Who started the debate in European terms? It was the European Parliament.
I have the opportunity to address, on invitation, some time in the coming quarter the Knesset and the Palestinian Legislative Authority. I would benefit greatly from the wisdom of the Irish Presidency on this matter when the moment comes, but I would like to give the address. I would like to speak frankly about the things that bind us and truly about the things that concern us. I am also encouraged by the green shoots of grass-roots perceptions that there should be a climate for peace. I support all initiatives and, in particular, note the Geneva accords, which are a sign of potential hope.
Senator O'Rourke raised the question of communication between Europe and its citizens. We will never achieve this with the dead language of euro-speak. We will never achieve it if, as political leaders, we fail, personally and through our institutions, to articulate in plain language the essential public purpose of the things we do together.
I hate the language of euro-speak and hope I have avoided using it today. I had a private encounter last night with the Taoiseach, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs with responsibility for European affairs, Deputy Roche, where we dealt with Presidency issues for the Parliament. The Minister of State, Deputy Roche wants this to be a special theme of the Irish Presidency. I support him and believe we should do some work in this area. This House has many gifted literary Members, such as Senator Norris and others. Let us invent a language that talks about values and capacity to act and, as Senator Maurice Hayes said, fills this wonderful project with a sense of vitality and public purpose. After all, the Union is not merely a big anonymous market filled with economics and regulation, although we must have those too. We did not invent the European model for the CAP and its Byzantine structures.
I am a former leader of the Liberal Democrats group in the European Parliament. After the collapse of the Santerre-led Commission, I wanted the group to discover what was the Europe that had, in a different way, gone through that crisis. We travelled to Krakow in Poland with four Holocaust survivors and travelled on to Auschwitz. An old rabbi who had escaped from a holding camp in the Netherlands with the father of one of our Jewish MEPs travelled with us. This old man lit a candle and chanted the Kaddish, the sacred Jewish prayer of remembrance. He then lit the candles of the survivors and they in turn lit the candles held by me and my colleagues. In doing so they passed to us a duty of memory about the essential reasons for reconciliation – fighting anti-Semitism and racism and achieving real, deep and meaningful values.
I tell that story today to pay tribute to a woman of whom Members will never have heard but who inspired me that day. She moved to Belgium after the war, became a grandmother and passed away one month ago at a ripe old age. We did not fight that war and we cannot continue to say, "remember the history". We must build our own history. Our history has a route and I know it. Elie Weisel wrote an essay entitled "The Night" about incarceration in a concentration camp. It is a short essay and Members should read it. For me, Europe is the daylight. Let us keep the lights on.
I congratulate President Cox on his election as President of the European Parliament. It is a great and fully deserved honour for him personally and for this country. On behalf of the Members of Seanad Éireann, I thank President Cox for his wide-ranging and interesting address and his comprehensive replies to the questions raised by Senators. We deeply appreciate his kindness in accepting our invitation to address the Seanad. It is quite clear that notwithstanding his extensive portfolio, he has not lost any of his passion or commitment to Europe. I assure him that he has the sincere good wishes of all Members of this House in his future endeavours.
Sitting suspended at 12.55 p.m. and resumed at 2 p.m.