Dáil Éireann - Volume 343 - 22 June, 1983
Private Members' Business. - Reports on Developments in the European Communities: Motion (Resumed).
Debate resumed on the following motion:
That Dáil Éireann takes note of the Reports:
Developments in the European Communities — Seventeenth, Eighteenth, Nineteenth and Twentieth Reports.”
—(Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs.)
Mr. G. Collins Mr. G. Collins
Mr. G. Collins: I moved the adjournment of this debate on 21 April 1983 and I had concluded my contribution.
Mr. Manning Mr. Manning
Mr. Manning: I want to make one or  two brief comments on the reports. The first is what has become unfortunately a fairly traditional opening to speeches on this motion. It is such a long time since we have had a debate on the developments in the European Communities that perhaps those of us who are new Members like myself find it hard to remember when the last one took place. This is happening in a situation where the Committee on Secondary Legislation of the European Communities has met only rarely and fitfully in the past two years. That committee has not in any real sense operated during that time.
Mr. G. Collins Mr. G. Collins
Mr. G. Collins: I do not think we met at all.
Mr. Manning Mr. Manning
Mr. Manning: It met to elect a chairman. Deputy David Molony was elected chairman. The report of that arrived in the last day or two, which shows how little impact it has made. Even this debate is useful. It is an important debate. Unfortunately it has been squeezed into the tail end of a very busy session and at the end of a particularly tiring and heavy day. I would appeal to all of those who are interested in the work of the European Communities and Ireland's part in them to get the new committee going as quickly as possible and to ensure that the members of that committee have a chance after the recess to get stuck into the enormous backlog of work that has accumulated and also to chart its own course. I know that had Deputy David Molony remained as chairman it would have had a very vigorous role to play. I am sure the new chairman, whoever he or she is, will want it to play the important role it played in the past.
The one point to which I want to address myself this evening may at first sight appear a trivial one. In the overall context of this report on developments and in the context of the very full statement we had this afternoon on the Stuttgart Summit what I am going to say may appear to be almost incidental. On the question of Stuttgart, in the history of European summits it probably will prove to have been of greater significance and greater importance in the long-term  development of the Communities than most people so far appear to realise. We are all familiar with the various landmark summits in the history of European integration. One could mention the Summit at Messina in the fifties after the failure of the European defence community and the European political community. That summit led to much more realistic goals, led to achievable objectives and ultimately can be seen as being as important as the earlier developments in the establishment of the Community. Again in the sixties after the retirement of De Gaulle the Hague Summit led to the opening up of the Community once again, to the moves which eventually led to our membership. Stuttgart may well be seen as of similar significance. It showed that at least there is a will and an ability to compromise, that in spite of the pre-summit publicity, the claims, the propaganda, the various pieces of gamesmanship, that at least there is the ability and the willingness to come together so that the future dynamic, however slow it is at present, was not harmed, that there is the possibility of some sort of future development and that all countries did appear willing to make compromises and to submerge national interests in the interest of wider European development.
In the context of Stuttgart the point I want to talk about may appear to be minor but it is of major importance in the way in which people here see the European Community and will see the Community over the coming year, because for most people who look at Europe over the next year it will be largely concerned with the European elections. Nobody here can but be disappointed at the impact which the European Parliament has made on the public over the past four years and nobody can but be worried by the public perception of the Parliament and what it stands for and how it operates.
There is no doubt whatever that the Parliament has failed to get across to the public the nature of its work, its overall role and its long-term role in the process of European integration. The fear is that there will be a great deal of cynicism and apathy in next year's elections. There is  the likelihood that joke candidates will emerge and will attract a widespread following because people see the Parliament as not being a serious institution. It may well be that the elections will be used by various protest groups in a mid-term period of government to get their point of view across to the detriment of the European Parliament and of the whole idea of Europe. There is the danger that the original purpose of the Parliament will be lost sight of.
The blame for this in part must lie squarely with the European Parliament itself. The officials of the Parliament and those charged with publicising it have not shown sufficient imagination over these past four years. I know it is difficult to get across to a largely uninterested public the nature of what is going on but I do not believe sufficient imagination has been used, especially given the large sums of money which are available for this purpose. The Parliament itself has not been sufficiently mobile. That may seem a joke given that the Parliament moves from Strasbourg to Luxembourg every other month. What I mean is that the Parliament has not brought itself close enough to the people in the various areas. The exercise this week where officials and members of the Parliament are visiting various parts of the West of Ireland to explain to interested people what exactly the Parliament can do and that the Parliament has some understanding of the real problems of real people living in real parts of the community is a very valuable exercise. It may be slightly late in the day that the Parliament is embarking on this exercise. Perhaps it has been going on in the past but if so it has not made sufficient impact. The impetus of the earlier publicity which attached itself to the Parliament has been lost.
Much of the bad image which the Parliament has at present undoubtedly comes from defects in the Parliament itself, especially some of the needless and ostentatious spending by the Parliament and by some of its Members. The plushness of style which seems to be associated with everything the Parliament does has done untold harm to the perception of the Parliament by ordinary people. This  is an image which alienates. When people see parliamentarians overpaid, travelling and living at the highest level of luxury or appearing to do so, there is no doubt that a sense of alienation and of cynicism very quickly develops.
The Parliament must be held responsible for some of this. Perhaps not much of that is the fault of the Irish members of the Parliament. We have a much more austere parliamentary style; we pay our parliamentarians far less and they have few, if any, privileges. Unfortunately the Parliament seems to have looked around at the various parliamentary systems of Europe, plucked the privileges from the different systems and put them all together so that the end result is that the European Parliament is more luxurious and has more privileges and perks than probably all the other parliaments of the ten countries combined. Unfortunately this sort of penchant for holding meetings of the Parliament at luxury resorts, the needless globe-trotting which so many members of the Parliament seem to indulge in, has been a major area of insensitivity. Indeed the various scandals which have been highlighted attaching to money and other things around the Parliament over the years have all added to this image.
I have no doubt that the leading officials in the Parliament, that most of the members of the Parliament, or many of the members, feel equally strongly about this and want to see this particular image changed; but it may be a little bit late in the day as far as the present Parliament is concerned to alter that. The fault must lie fairly and squarely with the Parliament and some of its members because of the way in which it has operated, seemingly operated in a different stratosphere from the rest of Europe and the other Parliaments of Europe, seemingly insensitive to the reaction its lifestyle and perks have created.
Apart altogether from the European Parliament, national parliaments and even we ourselves here have failed to make it more relevant. We have failed in one specific way. We have not provided any proper linkage between this Parliament and the European Parliament. I  know members of the various parties are full members of the respective parliamentary parties but that is not really enough. I put forward an idea a year ago which I think might be a move towards establishing more direct links between members of the European Parliament and this Parliament. That was that those members be given the right of audience in the Seanad and allowed to speak in the Seanad on matters relevant to Europe. They would not have voting rights but they would at least be in some way part of this national Parliament and there would be some link between this House and the Parliament in Strasbourg. This two-way process of communication would certainly improve matters. It would ensure that when European matters were debated here or in the Seanad those most involved would be there to take part directly in the debates.
I also think some of the bad image attaching to the Parliament must be laid at the feet of the media. It is easy to go in for media bashing and I have no intention of doing so. In general the political correspondents and reporters try to report in a fair and objective way. Unfortunately the blame may well lie with members of the Parliament itself but much of the reporting of the Parliament has been severe. It has been obsessed with the irregularities and the perks, with the high salaries. Perhaps that makes good copy. It does make good copy but it ignores the detailed hard relevant work the Parliament involves itself in. If I were to single out one journalist who has tried to bring the work of the Parliament to a level where it can be comprehended and become real to the people I would name Mr. John Healy, not a journalist with whom I frequently find myself in agreement. However, more than any other journalist he has attempted to relate the European Parliament to the people of the west and the people of the cities and show that the problems the Parliament is tackling are the same problems writ larger which we are trying to tackle in this House, very often doing so with a sophistication and imagination that we do not manage here. For all of these reasons the Parliament is not now nearly as important and has not the potential it  had in 1979. It has not used the last four years as well as it might have been used and the price for this may well be paid in apathy and derision. For that reason I emphasise the point that Parliament may well pay the price and those who believe in European integration may find their case damaged through adverse negative publicity.
On this issue there is one central point. That is the question of the dual mandate. It is to our discredit that we have not, with one exception, Deputy Collins, even begun to face up to the problem of the dual mandate. Frankly, the operation of the dual mandate is making a nonsense of both institutions. It was fair enough in the early days when everyone was finding his feet. Members were finding their way around. The elections were a novelty. We had to adapt and the Parliament had to find its own way of operating. Now, with four years' experience behind us there is no longer any case for the dual mandate and action must be taken because the existence of the mandate seriously damages the credibility of the European Parliament.
If I might refer specifically, and not in any partisan sense because most of the people involved are friends of mine, to the way in which the Labour Party have used the dual mandate, we can see that this type of merry-go-round, of one moving in and one moving out, where the Parliamentary seats are used almost entirely for party convenience, is something which seriously damages the image of the European Parliament. For example, if I were a Labour voter in Dublin and voted for Deputy Michael O'Leary or Deputy John O'Connell and then some time later found the people representing me were Deputy Cluskey and Deputy Horgan, and later again they were Senator Flor O'Mahony and Mr. Brendan Halligan, I would, I think, have some reason to wonder at the whole purpose or the whole question of what the European Parliament is all about. I certainly could not regard it as being a particularly serious institution for the most part. These have all been friends of mine and first rate members of the Parliament  but nevertheless the people who were elected are, barring exceptions, the people who should fulfil the purpose for which they were elected, barring extreme situations, and for that and other reasons the dual mandate should be faced up to.
Fianna Fáil, to their credit, did face up to this problem more realistically than have the other parties. Perhaps the fact they were in Government at the time forced them to take this decision. My party and the Labour Party at the time had the luxury of being in Opposition. I hear there may well be a change in their position on this and Fianna Fáil may well, for reasons the party thinks good, revert to the practice of the other two parties. I hope they will not do so and I hope the other parties will face up to the problem of the dual mandate before some decision is forced on them. If they do not do so they may be forced to take an unpalatable decision.
One final question is the question of the electoral system. It is an academic question so far as the next election is concerned. We will have the system we had before. It worked reasonably well, but I think the question must be raised as to whether or not the Euro constituencies are too large, whether the diffusion of effort by the individual members over such a large area does not provide the results which might ensue by changing to 15 single seat constituencies using the alternative vote. I know that is not a runner for the coming election, but if in May or June of next year there is apathy and cynicism, if there is less of credibility and a low turn out, if the elections are used in large part as a protest movement, then we shall have to rethink our whole approach to the question of the European Parliament because any loss of standing, any loss of credit in the Parliament, will not be just a temporary setback. It will affect all those who believe in the continuing process of European integration, all those who believe that Europe is more than just a business-like arrangement, a series of free trade agreements and common markets, that there is an idea implicit in the whole idea of European integration and that the Parliament at one level is the finest expression of this  particular ideal. With these words of warning, I conclude.
Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs (Mr. J. O'Keeffe) Jim O'Keeffe
Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs (Mr. J. O'Keeffe): I thank Deputy Manning for his, as usual, refreshing contribution. I mention him first. I also take this opportunity of thanking Deputy Collins for his, as usual, solid contribution. To a great degree I share Deputy Manning's concern that the joint committee was not in operation during the last couple of years. It has to be reconstituted after each election. Unfortunately, the result is that this committee have not really been operating properly for the last couple of years. I assure the Opposition spokesman that with solid, stable Government for the next four or five years the joint committee will be maintained in a fully operational condition over that period.
Deputy Manning commented on the European Parliament. It is right and proper that the apparent defects in the system should be pointed out, teased out and, if possible, remedies should be found therefor. One should not be too hard on the European Parliament. It is a relatively new institution. After all, prior to 1979 we had nominated membership and after the last five years we are really only ending the first term of the elected European Parliament. There are bound to be growing pains. They have difficulties in many areas because of the set-up within the Community and tensions between the Commission, the Council and the Parliament. The Parliament is trying to assert itself within the limits of the Treaties and many MEPs hope that these Treaties will be changed ultimately to give them a greater say in European affairs. I suppose that is how parliaments develop. Going back to history we can watch the situation between the Lords and Commons in our neighbouring island at one time when the same type of tension existed. Through that dynamic tension things develop. We cannot know now how the European Parliament will develop in the years ahead.
I accept the point that it is important that the Parliament be made relevant to the voters in the Community and, in the  context of our country, to the Irish voters. They should understand its relevance and be able to relate to its activities. In the Dáil we are accustomed to the Fourth Estate keeping its eye on us and reporting on activities here, and as a result the Irish people are kept very well informed of the happenings in this House. But with the distance between here and Brussels, Luxembourg or Strasbourg, or wherever they happen to be sitting, we have not the same ease of communication, reporting and so on, and consequently not the same interest in the activities of the European Parliament. I suppose with an improvement in communications in time to come this may also change. At present I see as a factor that the public are not really very well informed of the happenings in the European Parliament. This is a pity and I hope this area will be improved on in time to come.
Deputy Manning mentioned the dual mandate. Undoubtedly, this has been discussed by all of us a number of times in recent years. The joint committee have been given a mandate to examine the question of dual membership and to report thereon to the Houses of the Oireachtas, and this will provide an opportunity for a detailed examination and investigation of the situation and for a report to this House, with presumably a discussion in due course on that report. If I recollect correctly, the first point raised by Deputy Collins when this matter was last before the House was in regard to the relevance of a debate and report that are out of date. I agree very much with the comments made by Deputy Collins in this regard. There is, of course, a reason and it is on somewhat the same lines as that pertaining to the question of the joint committee. We were debating the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th reports. I accept the point that, even though this may comply with the letter of the Act which requires reports to be made before the House and debated, it does not comply with the spirit. The idea at the time was that we would have a report to this House every six months which would give an opportunity to Deputies on all sides to discuss what had been happening in the previous six  months in the EEC and in that way to make their contributions.
I am not sure how best we can respond to the difficulty raised by Deputy Collins. Probably the best way would be stable and secure Government over the coming years which would permit us at regular intervals to debate the reports as envisaged in the original European Communities Act, 1972. At the same time, despite the problem, Deputy Collins, Deputy Manning and, I hope, I myself tried to make the debate relevant and up-to-date and to discuss the developments in the Community right up to the present, to some extent projecting the situation into the future. However, I think the more satisfactory solution for the future would be to try as far as possible to ensure that we have the debates at the six-monthly intervals when the reports are laid before the House.
When I introduced this debate in April I argued that the Community needed a qualitative move forward if it was to be fully relevant and responsive to the changing needs of Europe in 1983 and beyond. I mentioned that major negotiations would be taking place in the Community on the provision of new own resources, on a definitive resolution of the British budgetary problem and on the development of existing and new Community policies. Earlier today we had the report from the Taoiseach on the European Council in Stuttgart and essentially that Council marks the beginning of these processes. That Council was, to take words from the communique, “to mark the re-launch of the European Community”. I hope that the words of the communique will be found to be absolutely true in the months and years ahead.
We must be very frank about the situation. Deputy Collins in the benches across the Chamber will know from his attendance at the Foreign Affairs Councils in Brussels and Luxembourg the developments at that time. We are at an institutional and in particular a financial crossroads in the Community. The word “crisis” is very often used in Europe and to some extent it is a word that can be abused, but the Community is in a position  where there may not be adequate funds to meet ongoing policy commitments.
That is what gave the European council its sense of urgency and acuteness. If the political leaders had failed to reach agreement on guidelines for the future the position would have been serious in an unprecedented way. The implications for Ireland, given the benefits that flow to us from the Community budget, would have been particularly worrying. There is no need for me to stress that point because I am sure all Members are aware how important the Community is to us. We have made our sacrifices in the context of our jobs lost through free trade, and to some extent this is compensated for by the net benefits we now get from the Community in fiscal terms. It would be disastrous, having made the sacrifices necessary to join the Community, if we found ourselves in the situation that the Community was not continuing the policies, particularly the Common Agricultural Policy, out of which we gain. Membership of the Community is a matter of balance of advantage — we lose in one way and gain in another.
The Stuttgart agreement is but the first step, however significant, on the road to relaunching and redirecting the Community. Over the coming months all Governments, and the Commission, will be engaged in intensive discussions not only on the financing and budgetary questions but on our future objectives as a Community and the policies and mechanisms that are going to achieve these objectives. Those discussions will be of crucial central importance for the country. Deputies can be assured, as in the past, that the Government will seek to protect fully our national interests and that balance of advantage and disadvantage on which our decision to join the Community was based.
Deputy Collins asked a question about the farm price increases for the current year. The situation did look decidedly unhealthy but in the meantime we can take satisfaction from the fact that the package agreed by Ministers for Agriculture on 17 May represented an average increase of 8.2 per cent in Irish farm  support prices. In addition, we had the subsequent devaluation of the Green pound which increased the average rise to 9.5 per cent. Moreover, other special measures were agreed for the country which it is estimated will result in a direct benefit to the Irish farm sector of £255 million in a full year. My colleague, Deputy Deasy, has rightly received warm and widespread praise for his skilful handling of those difficult and sensitive negotiations and I should like to take the opportunity of expressing my appreciation for the work he did.
Deputy Collins also spoke about the realignment of the Irish punt within the EMS. We had statements to the House from the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance on that matter. Surely it would have been foolish on our part not to have sought to correct the unwarranted and unsought appreciation of the exchange rate of the punt, particularly against sterling. Our objective was to re-establish as far as possible the relationship with sterling that existed last year before the rise took place and thus to remove a barrier to maintaining employment.
Deputy Collins also mentioned the Genscher-Colombo initiative or what has now developed into the Solemn Declaration on European Union. The question he put was one that had caused some concern to many people. The Deputy wanted clarification of the language on security in the Genscher-Colombo initiative. I am glad to say that the Solemn Declaration on European Union was signed in Stuttgart last week by the Taoiseach on behalf of Ireland. It covers the consultation and co-ordination between member states on the political and economic aspects of security. The co-operation and consultation fall explicitly within the framework of foreign policy co-operation. They relate essentially to the diplomatic activities of the Ten in regard to security related issues arising in fora where the Ten are present as such — for example, in the CSCE or at the United Nations. The economic aspects of security mentioned in the text relate to issues such as the security of supply of raw materials and questions relating to East-West trade. Issues relating to defence or  military operations are outside the scope of the solemn declaration. Indeed, as Deputy Collins is aware, in the course of the negotiations a provision which might have permitted discussions involving meetings of Defence Ministers was deleted. I am glad to have the opportunity to put Deputy Collins' mind at rest on this issue, but he was right to raise it.
The question of Poland was raised by Deputy Collins also. I am sure Members on all sides share the Government's hope that the visit of His Holiness, the Pope, to Poland will be a step towards national reconciliation, taking full account of the aspirations of the Polish people which the recent meeting of the European Council identified as the only solution to the Polish crisis.
Deputy Collins referred to Turkey. It is appropriate that in this democratic institution we should express our views on a situation in which similar institutions do not exist in Turkey. As a result of a coup d‘état parliamentarians there cannot meet like us. Political activity is not permitted and up to recently all political parties had been dissolved and could not operate in a normal way. That matter was discussed in the institutions of the European Community. I am also aware that at meetings of the Council of Europe this question was raised consistently. Resolutions were passed there and at the last ministerial meeting of that body which I attended the matter was raised again. The importance of having the issues raised at a Council of Europe meeting is the fact that Turkey is a member of that council. It was refreshing to have the Foreign Minister of Turkey in attendance at that meeting and giving a full account of the situation there, but more important he gave an account of the steps being taken to restore democracy in his country. He spoke about elections to be held about November, but I gather that there may be some slight delay in that and they may be put back to the spring.
He also mentioned the other steps which were being taken from the point of view of normalisation of political activity there. In some ways it shows the relevance of these international institutions that countries will not ignore them or, if  they ignore them for a short period, will not continue to do so. I have no doubt that the pressure on Turkey from the various international institutions is a major push towards forcing them back on the road to democracy.
Deputy Collins said he hoped that the military Government's promise of free elections would be kept. I can state quite freely that it is a hope I share. In the international institutions, in the Council of Europe and in the EEC, whatever reasoned voice we can raise towards encouraging and cajoling Turkey back on the road to democracy we will certainly raise it there.
Another issue raised by Deputy Collins was the question of Central America. More and more in recent times we have become concerned about the difficulties in Central America. I share the concern expressed by Deputy Collins about the difficulties lying in the way of a solution to the problems in Central America. Some years ago, it was only El Salvador which was beginning to be discussed in this country. In fact, all the states in that area are now becoming household names here. I am sure if we asked five years ago about the political situation in Guatemala we would hardly get a handful of people here who would be able to tell us where Guatemala was. Now, virtually every country in that region is under discussion and is reported on.
We are all concerned about the developments there. For our part we remain committed to the achievement of three main objectives in regard to the Central American situation. First, the furtherance of respect for human rights, second, the promotion of essential social and economic forms and third, support for the creation of the necessary political and diplomatic basis for a peaceful settlement to conflict and tension in the area. These points were fully reflected in the statement on Central America which the European Council issued at the conclusion of their recent meeting at Stuttgart.
As I said earlier, the coming months will be decisive for the future of the Community. In recent years there has been considerable dissatisfaction, even disillusionment  in some cases, with the impact and effectiveness of the Community. Vital policies on employment and on the development of small and medium-sized industries were either missing or were ineffective. Since they joined, two of the four new members have, to a greater or lesser degree, tried to renegotiate the terms of their membership. Moreover, Greenland, who joined on the strength of Danish membership is leaving the Community. We urgently need to provide the means, financial and otherwise, to implement pressing and widely demanded policies. Only in this way can the Community become more relevant and central to public opinion in all the member countries. If this does not happen quickly, the whole Community ideal and achievement will be brought into disrepute. Time is not on our side, regarding what is at stake over the coming months. We must not fail, and on the basis of the positive outcome of Stuttgart I have every reason to believe that we will not fail.
Question put and agreed to.
Dáil Éireann 343 Private Members' Business. Reports on Developments in the European Communities: Motion (Resumed).