Seanad Éireann - Volume 106 - 19 December, 1984

European Communities (Amendment) Bill, 1984:Second Stage.

[1057] Question proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs (Mr. J. O'Keeffe): I recommend the European Communities (Amendment) Bill, 1984 to the House. The purpose of the Bill is to amend the European Communities Act, 1972 so as to make part of the domestic law of the State, the Treaty amending with regard to Greenland, the Treaties establishing the European Communities. This Treaty which has not been laid before to the Seanad, was signed by all member states of the European Communities on 12 March 1984.

By way of background, Senators will be aware that Greenland, a part of the Danish realm, joined the European Economic Communities in 1973. In a referendum which was held in February 1982 — by which time Greenland had been granted home rule status within the kingdom of Denmark — it was revealed that a majority of the islands population was in favour of Greenland withdrawing from the Community. In particular, Greenlanders were particularly dissatisfied with developments in their fisheries sector since they joined the Community. They felt that member states of the Community had tended to exceed the fish quotas which they had been assigned in Greenlandic waters. Moreover the Greenlanders felt that the value of the catches which were being taken in their waters exceeded the value of Community aid to Greenland.

The Treaty between the Community and Greenland, which was signed earlier this year, provides for Greenland's withdrawal from the European Economic Community, the European Coal and Steel Community and the European Atomic Energy Community. A Protocol to the Treaty provides that, in future, Greenland will be associated with the Community as an overseas country and territory (OCT), once the Treaty comes into force. As an overseas country and [1058] territory Greenland will be entitled to certain preferential access to Community markets. In addition to the benefits conferred on it by its status as an OCT, the Protocol to the Treacy also provides that Greenland shall be granted free access to Community markets for its fisheries products. This is particularly important for Greenland given that fish is one of the few natural resources readily available to it.

A further important element in the new arrangements between Greenland and the Community is a fisheries agreement between the European Economic Community on the one hand, and the Government of Denmark and the Local Government of Greenland on the other. This provides for continuing access, by Community fishermen, to Greenlandic waters after Greenland's withdrawal from the Community. In return for this access the Community will pay Greenland 26.5 million European currency units annually during the first five years of the fisheries agreement.

It had been intended that the Treaty amending with regard to Greenland, the Treaties establishing the European Communities would enter into force on 1 January 1985. However, the Treaty provided that, if all of the member states' instruments of ratification had not been deposited by that date, the Treaty would enter into force on the first day of the month following the deposit of the instrument of ratification of the last signatory state to take this step. As a number of member states have not completed their ratification procedures — and are unlikely to do so before the end of this year — an interim regime to govern the relations between the Community and Greenland will be put in place, pending the entry into force of the Treaty. I anticipate that national ratification procedures should be completed in all member states before the end of January 1985, thus enabling the Treaty to come into force on 1 February 1985.

The Bill before Senators today, as I said in my introductory remarks, will amend the European Communities Act, 1972, so as to make part of the domestic [1059] law of the State the Treaty amending with regard to Greenland, the Treaties establishing the European Communities. It does so by inserting, in the definition of “the treaties is governing the European Communities” in section 1(1) of the European Communities Act, a reference to the Treaty between Greenland and the Community. For these reasons I commend the Bill to the House.

Mr. Cassidy: We on this side welcome the Bill.

Mr. McDonald: The small Bill before us is of great importance to all states in the Communities because it is the first time in 26 or 27 years, when the Communities were established after the last war, that any part of the EC has opted to secede from the EC. The Minister has given some of the benefits that Greenland, a nation of fewer than 50,000 people, has enjoyed over the years.

I can trace back Greenland's history for about 1,000 years, and since the early part of the 19th century it has been a colony of Denmark. The problem for the rest of the EC, and for us in particular, concerns fisheries and where the EC stand after Greenland has pulled out. In the mid-seventies I had the honour to be President of the Commission for Regional Policy and Transport and in that role I visited all the peripheral maritime regions of the EC, including Greenland.

At that time the Greenlanders were coming out of what was then known as the “Cod War”. The people were very friendly but very wary of strangers. I spent 12 or 14 days talking to people and though I did not visit the capital, Godthab, I spent some time in many of the smaller settlements. Sondre Stomfjord is a fishing port with a population of 1,000 people. We went right inland to a village called Godhaun and to Jackobshaun with 4,000 people. We visited more remote settlements and fishing ports.

I regret that the Bill has been introduced so late in the session because the underlying reason why Greenland should [1060] pull out of the EC is of importance to us. Very often we hear people accuse the EC of having a NATO dimension, wanting Ireland to forsake its neutrality, putting pressure on us to change our policy in this respect. If there was any basis for that in EC terms, surely it would have become evident in this legislation. Greenland is perched on top of the world and from a military point of view its location is very strategic, but that has not been taken into account at all. Greenland is unique among the regions of the Community because its geographic remoteness, the extremity of its climate and the poverty of its natural resources can be fairly described as constituting extreme problems which other peripheral regions of the Community share to a lesser extent. It is unique also in that it could be maintained that no other region of the Community has those kinds of extreme problems.

Perhaps the Minister could give us an indication of the contents of the Treaty of Secession. There are two aspects involved here — the Law of the Sea Conference, which was ratified about 1978-79 and in which Denmark and Greenland played an important part. There are also the fishing quotas which impinge on our fishing industry.

In the course of his remarks the Minister mentioned the contribution the Community had made in the last ten years to Greenland. If my recollection is correct, the loans and facilities extended to Denmark and Greenland from the European Investment Bank have been far greater than those to any other region or country. I think they amounted to almost 6,000 units of account per head of population, if not more. I should like to know what collateral was given, or what was the agreement reached with regard to repayment of those loans, whether Denmark will remain guarantors and effect repayment, or has the Treaty of Secession extended to the General Council of Greenland the same trade agreement as was extended to the most favoured nations?

These are important questions to be answered. I suspect it is unlikely that the [1061] Community would endeavour to penalise a country such as Greenland for opting out of the Community. It is difficult to visualise the size of its land mass. It is almost 3,000 kilometres long, similar to an area extending from Copenhagen to almost the southern tip of the Sahara Desert — a fairly considerable length of territory. While its inhabitants are sparsely scattered, mainly along its coastline, nevertheless the questions to which we should address ourselves are important ones.

It is not sufficient for the Government to bring in this amendment Bill at the eleventh hour without affording Members of the House an opportunity of knowing exactly what is involved, what is to be the headline set for other countries who may want to opt out and, in so doing, what it will cost the remainder of members who remain in.

In 1978 the Danish Government were making a contribution to the Greenlanders at a rate of approximately 24,000 Danish kroner per inhabitant. As far as the European Investment Bank were concerned no less a sum than 140 million Danish kroner was loaned to help finance the various projects — and that only five years after their membership of the Community. I think that sum included 50 million Danish kroner for the construction of an airport at Godthaab and 38 million Danish kroner towards the cost of a telecommunications network along the south coast. The infrastructural costs of such development are significant. It is unfortunate if the rest of the Community must subsidise that kind of development although anybody with any regard for the remoteness and difficulties of the Greenlanders would not begrudge them such subsidisation. Nevertheless there should be a clear headline established. It would be unfortunate if a precedent were established under which any one of the now Ten member states or, after next year, any one of the Twelve, were to leave the Community while at the same time continuing to enjoy the considerable benefits they had received by virtue of their membership.

Encompassed in this whole question [1062] are not alone the problems of the fisheries policy but also those concerning the European Investment Bank, the Law of the Sea, external policy and many more. Perhaps the Minister would give us a fuller account of the Treaty of Secession and what that holds for the future. Prior to 1972, Denmark voted to join the Community but Greenland did not at that point. Then in 1979 they held a further referendum which was marginally in favour of leaving the Community. My recollection is that that result was coloured very definitely by the difficulties that small populations suffered on account of the cod war raging in the mid-seventies. Since then there has been some minor change in the temperature of the seas around the south coast of Greenland which struck a more severe blow at its fisheries industry than did the cod war.

I wish the Greenlanders well. I hope they will continue to benefit from the terms of their agreement to leave the Community. As a small, proud coastal country, most of whose population live along its coast, I hope their independence will be respected and that the Community will continue to treat them as a favoured nation, giving them every help possible.

Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs (Mr. J. O'Keeffe): I should like to thank the House for its welcome of this Bill.

I might deal with the points raised by Senator McDonald. As he pointed out, it is correct to say that, in a way this Bill marks an historic occasion in that it is the first time any member of the EC has decided to leave the Community. There are special circumstances obtaining here in that Greenland joined at a time when it formed part of the Danish realm. Subsequently there was a home rule movement there. Of course, it is a very remote island. The inhabitants separately decided in a referendum which they had on their own that it was in their better interest not to continue as part of the Community. There were certain problems in regard to fish. Fish is of major importance to them. They felt that there was over-fishing by the Community in [1063] their waters and, as they put it, the position was that as a member state the waters were not theirs but Community waters. They had this separate feeling in respect of their whole identity. They were concerned that they were not getting a fair break with regard to fisheries which was of such major importance to them.

When Greenland indicated their desire to withdraw from the Community a number of serious questions arose. Obviously one did not want to give any major encouragement to other parts of the Community to secede. On the other hand, since Greenland is on the periphery of the western world, and is a very remote island with economic problems, there was an anxiety to ensure that economically it could not be penalised. It was because of this that the formula was adopted to establish Greenland as an OCT. That gave it certain rights from the trading point of view. Overseas territories do have preferential rights in regard to marking their goods within the Community without having to reciprocate for Community goods. Then the important question of fish had to be resolved. In this regard it was not merely a question of looking after Greenland from the Community's point of view. There are fairly vital fishery interests from the Community's point of view in Greenlandic waters. Naturally, it applied to the Danish fleet but, in particular, it also applied to the German deep sea fleet which had a tradition of fishing in Greenlandic waters.

As a result of negotiations a fishery agreement was arrived at. In short it permits access by Community boats to Greenlandic waters. It provides for financial compensation, at present set at £26.5 million ECU per year for Greenland, and there is also access for Greenlanders to market their fishery products within the Community. They are the broad parameters of the arrangement.

Senator McDonald raised the question of the strategic location, of the NATO implications of withdrawal but obviously, this does not arise in this context.

[1064] Mr. McDonald: There are a couple of American bases there.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: As the Senator will be aware, NATO aspects do not arise in the context of the European Economic Community. It is a separate organisation. The Senator also raised a question about the terms of the Treaty. The Treaty is quite short and simple. It is very much of a formal nature. It contains a mere seven articles which formalise the arrangement for the withdrawal of Greenland from the Community. What is more important is the short protocol to the Treaty which relates to the treatment of imports to the Community of fishery products from Greenland. What is even more important is the agreement on fisheries. That is quite a substantial document and tends to regulate the extent of fishing by Community boats in Greenlandic waters and the consequent compensation for Greenland during the term of the agreement. The fisheries agreement is for ten years and is renewable. The document is quite detailed in relation to these arrangements, in relation to the kind of fish, the tonnage, and from which zones and so on the fish can be obtained. From a practical point of view, that is the most important document arising from these negotiations. Generally the situation is that the Greenlanders have expressed their views arising from that. Negotiations took place. An agreement was concluded and we are now taking the necessary steps for the ratification of that agreement.

Senator McDonald mentioned that the Bill was coming rather late in the day. That is the position in a number of member states. The matter was under discussion at the Foreign Affairs Council on Monday and it was clear that the Germans had not completed their ratification procedure. The Italians had not. The French had run into a snag and the French Senate had objected and did not give approval. That caused some delays in their procedures. The matter had to go back to the Senate again. It is anticipated that in all member states the necessary steps will be taken so as to enable the [1065] Treaty to be established finally on 1 February next.

Question put and agreed to.

Agreed to take remaining Stages today.