Dáil Éireann - Volume 481 - 16 October, 1997

Private Members' Business. - Amsterdam Treaty: Statements.

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Andrews): I welcome the opportunity to address Dáil Éireann on the subject of the Treaty of Amsterdam. I am sure that all Deputies will agree with me when I say that the opportunity of making and hearing statements about the treaty is one we all value. Such statements provide a most useful opportunity for informing the Dáil, and through it the wider public, of the content and significance of the treaty and thereby encouraging public debate on it.

This information process does not start and it will not end today. In briefing the Dáil on 10 July on the outcome of the Amsterdam European Council of 16 and 17 June, the Taoiseach and my predecessor in office made presentations on the content of the treaty. The previous Government had at all times kept the Oireachtas informed of progress in the Intergovernmental Conference which negotiated the treaty. The House is aware that a White Paper on the treaty is in preparation in my Department.

The treaty, signed by Foreign Ministers on 2 October in Amsterdam, is subject to national ratification procedures in all member states. Prior to ratification by Ireland, a constitutional referendum will be necessary. The Government has yet to take a decision on the exact date for holding a referendum. The Taoiseach last week in Dáil Éireann expressed the hope that the referendum would take place in March.

The Government attaches the highest importance to fulfilling its duty to explain the background and implications of the treaty. Its scope and complexity mean that basic information on its content is the very first requirement. The full title of the new treaty indicates the complexities we will have to unravel to make it understandable and comprehensible to the gnách duine. The title is “Treaty of Amsterdam amending the Treaty on European Union, the Treaties establishing the European Communities and certain related Acts”. The Treaty of Amsterdam is, therefore, a treaty amending the existing treaties including the Maastricht Treaty signed in 1992 and the treaties which established the European Coal and [1094] Steel Community, the European Economic Community and the European Atomic Energy Community over 40 years ago. The cumbersome full title reflects the fact that European integration is an incremental process, developing from Treaty to treaty.

The Treaty of Amsterdam was negotiated in an intergovernmental conference convened for this purpose in March 1996. The Intergovernmental Conference's work programme was a practical one. It involved revisiting two of the major innovations of the Maastricht Treaty, notably in the areas of the Common Foreign and Security Policy and Justice and Home Affairs and addressing two broad challenges which had been identified subsequently. The first of these challenges was that of bringing the European Union nearer to the people of Europe. The second was the prospect of the enlargement of the Union to the East and West. A complete revision of the Maastricht Treaty was considered neither opportune nor necessary.

In addressing the House on the Treaty of Amsterdam, I shall use five broad headings which were used throughout the Intergovernmental Conference: the Union as an area of freedom, security and justice; the Union and the citizen; the effective and coherent foreign policy; the union's institutions; and flexibility.

On an area of freedom, security and justice, in the Treaty of Amsterdam the reaffirmation of the principles on which the Union is founded — liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms — is accompanied by an explicit provision that only countries which respect these principles may apply to become members of the Union. Importantly, this is underpinned by a provision which allows for the suspension of certain rights of membership, ultimately including voting rights, if a member state is found guilty of a serious and continuing breach of those principles.

The treaty incorporates a new provision which would allow the Council acting unanimously to adopt measures to combat discrimination on the grounds of sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation. The provisions for ensuring respect for the principle of equality between men and women are strengthened.

The Treaty of Amsterdam provides for the progressive establishment of an area of freedom, security and justice. It does so through three interlinked sets of provisions. The first of these is the insertion in the treaty establishing the European Community of a new title or section on visas, asylum, immigration and other policies related to free movement of persons, such as external border control. The new title sets out a five year programme for the accomplishment of measures in these areas. Nearly all the issues it covers were dealt with on an intergovernmental basis under the Maastricht Treaty. Their communitarisation in the Treaty of Amsterdam involves enhanced roles for the Commission and the European [1095] Court of Justice in the matters covered. The possibility of qualified majority voting and a full co-decision role for the European Parliament after the five year period, are also major innovations. I shall set out the particular position of Ireland, which like the UK and Denmark is exempt from the provisions of Title IV at present.

The second of the three interlinked sets of measures in this field is the residual, but greatly strengthened third pillar containing provisions on police and judicial co-operation in criminal matters. This aims to provide citizens of the Union with a high level of safety within an area of freedom, security and justice by developing common action among the member states in the fields of police and judicial co-operation in criminal matters and by combating racism and xenophobia. Common action is envisaged to prevent and combat terrorism, trafficking in persons and offences against children, illicit drug trafficking and illicit arms trafficking, corruption and fraud. Closer co-operation between police forces and other competent authorities, such as customs authorities, is to occur in a variety of ways.

The revamping of the third pillar in the Treaty of Amsterdam extends to giving the Commission a shared right of initiative in all third pillar matters and to allowing member states, by means of a declaration, to accept a role for the European Court of Justice in this area. Ireland remains open to the possibility of making a declaration to this effect and will keep the option of doing so under continuing review.

The third of the three interlinked sets of measures relating to the progressive establishment of an area of freedom, security and justice is a Protocol integrating the Schengen acquis into the framework of the European Union. Thirteen member states of the Union — all except Ireland and the UK — as well as Norway and Iceland had already committed themselves, outside the framework of the EU Treaties, to operate provisions designed to make a reality of open frontiers by lifting border controls while at the same time cooperating closely on immigration matters. The incorporation of the Schengen arrangements into the treaty, by means of this Protocol, means that the Schengen acquis will become Union law as far as 13 member states are concerned. Thus the 13, and indirectly Norway and Iceland, will be able to avail of the institutions of the Union for their co-operation.

Regarding the Irish position with respect to the provisions on free movement of persons, the principle of free movement of persons, together with free movement of goods, services and capital, is a cornerstone of the Union's internal market. In recognition of this principle, the continental member states believe that controls at the borders between them should be abolished so that anyone lawfully within the Union may move from one member state to another without border checks. In the Schengen arrangements, 13 member [1096] states, with Norway and Iceland, have already gone a long way in this direction.

A similar long-standing area of free movement exists between Ireland and the UK. Ireland's first concern in this part of the negotiations was to protect the common travel area. The right to maintain this area has been explicitly accepted and confirmed by the Treaty of Amsterdam. The UK wishes to maintain the principle and practice of control checks on travel documents at ports of entry to Britain, other than from Ireland. While of necessity closely linked, Ireland's approach during the negotiations was distinct from that of the UK. We had no difficulty of principle about the communitarisation of this whole area and were concerned to play as full a part as possible, compatible with the common travel area, in developments at EU level in the field of justice and home affairs. Protecting the common travel area with the UK is important for us, since more than 70 per cent of travel originating in Ireland is to, or through, the UK. In these circumstances, freer travel between Ireland and continental member states would have made no sense if it meant the imposition of certain new controls on travel between Ireland and Britain. We are satisfied Ireland is not bound by any provisions that would cut across the common travel area.

A protocol to the treaty exempts Ireland and the UK from the provisions of the new Title IV on free movement of persons but allows them, on a case by case basis, to join in the adoption of measures or to accept measures retroactively. Ireland may terminate this arrangement at any time and accept to be fully bound by the terms of Title IV. Ireland also made a unilateral declaration annexed to the final Act of the treaty stating that, subject to its wish to maintain the common travel area, it will participate to the fullest extent in the future development of the Union in this area.

Similar considerations lie behind that part of the Schengen protocol which states that Ireland and the UK, which are not bound by the Schengen acquis, may at any time request to take part in some or all of its provisions. We are satisfied that the declaration setting out the procedure in the event of such a request by Ireland or the UK meets our concerns. Essentially, it provides that the Council must seek a Commission opinion before deciding by unanimity on such a request and that best efforts must then be made to accommodate Ireland or the UK. A related declaration states that, thereafter, best efforts will be make to make action under the Schengen acquis possible among all member states where Ireland and the UK have accepted some or all of the provisions of the Schengen acquis.

The Treaty of Amsterdam includes a protocol on asylum for nationals of member states of the European Union. It states that member states shall be regarded as constituting safe countries of origin for all legal and practical purposes in relation to asylum matters and goes on to identify the cases in which an asylum application from a [1097] national of a member state may be taken into consideration or declared admissible for processing by another member state.

It also states explicitly that the protocol respects the finality and objectives of the 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the status of refugees. A declaration annexed to the final Act confirms that the protocol does not prejudice the right of each member state to take the organisational measures it deems necessary to fulfil its obligations under the Geneva Convention. The Government is satisfied the new protocol is consistent with the obligations of member states under the convention and intends to take the organisational measures necessary to fulfil those obligations.

In the preparatory stages of the Intergovernmental Conference, the concept of a citizens' Europe was expanded. It came to embrace the idea of bringing the European institutions closer to the public and of greater transparency in Union affairs. The negotiations on the Treaty of Amsterdam tried to keep this very proper concern to the forefront. On this occasion, and to some extent in contrast with the Maastricht Treaty negotiations, the Intergovernmental Conference made considerable efforts to keep the public informed. This is attributable in no small measure to the Irish Presidency and to its exceptionally lucid and coherent first draft outline of the treaty, produced in December 1996.

The Treaty of Amsterdam clarifies the concept of citizenship of the Union. It stipulates explicitly that “citizenship of the Union shall complement and not replace national citizenship”. The Amsterdam Treaty also reinforces the existing rights of European citizens in their dealings with the institutions of the Union by including a new treaty provision which allows every citizen to write to any of the Union's institutions in any treaty language, including Irish, and have an answer in the same language.

The Amsterdam Treaty strengthens the European Parliament's powers and, other than in relation to EMU, limits to three the number of legislative procedures; assent, codecision with the Council and consultation. Obviously, the codecision procedure is the most important politically as it gives the Parliament maximum influence. Its scope is extended to a large range of new policy areas, ranging from employment and social policy to the collection of statistics and the protection of data. This codecision procedure will be made simpler and faster and the Parliament will be on a more equal footing with the Council. In addition, in future the nomination of the European Council as President of the Commission will require formal endorsement by Parliament. The Treaty of Amsterdam also contains a protocol which provides for the speedy forwarding of Commission consultation documents and legislative proposals to national Parliaments to assist them further in their role in shaping legislation.

Apart from the necessary strengthening of the democratic and participative nature of the Union, [1098] the treaty contains substantive provisions on a number of issues which are of direct concern to citizens of the Union. These include employment, social policy, the environment, public health, consumer protection, and transparency. It was recognised that a high degree of public concern existed in these areas and that concerted action could augment efforts already being made at national level.

With regard to employment, the treaty establishes the objective of a high level of employment to be taken into account in all other Community policies. It provides for the setting of employment guidelines and for Community incentive measures such as studies, sharing of experience and establishment of best practice among the member states. In the field of social policy, there are strengthened provisions for equality between men and women, and provision for incentive measures such as studies and pilot projects in the area of social exclusion. This latter provision was adopted on foot of a proposal from Ireland which had made action on social exclusion a priority during the treaty negotiations.

In this context the Government welcomes the fact that the new provisions on social policy mean the social protocol is now fully incorporated into the treaty. It had been a major goal of Ireland's approach in the negotiations to achieve this as there had been until now, given the non-participation of the UK, the potential to create two different social regimes within the Community. I do not propose to go through each of the provisions in these and the other substantive areas concerning the Union and the citizen exhaustively today. The White Paper will give a more detailed account of these. However, taken as a whole, they represent a significant effort by the Union to enhance its relevance to the daily lives and concerns of its citizens.

The Maastricht Treaty established the EU's Common Foreign and Security Policy at a time of profound and rapid change in the international scene in the period following the end of the Cold War. That treaty provided that the CFSP provisions would be reviewed at the 1996 Intergovernmental Conference in the light of the experience gained in the interim.

The years since Maastricht have demonstrated that, while the threat of East — West and global conflict has drastically receded, new challenges have emerged in international affairs, as intractable and complex conflicts in the Balkans and Africa demonstrated. In consequence, the essential aim of the review undertaken at the Intergovernmental Conference was to create a more coherent, effective and visible foreign and security policy which would reflect the importance of the EU on the international stage, maximise its contribution to international peace and security and respond to the concern of its citizens that the EU could and should make a greater contribution commensurate with its very considerable economic capacity.

[1099] The Amsterdam Treaty incorporates reforms which will equip the European Union to play a more effective role in international relations. The treaty reaffirms the objectives of the European Union's Common Foreign and Security Policy, and affirms explicitly that they are to be pursued, under the treaty, in conformity with the principles of the United Nations Charter. The European Union will, as in the Maastricht Treaty, work through the CFSP to strengthen the security of the Union and its member states and will seek to preserve peace and strengthen international security, in accordance with the fundamental principles of the UN and the OSCE. The treaty also affirms the commitment of the member states to enhancing and developing their mutual political solidarity.

I will outline the principal changes to the CFSP which have been brought about by the Amsterdam Treaty, and the reasoning behind these changes. One of the principal innovations is the provision for developing common strategies. The European Council may adopt by unanimous decision an approach to a specific wide-ranging issue, for example, the Middle East peace process or regional conflicts in Africa. Once a common strategy has been adopted by the European Council, subsequent decisions required for its implementation will be taken at foreign Minister level by qualified majority vote. Unanimity will continue to apply in respect of all other policy decisions on CFSP issues taken by the General Affairs Council. In addition, the Treaty of Amsterdam specifically provides that all decisions having defence implications will require unanimity.

The definition and scope of two existing policy instruments, joint actions and common positions, have been revised and refined. Where either a joint action or a common position is adopted in the context of an agreed common strategy it will be the subject of qualified majority voting. However, a joint action or a common position which reflects a policy decision on an issue which is not covered by a common strategy will continue to be adopted unanimously. This limited introduction of qualified majority voting, where the broad outlines of policy have already been established, will assist the Union, both in its present composition and following enlargement, to avoid the risk of paralysis in decision-making on foreign policy issues.

The introduction of qualified majority voting in the Treaty of Amsterdam has been accompanied by adequate safeguards to prevent a member state being outvoted on a sensitive foreign policy issue. A key provision allows any member state to oppose the adoption of a decision by qualified majority for “important and stated reasons of national policy”. This safeguard has been described as an emergency brake and, as that term suggests, is expected to be used only in exceptional circumstances .

[1100] In addition, there is provision for a procedure known as “constructive abstention” where, in a case where unanimity applies, a member state can opt to abstain while allowing other partners to proceed with a particular action, thereby introducing an element of flexibility into decision-making.

Arrangements for the Union's external representation have been modified. While the presidency continues to play a key role, the secretary general of the Council, acting as high representative for the CFSP, will assist the presidency in representing the Union and facilitate the work of the Council of Ministers by contributing to the formulation, preparation and implementation of policy decisions.

Effective and timely preparation of EU positions is crucial. To this end a policy planning and early warning unit, essentially a development and strengthening of the existing support structures which exist within the Council secretariat, will be created. This body will be asked to make assessments, undertake research and analysis and assist in the planning and formulation of policy. The unit will be subordinate to the Council of Ministers. The CFSP will be financed as a general rule from the EU budget, except for matters with defence or military implications or when the General Affairs Council unanimously decides otherwise. In cases where the General Affairs Council so decides, financing will normally come from member states according to the GNP scale of contributions. An inter-institutional agreement has been reached between the General Affairs Council, the Commission and the European Parliament to create a budget line specifically for expenditure of this nature. I wish to make it clear that member states who constructively abstain from any operation having defence or military implications will not be obliged to contribute financially to such an operation.

The revised provisions on security and defence reflect the realities that security is a broad concept which is of interest and concern to every member state and that the maintenance of security requires a range of approaches — political, civil, economic, diplomatic, humanitarian —some of which also entail a supportive military dimension.

It is important to recall that the foundations of the EU's role in the security and defence area, namely, its relationship with the Western European Union, were first laid down in the Maastricht Treaty. The outcome of Amsterdam on security and defence is realistic and takes account not only of the different defence situations and commitments of member states but also of the broader European and global security context which has presented new challenges particularly in the areas of conflict prevention, peacekeeping and crisis management.

The CFSP will encompass a new role for the European Union in the field of peacekeeping and the prevention and management of international crises and conflicts through the inclusion in the [1101] treaty of what have become known as the Petersberg Tasks. The Petersberg Tasks include humanitarian, rescue, peacekeeping and international crisis management activities which have been developed to meet the new problems which have arisen since the end of the Cold War.

The Petersberg Tasks have been included in the treaty on the basis that the implementation of these tasks will be a matter for the Western European Union at the instigation of the EU. This development gives a practical focus to the approach set out in the Maastricht Treaty, which provided that the Western European Union is an integral part of the development of the European Union and also that the EU could request it to elaborate and implement EU decisions and actions which have defence implications.

Participation in a Petersberg Task will be on a voluntary and case by case basis; there is no obligation on Ireland or any other partner to participate in a Petersberg Task should it not wish to do so. However, those EU member states which are not members of the Western European Union— the Western European Union Observers, namely Ireland, Austria, Finland, Sweden and Denmark — will be entitled to participate fully in Petersberg Tasks undertaken by the Western European Union at the EU's instigation, including participation on an equal footing in the Western European Union planning and decision-taking associated with such tasks.

This development accords fully with Ireland's interest, as a UN peacekeeper with over forty years' experience, in contributing to these tasks in a manner that is fully in keeping with our commitment to international peace and security, with our non membership of military alliances and also with our wish to play an active part in helping to ensure security in Europe and further afield, in co-operation with our EU partners.

While the new treaty gives the EU the right to avail of the Western European Union for Petersberg Tasks, it does not, however, provide for integration of the Western European Union into the EU, seen by many member states as the desirable institutional route by which the EU could arrive at a common defence. Instead, integration of the Western European Union is referred to as a possibility, made subject also to the unanimous decision of the European Council and the assent of each and every member state. Moreover, integration of the Western European Union into the EU, or any institutional arrangement which imposed a common defence commitment on the EU, would entail amendments to the Treaty of Amsterdam or a new treaty, and thus a further Intergovernmental Conference. However, unlike the Maastricht Treaty which provided for a review after five years, the review clause in the Amsterdam Treaty sets no date for a further Intergovernmental Conference.

The new treaty provides for the “progressive framing of a common defence policy”. This is a revision of the Maastricht Treaty provision which provided for the “eventual framing of a common [1102] defence policy”. There was no agreement at the Intergovernmental Conference on proposals by some of our partners to incorporate the objective of a common defence into the treaty, which would have had implications for those member states, including Ireland, which are militarily neutral. Instead, the treaty states that the framing of a common defence policy “might lead to a common defence”, essentially the same formulation as in the Maastricht Treaty. Under the Amsterdam Treaty, such an eventuality would also require a unanimous decision to that effect by the European Council, which would in turn need to be agreed to by each and every member state. These additional qualifications and safeguards did not feature in the Maastricht Treaty.

With regard to armaments, efforts were made by some partners to strengthen the basis for co-operation under the Rome and Maastricht Treaties. This is a sensitive issue for many states, including Ireland where it is very important. We do not produce arms and we have a strong commitment to restraint in arms transfers. The compromise which emerged amounts to a permissive, as distinct from mandatory, approach to the issue. The Amsterdam European Council conclusions, in response to an Irish initiative, singled out the importance of greater joint efforts in the area of arms export controls. I am, accordingly, encouraged to see that the British Government has set itself the task of elaborating a code of conduct on EU arms exports during its forthcoming presidency.

Certain key provisions of the Maastricht Treaty remain unchanged. The treaty acknowledges the “specific character of the security and defence policy of certain member states”. This reference takes account of Ireland's position as a neutral non-member of military alliances. It is accompanied by a reference which records that certain other states see their common defence realised in NATO, as distinct from the European Union.

The new treaty does not provide for the integration of the Western European Union into the EU, nor is EU/WEU integration stated anywhere in the treaty as an objective. The treaty, through an attached protocol, does provide for closer institutional relations and practical co-operation between the EU and the Western European Union, which is natural and indeed warranted in view of the inclusion of the Petersberg Tasks. It is important to remind ourselves of the nature of the Petersberg Tasks and not distort the situation. It is expected that the progressive framing of a common defence policy, as provided for in the Amsterdam Treaty, will concentrate on developing the EU's role in Petersberg Tasks.

The Western European Union remains, as it was under the Maastricht Treaty, “an integral part of the development of the Union”. The Western European Union also sees itself as a means of strengthening the European pillar of the Atlantic Alliance. This dual vocation of the Western European Union, which was reflected in a [1103] declaration by the Western European Union appended to the Maastricht Final Act, is reflected also in an updated Western European Union Declaration appended to the Final Act of Amsterdam. Of practical relevance in this connection is that, in view of the inclusion of the Petersberg Tasks, and the fact that the Western European Union does not possess significant military resources, the Western European Union will most probably call on NATO assets and resources, for example, airlift, communications and infrastructure, to facilitate implementation of such tasks. The Western European Union and NATO are currently developing arrangements to this end, in the framework of NATO's evolving role towards greater support for peacekeeping activities under the UN or OSCE. Our current participation in SFOR in Bosnia, which operates under a UN mandate, is very much in line with this broad approach which enables us to stay in the mainstream of international peacekeeping at a time when the UN is turning increasingly to regional peacekeeping solutions. I was witness to it firsthand and I would like to see the Defence Forces expand into these areas of regional conflict.

It is the Government's view that the Amsterdam Treaty will lead to the more effective and efficient functioning of the CFSP: limited movement towards qualified majority voting while providing adequate safeguards to prevent a member state being outvoted on sensitive foreign policy issues should ensure a balance between the ability of the Union to respond adequately and the need to safeguard the interests of individual member states; the outcome on security and defence has been highly satisfactory to Ireland. Ireland's policy of military neutrality is not affected; a decision whether or not to participate in a particular Petersberg Task remains a sovereign one for each member state.

There will no doubt be much focus in the months ahead on the security and defence provisions of the Amsterdam Treaty. All aspects of the treaty should be read, debated and understood, and when the time comes the people will make an informed decision on its ratification. In setting out the Government's views on these matters, I ask that these matters be discussed and debated in a fair and balanced manner, based on the facts.

I have already referred to some of the changes under the Treaty of Amsterdam in the role of the European Parliament. In this connection I would add that an eventual ceiling of 700 members was agreed for the Parliament, subject to ensuring that a minimum representation is guaranteed to smaller member states.

Within the Council itself, provision is made in the treaty for the extension of qualified majority voting to a limited number of new and existing treaty provisions and we welcome this.

The treaty also contains a “Protocol on the institutions with the prospect of enlargement of [1104] the European Union” which recognises the right of all member states to nominate a full member of the European Commission. This was one of Ireland's key negotiating objectives. We can also welcome the fact that, at the date of entry into force of the first enlargement, the larger member states will give up their second Commissioner, provided that, by that date, the weighting of the votes in the Council has been modified, whether by reweighting of the votes or by dual majority, in a manner acceptable to all member states. The provision for a later review of institutional arrangements does not prejudge any outcome with regard to the nomination by each member state of a full Commission member.

In summary, as my predecessor said in this House in July, from the Irish point of view the outcome of the Intergovernmental Conference in the area of institutional reform has been very satisfactory. In this area, Ireland shared the concern of other member states to preserve the broad balance within and between the European Union's institutions which has been essential to the success of the Union. In particular, Ireland attached priority to protecting the position of the European Commission and to maintaining the right to nominate a full member of the European Commission. We continue to believe it is central to the legitimacy and effectiveness of the Commission and of the Union's institutions as a whole that each member state is entitled to nominate a full member.

The treaty contains new provisions according to which enhanced co-operation may take place among a group of member states. Provisions are incorporated which are designed to ensure that such closer co-operation would preserve the cohesion of the Union and its institutions and would not exclude any member state which may wish to participate, either initially or subsequently. It makes clear that only participating member states shall decide upon, and bear the cost of, acts and decisions necessary for the implementation of closer co-operation, and that the European Parliament will be regularly informed of developments.

The application of such enhanced co-operation or flexibility would be confined to matters which are fully communitarised, such as the internal market which lies in Pillar 1, as well as to those questions, for example judicial and police co-operation, which lie in Pillar 3. As regards Pillar 1, and largely at Irish insistence, the Commission's sole right of initiative is fully preserved in relation to any use of flexibility.

I have highlighted the main features of the Treaty of Amsterdam with a view to illustrating its significance for Ireland and for the citizens of Europe more generally. It will be evident from my remarks that the Treaty of Amsterdam builds upon the achievements of earlier treaties and adds new strength in areas of most relevance to people's daily lives.

I acknowledge the role of the previous Government in concluding the treaty and in successfully [1105] protecting and advancing Ireland's interests during the course of its negotiation. The immense work done by Deputy Gay Mitchell and the leadership given by Deputy Spring as Minister for Foreign Affairs is deeply appreciated and has enhanced Ireland's name among the nations of the world.

I hope that the vast majority of Members will join the Government in next year's referendum in seeking support for the treaty as a further milestone in the development of Europe. There is a large programme of work ahead in the European context which will be facilitated by the Treaty of Amsterdam. It will be important that we in Ireland continue to demonstrate clearly and unambiguously our support for a strong and effective European Union.

Let me pay tribute to my predecessor in office, Mr. Ray Burke. He gave immense leadership in Opposition and in Government on the peace process and in other areas. I wish him happiness and peace, and extend that wish to his family.

Mr. G. Mitchell: I wish to give ten minutes of my time to Deputy Bernard Durkan.

First, I wish the Minister well in his new appointment. He has been in the Department of Foreign Affairs before, so it is not new to him, but he has my best wishes as he starts out in a Department where we will have to face very difficult tasks in terms of Europe, Northern Ireland and elsewhere throughout the world. I promise to be as constructive as I can in prosecuting the case on behalf of the Fine Gael part of the Opposition. I thank him for his kind words about my contribution to the Amsterdam Treaty and the Reflection Group. I also join him in wishing Ray Burke well and thank him for the courtesy he extended to me during his period as Minister for Foreign Affairs.

I would like what I say this morning to be read in the context of what I said in a similar debate here on 10 July. I will not go over that ground again. However, I will make a few points.

There are people who said when we joined the European Union, called the European Economic Community at the time, who said when we signed the Single European Act and the Maastricht Treaty, and who say again now that this is an attack on Irish neutrality. It is nothing of the kind. It is time we had a debate on Irish neutrality to establish the principles on which Irish neutrality is based so that we all understand them and they cannot be departed from surreptitiously. This is not something on which we have had a healthy debate. There is something wrong, something anti-intellectual about it when we cannot debate issues and understand the principles on which they are based. It is time we stopped the nonsense of pretending that it is not in our interest to join Partnership for Peace, and pretending that somehow we have something in common with Tajikistan, that we are somehow put in a more compromising position than Russia which has joined the Partnership for Peace, than the [1106] Baltic countries, than the countries in the Balkans and the neutral countries, including Switzerland, Austria and Finland. It is time we got ourselves off this petard on which we have been hoist. Let us stop saying, as we were saying in the White Paper, that we will examine the possibility of joining Partnership for Peace and open negotiations to join.

I attended a conference in recent days which was attended by people from Latvia, Finland, Austria and other countries talking about their relationship in the Partnership for Peace which is a bilateral agreement tailored to the needs of the participating countries. I was particularly struck by what a Norwegian delegate said. Norway is a member of NATO albeit a member that does not have nuclear missiles located on its soil, and it is next door to Sweden, a neutral country. Both have joined Partnership for Peace, and the Norwegian speaker made it clear that it has worked well for both countries. Discussions are taking place in Northern Ireland about future relations between North and South, east and west and internally. Britain has been a member of NATO since l949. Ireland is not a member. We should look at the relationship that has developed between Norway and Sweden and, in terms of North-South and east-west relations, consider membership of Partnership for Peace as a means of bringing us closer together in security co-operation without affecting Irish neutrality. It would be beneficial if, as part of the Partnership for Peace agreement, priority was given to co-operation on the interdiction of the importation of drugs.

It is time this matter was put on the agenda. We should open negotiations on Irish membership of Partnership for Peace. This would allow us to ensure our armed forces will be up to date on best peacekeeping methods and use our great experience in peacekeeping to the benefit of others. It is time this issue was dealt with, we are being far too sanctimonious about it.

On the drugs issue generally, I welcome the developments in Europol. I heard one MEP say this would involve us in police activity which would be detrimental to the security and safety of law-abiding citizens. That is nonsense. Criminals are operating internationally. The Garda Síochána and police forces throughout Europe should co-operate with each other to deal with these problems. Everybody knows where I stand on the issue of law and order. I do not care what the surnames or pet names of criminals are or where they are located. Out of a sense of public duty and as a father of four young children I want all these crooks behind bars. I strongly support the inclusion of a reference to co-operation between police forces throughout Europe in the treaty. Without breaking confidences, I pushed hardest for this at the Reflection Group, the Intergovernmental Conference, the co-ordinating committee which I chaired and at ministerial meetings.

[1107] The Reflection Group stated — this was accepted by the Intergovernmental Conference— that the Maastricht Treaty criteria on economic and monetary union should not be revisited. In the first half of the century two world wars started in Europe. In the second half what is now the European Union has helped to bring about prosperity through peace and stability. Approximately 190 million people, including 60 million Europeans, have lost their lives so far this century in world conflicts. With the formation of the European Coal and Steel Community, ECSC, in l951 the first steps were taken towards European integration. In integration different and differing traditions agree to coexist and co-operate in an atmosphere of mutual respect. Compare this with assimilation where one, usually the strongest tradition or culture, absorbs the rest.

The European Union has evolved from the ECSC which now has 15 member states. It may double in size in the next 20 years. Having created a single market of 370 million people, a market which will increase to almost 500 million people in time, why should the cost of currency exchange between member states or uncertainty about future exchange risk not be removed? To argue against the single currency in a Europe which is integrating is like suggesting Texas should have a different currency to Connecticut. Some say nobody has given a good explanation as to how currency unification would create jobs. It will assist in doing so by providing economic benefits such as the removal of exchange rate uncertainty and costs in trade, investment and tourism — the estimated transaction and hedging costs to business in the European Union amounts to more than US$16 billion per annum and I have reason to believe this is a conservative estimate; converging interest rates among participating member states, and deepening and enhancing the EU single market.

Economic and monetary union, EMU, is being accompanied by a stability pact to ensure continued budgetary discipline within participating states and an exchange rate mechanism, ERM II, for EU states outside EMU. This removes for those within EMU and restricts for those within ERM II the capacity for competitive devaluation. Why should a member state which has full access to the market of another have this competitive edge? The alternatives to EMU are not cost free. The so-called safety valve of devaluation may have employment consequences if removed but so would a disintegrating Europe which would almost certainly follow the abandonment of the EMU project. Devaluation is only a short-term solution to underlying problems of competitiveness which in the long term must be addressed.

Integration is primarily about building a stable and peaceful Europe so that prosperity, including employment, can thrive. It is also about ensuring an integrated Europe can organise to play an effective role in an increasingly regionalised [1108] world. Like all business decisions, it is a question of calculated risk. Given the clamour to join the European Union and the desire to meet the EMU qualification criteria by a majority of existing member states it is clear that most European leaders have made their calculations. Politicians are businessmen, their business is politics. Economists should and must be free to comment, criticise and advise but business decisions are best taken by those who know the business at hand.

Membership of the European Union has helped modernise Ireland into one of the most vibrant economies in Europe. This is an example the poorest central and eastern European states can follow. What is happening in Europe is exciting. An integrated continent from the west coast of Ireland to the Black Sea is emerging through a peaceful process. This takes time, we do not have a blank page on which to write a new constitution. Eurocrats and Eurospeak are part of the process but this is a small price to pay. We need to see the wood as well as the trees.

I welcome the provisions in the Treaty dealing with non-discrimination which the Minister mentioned. Before departing from the subject of economic and monetary union, I have to say I find it extraordinary to observe hard, left wing socialists or whatever they may call themselves in the same camp as the money traders who want to break EMU. They should ask themselves why they are in that camp.

The rainbow Coalition negotiated and signed the draft treaty and the former Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Ray Burke, signed the final treaty earlier this month. We in Fine Gael will strongly support its ratification and implementation. In respect of ratification there appears to be a sense in the media that balance requires that the approximate 90 per cent of Members of this House in favour must have their arguments balanced by the 10 per cent against it in every case.

I would like to put the case for a re-examination of the court decision in the McKenna case. Since the court decided that the State has to put both arguments is it not then incumbent on those with a public service tradition to ensure that the approximate 90 per cent support of this treaty gets its due weight, that the people hear those arguments, so that not every outrageous comment made receives equal attention.

Great challenges face us as we prepare for enlargement of the European Union. The Treaty of Amsterdam constitutes but one step in that preparation for further integration. Enlargement brings with it great opportunities, above all that for peace and stability to continue on this Continent, which did not happen in the first half of this century. Without that peace and stability we shall not have the prospect of prosperity and the great prosperity now being enjoyed within western Europe will be thrown away. The further integration of Europe, including the 11 applicant states and in time others, is as much in our interest as in theirs. It is not merely a question of being good neighbours or of being altruistic. Our [1109] own selfish interests are served by further integration. We do not want our children or grandchildren in the forthcoming century to become statistics, part of another 60 million Europeans who kill each other because of narrow concepts of nationalism. We want them to be integrated, to survive and prosper. For all its shortcomings, the Treaty of Amsterdam, coupled with economic and monetary union, constitutes a most important step along that road to further integration.

I strongly support its ratification and will be shoulder to shoulder with the Minister for Foreign Affairs when it comes up for ratification. I am delighted to have had this opportunity of contributing but it is a pity that serious debates of this kind, when the House is doing its duty, do not receive the coverage they deserve.

Mr. Durkan: I thank Deputy Gay Mitchell for affording me the opportunity to contribute to this important debate, to welcome the Treaty of Amsterdam and the discussions which must take place between now and the holding of the referendum. It would be my hope that it will be an informed, rational, well argued debate, important from the point of view of the European Union itself, our citizens and this House, the national Parliament of a member state with a major contribution to make not only in respect of our citizens but to the overall concept of an integrated and enlarged Europe.

I hope the Minister will ensure that, in the course of this debate, the information made available is as broad, well founded and as clear as possible because there is nothing as damaging to any debate, on one side or the other, as misinformation or badly founded information.

This debate is a continuation of tradition whereby the Government makes available to Members an updated progress report on Intergovernmental Conferences, particularly whenever milestones such as this one are reached. I suggest that the forthcoming referendum be held as early as possible in the new year but following reasonable debate, allowing adequate discussion without becoming bogged down in extraneous issues that may arise in the interim.

We also need to recognise and appreciate the importance of Europe so far as our citizens are concerned. The much vaunted Celtic Tiger did not happen accidentally or overnight but rather as a consequence of the important bearing Europe has had on our economy over past years. While we at present enjoy prosperity and are the envy of many of our European colleagues, it must be remembered we went through a considerable valley period. Within the forthcoming debate on enlargement, relating to the spending of Cohesion and Regional Funds in the future, we should not allow ourselves to be second-guessed or down-graded in the manner in which those future funds are likely to be expended on the basis that we have achieved the ultimate and no longer need such funds. We must emphasise to our European colleagues that we had to make [1110] considerable sacrifices when in that long, dark valley.

We have a huge contribution to make to Europe in the future. Our influence as a small nation is vital, along with all the other small nations who are constituent bodies of the European Union and others likely to join. Since we hear a certain amount of fear expressed here and in other member states of the European Union on enlargement, it is no harm to reflect momentarily on the subject. I have always believed that the enlargement of the Union would prove ultimately to be to the benefit of the concept of Europe and all its peoples. If we reflect on the reasons for the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community, the European Economic Community and the basic thinking behind their establishment — the elimination of war and strife among the European peoples — we must also accept that, in order to spread the benefit and develop that concept further, we must welcome the inevitable enlargement of the Union, decide how best we can contribute and how best those additional member states are likely to contribute.

Any increase in membership carries a corresponding increase in population, coupled with social and economic possibilities. We may have to make some small sacrifices for that enlargement but should not allow ourselves go overboard, bearing in mind what I have said about the sacrifices we made over very many years.

With the increased market prospects that enlargement of the European Community currently presents to us, given the standard of our education and our ability to penetrate world markets, we must also acknowledge that it opens up a whole new vista for us. Far from there being greater threats to our economy, it will open up new opportunities so that our entrepreneurs, Government and economy overall will benefit. It is important that we seize those opportunities, that we are not reticent, that we continue the trend begun in the past few years and become totally immersed, integrated and committed.

I might deal now with the single currency, the euro. Over the next year in particular, there will be the obvious vested interests moving on one side or the other of that argument. I am in favour of the introduction of the single currency and the operation of the euro as soon as possible. Nothing should be allowed to happen which would cause the postponement of the implementation date. Any attempt to postpone that date would put a question mark over the whole concept, and that would be a disaster.

I want to emphasise the enormous benefit likely to accrue to the business community here and in every other member state as a result of the penalties imposed by virtue of the interchanging of moneys at airports and ports, between businesses and so on.

Mr. Andrews: The exchange rates?

[1111] Mr. Durkan: And the exchange rates. The removal of impediments to the transaction of business, which in turn will reduce the overheads of the respective businesses, will be enormously beneficial to us in particular as we depend largely on our ever expanding export market.

Rumblings were heard in the not too distant past that the implementation date should be reconsidered or postponed or that changes should be made to the manner in which the start up system is implemented. I must emphasise the danger of any such proposal. Once an indication is given in any quarter of a wavering in the intentions of member state Governments there will be an automatic reaction which may jeopardise the implementation of the single currency.

Postponement of the implementation date by a year may result in a postponement for five years which in turn may have serious implications for the whole Union. That is not to say we should not have an informed debate on all the possible implications and obstacles. The lesson learned from the debate on the Maastricht Treaty was that we were a little complacent in the run up to that referendum with the result that there was a reaction from some members of the general public. Members of this House, and some people outside it, were subject to some criticism that sufficient information was not made available to the wider public. It must be said that some of the information made available to those opposing the referendum was not entirely well founded and caused serious questions to be raised. Regardless of the information we make available in an attempt to enhance the implementation of the Amsterdam Treaty, or future treaties, it is essential that such information is well founded. We must ensure that the dissemination of misinformation by somebody does not jeopardise what we are trying to achieve.

Europe has not reached its full strength. If it continues at its present rate of progression over the next 20 years, and provided it takes sufficient stock of the need to encompass within itself the needs of all its peoples, Europe will become the most powerful economic and political entity in the world. It recognised that possibility a little late in the day but we are now on the right course. I compliment the Minister for making this information available to the House. I wish him well in his ministry as I did his predecessor and the previous Government in this regard.

Mr. Andrews: I thank the Deputy.

Debate adjourned.