Thursday, 13 October 2005
European Union: Statements.
I welcome this opportunity to address the Seanad on European issues. The European Union is currently going through a period of uncertainty. The rejection of the draft EU constitution in the French and Dutch referenda marked a setback for the process of European integration. This was compounded by the failure in June of the European Council to agree on the future financial perspectives of the EU.
Neither is Europe doing well on the economic front. The core European economies are battling high unemployment, rising public sector deficits and social systems faced with funding the needs of ageing populations. In addition, across the EU there are difficult national debates about how best to integrate immigrants into society and about the geographical limits of Europe. Externally, the EU faces an ever increasing competitive challenge from the rising, low cost and highly productive economies of Asia, particularly China and India, and from the huge agricultural producers of Brazil, Argentina, Australia and the US. Against this background, it is easy to become pessimistic. Many commentators suggest that the EU's original vision has become obsolete and needs to be radically updated.
I reject this pessimism and this bleak view of Europe's prospects. Europe is a stunning success on a political level and is hugely underestimated on an economic level. Fashionable Europessimism is dangerous. It only serves the interests of those who want to weaken the EU. Such weakening carries the risk of returning Europe to an earlier age of competing, loosely linked nation states. That Europe was one where the mightiest pursued exclusively national agendas at the expense of the small and the weak in the short term and the entire Continent in the longer term.
Last year, the Union took in ten new member states which are being fully integrated into the EU family. They have accepted the values that underpin the EU and their relatively new democracies are anchored in the EU. They will prosper economically and will benefit from European solidarity through the Structural and Cohesion Funds. We have not fully appreciated what a monumental achievement this represents. The fall of the Iron Curtain ushered in massive change on the Continent, change that could have resulted in political instability and conflict. One need only consider the former Yugoslavia to see how easily territorial conflict and ethnic hatred can raise their heads in the absence of strong institutions and policies which support co-operation, solidarity and partnership.
Instead of economic disruption, political instability and social upheaval, the fall of the Iron Curtain has brought the spread of peace, democracy and human rights across the Continent. The EU has been the instrument of this transformation, just as it underpinned the new democracies in Spain, Portugal and Greece in earlier enlargements. The people of the western Balkans know and recognise the immense value of the EU and are now looking to us to help secure their future peace and development after the ravages of the Balkan wars. Turkey is looking to the EU as its home in a globalising world.
Europe faces daunting challenges on the economic front and there is much work to be done in facing up to the challenges of globalisation. On the other hand, Germany is the world's largest exporter with a corporate sector that is reaping the benefits of restructuring. The dynamic Nordic economies and Spain are growing strongly, while France is home to one of the most productive workforces in the world and to many of the EU's most successful global companies. The economies of our central and eastern European partners are set to grow strongly. The eurozone has generally strong external economic balances and enjoys a trade surplus with the rest of the world. The recently published UN human development index featured 12 EU member states in the top 20 in the world, with Ireland at number eight. These countries have the best quality of life in the world. Let us not, therefore, delude ourselves into thinking that the EU is in terminal economic decline.
The rejection of the draft EU constitution in the national referenda in France and the Netherlands was a major shock. Their Governments, without our experience of holding national referenda on EU issues, were taken aback to find that many voters did not see the EU as relevant to the concerns they faced in their daily lives. The fact that the EU has lost the confidence of many people across the Union is not a complete surprise to me. The result of the first referendum in Ireland on the Treaty of Nice was an early manifestation of a sense of disconnection with the European project which is now general throughout the EU and which was never specific to Ireland.
In June, the European Council initiated a process of reflection and debate on Europe in all member states. The European Commission will launch its own contribution to shaping the debate on Europe in Brussels today. The Government wants our national debate on Europe to be open, inclusive and informative. The Government and the Oireachtas will play leading roles in this debate and the National Forum on Europe will also play a key role.
Today, we are publishing the Government's White Paper on the European Constitution, which is an important contribution to our national debate on Europe. It explains in clear and accessible language what the EU constitution is about and why it is important for Ireland and Europe. The White Paper also stands, on its merits, as an important statement of the Government's policy on the EU, on how the enlarged EU can best work effectively in the interest of all and, most important, on the common values that all EU member states share. In publishing the White Paper, we are also affirming the Government's view that the EU constitution is a good document that we would like to see implemented. I accept the outcome of the votes in France and the Netherlands. However, I firmly believe that if we are to equip a Union of 25 or more member states to deal with the challenges facing it, we will inevitably return to the EU constitution. While the ratification process may be suspended and the future uncertain, I cannot see the EU constitution going away indefinitely.
The national debates on Europe should be used as fora for frank discussions on dealing with the challenges now facing the EU. I do not believe that Europe needs root and branch reform. I agree, however, that the EU needs to better use its institutions, common policies, Internal Market, development aid and external trade to face up to the challenge of globalisation.
Globalisation is a fact of life and has, on the whole, been a positive force for global development. We see the daily advances made by China and witness the progressive transformation of India into a major trading nation. These two countries, which between them constitute two fifths of the world's population, are using trade and investment as the way out of poverty. They, along with many developing countries, often quote Ireland as one of their models for economic development.
Globalisation is having a dramatic effect on the plight of the poorest people. In China for example, the number of people living on less than $1 a day fell from 490 million in 1981 to 88 million in 2002. At the end of this month, I will attend an informal meeting of EU Heads of State and Government in Great Britain. This meeting will allow all the EU's leaders to discuss the management of reform in Europe and how Europe can reconcile its strong commitment to social solidarity with the competitive pressures and challenges of globalisation. This is a timely meeting that will help restore momentum and confidence to Europe. It is important that the meeting is not sidetracked into a fruitless debate about the relative merits of different social systems. Instead, it will hopefully focus on how we can best co-operate through the EU in facing up to globalisation.
We need a clear and well thought out strategy for dealing with globalisation in the EU. This strategy must include social partnership and must have a strong focus on research and development. It must harness the benefits of our internal market, include a more effective use of our common policies and a more coherent approach to our political and economic relations with China and other new trading nations. It must also include a strong commitment to a successful and balanced outcome to the WTO Doha round negotiations. In the coming months, as the member states debate and reflect on Europe, the EU must provide strong and convincing evidence that when we in the EU act together, we make a real difference to people's lives.
I fully support the British Presidency's objective of securing agreement on the EU's future financial perspectives at the European Council in December. Agreement on this important issue would be a real boost for the European Union. For Ireland's part, we will continue to insist that the agreement reached by the European Council in October 2002 on the future funding of the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, is fully respected. We will also work to ensure that the European Union has the resources it needs to meet the demands we place on it. We will strongly support the provision of generous structural and cohesion funding to the new member states.
Over the past weeks I have set out a clear and cogent argument in defence of the CAP. Simplistic and negative statements about the CAP, many of which are driven by self-interest, are continually being made. These statements are becoming lodged in the public consciousness. In my statements, I have stressed the following key points — the CAP is the only fully funded common EU policy; it plays a vital role in securing Europe's food supplies; average farm size in the EU is much smaller than in our main international competitors and the CAP has given Europe relative price stability when viewed against the huge price oscillations in international commodity markets.
Over the past 15 years, the CAP has been subjected to three major broad-based reforms, in 1992, 1999 and 2003. The 2003 reform was based on a unanimous agreement reached by the European Council on future CAP funding up to 2013. The 2003 CAP reform was also the most radical since the CAP was established because it decoupled subsidies from production. Farmers will now produce in response to market signals alone and not simply to receive a subsidy. Expenditure on the CAP is falling significantly. The ceiling agreed in October 2002 for the EU of 25 member states for 2013 is less in real terms than the ceiling agreed for the EU of 15 member states for 2006. In addition, charges that the CAP damages the ability of developing countries to trade are not correct. The EU is by far the largest importer of agricultural products from developing countries, and absorbs approximately 85% of Africa's agricultural exports and 45% of those from Latin America.
I welcome the opening of the enlargement negotiations with Turkey and with Croatia on 3 October. I also want to see Bulgaria and Romania take up their places as full member states. Last December, the European Council agreed that enlargement negotiations should be opened with Turkey and Croatia in 2005. It was important that the EU lived up to the commitments it had given, particularly because the two candidate States involved had made extremely strong national efforts to comply with the conditions set down by the EU.
Widespread public unease and concern clearly exist across Europe with regard to the further enlargement of the EU, particularly the possible accession of Turkey, a country of 70 million people where economic development is considerably behind even the poorest EU member states. In the coming years, as the accession negotiations progress, much work must to be done to convince people that Turkey can meet the requirements for EU membership, that the EU has the capacity to absorb Turkey and that full membership is very much in the long-term interests of both the EU and Turkey.
I do not doubt that the accession negotiations with Turkey will be tough and difficult for both sides. While the negotiations are not preordained to succeed, and accession should only be on the basis of full compliance with the requirements of membership, we must make every effort to ensure they do succeed. The enlargement of the EU essentially involves enlarging the community of countries that subscribe to the European Union's values. These values are explicitly set out in the constitution for Europe, namely respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights. Obviously a demonstrated commitment to these values will be central to the future success of any accession negotiations.
Other issues on the EU's agenda which need to be pursued in the coming months are the fights against terrorism, organised crime and drugs. In areas such as these, the added value of collective action by the member states is self-evident. Finally, the EU must implement a legislative programme that is relevant and aimed at strengthening it to face up to the challenges of globalisation. I welcome the EU Commission's recent decision to review and withdraw more than a third of the proposed laws pending at the European Parliament and Council. This does not mean the EU is abandoning regulation. It means that Europe is now focused on better regulation which is an approach we have been advocating for the past two years.
In the coming months, the Government and the National Forum for Europe will promote the national debate on Europe. As part of this process, we will schedule a full debate on Europe in the Houses of the Oireachtas. I look forward to receiving the contribution of the Seanad to this national debate. The Government coincided the publication of its White Paper with this debate, and that White Paper is part of the process. I welcome the continuing engagement of the Seanad on the European issue during the months ahead, particularly as we approach the Austrian Presidency next June, when decisions on whether to move on the constitution will be taken. I thank the House.
I welcome the Taoiseach to the House. He concluded his remarks with reference to the publication of the White Paper which we received within the past couple hours. I welcome it and it will be of assistance in the necessary ongoing broad debate we will have on European issues during the coming months.
I thank the Taoiseach not only for his attendance but for the work he and his Government have done on European issues during the past number of years, particularly with regard to the proposed constitution for Europe. However, as the Taoiseach acknowledged, the question of Europe and our role in shaping its future is back on the agenda and we are once again at a crossroads.
Questions with regard to the enlargement process, expanding the territory of the European Union, the financial perspectives, the Lisbon Agenda and many others remain unanswered. Into the vacuum caused by doubt on these issues has come a worrying and dangerous level of indifference and apathy in this country. A central challenge facing the Taoiseach and the Government is to re-engage the people on European policy and direction in order to help lead and shape the broader European debate on matters relating to the future of the continent.
In recent years, those across the political spectrum in this House have taken part in numerous debates on the constitution for Europe. It is disappointing that research shows almost half of the public do not have an opinion on that constitution. Since the defeats suffered in referenda on the constitution, particularly in France, the period of reflection and consultation that was due to take place here has become more a period of silence and inaction. I welcome the fact that the ratification period has been extended beyond the original deadline of November 2006. It is absolutely vital that the additional time allowed will lead to active engagement by the Government with the public on the issues of Europe's future and our role in that process.
The fact that nine out of every ten people tell survey companies that they believe we have benefited from EU membership is welcome. However, it is disappointing they have so little interest in the constitution for Europe. We must politically challenge the public with regard to the importance of the European project, its role in the social and economic development of this country over the past 30 years, and the importance of Europe progressing and expanding politically and not standing still. We must reiterate the point that in today's world, one can move backwards or forwards politically but one cannot stand still. We must attempt to drive on.
This morning at a meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Affairs attended by some of my colleagues, we had a discussion with the Foreign Minister of the Republic of Georgia. It was certainly good to hear from a Foreign Minister of a former Soviet bloc country who now sees the future of her country as part of the broader European family.
That brings me to the question of Turkey, to which the Taoiseach referred. I welcome that significant progress has been made with regard to Turkey and the idea that Turkey may eventually become part of the European Union. However, I appreciate the many miles which must be travelled prior to this happening. Significant reform has begun in Turkey from an economic, human rights and social point of view.
One of the greatest attributes of enlarging and developing Europe is that those countries which seek to become part of the European family must agree to take on board the democratic, open values of equality and justice that are very much part of the European agenda. We hope to see that developing in Turkey, which I believe will eventually join the European Union. Turkey will bring a young and vibrant population that will be in marked contrast to the current demographic profile faced by the European Continent. We have an aging population and a reducing workforce. That is an enormous challenge facing the present European Union of 25 members. This matter requires urgent attention. We have not faced up to the fact that our economy will have to import hundreds of thousands of immigrant workers. We have not taken on board the political and social debate on this issue. The same is true of the rest of Europe.
We are not making enough progress on the Lisbon Agenda. Perhaps other speakers will also refer to this matter. The Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, impacts to a great extent on this country, especially rural Ireland, which has traditionally been a big supporter of the European project. Sadly, it is now clear that the only political aim of the present British EU Presidency appears to be an attack on the CAP. We must strongly resist the British efforts to dismantle the CAP both here and in Brussels. I welcome the Taoiseach's recent speech on that issue.
The domestic considerations of Mr. Blair, Chancellor Brown and the broader British political establishment should not result in the dismantlement of the CAP. It has stood the test of time and achieved what it was set up to do in the Treaty of Rome. It has guaranteed the production and supply of top quality food for the benefit of the consumers of Europe, not just the agricultural community. We must defend this vital component of the economy. I encourage the Taoiseach to keep up his efforts to ensure that the CAP will stay in place until 2013 and that the British efforts to dismantle it will be resisted in full.
I welcome the Taoiseach and thank him for coming here to talk about the European Union and its constitution. I congratulate him on the fact that it was under his leadership during the Irish Presidency of the EU that the constitutional treaty was brought to its conclusion. Unfortunately, since then it has been rejected in referenda in France and the Netherlands. This was a major shock. The message appears to be that people have lost trust and confidence in Europe and the constitutional treaty had no relevance to their daily lives. This setback has led to a difficult period in which we must take time for reflection in all member states. As the Taoiseach stated, the constitutional treaty can be revisited again during the Austrian Presidency. We must ask why this has happened. Some soul searching will be required in the debate during the next six months on the future role of Europe, its vision and what is the purpose of the European constitution.
Last year ten new members acceded to the European Union. Many of these countries came from deprived backgrounds with political instability and social upheaval. The Iron Curtain has fallen and many of these countries have only recently experienced democracy. The constitutional treaty sets out the Union's values following enlargement. Its purpose is to try to make the workings of the institutions more effective with less regulation required to bring about institutional reform. Initially the European Union had six members, now it has 25 member states. It is understandable that the workings of institutions had become cumbersome and bureaucratic and it was necessary to try to make the workings of the Union more effective, manageable and accessible to people. The Union is different today to how it was 50 years ago.
There is a perception that decisions are made without consultation, that everything is decided in Brussels and that we are losing our Irishness. It is necessary to get across the message that this is not the case. Europe is about co-operation and cohesion. National Parliaments will have the big say under the new principle of subsidiarity. Every initiative proposed in Brussels will now have to be vetted by the national parliaments. That is an important and key area. From here on, when Brussels proposes an initiative an impact assessment will be carried out on its effect on our people. We must get that message out. This will mean that the Commission and the Council of Europe will have to be accountable and connect more with the public. Less regulation will be in place.
As a member state, we have had the experience of the failure of the first referendum to ratify the Nice treaty. We quickly found out that it was lost because of the fear of being absorbed by the bigger states and that their was no sense of accountability or relevance. We have learned that lesson, so it should not be too difficult for us to continue that debate and to open it up. I welcome the Taoiseach's launch of the White Paper. As he said, there is no going back. We have benefitted from membership of the European Union, which has transformed our country. We must not forget Ireland is committed to the European constitution. We have benefitted to a great extent from the Structural Funds and from the cohesion policy. We made full use of those opportunities so it is necessary that we ensure that other member states will get the same opportunities we got in the past.
We must have economic co-operation among member states. We have free movement of goods and people and our industries are regulated but we must create that confidence among other member states. That is the challenge for the future. The National Forum on Europe, chaired by Senator Maurice Hayes, will lead that debate forward. The challenges that face us include globalisation and enlargement of the European Union. Turkey has entered into negotiations on accession, and Romania and Bulgaria are due to enter the EU in two years' time.
I congratulate the Taoiseach on his firmness regarding reform of the Common Agricultural Policy. There can be no cherry-picking. We are all in this together and we must confront matters. Having said that, while globalisation is a fact, economic co-operation is important, as is the fight against terrorism. We must continue to take a collective approach but at the same time we must not forget social justice. The debate that will take place will centre on how we can best protect our citizens and how national Parliaments will make decisions rather than having them imposed by Brussels. If we get that across, we will not have any difficulty achieving the right result in the referendum.
I again congratulate the Taoiseach. When the debate begins we will have a duty to make sure we connect with the public. We must start here in this Chamber. By using it as well as the other Chamber and the National Forum on Europe we will make a success of it when the time comes.
The Taoiseach is most welcome. I am an enthusiastic European and I defend Europe wherever I go. Last week I was in southern Africa where I met disadvantaged people. They do not understand how we can support agriculture in the manner in which we do in Europe yet claim to be interested in the Third World.
The old quote I often cite, is: "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for life." As long as we continue to support the Common Agricultural Policy in Europe in the manner in which the Taoiseach has defended — I understand that national interests are defending it — then we are not truly supporting the developed world. Can the Taoiseach state how we are to address the fact that we in the developed world are open to the accusation that we are not doing our bit for developing countries? Giving them cash and help is not sufficient as we must find some way to stop subsidising uneconomic growth, as we are doing in Europe.
On my way back from southern Africa on Tuesday morning, I stopped at Heathrow Airport. As I sat in the business lounge I picked up The Economist and saw therein an Austrian advertisement stating how Austria could compete with a country in north-western Europe with which it is competing for jobs and business. I could see at least five or six Europeans reading it. The advertisement was a reminder of Ireland's great success and of how much the country is admired, principally due to our economic success in recent years. We must not end this success by failing to pass the relevant legislation. The onus is on us in this regard. I ask the Taoiseach to ensure a regulatory impact analysis of all legislation is carried out, particularly that concerning the enforcement of European directives. An example arose yesterday in that we had a very good and useful debate on the Employees (Provision of Information and Consultation) Bill.
On the Lisbon Agenda, as has been mentioned, we really must sell and market the benefits of the European Union to the people of Europe. We have not done this nearly well enough. The great benefits need to be sold if we are to succeed in making sure the citizens of Europe understand what is involved. I urge us to continue to sell the benefits just as Senator Maurice Hayes is doing at the National Forum on Europe.
I welcome the Taoiseach and the fact that I have just received in my pigeon hole the White Paper on the European Constitution, which will be very valuable and useful. It has arrived at a time when the European Union has formed a new plan D, which it calls "Dialogue, Democracy and Debate".
I am not sure I share entirely the Taoiseach's optimism regarding all the newly acceded states sharing the fundamental values of Europe. In this regard, consider in particular the countries that were in the former Soviet system. Poland has experienced a dramatic lurch to the right and some of the leaders of the countries in question have taken extremely regrettable positions on human and civil rights. In light of the great increase, by ten countries, in the size of the Union, I am not sure we can say with confidence that all of them share our views on fundamental human rights.
I know my distinguished colleague, Senator Ormonde, said the directives from the European Union will be sent here for ratification by Parliament. The Taoiseach and I both know, because we are cynical old birds, that this is just a rubber stamp. So much material is generated by Europe that it is impossible for us to monitor it accurately. When the regulations concerning copyright were being produced, I spotted the problems that would arise regarding the Joyce estate and asked to be told when the regulations were due to be introduced. However, they went through on the nod and nobody raised a peep; therefore we should be careful about assuming we have a certain kind of regulatory influence.
I am also worried about the biometric passports issue because of the undemocratic way in which it was rushed through. The procedures were rather odd. The European Council pressed the European Parliament to accept the relevant report despite the fact that it had been changed. The question of facial identification was in the initial report and that of fingerprints was not. At least fingerprinting was considered an option. In the second report, fingerprinting was mandatory. Normally when there is this much change in such material, there is a requirement to pass it again, but this was not done. The Council blackmailed the European Parliament by saying it would not pass instruments regarding immigration and asylum issues, in which it the European Parliament was interested, if it did not play ball. We should consider the legal analysis by people such as Professor Steve Peers, who questions the legal basis. I will not elaborate on it at this point. I am worried about the use of biometric identification for monitoring innocent, decent citizens and the impact of Eurodac on the asylum-seeking population.
I support Senator Quinn's remarks. It is very interesting that a major business person, with a very extensive interest in supermarkets and food, should take such a decent and idealistic position on the question of the Common Agricultural Policy and its effect on third countries. I noticed that the article the Taoiseach wrote in the Financial Times was picked up on because of some of the statistics contained therein, which I am sure the Taoiseach did not generate. These statistics could be challenged on the basis of the supports for agricultural producers both in the United States and Europe. They should be examined in both these regions. We must get the facts absolutely accurate or our position will be exposed. I thank the Taoiseach very much for coming to the House.
I appreciate the few minutes I have been allowed to speak on this topic and I welcome the Taoiseach to the House.
Like many of the other speakers, I will refer to Turkey's proposed membership of the European Union, the constitution, the role of parliaments and the issue of subsidiarity. After a campaign of some 40 years, Turkey has officially entered membership talks with the European Union. This has been a fraught process, even up to the last few hours before the agreement, but we must all welcome the fact that an agreement was reached. Provided Turkey meets the specified criteria, its membership of the European Union is to be supported.
The issues of human rights, reform of the military and judiciary, and the circumstances in Kurdish areas receive the most attention when Turkey's membership is discussed, but Turkey's goal is to meet the entire set of criteria for membership and accept the acquis communautaire. It has a long way to go, but for those of us concerned with the specific issues, including human rights, reform and the Kurds, its goal must also be ours.
The whole process, including the need to satisfy present EU member states, has unhelpfully been characterised by some as tantamount to running a Christian club. We need to counter this argument firmly and be absolutely clear that the European Union, rather than being a Christian club, is a family of democratic countries committed to working together for peace and prosperity. Europe is a continent with many different traditions and languages, but also with shared values such as democracy, freedom and social justice. The European Union defends these values and is right to do so.
These values are not exclusively Christian values — they may sit with them — but values that all peoples, genders, faiths, creeds and races must accept. The values of democracy, freedom and social justice threaten no one except those who oppress and harm, and suiting or appeasing such people should not be what we are about, regardless of accusations of the European Union being a Christian club.
On the issue of the EU constitution, I echo the words of the President of the Commission in his congratulations to the Taoiseach, his officials and the Irish Presidency generally for achieving an agreement that proved difficult, and for achieving something that is transparent and runs deep. Compare the constitutional position in Ireland and that in other parts of Europe. Since 1937, Bunreacht na hÉireann has provided Irish citizens with a single, clear and living document that sets out their rights, their system of governance and the limits on the State. It is accessible and has been relied upon by the courts, and nobody can say it has not delivered in the past 68 years. Unfortunately, the same cannot yet be said of the European Union. We must remain committed to rectifying this.
The decision of the French and Dutch peoples to reject the treaty was a setback, but one that has provided us with an opportunity. Some benefits may actually accrue from the refocusing of minds on the basics of what we, as a people, actually want from the European Union. Those benefits must accrue. The issues of what we want as a people, the size of the Union and how democratic it should be are closely related to my points on Turkish membership, as are the results of the referenda in France and the Netherlands.
We have time to do some useful thinking. The November 2006 target for the entry into force of the constitution is unlikely to be met and there is no pressing need for Ireland to hold a referendum immediately. We can wait to see how progress is made across the European Union and we can address the concerns of its citizens and work to strengthen its democratic operation. The media have a constructive role to play in this regard.
National Parliaments can and should play a central role. Citizens expect their national parliaments to scrutinise the Union on their behalf. I will conclude with one concise point. Much is made of the so-called democratic deficit in Europe, of nations losing control, etc. These claims emanate primarily from parties of the left, namely, Sinn Féin and the rest. The point is that the proposed constitution confirms the status quo. If the EU is allowed to legislate in an area of policy, its law will overtake any national laws. Equally, in areas where it does not legislate. national law prevails.
The proposed constitution will stop the Union from encroaching on the rights of member states other than in areas where they have given them away. We should not allow simplistic and ill-founded arguments to confuse and frustrate progress on the values of democracy, freedom and social justice, which are at the heart of the European project.
I welcome the Taoiseach and thank him for taking the time to come before the House to spend a couple of hours with us.
Others have made the point that we need to sell the European Union more. I guess we must do so but I suspect I am more sanguine on this than others who have spoken. I do not believe we can reasonably expect to fill town halls throughout the country, out of context, as it were, with people mad to learn something new about the European Union. The citizenry will never be filling the streets with flags and balloons, saying how great the European Union is. In Ireland, the European Union's greatest success is the fact that people take it for granted and that it is part of our democratic architecture. Nobody in this country, in politics or civil society generally, seriously suggests that we could or should leave the European Union. That is a fantastic measure of success in terms of the Union.
This is not to say that we should not have a debate and neither should we take it for granted. However, we have it within us to get a "Yes" vote on the European constitution. Naturally, if we put referendums to the people every two or three years there will be a "No" result every now and then. I have said before that if the people of Kerry are repeatedly asked whether they want to remain part of the Republic of Ireland, sooner or later there will be a "No" vote. If it is a bad day and people are feeling grumpy or have lost an all-Ireland, there will be a "No" vote. I do not want to dismiss it but, nonetheless, we cannot expect to put the same question to the people over and over and expect them to get it right every time.
I want to say something about Turkey. Broadly speaking, I welcome the decision of the Council but with some reservation and not a great amount of enthusiasm. I appreciate that the motivation of the Austrians was not entirely pure but they did us some service in making the point that, essentially, this is a two-way thing. The people of Turkey and their political taskmasters obviously want to make a decision as to whether they want to be part of the European Union. It is a something the rest of us must also consider. There is a very real question as to whether we can absorb Turkey. If it is a matter of today or tomorrow, the answer must be that we cannot. The political, cultural and social differences are just too great. Turkey is just too big and too poor. The difficulties that would arise if the EU was to try to absorb Turkey tomorrow are too great. It would cause the Union, as it currently exists, to founder.
Whether that can alter over a period of ten years of negotiation and change within Turkey is another matter. Very possibly it can do so but we have to at least consider the possibility that perhaps it will not. In ten years, people in France, Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands or Ireland might actually not be willing to take that step. The Austrians have at least done us a service by flagging this issue and it is important that we should acknowledge that possibility. A year or two ago I would have argued that we should, perhaps, take the Austrian route and say that privileged partnership is the way to go. I visited Turkey last year and one cannot ignore the fact that anyone of a liberal mind there wants to cling to the notion of EU membership. They feel this quite strongly and are of the view that it is an essential part of making progress within their own country. I do not believe it is possible for us to abandon those people, namely, Prime Minister Erdogan and many others. We met, for example, women's groups, trade unions, people in business, a full range of people with political views as well as people from Kurdistan and elsewhere. One cannot ignore the fact that anyone of a progressive mind in Turkey wants to be part of the European Union and sees membership of it as being an essential anchor towards making progress. I came away feeling that we could not abandon them. We should not pretend, either to them or ourselves, that the process will be easy because clearly it will not.
I want to deal briefly with Romania and Bulgaria. If they are not exactly on the fast-track towards EU membership, at least they have only a short time to go. There is some speculation that they may not be ready. If they are not ready, they are not. If this means they have to delay for another year or two, then it is better that they do so. It is necessary for the rest of the Union and for them to be absolutely sure. If one looks at the experience in the aftermath of the Bulgarian election and what has happened there in the past year, it is clear that progress has still to be made and matters should not be rushed. We should not bring them in too early.
Similarly, I want to make a point about Croatia. It has been somewhat worrying during the past year or so, looking at the machinations on the margins of the Hague and the war crimes tribunal there. It is as though compliance with the requirements of the tribunal has become a moveable feast. One day Croatia is meeting the requirements and the next day it is not. One cannot escape the conclusion that judgment on whether it is meeting the requirements varies, depending on who is asking the questions. That is simply not good enough. We need to send a clear message to Serbia and Montenegro to the effect that we require full compliance with the requirements of the Hague tribunal.
The Leas-Chathaoirleach has indicated that I have one minute left. I am sorry about that because I wanted to make a point that is relevant to this country. When the Union enlarged, we were told — and most of us believed — that there would not be a large influx of people from eastern Europe, tens or hundreds of thousands of people coming here to work. We were wrong. The fact is that there have been approximately 100,000 or so immigrants from the Baltic states and Poland, principally during the past year. This poses serious questions for us, to which we do not yet have answers. To be honest, we do not know what the questions are either. We do not know how many want to stay or how many will come here for two years and go away, hopefully with a pocket full of euro to make better lives for themselves in their home countries. We do not, therefore, know whether we must cater for a transient population of migrant workers or begin to assimilate a long-term population that will stay here. I suggest that we must work on the basis that at least some of these people — even only 10% of them, which is still a significant number — will stay here and transform the manner in which we do things so that they can be assimilated and that they, in turn, assimilate. The evidence so far, purely anecdotal, is that they do not assimilate. It suggests that we are, in fact, getting little Polish communities in different parts of this city. I find that worrying. We are very much in the early stages of this experience and it is new to us. The first stage in dealing with it is to be aware of it. That much at least we should take on board. I again thank the Taoiseach for coming before the House.
I also welcome the Taoiseach and thank him for his efforts as regards the European Presidency and the developments that have taken place. I thank him, too, for his kind remarks concerning the National Forum on Europe.
Following on from something Senator McDowell said, the forum does not claim any monopoly on the discussion. I would worry if it were to be given a type of monopolistic position in this debate or if people were to take the view that these matters were being discussed within the National Forum on Europe and not necessarily anywhere else. At best, the forum sees itself as a catalyst and, perhaps, an energiser or facilitator. It is important that the debate should be carried on more widely through society and by people who are sceptical about Europe just as much as those who are not.
I congratulate Senator McDowell on the thoughtful nature of his contribution. It is the type of contribution we need. It is not a question of us all being cheerleaders or whatever but of our examining the real difficulties that arise and the importance of dealing with them. I detect no sizeable or even sensible body of opinion in favour of leaving the European Union, although there are different views about how it should be run. My view is that membership of the EU has enabled us to find ourselves as a nation. By pooling a small degree of sovereignty we suddenly found ourselves as a nation psychologically and economically. This has been extremely helpful with regard to developments in Northern Ireland in that Britain and Ireland are equal partners. The Taoiseach has recognised and utilised this development and I congratulate him on his efforts in this regard.
As Senator McDowell noted, one of the problems facing us is that a generation has grown up not knowing what it was like not to be a member of the European Union, just as a generation has grown up which does not know what it is like to be poor. Every now and again we need to plug into reality. My main concern about the European Union has always been the likelihood of apathy developing.
As chairman of the National Forum on Europe, I do not often involve myself in policy decisions but I wish to touch on two or three decisions. I agree that Turkish accession to the European Union will be extremely difficult to digest and will be a long, slow process that will require a great deal of adjustment on both sides. Nevertheless, having begun the process, it must continue not only on behalf of Turkey and the European Union but because it creates a bridge to the Islamic world.
I am rather closer to Senator Quinn's position on the Common Agricultural Policy than that of the Taoiseach. The major social change taking place in Europe must be managed. The impact of our actions on the developing world, particularly Africa, is of such importance as to require that we address the issue of the Common Agricultural Policy.
On another point raised by Senator McDowell, if we are to sustain current economic growth, we will need approximately 70,000 to 80,000 people to come here in each of the next ten years. While some of these will be returning Irish people, many more of them will not be Irish. It is vital, therefore, that we begin to address the other side of this equation, namely, how to accommodate this group of people who can and will contribute to society not only in terms of their labour but also the richness of the cultural experience they bring with them.
I congratulate the Taoiseach and his officials on the White Paper on the European Constitution which has just arrived on my desk. I took a cursory look at the document which is bright, readable and mercifully free from jargon. It is important that the Taoiseach, all political parties and all organs of civil society sustain the debate on the importance of engaging with Europe, the nature of that engagement and where it is leading Ireland. I thank the Taoiseach for coming before the House and congratulate him on his work.
I understand the Taoiseach must leave and thank him for staying for so long. I welcome the Minister of State with special responsibility for European affairs, Deputy Treacy. It is important and useful to hold a debate on the European Union in the House on the day the White Paper on the European Constitution has been published. For some years, I have been belly-aching about the tendency to launch major Government papers outside the House and thereby exclude the House from the process. The Seanad has a role, albeit a small one, in the debate on the European Union. One of the most successful initiatives taken by the House in recent years was to invite MEPs to participate in a debate on Europe earlier in the year. This was a useful experiment which should be replicated in future.
Senator McDowell made an interesting contribution in which he referred to early estimates of the number of citizens from the new member states who would come to work in Ireland following accession. There is a straightforward explanation for the decision of such large numbers of them to come here. Unemployment, particularly among young people, is substantially higher in the new member states than here. I recently read in a magazine that Poland has the worst unemployment problem, including youth joblessness, in the European Union. It comes as no great surprise to learn that many Poles are coming to Ireland and other member states where work is available. How many of them would stay if the employment market were not as flexible as it is now?
I concur with Senator McDowell that segregation in our cities would be an unwelcome development. The emergence of distinctive Polish or Latvian neighbourhoods would not be the way to integrate the new communities. This issue must be discussed now to ensure communities moving into Ireland are fully integrated.
I have an open mind on the issue of Turkish accession which has been raised by many Senators on all sides. I disagree with Senator Minihan, however, because we cannot escape the fact that concepts such as the separation of state and church, universal suffrage, gender equality and freedom of the press are Christian and European ideas which were developed largely in response to the awful killings we saw in the First and Second World Wars. Turkey will have to measure up to a variety of criteria which reflect these European ideas — I make no apology for describing them as such — of which we can be proud. Turkish membership of the European Union is a strong possibility and has clear advantages, for example, it would offer a way into the Islamic world and the east and constitute a recognition of the role of Islam in the new Europe. Countries joining the European Union must, however, subscribe to the inherent democratic norms and values, including respect for human rights, which are widely accepted in EU jurisdictions.
I support the applications of Romania and Bulgaria to join the European Union. Given that both countries were in the eastern bloc, why has the economy of Hungary taken off in the past 20 years while that of Romania has not? We must encourage Romania and Bulgaria to join the EU and ensure they meet the criteria we have set.
Senators have referred to a new wave of euroscepticism, a development inextricably linked to a rise in neo-nationalism. Given that the Hapsburg empire lost out to the Turks and vice versa, it comes as no surprise to learn that of all the EU members Austria objects most to Turkish membership. The issue is rooted in the neo-nationalism at the heart of Europe. In many respects the rise in Sinn Féin is no different from the rise in Jean-Marie Le Pen's Front National in France, Jörg Haider's Freedom Party in Austria and the British National Party in Britain. It is a wicked form of the most virulent neo-nationalism because it is based on a segregationist notion. It reflects the words of D. P. Moran that Ireland should be for the Irish and the John Bull notion of Britain for the British. There is virtually no difference between the neo-nationalism of Sinn Féin, the British National Party and Mr. Le Pen's Front National. We must cherish the everyday benefits of the European Union alluded to by Senator McDowell and continue to remind citizens of them.
Like my colleagues, I welcome the Taoiseach's attendance in the House and I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach with special responsibility for European affairs, Deputy Treacy, to the House. I emphasise the importance of our continuing to focus on European issues.
I was pleased that the Taoiseach gave a confident reassertion of the importance of Europe to our ongoing prosperity. He also promoted the EU constitution, which is a rather courageous position when one considers mainstream European political and media thinking would seem to suggest, depending on the part of Europe, that the EU constitution is all but dead or stillborn. There are continuing debates in Europe on the way forward following the rejection of the EU constitution in France and the Netherlands, for example, that if the 95% of it about housekeeping issues and administrative detail were dropped, the more complex issues relating to common foreign policy and defence issues could move ahead.
I might also suggest that one of the failings of the concept was calling it a constitution in the first place.
That was negative. The reason I suggest that is because about 12 months ago I had the experience of being in Norway where I spoke with various Norwegian politicians and inquired why Norway is of, but not part of, the European Union. Norway cannot be in the European Union because its people rejected joining twice in referenda. The margin, in the early 1970s and again in the 1990s, was much the same, a rejection by 52% and 48%, but it was suggested by practically all of the politicians across the political divide to whom I spoke that it was rejected because it was referred to as the European Union. The folk memory in Norway of the union between Norway and Sweden was not positive and, therefore, the people were not too keen on entering something they perceived would somehow erode their nationality and sovereignty. There are, of course, echoes of the debate and argument in this country in the 1970s. I make that point for what it is worth. Politicians must grasp the nettle on this matter at European level.
I can understand why the Taoiseach is taking the position he is. He has come out unequivocally, unambiguously and, as I stated earlier, somewhat courageously. It seems to me this is because, as was referred to in Senator Ormonde's excellent contribution earlier, the Taoiseach invested such a significant amount of time, effort and credibility in a statesmanlike tour de force as President of the European Union at the time this constitution was being debated; he effectively pulled the disparate parts together. I can understand he probably feels it is his baby in that sense. I do not wish to minimise that perceived feeling he may have of ownership with his wider responsibilities as Taoiseach and the fact that he has taken this position, one which we all would support, in the national interest.
There is widespread concern about enlargement and I am glad the Taoiseach referred to this in his speech. The rejection of the referenda in France and the Netherlands was rather complex, as are most referenda. Senator McDowell correctly touched on the inherent flaw in holding a referendum and the concept of a referendum. To those who feel I am somehow assaulting one of the bastions of our democracy, I would suggest that all politicians realise that the question asked is not always the question answered, and that is what happens in these instances.
The widespread concern arises from the social directive. While the Taoiseach commented on not having sterile debate on different social systems at the forthcoming EU Heads of State meeting in London, questions must be asked about the EU and about its competitiveness. The Lisbon Agenda, which was referred to, still has not advanced to the point where Europe can provide prosperity for all its citizens.
Two issues which deserve more emphasis, certainly from an Irish perspective, are the significant roles of the EU in overseas development aid and in human rights. As one of my colleagues in the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs stated, Ireland does not do wars; we do peace and human rights. Ireland has a central role to play, not only in shaping the Europe of the future in the constitutional debate but also in pushing out the boat and advancing those issues and values which have been the European Union's beacon of attraction for all the member states that joined in the recent past and for those countries, not only the candidate countries but even those in south-east Europe and beyond, who wish to join. It is about human rights values. It is about our role in ensuring rights for those who are less well off, whether under the CAP or overseas development aid. That is the value of Europe and that is why I would be, as Senator Quinn stated aptly, a committed European.
We should express our thanks to the Taoiseach for giving of his time here again this afternoon. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, to the debate. I appreciate his being here. I am sure he will take back what we have to say.
This kind of debate, with five minute contributions, is lively and good. I have listened to it in my office for the past hour and it flowed quite well. It is a tight timeframe but it is good. We should have more such debates.
I was in France this year on the day of the referendum on the European constitution. That night I met five people who told me they had voted against the European constitution, which was not surprising. The surprising piece was contained in the next sentence of each of them. Each one of the five was in favour of the European constitution but they all had voted against it for different reasons. There are two lessons to be learned. Senator Mooney is correct. My history teacher in Dingle long ago always said that the most powerful person in a referendum was the one who wrote out the question, and he was so correct. If the question is wrong, the answer will never be correct.
In future we should hold a series of referenda, not just one referendum on something so complicated. I realise this is a terrible future to behold but if one does not take an aspect of the European constitution — I agree with the point made about calling it a constitution, which it is not, but one may call it what we wishes — and put that part to the people for stated reasons, then we will get a result similar to those received on many occasions. In the past three referenda we got this coalition of extreme right and extreme left. We got people who had nothing in common coming together opposing it and we made it easy for them to do so. We should not do that again. One thing we should do is break down the issues and deal with them one by one.
In that regard, we should observe how people perceive Europe. On the point Senator McDowell made earlier, people see themselves as European. They are comfortable being European, whatever that is. One does not hear people in the pub saying that we want to get out of Europe. It is not happening there and that is not where the debate is taking place.
The Taoiseach made reference to Turkey. The Turkish issue is a classic example of that of which I speak. There is a huge majority against Turkey's accession and I could give at least six reasons for this. First, it is a Muslim state and a considerable number of European Christians are opposed to the idea of a Muslim state joining the European Union. These Christians will never say so but that is what they believe. Second, a significant number of racists do not want these Asians. There are the geographers who will tell us that Turkey is not part of Europe, which finishes at the Dardanelles. There are also the people who are worried about the size of Turkey. Then there are workers who are genuinely worried about their jobs if 70 million people suddenly become available to the European workforce. These are different objecting groups and they must be dealt with one by one. Then there is the issue of Cyprus. Did anyone else note that during the debate on whether the EU would start the accession talks with Turkey two weeks ago there was no mention of Turkey's attitude towards Cyprus? The idea of an EU member state which did not fully recognise another EU member state would be untenable. In fairness, Turkey has made more moves than Cyprus in trying to alleviate that. The House will recall that the referendum on that island last year was accepted by the Turkish end and rejected by the other end, contrary to all expectations a year earlier. We must look at these issues and also tell the Turkish authorities that they keep doing everything wrong. They deal with every problem the wrong way. They should just simply recognise what they must do. They should out-wit and out-strategise the people who are delighted to see them making errors.
There are issues about Europe that bother people. The euro has been the greatest success story of the European Union and people like it. The aspect of the European Union that has driven people mad is, as I mentioned here this morning, that we no longer can have local market producers. Such markets exist in every other place in Europe. Every small town in France has such a market where people may sell their own vegetables. Each day in north Dublin people dump the kind of vegetables that are polished up in Provence and presented as being perfect. They would not be allowed on the Dublin market because they do not meet European Union legislation regulations. The position is the same as regards meat, the VRT on cars and credit cards. I cannot get my credit card at the cheapest place in Europe because we are tied by the regulations. Why can I not transfer euro from one country to another without undergoing an extraordinarily difficult, expensive and complex procedure with different banks?
Many Irish people travel abroad two or three times each year. Why must they queue up at customs? Why do we not say "Goodbye" to the British, as we did in the case of the euro, and buy into the Schengen Agreement? The situation is too complex and complicated so we should take the next step and move on. These are some of the steps we could take to make people more at ease and bring forward the principles of the Treaty of Rome, namely, free movement of people, labour and capital.
The constitutional treaty was drafted following a uniquely open and transparent process and represented a fairly carefully balanced compromise between the member states. No state got everything it wanted. I thought, for example, that there should be a reference in the preamble to our Christian heritage, not to make it a Christian constitution but rather to establish an historical fact. Instead, we end up with a Masonic preamble which refers to the Enlightenment and other such matters.
There was widespread consensus following the outcome of the French and Dutch referenda that reflection was required across Europe. In the words of the June 2005 declaration of the European Council, a period should "enable a broad debate to take place in each of our countries, involving citizens, civil society, social partners, national parliaments and political parties". As Members are aware, from the experience of referenda in Ireland, particularly in more recent times, it can be a challenge to our collective efforts to engage the wider public in debates on European affairs. I am sure the Minister of State is well aware of that fact. Perhaps this has occurred because we have neglected to underline the fact that European affairs are increasingly domestic affairs. Collective and co-ordinated European action is often the only means to address domestic issues across the Union.
It is important to recall that there are developments that impact on us all which are worldwide rather than EU specific. I refer here to the challenges and opportunities of globalisation, to which the Taoiseach referred. It is also important that we be mindful of the need to address issues at the most appropriate level for corrective action, the so-called principle of subsidiarity. Action might be best carried out at the level of the region, the nation, the Union, or a combination of all three. On occasion, initiatives will only be effective if given a global perspective. In that context, I refer, in particular, to the environment and the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.
It was appropriate that the constitutional treaty sought to advance the existing work of the national Parliaments with regard to monitoring in respect of the principle of subsidiarity. The role of the National Parliaments with regard to subsidiarity was previously recognised in the Amsterdam treaty. The Sub-Committee on European Scrutiny takes its role under the current legal arrangements very seriously in this regard. It is regrettable that there is not a greater appreciation of its valuable work and the dedicated efforts of its members.
I am aware, from working with colleagues in other European affairs committees in the national parliaments of the Union that meet under the umbrella of COSAC, the Conférence des Organes Spécialisés dans les Affaires Communautaires, that the issues of particular concern across the Union include the free movement of services and people and the neighbourhood policy. The latter seeks to include all the countries throughout Europe in a stabilisation pact ensuring stability, security and prosperity. It includes almost all the countries that touch on Europe in some way. In June 2004, at the final meeting of the General Affairs and External Relations Council during Ireland's Presidency of the Union, a decision was taken to include Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. In this regard, it was particularly timely this morning to meetthe Georgian Foreign Minister, Ms SalomeZourabichvili, to exchange views on how the Union might develop structured relations with her country and the wider region.
Ireland has been economically and culturally enriched by the presence of people from the newer member states. Freer movement brings many pluses but also challenges that must be addressed. These are practical issues that are being explored by the Joint Committee on European Affairs in its work on migration. This is an example of how the period of reflection facilitates the addressing of the concerns and worries of citizens.
I intended to refer to the National Forum on Europe but Senator Maurice Hayes has already done so. The European Council has indicated that it will return to the matter of the constitutional treaty in the first half of 2006 to make an overall assessment of the national debates and to agree on how to proceed. It is, therefore, particularly timely that we are considering this valuable contribution to the debate.
We should note that the consensus reached at the time of the writing of the constitution, created from the European Convention and the IGC, was not sufficiently democratic. The consensus must now go deeper into political society. We should not be afraid of this. There is much happening that we can recommend and of which we can be proud. I am conscious that the Taoiseach and his colleagues face a vital period in terms of negotiations on the EU financial perspectives for 2007 to 2013. I thank him and his Ministers for their involvement and for their determined approach to the debate so far. I wish them well with their negotiations, which are now on the agenda for December's European Council.
The European project has served Europe well. It has allowed the peoples and nations of Europe to unite in co-operation in a vision of peace and prosperity. As the European conflicts and wars of the last century fade from memory into history, it is timely that we now reflect on the future of Europe. I am confident that this White Paper will become a framework for future discussions and greatly assist in clarifying the issues at stake. I look forward to continuing to play an active part in this ongoing debate..
I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Treacy, and his official. I also welcome the White Paper, which I have not yet had the chance to examine.
One of the respects in which we have a superb public service is with regard to Europe. Tremendous commitment is found across Departments that is a blend of idealism and enlightened self interest. We are exceptionally fortunate in that regard. This showed through when we were able, where others failed, to get agreement on the draft constitutional treaty.
The undoubted malaise in regard to the constitution is both economic and political. Economic stagnation, particularly in continental Europe, has much to do with our current situation. The outcome of the German general election, in terms of government formation, is not unsatisfactory. I hope a grand coalition continuing along the path started a year or so ago by the outgoing Chancellor Schröeder will succeed in returning business confidence into the German economy. This is important for all of us because that engine has been missing. There is also a certain political malaise, perhaps more in France than in Germany, where, following enlargement, there is no longer the feeling that France, or the Franco-German partnership, is running the show. There is some uncertainty as to from where the impetus comes.
It is right that there should be a period of reflection on the constitutional treaty. If one were to attempt to force ahead at this point, one would only get further rebuffs. I sense that people here may argue that we could say no to the treaty because other countries have done so and, therefore, there would be no serious consequences, which puts us in danger of finding ourselves in a situation similar to that which obtained following the first referendum on the Nice Treaty. This would not be helpful.
I was interested to note that the Taoiseach expressed belief and confidence that the constitutional treaty would, sooner or later, be back on the agenda. I suspect that one or two elections in continental Europe may have to take place before this is possible. Unlike Senator Maurice Hayes, I am implacably more on the side of the Taoiseach than on the side of Senator Quinn as regards the Common Agricultural Policy. Without casting aspersions on anyone's idealism, it must be borne in mind that Senator Quinn comes from a commercial sector of the economy that has rather different interests from the productive agricultural sector. I do not buy the argument that the Common Agricultural Policy as a whole is detrimental to developing countries. The ACP countries, especially the Caribbean countries, have made it clear they are not in favour of the reforms of the sugar beet industry being proposed by the European Commission. They have explained that the present system, under which they can buy in, suits them much better.
I applaud the Government on its courageous position on issues like the EU's accession negotiations with Turkey. As the Taoiseach acknowledged in his speech, many people have reservations about the opening of negotiations, which I think is the correct thing to do. It is clear that Turkish accession will be possible only if a series of conditions which are not right at the moment come right in the future. I am glad Ireland has taken its position on the appropriate side of the argument.
I thank the Taoiseach and the Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, for agreeing so freely to come to the House for this debate when it was mooted. If Senators think they have been short-changed by the allocation of time during this debate, I assure them that the decision to impose tighter speaking slots was taken after more than ten Senators were unable to speak during the debate on Northern Ireland last week. We had no idea that we would run out of people wanting to contribute to this debate. Perhaps it is a reflection of Senators' priorities, although I am not sure what to make of it. I think punchy debates of this nature are better than the long and rambling debates to which we have been subjected on many occasions. It is good to ask people to express their thoughts in a tighter timeframe. I appreciate the Taoiseach's decision to take time to come to the Seanad on two successive Thursdays.
This debate has been very useful. We usually hear about EU issues when a crisis is developing, or when a referendum is forthcoming. People act like busy bees on such occasions. I am glad that the White Paper on the European Constitution has been published, as it will provoke argument and debate, including on the letters page of The Irish Times. I am concerned about the failure to promote European studies in our secondary schools. I am aware that the history of the EU can be studied within the history curriculum, but we are not promoting EU matters in an adequate fashion. Young people should be encouraged to initiate debates about the whole European project.
I agree with Senator Mooney that the decision to use the convoluted and incomprehensible phrase "constitutional treaty on Europe" was unfortunate. When people hear the phrase "constitutional treaty", they think of this country's Constitution and argue that we should not give it up in favour of some European carry-on. The title that was given to a document that merely brings together some ideas which have been accepted by the people of this country in various referenda is too heavy and weighty. The grandiose title in question was frightening for some people.
Although this country has woken up to the fact that many people feel removed from the EU and find its business incomprehensible, it has not been able to make it clear to people exactly what the EU is all about by tearing away the veils of incomprehension which mask the entire EU project. I am not sure that Mr. Barroso's symbolic gesture of tearing up 70 EU directives will encourage more people to favour the EU or help to make EU matters clearer to European citizens. I do not like the idea that much of the time I spent working on legislation and statutory instruments to bring various EU directives into force has gone up in flames. I do not think the burning and tearing up of the directives is symbolic or important. It will not invoke a feeling of European comradeship among EU citizens. Mr. Barroso's gesture, which was an attempt to be fashionable, reminded me of the comments of the former Tory Minister, Mr. Michael Heseltine, who had a big mane of hair, about tearing away the layers of bureaucracy. I imagine that some adviser, with apologies to the nice adviser who is present in the Chamber, suggested to Mr. Barroso that he would be a wow and everybody would say "hear, hear" if he burned some papers.
We have come to love many of the European Union's values, such as human rights, employee rights and parity. I met a man the other night who took a case to the European Court of Justice. His case related to quite a small matter — it was not the kind of thing that would attract headlines. When he was unable to obtain justice in this jurisdiction, he took his case to the European Court of Justice and got a favourable ruling. He told me that his experience has convinced him that the EU works. Greater publicity should be given to matters which can be explored and decided on at EU level.
This is a healthy debate. I am sure that the White Paper on the European Constitution is excellent. I look forward to hearing the Minister of State's closing remarks.
Ba mhaith liom buíochas a gabháil leis an Seanad as ucht an díospóireachta iontaigh maidir leis an Aontas Eorpach a bhí againn sa Teach inniu. Táimid an-bhuíoch don Taoiseach as ucht teacht anseo chun páirt mhór a ghlacadh agus ceannasaíocht a thabhairt don díospóireacht. It is always a pleasure to come to the Seanad. I followed the earlier part of this debate from my office before I came to the House to listen to the contributions of Senators. I thank Members from all sides of the House for the positive contributions they have made this afternoon. It is obvious that the European Union is of great importance to all Senators. It is clear they are focused on and committed to the European project and have a fine understanding of it. They seem to have a clear vision of where the EU is going and what it should be about. Senators have lauded the contribution the EU has made to the development of Ireland since it joined the Union in 1973.
I pay tribute to the Taoiseach and thank him for coming to the Seanad to lead this debate, for making a significant contribution to it and for officially launching the White Paper on the European Constitution on behalf of the Government and the people of Ireland at this important time of reflection for the European Union. The European Council of the Heads of States and Governments has decided that we need to reflect on the failure of the proposed EU constitution to be accepted by the electorates of France and the Netherlands. It is important at this time to reflect on the progress that has been made by the Union and the path it should take into the future. We need to consider how quickly the EU has reached its current status. There has been a substantial expansion not only of the EU's membership, but also of its population. We should think about the EU's future borders. We cannot continue to expand the EU in an ad hoc manner without considering the ramifications of such machinations on the existing member states. The period of reflection should be used to ponder the many changes which have taken place as well as the great challenges and opportunities which are faced by all member states.
As the Minister of State with responsibility for European Affairs, I had a very small input into the White Paper on the European Constitution, which is a fine document. I pay tribute to the work done in this regard by the Taoiseach, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the management officials within the Department of Foreign Affairs. I refer in particular to the outgoing director general of the Department's European affairs division, Mr. Montgomery, who is now in charge of the Department's political division. He played a key role in writing, co-ordinating and putting the final touches to the White Paper. It should be noted that the officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs worked on the White Paper without any external assistance — it was an in-house operation. I pay special tribute to the Department's political director, Mr. Montgomery, who made a huge contribution to the White Paper. It is an outstanding document that is a credit to him and his colleagues in the Department who helped to compile the document ahead of its ultimate analysis and ratification at Government level. Now that it is a public document, the citizens of this country have an opportunity to engage with it and I hope they will do so. In particular, I would like those of us involved in political life, such as the Members of the Oireachtas and the members of local authorities, to examine the White Paper.
Although the European Union is critically important, we seem to take it seriously only when a crisis or a problem is developing, as the Leader of the House said. It is a part of our everyday lives that has a key role to play. It is critically important that we recognise that it makes a massive contribution to equality, economic development, market opportunities and the transfer of resources. We need to continue to speak about the EU and to get our message across in primary schools, secondary schools, third level institutions, business organisations, voluntary bodies and political movements. That is also critically important.
We must all embrace this debate. Nobody has single ownership of it because it is a collective responsibility. European meetings are held throughout the country and in this regard I pay particular tribute to the Forum on Europe under the outstanding leadership of Senator Maurice Hayes. It is important that we all support the forum and, as elected political representatives at national and local level, that we engage with the public so they have a better understanding of what Europe is about and where it is going. I appeal to everybody to use this opportunity for reflection to study the document. We must engage with and support the forum in its efforts to get the message across to the people, which is important for us all.
I wish to reinforce Ireland's strong and outstanding leadership pertaining to European issues but particularly to the Common Agricultural Policy. It is in this regard that the Taoiseach in particular has given such outstanding leadership. He is a former President of the Union, universally respected within the European Union for his negotiating skills and wonderful leadership, and probably the most respected leader in Europe at this time, when leadership is critically important. The CAP has been critical to Ireland with regard to the massive transfer of resources we receive, the modern agricultural industry we have developed, our production capacities and our ability to supply not only European but world markets. It is critically important we maintain the CAP and speak with a united voice.
I am pleased to represent Ireland in an observer capacity as part of the Friends of Cohesion group of countries. At this stage some 20 countries have reached agreement that the financial perspectives negotiations which took place up to 30 June last indicated the best way forward for the future. The 20 countries believe we should get a decision during this term, under the UK Presidency. I hope this can be achieved in December so Europe will have the financial and political leadership and sustainability that is critically important for the future, and that any uncertainty will be eliminated as a matter of urgency.
On behalf of the Taoiseach, I thank all Members for their contribution to this debate on the European Union. I hope that, collectively, we can encourage the citizens of the nation to engage with regard to the critical role that Europe has played in the development of our country, the critical role Ireland can play within Europe and the great challenges and opportunities ahead. Working together in a consensual way, I hope we make our contribution to Europe and, in turn, that Europe will continue to support us in our economic development and the creation of equality of opportunity for all of the citizens on this island and across Europe in the decades ahead, which will be challenging, exciting and rewarding.