Thursday, 5 June 2008
Lisbon Reform Treaty Report: Statements
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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The enhanced role of national parliaments is one of the most important features of the Lisbon reform treaty. It is one area that has not been raised in the debate on the forthcoming referendum. One feature of the debate is the tendency to raise matters that are not in the treaty as opposed to those that are. If the Irish people vote "Yes" next week and the treaty is ratified, the EU will be a more democratic place than it is today. I cannot understand why any citizen would vote to make it less democratic.
I thank the Joint Committee on European Scrutiny for the production of this timely and comprehensive report. It is the first report produced by an EU member state parliament on how to deal with the enhanced role of parliaments. I salute the initiative of Deputy Perry, chairman of the joint committee, and its members for this timely report. I was glad to meet the joint committee on 29 April to discuss the enhanced role for national parliaments in the Lisbon treaty. I want to restate the assurance I gave the committee on that occasion that, once the treaty is ratified, the Government, and I personally, will work closely with the Houses of the Oireachtas. If the referendum is passed next week, national parliaments will have a much more intimate involvement in the production of EU legislation. For the first time, both Houses of the Oireachtas will have the right, in certain circumstances, to veto arrangements.
The Lisbon reform treaty enhances the EU's democratic character, reforms decision-making within the EU institutions and involves the European Parliament to a degree which was unheard of when it was first devised.
The treaty will create a president of the EU Council for a two and a half year term subject to a maximum appointment of two terms. The president will be more chairman than chief, as he or she drives forward the work of the EU and ensures continuity and cohesion. He or she will not be a president of Europe. Does anyone believe, apart from those in obscure areas of Irish public discourse, that the French President, the British Prime Minister or the German Chancellor will surrender leadership of Europe to an individual elected by the European Council? The treaty ensures that the EU Commission will be based on strict equality between the member states. The Nice treaty confirmed a smaller Commission but the Lisbon treaty confirms an equal Commission. We cannot do better that be equal.
The treaty will strengthen the voice of the EU on the world stage and will give legal effect to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and sets out the EU's powers and their limits more clearly. The treaty achieves all this while preserving Ireland's military neutrality, veto on taxation and its special position on the life of the unborn child. It is a balanced treaty and will promote a better working relationship in Europe.
The treaty includes new innovative arrangements for national parliaments in EU decision-making. The Government lobbied for and negotiated many of those changes, which I have previously described as revolutionary rather than evolutionary in their nature. They are revolutionary because the treaty provisions represent a change in mindset at EU level. The mindset change is about recognising the need for EU law-making to come back closer to citizens. On the day the treaty was signed, the speaker of the Portuguese Parliament, Jaime José de Matos da Gama, said the real winners in the treaty are national parliaments.
The challenge for Ireland is to seize the opportunities presented by the Lisbon treaty. The challenge for this House is to seize the opportunity presented by the changes in the treaty in order that Ireland makes its mark and advances Irish interests from day one in this exciting, new area.
Why is so little heard about the greater role for the Dáil and Seanad from the anti-treaty side in the referendum debate? Those opposed to the treaty claim it reduces democracy when it does the opposite. These positive changes for our national parliament demonstrate, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the Lisbon treaty strengthens the democratic legitimacy of the EU and makes it more accountable to its own people. These provisions which give the Oireachtas a voice and a veto it never had before are in direct contradiction of the web of conspiracy theories and myths about loss of sovereignty which are peddled by the treaty's opponents. Which Member would call for a vote which would effectively make the House less relevant?
The undeniable fact is the Lisbon treaty makes the EU even more democratic than it has been before. It strengthens the role of national parliaments by giving us a direct input into European legislation. It enables the Houses to ensure the Union does not exceed its authority. The treaty also gives the Oireachtas a right to veto any proposal to change voting rules from unanimity to qualified majority voting in the European Council or Council of Ministers, as well as any extension of co-decision between the Council and the European Parliament.
The Twenty-Eighth Amendment of the Constitution Bill goes even further by requiring the affirmative consent of each House of the Oireachtas before the Government can agree in the European Council to any such change. The treaty gives Seanad Éireann more power than Bunreacht na hÉireann does. This House will have more power, a direct say and the capacity to influence and even veto EU legislation if the treaty is ratified.
I commend the joint committee report as a succinct analysis of what the Lisbon treaty means for the work of this House in the area of EU law. Notwithstanding the key innovations made under the EU Scrutiny Act since 2002, the treaty, once ratified, implies further significant changes in the role of the Oireachtas itself in EU affairs. The current national arrangements work well and provide for full oversight by the Houses of the Oireachtas of the actions of the Executive in negotiating EU measures and implementing EU law.
The Lisbon reform treaty however marks a major step change and provides for a far more substantive role for the Houses of the Oireachtas in EU affairs than is provided for by law or under the Constitution. The Twenty-Eight Amendment of the Constitution Bill contains all the necessary provisions required to give effect to the role to be played by the Houses of the Oireachtas. The terms of the Bill underline the Government's desire to maximise the role of the Houses of the Oireachtas in the future development of EU legislation. Such an extension of role for the two Houses of the Oireachtas is a positive aspect, not just in the life of politics in this nation but also in the life of the nation.
The treaty, if ratified, gives this House and its sister parliaments in the member states which are the directly elected voices of the people of Europe, a stronger say than ever before. Therefore, the people who elect us to the Houses of the Oireachtas will have a stronger say than ever before in shaping the direction of EU affairs. This means that an Irish citizen need not look to Brussels if he or she has questions about a particular policy; instead, those questions can be brought to us, as Members of the Oireachtas. This is an extraordinary change. It means that rather than a civil group in society or an individual having to look to go to Brussels to do their lobbying, they can knock on any of our doors, visit any of us, as they do in the normal arrangements between citizen and public representative and make their views heard. This must be something to be celebrated.
We are now within eight days of the referendum which will be the most decisive vote on Ireland's future in the EU since we first became a member in 1973. The polling day on 12 June follows one of the liveliest — some would say one of the most distorted — debates on EU issues which has ever been held in this country. Whatever else, the campaign has not been dull and both sides will be out delivering their message. We can be proud that the referendum process has moved the debate about Europe's future into the minds of our constituents and the national Parliament.
After 35 years of positive engagement with Europe, Thursday, 12 June marks the moment of truth for the people of Ireland and for our future approach to the European project. I am confident that when voting day arrives, people's experience of the positive changes we enjoy as equal members of the European Union, combined with a national confidence in our ability to advance our own interests at the heart of the EU, will result in a decisive "Yes" vote. I am confident that the people of Ireland will choose the positive over the negative, that they will have the self-confidence to choose to remain at the heart of Europe and to remain a key player in Europe, for the benefit not just of the people of Ireland but for the benefit of the people of Europe.
We will continue to have debate about the nature of the EU even when the referendum has been held. A recurring theme will be the sense that EU decision-taking is a remote, anti-democratic process which small countries cannot influence very well and we have to show that this is not true. We must show that this characterisation is a distortion of reality. This can be achieved by following the proposals set out by the joint committee. We need to continue to focus on how Europe can be communicated in a meaningful way.
In addition to the provisions on national parliaments, two internal reforms provided for in the Lisbon treaty are worthy of mention. First, the treaty will strengthen democracy at the European level by increasing the number of areas in which the European Parliament will share law-making with the Council of Ministers. Senators will recall when Professor Pöttering addressed this House a few weeks ago. He made the point that when he was elected in 1979 for the first time to a directly and democratically elected European Parliament, it had virtually no powers. He said it had powers in about 2% of the areas. Under this treaty, the European Parliament will now have co-decision powers in 95% of all legislative areas. By any objective standard this is a significant step forward for democracy. It will also have more oversight and more powers to oversee the budgetary affairs of the European Union and this is a welcome step forward in democracy. Both of those steps, as is the democratic step to give this House and its sister House a greater say, are completely missed and obscured in the debate here in Ireland. They are obscured because the truth is the people who obscure them do not want the Irish people to know about the step forward in democracy which is being taken.
Second, the citizens' initiative has been sneered at in the debate. There are few, if any, constitutions in Europe which contain a right of citizens' initiative. I took part in a debate last night when a person argued that the treaty does not provide that if a citizen signed the initiative the work has to be done. If one asked 1 million people to sign a petition for the abolition of income tax, I would probably be one of the first people to sign it. However, such a decision would make governance somewhat difficult.
The initiative is very important and it could be described as a "civilian surge". It will help to breathe new life into the democratic functioning of the Union. Taken together with the changes for national parliaments, this package of democratic reforms will have a real impact on the way in which we deal with the Union.
As stated in the committee's report, both the new Article 5 and Article 12 to be inserted into the treaty on European union and the two significant related protocols will strengthen the role of parliaments in the EU and give them a vital and early say in the evolution of EU law. The first of the two protocols recognises the manner in which national parliaments scrutinise government activities within the Union. This is a matter for particular constitutional organisation in the practice of each member state. The arrangements set out in the protocol apply to all component chambers of a national parliament. I remind Senators that under this treaty, this House will have the same powers as the French Assembly, the House of Commons, the Bundestag — this is amazing — and yet this aspect of democracy is missing in the debate.
The protocol provides that Commission Green and White Papers, all the European Commission's annual legislative programme and all draft legislation, must be sent directly to this House at the same time as they are sent to the national governments. In other words, the Members of Seanad Éireann and Dáil Éireann will receive simultaneous transmission of drafts along with national administrations. These Houses will have a longer time in which to make an input and will not be required to wait until the eleventh hour and the fifty-ninth minute before it has the opportunity, as the elected voice of the people of Ireland, to have a say. This is an extraordinary step forward. It is an entirely new departure which will give national parliaments more time for consideration of Commission proposals. Similarly, the agendas and outcomes of meetings of the Council of Ministers must also go directly to national parliaments at the same time as they are sent to the governments of member states. I say, a little blushingly, this does not happen in the case of any Cabinet in Europe. At least eight weeks must elapse between the provision to national parliaments of a piece of draft EU legislation and it being placed on a Council agenda for decision. Even before the legislation is put on the Council agenda, the Houses of the Oireachtas and their sister parliaments across Europe will have the right to have a say. What person calling himself or herself a democrat would not celebrate this provision?
The treaty provides that national parliaments must have at least six months' notice of any intention of the European Council to use the so-called passerelle provision. The word "passerelle" is a French word for a bridge or something that bridges a gulf. Under this provision it will be possible to change from unanimity to qualified majority voting in certain key areas but this can only happen if every single government agrees, if the European Council agrees unanimously, if the European Parliament agrees by majority, if every parliament decides it does not have an objection and, in the case of Ireland, if both Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann pass a positive resolution. Some people, the Libertas movement in particular, call this "self-amending". The matter has been grossly distorted in the referendum debate. The move from unanimity to QMV can only occur in the most restricted circumstances.
The protocol on the application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality further develops the role of national parliaments in relation to the implementation of the important principle relating to subsidiarity. Within eight weeks of the transmission of a draft legislative act, any national parliament, or any chamber of a parliament, may send to all EU institutions a "reasoned opinion" stating why it considers that the draft does not comply with the principle of subsidiarity. If, within eight weeks, at least one third of national parliaments or chambers of national parliaments, issue such reasoned opinions, the draft proposal must be reviewed. This so-called "yellow card" system is a major development which will bring national parliaments directly into the EU decision-making process.
In addition, the treaty provides for an "orange card" procedure whereby if a simple majority of national parliaments take the view that a proposal breaches the principle of subsidiarity, but the Commission decides to maintain its proposal, it must submit its reasons to the Council and the European Parliament, which will take a majority decision on how to proceed. This is an extraordinary change. The European Parliament will act by a majority of votes cast and the Council will act by a majority of 55% of its members. The application of the principle of subsidiarity is intended to take place primarily before the adoption of legislation. However, the Court of Justice is empowered to adjudicate on alleged infringements after the legislation goes through.
As I have mentioned, national parliaments are to be given at least six months' notice of any intention by the European Council to make certain limited adjustments to the voting rules in the treaties under a simplified revision procedure known as the general passerelle. Any move will have to be supported by the European Council and will have to be accepted by member state parliaments. The treaty gives any national parliament the right to veto the passerelle — the so-called "red card" procedure.
Building on the provisions of the treaty and the protocol, the Government is proposing, in the Twenty-eighth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, to go even further. We will go even further than any other member state in that Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann will not just be asked to vicariously cast their eye across the legislation but will also be required to give assent to the use of the passerelle.
In addition and importantly, future changes to the treaties involving the conferral of new competences on the Union would be prepared by a convention in which it is envisaged that national parliaments would be strongly represented. One of the great and extraordinary things in the preparation of the Lisbon treaty was that its predecessor, the constitutional treaty, was prepared by a convention attended by 205 men and women drawn from all the national parliaments and the governments of all the member states. That was a remarkable and exciting process as well as being democratic and open. That process will become the generality under this treaty.
In Ireland, as is currently the case, any move to confer new competence on the Union would mean that advice will be sought from the Attorney General and, of course, a referendum will be required if there is any substantial change. Similarly, even were the European Council to seek to use the simplified revision procedure to propose a change to the treaties not involving a new competence, any decision would have to be ratified by each member state in accordance with its own constitutional provisions.
Following a "Yes" vote in the referendum, which I strongly believe will be in our interest, the challenge facing the Houses of the Oireachtas will be how they can use the opportunities presented in the Lisbon treaty. The joint committee makes a number of points and conclusions regarding the implications of a ratified treaty.
The Government will play its part in reviewing the European Communities Acts, including the EU Scrutiny Act 2002, to bring our domestic provisions into line with the treaty, and to the point where we can fully utilise the provisions of this treaty. It will be necessary to make these amendments in the autumn to enable ratification before the end of the year, as envisaged by the treaty. All of this is, of course, contingent on a successful ratification of the treaty. I call upon all Members of the Oireachtas to do all they can in their power to explain this important move forward objectively and truthfully to the citizens with whom they have contact.
It is a vital national priority that we ratify the treaty. I believe that an informed decision by the Irish people on 12 June will result in a positive outcome. Not only that but as I said at the outset, if we vote "Yes" Europe will become a demonstrably more democratic place than it is at the moment. If we vote "Yes" national parliaments will have more powers than they have ever had or have ever envisaged. If we vote "Yes" this House will have even more powers than were given to it in Bunreacht na hÉireann. If we vote "Yes" we will have a Union that is efficient, effective and capable of dealing with the challenges that lie ahead. If we vote "Yes" we confirm Ireland's place at the heart of Europe. It will send out a powerful message about this country's commitment to the European project, not just to be heard within European political circles but also within the business community that makes investment decisions that produce jobs here. For all those reasons, a "Yes" vote is the best decision and it is also the best choice in the interests of democracy.
I compliment Deputy John Perry, who is present in the Visitors Gallery, for the job his committee undertook in producing this report.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House and thank him for his passionate contribution in discussing this important report. I also acknowledge the work that Deputy Perry and others members of his joint committee undertook in producing the document under consideration by the House. I also recognise the valuable work being done in this area by the Joint Committee on European Affairs, of which I am a member together with Senator Leyden.
One writer recently observed that the dilemma we face is that at national level we have politics without policy, while at European level we have policy without politics. That might be overstating the matter but there is a truth in there which, as politicians, is it incumbent upon us to acknowledge — that is, that nationally more and more important decisions we face are being driven by decisions taken in the European Parliament and elsewhere. However, the passion and politics that should be present in debates in the European Parliament and European Commission, where crucial decisions are being made which influence our country and its citizens, are absent.
The level of engagement by the public in understanding how important decisions are made is not present. That is one of the major reasons why a degree of disenchantment with the European project has gradually been seeping in. It is why the report by the joint committee on the treaty is so valuable. In seeking to persuade people in my constituency, I have made two arguments that are enormously potent in convincing them of the value of the treaty. First, it is a fact that if this treaty is passed, the role and power of national parliaments will expand. Second, why would any Member of the Oireachtas, in which we are so proud to serve, seek support for a treaty that would reduce the power and influence we are so lucky to wield? Both those points are essential in showing why the treaty is so important to our destiny and prosperity. It is essential we put those points across in the last few days of this treaty debate to convince the electorate that it is in our interests as a parliament that the treaty be passed. More importantly, it is in the interests of the people that it be passed.
The report clearly outlines why this treaty will deliver such important elements. The treaty explicitly spells out the parliamentary competence of the Oireachtas and of other European institutions. By and large the issue of competency has been positive. The European project started off as the European coal and steel community and it gradually expanded. This has been a positive trend. Recently, however, a degree of competence spread by stealth has occurred, resulting in a reduction in the faith our citizens have in these institutions. The treaty clearly crystallises who does what and the joint committee' s report comments positively on this aspect. We must send out this message to the electorate as it seeks to make a decision on the matter.
Another important element of the treaty is that it recognises that the various institutions will play different roles. We are trying to bring a degree of architectural co-ordination to ensure that the work of the European Parliament, the European Commission and the Oireachtas will head in the same direction. It is self evident as to why this is so important. It is great that EU parliaments will be getting more power and that their role will be recognised by this treaty. We cannot be complacent, however, and say that this in itself is a good thing. It is far more important that the people we serve see the development of our parliamentary role and power as a good development.
As we debate the treaty and, I hope, prepare to vote "Yes" in the referendum next Thursday, we must acknowledge the considerable work which remains to be done by the Oireachtas to ensure we can deliver the important responsibilities being conferred on us. As truthful as I am in recognising the importance of the treaty for the prosperity of our people and the power of our Parliament, we also need to acknowledge that the additional responsibility which will be conferred on us will require us to order our business differently. It would be a major disappointment for Members and citizens if the Oireachtas were to fail to discharge this new power in a manner that does credit to the electorate.
As one writer recently stated, the European Union is a response to our heritage and history but can never be a substitute for either. To ensure it does not become such a substitute we must reintroduce passion into political decision-making at European and national levels. The Lisbon treaty will play and important role in ensuring this change occurs. The argument which will make a difference in the final stage of the debate on the treaty is that this institution, in which Members are so fortunate to serve, will secure greater powers. It is, therefore, our duty to ensure we use these powers to serve people to the best of our ability. I hope the debate on the referendum on the Lisbon treaty will play an important role in allowing us to fulfil this duty.
I welcome the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs, Deputy Dick Roche, to the House. I hope his speech will be widely distributed in the coming days because it was a tremendous report on developments in the European Union and the benefits of the Lisbon reform treaty. I also compliment Senator Donohoe on his excellent, off-the-cuff contribution which laid out the precise position.
The enhanced role which will be played by national parliaments under the Lisbon treaty is an aspect of the text which has been somewhat neglected in the debate of recent weeks. The report by the Joint Committee on European Scrutiny, an excellent and thorough presentation of the proposals in this regard, presents the proposals in a manner which will be easy to follow for all interested parties. I compliment the committee Chairman, Deputy John Perry, Vice Chairman, Deputy Seán Connick, its members, including me, and Mr. Ronan Gargan, the adviser to the committee, on the publication of the document. I am also pleased that my proposal to publish it in printed form was accepted. I compliment the staff of the Oireachtas printing press on the excellent quality of their work on behalf of Oireachtas Members. This is one of the first times the in-house printing press has printed a document on behalf of the Oireachtas. I hope the text will be widely distributed.
I compliment the Minister of State on undertaking in his contribution to the joint committee to make provision in law to ensure compliance with the provisions of the treaty relating to national parliaments. As he noted, the powers of the Seanad under the treaty will be stronger than its powers under the Constitution. All sides of the political spectrum, including those who oppose and support the Lisbon treaty, have been democratically elected to the House.
I understand from today's welcome announcement that the "Maybe" side has joined the "Yes" side.
The Minister of State, Deputy Dick Roche, canvassed in County Roscommon. I was asked on my canvass whether I could give five reasons for voting in favour of the Lisbon treaty. I could give 55 reasons but owing to time constraints I will only refer to five of them.
The first is the need for greater efficiency in the European Union. This is the declared primary purpose of the treaty and is linked to the enhanced role of the national parliaments under discussion. The institutions of the Union were designed for an organisation consisting of six countries. However, this complex institution has evolved and extended far beyond its original borders to the great benefit of all concerned and now promotes co-operation between 27 countries and almost 500 million people in a wide range of areas. While the European Union continues to function with its current structures, it is naive at best to claim that a structure designed for six member states would not need some modification to accommodate an organisation of the size of the current Union, particularly as it will enlarge further as applicant countries join.
Second, the treaty provides formal recognition and protection of human rights, an issue discussed last night in the presence of the Minister of State. I suggest that when the treaty is passed on 12 June, the Charter of Fundamental Rights should be printed and circulated to every household. It is a marvellous, concise summary of our rights which should be available to inform people of what will be their rights under the Lisbon reform treaty.
The third reason is a stable economy. The economy is inextricably linked with those of our European neighbours and the overall European Union economy. This has been reinforced by the success of the euro. The decision to adopt the euro links Ireland very closely with 15 other eurozone countries in the European Union. To risk upsetting this relationship would necessitate very compelling reasons for voting against the treaty and there are no sufficiently strong arguments being made to justify potentially upsetting our economy, particularly in these difficult times. Those opposing the Lisbon treaty are champions of economic insularity and do not appear to have any regard for what we have achieved in the past 35 years. Without our membership of the euro, one of the strongest, most stable currencies in the world, we would not have experienced the recent economic boom.
The fourth reason is the number of jobs being created. Unemployment was a significant problem when Ireland joined the European Economic Community in 1973. Since then, the unemployment rate has declined to one of the lowest in the world and 1 million jobs have been created in the economy. It is not an accident that business groups and trade unions have recommended supporting the treaty to their members. In the area of equality in the workplace, the European Union — the EEC as it was known then — gave us the equal pay directive, a most important legislative development. These are major achievements.
The fifth reason is the need to maintain the significant influence we wield in the European Union. There is no question that Ireland punches above its weight in Europe. As I experienced when I represented the country during the period when the Single European Act was negotiated, Irish civil servants working on our behalf in Europe are second to none. I compliment them, Irish Members of the European Parliament and the ministerial teams we send to Europe on the work they do on our behalf. The support the Minister of State receives from our ambassador and civil servants in Brussels is excellent.
I wish I had more time to discuss this issue in greater detail. There are many reasons to vote "Yes" on 12 June. Principal among them is the need to protect the interests of our young people such as those in the Gallery. By voting "Yes" we will guarantee them a future in this country.
I wish to share time with Senator Quinn. I welcome the Minister of State who made an interesting case to the House. I also compliment Deputy Perry on the report produced by the joint committee he chairs. It is important that both sides of the debate are heard today, as has not been the case thus far. Mr. Pöttering, for example, was invited to the House to advocate the treaty without a balancing performance by anybody else. There has been a chorus of "Yes".
It has been argued that those who advocate a "No" vote are the same old people who have never voted in favour of Europe. I have always been an enthusiastic European and have supported every treaty, although I have done so with growing reservations on account of the incremental militarisation of the European Union. I have no doubt this is the case.
I mentioned on the Order of Business today that the Taoiseach acknowledged that he has not fully read the treaty. The Commissioner, Charlie McCreevy, stated he has not fully read the treaty and one would be an idiot to try. An attempt was made to cover that up by stating that the Minister for Finance presents the budget to the Dáil and the Deputies, who have not read the entire document, vote for it. That is true but the Minister for Finance is in a position to commend it because he has read the entire document. Today, as I pointed out on the Order of Business, we have a worrying situation where Mr. Justice Iarfhlaith O'Neill, the man who is in charge of the Referendum Commission and who is supposed to explain it, acknowledges that some aspects of the treaty are completely impenetrable.
I have a number of questions. It is a matter of balance. There are good measures in this treaty. Some of those on the "No" side are an embarrassment. For instance, I have heard people state that one would get gay marriage stuffed into this country, there would be access to abortion, there would be free contraception and there would be euthanasia. If I thought that were the case I would be out campaigning for it, but I acknowledged that it most definitely is not and that should not be used as an argument against the treaty.
However, there are questions I would like to ask. In terms of the democratic unresponsiveness of the treaty, for example, what percentage of it is precisely the same as the rejected draft EU constitution in light of the fact that it is reported widely in the press today that people from other European countries who are grateful to us for having this debate state that they have been robbed of the right to vote? It is perfectly clear from the words of senior European politicians that they do not trust their own people and that there is not time to name them all, but we know what Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, for example, has stated on this issue.
In particular, I am concerned about the Government's position on the Crotty case. The Government has stated that there must be a referendum because of the Crotty case. The Crotty judgment stated that a referendum was only called into play when a treaty involved substantial change here, and yet the Government states the treaty involves no substantial change. They cannot have it both ways. That worries me.
I have asked a series of questions on militarisation because I do not like the Western European Armaments Group, even though they have tried cosmetically to repackage it as the European Defence Agency, EDA. I would like to ask the circumstances in which we take part in this. Do we really want to be part of the European Defence Agency? Why was there no Dáil discussion on this decision to join the EDA? Can we have clarification on that? What are the financial implications of our membership? I understand we will be required to contribute. There is an upping of the military budget. I am very concerned by the statements of the former director of this group that one of the principal targets is so that they can increase production of armaments.
On the question of the Commissioner, we were told historically it was vital for us to have a Commissioner. Apparently now it is not. We were told in recent weeks by a Minister that we could not give the farmers a guarantee on the veto because it would weaken our negotiating position, but now that has been overturned.
I will yield to Senator Quinn, but there are many reservations. I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, or his officials, just because I do not have time and it would not be fair to continue, to take a look at the detailed questions I asked last week on the Order of Business about the European Defence Agency and the Western European Armaments Group and to give Members an answer. I was promised answers repeatedly by the Leader and I did not get them. That is not democracy.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, and thank Senator Norris for sharing his time. We greatly appreciate the fact that Deputy Perry's report has had a chance to be discussed in the House, even though it is a short debate. Way back when this started, I was quite concerned that there would not be a debate. It seemed that all the larger parties announced almost immediately that they had made up their minds before they got around to having the debate and one of my reasons for stating I would not make up my mind was because I wanted the debate and I was quite undecided. I was quite fastidious in my attendance at the forum and at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Affairs. I also was careful to read as much as I could about the treaty.
There were four or five questions that kept cropping up. One or two of them have been mentioned today by Senator Ross.
Senator Ross will also speak about them if he gets a chance. It seemed there were concerns about family law. Regardless of whether that was a question of same-sex marriage, abortion or euthanasia, I am convinced now that it does not come into question, the treaty has nothing to do with it and they are protected.
The second area was tax about which I was very concerned. One sees Germany with a 38% corporation tax rate and us with a 12.5% rate and the word is that Mr. Frederick Forsyth states today that the Europeans were looking not for harmonisation but for standardisation. In other words, they were looking to make us all the same. I would be quite concerned if that were the case but I have been convinced that it is not threatened.
The third area was the issues of neutrality and defence. I would be happier to be part of a defence pact where we were involved so that if there was a mutual defence, we would be protected by our colleagues in Europe.
The last area was the loss of a Commissioner. It seemed a tough one to decide on, but if the Germans who have a much larger population are giving up the same amount of Commission membership time as us and the other countries are doing so as well, it seems this area also is protected.
I asked everybody on the "No" side with whom I argued how they voted in previous referenda on Europe since 1972 and the majority have always voted "No". They stated they were strongly European but that this particular treaty is just a step too far. If they had voted "No" on the previous occasions, it seems quite likely that if they had had their way, we would not have had the success we have experienced for the past 35 years. That was one of the most influential areas. It convinced me that the success of Ireland over the past 35 years has been influenced to a large extent by the decisions of the Irish people to support the changes in the European Union. In this case, I am happy to do the same and support it with a "Yes" vote.
On the Order of Business today I tried to articulate one of the reasons I am advocating a "Yes" vote in this referendum. My argument was that I had made arguments for rejecting previous treaties which were not accepted in previous referendum campaigns and one of the responsibilities of democracy is to accept the verdict of the people, move on and see how debates subsequently change. That is one of the more disappointing aspects of some of the campaigning on the "No" side.
I am a person who believes that in terms of the constitutional integrity of our referendum process, we need a coherent and consistent argument on both sides whenever there is a referendum. I certainly would not go along with any of the personal antagonism or denigration that often accompanies these debates. We should be glad that there are people who are putting themselves forward and putting forward arguments that deserve consideration, but some of those arguments are ones that have been made before — they are arguments that I have made — and the people have decided accordingly. We must argue on the basis of the treaty itself and what is likely to come about as a result of its changes.
One of the persuading factors for me, and one of the reasons I voted "No" legitimately in the past, was that there continues to be a democratic deficit at the heart of the European Union and all of the treaties that have been approved subsequent to our own accession have helped worsen that democratic deficit. I can honestly state that this is the first treaty, which in itself has flaws, that goes in a different direction. It seeks to address the democratic deficit. It brings in measures such as the citizens' initiative, enhanced powers for the European Parliament and a role for national parliaments, which is the matter of this debate. Those grounds are one of the strongest arguments for voting "Yes" on this occasion and I hope we, as parliamentarians, accept that as a valid argument.
The report has been submitted by the Joint Committee on European Scrutiny which does valuable work on behalf of the Houses of the Oireachtas. It is far from easy work. Approximately 2,000 legal instruments emanate from the European Union every year. In accepting this new-found responsibility and in recognition of the democratic principles that would follow from an acceptance of the Lisbon treaty, we should ask how we, as a parliament, can address this work in the most satisfactory way. The EU scrutiny committee has made arguments about how that can be done. There are other avenues open to us. I do not need to remind Senators that the last report on Seanad reform envisaged such a role for this House. In light of the ratification of this treaty, if the people so decide, this is a debate to which we can return as we progress the idea of Seanad reform and give ourselves a workload that justifies our presence in the parliamentary system. We can play a valuable role as a bridge between the Irish Parliament and the European Parliament and EU institutions, a role that, as of now, only the Joint Committee on European Scrutiny fills. We should look for more than that.
We are coming into a week where there is much uncertainty about what will happen. On the Order of Business Senators referred to the shortening of odds. I can relate my experience of the previous general election where I had the dubious privilege of being the shortest price favourite not to be elected. This has no implication for what is likely to happen on Thursday or Friday when the votes are counted. There is uncertainty in a large group of voters who have yet to make up their minds. People are wavering between a "Yes" and "No" vote because of the uncertainty of much of the campaigning.
I will repeat what I stated on the Order of Business, that all Members, irrespective of the position they take on the treaty, should emphasise the importance of the maximum possible turnout and voter participation. That is the essence of what we are as a democracy.
I propose to share time with Senator Doherty. I do so in the spirit referred to by Senator Boyle. It is important that we have a debate and hear all voices and points of view on this vital proposal before the Irish people on 12 June. It is easy to assert that one respects other points of view but I do so sincerely. We must respect the viewpoints of those who urge the Irish people to vote "No". Senator Norris complained, perhaps with justification, about name calling and people being blackguarded. I am not looking for a paper medal but I have not engaged in any of that. I am not aware of Members engaging in abuse or comments about people who take a different view — certainly not in this House.
We have debated the treaty on a number of occasions and are now debating the report of the joint committee and the enhancement of the role of parliaments across the EU arising from the reform treaty. Senator Boyle is correct in referring to the democratic deficit, which is a serious issue for the EU. We refer to a democratic deficit in our domestic political situation, an argument that can be made, but there is a major problem at the heart of the European project. It may be one that, because of the sheer scale of it, is impossible ultimately to redress. If there is a way of doing it, the drafters of the Lisbon treaty have attacked this problem. As Senator Boyle says, there are serious and substantive changes to the way the EU does its business. This will have a positive effect on citizen participation, citizen information and the citizen's stake in the EU through the national parliaments. There is no doubt the treaty does that. It cannot be gainsaid by anyone that this is not one of the things the treaty does in terms of consultation with parliaments on policy matters, allowing them a real role in upholding the principle of subsidiarity and placing the parliaments in the position of watchdogs on behalf of the people they represent.
I have never claimed that the treaty is a manifesto for workers' rights or that it achieves all that those of us on the left wish to achieve for workers' rights, equality and social justice. I say this to all my colleagues but particularly Sinn Féin, a party that has demonstrated a commitment to the principles of equality and social justice. I do not say that to patronise Senator Doherty or anyone else. It believe it is the case but also that Sinn Féin is seriously mistaken in the view it takes on the Lisbon treaty as a possible means to advance those principles in Europe. In a recent article, Mr. Fintan O'Toole made the interesting point that this is about having a playing pitch on which we can advance these goals. Politics, struggles and battles are what we must engage in now. I hope Sinn Féin will be part of this in Europe to advance and uphold workers' rights. That is where Sinn Féin should be instead of seeking to have this treaty rejected, which would have a negative impact on those we represent.
Ar dtús báire ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leis an Seanadóir White as ucht a chuid ama a roinnt liom. I thank Senator White for providing me with time to speak on this issue. I wish to refer to workers' rights, even though I addressed it last night. The Charter of Fundamental Rights contains no new rights that are not already contained in the Constitution or in international law. Sinn Féin will defend workers' rights in this State, the EU and the wider world. Our MEP, Mary Lou MacDonald, was the only Irish MEP to be shortlisted for the MEP of the year award because of her work in the European Parliament on workers' rights. Our record is second to none. We share the opinion of trade unions in Ireland that we must see the strengthening of workers' rights in this Parliament. The charter means nothing unless it is implemented or legislation, such as that on collective bargaining, is introduced in the home country.
Rather than address the democratic deficit, the treaty will widen it. The treaty removes Ireland's right to a permanent Commissioner for five out of every 15 years. This means we will not have a representative on the body responsible for drafting and implementing laws for that period. Ireland's representatives on the Commission have played a crucial role over the years. No matter how good a relationship the Irish Government builds with European Commissioners from other states it is no substitute for an Irish voice at the table. For a small country like Ireland it is vital to have a permanent voice at the European Commission table, especially when one considers that this country only has a small number of MEPs and our voting strength on the Council of Ministers will be halved if Lisbon is passed.
In addition, the Lisbon treaty would remove also more than 60 member state vetoes at Council in highly sensitive areas such as energy, asylum, immigration, judicial co-operation and the inclusion of health and education in international trade agreements. We will give more than 100 new powers to the EU, including self-amending articles which will significantly strengthen the EU institutions while weakening the role of member states and citizens in the legislative process.
To make this process of centralisation appear less dramatic, the drafters of the Lisbon treaty included a protocol on member state parliaments. Advocates of the treaty argue that this protocol will greatly increase the role of member state parliaments in the decision-making process. Nothing could be further from the truth. When one cuts through the rhetoric and examines the detail of what is proposed, it is clear the new powers for member state parliaments are nothing more than cosmetic window dressing designed to take the bad look off a very bad treaty. At the core of the proposals contained in the protocol are two new mechanisms known as the yellow card and the orange card. None of these requires the Commission to take on board the issues raised by parliaments but just to consider them within an eight-week period.
After my contribution last night, the Minister of State commented that no one has the right to invent facts. This is true on both sides and the Minister of State's comments yesterday suggested it was only the "No" side that invented facts. The Tánaiste claimed a number of times that larger states have two Commissioners. Deputies have claimed that Ireland would not lose its Commissioner and the Minister of Defence referred to stopping many alliances forming in Europe. The Minister of State must acknowledge that, on all sides, there has been misrepresentation, even from some of the most senior Members of the Irish Parliament.
I welcome the opportunity to discuss the new treaty provisions in regard to national parliaments because I will address a group of ICA members this evening. This is the key area which will appeal, namely, the extension of democracy. I compliment Deputy Perry and colleagues on the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Affairs and the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Scrutiny on bringing forward this report. It is a good, simple report which is the key to the biggest part of this treaty, namely, bringing the citizen closer to the decision-making process. This is pure democracy.
If any issue is raised or if any proposal is made by Brussels, whether in regard to rules, regulations, directives or draft legislation, and if it does not comply with the principle of subsidiarity, it can be brought before the both Houses. That is bringing significant power back to the people and is what I call "real democracy".
The public will be able to identify with the issues raised by the Commission. We will have eight weeks within which to discuss those issues and if we do not like them, they will go to the European Parliament where our MEPs will discuss them. The citizens will have a link to public representatives here. Our MEPs will be able to decide if draft legislation is not acceptable to Ireland. That brings democracy to the core of our society and that is what I want to tell the public.
There was a perception that power was based in Europe, that it made the decisions and that we had no control. There is no question but that has changed under this new treaty. To vote "No" would be a drastic decision but to vote "Yes" would bring Europe closer to the citizen. Young people should know their future lies in Europe. Europe is being opened up to Ireland. We are not being isolated so that we become a little country on the periphery of Europe. This is the model country in Europe and we cannot destroy that.
This Chamber will have the power to discuss any issue brought forward. I will say to the people to whom I will speak this evening that if they have a problem, they can come to me and I can raise it in the House and that we can use the yellow or the orange card system. We are all well aware of what that means in sport. It will give a warning signal to the Commission to rethink legislation if we are not happy with it.
I will do everything I can to ensure people vote "Yes" on 12 June. It is great we are having a referendum because it is one way in which the public can engage in this discussion. The public were not engaging two weeks ago but they are now. Friends and colleagues have telephoned me to ask about the treaty. This is the way forward.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. He is almost becoming part of the furniture at this stage. The report before us is important and I concur with what all previous speakers said about the perceived democratic deficit at political level in Brussels. When we lecture Brussels about a democratic deficit, we could look at little closer to home and at our system of Cabinet Government, at the fact the views of Dáil and Seanad Members are ignored on many occasions, at the managerial system of government at local government level and at the fact local public representatives are ignored. We could discuss the above if we were so taxed about the democratic deficit.
The provisions in the Lisbon treaty for stronger and additional powers for the European Parliament and national parliaments are a step in the right direction. I welcome the publication of this report and congratulate Deputy Perry and his colleagues on their work, as Senator Ormonde did. I was a member of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Scrutiny in the last Dáil, as was Senator Ormonde, and every other Thursday morning we met at 9.30 a.m. and for an hour to two hours we went through a huge volume of work on EU policies. The deficiency we faced was that much of the work we did was retrospective and there was little opportunity to influence what was being decided and debated in Brussels. As a result of the proposal in the Lisbon treaty, as the Minister of State outlined and as all reasonable colleagues here and elsewhere would acknowledge, the role of the national parliament is now greatly enhanced. Deputies, Senators and all public representatives will now have a much greater say in what is being decided in Brussels. The additional check available to national parliaments is a further guarantee that the policies of Brussels will only be pursued after full consultation with the national parliaments.
I also welcome the additional powers being given to the Members of the European Parliament. People will no longer be able to claim the European Parliament is a political talking shop. It will be a chamber with real political power which is what democracy should be about and which I very much welcome.
The question of transparency in Brussels is being significantly addressed. It is a major step forward. If we look at the transcripts of previous debates on Europe, a significant criticism among people who were traditionally anti-Europe was the so-called "democratic deficit" but that has been substantially addressed. The EU scrutiny committee will be of significant benefit to the people.
I refer to what a number of previous speakers said about the change in the number of Commissioners and the loss of the Irish Commissioner for five out of every 15 years. I concur with what the Minister of State and all reasonable people have said. Every country, whether Germany, Malta, Ireland or the UK, will work under the same rules. They are fair, balanced and workable. There was much outcry on this side of the House and elsewhere following the creation of additional Minister of State posts. We must accept that one cannot continue to grow government and the number of Commissioner forever. There must be some balance and this strikes a fair one.
My final point relates to the question of what will happen if Ireland votes "No". We must acknowledge that the world will not end. I was at a meeting on Tuesday when this question was asked of the former Taoiseach, Garret FitzGerald. He responded by saying that there is one word which is so crucial to Ireland's place and role in Europe and that is "goodwill". He highlighted his term as Taoiseach where significant advantages were gained by Ireland and he instanced the milk quota, the European Social Fund proposals and education funding. He said Ireland achieved that by the goodwill it had built up in Europe. That is what is at issue this day week.
Let us retain our goodwill, which is worth 1,000 vetoes. We have made huge progress because we are recognised as a country which wants to be at the heart of Europe. We have built up enormous goodwill. I am not saying it is at risk next Thursday but I hope we will continue to fly the flag of goodwill and ensure Ireland continues to play a significant and leading role in Europe by voting "Yes". This report is one of the many reasons Ireland's interests are best served by the people voting "Yes" on Thursday next.
I am pleased to welcome the special report on the enhanced role for national parliaments in the Lisbon reform treaty. The reality is that despite claims that this will give less democracy within Europe, the Lisbon treaty will deliver more. While I do not like any sword of Damocles hanging over decisions, it is important to appreciate the ramifications of a "No" vote. Economically, Ireland is a little island, like a cork on the ocean, and we are very dependent on markets, not least Europe. At the time we joined the EEC, Ireland was almost wholly dependent on the UK. In 1973, 54% of exports went there and agriculture was the vital contributor at that time. The prices of commodities were dictated by our major trading partner. Britain's best interests lay in maintaining a cheap food policy and it continued to receive commodities from the old empire countries, subsequently the Commonwealth. It was getting sugar from the Caribbean, beef from South America and lamb from New Zealand, as well as buying butter and bacon from the Danes. Irish commodity prices were effectively being fixed by the British economy.
It is good to be aware of the implications. If, as I believe, this is a reform treaty, it might have been more in our interests to represent it as such were it not for the tradition of naming such agreements after the cities in which they were agreed, such as Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice. Given the state of current international markets, I believe there will be a lack of confidence within the economic market, with serious consequences. We are going through a slowdown at the moment, with construction slowing down which is having knock-on effects on the wider economy. Somebody selling carpets or curtains will be affected, as will the shopkeeper selling the breakfast roll in the morning. There is an immediate knock-on effect. At this time, when the money markets are tight and inter-bank lending is much slower because of the lack of confidence and when the markets could do with a boost, I honestly believe a "No" result would be a significant blow to the economy.
More seriously, as mentioned by Senator Bradford, we work on goodwill within Europe, and should we be seen to be unreliable or undependable, that would be more serious on an ongoing basis. There are many parts of the Lisbon reform treaty that are very positive, such as the fact that national parliaments will have the "yellow card" and "orange card" mechanism to rein back the institution within Europe which is claiming a competence that is seen to be outside the subsidiarity principle. This is to be welcomed. I would not like to see at this time a vote of no confidence in what has been an extraordinary successful political achievement. I am mindful in particular of the opportunities provided to people such as me who finished school in the 1970s and have reaped the results through the 1980s, 1990s and into the new century.
It would be unfair, disingenuous and lacking in spirit of us not to give the young people coming forward today the opportunities we have enjoyed, because this is no more than a reforming treaty to take cognisance of the fact that there are now 27 member states as against the six at the start and that we need to reform the institutions as a result.
I am grateful to the Cathaoirleach for allowing me the time. Earlier today I declared my support for the Lisbon treaty, having given it some consideration. I had not always supported similar treaties in the past. However, it deserves support, despite the strong criticisms I have of the manner in which the Government has campaigned in favour of the treaty and the way the referendum campaign has been run. It has been unfortunate that the arguments in favour of the treaty have not been made in as strong or compelling a way as they might have been. In particular, few prominent women have been speaking in favour of the referendum, which is very unfortunate. This is not just my opinion but is a view that is widely held. Women, as a group of voters, in particular need to be convinced of the arguments in favour. Even in the limited time left it certainly is possible for more prominent women speakers from the Government to be put forward. The Opposition parties in favour of the treaty have run stronger campaigns.
Others have made very strong criticisms in terms of the EU structures, the lack of democratic accountability and the structure of the Commission in particular. Having said all that, I still believe this is a treaty worth supporting. The report before the House makes some of the points in terms of the enhanced role for national parliaments, which I believe is important. It is also important that there will be an enhanced role for the European Parliament, as others have said, because that is clearly a body with very direct democratic accountability to the citizens of Europe. There are two key reasons, however, I shall be voting "Yes" next Thursday and why I believe the treaty deserves our full support.
First, the procedural changes in the treaty, although they are not sexy or easy to sell because they are largely technical, are none the less vital to facilitate the greater expansion of the European Union. I believe passionately that the EU should expand and become a more inclusive Union, embracing in particular the Balkan states and others from the former Soviet Republic. That really could enhance the life prospects for many disadvantaged people on the peripheries of Europe. It is of major significance in the treaty and a positive reason to vote in favour.
The treaty also deserves our support because of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. From the left-wing perspective I hold, the charter contains many socioeconomic rights, such as the right to health care, which deserve our support. They are not in our Constitution at present and we shall see further changes in favour of a social and citizen's Europe being made by virtue of our adoption of this treaty, because it contains that charter. Because it facilitates expansion and contains a charter, to put it in very simple soundbite terms, this treaty deserves our support and those are the arguments I believe need to be made compellingly towards women and other voters on the left in particular as we face into the last week of the campaign.
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 all Senators who have made a contribution, both for and against. I want to give Senator Bacik one further coherent argument in favour of the treaty, and I agree with her 100%. One of the tragedies of the debate so far is that we have been debating what is not in the treaty as opposed to what is. In a sense that is inevitable, however.
I got to know Danny Cohn-Bendit well during the course of the European Convention. He made one very interesting comment why Europe needs this treaty. Europe has reached the stage at which it can influence the equilibrium of world politics, and that is the absolute essence of this. Europe and the European project stand for certain democratic values, freedom, rights of the individual and self expression — all of the things that are in our DNA as Europeans. He was right in saying we have a different viewpoint. We might approach those principles from different directions, but they are dear to us and part of our DNA. For a period it looked as it if would be a unipolar world, and it may well be a multi-polar one, but in the event it is important that there is a place therein for the expression of the values, democracy, rule of law, human rights and the principles that as Europeans we hold dear.
I shall refer briefly to today's contributions. Senator Paschal Donohoe made a very good contribution on how the treaty sets out the roles and powers of the Union. I refer again to Senator Bacik's important point that this does not enter into the debate. More than any other treaty this one clearly expresses the competences of the Union and the principles that deal with those competences, including the principle of conferral and the fact that the Union has only those rights which we as member states give it. We can take them back. This gives lie to the suggestion that somehow or other a super-state is being constructed. No such super-state or federal state exists. This is a unique function. The Senator also mentioned the principle of subsidiarity but we can add conferral, subsidiarity and proportionality.
Senator Terry Leyden spoke about the extension of democracy and stated that the treaty has been overlooked. Again, this point was taken up by Senator Bacik in her contribution. It is a real tragedy that we have not had the space to debate this. Senator Leyden also made the interesting suggestion that the Charter of Fundamental Rights should be printed and widely distributed. That is something well worth considering. As it happens, I have 5,000 miniature copies of it for distribution among young people. I will consider distributing them to adults also.
Senator Norris stated that he wondered how we could commend the treaty when we had not read it. I can commend the treaty because I have read it in detail. I was one of those privileged to be involved in its preparation. The question was asked, how much of this treaty was contained in the constitutional treaty. Approximately 95% or 96% of what was worth preserving was contained in it.
Senator Norris spoke also about the EDA and asked why we want to be associated with it. The first point I should make is that in this area, which is broadly bracketed as the defence area, nobody is forcing us to do anything. The treaty specifically recognises the defence character of each member state. In so far as the EDA is concerned, one has a right to get involved or not to get involved. There are practical and good reasons we should be involved. We currently have young men and women serving humanity's cause in Chad. It is important we properly equip those who go to dangerous places to provide help and assistance on our behalf. This agency will ensure they are properly equipped with capacity to inter-operability as the military call it. The agency is not a threat to our neutrality.
Senator Norris and a number of other Senators, including in particular Senator Doherty, mentioned the Commission. It is worth reminding the House that the Nice treaty provided for a smaller Commission. The Lisbon treaty provides for an equal Commission. One of the great victories in the negotiations on the Convention on the Future of Europe was acceptance by small and medium sized states of a smaller commission if, and only if, the distribution of portfolios and positions on the Commission were on the basis of strict equality. One of the great victories or concessions, whichever one chooses to call it, was acceptance by the larger states that this should be a principle. This speaks to the nature of Europe. It is built on equality.
Senator Quinn spoke about concerns in respect of family law and in particular abortion. While many disagree with me, I am pro-life and have been always of that view. I do not disrespect people who take a different view. I would not be advocating strongly and passionately a treaty that would undermine this. The treaty contains a provision which reiterates the protocol that this is a matter for the Irish people. The Irish people may some day make a different decision from the one they made in the past and I will respect that decision too. Senator Quinn also spoke about his concerns in respect of tax and neutrality. I believe both these issues have been well and truly answered.
I agree with Senator Boyle that one of the problems is that arguments do not always include coherence or respect. I listened during the week to commentary about people on the "No" side being Trots, SPUCers and neo-cons. Whether one is a Trot, a SPUCer, a neo-con, right-wing, left-wing or otherwise, in a democracy one is entitled to one's views. People are not entitled to invent facts but they are entitled to their views and we should learn to respect those views.
Senator White spoke about the enhancement of the role of parliaments which is what we are discussing here today. This is a major move forward. It gives a real role to national parliaments. Senator Doherty, as I mentioned earlier, spoke about the role of the Commission. I simply reiterate the point that the Commission is based on equality. He also contradicted the view that the charter is valuable particularly from the point of view of workers' rights. I was very active in the trade union movement when I was a civil servant. Although I was not a formal member of the social Europe group within the convention, I joined it and attended all its meetings specifically because of those interests.
I say to Senator Doherty that the Sinn Féin view is in direct contradiction with the views expressed recently by John Monks, General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation, by David Beggs, Blair Horan and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. Senator Doherty also made the point continuously made by Sinn Féin that there are huge movements in terms of competences. They have always argued that, between two different elements, there will be 173 different areas. The referendum commission yesterday outlined 33 areas. This matter was also addressed by way of parliamentary question. The view of the Robert Schuman Foundation in this regard as published in its statement differs from the view taken by Sinn Féin. With respect, I believe Sinn Féin is wrong.
I agree with Senator Ormonde that it is great we are holding a referendum on the matter. It is a pity the debate often gets deflected into all sorts of avenues that have nothing to do with the main subject matter. However, the holding of a referendum is, in essence, an expression of democracy. I compliment Senator Ormonde on all she has done in this regard. I agree with Senator Bacik and would welcome participation by more women in public life and in this debate. I do not understand it but there is a reluctance in this regard, particularly among women, as indicated in all the polls. This can be best addressed by women engaging in the debate.
I agree with Senator Bradford's point that we have ended the democratic deficit. I also agree with him that equality is an issue in the Commission. As a small, medium or large state we should never look for anything other than equality. Equality is the very essence of the democratic process. If we want to be treated as equals we must be prepared to treat others as equals. The question was asked, what happens if we vote "No". It is a fundamental question.
Senator Hanafin made the point about the Sword of Damocles hanging over everybody's head. It is important for us to realise that a "No" vote will not be cost-free. A "No" vote will have very real costs not alone for Ireland but for Europe. I say this not to scare people but because it is an objective enough position. If we vote "No" we will reject a treaty that will make Europe more democratic. I genuinely cannot see the point of that. If we vote "No" we reject the possibility of giving legal effect to the Charter of Fundamental Rights which is an uplifting document. I sincerely do not see any benefit in that. If we vote "No" we say no to a treaty that has at its heart equality between member states, equality in terms of Commission appointments, in terms of a voting system that recognises the equality of citizens in member states, that recognises that Seanad Éireann is as important to the people of Ireland as is the French Assembly to the people of France, and that recognises that we can protect those issues which are important to us. I do not see the point of rejecting a treaty that enshrines equality.
Senator Hanafin is correct that the real loss will be to our standing as a country. This point was also made by Senator Bradford. Ireland enjoys an astonishing amount of goodwill in Europe. I have been involved in the European project for 35 years. I was involved in the early days as a young civil servant. The respect and goodwill which Ireland enjoys is something we should not easily squander. For example, the current head of the Commission on Administration is an Irish woman. Her predecessor was an Irish man. There have been only five heads of the modern administration within the European Commission and of those five people two are Irish. This is an extraordinary indication of the respect we as a nation and our public servants enjoy in Europe. An Irish man was recently president of the European Parliament. Pat Cox went to Europe as an Independent. John Bruton is currently the EU ambassador to Washington, an appointment that would not have been made without the support of the Irish Government and without the respect for Ireland and John Bruton in Europe. Great respect has been shown to us in terms of our postings in the Commission. Ray MacSharry, Peter Sutherland and Paddy Hillery all had outstanding portfolios.
I agree with the point made by Senator Bacik that the argument should be about what is in the treaty. It grieves me that every time I go on a radio or television programme or, as I will do after this, go to a press conference, I will asked about the next negative, such as that somebody stated something about Judge Iarlaith O'Neill as opposed to what is in the treaty. I will be asked about somebody's comment on Article 48.3 as opposed to what the article states. I suppose this is the nature of public debate but I agree the focus has been wrong.
I have made the following point within my party so when I make it now I do not in any way chastise or correct Senator Bacik. Comparisons between the campaigns of individual parties are not helpful. All of us bring different issues to the campaign. I celebrate the roles played by Fine Gael and the Labour Party. In particular, I celebrate the role played by Proinsias De Rossa within the Labour Party. We need to pay generous tributes to people such as Deputies Timmins and Creighton and I am prepared to do so because we all made an effort in this. I respectfully disagree with Senator Bacik with regard to comparisons. I do not disagree with her right to make those comparisons.
As Senator Bacik correctly stated, for the next seven days we need to debate what is in the treaty. This treaty is important for Ireland. It is good for Ireland and for Europe. We will best serve the Irish and European causes and the democratic cause by voting "Yes" on Thursday, 12 June. I thank Senators for their contributions which, as always, have been of the highest standard.