Seanad Éireann - Volume 145 - 30 November, 1995

Reflection Group for the Intergovernmental Conference: Statements.

Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs (Mr. G. Mitchell): I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak to the Seanad on the work of the reflection group which is assisting in the preparation of next year's Intergovernmental Conference and on which I am Ireland's representative. The group has been meeting since 3 June. This was the fortieth anniversary of the meeting of a similar group which resulted in the Treaty of Rome. The reflection group consists of a representative of the Foreign Minister of each EU member state, a European Commissioner and two Members of the European Parliament representing the Christian Democrat and Socialist traditions.

We have met two days a week during three weeks of each month, except during August. Last Sunday we met in Madrid for ten hours to draft the final stages of our report. It is expected that the group will complete its report at a final drafting meeting in Brussels next Tuesday and it will be presented to the European Council for consideration the following week.

The whole Intergovernmental Conference process, including this preparatory phase, must be transparent. It is important that national parliaments and public opinion more generally are kept fully appraised of developments so that an informed debate can take place throughout the EU.

[861] The paper I am having distributed to Senators sets out in a concise way the background to the reflection group and summarises its work. I do not intend to go over all the details set out in that paper but to highlight some of the main elements.

The scope and purpose of the 1996 Intergovernmental Conference, as originally conceived, was to examine a number of provisions of the Maastricht Treaty, including those relating to the common foreign and security policy and to the decision making powers of the European Parliament.

It is now clear that the Intergovernmental Conference will have to address a wider range of issues including the context of the further enlargement of the EU. An intergovernmental conference is a meeting of the governments of the member states at different levels, such as civil service, ministerial and head of government or state levels.

It is expected that the Intergovernmental Conference will commence at the end of March next year during the Italian Presidency and will continue through our Presidency in the latter half of 1996. The duration of the Intergovernmental Conference depends on a large number of factors and many expect it to continue into 1997. In any event, the Intergovernmental Conference will be a major priority for our Presidency and we will aim to progress its work as expeditiously as possible.

The European Council meeting at Corfu on 24 and 25 June 1994 agreed to establish a reflection group to help prepare for the Intergovernmental Conference. This group is not a negotiating forum. Rather it has been set up to identify and clarify the issues to be addressed and, where possible, to set out options for consideration at the Intergovernmental Conference itself.

The main areas we have addressed in general terms are first, the challenges, principles and objectives of the Intergovernmental Conference; second, [862] the institutions of the Union; third, the citizen and the Union, including justice and home affairs, the so-called third pillar issues; fourth, the common foreign and security policy and, fifth, the instruments and policies at the Union's disposal.

My broad approach to the discussions has been that the Intergovernmental Conference should make practical and substantial improvements where these can be made and, at the same time, should preserve the broad balance between the institutions and between the member states which have served the Union well and are essential for its future success.

While I do not want to under-estimate the difficult array of issues with which the Intergovernmental Conference will have to deal, a broad degree of agreement seems to be emerging on a number of points. I cannot pre-empt the final report of the Reflection Group nor speak on behalf of its members. It is now agreed that one priority for the Intergovernmental Conference will be to help to bring the Union closer to its citizens. It is recognised, for example, that the Union must operate with greater transparency. In this context, it is also important that progress be seen to be made in areas which have the most direct bearing on the lives of citizens. Such progress is not entirely dependent on the Intergovernmental Conference. Much can be done and is being done on the basis of the present Treaty. However, there is now a wide degree of acceptance that the Intergovernmental Conference must play its role in trying to make some further progress in addressing the most pressing problems of our society, such as unemployment, drug trafficking and organised crime.

The need to streamline the institutional functioning of the Union has been acknowledged by most members of the Reflection Group. Legislative procedures, for example, should be simplified and reduced in number. Many [863] members of the group have supported some extension of qualified majority voting for normal Community business under the so-called first pillar. Many also recognise that the mechanisms of the so-called third pillar, which provides the basis for actions in the justice and home affairs area, need to be strengthened significantly.

The need to preserve the broad balance between the institutions of the Union has been recognised. This is not to say that there are no changes to be made to the institutions. For example, many envisage some extension of the co-decision procedure with a view to enhancing the role of the European Parliament. We must, however, strive to ensure an institutional framework adapted to a larger Union which retains and, if possible, enhances the Union's ability to address effectively the concerns of all the member states and which retains the loyalty of their citizens. There is broad acknowledgement that further expansion of the Union should be accompanied by a continuation of the integration process.

The paper which I distributed to Members sets out in more detail the points which have arisen in the Reflection Group and the line I have adopted. I would, however, like to highlight the following considerations. It is vital on the one hand that the Intergovernmental Conference is open to and imaginative about change where this would bring real advancement for the Union. On the other hand, it is essential that it preserves those elements which have served the Union well and are essential for its future success, such as the overall balance between the institutions. I have placed particular emphasis on the Intergovernmental Conference exploring constructively and imaginatively the possibilities for strengthening Treaty provisions in areas of most concern to citizens, including employment and the fight against drugs.

[864] I have expressed clear opposition to any attempt to undermine the role of the Commission. I have opposed, as have many members of the Reflection Group, any suggestion that smaller member states should forego their right to nominate a full member of the European Commission. I have taken the view that there is no a priori reason for changing the voting weights in Council. It is clear that this issue will be further discussed at the Intergovernmental Conference. I have also spoken in favour of some extension of qualified majority voting under the first pillar.

I have stressed that subsidiarity should not be interpreted as a one way street for devolving powers away from the centre. Subsidiarity means that decisions should be taken at the level most suited to the decision making process. I have argued that flexibility, by which is meant a multi-speed approach to different issues, should be approached cautiously. There have already been cases where member states have agreed to move towards common objectives at different speeds and there will presumably be such cases in the future. However, any premature drift towards a generalised, institutionalised approach to flexibility could be a defeatist approach in terms of our ambitions for the Intergovernmental Conference and could represent a step towards a la carte Europe. The starting point for the Intergovernmental Conference should be to examine how we can move forward together. Flexibility should be addressed on a case by case basis.

We will consider favourably a possible increase in the role of the European Parliament by, for instance, some extension of the co-decision procedure. I have laid particular stress on the need to address free movement of citizens as a clear and visible expression of citizenship. I have strongly recommended a strengthening of the justice and home affairs provisions of the Treaty. Some practical improvements in this regard [865] can be made under the existing Treaty by, for example, simplifying the decision making structures. However, the Intergovernmental Conference should also consider, for example, setting out clear objectives in the Treaty, ending the restriction on the Commission's shared right of initiative and introducing qualified majority voting in certain areas, such as asylum and immigration. Tackling organised crime and drug trafficking must be a priority and I suggested that the incorporation of explicit provisions on combating drug trafficking might be considered.

Common foreign and security policy is an important area of the Reflection Group's work. The effectiveness of the CFSP must be strengthened so that the European Union can respond quickly to international situations and promote peace, prosperity and stability. Some member states have expressed the view that the CFSP has not been as effective as it might be and have argued that the need for consensus in decision making on CFSP issues is a source of weakness. I have taken the view, however, that the real key to more effective decision making lies in the preparatory phase and have favoured the establishment of a planning and analysis capacity located in the Council secretariat. Such a capacity would facilitate the identification of a common Union interest and the formulation of effective responses to international situations and events. It would also strengthen the ability of the Council secretariat to assist the Presidency in the implementation of CFSP decisions and to contribute to greater continuity between Presidencies. I am happy to report that there is now an emerging consensus within the group on the need for such a capacity.

I am not convinced by the argument that the present decision making procedures are the real source of the perceived problems in CFSP or that a modification of the consensus requirement, [866] for example, to introduce majority voting would resolve difficulties. I also remain to be convinced that there is much greater scope for majority voting on sensitive foreign policy issues and do not believe that the need for unanimity has prevented the Council from taking decisions which were politically desirable or capable of implementation.

As regards the role of the Presidency, I have underlined the importance of the present system of rotating Presidencies, arguing that this system allows each member state in turn to make a central contribution to the development and implementation of Union foreign policy. This helps to foster a valuable sense of ownership and identification with these policies in member states.

As my report indicates, proposals have been put forward for longer Presidency terms of office. In view of the ever increasing responsibilities assumed by the Presidency in CFSP, a longer Presidency term would seriously tax the resources of smaller member states. It would also lead to a situation in which member states would assume the post infrequently. This might diminish the sense of active participation by each member state in Union foreign policy.

Another possible option that has been suggested is that of “team presidencies” or presidencies split or shared between member states. I have expressed caution about this proposal because of the distortions which might be introduced into the institutional balance of CFSP.

As my report indicates, I feel that the proposal to appoint a high ranking official — Mr. or Ms CFSP — to conduct the Union's foreign policy is an option for consideration. However, there is a risk that such a proposal might confuse rather than simplify our present arrangements and upset the existing institutional balance of CFSP. It might also diminish the role of the presidency in representing the Union externally.

[867] With regard to the discussions on the security and defence aspects, I would refer Senators again to the paper that has been distributed. I have underlined that this is a very sensitive area for Ireland and that, as in other areas, the outcome of the Intergovernmental Conference must be acceptable to the public in each member state.

One of the key issues is the future institutional relationship between the EU and the Western European Union. A range of options, from full merger through to maintaining them as separate organisations but with deeper co-operation between them, has been put forward. My preference would be to avoid any premature attempts to narrow down options or pre-empt the Intergovernmental Conference negotiations themselves.

It is in this context that I and a number of my reflection group colleagues have suggested that some thought be given to creative ways of looking at the issues that could arise in relation to mutual defence commitments such as those contained in Article V of the Western European Union's modified Brussels Treaty. The aim would be to identify possible arrangements that would allow all partners to make their contribution in the key areas of conflict prevention and crisis management, and which would underpin and strengthen the CFSP, but that would not encompass a mutual defence commitment automatically.

By and large, my impression is that the members of the group accept that the different positions of partners, including neutral countries like Ireland, must be accommodated. It is in this context that the various options which are being explored may be of assistance when the Intergovernmental Conference itself begins the substantive negotiations.

The Reflection Group, as I said at the outset, is not a negotiating forum. Its [868] task has been to help in identifying a broad range of options for discussion at the Intergovernmental Conference. I am satisfied that it will have fulfilled its mandate and that its final report to the Madrid European Council will set out in a balanced and comprehensive way the views advanced at the reflection group over the past five months.

The Reflection Group report will not be a damp squib, nor will it be the most exciting bedside reading that Members of the Seanad have ever seen. It will, however, be somewhere in between and will set out substantially the issues and the alternatives — what I, as the Irish representative, have called an “annotated agenda”. It will say: “Here is the issue. Here is the approach to the issue”. If we were to get into negotiating now it would pre-empt the right of Governments to do so at a later stage.

It will not be good enough for an Intergovernmental Conference, which may go through 1996 and into 1997, simply to look at all the institutions — the Parliament, the Court, the Commission, the Court of Auditors, the Council of Ministers, and the Treaties — and not look at the real concerns of the citizen of Europe. The citizens of Europe will not tolerate a situation where governments meeting for that length of time do not address the issues. Whether we think we can do anything about it or not, employment is one of those issues which must be on the agenda along with crime and drugs. I know there are Members of the House who feel that we cannot do much about this, but if governments cannot do anything about it we might as well throw up our hands and concede to others the right to determine law and order. These issues — not just the institutions and the constitutions — must be on the agenda to be pursued and addressed by this Intergovernmental Conference.

The Intergovernmental Conference will take place against a possible backdrop of future enlargement, or enlargements, [869] of the Union which could bring the EU from the west coast of Ireland to the Black Sea, perhaps extending from the existing 15 members to 27 members or more in our lifetime. That presents great challenges as well as great opportunities. The challenges are, of course, the common policies which will probably not be dealt with at the Intergovernmental Conference but in some parallel process. The Commission, for example, has already commenced an examination of the Common Agricultural Policy.

When we come to ratify whatever treaty changes there are, people will want answers to these questions. Enlargement, as it comes, will bring great challenges because most of those members who want to join do not share the same status of wealth as the existing 15. Most of them are fledging democracies, although Malta and Cyprus are in a different category.

We must favour enlargement for selfish as well as selfless reasons. The selfless reasons are that these emerging democracies must be shown they can sustain, the changes they have brought about and that, through some process of hope, they can join in the standards of living we have enjoyed in western Europe.

The selfish reasons include the fact that Europe cannot be prosperous if it is not at peace. We cannot expect to have the levels of prosperity we have had in the second half of this century if Europe is not stable and at peace. Instability and the absence of peace threatens that prosperity. For our own sake — and so that we can continue to enjoy the levels of prosperity we have enjoyed and build on them — we must ensure that enlargement goes ahead.

This enlargement may not happen in one big bang. It will not happen until the Intergovernmental Conference has completed its work and at that stage the decision will be taken on how many and whom. For the reasons I have stated, I [870] believe we must support this enlargement, and the Intergovernmental Conference will be held against the background of that important objective.

For a little market economy of 3.5 million people like ourselves, the fact that 106 million people are waiting to join the European Union not only presents challenges but also great opportunities. On a recent visit to Budapest, I found that Avonmore Creameries produce and deliver the main segment of the milk market there. Such are the opportunities that present themselves to us.

The Reflection Group report will represent an important input to the work of the Intergovernmental Conference. I am also satisfied that the report will satisfactorily reflect Irish concerns and ambitions as it will those of other member states. Finally, I also very much hope and believe that the report will be seen to address the concerns, fears and ambitions of citizens throughout the Union. If the Intergovernmental Conference plays its role in addressing those concerns, in demonstrating the relevance of the Union to ordinary citizens, then it is an exercise from which there should be no losers and in which all stand to gain.

Mr. Lanigan: We welcome the chance to have a debate on this matter but it is unfortunate that we did not have an opportunity to reflect on the Reflection Group's work. The only piece of paper that I was able to get on the Reflection Group was a statement from the Minister of State, Deputy Gay Mitchell, a summary of the work of the Reflection Group to date which was dated a week ago. As we came in today we got what he purportedly said. I rang various people to try to find out where we could get some summary of what the Reflection Group had done to date, from the EU office, the Commission office, or from the Oireachtas Library. The single [871] piece of paper was the Minister's contribution.

While I agree that the Reflection Group for the Intergovernmental Conference is of major importance, does anybody in Ireland know it has been set up? Does any Member of the Oireachtas have any information on what happens in it? It has been suggested that copies of the Reflection Group's deliberations have been given to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs. Nothing has been given to that committee except the latest statement from the Minister and this does not give competency to the work of the group.

While the challenges, fundamental principles and objectives facing Europe are important, the item of most importance to Ireland has been left to the last; the Union has been more creative in providing unemployment than anything else and evidence of this can be seen across the Continent. There has been a growth of high tech industries in Europe and they definitely reduce the number of people working in any sector. The Minister has not said where we stand on the question of the extension of nuclear weapons in Europe. We do not support French nuclear policy but the British and Germans do. There is no mention of this in the Minister's contribution.

A principal challenge facing the Union, which the Intergovernmental Conference should not underestimate, is the need to strengthen the democratic legitimacy of the Union. Anybody who thinks there is legitimacy in eastern Europe is a nutcase. There is no sense of democracy in eastern Europe. Those countries decided for various reasons to take the legitimate democratic path in the recent past. However, they now seem to be going back to the situation prior to 1992.

In his contribution, the Minister preferred to talk about enlargement rather than the current state of the Union. Some countries which want to become [872] members of the Union want to do so for reasons with which I would not be in agreement. Some eastern European states want to become members because they feel there is a market for their products and that they can get investment.

The Minister said that Avonmore produces and delivers milk in Hungary. However, it is there purely for commercial reasons and because no Hungarian can do the job. That has nothing to do with enlargement. Hungary may have been more prepared than other countries for entry into the Union because it is essentially a trading nation, unlike many of its eastern neighbours where people pretended to work and got paid. Most Irish companies that went to these countries found that the work ethic was not there. It will take a long time to turn people away from the supportive and towards the work ethic.

The Union is important to Irish people. In macro-economic terms, being a member seems to have worked to our advantage. However, telling our 280,000 unemployed we are doing exceptionally well macro-economically is an absolute nonsense. The economic outcome that counts for Ireland is employment. What have the Union and the Government, through its involvement in the Union, done to create employment in Ireland? If the Reflection Group only addressed the unemployment problem people might have some interest in it. However, neither it nor any other group has addressed the problem either in this country or in the Union itself.

There is no point in saying that Ireland is doing exceptionally well macro-economically. This does not make a whit of difference to somebody on the dole. Statistics may say that those on the dole in Ireland get £50 a week where those in Britain only get £42 a week but that does not make much difference to them. The Reflection Group should first address the question of unemployment. I do not know anybody, apart from the Minister, who is on the Reflection Group. How does it address the problems in Ireland? Taxation is [873] also largely connected to unemployment.

The question of who will secure our defence does not make much difference to 99 per cent of our people. What people want to know is where their sons and daughters will get jobs. If the Reflection Group is not accounting for this, the institutional balance mentioned in the Minister's contribution will be of no interest whatsoever. The overall balance of institutions have served the Union well. However, if we do not have jobs to provide for our people, the Union and its institutions will be of no concern to us.

The Western European Union is currently trying to take over the role of NATO, which is being pushed into the background. The role of the United Nations is also being deliberately run down by the Americans, the British, the French and the Germans. We can understand those who say the United Nations is not doing its job. The reason the United Nations is not doing its job is that those who want to override it are doing it. President Bill Clinton believes he is the policeman of the world. If that is what he believes, then let him be it. He solved the problems in Bosnia, the Middle East and Ireland. Is any problem solved by shaking hands on the lawn of the White House?

Mr. Enright: He is doing a good job.

Mr. Lanigan: Let us wait and see. A country cannot be the policeman of the world. By its inaction in the United Nations and non payment of dues to it, the US is running down its role deliberately. It is being backed up by the other five members of the Security Council who believe they should run the world.

The Minister reiterated Ireland's very strong support for fully protecting the Commission's prerogatives, including its sole right of initiative. This takes away that right from the European Parliament. In other words, we support the Commission's prerogatives, not those of the European Parliament. The role of the European Parliament should be [874] emphasised more than that of the Commission. I agree with the Minister when he said Ireland's role should be strengthened rather than diminished in an enlarged Union. There is a danger that with enlargement smaller countries such as Ireland, which has a Commissioner, will lose their strength.

I refer to the expansion of the co-decision procedure. A ceiling of 700 on membership of the European Parliament has been suggested, although smaller member states must continue to have an adequate level of representation. How can they have an adequate level of representation if we increased the numbers to 700? Our members, unless they join large groups, will not have the same role as they would have had in the past.

As regards voting strengths in an enlarged Union, it might be possible for member states representing a minority of the population to outvote those representing a majority. It has been proposed inter alia that either new weightings for votes in council should be considered or that the introduction of double majority voting should be considered. That is nonsense. In an enlarged Union countries like Ireland will lose their strength. I am not antagonistic towards enlargement but small countries on the periphery should be able to maintain their voting power and right of veto.

Citizens' rights, including fundamental rights and measures opposing racism and xenophobia, are universal. Who will complain about citizens' rights and measures opposing racism and xenophobia? Will we allow a country with a fundamental disagreement with us on racism to join? These are fundamental issues about which we should not even be talking. Transparency, a new word in debates in parliaments, has also been mentioned. What does it mean? I have never heard what has happened at a Government meeting, what the spin doctors said or the criteria for appointing to State boards. Has there been transparency about the appointments to the CIE board?

[875] Freedom and security are also mentioned. What freedom or security is there for people who are on the dole? The reflection group has not addressed matters which are important to the people, for example, job security and the right to live in a responsible environment. I refer to the CFSP. Who knows anything about it? Perhaps five or six Members of the House may know. What information has been provided on the CFSP? Nobody in my constituency would know what it is.

Mr. O'Toole: Why does the Senator not tell his constituents?

Mr. Lanigan: Senator O'Toole is the educator.

Mr. O'Toole: It is the role of public representatives to do so.

Mr. Lanigan: Does any school have information on the CFSP? As general secretary of the INTO, Senator O'Toole should go to schools to find out if anyone knows or cares what it is? Has the Senator explained it to them?

Mr. O'Toole: They would say “yes” to all those questions.

Mr. Lanigan: I read that consensus minus one would allow a decision to be adopted if it was opposed by only one member state. That is rubbish. I thought consensus was when everyone agreed. The Minister's paper also refers to super-qualified majority voting and positive abstention. That must have been written by someone who went to the “Senator Norris School of English” but 90 per cent of the people would not know what these words mean.

This paper states that the evolving security situation in Europe provides the context for the review of the Maastricht CFSP provisions. Is that true? The EU must also take into account the wider security debate and key security relationships with the US and Russia. The Americans have taken over the policing [876] of the world. They have eliminated the Western European Union, NATO, to a degree, and United Nations. There are problems in the United Nations which we must address in a proper context and not in the context of what the United States says are the problems.

Members were informed yesterday morning that the debate on this matter would take place today. However, no material was available and it is difficult to address an issue without such information. I presume the work of the Reflection Group is important but 90 per cent of the people and the Oireachtas do not know this group meets; 90 per cent of the Members of the House could not get information about the group's report.

Mr. Enright: Members of the Joint Committee on European Affairs are aware.

Mr. Lanigan: These two pages are the only information that was available. On 6 December, the EU Commission will review the Reflection Group's work to date. However, the Commission, the European office and the Department of Foreign Affairs could not provide any information. The only thing available was a summary of the work of the Reflection Group to date and this is not adequate in terms of a debate on the work of the Reflection Group.

Mr. Enright: I warmly welcome the Minister of State to the House. The debate provides an opportunity to discuss the functions and workings of the Reflection Group. The House is aware of this group because the Minister of State addressed the Joint Committee on European Affairs on two occasions on this matter.

Mr. Lanigan: He did not address the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Mr. G. Mitchell: I will reply to the Senator in due course but he has done me a great injustice.

[877] Mr. Enright: Discussions were held at the Joint Committee on European Affairs and a paper was circulated at the time. As I understand it, the Reflection Group consists of one representative from each member state. The Minister of State, Deputy Mitchell, is the Irish representative. There are also representatives from the European Commission and two from the European Parliament, giving a total of 18 members.

The Reflection Group is important and can do much good. We hope to build an improved expanded Europe. It is important, when considering an expanded Europe, that we take account of the democratic views of the people. In terms of progress, governments can take decisions but in doing so, they must ensure they bring the people with them.

Many matters could be discussed, one of which relates to security. Senator Lanigan mentioned the American involvement in the former Yugoslavia and specifically in Bosnia. He also referred to the Middle East and the North of Ireland. He made the point that President Clinton is acting in the role of a policeman and he hopes what the president is doing will work out, although he is not entirely confident about what will happen. Nobody can be 100 per cent certain about what will happen but we must have the courage to make decisions and attempt certain moves. Bosnia is a perfect example of indecision when the European states were unable to agree a common policy and as a result, the problem in Bosnia continued and multiplied. There is a need for common policies on these type of issues. There must be a positive base. There is no point attempting to do something unless the policy has a specific direction.

Whatever else could be said, great credit must be extended to President Clinton and the United States of America for their efforts in the Middle East, where they have achieved a considerable amount. There has been great tragedy in that area, with the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. The work started there will continue. The same [878] applies to the former Yugoslavia where the Americans have also achieved a great deal. If President Clinton is acting in the role of a policeman and he can achieve positive results, such as those achieved in the former Yugoslavia, he should be commended. The efforts of the Taoiseach, Deputy Bruton, the British Prime Minister, Mr. Major, and President Clinton to achieve peace here must be supported.

Much can be said for the efforts of the Reflection Group. Its work is of great importance. The Minister also dealt with the Council's voting structures. I understand there is a proposal to introduce majority voting. The votes of individual members of the Council would be one form of voting, but the population of countries could be included, giving a double vote. That would be unfair to smaller countries, such as Ireland. It is much more democratic if the Council makes the decisions. It has worked up to now in maintaining unanimity. I foresee great difficulties in terms of continuing to achieve unanimity, particularly as Europe expands, but we should strive for it. Unanimity is essential in important and sensitive areas. The issue of whether it should be extended to every aspect can be examined but we should strive for unanimity with regard to voting.

There is a proposal for a new arrangement for the appointment of Commissioners and in the event of further expansion, some smaller countries may not have the right to nominate a Commissioner. I am totally opposed to any such proposal. I understand the Government and the Minister of State are in favour of each country being in a position to nominate a Commissioner. I understand the Minister of State intends to state his objection in that regard and he will vehemently oppose any change in the current system. We must ensure each member state has a Commissioner.

There is a proposal to put a ceiling of 700 on membership of the European Parliament in the event of further expansion. Irrespective of whether there is a ceiling, Ireland has 15 MEPs, a small [879] number. I have met many of our MEPs and some from other countries. They have many duties and tasks including attendance in the European Parliament, at committees and keeping in touch with the people they represent. It would be a loss for the people if our quota of MEPs was reduced. It would take from the ordinary person's feeling of involvement in the European Parliament.

MEPs will confirm that they find it difficult to communicate with their constituents about their work. They find it hard to get the attention of the national media except on rare occasions. They may have some access to local newspapers or radio but they find it more difficult to get their message across to people in cities. However, I would be opposed to reducing the number of Irish MEPs. The present number should be retained.

The main problems facing Europe are unemployment and crime. Increasing employment should be important to all members states of the EU. A serious effort must be made because a continuing rise in unemployment in Europe may cause civil unrest in the long term. All the policing and crime prevention resources in the world can be deployed but people have to have worthwhile jobs. I urge the Minister to ensure continued efforts are made to increase employment.

I am concerned about the increased level of crime in Ireland, Europe and across the world. I do not know what the reason for it is but there has been a particular increase in violent armed crime. This problem must be tackled seriously. Many people feel like prisoners in their own homes and we must make efforts to protect and safeguard them. We must respect the rights of citizens as individuals but we must also ensure that in so doing we do not make police forces powerless in the face of crime, particularly violent crime committed against individuals.

There are nuclear power stations across Europe which affect us. If one drives through Germany one can see [880] many nuclear power stations. I visited a number of them and was assured of their safety. However, I am wary of some of the nuclear power stations. Senator Lanigan referred to the recent French nuclear tests. The EU discussed these tests and the Irish Government lodged protests against them with the French Government. We strongly objected to the nuclear tests. It is an outrage that such tests should have been carried out and that others are planned. The EU members should have been firm in their outright rejection of the tests. Regrettably, Britain did not come out strongly against the tests and I wonder why.

Perhaps one of the reasons is that we have a problem on our east coast because of Britain's nuclear stations. Our waters are being affected and we will have to see how we can make our case heard regularly at EU level. Many people are apprehensive about swimming off the east coast and about fish caught in the waters off the east coast. This is due to the nuclear power stations and reprocessing stations in Britain. Britain supported France with regard to its nuclear tests and I presume France would support Britain in the event of our raising our concerns at the European Council. It is a matter that causes concern now and for the future. I do not know what powers the Reflection Group would have in this regard but some effort should be made.

A lot of positive efforts and results come from Europe. Ireland has benefited considerably in the agricultural sphere, the development of roads, tourism and harbours. I am concerned, however, there may be too much interference from Europe in the daily lives of our citizens.

Mr. O'Toole: There is not enough.

Mr. Enright: A simple example is that petrol stations in the centres of small towns have to be closed down. Ireland has a derogation until 1999 on a European safety directive in this regard. Smaller villages and towns may have [881] only one petrol station, and if these are closed people will have to drive miles to get petrol and the families working in these small business will be at a loss. There are also problems with regard to abattoirs and small butchers shops which have to comply with European regulations. It represents too much interference and these businesses could have continued into the future were it not for the regulations imposed.

Manufacturers of home baked bread, jams and so on have also had to close, which is a pity. Home made cakes and so on are part of our culture and did not have any adverse effect on people in the past. I know that the health boards must be careful about hygiene but common sense should apply in regard to these small businesses. Too many restrictions are also imposed on the supply of fowl, poultry, eggs and so on to supermarkets. The Minister should see if some changes could be made in those areas. Some of the changes are too severely implemented.

The work of the Reflection Group is important and I wish the Minister success when he furnishes his report to the Council of Ministers.

Mr. O'Toole: I thank the Leader of the House for arranging this debate, which is not before time. I wish to firmly disassociate myself from the remarks made by Senator Lanigan on a number of counts. If he has the courage as an elected Member of Parliament to say he knows nothing about the lead up to the Intergovernmental Conference, it is nothing to brag about or something for which he should unload the blame on other people. He has a duty as an elected public representative to find out about it. I am sorry he is not present to hear this but I signalled to him that I was going to say it. I recommend that he telephone the hardworking secretariat of the European Commission or others. There is plenty of information available for those who seek it. It is unfair to blame hard working public servants for what they put into a speech when they are not in a position to [882] defend themselves. The Minister is present and is well able to defend himself against such ammunition, which I am sure he will do on behalf of his officials.

Whatever differences I have with the Minister, he has put a great of time, effort and energy into this area, on which I compliment him. I regret, however, that the Government does not have a clearly stated policy on many of the issues. He indicated many times in his speech the position he has taken in the discussions on the Intergovernmental Conference. I compliment him on that as a very practical exercise in transparency. I am not much given to transparency — it is not something which goes with being from Kerry. However, I am amused when I hear people looking for transparency as I understood the essence of transparency to be that one could not see it. However, people have different views.

I compliment the Minister but it is a fall back position — he is indicating the line he is taking because there is not a Government policy to back him up. I do not expect him to answer that very clearly as I sought Government positions on many of these issues but they do not exist. In the European published papers which indicate where we stand on various issues, there is often a blank in front of the position of the Irish Government. I know there is not a blank in front of the contribution of the Minister of State, Deputy Gay Mitchell, to the intergovernmental group. However, Government decisions need to be taken on this.

This leads to an interesting conundrum about whether we will get a chance to inform the people before the Supreme Court decides that we should not spend Government money on bringing this great issue to the notice of the Irish people. Transparency is one of the key issues of this whole discussion. The question of the transparency of the Cabinet is likely to be the subject of our next referendum. This is an example of shooting oneself in the foot because people have no understanding of transparency, [883] and on this question of openness this is the most misinformed set of proposals which I have come across in a long time.

Certain issues need to be addressed. I should probably have interrupted Senator Lanigan on the question of “consensus minus one”. He said that we should condemn the French for their position on nuclear power and then said a minute later that he did not understand what was meant by “consensus minus one”. It must be patently clear to everybody that in a situation where one member of the Union steps out of line and loses its vote, in a position of “consensus minus one” the others could take a decision to criticise that member. “Consensus minus one” is clearly not meant to be consensus.

The question of consensus and the form of decision making is crucial. If nothing else is done, we must come to terms with the fact that giving 15 countries a veto each — which is what consensus means — is inoperable and unworkable. If we do not sort this out before the enlargement of the Union, it will never be sorted out. The rules should be changed now before more states join because the more members there are the more difficult it will be to get agreement on the decision making process.

I did not read the Supreme Court judgment very clearly, but in the event of the Supreme Court deciding to rerun the last referendum, what effect would that have on the result of the earlier referendum on the decision to join the EEC on which public money was also spent? Would every farmer in Ireland have to give back all the money? Would we have to withdraw from the EU if it was found that we had incorrectly been in Europe all these years? Requiring the farming community to give back all that money — £1.3 billion per year — would not be very popular. It is an issue which we need to consider. If the last referendum had to be rerun would other referenda also have to be rerun?

[884] On one issue I disagree fundamentally with the Minister and all previous speakers. I think we should have a clear look at what the Intergovernmental Conference is about. It is looking at progressing political unity and development and the institutions which go with that. Senator Lanigan and others said that we do not need institutions but policies to deal with drug abuse, unemployment and so on which gives the lie to the earlier discussion and the point which the Minister made on subsidiarity. I do not fully accept his definition of subsidiarity, on which we can agree to differ, as I believe that subsidiarity means making decisions at the lowest effective level.

I do not believe that the Intergovernmental Conference is the place to deal with every social problem in Europe. Otherwise, every issue becomes important and we lose sight of dealing with the fundamentals. This is a step to deal with the problems in European society. If we are to deal with unemployment, drug abuse and so on, we need the structures and institutions to so do. It is too facile, populist and easy to say that the Intergovernmental Conference will go on for six months and we must make sure that they deal with the real issues which impinge on us daily. People are entitled to say that in the pubs or on the streets. However, we are also entitled to say that the Intergovernmental Conference is not the place to do that but to set up the structures and institutions which will deal with those problems. We need those structures and institutions because, as we can all see, we are not able to deal with them at the moment. That is perfect logic and should be said early on before people start to think that this Intergovernmental Conference will be the dumping ground for every problem in Europe.

I would remind those people who talk about the Euro 700 — as we call the membership of the European Parliament — of the level of participation possible in a representative chamber. There are 60 Members of this House and 166 Members of the other House — two and half times as many. Therefore, [885] effectively, it is twice as easy to get an opportunity to speak in this House as it is in the other House. If we feel it is difficult to participate in this House on occasion, in a House more than ten times this size the opportunity to speak is lessened by a factor of ten, perhaps 11. In my view, an assembly of 700 members is beyond the manageable level but I recognise it cannot be much smaller, so the system of representation must positively discriminate in favour of smaller countries. We cannot have fewer MEPs than we have at present as even they have difficulty communicating and maintaining contact with their constituents. I realise there is an inherent contradiction in what I say because I am asking MEPs to do something I would not ask Irish representatives to do, that is serve a larger constituency. However, population distribution in Europe tends to be more focused and urbanised, so dealing with larger groups is easier than it would be in Ireland, where the population is spread widely.

I have no knowledge of our Government's policy on European citizenship. I note what the Minister has said here and elsewhere but I have no idea where we stand on it. I am clear what it means to me — there should be a simple European citizenship with one passport and we should move quickly in that direction. It is nonsensical that every time we have to travel to Brussels we have to show passports at border control. I recognise we are not part of the Schengen agreement because we are in the same passport area as the UK and it would be impossible to change that. I do not blame the Government for that because we had no choice — if we had different passport control to the UK it would create great difficulties within this island and between here and Britain. However, pressure should be put on the UK to participate in the Schengen agreement as quickly as possible so that there will be free movement.

[886] This is the fourth change to the Treaty of Rome, which began with the simple proposition that there should be free movement of people. We still have not achieved that — it took 25 years before we had the same colour passports. Border control between EU countries is anathema and goes against fundamental principles. We should move away from this as quickly as possible.

I also doubt whether our immigration and asylum policies, although they have improved somewhat in recent times, would find favour in Europe. If the arguments put forward against Turkey joining the EU were turned on ourselves we might be caused some embarrassment.

I have many problems with Turkey becoming a member state but there would be one major advantage in that it is a non-Christian country. A Muslim community in Europe is an attractive proposition in terms of challenging any latent racism or xenophobia. I would welcome it on that basis but changes will have to be made before that takes place.

The Minister and speakers on other occasions have mentioned the common foreign and security policy and he will be aware I find this the most frustrating aspect of the discussion. There is a lack of honesty, understanding and even agreement on the fundamental terminology in any discussion on foreign policy, sovereignty, independence, etc. Those who condemn what was not done in Bosnia or Rwanda also say we want to be independent. Those who celebrate our involvement in the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War are the first to say we should not participate in anything.

My view is clear — any unit has the right to defend itself, whether it is Ireland or Europe. If Ireland is part of Europe it has the right to expect protection from Europe and a responsibility to participate in the protection of Europe. [887] I did not come easily to that view, it is a fundamental reversal of the position I held 10 years ago. I have given the matter much thought and consideration and it has given me much pain to reach that conclusion.

I have looked at every example in the world in a search for a model neutral democracy and I cannot find any. If someone can show me one I would be delighted to examine how they do their business. The classic example is Switzerland, which will launder the money of any disreputable administration in the world, create a haven for those who wreak havoc elsewhere and close their eyes to their banking system. That is anything but transparent — it is a case of “I'm all right, Jack”, allowing the world to die all round it while it remains neutral and independent. There is nothing in that example which serves as an attractive model for a caring people like the Irish. The other main example is Sweden, which has grown wealthy through supplying arms to both sides of any war for as long as it has been making weapons. Having considered Austria and all the other nations, there is no neutral country on the globe which serves as a good model, or if there is I do not know it.

I am passionately committed to the position that neutrality is not a passive state. Neutrality is not letting the world pass us by, it is a consensus and a direction towards peace. It is an active state. The neutrality of those who claim to be neutral should be the basis on which peace-keeping can be built. This can be done not through the Western European Union or NATO, both of which have no place, but through a strengthened UN which should police the world under a system where it was responsible not to any one State, even one that might owe it £11 billion, but to its Security Council whose membership would include the Secretary General. This is not the case at present.

[888] I was extraordinarily impressed by the President's speech to the UN and I compliment whoever was involved in putting it together. It made key suggestions — on strengthening the UN, dealing with the issues mentioned, giving a real role to the Secretary General, what the UN should do and how it should go forward — which were quite revolutionary. Unfortunately it was not carried in the Irish media except in the live broadcast on RTÉ. I compliment the Government, which would have had to approve the contents of the speech, and those in the Department of Foreign Affairs involved in its composition. I wish I could go into more detail on it.

I notice the Minister did not refer to the single currency, which will be part of the Intergovernmental Conference. At the same meetings where we deal with the conference we will also take decisions which will open up the way for the single European currency. It is crucial that the two go hand in hand. It is also time to decide where we stand on a single European currency — I feel there is no case for staying out of it.

Those who say we are dependent on a UK decision before we can decide are wrong and will be proven to be so. Important as the UK is as a market for us, we are less dependent on it. Currently, over 30 per cent of our imports are from the UK and if one excludes Northern Ireland, about 25 per cent of our exports go to Britain. The figure is reducing and as our other markets grow, whether in Hungary or elsewhere, the dependency will reduce further.

It is crucially important for us that we are a party to the single currency. I would, however, ask that there be openness and honesty in discussions as to what that means for institutions like the Central Bank. It needs to be said that central banks in member states will have little or no authority, influence or role under the single European currency. Their role will be severely restricted. As [889] far as I can make out, the only role they could have would be to ensure the implementation of the decisions of the European central bank.

It is certainly not true that member states' central banks would have any impact on interest rates or the control of the money supply as they do at present. They could not do that for the simple reason that it is as easy for someone who is looking for £100,000 to telephone London or Lille as it is to telephone a person in Ballsbridge. Market forces will determine the interest rate, give or take a percentage point or two, as is the case internally at present. That nettle should be grasped because the issue is being fudged at present and people do not understand what is happening. We will have a member nominated by the Irish Central Bank on the European central bank and that will be our point of influence. That is where we will make it work or not in the future.

On decision-making, we cannot continue with the consensus and the 100 per cent majority. We cannot do business that way and neither can we negotiate that way. If those sitting around the negotiating table know they can always say no — we have seen in one part of this country what that does — and has a veto, there will never be any pressure on them to agree. There will not be anything to attract them unless they can be bought into it, and not everyone can be bought all of the time. We must look at a procedure like the double majority or, perhaps, the super-qualified majority and we need to work it in stages. The movement should be towards consensus minus one first, then the super-qualified majority, which I think is the 90 per cent one, and, perhaps, the double majority, where the majority would comprise both the majority of the number of member states and also a majority of the population of member states, should be the end position. That is a fair way and it provides protection for everybody.

It is utterly illogical to suggest that for some reason the nominees of larger member states might be more able commissioners [890] than nominees of smaller member states. Such a proposition would be so counterproductive in that it would create an anti-European feeling here; it would be a total disaster. Some of our Commissioners have proved to be very good and this is recognised. Obviously, there can be no uniformity but we have had some very effective Commissioners. Certainly, there has been one from each side of the political spectrum.

The idea of reducing the power of smaller countries to nominate Commissioners is not acceptable. It would not be well received by the people because it is one of the few occasions between European elections when the people are involved in what is happening in Europe. Who will be our next Commissioner? The people know the importance attached to that appointment.

On the question of subsidiarity and the relationship between the states in a European Union and how we should move the process forward, we are in a type of confederation at present. We should move more towards a federal position, and the United States is probably the best model available. In the United States there is a state legislature and a federal legislature and there is a clear understanding of the business of the union and the business of the state. It is not difficult to define the difference. We should decide what should be done at supranational and national levels. Similarly, at national level, we should decide what should be done at local government level and so on. We should always pick that which is most effective.

Therefore, certain legislation passed in Europe, which impacts on all European citizens would be considered to be federal law and laws passed in each member state could not be in contradiction, or in any way out of line with European legislation, and would have to be within the parameters of European policy. The facility to pass such laws would be given to the member states. We must move quickly in that direction.

[891] I will conclude on the issue of transparency about which I am very worried. It is a disgraceful distraction from the business of Government. Those who say in the European Parliament that meetings of the Commission should be open, that everybody should hear what is being said are wrong.

The Minister should have the political courage to say what it would be like if he was representing the farmers, the teachers and so on and if every move he made in negotiations in Brussels was on Irish television before he had finished his sentence. Could the Minister do his business in that way? Is that what we want? Somebody should take on that issue. This nonsense does not get us anywhere. Transparency is really accountability. It means that our negotiators return from Brussels and tell us they looked for that, got this and so on. In that way people put themselves on the line for what they delivered.

We have enough problems with the amount of information coming from Brussels and if we decide next year to end Cabinet confidentiality, we will be all the poorer for it. We cannot do business like that. I could not run my trades union operation on that basis; nor would I.

I will give two of the best examples of transparency, one serious and the other less so. The serious example is the beef tribunal where everything was said in public. Every question asked was answered and published. We noted everything and nobody was one bit the wiser in the end because, in reality, flooding people with data, facts, statistics and words is a sure way to confuse them and ensure they know less at the end than they did at the beginning.

The fun way to examine this whole question of transparency is to go back to the three-card-trick man at the Dingle races. On a beige table, the three-card-trick man——

Mr. Daly: He trained the Senator well.

[892] Mr. O'Toole: ——had three cards, one of which was the queen or “Lady”. He showed the three together to everybody and put them face down on the table. Then he moved them gently over and back, one between the other and one to the side. Now and again, he would show where the “Lady” was just to show that what you saw was what it was. He did that for a few minutes and then finished up with one tiny simple turn of the two hands. Then he would say that all you had to do to win a fiver was point out the card which was the “Lady”. You had seen everything, you had watched every move and everything had been done in front of you. If you could get it right, you would scoop the pot. In reality, of course, even though everything had been done in front of your eyes, you would know less at the end than at the beginning.

That is the problem with transparency. It is like mushrooms, you keep them in the dark, fertilise them and they grow well in the dark. It is like any kind of plant; keep it in the dark and it will grow away white. What happens when you let in the light or transparency? They all go green. It is a bit green for people to be looking for transparency at the end of the day.

I wish the Minister well. We will return to this issue many times and there is much to be done in this area.

Mr. Maloney: I welcome the Minister to the House. It is essential in the run up to the 1996 Intergovernmental Conference that there is as much public debate as possible in order to inform the public on the issues which are likely to arise. It is clear that, in many respects, a gap has opened up between the European citizens and the European Union. The institutions we visit in Brussels and Strasbourg mean nothing to the people in Ireland. This gap must be bridged. Senator O'Toole spoke about transparency. To that end the procedures should be simplified and there should be less jargon and clearer explanations. The Senator mentioned the unbelievable amount of paper produced in [893] Europe. I have been a member of the Council of Europe for this year and have received an incredible amount of printed matter which I do not have time to read.

We need to address matters in a more concerned way. Increased public debate must be generated in the run up to the Intergovernmental Conference and EU issues must be worked out and explained to people. Public participation is needed in the debate about the Intergovernmental Conference rather than having a fait accompli when the report is published.

I welcome the imminent publication of the White Paper on foreign policy. We are concerned about unemployment and drug trafficking as issues which should be addressed. Drug trafficking is a massive problem. It is organised by gangsters probably on an international basis. Ireland is possibly being used as a transport station for drugs as are other areas in Europe. European countries must devise treaties to stop the current criminal activity.

In the context of unemployment, there should be more movement between countries. A number of Irish people go to Germany and other countries for work. If the issue is examined we will find that there are areas in Europe to which more people could travel to find work. This would reduce the dole queues.

All 15 countries involved in Intergovernmental Conference must move together — not against each other as happens at present — for the good of the European Community. I am concerned about enlargement although it would be good for us because it would allow access to a larger market. We are an agricultural goods producing country and we need to improve our market. There are areas in Europe where people are underfed and under nourished and we should consider them. Movement in the area of tourism could also have great benefits. Because of the troubles for the last 25 years, Europeans did not visit this country but if we set up the [894] infrastructure, the situation might improve.

Europeans do not fully understand the workings of the EU. We talk about openness and transparency and treaties on crime, abuse and so on. These are areas which we must open up. We should explain them to people who just do not understand the current situation.

Ireland has always contributed to efforts to enhance collective and cooperative security through the UN and OSCE. We have always contributed to international peacekeeping and our efforts have been above and beyond what might be expected of countries of our size. We share a firm commitment to the rule of law, human rights, disarmament and development issues and we have remained outside military alliances. We should remain neutral if possible. We have always played our part and we must co-operate with neighbouring countries to ensure that we address matters quickly. Bosnia is right on our doorstep and, as a European body, we are much too slow to act. France, a member of the EU, is conducting nuclear tests and we find it difficult to do anything about it, bring them into line and get them to stop.

The Irish Presidency will be in the second half of 1996. The Intergovernmental Conference should be one of the priorities of the Irish Presidency. During that period we should work as effectively and expeditiously as possible to bring about improvements in the workings of the EU. We are moving into the 21st century and it is important that we be imaginative about where we are heading. We should do all we can to bring these matters to a head.

Mr. Daly: I thank the Minister for the documentation with which he supplied us today and for the clear way in which he explained what is happening in the Reflection Group. The conference in 1996 will probably be one of the most important conferences that will have taken place since the Community was established. It will certainly chart the course of the Community for the next [895] ten or 20 years. It will probably herald a progressive development and enlargement of the Community which will have a large impact on Ireland.

The Minister should establish an Irish reflection group to look carefully at how Ireland, as distinct from the overall Community, is progressing. So much is happening in various committees that it is difficult to get a clear and concise overall picture of Ireland's position on a range of issues and its relationship not only with the Community itself but with many Community institutions.

On a previous occasion, I proposed that we should have available to us the views of members of the European Parliament on issues that have a bearing on the relationship between this Parliament, the members of the European Parliament and the Commission. They are dealing with these issues on a day to day basis and should be invited to give us their views. The Minister of State might involve members of the European Parliament in the reflection group I suggested he establish. They have a clear view of how the Community is evolving and developing and we should have an opportunity to hear their experiences in this regard.

As the Community expands and membership increases, there will be pressure to eliminate our entitlement to a Commissioner. It is vitally important that there is an Irish member on the Commission. If there are be any changes, they should only affect those countries which already have two or three Commissioners. For example, the UK has two Commissioners. It would be better for it to have one commissioner on a rotation system than to deny a member state a place on the Commission.

In the event of additional member states joining, and the very large extended Parliament being put in place, it is equally important that peripheral areas of the Union retain their membership levels. In view of this, we should have a national reflection body in place which would include those involved in the Oireachtas Joint Committees on [896] European Affairs and on Foreign Affairs and Members of the Dáil and the Seanad following this debate, in addition to the provision of some technical support. This would draw together the whole range of issues which are important so that we can have a clear picture of how we should proceed. For example, we are all aware that the Department of Foreign Affairs is currently drafting a White Paper on Ireland's position on a common defence and security policy. There has been an amount of discussion on this already, and I compliment the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and the officials involved, who have not only had the benefit of reports from the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and other committees but have also held seminars in the regions — there was one held in the University of Limerick — and have obtained an input from people involved to see how policy should evolve. This is a unique development as the seminars draw together a range of people from business, the professions and various other sectors to discuss how they believe the Union should develop and how Ireland's policy should develop in the new and changing Union.

Some issues are vital for Ireland and when considering the Intergovernmental Conference it is important we should not lose sight of the fact that Ireland takes up the Presidency of the EU in July next year. This presents a unique opportunity for the Government. I am sure that the Government has already put in place a committee to work out agendas and work schedules for the Presidency. I have been involved in presidencies before, and we all know that during our Presidency Ireland will have a very important part to play, not only with regard to issues throughout the EU but also with regard to issues relating to this country.

I do not believe that everything can be mish-mashed into the hat, producing a jamboree during the Presidency. The Government must decide clearly and decisively that it will follow up on two or three key issues. The issue that is [897] glaringly in need of urgent attention is that of drugs, which has already been raised by a number of Senators. It is important that the Government ensures, during its Presidency, that Ireland can be instrumental in having put in place a coastal protection service to deal with drugs and other related issues, and that we can see a Union response in this regard, with the initiative being made and based here. A coastguard service has already been discussed in the institutions of the EU, and certainly in the European Parliament. A number of Members have highlighted this issue in the Parliament, and have drawn the attention of the Parliament and the EU Commission to the very serious issues that are involved.

It is somewhat alarming that, when the stocks of fish throughout the Union are threatened and when huge reductions in fish quotas are proposed for next year, Spanish boats will be entering Irish coastal areas in huge numbers from 1 January 1996. A Union that is developing in this direction is going off the rails. There has been much talk of twin track approaches to matters over the past few days, but we face a daft situation on this issue.

In addition, there must be some indication of how the Union, and the national parliaments through their legislation, can in some way be reflected in the European Court decisions. For example, the British Government is now faced with a bill of approximately £30 million to compensate people who have fished illegally and who used flags of convenience to go quota hopping, as it was known, between 1988 and 1990. The European Court has now found against the UK authorities, and the very people who have continued to damage stocks and have put the livelihood of many people legitimately operating in these kinds of businesses in jeopardy will now be compensated because of European Court decisions. If the European Court does not reflect the laws of the national parliaments, we are heading down a culde-sac.

[898] This is an important issue for Ireland. We must ensure that the laws and regulations we implement protect the rights of people making a living out of their business, such as those involved in the fishing industry. It is necessary to undertake an urgent review of the Common Fisheries Policy. I suggest that this take place during Ireland's Presidency. The Government might secure some acknowledgement that the position of Irish fishermen is threatened at a time of depleting stock and that, at a time when their industry is also threatened by the over fishing that is taking place, there is an additional threat of a Spanish armada off the south west of Ireland which will further deplete stocks, putting people out of business and ruining their livelihoods.

With regard to the Government's White Paper on defence policy, the most important issue that will arise is that regarding our neutrality. There is a fundamental principle at stake and it is important that we continue to underline Ireland's neutral position. I will not make long speeches on this now, as Senators have put this matter on the record on numerous occasions in the House. Senator Maloney again referred to it this afternoon.

Ireland has always adopted a neutral stance and must continue to do so. However, even in this situation, Ireland has continued to play a leading role where the country has been called on to make an effort, either by the UN or the EU. We have done this in Yugoslavia and many other countries where there has been trouble over the past year. In a new and enlarged Union, which is most likely to involve an extension into central Europe, including the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Romania, there is bound to be ethnic tension and difficulty. There is no use in believing that, because we are going to enlarge the Union, these will not arise. We have seen the catastrophe in Yugoslavia and on our doorstep, and we have seen the very poor response of the EU in dealing with it.

[899] It is timely, since the United Nations is celebrating its 50th anniversary, that a look be taken at the relationship between the institutions of Europe and the institutions of the United Nations. I am not certain who can do that, whether the United Nations or the European Union or a combination of both.

At this stage it is a priority to try to avoid overlapping and duplication within agencies which, at the end of the day will lead to failure to take whatever steps are essential to deal with, for example, the problem in the former Yugoslavia. In that type of critical situation there must be a clearly defined mechanism, whether this is organised by the Intergovernmental Conference or through a reorganisation of the United Nations. Somebody somewhere must look at what is happening in these organisations and see if something can be done to deal with the problems likely to arise in an enlarged European Union.

I assure the Minister of State of our support in helping to frame the response Ireland will make whether in the White Paper or otherwise. We have helped already by contributing to the foreign affairs committee and we have published Fianna Fáil position documents on these issues. However, one matter has been overlooked; even the document which the Minister circulated has just one line on the necessity for environmental protection. Perhaps that is because the document deals with many other matters. I do not wish to imply this issue is not being considered but the protection, preservation and management of the environment will probably be more vitally important over the next ten to 20 years than at any time since the world began. The response to the Rio conference until now has been haphazard. Except for some documentation, we have seen very little from the world summit by way of positive action on the preservation and protection of the environment.

This affects none more than ourselves with the dumping of waste and toxic materials around our coastline and the [900] failure both of the EU and international bodies to deal with that. Hundreds of thousands of tons of waste, munitions, mustard gases and every kind of toxic material have been dumped around our coastline and, as of now, we are not even sure where the sites are. We are not sure what state the sites are in and we are not sure what risk they are to the environment. We also have the threat of a nuclear accident on our doorstep. There were recent debates on that subject in the House so I will not go over it again now. However, the risk from THORP and Sellafield and from the British nuclear industry, particularly the added risk attached to the privatisation of that industry, and our environmental policies must play an important role both in our Presidency next year and in the Intergovernmental Conference.

Among the priority areas that require attention is our overall policy on common defence and security and we would like to see the Government's White Paper in that regard. We also want some action on the nuclear threat to this city from across the Irish Sea and we want to see a plan of action for the preservation and management of our environment to ensure that we do not repeat the damage that has been done and to minimise the effect of the damage that has been done already. We should have a plan of action to follow up on the Rio world summit on the environment. In Europe we should continue to play an enlightened role in this regard so that Ireland can be to the forefront on this issue especially during our Presidency.

Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs (Mr. G. Mitchell): I am grateful to the Senators who contributed to this debate. It has been good to hear their views and I hope my contribution will help Senators to understand the process taking place.

Senator Lanigan spent a considerable amount of time saying that he had no knowledge of the report of the Reflection Group before now and that he could not get information about the group. This is not the case. I circulated [901] to members of the European affairs committee and the foreign affairs committee copies of the interim report and I addressed the European affairs committee on two occasions on the Reflection Group. I also circulated a lengthy speech to that committee for reference. I am informed by my office that the Commission office has confirmed that the interim report was and still is available from it. It is quite extraordinary that a Senator would make such comments in the House to compensate for the fact that he has not prepared for the debate. I can understand that people might take me to task on policy issues and that they might have differences of opinion. However, today I had to take invalid criticism, to put it in diplomatic terms.

Senator Lanigan said the sole role of initiative for the Commission takes from the European Parliament. This is not the case. The sole role of initiative in relation to legislation is with the Commission as matters stand. Even the European Parliament and its members on the Reflection Group — it has two members — are not seeking to change that. They realise that to do so would cause chaos. The current system has worked well and the European Parliament accepts that.

Senator Lanigan also said that 700 members would be too few for the European Parliament. The European Parliament has recommended that an upper limit of that number be considered. That presents challenges for us. We will seek to maintain the maximum number of members of the European Parliament. The number has not been decided but if 106 million people are added to the Community and if there is, in time, a Union that stretches from the west coast of Ireland to the Black Sea, it would not be possible to have 1,200 or 1,500 members. It simply would not make sense and would resemble an old Soviet congress. There must be an upper limit. That is the number being discussed and it is the number that emerged from the European Parliament.

[902] I understand that the Senator has difficulty with terms such as “consensus minus one”, “super qualified majority” and so forth. These terms are understood and used by parliamentarians throughout Europe and we must get used to them. I find the jargon difficult from time to time but if that is the jargon being used we must understand what it means and participate in the debate.

Senator Enright raised the question of the double majority and voting in Council. He felt that to have both the double majority and to change the weighted majority in Council would not be fair. First, I see no a priori reason for changing. However, there will be negotiations on this as we approach the Intergovernmental Conference. Somebody said to me recently that if one has bloc voting and a majority population requirement then, de facto, all one needs is the majority population requirement. Why would we need weighted voting if every decision could be taken by a majority of the population? Unanimity applies in the second and third pillars and it is likely that this will continue. Senator Enright spoke about 700 MEPs and I dealt with this when responding to Senator Lanigan's point.

Senator Enright also raised the question of energy and, in particular, nuclear power stations throughout Europe, the safety of which concerns him. I share his concern. It is one thing for member states to decide they will take the necessary risks within their own borders; they have parliaments and people to whom they must account. A different situation arises when a member state is threatened by the nuclear activities of a neighbouring state. In my view this should at the least be justiciable before the European Court. A line referring to nuclear safety has been inserted in the report at my request so that the issue can be put on the agenda. Since decisions at the Intergovernmental Conference to make treaty changes will require unanimity, we should not anticipate great co-operation from all member states in this [903] regard. I understand and share the concerns which have been raised.

Senator O'Toole said that the Government does not have a clear approach whereas I put forward valid and clear ideas. The Government will publish a White Paper on foreign policy in the near future. My approach to the Reflection Group was based on an internal document which was put together under my supervision after I consulted all other Departments. Much of this document and the views I have expressed will be in harmony with the White Paper. The Senator asked if we could in future use Government money to inform people. These issues are fundamental and need to be addressed.

The most important institutions provided for under the Constitution are not the Government or the courts but the ones which are elected by the people. We must be careful not to upset the balance one way or another and fundamental questions are raised in this regard.

Employment will be on the agenda because I and others have raised it. It has been suggested that there should be an amendment to the treaties dealing with employment. This proposal will be contained in the Reflection Group's report and will have to be discussed. If we could solve the problem of unemployment by an amendment to the treaty, we could solve it by amending Bunreacht na hÉireann. Given that the role of the Union is to relate to citizens, we must consider what their needs are. I am referring not only to constitutional and institutional needs but also to needs arising from issues. When looking at constitutions, treaties and institutions, we must consider how these can be made relate to issues. We cannot take part in the Intergovernmental Conference without looking closely at unemployment and the growing organised crime and drugs problems.

I share the view that there is a certain amount of hypocrisy about neutrality and independence. Some of the people who cry most about our ineffectiveness in dealing with Bosnia also attack as a [904] militarist anybody who puts forward innovative ideas on this issue and we cannot even have a debate on it. If we had such a debate we could see what we have in common and the principles on which neutrality is based so that we can defend them to ensure they cannot be withered away quietly and surreptitiously or we could consider the circumstances in which we might be willing to abandon neutrality. This country is not neutral in the context of the 1907 Hague Convention. On the occasions we abandoned our strict military neutrality we did not do so at the request or behest of the EU but at the request of the UN, for example, during the Gulf War. We should be clearer in our presentation of these issues.

The only reference I anticipate on our part to economic and monetary union in the Reflection Group's report is that the European monetary union criteria were dealt with at Maastricht, the issue is closed and we do not want it reopened. The issue of transparency was raised. I am not advocating total transparency because this would not allow us do our business. Political parties and the Government would not be able to meet in private. This would be nonsense and a recipe for anarchy. I am talking about greater transparency. It had been the practice in the past that the Council of Ministers, in its role as legislator, could attach secret protocols to laws before passing them which provided for derogations and changes. Citizens and even states were not aware of these changes and they could not be challenged. The Council of Ministers itself has decided to change this procedure. This is the sort of transparency about which I am talking. People should know what we mean by what we say and why we say it. They should be able to understand and challenge decisions.

The President's speech in the UN reflected Government policy and was approved by it. Ireland has supported and will continue to support the central role of the UN. We should bear in mind that complex international situations have existed since the end of the cold [905] war. The UN Secretary General has called for regional organisations to co-operate and assist the UN in conflict prevention and crisis management. This is what the OSCE, Western European Union and NATO are doing in the new circumstances with varying memberships and degrees of success.

With regard to the Intergovernmental Conference no Government has put forward clear and definitive positions on detailed issues. The Reflection Group is identifying the issues and the alternative ways of approaching them. It is not a negotiating body. If it was, a majority of its membership could say it is in favour of the EU having only 15 commissioners. This is not what will happen. The report will outline different views and it will be up to the Intergovernmental Conference to negotiate the issues. The group will express strong agreement across the board on some issues. The Irish position has been set out more clearly than the positions of most other member states and it has been consistently put forward at the Reflection Group.

I thank Senator Maloney for his good wishes. I have noted the concerns he raised and when I spoke about neutrality I took his comments into account. Senator Daly raised the possibility of the establishment of an Irish reflection group to consider how this country is doing. If such a group is set up, I hope membership is given to somebody else. I have spent such a considerable time immersing myself in detail that my head is swimming half the time. This role could be fulfilled by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Affairs. However, I would not dismiss the idea out of hand and I will reflect on it.

I will pass on the Senator's compliments about the White Paper process which I and my officials appreciate. Defence and security issues will also be addressed in the White Paper. I also note the Senator's comments about environmental protection which is of grave concern. This matter will be addressed by the Intergovernmental Conference.

[906] Many of these issues are detailed and it is difficult to get press coverage for them. I wrote an article for The Irish Times which will shortly be circulated to all Members of the Oireachtas and public representatives. I also recently published 20 questions and answers on how Europe works and this will be sent to all Members. Extra copies will also be available. However, it is difficult to get media coverage for serious issues. I am chairing a task force on communicating Europe which has undertaken a number of tasks. Although it will take time to get them through, they will be seen in the next few weeks. I would greatly appreciate the assistance of Members in providing information about these issues.

During the lifetime of the average Member there will probably be up to 500 million people in the European Union. There are 107 million people waiting to join. That presents enormous challenges and great opportunities. How will we retain democracy? How will we have a decision making process? How will we relate to the citizens? How will we ensure that the Union will be effective and efficient? We must welcome this challenge which is the business of politics and politicians. The democratic system is often slow and sometimes frustrating, but it is also rewarding. For example, those who remained in politics in Northern Ireland through thick and thin and who now see peace there must feel that their lives in public service have been worthwhile. That is what Government is all about. As politicians, we must ensure that Europe remains stable and at peace because this will lead to the prosperity to which we have become accustomed.

I pay tribute to the civil servants who participated in the preparatory document which I use as my Bible. However, I cannot say I always did what I was told as regards presenting our case at the Reflection Group. I pay particular tribute to the officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs who worked closely with me at the Reflection Group. They attended meetings, prepared briefing [907] notes, altered documents and ensured that translations were prepared on time. I am privileged to have been well served by those public servants.

Acting Chairman (Mr. Dardis): When is it proposed to sit again?

Mr. Enright: It is proposed that we [908] meet tomorrow at 3 p.m. for the Joint Sitting of both Houses of the Oireachtas and, at the conclusion of the Joint Sitting, the House will adjourn until 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday next.

The Seanad adjourned at 4.55 p.m. until the Joint Sitting at 3 p.m. on Friday, 1 December 1995.