Wednesday, 30 April 2008
Twenty-eighth Amendment of the Constitution Bill 2008: Second Stage
Dick Roche (Minister of State with special responsibility for European Affairs, Department of Foreign Affairs; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Senators for delaying the start of business today. I am not quite certain what the confusion was. However, as I was in the Czech Senate three short hours ago, I am very pleased to be here now. I am very grateful to Members and I hope it did not inconvenience any Member of this House.
I am pleased to introduce into the Seanad, on behalf of the Government, the Twenty-eighth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, which has completed its passage through Dáil Éireann. Through this Bill, the Government proposes to hold a referendum seeking the approval of the people to ratify the EU reform treaty. The importance of this referendum can hardly be overstated. It is the culmination of a prolonged period of consultation, reflection and negotiation. This process began in December 2001 with the convening of the European Convention, a unique experiment involving national governments and parliaments together with the EU institutions. It considerably broadened the debate about changes to EU structures and procedures, and ended with the treaty signed in Lisbon on 13 December 2007.
Throughout this period the Government carefully examined and assessed each proposal, and ensured that whatever was agreed was in our interest and that of the wider Union. The Government also facilitated a broad-based consideration of developments under the auspices of the National Forum on Europe, where representatives of a wide spectrum of public and civil-society opinion have engaged in lengthy debate over the future direction of the European Union. It is often said that the European project is cobbled together in backrooms. It is often said that treaties are put together away from the eyes of the citizens of the Union. Nothing could be further from the truth in this case. The Convention on the Future of Europe was a convention of 200 men and women drawn from the parliaments and governments of the 27 states and from the institutions of the European Union. It did its work in public. It listened to and consulted with the public. It is important to put that on the record because one of the distortions often made in the debate here is that somehow or other it was put together in secret. It certainly was not.
The Government is pleased to recognise the overwhelming support in the Oireachtas for the reform treaty. The referendum Bill was passed by the Dáil with a mere five Deputies expressing their opposition to it. The reform treaty represents the views of the vast majority of the democratically elected Members in Dáil Éireann and, I am sure, in this House also. We are men and women who serve our country and although we differ on politics we do not differ on this matter. This reflects the deep understanding across the political spectrum of the essential role played by the European Union over more than three decades in the development of our country, society and economy and that the Oireachtas was directly represented in the Convention.
We were unique at the Convention on the Future of Europe in that Government and Opposition came together. We had people from across the political spectrum in the Convention on the Future of Europe. Former Deputy John Bruton served on the presidium. Proinsias De Rossa, MEP served with extraordinary distinction on the social Europe group. It was my privilege to replace Mr. Ray MacSharry representing the Government. Deputies Pat Carey and the Minister, Deputy Gormley, also came out to represent the Dáil. The political spectrum in Ireland was represented in the Convention.
Support for this treaty transcends normal political divides. Ratification of the treaty is a true national priority. It is notable that even those opposing the reform treaty now feel obliged to claim — I would say falsely — that they are strong supporters of the European Union. These treaty opponents know that outright opposition to the Union would gain them few votes. However, their support for the Union is paper thin and unconvincing. Opponents of the reform treaty rarely say a good word about Europe aside from ritual claims that they are somehow mysteriously pro-European. Their deeds indicate otherwise.
The only Oireachtas party campaigning against the reform treaty, Sinn Féin, has an extraordinary record in this regard. At least one could say it is a record of consistency. Sinn Féin has opposed every European treaty since we voted on accession to the EEC. However, it still claims to be pro-Europe. It has a funny way of showing it. The reality is that either Sinn Féin members do not understand the EU and how it operates, or they are opportunistically dressing themselves in a cloak of concern for a mythical better deal for Ireland. To give one example: Sinn Féin argued in Dáil Éireann that the treaty should not be ratified unless Ireland secured a specific protocol guaranteeing that we could continue making our own decisions on taxation. This proposal typifies Sinn Féin's duplicitous approach. First, it ignores the fact that the Government has absolutely ensured that we will continue to make our own decisions on taxation, including of course corporation taxation, by the maintenance of unanimity in this area.
It was not just the Irish Government or the Irish political representatives who went to the Convention who were interested in retaining unanimity. Other governments in Europe want to maintain unanimity in this area, not for any selfish or self-interested reasons, but because we believe that taxation is directly related to democracy. In the words of the President of the Commission, José Manuel Barroso, addressing the National Forum on Europe earlier this month, "one thing is already crystal clear — no member state, either under the current rules or under the Lisbon treaty, can be obliged to accept a tax proposal to which it objects". The chairman of the independent and impartial Referendum Commission, Mr. Justice O'Neill, has also confirmed this in the clearest and most unequivocal language.
Sinn Féin's proposal for a protocol on taxation is redundant. The opportunism of Sinn Féin is astonishing. Barely 12 months ago, the same party was calling for a near 50% increase in our corporation tax rate, and for perhaps a trebling of the rate in respect of financial institutions. Mr. Adams, MLA, MP, will finally appear before the National Forum on Europe tomorrow, having dodged the forum to date. I look forward to him answering questions on that matter. I somehow doubt that Irish business people or those employed in multinational companies in Ireland believe that Sinn Féin is the party to look after their interests.
The Libertas group has also cynically claimed to be pro-Europe while denouncing anything and everything to do with the European Union. The people will be wary of such false friends. Farmers will want to note that the leader of this self-appointed think tank, who warns against "Mandelson's Europe", wants to abolish completely the Common Agricultural Policy, which has been the bedrock of Irish agricultural production for 30 years, and which has brought immense benefits to rural families. I want to put this on the record of the House because I was challenged on this point recently by one of the multifarious spokespersons of Libertas. He said I was misquoting Mr. Ganly. In order to make certain that I did not, I looked up an article written by that gentleman entitled "Europe's Direction? a Voice from Ireland", published in 11 March 2003. In discussing the invasion of Iraq, which that gentleman supported, he chastised the democratic leaders of a number of European states for daring to argue about weapons of mass destruction. He stated:
If the laudable goal of preventing human tragedy is their focus, then Messers Schröder and Chirac would do well to carry out an inspection of one of the biggest weapons of mass destruction being detonated in these times, our very own European Common Agricultural Policy, which, because of its trade barriers and subsidization, will result in thousands of deaths around the world in 2003.
I put this on the record because I was accused twice recently of misquoting this gentleman or making much of words that had slipped out somehow or other. Later in the article he stated:
By mindlessly spending over half of the EU's €89bn budget on a common agricultural policy, when a fraction of that capital invested more wisely into those same communities would provide for greater incomes, higher living standards and zero dependence on farm subsidies. Think of the improvements in Europe's social, economic and security infrastructure with an extra €40 billion available and managed efficiently and accountably.
Dick Roche (Minister of State with special responsibility for European Affairs, Department of Foreign Affairs; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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He may be well said. I do not believe it is right to support the impoverishment of rural families nor the downgrading of agricultural and rural life. I do not believe, in terms of infrastructural development, we should rob Peter to pay Paul. I believe there are more appropriate ways of approaching this matter. I made the quotations because this gentleman, who proposes that he is somehow a friend of Irish farmers, wants to end the CAP. Some Senators may agree with that goal but I do not.
It would not be appropriate to devote any more time to these organisations and their hollow arguments or to their dubious rationale. Their myths have been exposed and their yarns are beginning to unravel. I would instead like to turn to the substance of the Bill and outline its specific provisions. The substance of the proposed amendment to Bunreacht na hÉireann is set out in the schedule, containing what, if approved by the people, will be subsections 10° to 15° of Article 29.4 of the Constitution.
The proposed subsection 10° provides that the State may ratify the reform treaty and be a member of the European Union provided for in the treaty. This is straightforward and reflects the language and approach of previous amendments. It should be noted that the reform treaty creates greater clarity by dispensing with the current and somewhat confusing distinction between the European Union and the European Community. Henceforth there will be a single entity, the European Union. I do not understand why some people find the establishment of a single title to represent different bodies sinister. This is simply an act of common sense.
The proposed new subsection 11° of Article 29.4 mirrors the provision that has been in place since our accession to the EU 35 years ago. It will ensure legal compatibility between the reform treaty and the Constitution. It carries forward the concept of constitutional cover for laws, Acts and measures necessitated by the obligations of our EU membership. It is not, as some might suggest, a sinister legal move; it is in accordance with what has existed for 35 years.
This provision has attracted attention from some opponents of the treaty, who have cynically tried to suggest that it is a new departure and will make our Constitution completely subservient to European law. The truth is that this constitutional provision is as old as our membership of the Union. In essence, this provision means that we agree to implement EU law in areas where we have conferred a specific competence on the EU. European law does not have primacy in any area where the EU does not have a specific competence. Indeed, a very important provision of the reform treaty clarifies the respective competences of the Union and the member states and recognises that ultimate sovereignty lies with the member states. Also, in establishing the principle of conferral, it makes it clear the Union has no powers other than those it is given by member states. It also clarifies that powers given to the EU by member states can be taken back.
The wording I have outlined reflects the general principle of international law, recognised since 1937 by Article 29.3 of Bunreacht na hÉireann, that states must comply with international legal obligations freely undertaken by them in the exercise of their sovereignty. Bunreacht na hÉireann will continue to be the basic legal document of the State and Irish sovereignty is fully protected. It is important to make this point because the sovereignty argument has been recycled in every referendum since 1972.
The new subsection 12° provides for the State to avail of certain options and discretions and to agree to certain legal acts under the treaty on foot of the prior approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas. This has been portrayed as somehow sinister by those who wish to distort the facts. The subsection updates the provisions inserted relating to the treaties of Amsterdam and Nice covering those situations where, because the discretion exists to opt into a given action, Irish participation is not deemed to be legally necessitated by the Union. Some of the provisions, relating to the areas of freedom, security and justice, are specific to Ireland while others, relating to enhanced co-operation, are relevant to all 27 member states.
The new subsection 13° makes specific provision for the possibility of withdrawing, in whole or in part, from the opt-out provided for in the Ireland-UK protocol in the area of freedom, security and justice. We discussed the opt-out at length in this House and many Members felt it was not necessary. This gives us the right to withdraw from the opt-out. The subsection provides that prior approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas would be a condition for such a withdrawal. This is an important point because we have written into various subsections that positive confirmation from the Houses of the Oireachtas will be necessary. In other words, things cannot simply happen with the passage of time; the Oireachtas will have to approve them.
This subsection relates to an area that was subject to significant change between the constitutional treaty, signed in 2004, and the reform treaty. This is one of the areas of fundamental difference between the two documents. The amendment of the Ireland-UK protocol, which has existed since 1997, extends our existing opt-out arrangement with regard to visas, asylum, immigration and judicial co-operation in civil matters to judicial co-operation in criminal matters and to police co-operation. Due to the sensitive nature of co-operation in this area, and particularly the fact that Ireland, like the UK, has a distinctive common law system of criminal justice that differs from the legal systems in place in the majority of our EU partners, Ireland decided to avail of an extension of these flexible arrangements.
There were mixed views relating to this and I shared such sentiments but what we have done is prudent because it gives Ireland the right to opt in on a case by case basis with the involvement of the Oireachtas. The protocol means that we will be able to choose, on a case by case basis, in which criminal justice or police co-operation measures we will participate. We have clearly indicated, in a declaration attached to the Intergovernmental Conference's final act, that we will examine how EU policy evolves in this area and review our arrangements within a period of three years.
Ireland has consistently and strongly supported practical EU anti-terrorism measures and concerted action against organised crime and we will continue to do so. For this reason, the declaration annexed to the final act states our clear intention to participate to the maximum extent possible in relevant proposals and particularly in the area of police co-operation. Withdrawal from the opt-out arrangements contained in the protocol would require prior approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas.
Subsection 14° states that prior approval by the Houses of the Oireachtas would be a condition for action on a number of Articles. This includes the use of the general passerelle provision in the treaty, which allows the European Council, where the member states are unanimously agreed, to change the voting method for a particular Article from unanimity to qualified majority voting, or to extend the co-decision procedure between the Council and the European Parliament, in specified areas — excluding defence and military matters — subject to the right of any national parliament to veto such a change.
It should be emphasised that for this to happen every member state in the European Council would have to agree as would the Government of every member state. Such a measure would have to have the support of the majority of members of the European Parliament and, as we will see, it would need the effective support of every parliament in the European Union. Each parliament in the European Union will have the right of veto. Both Houses of the Oireachtas will have the power to exercise a veto. Ireland has added an additional clause that ensures both Houses of the Oireachtas must agree to such measures proceeding.
The use of specific passerelles relating to the common foreign and security policy, judicial co-operation in regard to family law, the environment, the adoption of the multi-annual financial framework, social security and the use of passerelle mechanisms within enhanced co-operation is covered. It also covers certain decisions in the areas of freedom, security and justice, namely, to extend the scope of judicial co-operation in aspects of criminal procedure in specific areas with a cross-border dimension; to extend the scope of measures concerning the definition of criminal offences and sanctions in the areas of particularly serious crime with a cross-border dimension; and to establish a European public prosecutor office for dealing with crimes affecting the Union's financial interests. The cross-Border crimes in question are human trafficking, money-laundering, fraud, drugs and arms dealing, crimes every civilised nation wants to stamp out.
This requirement to seek the positive endorsement of the Houses of the Oireachtas in respect of any of these areas enhances the treaty provisions, which allow for a negative veto by any national parliament in the case of the general passerelle.
The new subsection 15 carries forward the prohibition on Irish participation in any future EU common defence. This was originally inserted in the Constitution by the people in October 2002, as part of the approval of the ratification of the Nice treaty. To avoid any possible doubt about the constitutional prohibition on Irish participation in an EU common defence, this subsection refers to the relevant provision from the Nice and the reform treaties. There is no serious proposal for a common EU defence. In any case, a change in Ireland's position can come about only if the Irish people were to decide so in a referendum.
The Bill allows for a referendum permitting the State to ratify the Lisbon reform treaty. It reaffirms the prohibition on Ireland participating in any common EU defence. It provides for a significant role for the Oireachtas in respect of options and discretion contained in the treaty. It provides uniquely for an extension of powers in the Seanad as it will, as in the case of the Dáil, make a positive affirmation in QMV.
The Bill provides for a vote on Ireland's continued participation at the heart of Europe. Over decades, Irish people have demonstrated repeatedly their commitment to the European project. They have recognised the immense benefits the country has enjoyed as a result and the benefits that have accrued to the wider continent.
Would a country of our size have more control over the major factors influencing the global economy if it were to stand apart from the Union? The best way to shape our external environment, to deal with international crime and to manage the threat of climate change is to work intensively with our EU partners. The Union has provided the space and the framework for Ireland to fulfil its destiny as a proud, independent and successful nation.
One key purpose of the reform treaty is to improve accountability and enhance the democratic legitimacy of the Union. In particular, the increased role for the European Parliament and national parliaments will strengthen the democratic character of EU legislation. The role of the European Parliament will be strengthened in drawing up the Union's budget.
The treaty also provides for a strengthened role for national parliaments with regard to draft legislation. The introduction of the yellow card and orange card procedures can be used to oblige the Commission to reconsider legislation if it is felt to conflict with the principle of subsidiarity. The treaty makes national parliaments the guardians of subsidiarity. National parliaments may bring legal challenges to the European Court of Justice if they believe any legislative act breaches that principle.
The Oireachtas and other national parliaments will have a red card in certain areas, allowing them individually to block the movement of a given article from unanimity to QMV. This process is designed to strengthen the role of national parliaments in the Union without distorting the Union's institutional balance. Some hours ago I discussed this with the Czech Senate's committee on EU affairs and it was discussed last night in an Oireachtas committee. The level of involvement and the powers given to national parliaments by the treaty are a revolutionary move and a significant innovation.
The new citizens' initiative is also a significant innovation. One million citizens from several member states may put forward a petition inviting the Commission to bring forward a proposal.
There is no question of future referenda in Ireland being ruled out by the treaty as suggested by some of its opponents. This was reiterated yesterday by the Referendum Commission. Article 1.56 of the treaty, inserting a new Article 48 into the Treaty on European Union, makes clear any future move to confer additional powers on the EU, to alter the provisions of the treaty or even to amend EU internal policies in a way that does not increase the Union's competence, must be approved in accordance with the constitutional requirements of each member state. In Ireland this means advice will be sought from the Attorney General on each occasion as to whether a referendum is required. The Government will be guided by the advice of the Attorney General in each instance.
Two core issues in Ireland's approach to the reform Treaty and the EU — neutrality and taxation policy — demonstrate the essential safeguards and checks and balances which are an integral aspect of the Union and consistently ignored by the treaty's opponents.
Ireland proposed the provision originally inserted in the Maastricht treaty in 1992 that the policy of the Union in the security and defence sphere shall not prejudice the specific character of the security and defence policy of certain member states. This was an explicit recognition of our tradition of military neutrality. It was also welcomed by Sweden, Finland and Austria when they later joined the EU. This formulation has been maintained since and is repeated in the reform treaty. The recognition of our military neutrality demonstrates the Union respects diversity and accommodates those with differing traditions.
Taxation policy is of long-standing importance to Ireland. We have consistently maintained our principled position of opposition to harmonisation of taxes or any movement away from unanimity in decision-making. We have always pointed out that a competitive corporation tax rate has been a key element of successive Governments' policies. Tax competition is beneficial, not harmful. Others who respect our success are free to emulate us. They are not free to oblige us to increase or harmonise our taxes. No provision in the current treaties or the Lisbon reform treaty gives the power to other member states or the Union's institutions to affect our tax rates. Taxation remains a key national competence. No amount of spinning by the treaty's opponents can change this. I hope the comments by the chairman of the Referendum Commission, Mr. Justice O'Neill, will put this particular canard back in its box until the next referendum, when no doubt it will be resuscitated.
The EU originated with six member states 50 years ago. Its working methods and institutions have proved remarkably durable. Nevertheless, enlargement and the passage of time have highlighted areas for change and reform. This is what the Lisbon reform treaty is about. It is not about deciding exactly what Europe will do in the coming decades. That will be for decision by the member states. Instead, it is about providing a structure for those decisions to be taken. The Union has worked well and has enlarged substantially because it has provided a unique model. It has managed to combine a shared community of values with respect for the rights and prerogatives of member states.
None of Ireland's national interests will be jeopardised by the reform treaty. None of our national interests was jeopardised by joining the Union. We should be confident and forward looking to continue to engage to good effect with our European neighbours by supporting the reform treaty at the referendum.
I commend the Bill to the House.
The European Union is the most advanced form of voluntary integration between sovereign states in history. The Lisbon reform treaty embodies a unanimous agreement that emerged from more than five years of intense public and private discussion between democratically elected representatives of 27 member states representing 500 million people. Most of the content of the treaty was the subject of consensus in a convention consisting of the democratically elected governments of all EU states. The Lisbon treaty is an agreement which can only come into effect if every one of these 27 countries formally ratify it. The Irish people now have the power to accept or reject this treaty. I believe they will accept it, on balance, for a wide range of reasons. The Irish people have had a direct hand in creating this voluntary and multinational democracy which is one of the great achievements of 20th century political leadership.
The Fine Gael party has organised in excess of 30 public meetings nationwide to inform people of the contents of the Lisbon treaty. Our youth branch, Young Fine Gael, has also held several public meetings at locations throughout the country. We believe it is important that people know exactly what is in this treaty and that we nail the lies which some people continue to spread on issues which have nothing whatsoever to do with the treaty.
Take for instance, the issue of abortion which was raised at a public meeting which I attended recently. It was suggested that abortion would become more freely available if we ratify the Lisbon treaty. Nothing could be further from the truth. The protocol of the Maastricht treaty states that nothing in the treaty will affect member states with regard to abortion and euthanasia. This will remain within the competence of the Government and the Constitution. I was furious that Alive magazine carried an advertisement recently stating that a "Yes" vote for the Lisbon treaty would be a "Yes" vote for abortion. This is a downright lie and I am saddened to say that the church allowed such a leaflet to be distributed which tries to confuse and muddy the waters for decent, honourable churchgoers. I suggest that allowing such lies to be spread breaks one of the Lord's own commandments. I listened to the radio this morning and I heard these lies trotted out again, in a deliberate attempt to confuse people as to the provisions of this treaty.
The Minister of State, Deputy Roche, mentioned the farming community and it, rightly, has concerns about the world trade talks and especially about how Commissioner Mandelson is conducting these talks. The Taoiseach is on record as stating that Ireland will use its veto if the WTO talks are not favourable to Irish agriculture. Surely, such a commitment could not be reneged on by any Government. Farmers can therefore vote on the Lisbon treaty on its merits, based on the guarantee which the Taoiseach has given on behalf of the Government on the world trade talks. The talks have nothing to do with the Lisbon treaty.
Ireland is more dependant on jobs, prosperity and on the foods and services it sells abroad than almost any other country in the world. It is therefore in Ireland's interest to be a full voting member of a democratic body like the EU, which guarantees that our closest export markets will stay open, on a basis of free and undistorted competition and as of right, not as a favour granted by a powerful neighbour.
We currently have 980 foreign companies in Ireland providing almost 140,000 jobs. Some 434 of these firms are from the EU member states and this number is, thankfully, growing. One of the important consequences of EU membership is that it guarantees that all EU Citizens will have the right to live and work in any other EU State. Irish people know, from history, how valuable that right is.
However, if people can cross borders, then so too can criminals, terrorists and illegal drugs and arms. This is the reason the Lisbon treaty has been drafted. The treaty will help the EU to develop more rapidly rules to enable member states to work together against crime by sharing intelligence and evidence, apprehending accused persons and by recognising penalties imposed by the courts of other EU States.
The Lisbon treaty will enable the EU to be more effective in dealing with cross-border crime. This will be achieved by introducing majority voting in this area, in place of the current rule which requires all 27 countries to agree before the EU can take action. The problem of cross-border crime, including the drugs menace that is now visible in every Irish county, is too urgent to wait for unanimity. This change is one of the most important reasons we should approve of the treaty.
Climate change is a major challenge for Ireland. We cannot tackle it on our own, nor can Europe. We are too small and the problem is too big. However together in the EU the 27 member states can, with sufficient diplomatic and trade muscle, ensure that all countries of the world act together in addressing this significant issue.
It is difficult to believe that the first official visit of a British Prime Minister to meet a Taoiseach in Ireland, rather than in Britain, did not take place until 1974. Membership of the EU enabled the two countries to develop a more mature relationship which has served both countries well in the intervening years.
Under the Lisbon treaty the EU's foreign relations will be put under the unified management of one person. However, foreign and defence policies will still have to be settled by the unanimous agreement of all member states.
The European integration process has proven to be beneficial for all participants. It has been reasonably well managed and pursued. It has shown a capacity to adapt to the emergence of new demands and challenges from the world. The whole process has been overseen by the changing constellations of political forces which have produced a wide variety of governments in members states over the past 50 years. Whatever its faults or the criticisms of it which we make, which are deserved at times, it has given us something of value. We should continue to develop the EU and a "Yes" vote for the Lisbon treaty is the best way to continue its development.
Some people have suggested that Fine Gael should oppose this referendum as a means of embarrassing an already discredited Government, but my party has always put the country and its people first. We believe passionately in the European movement which has ensured peace, above all else, and contributed significantly to the prosperity we have enjoyed in this country.
The Lisbon treaty is another step on the European ladder which puts proper structures in place to meet the exciting challenges which lie ahead resulting from increased membership of the European Union. Ireland has built up a good deal of goodwill over the years with other member states, which has served this country well on many occasions. I believe the Irish people will not jeopardise this goodwill and will support the treaty when they are fully informed of its content. I urge the Irish people to vote "Yes" to this treaty on its merits and not use their vote to censure this Government. That opportunity will come later. That the "No" campaign has, according to a recent opinion poll, gained support is a cause for concern. Hopefully, complacency will be put aside and the Government will concentrate on discussing the Lisbon treaty's many positive aspects.
While I am not criticising the Minister of State, I was approached by a number of people today who told me that he got angry on yesterday's edition of "Five Seven Live" due to some suggestions that were made. This can occur when lies are told about various matters, but we should explain the treaty's contents in a rational and thoughtful way. If the information is provided to the people, they will make the right decision on the day.
I welcome the Minister of State, who has made a significant effort to attend this debate. Three hours ago, he addressed the Parliament of the Czech Republic. His attempt to attend the Seanad in a timely manner reflects his energy and drive in getting the debate off the ground. I appreciate his work in this regard.
The purpose of the Bill on the 28th amendment of the Constitution is to pave the way for the ratification of the European Union reform treaty, which is concerned with simplifying structures. There were six member states 50 years ago, but there are 27 members today. The treaty responds to current needs, aims to simplify the workings of the institutions and will bring them into the 21st century. It is a question of making changes to their workings to enhance efficiency, transparency and democracy. The treaty will give everyone a stronger voice in the decision making process.
The yellow and red cards system is welcome and appropriate, as it will give national parliaments a greater role. Under it, any decision proposed in Brussels must apply the subsidiarity concept. If it does not, we can use the yellow card system to return the decision to the Commission for further discussion. If necessary, we can refer it to the European Court of Justice. This is a significant improvement in terms of linking us with the Union's decision making process instead of it being a question of Europe being over there and Ireland over here. This is how I want Europe to work for us. The treaty will bring citizens closer to the decision making process and provide us with a real say in European policies.
I welcome the role of the National Forum on Europe and the discussions of the Joint Committee on European Affairs in driving the reform treaty forward. The amendment will give legal status to the Charter of Fundamental Rights, including the freedom to choose occupations, equality between member states, the right to life and respect for private and family life. The charter puts the interests of the citizen firmly in the heart of the Union.
The treaty allows the EU more scope to address major problems such as climate change, energy security, cross-border crime, trafficking, immigration, poverty and injustice. These issues cannot be addressed by any country acting alone. We must work together and pool our resources. By doing so, we will make a difference. The treaty will provide the means to meet these challenges, allowing Europe to do more for our people. We may discuss cross-border crime and how to curtail the drugs and trafficking businesses, but we cannot handle those matters alone on the periphery. By pooling resources, a global team can combat trafficking and so on.
I do not understand the comments by those in the "No" campaign on the issues of neutrality, taxation and abortion. It is clear that the principle of unanimity will apply. We will decide what is to be done on taxation and neutrality, not Europe. The "No" campaigners believe that, in terms of abortion, taxation and neutrality, our identity will be subsumed into Europe. That one voice can object to a proposal at a Council of Ministers and prevent it from progressing is welcome. That we and not Europe will decide on these issues, the key areas on which the "No" campaign is harping, must be repeated to keep the message tight and simple.
In terms of economics, Ireland has access to an EU market of more than 500 million people. As Ireland is a peripheral country, the EU is good for our businesses and consumers. In 2006, for example, Ireland exported goods and services to the other 26 member states to the value of more than €56 billion. In 1998, we exported goods and services to the comparative value of €39 billion. Our national income per head has increased from less than 60% of the European average to above average. When we joined the EEC in 1972, our foreign direct investment was worth €16.1 million. Today, it is measured in billions, such as a level of capital investment to the value of €2.6 billion. The number of people employed in small to medium-sized industries has doubled since 1973. No longer is it inevitable that parents see their children departing for foreign shores in search of employment. By virtue of being citizens of the EU, they have access to new horizons. The EU has enhanced our national well-being and our capacity to further the interests of the people. Ireland's place is at the heart of Europe.
The citizen's initiative, a new concept included in the treaty, means that 1 million citizens will be able to table a proposal to have a particular issue debated in the European Parliament or at the Council of Ministers. This is a significant improvement. Under qualified majority voting, the requirement of 55% of member states comprising 65% of the EU's population will ensure that small countries will be taken care of. A full-time president of the European Council will be elected every two and a half years to chair and co-ordinate the work of the European Council. That is a way to show they are reflecting the views of member states. We will have a full-time high representative for foreign affairs who will co-ordinate the EU's policies on external relations.
This treaty is not a radical document. It will protect our vital interests and give us a voice in Europe. It would be a dreadful mistake to vote "No" because doing so would create uncertainty within the European Union. Failure to ratify the treaty would be damaging to smaller countries such as Ireland and would erode our standing on the European stage. Ireland has benefited hugely from EU integration. It is clearly in our economic interest to vote "Yes". Rejecting the treaty would suggest to the other 26 member states that we should return to the drawing board.
Membership of the EU has transformed us. We have a voice in Brussels and a place in the world from which we can influence the formation of key policies which affect our future. We must be at the table when issues such as climate change, trafficking and cross-border crime are discussed. We cannot address these issues alone. My philosophy for being in Europe is that we should be part of the global scene while retaining our own identity.
It would be mean to vote "No". We have gained a lot from Europe but now we would be saying "No, thank you". I would be embarrassed if we voted "No".
We should focus on economic management, climate change and peace and stability around the world. We must vote "Yes" because doing so will bring us political goodwill and solidarity from fellow member states, as well as greater international co-operation and equality. This treaty transcends political divides and I am delighted that so many people are putting Ireland first.
I do not understand the flaky thinking of Libertas which claims to be pro-Europe while denouncing everything and anything connected with Europe. It advocates the abolition of the Common Agricultural Policy which has been the bedrock of Irish agriculture for the past 30 years. The treaty is a separate issue to the World Trade Organisation negotiations. Our national interests will not be jeopardised by it and it has nothing to do with taxation or neutrality. We have unanimity on these issues. Subsidiarity means that issues of importance to Ireland will be debated in Ireland. Scrutiny has been introduced and proposals can be discussed by national parliaments and sent back to Europe if they are not liked. What is wrong with that? Why would we want to stay out of Europe when we have all these protections?
I compliment the Minister of State and his colleagues on the 50 meetings held the length and breadth of Ireland. Ministers have attended all these meetings which were organised by the Minister of State, Deputy Roche. We have left the starting blocks and I have addressed several meetings in my constituency. The "No" side seems very flaky to me, so let us keep driving this the way we have driven it thus far. This treaty must be passed because it would be an embarrassment to say "No".
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. He is a vigorous and intellectually challenging representative of the Government. I am distressed to say, however, that I have to speak as a bit of a flake, in the words of my good friend and colleague, Senator Ormonde. I face the ghastly prospect of embarrassing the Senator and encouraging Ireland to be perceived as mean. These are terrible alternatives. I enjoyed the Senator's contribution, although I have not always felt the same about interventions by the Government and, indeed, the Minister of State.
One of the reasons I have decided finally to vote "No" to this treaty — this is my first time to do so, although I declared my reservations about the earlier treaties — is because of the supercilious and contemptuous way in which those of us who have a conscientious series of objections to the treaty are treated by the Government and other spokespersons. We are accused of lying and of being flaky and it is claimed that we have never been good Europeans. I do not accept that and it certainly cannot be said of myself.
I know nothing whatsoever about Libertas, having only heard about the organisation recently on foot of an intervention from the Minister of State. It has not persuaded me in the slightest on this issue. However, I am concerned about certain specific issues, principal among them being the undoubted and growing militarisation of the European Union. On that issue there can be no question, despite what the Minister of State might argue.
The language used is supercilious. The Taoiseach made a considerable error of judgment when he described people who opposed the treaty as "loo-las" and stated those who oppose the reform treaty:
[N]ow feel obliged to claim they are strong supporters of the European Union! These Treaty opponents know that outright opposition to the Union would gain them few votes. However, their support for the Union is paper thin and unconvincing.
I have always supported the EU and my support is not paper thin or unconvincing. There are, however, unconvincing elements to the treaty. It would be perfectly legitimate for the people of Ireland to use their democratic vote to reject this treaty. If they did so, they would be going over the heads of the megalocrats that run the EU to speak directly to the heart of Europe, a democratic right which none of its other citizens have been given the opportunity to exercise. That tells us something about the management of this matter. What are the megalocrats afraid of in terms of democracy and why will they not give the people the right to vote? Why are we the only ones to do so?
While I am speaking about evasion and confusion, I wish to address the question of why the referendum is being held. We are told by the Government that it is a constitutional requirement but, according to the court judgments, it is only a constitutional requirement if there is a prospect of a substantial constitutional or legislative changes. On the one hand, we have a referendum caused by this major shift and, on the other, the Government says there is no shift and nothing is happening. Some people have suggested that Europe will come to a shuddering halt if we vote against the treaty but Europe will continue unchanged. What will change it is the passage of this treaty.
In an article published in The Irish Times on 13 March, which the Minister of State may challenge, Patricia McKenna wrote:
Gormley is shortly to re-establish the Referendum Commission after legislation for the Lisbon Treaty referendum has been published by the Government. However, a spokesman for the Minister has confirmed that the original remit of the Referendum Commission — to outline the cases for and against a referendum to the public and to promote debate and discussion on it — would not be restored by the Government.
That requires an explanation. According to the Commission President, José Manuel Barroso, there is no fall-back position. They are arrogantly assuming we are going to bullied into passing this referendum.
Why was the date moved from October to June? Had it something to do with the leaked memo in which we were told that June was chosen over October because of "the risk of unhelpful developments during the French presidency, particularly related to EU defence"? Perhaps Mr. Sarkozy might be inclined to tell the truth but that would be terribly embarrassing and we might be justified in being mean to the megalocrats.
Something else concerns me. We hear a great deal of rubbish about liberal issues, people concerned about abortion and so on but we know one thing. I have a motion on the Order Paper about the exemption from equality legislation of the churches, even in the light of and despite the revelations of the Ferns Report. Decent, upstanding citizens like myself could be fired from a teaching job by the authorities with impunity because of the exemption granted under that legislation.
This came to the notice of the equal opportunities Commissioner, Vladimir Spidla, and he proposed action in the European Court. There was then a little squawk from the Iona Institute and others, unelected and unrepresentative people, and in order to smooth the way so that there would not be any turbulence from the right wing religious element, this has been dropped. Again, we have sacrificed equality and principles to ease through this treaty. Mr. Barosso stated: "There is no intention to bring Ireland to court on that ground. That is not going to happen". It was stated that the Minister of State with responsibility for European Affairs, Deputy Dick Roche, strongly welcomed the news. He stated, "Mr. Barosso's comment are very positive. I look forward to seeing the final adjudication". They are not positive and the Minister of State knows it but I will not call that a lie. I will call it an evasion because we must be polite in this House, but it is a damnable day for equality when this happens.
People have said the treaty is difficult to read and have been patronised for saying that. One learned commentator said it was like trying to read Finnegans Wake backwards in Latin. Even for a Joycean like myself I imagine that might pose some difficulties.
If we examine the statements of other senior politicians, Monsieur Valéry Giscard d'Estaing is on record as saying that the Lisbon treaty is a direct clone of the failed constitution "except for certain cosmetic changes making it easier to swallow".
When the constitution was voted down in France and the Netherlands the Commission Vice-President, Günter Verheugen, stated: "We must not give in to blackmail". When the citizens of Europe exercise their democratic right it is blackmail but when the megalocrats stuff something down the throats of 26 of the 27 countries that is democracy in action. I have a different way of using language.
On the question of language, I recall pointing out to the Minister of State's colleague, Deputy Mary Harney, that in a statement on health approximately three pages long she used the word "competition" seven times and she was embarrassed by that. Let us examine the language of the treaty. The word "market" gets 63 mentions and "competition" gets 25 mentions. There is no mention whatever of full employment. In other words, we are going to exchange social Europe for the neoliberal economic model of Europe.
Dick Roche (Minister of State with special responsibility for European Affairs, Department of Foreign Affairs; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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On a point of fact, employment is mentioned. The persons who wrote that particular tract the Senator is now quoting were factually inaccurate.
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I would just make the point that in a response which The Irish Times very decently carried I pointed out the number of times she had been inaccurate in the article. I will deal with it in my response.
Okay. Could the Minister also comment on the fact that in Strasbourg on 10 July last year Jose Barosso stated: "Sometimes I like to compare the EU as a creation to the organisation of Empire. We have the dimensions of Empire". There is an imperial level to it, therefore.
With regard to the economic aspect, there is the business about spreading the European economic message by what is described as "the integration of all countries into the world economy through the suppression of barriers to international trade". We could have a whole debate on that and the impact on southern hemisphere countries.
I did not fully follow what the Minister of State was saying but he mentioned in his contribution the war in Iraq. I never felt that the war in Iraq was a good thing. I believe he was quoting Mr. Shanley or somebody from Libertas but I do not want to be dragged into that kind of debate. That is why I am concerned about the erosion of our individuality.
The Minister of State is probably aware that on Bastille Day last year there was a triumphal military procession in Paris. Monsieur Sarkozy was in a military jeep. The armed forces of 27 countries, including Ireland, were present and I quote from a description from Reuters:
In a carefully prepared display, a V formation of flag-bearers preceded the 800-strong European guest parade with the EU and French flags at the front. That came after some 4000 French military marched by and air force jets made a flyover in a show of military might.
That is the theatrics behind it. However, there is a philosophical agenda. For example, on 13 November 2007, during the French Presidency, Monsieur Herve Morin spoke of the need for a more muscular presence by Europe on the world stage and outlined France's plans to press ahead with a Europe of defence. That is worrying.
Chancellor Angela Merkel was reported on 23 March 2007 in Bilt. She stated: "Within the EU itself, we will have to move closer to establishing a common European army". We are going to replace the United Nations, for example, with this extra military organisation. David Miliband, in a characteristically English intervention, stated: "It's frankly embarrassing that European nations — with about two million men and women under arms — are only able, at a stretch, to deploy around 100,000 at any one time". The Portuguese Defence Minister, when Portugal had the EU Presidency, stated: "Defence is a vital driver of integration today and the EU has to strengthen its military rapid response capacity, bolster its defence industry, etc. And all this should complement NATO".
I wish to turn to the defence industry and the European Defence Agency because that also raises a question of language. This used to be called the European Armaments Agency. Why the coy change of title? Why is it now the European Defence Agency instead of what it really is, namely, the European Armaments Agency?
One should take note of the statement from this renamed agency. In September 2005, Mr. Nick Witney, who was the chief executive of the European Defence Agency, addressed the Institute of European Affairs in North Great George's Street, just up the road from where I live, and outlined the benefits to Irish industry of EDA membership. He described some Irish or Irish based companies as being key players in some defence related sectors such as armoured fighting vehicles and defence electronics and that co-ordinated procurement could put them in a better position to be awarded defence equipment contracts.
I would like to put on the record also the long-term statement of the European Defence Agency. It states:
Today, Europe retains a widely capable defence technological and industrial base. But the prognosis is not encouraging. If Europe is to preserve a broadly based and globally competitive DTIB (which means competitive with the US, and, increasingly, producers in the Far East) it must take to heart the fact that the US is outspending Europe six to one in defence R&D; that it devotes some 35% of its defence expenditure to investment (from a budget more than twice as large as that of the Europeans combined), as against the European level of about 20%; and that it is increasingly dominant in global export markets.
In other words, we are now committed to, and have built into a structure that makes us part of a weapons exporting mechanism.
The Minister of State will be aware that a conference on cluster munitions will be held soon in Croke Park. Some of the states with which we are entering into collusion with this treaty will go there and try to lobby for exemptions for cluster munitions they are manufacturing.
I will end by speaking on the reservations of some non-governmental organisations. There is no statement about partnership and independence in the treaty, which the European Community Humanitarian Office previously included. Many organisations are concerned, as I am, about the increasing militarisation of Europe and our incorporation into a manufacturing industry that is a disgrace to the human community.
For those reasons I will be opposing this treaty. I would like the Minister of State to accept I do so from a principled stand and I am not a "loo-la", a flake or a liar.
I welcome the Minister to the House and the opportunity to debate this Bill which is necessary to enable the State and Irish people to ratify the Lisbon treaty. As we are aware, we are the only country in the European Union that is to have a referendum on the treaty, which places a particular responsibility on us. As we know, the treaty is a legal document which represents a compromise between the interests of 27 member states. It is complex document which takes some reading and understanding and there is a particular responsibility on those of us who belong to the political classes to promote, explain and interpret aspects of the treaty for members of the public. The public must also educate and inform itself over the coming weeks.
It is a shame other member states in the European Union are not having a referendum. At the time of the drafting of the EU constitution, the Green Party supported the idea of an EU-wide referendum where a double majority would be sought, made up of a majority of states supporting the treaty and a majority of population. Unfortunately that was not supported. I have every confidence that in future we will see these kinds of EU-wide referenda but we must accept that for the moment, the constitutional requirements of other member states are that they do not need to do as Ireland is doing by having a popular referendum. Parliamentary ratification is the mode of ratification for European treaties in other cases. We have an opportunity and responsibility to educate and inform ourselves and I hope the Irish people will participate in this so they can feel they can go to vote on the treaty on 12 June with a very clear idea of what the it is about.
I am obliged to respond to some of the points raised by Senator Norris. I am disappointed to see the Senator join the ranks of people whom I can only describe as demonising the European Union. I do not mind anyone finding fault with the treaty; it is not perfect and is a compromise between the interests of 27 member states. There are areas in the treaty which are of concern to the Green Party and we have not pretended otherwise. However, the list of negative descriptors of the European Union is unfair.
Senator Norris admitted he has supported previous treaties. There are many ways in which the European Union has been very positive for this country and its people. We have emphasised how it has been very important economically in terms of market access, the attraction of foreign direct investment and protecting those countries in the eurozone from instability in the international financial markets. That is happening today and we have been protected because of our membership of the eurozone.
We also have influence within organisations such as the World Trade Organisation, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and so on. As a small country our influence would be absolutely minimal but as a part of the European Union, we can exert more influence for the good of other parts of the world.
Socially, this country has benefited enormously from our EU membership and I am sure Senator Norris would be very aware that most of the progressive employment and equality legislation we enjoy in this country is a direct result of our EU membership. It is easy to forget all that, and it seems the EU is now bad, has evil intentions and just wants to create an army and dominate the rest of the world. I cannot recognise the European Union that both of us know in the description by Senator Norris.
On the environmental side, as far as the Green Party is concerned, the European Union is the best thing to happen to Ireland where protection of the environment is concerned. Most of the positive environmental legislation which we have taken our time in implementing has come directly from the European Union.
Senator Norris is also very aware that the European Union has united what was previously a divided continent. There has been peace on the continent for the past 50 years and the Union is playing a positive role in other parts of the world, such as Aceh, Bosnia and Kosovo. It is keeping the peace and helping those areas maintain stability in difficult circumstances.
It is also the largest donor of financial aid to the developing world, a fact of which Senator Norris is also aware. These are important points to make on a day he is being so critical of the European Union.
We must also consider the new emerging world order where there are leading countries such as India, China and Russia with human rights records that do not bear comparison with the European Union. It is important to think of a strong European Union operating on the global stage, promoting values such as democracy, the rule of law, equality, sustainable development, the rights of minorities and their protection, etc. It is important we have a strong European Union operating at a global level.
I will touch briefly on some elements of the Lisbon treaty. One of the very positive factors of the treaty is the way it sets out the values of the European Union very clearly. It discusses the promotion of human rights, democracy, the rule of law and equality between men and women, which is very important and a value from which Irish women have benefited.
It speaks of the rights of the child and a commitment to tackling and reducing poverty internationally. There is also the promotion of sustainable development, which will be absolutely essential in an age when we are realising there are limits to economic growth and we must respect the natural limits of our planet. Climate change is one of the factors forcing us to do so.
The values expressed within the Lisbon treaty are very positive. It is clearly up to us as politicians, as a member state of the European Union and as citizens to push the Union to uphold and promote those values. We should not be complacent and we must ensure they are being implemented and respected in all the actions and policies of the European Union.
The Lisbon treaty sets about reforming the institutions of the European Union. Some people are crying loudly that Ireland's influence is being seen to be reduced. There has been a reduction in some of Ireland's influence in some European institutions but we must consider that the Union has expanded enormously from the community Ireland entered into originally.
As Ireland becomes accustomed to working with other member states and has increasing confidence in its ability to form alliances and so on, we do not necessarily need to hold on to vetoes. It will become impossible to operate with 27 member states if the veto is to be used in many policy areas. With many of the reforms in the Lisbon treaty, although Ireland may find its influence reduced somewhat, we have the confidence in our own ability to be able to operate. We recognise that for a supranational body such as the European Union, it would not be possible for it to continue to make effective decisions if we held on to some of the decision-making processes in place in the past.
The Lisbon treaty also makes the European Union more democratic. There is a role for national parliaments in keeping an eye on the subsidiarity principle, ensuring decisions are being made at the right level. There is the citizens' initiative, where citizens can come together to petition the European Commission to introduce new legislation. There is also the substantially increased powers of the European Parliament, a directly elected institution, so citizens of Europe can ensure the institution that most directly represents them can exercise significant clout in decision making.
The Lisbon treaty is also strengthening the European Union's ability to act globally, and there are a number of different measures in this respect, including the creation of a more permanent Office of President of the European Council. The External Action Service is created by the Lisbon treaty and a legal personality will be given to the European Union that will allow it to sign up to international treaties such as the Kyoto Protocol. There is also the role of the high representative for foreign affairs and security matters. That brings more coherence and concentration to the common foreign and security policy of the European Union.
There is also a clear and welcome commitment to tackling climate change. Some opponents of the treaty have said it contains only six words in respect of this matter. As far are the Green Party is concerned, however, these are probably the six most important words in the treaty. Without any doubt, climate change is the most serious and gravest threat facing the global community. The European Union has shown great leadership on this issue to date. More needs to be done and the Union must to be able to bring member states with it in the context of making some of the changes that will be necessary. If it is successful in this regard, our economy will be much more adaptable to the new circumstances in which we will find ourselves. There will have to be a "greening" of the European economy and the latter will have to become much more sustainable in the coming decades. The European Union's track record on climate change indicates that it will be committed and successful in the way it approaches this matter.
Energy is a new policy area in respect of which the European Union will gain competence under the Lisbon treaty. If the treaty is ratified, the European Union will become a world leader in the area of renewable energy. There is a real need for the latter, particularly because it is one of the serious responses to the threat of climate change and will help us decarbonise our economy. Many new employment opportunities will be created as a result of developments in this regard.
The Lisbon treaty strengthens the concept of EU citizenship. The Charter of Fundamental Rights clearly sets out the rights and entitlements of EU citizens in respect of health care, education, fair and just working conditions, protection in the event of dismissal, etc. If they examine the provisions of the Lisbon treaty, people will be aware of the particular benefits, rights and entitlements that are theirs as a result of their being citizens of the European Union.
I commend the Bill to the House.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, and wish him well with his brief. One of my first contributions in the previous Seanad related to the Nice treaty and if memory serves, I believe the Minister of State also held responsibility for European affairs at that stage.
He later became a member of the Cabinet following the positive result in the second referendum on the Nice treaty. I am sure such good political fortune once again lies around the corner if the Minister of State can pull this one off at the first attempt.
In light of the various points made recently, it is worth recalling the history of the European Union. The original aim behind it was to bring about peace, stability and prosperity in Europe after the Second World War. The two world wars in the previous century ravaged Europe, divided its peoples and gave rise to much hatred and violence. The original aspiration behind what became the European Union was to bring together European nations in order to ensure that they would become prosperous, peaceful and stable.
It was important that the divisions which existed in the aftermath of the Second World War were overcome by a successful gathering of European nations. The EU has been extremely important in the context of ensuring economic and social development among member states. One need only consider local villages and towns to see the major benefits that have accrued to communities and sporting organisations and clubs as a result of our membership of the European Union. How many road infrastructure projects would have been completed if Ireland had remained outside the European Union?
The late President Hillery, was instrumental in ensuring that Ireland joined the then EEC. He was one of a number of far-sighted visionaries who could see the benefits of involvement in Europe for a small country such as Ireland on its western periphery. Dr. Hillery and others saw the benefits that lay ahead as a result of our membership of what has become the European Union. They also saw the contribution Ireland could make. The late poet and playwright Victor Hugo said in the 19th century that he imagined a peaceful united states of Europe. Not too many years later an American President inquired as to who he should ring if he wanted to contact Europe.
We now have a union of European countries working together for economic stability, peace and the prosperity of all nations. Since the establishment of the EU, many poorer countries have become members under the process of enlargement. In recent years the European Union encouraged the reunification of Germany following the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the former communist countries of central and eastern Europe decided that their future lay within the family of democratic nations. Those countries had been under the thumb of communism and were broke in more ways than one. The enlargement process continues to this day.
Much of the opposition to the Nice treaty focused on enlargement. A certain element of selfishness and greed coloured the arguments put forward by opponents of the enlargement of the European Union. This was a form of nimbyism — an attitude of "I'm all right Jack, to hell with everybody else". Those who espoused it felt Ireland had enjoyed its bite at the cherry as a result of its membership of the European Union and had got as much as it could out of the latter while the going was good. They were of the view that we should be selfish and that others should not enjoy the same benefits. We must recall the advantages that have accrued to Ireland and other countries as a result of their EU membership. I wish such countries well and I hope they enjoy the same level of success and prosperity Ireland has experienced.
The origins of the EU were in peace. However, one cannot ignore its successful economic origins. We must bear in mind the contribution of the larger countries — for so long they were net contributors — that helped smaller nations such as Ireland. This country would not be able to compete, in economic terms, in the global market. It is only as a result of our membership of the European Union that we were able to compete on the world stage with other major economies. Until Ireland joined the then EEC, the economic outlook for the country was quite bleak. At that time we were dependent on our partners in the UK but once we joined the EEC, the floodgates opened in the context of investment.
People must be made aware of the benefits of European Union membership. The agricultural community and the farming organisations have benefited tremendously from our involvement in the Union. We have received €60 billion in funds from the EU, €40 billion of which went to the farming community. That is outstanding. If the treaty is to be passed, we must ensure that everyone is aware of the advantages and economic benefits involved and of what Ireland has received as a result of its membership of the EU. In the spirit of the treaty, we must consider ways of making procedures easier in the context of dealing with the enlarged Union. I do not believe that anyone present when the European Coal and Steel Community was established by six founder members in 1951 could have envisaged the Union that now exists.
Administrative burdens have arisen over the years and we must consider ways to modernise procedures and simplify the workings of the European Union and the Commission to ensure that the former becomes more efficient. In the late 1950s, the Treaty of Rome established the Common Market. The then European Economic Community was expanded to nine members in 1973. Some of the visionaries of that time, the late President Hillery, and the late Jack Lynch, a former Taoiseach, ensured that Ireland would become a member state.
The first direct elections to the European Parliament took place only in 1979. We must recall the Irish political legends who went to Europe. It is easy to forget that MEPs were appointed before elections were introduced in 1979. If one peruses some of the older editions of Nealon's Guide, one is left puzzling how so-and-so was a Member of the European Parliament if direct elections were not introduced until 1979. Talk about being a favoured son or daughter. In those days, one could serve in Europe for a full term and never have to canvass for one vote.
The Maastricht treaty established the European Union in 1993. In 1995 the membership of the Union expanded to 15 countries and the common currency was introduced in 2002. Most recently, a further enlargement took place in 2004.
We must be extremely clear in the context of the message that must be sent out to people. I am concerned that if the perception is created that there is a lack of information regarding the treaty, suspicion will arise. In many ways, that could be a good development. I have listened to the debates in recent weeks and some of those who are opposing the treaty conversely will be responsible for promoting it. One could not possibly agree with the points these people make. They are clearly misinterpreting the truth, lying or uttering falsehoods, call it what one will. In many ways negativity can be a good thing because it can create positivity, making it clearer to reasonable thinking people who are undecided. The important middle ground concerns those who have not yet decided on the matter. There is no point in preaching to the converted. There are those who will oppose the treaty no matter what is in it. It is important, however, that reasonable thinking people in the middle ground are informed through good debates and factual information. They must be told what this is about.
The leaked memo in The Irish Times is very unhelpful. It is incumbent on the powers that be to explain what happened and what was being referred to. People should be informed and educated by letting them know the thinking behind it. We should not allow a perception to be created by people who have a vested interest in putting viewpoints that are not based on facts.
I also wish to refer the report in The Irish Times today concerning the Referendum Commission's comments on corporation tax. The statement by the commission used the term, "It is our informed opinion", but something more concrete is needed from the commission to ensure our corporation tax rate will not be affected by ratification of the Lisbon treaty. The opportunity exists for others to take advantage of the issue and exploit it by claiming critically that this is what is being planned with regard to corporation tax, that our sovereignty will be lost and that there is a military dimension. As we know, speaking in economic terms nowadays has a negative impact. We do not have the luxury of a buoyant economy, as we had in 2004 for the second attempt at ratification of the Nice treaty. Things are on a downward spiral and the "No" campaigners could take full advantage of that.
Pat Cox's term as president of the European Parliament was an outstanding political achievement, especially as he was an independent member of that assembly. He brought credence, stature and status to the debate on the last occasion. He was informed, competent, articulate and had an easy way of communicating what was good about the European Union. Reasoned and rational debate by such people who are respected, not just in Ireland but internationally, would not do the Lisbon treaty any harm in terms of its ratification.
Previous speakers have referred to the legislative benefits of EU membership. We bravely took cases to the European Court of Human Rights and can attest more than anyone else as to the benefits of that type of legislative support in terms of justice, equality and other important issues. A workforce of 300 or 400 people is entitled to force majeure leave, parental leave and other benefits that came from Europe. The former Tánaiste, Michael O'Leary, who was a Minister in the coalition Government of 1973 to 1977, introduced much of that revolutionary legislation which was bound by Europe. Otherwise we may not have had it. We need to ensure people who take full advantage of those legislative rules and regulations are aware they originated in Europe.
Despite their best intentions, it is not helpful for someone from a neighbouring European country to say we have to ratify this treaty. That is a gun-to-the-head situation which Irish people will not accept. As Britain's nearest neighbour, we resisted British rule for as long as we did. Countries such as Australia, New Zealand and India were colonised by the British down through the years, yet London faced the greatest resistance from the smallest country and its nearest neighbour. That mentality still exists and it amounts to us saying to people not to tell us what to do because we will decide ourselves. That type of intervention, despite good intentions, could have an adverse effect.
We fought tooth and nail for democracy in Ireland. I am sure that all of us who subscribe to the democratic process and believe in equality and justice for all will always be aware of the roots of democracy in this country. We can never forget it and we celebrate it as often as we can. Why would we turn around at the beginning of the third millennium and start handing over our sovereignty and independence to Europe? It is not as simple as that.
I have no doubt about the Minister of State's ability. The last occasion I addressed this House on the issue of Europe was concerning the second Nice treaty referendum. At the time the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, had been appointed Minister with responsibility for European affairs. It was not an easy brief and he had a more difficult ministerial portfolio than many of his Cabinet colleagues. I believe he ended up in Cabinet as a result of that ratification. Who knows but that political good fortune may be around the corner for him again. That kind of political competence and ministerial ability is needed to push this through. There is a lot at stake but we must ensure the Lisbon reform treaty is not rejected for the wrong reasons. We must banish the myths and put these lies to bed. We must also ensure there is proper, reasoned debate based on facts. I have no doubt that is the case but it is important to reiterate the arguments all the time. For example, an MEP on "Morning Ireland" this morning was continually interrupted by an opponent of the treaty. If that continues it will paint a picture to the reasonable thinking person of those who are against the treaty. For a variety of good reasons we need to ratify the treaty.
If we ever needed proof of the true nature of the Lisbon treaty we got it this week when one country, Lithuania, was able to prevent a treaty with Russia from going ahead. That situation would remain the case after the Lisbon treaty is ratified. There is no doubt in my mind that it would be in the best interests of Europe for both the EU and Russia — both members of the European family — to have an economic treaty. Russia has a population of 140 million with vast reserves of oil and timber. It is said that in Siberia the rivers are so full of salmon they use bulldozers to catch them. We are talking about a population that has enjoyed growing wealth and wonderful opportunities on its own doorstep. It is a country of 17 million sq. km. with vast resources and capabilities, yet one small country can hold up all of the EU concerning an obviously necessary treaty. That situation will not change following ratification of the Lisbon treaty. If we were doing anything insidious in the treaty, would that not be the one item we would change?
Shadows have consistently been thrown at the treaty which have no bearing in reality. When a light is shone on the truth of the questions, however, all one gets is another question. It is our duty to ensure this practical treaty goes through. I have a specific interest in it as I am involved in an anti-drugs group. Fortunately, the Criminal Assets Bureau has sequestered on behalf of the State moneys from criminals involved in the illegal drugs trade. That has been to the benefit of Ireland because it hurts them most when their money is taken away. If the CAB went to the so-called costa del crime to assess Irish criminals' assets there, however, the CAB officials would be arrested, not the criminals. In today's society, we need enhanced co-operation to combat the type of criminals involved in such illegal activities. I would welcome such enhanced co-operation.
We were told the treaty would create an EU superstate with centralised powers, but there are no new structures in the Lisbon treaty. We were told the treaty would transfer many powers from member states to Brussels, but the only major change is in the areas of freedom, justice and security. That will enable the EU to deal effectively with international crimes such as drug running and human trafficking. These are all problems we face here in Ireland.
The question of a loss of sovereignty has been raised. In 1973 when we entered Europe, Ireland conducted 60% of its trade with a single state and there was emigration. Only ten years before that, the Barrington report had spoken of the demographic anomaly in Ireland whereby the population contained a huge number of old and young people while a vast number of the people in between had left the country. There was also a tendency not to get married. What type of true independence does a country have when such a situation prevails? Since we joined the EU we have experienced a flowering of our national culture and economy. This has given young people hope and confidence for the future.
The treaty deals only with what it is intended to deal with. It does not, for example, deal with fluoridation of water, if that is a big issue for the voter. That is not what it is intended to do. The treaty is intended to make the working and operation of the European institutions more manageable in a situation where there are 27 member states. In reality, we are ensuring there is more accountability within Europe. The treaty will introduce the concept of a yellow card and an orange card, with the cards held by the national parliaments. If a national parliament considers that an issue from Europe breaches the subsidiarity principle, it can refer the matter back to Europe. If a sufficient number of parliaments agree this is correct, the issue can be removed altogether.
The operation of the European Council will be given greater coherence and continuity by the appointment of a president of the Council of Ministers. A high representative will be appointed for five years, will be a member of the Commission and will report to the ambassadors of the member states. There is also the issue of whether the Lisbon treaty is a power grab by the larger member states. The treaty introduces a double majority requirement — a minimum of 55% of the member states, representing at least 65% of the population.
One of the most serious shadows that is put forward is the suggestion that the treaty will be self-amending. This relates primarily to Articles 33 and 308 of the treaty. Article 33 provides for an ordinary treaty revision procedure and a simplified procedure. Under the ordinary procedure any member state, the European Parliament or the Commission may make a proposal for one or more treaty amendments which could increase or reduce a competence conferred on the Union by the member states. National parliaments must be notified. The simplified procedure applies only to the TFEU, that this, the internal policies and actions of the Union. In the first case, the governments can decide on treaty amendments by common accord. Their decisions must be subsequently ratified by each member state in accordance with its constitutional requirements.
There is also the issue of the militarisation of the EU. With all previous treaties, this issue was put forward each time. Each treaty was alleged to be the one that would bring Ireland into the European superstate and the European army. That and similar arguments relate to the common foreign and security policy and the security and defence policy, both of which were provided for in previous treaties which Ireland ratified by referendum. The sky did not fall. There are situations where European states are required to act as one. Consider what happened in this millennium, the genocide in former Yugoslavia. Genocide is something we thought could never happen again. The European Union was not in a position at that time to deal effectively with it. I believe it should have been. The proposal that this treaty is a movement towards the creation of a European army does not stand up to scrutiny. The Irish triple lock system still remains in place.
The main fear, however, is that the treaty will lead to the harmonisation of corporate tax rules and rates. The European Commission for some time, without success, has been floating the idea of a common consolidated corporate tax base, similar to the system in place for VAT. It has never achieved majority support among the member states and it is not included in the Commission's 2009 work programme. There is no proposal to harmonise actual tax rates. Even if this proposal were made at a future date, it could not be approved except by unanimous vote in the Council. It is on this issue that people who oppose the treaty have suggested there is a fundamental change. They suggest that, at some stage, there is a possibility that an Irish Taoiseach will act against the best interests of the nation and vote for harmonisation of tax rates in conjunction with all the other Council members. That is not just improbable but simply will not happen. Irish tax rates are seen by other states as an example of a positive social economy with low tax.
The other positive aspect of the treaty is the Charter of Fundamental Rights. European nations fought against each other for many years. Nationalism was rampant throughout the Continent. Now, for the first time, we have an opportunity to show the rest of the world what is possible. When Pat Cox visited the Seanad he spoke about Europe being something of the light. There is no doubt this treaty is a continuation of something of the light. That is what the "No" campaign and the naysayers fear most because it shows their shadows are no more than that.
We should be grown up about this treaty. There is no need to call anybody on the "No" side of the campaign a "loo-la" or anything else. I do not really give a damn whether the rest of the member states ratify the treaty through their parliaments or through referendums. We always hold a referendum; that is how we do things in Ireland. We will accept the will of the people in the referendum. It is their decision whether to accept or reject it. One of the arguments one regularly hears is about European armies. I have never yet had anybody in County Wexford or in any other part of the country ask me about the European army. They could not care less about it. Some of the other arguments put forward about Europe verge on the nonsensical for the majority of people in this country.
However, the one problem we must face, and Fianna Fáil is probably the greatest contributor to it, is the negative attitude towards Europe.
Every time there is a problem with a local issue, one is told it is caused by Dublin. When there have been national problems, Ministers, including those from the Fianna Fáil Party, have been heard to say, "Well, that is Europe for you." They have been saying it for 30 years. To some degree they have contributed to a feeling among a certain number of people that Europe is a negative thing. When people voted for the previous treaties, in many cases it was because there was a strong economic element in those treaties. Naturally, people will vote in their own interests. However, if one has been consistently knocking Europe by blaming it for environmental issues and ridiculous things such as straight bananas, a sizeable minority of people will have the perception that Europe is bad for them but that they must put up with it and, for as long as Europe is paying them, they do not mind. That is the reason the general public, for no apparent reason, does not take much heed of or is negative towards Europe.
There is also a lack of knowledge about Europe, and that applies to Members of the Oireachtas and members of local authorities. Many of us do not know the names of more than three or four MEPs from other countries, even if we know our MEPs. We do not understand what the European project is about. When one does not understand what the European project is about, it is incredibly easy to knock it and to allege that it is a negative force for the majority of people in this country. When we talk to the people perhaps we should begin by saying that we have used Europe. The Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív, has even said he voted against the Nice treaty the first time round because he had problems with Europe. Perhaps there is a need for Ministers to be honest and to say to the people that they may have misled them in regard to aspects of Europe. That is how we will get the people to vote for this treaty.
The strong economic arguments that have been made about previous treaties do not apply to this one, but one important role of this treaty is the Charter of Fundamental Rights for the citizens of Europe. This is one aspect of it that could be sold to the people. Europe has been very good in protecting the human rights of a great number of people in Ireland. The opportunity is always there for citizens of this country to take a case to the European Court of Justice. Many of them have been served extremely well in that court and that is what we must sell. Many of the most positive social policies implemented in this country have found their origins in Europe. That is how we will buy the people into this European project.
In reality, very little economic debate applies to this treaty. Lisbon is very much about tidying up a number of other treaties and making it little more manageable for the bureaucrats of Europe. That in itself is not a bad thing. It is no harm that we have a European treaty that tidies up a lot of the other work we are already doing in Europe. Many of the principles of the European project are based on previous treaties which have been passed in this country.
Essentially we have been good Europeans. We see the benefits to us and our self-interest has been served in many of the previous treaties. That is not a bad thing. We are also far more open-minded about what previous treaties have brought us. When we see all the other issues about our neutrality and the European armies that have been thrown into the argument in the past few years, we are big enough to see beyond them. It is interesting to observe the type of silly stuff that can become part of this debate.
Senator Doherty mentioned that Fine Gael was voting for tax harmonisation. I found the Bersani Report of 2005. It is fantastic that Senator Doherty has the time and the inclination to look up what Fine Gael MEPs are doing in Europe but his argument was that Fine Gael was looking for tax harmonisation. He quoted from a report that was published in December 2005. Fine Gael Members of the European Parliament voted last week in Strasbourg against the concept of tax harmonisation and we have voted against it consistently 15 times in the past couple of years. That is the type of information that Senator Doherty should be giving to the people. That would help to inform the debate in this country.
The European Parliament is working like a huge super parliament and many of the resolutions passed there carry no weight. Many of the things said there are as full of hot air as some of the debates in both the Seanad and the Dáil and they also carry no weight. The general concept of the European Parliament and its power do not intervene in the slightest with the sovereignty of the Dáil or with the people of this country. We should get that message across to them. The Irish have nothing to fear from Europe which will continue to work in the same way it has worked for the past 30 years. There will be, as there must be, changes in how it works. Europe has altered radically since we joined it in 1973 and its workings have altered to the same degree and yet I do not see the sky falling 30 years later, even as we discuss this treaty.
I say to the Minister that we should go out and give this to the people in the way they want it and talk about it in the way I have heard many contributors from the "Yes" side speak of it. It is a question and answer session for the people. The reason the treaty is so boring for the majority is that it is a housekeeping exercise. It wraps up many things.