Seanad Éireann - Volume 174 - 06 November, 2003
European Communities (Amendment) Bill 2003: Second Stage.
Question proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”
Mr. Roche Mr. Roche
Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs (Mr. Roche): This Bill amends the European Communities Act 1972 and enables certain parts of the treaty providing for the accession of the Czech Republic, the Republic of Estonia, the Republic of Cyprus, the Republic of Latvia, the Republic of Lithuania, the Republic of Hungary, the Republic of Malta, the Republic of Poland, the Republic of Slovenia and the Slovak Republic to the European Union to become part of the domestic law of the State, once Ireland ratifies the treaty.
The passage of the Bill, together with the passage of a motion in the Dáil approving the accession treaty, are the major steps required to enable Ireland to ratify the treaty of accession. As Senators may already be aware, accession negotiations began in 1998 with Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Poland, and Slovenia. In February 2000, negotiations opened with Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Romania and Slovakia. Accession negotiations were completed with ten of these countries, excluding Bulgaria and Romania, at the Copenhagen European Summit on 12 and 13 December 2002.
The accession treaty for these ten countries was signed by the Heads of State and Government in Athens on 16 April 2003. Since signature of the treaty, they have become non-voting participants in most Council and European Parliament meetings and in the Convention on the Future of Europe. Accession will take place on 1 May 2004, during the Irish Presidency, following ratification by the member states and by the acceding countries. That will be a defining moment for Europe and for Ireland's Presidency.
All member states and acceding countries have undertaken to complete ratification procedures by 30 April 2004. To come into effect, the treaty must be ratified by all of the current member states. However, should one or more of the acceding countries fail to ratify it, the treaty provides for adjustment or lapsing of provisions applicable to that country and the remaining countries can accede. To date, Cyprus, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Denmark have completed all ratification procedures. Each of the acceding states, excluding Cyprus, which ratified by legislative procedure, has held a referendum on accession. The Government warmly welcomes the passage of all of these referenda which were clearly supported by the public in these countries by convincing majorities, in some cases in excess of 75%. There can be no doubt that this enlargement constitutes one of the most exciting and positive developments since the foundation of the EEC in 1957. On 1 May next year, it will be Ireland's privilege, during our Presidency of the Union, to welcome the acceding states as old friends but new partners. These countries have made great efforts to qualify for membership and have earned the respect of their European brothers and sisters while taking their rightful place at the Union table.
 I welcome this opportunity to debate the Bill today in the Seanad. It comes at an opportune time. Yesterday, the European Commission published its annual reports on the acceding states' readiness for membership. The main message is a positive one; great progress is being maintained and only a limited number of tasks need to be undertaken before accession. This is being described as the best ever prepared enlargement, a remarkable achievement given the sweeping transformation and preparation needed. The current process of enlarging the European Union could see it growing from its current membership of 15 and a land area of over 3.2 million km. sq, with a population of about 370 million people, to a future membership of 28 member states with an area of approximately 5 million km. sq. and an overall population of up to 550 million citizens.
Although it might seem somewhat superfluous to do so, it is worth remembering just why this enlargement is taking place. The process of taking in these countries has been described rather poetically as the “soul” of the European Union. The EU is righting a past wrong, the artificial division of Europe which lasted for too long after the Second World War is being brought to an end and this marks a return to normality. Accession will allow the countries of central and eastern Europe to turn their backs on the threat of chaos, tyranny and poverty which ended hardly a decade ago. It will underpin their achievement of transforming their societies and economies, and basing them on democratic principles and the rule of law. The cast-iron assurance they are all seeking is that there will be no going back to the dark days.
Since its foundation in 1957 with six original member states, the EU has been welcoming new members. The Union's values, as well as its success, have made it attractive to countries with different backgrounds. Any European state which meets basic political criteria is free to apply for membership.
The steps which the acceding countries took towards joining the EU began shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of communist regimes in central and eastern Europe. A special meeting of the European Council was convened in Dublin on 28 April 1990 during the Irish Presidency. It discussed the unification of Germany and the momentous developments elsewhere. At this European Council, chaired by Ireland, it was decided that discussion should begin on association agreements, later to be called Europe agreements, with the emerging democracies of central and eastern Europe. These agreements included trade and economic elements, as well as provision for political dialogue. All ten Europe agreements were signed by 1996. We can take a real sense of pride in this process. The process began in Dublin and it will finish here on 1 May 2004. In the interim, of course, it was the Irish people who turned the key that allowed the process to go on by voting Yes in the Nice treaty. Having turned the key, we will open the door next year.
At the Maastricht European Council in December 1991, it was agreed that any European state whose system of government is founded on the principle of democracy could apply to become a member of the Union. In June 1993, the European Council at Copenhagen agreed that the countries with which association agreements were negotiated could in principle become members of the Union and that the future relationship with those countries could evolve on that basis. Criteria for membership of the European Union, the so-called “Copenhagen criteria”, were also established. I quote:
Membership requires that the candidate country has achieved stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities, the existence of a functioning market economy as well as the capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union. Membership presupposes the candidate's ability to take on the obligations of membership including adherence to the aims of political, economic and monetary union.
Formal applications for membership of the Union were made between 1994 and 1996 by ten central and eastern European states: Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and Romania. Turkey had applied for membership in 1987 and Cyprus and Malta applied in 1990. It will be recalled that in 1996 Malta withdrew its application, but reactivated it in 1998. In December 1997, the Luxembourg European Council decided to begin accession negotiations with the six candidate countries that were deemed by the Commission to be ready at that time. These countries were Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia. In addition, the European Council highlighted the work that would have to be done by the Union itself to prepare for enlargement by improving the working of its institutions. Negotiations with this first group of countries began in March 1998.
In December 1999, the Helsinki European Council decided to open negotiations with all the other candidate countries: Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Romania and Slovakia. Negotiations with these countries began in February 2000.
We should not underestimate the struggle and extraordinary hard work that has been involved in reaching the point of negotiation, and soon, membership. It has been a long, hard slog for these countries. Preparations for membership will have taken more than ten years for many of them. Their journey to membership has faced more upheavals and has been more challenging than when Ireland joined 30 years ago.
Alongside work to ensure that political oppression was replaced by a strong and certain commitment to democracy and human rights, the countries of central and eastern Europe have had to prepare their economies for participation in one of the most dynamic free markets in the world. They have had to absorb more than 80,000 pages of legislation but, more important, they have had to take difficult and painful decisions. We must acknowledge and respect that.
They have done so because, as we did in 1973, they see EU membership as offering their people the best prospect for a peaceful and prosperous future. All these changes are good for the economies and societies of these countries. They could well have happened without the prospect of EU membership, but not in the same timescale. However, they are very painful changes for any country.
EU membership will be the biggest event in their history since they gained, or regained, their independence from the former USSR. In the case of Cyprus and Malta their independence was gained in the 1960s from the United Kingdom. Since independence, they have been profoundly transformed. Most of this effort is associated with the prospect of EU membership.
The transformation of the acceding countries is due largely to their own efforts. However, the aim of EU membership has been an invaluable guiding motivation and a tangible goal. The criteria set down for membership, agreed at the Copenhagen Summit of 1993, are the concrete expression of that goal. The efforts undertaken by the countries in the political and economic fields and the ability to be EU members can be viewed in this light.
Politically, the stability achieved has been dramatic. Progress in the areas of democracy, the rule of law, respect for human rights and the protection of minorities have created stability in a large area of Europe in an extraordinarily short time. General elections have seen stable changes in power with free and fair elections. In some countries, the judiciary needs to be reinforced, as does the fight against corruption. Nonetheless, a huge amount has been achieved. Discrimination still exists, for example in a number of cases against the Roma, and that needs to be tackled.
The process has also been a helpful context for dealing with difficult historical relations between different countries in the region. Some of the issues have not been fully resolved, but prospective EU membership means that the countries are given the necessary motivation to resolve these problems. It is gratifying when one visits these states and understands the difficulties there from a historical perspective, to see the commitment to resolve regional issues.
Structural changes in the economies of these countries brought about a complete turnaround in their fortunes, leading to rapid growth from new healthy roots. This benefits the member states because they can run export surpluses which lead to more jobs etc. However, in order to turn their economies around, they needed to take tough and unpopular decisions. People had to pay the price by tightening their belts.
Radical improvements have to be made in the environment and, for example, a number of states have had to close down large, unviable enterprises that employed large numbers of people because the levels of aid were incompatible with the EU Single Market or for some other reason. Many of the unviable farmers will be forced to change their systems of production to meet EU standards.
What was involved in the negotiations that led to this treaty? First, the candidate countries needed to comply with the criteria established at Copenhagen Summit in 1993. Compliance with the economic criteria has had to be achieved before accession.
Each candidate country is also required to demonstrate in advance that it is able to take on the other obligations of membership. It must be able to adopt and implement the acquis communitaire upon accession; this implies the necessary administrative and judicial capacity to apply its provisions. The applicant must also be able to adhere to the aims of political, economic and monetary union.
An important principle in negotiations, agreed at the Helsinki Summit of 1999, was that of “differentiation” within the negotiations, whereby countries proceed at a pace that best suits their individual ability. The pace of each negotiation depended on the degree of preparation by each applicant country and the complexity of the issues to be resolved. This allowed four out of six countries that started their negotiations at a later date to catch up with those that had started earlier.
On the Union side, the 15 member states were the parties to the accession negotiations. The Presidency of the Council of Ministers presented the negotiating positions agreed by the Council and chaired negotiating sessions. Each applicant country drew up its position on each of the 31 chapters of the EU acquis to engage in negotiations. The European Commission proposed the draft negotiating positions. The Commission was in close contact with the applicant countries to seek solutions to problems arising during the negotiations. Tribute must be paid to the Commission for this. It comes in for a great deal of stick, some of it deserved, but I was impressed by the supportive role that it played in the negotiations and the understanding it showed to the particular difficulties of the new states.
Negotiating positions were approved unanimously by the Council and the results of the negotiations were incorporated into the accession treaty. This was submitted to the Council for approval and to the European Parliament for its assent.
The major strategy for negotiations was set down in November 2000. The Commission tabled a priority schedule – a road map – for the organisation of further negotiations until June 2002 and individual annual reports on each of the candidate countries. The road map indicated target dates for the adoption of common positions by the Union on individual chapters with the most advanced candidates to reach provisional agreement when the conditions are met.
The Nice European Council endorsed this strategy and added:
together with the completion of the intergovernmental conference on institutional reform, [it] will place the Union, in accordance with the objective set by the European Council in Helsinki, in a position to welcome those new member states which are ready as from the end of 2002, in the hope that they will be able to take part in the next European Parliament elections.
The Seville European Council in June 2002 was able to conclude that ten countries were ready to conclude by the end of that year. This happened on schedule in December in Copenhagen. It happened in circumstances where we came close to stopping the clock but the job was done.
The negotiations were long and hard. No country secured everything it wanted in negotiations – we did not in our negotiations in the early 1970s. That is not the point; the European Union is an organic entity evolving and changing as its positions, procedures and regulations are honed by internal debate and discussion. It is a unique institution which advances by compromise and agreement and not by force majeure or the diktat of the strong. It is precisely because of its momentum on all fronts that the negotiations have grown more complex with each succeeding enlargement as the acquis has grown.
Ireland's approach to the negotiations involved a close monitoring of the whole enlargement process, including the accession negotiations in policy areas that directly concern us, such as agriculture, regional policy and the institutions. We also followed policy developments in other member states and the overall situation in the candidate countries.
Careful consideration was also given to the institutional readiness of the candidate countries. The Government decided to allocate over €1 million each year for four years to training and advising the administration of the candidate countries in preparations for membership, a prudent investment. The breadth of understanding of the Irish experience of those in politics and administration in the accession states is extraordinary.
At the same time Ireland promoted and supported transition compromises in areas of special needs for the candidates where vital aspects of the acquis were not threatened. Ireland also firmly believed that the already complex negotiations should not be further complicated by trying to anticipate future EU reforms such as the mid-term reform of the CAP and the new financial perspectives. We sought and achieved an easing of the burden on some of the states that are coming in.
 The reason the Government took this approach in negotiations is because we believe enlargement will be of benefit to Ireland, a belief shared by all parties in this House. Ending the artificial division of Europe, which lasted for too long after the Second World War, is very much in our interest individually, nationally and collectively in Europe. Europe-wide surveys continue to show more Irish people in favour of enlargement than in most other EU countries. The referendum on the Nice treaty last year confirmed this open, positive attitude among Irish people. Several sessions of the National Forum on Europe, in which distinguished members of the Seanad took an active part, also bear this out.
Many candidate countries see Ireland as a role model, in particular the way in which we transformed our country. Ireland has much in common with these countries. Many of them have a natural empathy with us, born of our common historical experiences of oppression and poverty.
Enlargement brings a new dynamism to the Union. Each new member brings its distinctive identity and rich heritage, its own particular way of looking at the world. New friendships will develop among new and older member states. New alliances will form around common interests and values.
The addition of a large number of small member states can only be to our advantage. We are already aware of the synergy and co-operation between our countries in the deliberations on the convention. Another example of the potential for developing alliances is in agriculture. Many of the acceding countries are more dependent on agriculture than Ireland and it will be to our benefit that the agricultural interest in the Council of Ministers will be considerably strengthened.
Ireland stands to gain much from a greatly expanded marketplace with over 100 million new consumers. Assured and free access to that new market will bring substantial opportunities for this country. An essential contribution to our success story has been our presence in a highly profitable market of 380 million potential consumers. A larger market has advantages for us.
At present, only between 3% and 4% of what this country produces is exported to the candidate countries. The potential for two way trade and, as a result, improved employment prospects is significant. Irish trade with these countries has already grown six fold since 1993. Irish exports to these countries are worth over €1 billion and imports over €600 million, with the trade balance in our favour. It is clear there is great potential for trade as these countries import 40% more than they export. Exports from the EU to the candidate countries in recent years have increased five times more than vice versa.
There are huge gaps in health standards and food hygiene and much investment is needed to close the productivity gap and Europe must help those countries in these areas. I was dismayed recently when a mean spirited leaflet was circulated suggesting that now we had reaped the benefits of EU membership, we should close the door on other countries. That is not the spirit shared by the Irish people.
Enlargement itself will not pose a threat to the CAP or to existing funding receipts. Irish agriculture and food industries will be well prepared to cope with any increased competition on the domestic market. Several comprehensive studies in the EU show that the impact of enlargement alone on agricultural prices will in fact be very limited. These findings were confirmed by well recognised Irish experts who addressed the forum session on agriculture. Many of the countries are small and not at all self-sufficient. As the Minister for Agriculture and Food made clear, the opportunities for Irish agriculture are greater than the threats from the incoming countries.
As long as Ireland remains competitive and productive, we will continue our success in attracting foreign industry and developing indigenous companies. Ireland will also gain from the further investment expansion which will take place in the European marketplace when these countries join. The advantages for Ireland from the enlargement process are huge but the most important advantage is that it brings the people of Europe together and closes the door on a painful and unjust history. We should take pride in the role we have played in this process. We are seen as a model for many of these states. We all know from our contacts in Europe that there are huge opportunities for new friendship and alliances. I commend this Bill to the Seanad.
Mr. Bradford Mr. Bradford
Mr. Bradford: I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Roche, to the House and support his comments on this important legislation. The Bill may not be huge in volume, but its content and intentions are of importance to the European Continent and its people.
Members' grandparents lived in a Europe when the First World War brought death, division and destruction to tens of millions of people. Members' parents lived through the Second World War which saw Europe torn apart with the nightmare of bloodshed and horror for six years. It left a legacy that is still only healing. Everyone in this House grew up in a Europe of the Cold War and the Berlin Wall, divided on lines of suspicion with the fear of further invasion and war. Hopefully, as a result of the debate on EU enlargement which has taken place since the end of the Cold War and the fall of communism, we are marching forward to a Europe of peace and prosperity.
The draft constitution for the EU is not yet finalised, but it encapsulates what EU membership is all about. As the Minister of State is aware, in Chairman Mao's China they had The Little Red Book, which all schoolchildren were obliged to learn by heart. I am not suggesting that the children of Europe should learn the EU constitution by heart. However, it is a profound document, full not just of aspirations, but hope. The language used is positive and optimistic, showing the pathway to a better future for the citizens of Europe and their neighbours. It states in the preamble:
… Convinced that, while remaining proud of their own national identities and history, the peoples of Europe are determined to transcend their ancient divisions and, united ever more closely, to forge a common destiny,
Convinced that thus “united in its diversity”, Europe offers them the best chance of pursuing, with due regard for the rights of each individual and in awareness of their responsibilities towards future generations and the Earth, the great venture that makes of it a special area of human hope, …
This is exactly what the European Community is about and what we are putting in this legislation. It may be limited in pages but it is huge in substance. We are saying to the accession states that their future is with us and our future is with them.
Yesterday, we had a visit from a delegation from the Hungarian Parliament at the Joint Committee on European Affairs. Next week, it could be a delegation from Estonia or Poland. The message coming from the accession states is one of thanks to Ireland for what we have done to grow the European project. It is also a message to the Irish people for voting for the Nice treaty. There is also a message that they wish to work with us in building this new Europe and they look forward to being equal partners. The new Europe is not one of big and small or strong and weak states. It is a Europe of equal partners.
It is an amazing step forward when one looks at the list of countries, such as the Czech Republic, Poland and Latvia which are about to join the EU, and sees from where they have come. Thirty years ago, these countries behind the Iron Curtain seemed far away. It was also 30 years ago this week that a family relative of mine died in Poland. Although Poland is not as far away as the moon, I recall at the time that it seemed he had died on another planet. I recall the administrative difficulties, chaos and concern it caused his family and, as a child of seven years of age, it left a mark on me. I wondered where Poland was because it seemed such a cold, distant place – a godless country beyond a wall of steel. The more we got to know about Poland and its role in the old Europe, the more I realised how wrong my initial view had been. That was the sort of Europe that most of us grew up to know in a wrong and fearful fashion. As a result of EU enlargement that will not be the case.
This is the challenge to the House and the Minister of State. I commend him on what he has done over the past number of years in helping to build this new, stronger and united Europe. The new enlarged Europe will not be an economic powerhouse or a political counterbalance to the US. It will be a set of states working closely together and showing how harmony and peace can work. The new Europe must be a beacon to other parts of the world. We are now in a world of strife, not just in the Middle East, but also in other political flashpoints from the Far East to South America. The way Europe has come together and co-operated is an example of how economic stability and development and political stability, development and union can work. It is a benchmark for world peace and politics.
In the early debates on Europe in this House 20 years ago, the main concern was what Ireland would get from the EU. In more recent debates, this has changed. We as a nation have matured. We have benefited economically from the EU and are now able and willing to ask ourselves what we can offer it. We all recognise that Ireland will become a net contributor to the EU. This is a fantastic feat and shows how successful we have been as part of the EU. It is wonderful that we will now contribute to other countries and help them to develop. The Minister of State referred to the issues of agricultural policy that will be faced by the accession states. Many of Ireland's farmers and those in rural areas ask themselves how this will affect their communities. Proposals have been made to change the support system for Irish agriculture and rural areas. It is an issue that requires more debate and scrutiny. However, the type of economic development we benefited from since 1973 is the same we hope to see spreading right throughout the Union. A bigger and better economically successful Union is not just good for Poland, Latvia and Malta, but is equally good for Ireland.
In advance of next year's European Parliament elections, we have a political duty to ensure the electorate engages in the campaign. With the local elections held on the same day, some people may believe the European elections will be little more than an annex to the local elections. This would be a pity because the decisions taken in the European Parliament on a daily basis will have a profound impact on every Irish citizen. It is important that in a non-political and all-party way, we ensure the electorate involves itself to the maximum degree in these elections. We should also ensure the people take on board the issues, options and choices and play their part in building the new Europe. I again offer my support for the work of the Minister of State with this legislation.
The success of the second referendum on the Treaty of Nice is proof that the additional debate that took place in this House and throughout the country on the politics of Europe is having an impact. There is a much greater degree of transparency on European issues. Obviously this does not involve a major degree of dialogue and debate on the detail in every public house every night of the week. However, it is still important that at national level and through the media we continue to try to get the European message across.
Two or three years ago there was considerable debate on the need for additional debate and transparency, one result of which was the establishment of the Sub-Committee on European Scrutiny. I attended a meeting of that sub-committee this morning in accordance with one of my political duties. I was reminded of the great debate that took place in Britain about the size of the British sausage. This morning we discussed a European directive on stands for two-wheeled motor vehicles. This was basically a debate on the standardisation of bicycle stands. While this might not be a matter that concerns every citizen of Europe, when we get to that degree of detail it shows that all the issues affecting the people of Europe are being debated in great detail. While they may not get page one headlines, they are certainly getting the attention they deserve. Whether in the Sub-Committee on European Scrutiny, the Joint Committee on European Affairs, the Seanad or the Dáil, the politics of Europe are being fully debated.
Casting aside politics, this Bill is about setting out an agenda for a new, bigger and better Europe. The Minister referred in a very positive light to the report published yesterday or on Tuesday from the Commission about the accession countries. Some media reports last night and this morning seemed to paint a slightly different picture and seemed to indicate that some of the countries had a long way to go. In responding, the Minister might clarify his thinking on that report.
The report also indicated the ongoing concern of the Commission about Turkey and what remains to be done before it can sort out its problems in advance of a successful application. I fully support the legislation and congratulate the Minister on his ongoing work; he is doing a fine job. I hope he is enjoying the title of “Mr. Europe”. It is important that the message goes out from the Oireachtas that this legislation is good for Ireland and for Europe.
Ms Ormonde Ms Ormonde
Ms Ormonde: I welcome the Minister and congratulate him on his tireless approach in his role as Minister with responsibility for European affairs. He has brought a European level of discussion into both Houses of the Oireachtas. He is at all times available to help us out whenever we need a discussion in this Chamber on the future of Europe and particularly its enlargement. The Minister spearheaded the campaign at the last referendum.
The Bill before us finalises the process to allow the ten countries involved to accede to the European Union. It is a small technical Bill, which in itself means very little, and allows us to endorse the accession of those countries. While one might think that is all there is to it, one must look back at the history of the accession countries. Ireland had a long history of upheaval. The ten countries have come from chaos and poverty. They have come from the dark into some form of normality. Since the Second World War there have been upheavals in central and eastern Europe. The negotiations that took place in 1998 represented a very hard slog. They had to change from a centralised economy approach to a market economy and at the same time inform the people and bring them along.
No doubt Ireland was their role model, having gone through the first referendum on the Treaty of Nice that clearly indicated things were not all right in Ireland and there was an unhappy feeling about whether membership of Europe was the way forward. The failure of the first referendum was not because we did not want enlargement. While we were very much in favour of enlargement, there were differences of opinion among the public. It is important that the accession countries are aware of these concerns and fears we had over losing our identity.
I have spoken to many members of the delegations that have visited the Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Affairs. They expressed the same fears we have expressed in the past two years over whether their identity would be diluted or their sovereignty diminished. We had concerns that jobs might be at stake if there were a flow of people into this country and that the loss of our currency would in some way undermine our Irishness. We informed the accession countries that they would have to deal with these issues. Yesterday a delegation from Hungary also expressed those fears. While there was a huge endorsement in the referendum on accession, there was a very low turnout. The Hungarians will experience the same problems we did. We are delighted to be able to help them and show them Ireland's success since becoming a member of the European Union.
It is important to lay down some ground rules. We must separate what is important for us to decide in Ireland and what can be decided in Europe. Senator Bradford referred to the Sub-Committee on European Scrutiny, which examines proposals coming from Brussels. This is the way forward and I congratulate the Government for being quick to recognise what is important for Ireland. Following enlargement, Europe will be so huge that Ireland could become swamped and the same could be true of the accession countries. The whole of Europe is looking to Ireland as a role model.
While “subsidiarity” might not be the word used in other countries, the concept holds for all countries. Important national decisions must remain with national parliaments. This is a very important objective for all countries. While some countries may have their fears, there should be no disagreement in accepting the objectives that we lay down for subsidiarity and proportionality.
Other countries should constantly have debates as we have done. There were constant debates in the Houses of the Oireachtas and in the Joint Committees on European Affairs and on Foreign Affairs and the Forum for Europe. Now that enlargement is taking place it cannot be presumed that everything is hunky dory and rosy. Since 1973 when Ireland joined the European Economic Community things seemed to slide. We sat back and became quite lethargic about European affairs. Nobody cared about what was happening in Europe but we were delighted to become involved when it came to the development of education and the economy. We all gained from membership but we were not knowledgeable about the EU and we were not making decisions about it. We did not become part of Europe, but that has all changed.
The Irish Presidency will run from January to June 2004 and ratification of enlargement will take place during that term. We should not sit back when the Irish Presidency is over and say we have no more to do in Europe. We have learned a lesson from the referendum dealing with the Treaty of Nice. The public want the benefits of Europe but they also want to be informed. They want common defence and common security but they want to make sure the ethos of Ireland is maintained and that there is no rowing back on that. It needs to be emphasised that Ireland will work and co-operate with Europe. We want to belong to Europe. That is the message we have given to the accession countries and they are very pleased they are now becoming part of all of us. The opening up of borders and a common currency is the way forward with no more days of war, dark days of poverty, or closed borders. It is to be hoped that central and eastern Europe will become European as well as remaining individual. Each country will retain the integrity of its nationality.
This is a great day for us and it is a great day for our Government. Enlargement has been brought to this stage and the Irish Presidency will finalise the process. In the last ten years we have discovered what membership of the European Union has done for us. We must be part of Europe but retain our national identity. I am delighted that the Minister of State Deputy Roche, is spearheading this campaign. I look forward to the next six months when Ireland's success and individuality will be the role model for the future of Europe.
Mr. Quinn Mr. Quinn
Mr. Quinn: I welcome the Minister of State to the House. Standing up to speak after Senator Ormonde on a topic such as this I am reminded of the advice never to go on a stage with children and animals because they will upstage you. When I hear the Senator's bubble of energy and enthusiasm I feel I should not attempt to speak after her but I have the same bubble of energy about this topic.
I know this must be an important day for the Minister of State because he has invested so much effort and work. It was a delight to listen to his contribution when he spoke about the exciting and positive development since the formation of the EEC in 1957. This has been the best ever prepared enlargement and I know that work did not take place by accident. The accession countries regard membership of the European Union as the best prospect of a peaceful and prosperous future.
 I know the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, has done a great deal of work. I was fortunate to spend a couple of days in the presence of former President Giscard d'Estaing in September. He spoke very highly of the work of Deputy Roche. He was speaking of it with a certain degree of criticism because they did not always agree but he spoke about the creation of this Constitution for Europe and the work done by the Minister of State and the other Irish people involved.
Like Senator Ormonde I come to this with a degree of enthusiasm that was formed for me in September 1958. I finished university, sailed on a boat from Cobh and went to Brussels. The Brussels World Fair was in progress. I wanted to find work in the hotel business because that was my family business. I went to the station in Brussels saying, “Je voudrai acheter un billet à France, s'il vous plait”, meaning, I want to buy a ticket to France. The ticket clerk asked me where in France I wished to travel, that it was a big country, “C'est un grand pays”. I asked for the first station after the border. I stepped off the train in Metz and got a job in the kitchen in the Buffet de la Gare, which was the first kitchen I saw. September 1958 was a momentous time to be in Europe; to be in Brussels for the World Fair; in France for the Fifth Republic Constitution referendum and a few weeks later for the election of President De Gaulle and then to Rome for the installation of Pope John XXIII. These events created for me a different vision of Europe. I realised the young people I had encountered in Belgium, France and Italy had a different future and outlook. I returned to Ireland with a belief that we could become part of this. De Gaulle turned down our application and it was 1973 before we joined Europe. My first interest in politics dates from that time. I am excited today and I will be on 1 May when the ten countries join the Union. I know they share the same enthusiasm because they have voted in that way. I welcome what is the best ever prepared enlargement.
While this Bill is mainly technical in nature, it is of historic importance in the sense that it marks a decisive new step in the development of the European Union. At one stroke, the Union will expand to a population of 550 million and 25 member states. The accession of the new member states next year will create a totally new type of political and economic entity, one that is a very far cry from the European Economic Community of only six states which Ireland joined 30 years ago. That difference is recognised in our preparations for a new constitutional treaty. Here in Ireland we also face major changes in the nature of our relationship with the evolving European Union. This expansion marks the end of the European gravy-train as far as Ireland is concerned. Senator Bradford has referred to that. It is vital that we realise that it will be the end of the gravy-train. It is also vital that we concentrate on developing new attitudes to Europe and new reasons for being deeply involved in Europe, now that the gravy-train has come to the end of its journey.
I say that because over the 30 years we have been in the EU, it has been very clear that the enthusiasm the Irish people have shown for the European project has been based very much on the fact that it was in our economic interest to do so. The economic argument has always been so overwhelming that we have not paid very much attention to the other factors involved. We went into the EU because of the goodies that membership offered us and which it has delivered to us during our period of membership. When we joined, we were very much the poor boys in the class. Our standard of living was way below average, our economy was considerably under-developed by European standards and our infrastructure generally was only in the ha'penny place.
In those days the EU was like a fairy godmother to us. Out of the goodness of its heart Europe was happy to pour resources into this country to bring it up to the European average. Side by side with that, we were able to exploit our low-cost environment to offer ourselves as a manufacturing base for American and Japanese who were looking to get a foot into the fast growing European market. That is now all in the past. Our standard of living is now above the European average. Our economy is highly developed and we have become a manufacturing and services base in a global economy. Our infrastructure is still lagging behind, but that is largely our own fault for the way we have mismanaged it. Our fellow member states across Europe can certainly look at Ireland with a sense of pride in what they have done for us. However, as they do so, they, even more than us, must be fully aware that the days of handouts to Ireland are now finally over.
With the accession of the new members next year, other states will be in need of the same development help that we have been getting for the past 30 years. In the new scenario, this country will find itself in the giving rather than the taking role. It is vital that we develop a sense that being part of the European project is still a good thing for Ireland. It is easy to underestimate the difficulty of creating that attitude, particularly in a short time. In a sense, we have wasted the past 30 years because we have spent them simply taking the money and running with it. We have largely ignored the opportunity that membership offered us to deepen our ties with our European partners and to build up a European consciousness separate from the economic benefits.
I fear for what will happen to public opinion when it becomes clear that Ireland has become a net giver to the EU rather than a taker from it, yet the arguments for being part of Europe are just as strong when one takes away the economic considerations. The economic argument has been to the fore in forming our attitudes over the past 30 years. We have consistently argued how beneficial it is for us economically. I am concerned that the public will not be ready to make that shift in opinion. This is far from being airy-fairy theorising. This is a problem that we will need to face up to within a relatively short timeframe. I am not sure when we must hold a referendum, perhaps the Minister of State will tell us.
The new constitutional treaty will have to be put to the people in a referendum, just as all the other major changes in the Union during our period of membership have been put. The next referendum will have to be won without the support of the economic argument. It will be the first post-gravy train referendum that we have had to face and, as such, it will be a very different type of challenge to any we have encountered in the past. The Nice treaty was easy in comparison. Our difficulties with the referenda on the Nice treaty will pale into insignificance compared to what awaits us in this context.
What can we do about it? First, we need to recognise that we face a major persuasion problem and the sooner we begin to tackle it the better. Changing people's attitudes at short notice is almost always doomed to failure. People are not as fickle as they are sometimes assumed to be. What is needed is a long, slow, concentrated campaign to build up European consciousness in this country. This needs to be built on a firm, realistic base that is separate from the selfish reasons that have been used heretofore.
The National Forum on Europe can be a useful tool in this campaign and I urge the Government to use it to the full. It should be flooded with resources which I suspect have not been forthcoming to date. Useful as the forum can be, it cannot, however, do all the work in this regard. A broadly based information and education campaign is required that will reach out to people and put Europe on their agenda of priorities.
We discussed this issue at the Joint Committee on European Affairs. In that forum I referred to a colleague of mine who was taking his wife to Barcelona for the weekend. He gave the credit for being able to do this to Europe. He said he could not have done it without the deregulation which came when Peter Sutherland was in Brussels. Whether it was Peter Sutherland, the former Deputy, the late Jim Mitchell, or Michael O'Leary who created cheap airlines, this man gave the credit to the European Union. This is the type of detail to which we need to draw attention. The Government has a special role to play in this regard.
I hope we have seen an end to the anti-Europe posturing by some Ministers that did such damage in the run-up to the referenda on Nice. The Government must always present a united front on Europe and it should be a positive one. The temptation to use Brussels as the whipping-boy for local problems should be resisted. Every time we criticise the EU we gnaw at the ties that bind us to our partners.
With this in mind, I hope the Government will grasp the opportunity of our Presidency next year to bring home to the people the wider benefits of our European involvement. It is particularly appropriate that the new members will join during the course of our Presidency because we potentially stand to be more deeply affected than any other existing member by this expansion. We move from being the receivers to being the givers. I accept this will not be an easy task. The longer we put off making the case, and making it strongly, the more difficult it will be. This is a momentous day and I congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, and wish him well in this campaign.
Mr. Mooney Mr. Mooney
Mr. Mooney: Like colleagues on all sides of the House, I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Roche. I endorse what has been said. This is a proud day for him as Minister of State with responsibility for European Affairs and for Ireland generally. This is the culmination of a journey which began following the Nice treaty negotiations. We are now, effectively, completing the process of ensuring the ratification of the accession states.
In the context of our EU Presidency, I hope that accession day – 1 May next year – will be inclusive. I hope local communities will be encouraged to identify with accession day, particularly those towns and villages in which citizens of those countries currently work and live. I hope such places will make a special effort to commemorate accession day and it is appropriate for the Minister of State's Department to co-ordinate these events. We have a great reputation for having a party at the drop of a hat and it would go a long way towards addressing the points made so eloquently by Senator Quinn about engaging our citizens in the European experience. This proposal may seem somewhat trite but as we have commemorations for everything else, why should we not mark the end of the journey which we undertook in partnership with the people and celebrate it in the traditional Irish manner?
The Department of Foreign Affairs has a further role to play in regard to the accession states. As a trading nation we export some 90% of what we produce and, in that context, the significance of an extra 100 million consumers coming into the European Union cannot be overestimated. I accept that the European Union is about more than trade and money but, essentially, this is part of its day to day operation. It is a trading bloc, but it is also much more. I applaud those private and State companies that have already taken the initiative to forge friendships and alliances in the accession states over the past number of years. Many Irish companies are increasingly involved in co-ownership and co-equity arrangements in a number of the accession countries. We should specifically engage our consular staff in this regard. I was in Italy earlier this week on Council of Europe business and was surprised to learn that traditionally the Italian diplomatic service did not sell Italy as it was not seen as its function. It was primarily a diplomatic and consular service. When Mr. Berlusconi became Prime Minister, he began to change that approach because of his business ethos. Italy and its opportunities are now presented in a much more proactive way.
Irish diplomatic staff, particularly in the past ten to 15 years, have been oriented towards presenting a positive image of Ireland beyond their diplomatic and consular obligations. Irish embassies and ambassadors are actively involved in foreign trade missions. Our ambassadors generally take a proactive role in engaging local industry and identifying opportunities. Companies coming from Ireland are accommodated and assisted by our consular staff in those countries. I would like a more co-ordinated role and perhaps this is already happening – the Minister of State might wish to comment. We must not lose this opportunity because the larger countries with their larger industries are already making these plans and taking these initiatives. The overwhelming emphasis on trade and exports means that Ireland should be at the forefront. It should not seen to be behind in this initiative.
Specifically, I favour an overarching role for the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs in organising the State and the private sector with our ambassadors to schedule a programme of activities. Such a programme would act as a catalyst to pull together what seems at present to be ad hoc arrangements. Currently, individual companies are identifying opportunities and acting on them, but Ireland incorporated should adopt an overarching role in that regard. The Minister of State's office is the obvious choice to oversee the process. The Minister of State might not welcome another job on top of the many he already performs, especially not in the first six months of next year when he will be very busy. While his office appears to be the obvious candidate, perhaps the Minister of State has a different view on the matter.
The Seanad also has a role to play. This was touched on by Senator Ormonde and other speakers when they referred to the scrutiny initiative. All Senators welcome the Government's decision last year to create a system of scrutiny which had been largely absent in parliamentary practice. It was one of the great criticisms being constantly levelled at the Oireachtas that EU directives were being dealt with at Council level, getting as far as heads of Departments and being sent back to Brussels having been given the nod in Parliament. Under a system co-ordinated by the Department of Foreign Affairs, it is now the case that each joint committee is advised of the various directives by the relevant Government Department. The Department gives advice on what debate or action is required.
I would like that practice taken a stage further. I suggested in a submission to the sub-committee on Seanad reform that the Minster of State with responsibility for European affairs, Deputy Roche, should bring directives in respect of which debate is required before the House on Second Stage. That would allow Senators on all sides to express opinions. Once the debate had taken place, the directive could be sent to the relevant joint committee for further debate. Following that process, the directive should return to the House on Report Stage before being returned. While that system might seem unwieldy, it involves the parliamentary process and the representatives of the people. Hopefully, the media would report on the process in which case the public would be more engaged with what was happening in Europe. We would not then have the arguments we have seen about the size of the British sausage or the other silly directives which have created enormous anti-European feeling in the neighbouring United Kingdom.
I agree with and applaud Government initiatives in the administrative training of civil servants from the accession countries. It is not widely known that Ireland has provided €1 million over the last four years for this purpose. I first became aware of Irish involvement in this area at the forum for Europe 12 months ago. A group of young civil servants from, among other countries, Malta and Poland visited the forum as part of a six-week course they were undertaking at the Institute of Public Administration. The Minister of State is very familiar with the institute. I was struck by the youth of the civil servants. As members of a younger generation, they gave lie to the general perception of civil servants as old and grey, be they male or female. I say that with respect to our colleagues, the Minister of State, Deputy Roche's officials.
I was struck by the enthusiasm of those civil servants for the project and their willingness to learn more. They were amazed by the forum for Europe concept and sad that they did not have more time to spend at it on the day in question. As the Minister of State said in his presentation, these were young civil servants who would return to their countries of origin imbued with knowledge about European affairs which had an Irish dimension. They will undoubtedly move up the ladder and, ultimately, aspire to or even achieve Secretary General status at which point they will have a direct input into policy matters. The Government should be applauded in that regard. I hope it continues on the trade side to provide for this type of interaction.
While I do not want the Minister of State to feel he is being overly flattered, I compliment him on an issue I raised before. Having known the Minister of State well for a long time, I am aware of the enthusiasm he brings to any activity in which he involves himself. One of his lasting legacies as Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs will be that he brought together the like minded countries in the Convention for Europe. These were the smaller countries with which we will need to forge alliances to progress our agenda. The Minister of State brought that initiative to fruition and Ireland will now have long-standing relationships which will benefit us culturally and economically. If the Minister of State does nothing else during his tenure of office, that will be a lasting legacy. I welcome this initiative.
Mr. McDowell Mr. McDowell
Mr. McDowell: I join others in welcoming the opportunity to speak on this Bill. The legislation is another milestone on a road we will reach the end of on 1 May next. That will be a very important date in the 21st century history of Europe. A line will finally be drawn under the post-Second World War arrangements of Europe.
It is remarkable to think back 12 or 13 years to when six of the ten countries which will accede next May did not even exist in their current form. The three Baltic states were very much in the iron embrace of the Soviet Union while Slovakia and the Czech Republic were locked in a loveless marriage. Slovenia was part of Tito's Yugoslavia. It is a small measure of the events in those countries in 13 years that they are now independent states which are willing to share their sovereignty with the rest of us in a new Europe. From that process flows opportunity and diversity, but also some tensions and problems which we would do well to acknowledge.
Some of these countries have a concern about security which is foreign to us. They have priorities, therefore, which we will not necessarily share. Countries which border Russia, not least of which are the Baltic states, are motivated at least as much by a desire to be protected from that neighbour as they are by economic development and the creation of a new Europe. The latter motives were behind the accessions of member states in the past. The accession countries may push for a form of security policy in Europe which we will not necessarily support. Many of these countries have a grá for the United States of America which is not shared by everybody in old Europe. That was reflected in the fact that Hungary and Romania were willing to provide military and logistical assistance to the USA during its Iraqi adventure. That was a mistake and something I am unwilling to support.
These different priorities will lead to a heightening over the next few years of a tension which has always existed to some extent within the EU. It is important that the structures of the EU are capable of accommodating those tensions. An awareness of the problem informed the thinking behind the creation of the draft constitution. I am not enthusiastic about unpicking the Nice treaty, the complex negotiations on which I do not think the Minister of State was involved with. The triple mechanism decision-making structure which was agreed is a complex one few European citizens understand. Nonetheless, it reflects a fair way of progressing and strikes a balance between old and new, large and small. It would be a pity if, in trying to create a new constitution, which was meant to simplify matters, we ended up un-picking the Nice treaty in a fashion that caused unnecessary tension within the EU. In that context, we have already heard arguments that Hungary wants to have parity with Belgium on decision making and so on and Poland wants parity with Spain.
Perhaps it is too late, but we should hesitate before going further down the road of un-picking the Nice treaty and getting involved in unseemly brawls, which will cause tensions. If that happens, perhaps we should accept that the Nice treaty was not so bad after all and, as it took us so long to agree it, sign off on it. After all, we were originally told the purpose of the constitution was largely to consolidate what had gone before.
I support much of what has been added, such as the efforts to create a more coherent articulation of the foreign and security policy and the incorporation of fundamental human rights. However, if these issues have a destabilising effect and we form the view that referenda are unlikely to be carried, it may not be too late to think about where we are going and critically evaluate whether we have a reasonable prospect of getting there.
One of the awful issues that crops up from time to time and becomes totemic in a manner in which it should not be allowed to is the issue of God. I had assumed this was a case of the Vatican throwing shapes and a few predominantly Catholic countries stating that reference to God would not be such a bad thing. Will the Minister of State clarify press reports that Ireland is involved with some of the predominantly Catholic countries that are attempting to secure a reference to our common Christian values or to God? It would be a pity to involve ourselves in such a potentially divisive argument. There are different traditions in different European countries and we have had a flavour of both traditions.
Typically, the Protestant countries of northern Europe still have established religions with a close relationship with the state and a place in law, something with which I would be uncomfortable. On the other hand, many of the Catholic countries of southern Europe, principally France and Spain, have clear divisions between church and state, sometimes even established by law. There are also countries in between such as Italy and Ireland where there tends to be an overlap, but not one which is explicitly stated or spelled out.
There is serious merit in the French mode. What belongs to God should be left to God, what belongs to the state should be left to the state and we should draw a line between the two. However, we must be conscious of the increasing Islamic minority in many European states. For example, there are about 5 million Muslims in France. Given the state of relations between the Christian and Islamic worlds, it would be reckless to create anything which would lead to tension between those living within the borders of the EU and we should leave it out.
One of the issues which immediately arises for Ireland is that of workers from EU accession states working here. I broadly support the approach the Government has taken on this issue. It was correct to allow workers from those states to work here from 1 May. The Government has also entered a reservation that it will keep a close eye on the labour market and may change its view, although it will find it difficult to do so. However, what are the implications for workers who originate in the accession states and are already here? The courts have already handed down deportation orders, for example, a Czech Romany, was recently deported. It seems sensible to stop this now because such people will be entitled to be here from 1 May next year. The legal authorities should take a pragmatic view, rather than pursuing people who are technically illegal immigrants given that, in a matter of months, they will be entitled to be here. Will the Minister of State elaborate on the Government's position?
Much of our discussion has centred on how Ireland fits in to this new Europe and it is proper we should have such a discussion. I do not entirely agree with Senator Mooney's point that we necessarily have an empathy with and similar interests to the small countries which are joining. Rather, we may find ourselves in competition with some of the accession countries. I am one of the few Oireachtas Members who argues that it is in our interest to seek to co-ordinate taxation rates, particularly corporation tax rates, because we will quickly find ourselves in competition with, for example, the Baltic states, for foreign direct investment. Therefore, our interests are not the same, although our experiences and histories are similar. We have powerful neighbours, with whom we have had a sometimes uncomfortable relationship and we have come from a position of relative poverty. However, that is behind us and we will find ourselves competing with such countries.
We cannot ignore the experience of Germany and the Czech Republic, where a large number of business concerns have relocated from the former to the latter. We must work hard to retain multinationals from the US and outside the EU and persuade them to stay rather than go to Eastern European countries which have an under-employed and, in the case of one, a well-trained labour force. One of the factors behind our boom in the 1990s was that we had a well-trained, English-speaking labour force. However, multinationals locating here are now finding it more difficult to get the workers they need because we are close to full employment and they will see advantages in moving to eastern Europe. We will have to sharpen our act in order to compete successfully with some of the smaller countries.
In his contribution, the Minister of State mentioned that we are in the process of establishing diplomatic representation in the accession states. I understand we already have full ambassadorial representation in about six or seven of them. It was always intended that we would have embassies in all ten by the time accession came about. Will the Minister of State tell us how we stand in regard to those that remain?
 A Senator referred to the issues of subsidiarity and scrutiny. Our work in the past six months represents a huge improvement on what went before and has been quite complex. Attempts were made to inveigle me on to the committee on which Senator Bradford has been persuaded to serve. It is one of my worst nightmares and, thankfully, I managed to avoid it. The committee, in farming out its work to other committees that deal with individual Departments, is doing fine work. However, most of the committees are not resourced to properly understand what the directives are about. Other than the brief summary which most get, if the minutes of the committees are scrutinised, one will find few of the directives have received scrutiny. In principle, we have a process which should open up to discussion directives which would not have been opened for dicusssion previously. However, in practice, this does not happen. This is because the committees are not appropriately resourced. They need people who are skilled at examining directives and can explain in layman's terms to committee members when something is of sufficient importance. They must also be independent of the interests of the Government. We should be slow to be self-congratulatory. We have the framework which as of now is working in a very patchy fashion and I suspect it is not working at all in many committees.
I want to refer to Cyprus. It is a pity negotiations between north and south Cyprus have effectively stalled. Many of us hoped the accession process would bring to bear the necessary pressure to bring about a modus vivendi between the two parts of Cyprus, and ideally end the illegal occupation of northern Cyprus by Turkey. We saw just a few months ago the obvious will of people on both sides of the artificial border to interact with each other when border crossings were opened for a time. The will of the people of Cyprus of both Greek and Turkish origin is clear. It is a pity the interests of several old men have been allowed to effectively place an immovable roadblock along the road to peaceful co-existence on the island. It would have been a great opportunity if the accession negotiations, or the carrot of accession, could have been used to bring about a lasting resolution of the issues. Perhaps when responding the Minister of State will indicate where things currently stand and whether they will remain hopelessly stalled this side of next May.
This is not the first time we have debated this issue and it will not be the last time. The great goal we will now reach is next May. It will be a historic and important day for Europe. I join other Senators in saying it is a source of great pride to us all that we will play our role in playing host to these countries on an important day in their history and ours.
Mr. Lydon Mr. Lydon
Mr. Lydon: If one opens a map of Europe and puts a finger down the middle, somewhere between the top of Norway and Malta, and half way between the Urals and the Twelve Pins, it will land in Prague, the centre of Europe. It is wonderful to see countries like the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic coming together into the European Union. Ireland was always on the periphery and I always imagined the centre of Europe to be in these regions rather than in Ireland or Britain. The re-integration of all these countries is a wonderful experiment and project. The journey is not yet finished because other countries are still to join the Union. Countries cannot just wander in, even if invited; they must meet certain criteria. Once the criteria are met they are helped along the way.
While this is a short Bill, it is one of the most important to have gone through the House for a long time. Countries such as the Czech Republic, the Slovak Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Poland and Slovenia have a resonance with the Second World War when their freedom was taken away and their democracies were crushed. Many of them had just come out from under imperial yokes. The emperors were gone but they became part of another empire, ostensibly a Soviet empire in most cases, apart from Cyprus. These countries have come out from under the yoke of Soviet imperialism, which is no different from “Imperial” imperialism, because people were not allowed the freedom they should have had and which, I hope, they will enjoy like every other country in the European Union.
I listened carefully to Senator McDowell who made some good points about how some of these countries have a different attitude from us to security, including membership of NATO and so on. I have visited some of these countries and have spoken to the people. It is only when one does this one realises the fear which still exists that a huge army will one day roll in over their country, which is why their fears about security are understandable.
Senator McDowell also referred to Cyprus. It is a pity the two parts of the island, which were almost ready to do so, did not come together. Forces outside the island appear to control events rather than forces inside.
There are a few trouble spots in Europe. One by one, these are being tackled and, one by one, peace is being established, including in our country and, I hope, other parts of the European Union. The idea that we will expand and get larger is a frightening concept to some people. I have no fears about this – I am a committed European. It is absolutely wonderful that the essence of accession is not that countries are being taken over but that they have applied for membership. They are freely joining the Union. This is the whole essence of the treaty. It is important to emphasise that there is no emperor ruling them. There is no huge force of arms taking them over. They are joining of their own free will by the democratic decision of their people, some through referendums. They are coming together in a way that is peaceful, harmonious and which will be for the good of all.
Naturally, there will be difficulties for some of them and difficulties for us when some of them arrive because we must give and take a little. However, we have taken for a long time and now we must give. In doing so we are helping to build a Union of peaceful co-existence right across the whole of Europe. There are some more countries still to join when they reach the acquis communautaire. This will happen in time.
I have heard expressions from people who are afraid we are moving too far too fast. I do not believe this to be the case. Once the criteria are met it cannot be too fast because it will mean people will live together rather than combat one another. It has been a long hard battle since the collapse of the Soviet Union. We must ensure these countries are not taken over by another regime. There are fears that there may be a Franco-German axis which will control matters. However, this will be obviated to some extent by the new constitution. Smaller countries will have rights, just as will the larger countries.
I welcome the Bill. I could speak on it for a long time but there is no need to do so. I do not think anyone will disagree with the Bill. It is another step along a great adventure, which I hope will ultimately lead to a Europe stretching from Norway to Cyprus and from the Urals to Connemara where people can live in peace and harmony and where they can go from one country to the other, where labour can be transferred and where eventually we will have a common defence and a common foreign policy. I believe that some time in the future we will have a common army. We will be able to do these things without fear or favour. We will be able to stand up and be counted which is what this is all about.
I approve of this short but very important Bill and I wish it a speedy passage.
Mr. Roche Mr. Roche
Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs (Mr. Roche): I am grateful to Senators for their extraordinarily comprehensive and very thoughtful presentations. I would like to take some time to respond to each of them.
Senator Bradford commenced by referring to the Commission report which was published yesterday and some negative aspects of it. The Senator was not being negative but asked me to comment on the commentary. An old joke was related to me recently about two students who came out of one of the business colleges in Dublin, both of whom were sent to an African nation to see whether they could open up trading relationships, particularly in the area of shoes. One of the two bright young students sent back a message to head office to say the people there did not know shoes and that there was no prospect of doing anything there. He returned to Ireland. The other said there were marvellous prospects there and he became the leader of an international trading house. The first became an economist working for one of the State broadcasting companies in Europe.
For some people, the reality is that the glass is always half empty and for others the glass is always half full. I saw the negative comment. Of the 1,400 significant issues examined, 39 had question marks. A sense of proportionality never goes astray. I understand, particularly in the broadcast media, bad news carries better than good news but occasionally they should reflect on the positive aspects. The Commission has said this is the best prepared enlargement while accepting there are still challenges. The personal views of the Commission which were put on the record yesterday are that there is nothing that is insurmountable. That is the most important message.
Senators McDowell, Ormonde and Quinn touched on the importance of communicating with Europe. I listened carefully to this House on the last occasion we discussed this matter. All Senators made the same point that we have to learn from the mistakes of the past. We have to learn how to communicate better with the citizens. It is not just about institutions or setting up a committee, although that is important as is the forum, one needs to engage with the public at a different level about Europe and to re-image Europe. I have taken on board the points made.
One of the initiatives to be taken in the Irish Presidency, which I have discussed with fellow Ministers in other member states, is to re-image and re-communicate Europe. There is a necessity to raise the people's image and to ensure political, public and media debate reflects what Europe is about. As a result of what I have heard here, in the other House and in the forum, there is a need to re-image Europe and to re-engage with the citizens not only in Ireland, but right across Europe. I mentioned this last week to my colleagues and again last night to my Dutch counterparts, all of whom are enthusiastic supporters. They all reached the view that we in Ireland have had more experience in communicating with the public through the referendum process, which I greatly support because as politicians we have had to deal with it. As Senators McDowell, Quinn and others said there is a need to elevate the level of debate and to re-examine how we deal with this complex issue. It will be one of the issues in the Irish Presidency.
Senator Bradford acknowledged also, as I did in my contribution, the extraordinary distances. I was struck by Senator McDowell's points about the different states and where the ten states were 12 years ago. An astonishing amount of history is happening before our eyes. We should stand back and savour the moment to understand what is happening. Both Senators acknowledged the tremendous transition that is being made. Senator Ormonde touched on the common fears emerging in the ten accession countries. She rightly pointed out that these are concerns which arose here, concerns about their culture, individuality, whether they would be swamped and whether they would lose out. All they have to do is look at Ireland.
I have always used the example of Irish culture. Some 30 years ago there was a genuine fear that our culture and individuality would be lost or destroyed or that we would lose our neutrality and our sovereignty. Are we any less in those areas now than then? I suggest not. The bogus complaints about our sovereignty have proven groundless. There were genuine fears about our sovereignty in the cultural field. Who would have imagined 30 years ago that Irish dance would have been one of the most interesting and enthralling experiences worldwide or that the Irish pub or Irish music would have been such an issue?
As always I enjoyed Senator Quinn's extraordinary and infectious enthusiasm. His enthusiasm is always exciting.
Mr. Ross Mr. Ross
Mr. Ross: The Minister of State does not get the hint.
Mr. Roche Mr. Roche
Mr. Roche: I was waiting for the Senator to come in and huff and puff about the Antarctic Treaty so I was stretching it out. Senator Quinn's infectious enthusiasm is always a joy to hear. His own life experience was intriguing, his travels as a young man from Cobh on a boat across to Brussels, to the World Fair, the installation of Pope John XXIII and the changes in France. All those things happened in such a short time. Senator Quinn, although moving to senior status, is not exactly Methuselah yet. The point he made about the Irish enthusiasm has always been based on economic good. It is a challenge. He is absolutely correct. Recently, I was terribly disappointed in Killarney when I picked up a mean-spirited and anti-Irish leaflet which said we have to halt it all now because we will lose the goodies. We gain so much more by being part of Europe. The Irish characters I know love to celebrate. It is a character that is enthusiastic, open and generous.
Senator Quinn is correct that we have failed to elevate the debate. That issue was touched on also by Senator McDowell. It is not all about gravy trains. It is about ideals, principles and a dream for Europe. As Senator Lydon said, it is about creating a common place of peace in a troubled world where people can be assured of peace and progress and would be allowed to go ahead in an area of solid democracy.
Senator Mooney referred to accession day and the celebrations and said we are good for a party. It has not been announced yet, but we will have a big party in Dublin on 1 May. I will probably get into trouble for saying this but I will say it anyway. We have already been in touch with various towns around the country with a view to having a celebration which will link into each of the ten new member states. We will have leaders of Governments here. It should not be about men in grey suits; it should be about people. The Irish Presidency should focus on the idea of a people's Europe. One good way to do that would be to have a good celebration here. We will have a party. The Senator mentioned also the question of using our embassies. They are being used in a good way.
In a characteristic thoughtful contribution, Senator McDowell pointed out the structures and the concerns that exist.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach An Leas-Chathaoirleach
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: I remind the Minister of State that we have to take all Stages and we are supposed to finish—
Mr. Roche Mr. Roche
Mr. Roche: Another issue Senator McDowell touched on was the important issue of Cyprus. There is a concern within the Union and a regret that a united Cyprus is not coming in. It was clear from yesterday's contribution that there is an expectation on the Turkish Government's part in this regard. The Irish Government has always made it clear, as have all parties in this and the other House, that we are anxious that the people of Cyprus see unity. He mentioned also the issue of embassies. We are represented in seven of the ten countries. We will have representation in the others, but not full embassy status yet as economic issues are intruding. I depend on the goodwill of the Minister for Foreign Affairs to assist me in the other three member states.
Question put and agreed to.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach An Leas-Chathaoirleach
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?
Ms Ormonde Ms Ormonde
Ms Ormonde: Now.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach An Leas-Chathaoirleach
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Is that agreed? Agreed.
Seanad Éireann 174 European Communities (Amendment) Bill 2003: Second Stage.