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Speech to the National Forum on Europe, in Dublin Castle


I wish to thank the Chairperson of the Forum, Senator Maurice Hayes, and all the members of the National Forum on Europe, for providing me with this opportunity to discuss the Intergovernmental Conference with you here today.

Before I address the vital issues for Ireland and for the European Union that arise in the Intergovernmental Conference, let me say a few words on the work of the National Forum on Europe.

This Forum has proved itself a major success. Since it was established two years ago, you have provided a cross party and cross community space for debate on the key issues on the European Union agenda. You have examined enlargement, the Treaty of Nice, the future of Europe and the full range of European issues that impact so vitally on all of us in this country. You have handled the debate on these issues in a lucid and transparent manner.

It is a shame that European issues cannot always be dealt with in as lucid a manner. European issues come dressed in a cloak of jargon and shrouded in a mist of acronyms. This forum has avoided these faults and has explained Europe in clear and understandable language. For this, you have to be complimented.

Not only has the Forum spoken to the public in clear language, it has brought its activities to the people in a tangible way. You have travelled the length and breadth of Ireland giving everyone a chance to have their say on Europe. Nearly half of the Forums sixty-five meetings have been held outside Dublin. Twenty counties have hosted at least one Forum meeting. The Forum has held meetings in Irish in the Gaeltacht. These meetings together with the publication of its proceedings, the three reports of the Chair and the outreach to students and young people have been hugely influential in involving the public in the national debate on European issues.

And never has a clear debate on European issues been needed more. As we near the conclusion of the debate on a new Constitutional Treaty for Europe, we need, as a nation, to reflecton the issues involved and identify our core interests. Such reflection can only be built on the foundation of clear and reliable information. The Summary of the Draft ConstitutionalTreaty for the European Union, published by the Forum, is a sterling example of how a complex treaty can be communicated to the public. The publication provides a very useful overview of the draft Constitutional Treaty produced by the European Convention. It also provides a glossary of "eurojargon" terms designed to make the publication even more user friendly.

The Forum then has made Europe accessible for Irish people. Indeed, you can claim with some justification that this is the most extensive and sustained process of public outreach and debate that exists in any of the twenty-five member and accession countries of the European Union.

I congratulate you, Chairman and the members of the Forum.

All debates develop, and are founded upon, the points of view of the participants. It is important then, that all here, and the Irish people generally, have no doubts about the point of view that I, as Taoiseach, hold in relation to Europe. It is simply this. Irelands destiny, Irelands identity, Irelands prosperity, and indeed Irelands freedom are greatly enhanced by the existence of a free and prosperous Europe. The European Union is our firmest guarantee that Europe will remain both prosperous and peaceful. It is therefore, of vital national interest that the European Union continues to succeed. My Government and I will keep this vital national interest to the fore in the negotiations at the Intergovernmental Conference, as we have kept it to the fore in all our dealings with the European Union.

When one sees the destruction and instability that plagues large portions of our planet, when one sees the enormous suffering endured by the peoples of the Western Balkans in the last fifteen years or so, one realises that it is never safe to take peace and stability for granted. Europe has been built as a voluntary union of free states and peoples who have crafted painstaking compromises. Building Europe has never been easy. It will never be easy. It remains, however, essential.

While the National Forum on Europe has been working to inform people at home, the European Convention has been working in Europe and, as you know, has produced a draft Constitutional Treaty designed for Europes future.

The European Conventions work, too, has been marked by its openness and its accessibility.

It provided the European Union with a new way of doing business.It involved representatives from the European institutions and from national parliaments. It held its plenary meetings in public. It published its papers. And it worked to achieve consensus in areas where hitherto there had been none.

The Convention has now produced a draft Constitutional Treaty that is written in a simple, clear and legible style. I believe that the European Convention text reaffirms and underpins the essential building blocks of the European Union. In doing so, it will ensure that the Union, founded as it is on the principles of freedom, democracy and justice, continues to serve the needs of its peoples and Member States. What is more, the Convention has produced a text that will allow the ordinary citizen to know what the European Union is, what it stands for, who does what and why.

Since the IGC opened in Rome on 4 October, it has held three meetings so far. I have no doubt that it will build on the work of the Convention and produce a text that will maintain the attributes of simplicity, clarity and legibility.

I have no doubt, too, that it will produce a text that will add to the democratic legitimacy and transparency of the Union, while bringing it closer to the citizen. The foundations that the European Convention has laid will be built on by the IGC.

This session of the Forum, dedicated to the Intergovernmental Conference is both timely and welcome.

Over the coming months we will be involved in substantial debate on all issues at the IGC. Such a process will be very important. Indeed, detailed examination and understanding of the text of the draft Constitutional Treaty is crucial in a Union of states and peoples based on agreed Treaties.

But before we look at the particulars, let us look at the broad context in which this Intergovernmental Conference is being held.

The casual observer could be forgiven for believing that the European Union is addicted to Treaty change for its own sake. This perception is particularly acute amongst Irish observers, given that Ireland has held referendums on all of the major European treaties.

However, the perception does not reflect the reality. The needf or major Treaty change in the past decade and a half has been driven by two key factors.

The first factor is that the European Union is governed by the rule of law. The European Union can act only to the extent that the member states together are willing to confer powers and functions upon it. The European Union, by its very nature, requires detailed ground rules. This requirement reflects the need the Member States have for an effective Union, while ensuring that member states andi ndividuals have clear control over the scope of the powers and functions conferred on the Union.

The second factor that has underpinned the need for Treaty change has been the success of the European Union in tackling the challenges posed by an ever-changing world. This success has resulted in a willingness by the Member States and the peoples of the European Union to confer new tasks upon it. As a result, we have seen the creation of a single currency, the creation of new functions in the fields of Justice and Home Affairs and in the Common Foreign and Security Policy. All of these developments have required Treaty change.

The success of the Union has also created a demand for membership.

We, of course, were in the first wave of new members in 1973 and there have been three enlargements involving six Member States since. Next May will see the biggest enlargement to date with ten new member states joining the Union. This increased membership has, in turn, necessitated treaty change. Clearly the procedures and institutions which were designed for a Union of six, twelve or fifteen Member States, required and require reform, if it is to serve the needs of twenty five or more. These reforms in turn involve Treaty change.

Enlargement will bring opportunities but it will also bring challenges. The greatest challenge will be to ensure that the European Union continues to function successfully. Every previous enlargement has been good for the new Member States and the broader Union. We must ensure that this story is repeated in the coming years.

This is why all of the current and future member states decidedt o carry out a fundamental review of the entire body of the European Treaties and to set in place a single constitutional basis for the Unions work.

The European Convention allowed a broad consensus to emerge on a range of hitherto difficult issues. That consensus covered the legal personality of the Union; a simplified and understandable legislative framework; the definition of the roles of the Union and the member states; the incorporation of the Charter of Fundamental Rights into the draft Constitutional Treaty, without expanding the European Unions area of competence, and, the consolidation of the existing Treaties in a coherentway.

The draft Constitutional Treaty text that the European Convention produced is not perfect, but it is a very good basis fort he work of the IGC.

At the opening of the Intergovernmental Conference earlier this month we adopted the "Declaration of Rome". This Declaration eloquently describes the significance of the work of the European Convention.

In particular, the Declaration of Rome notes that the draft Constitutional Treaty that the European Convention produced,"represents a fundamental step in the process aimed at making Europe more cohesive, more transparent and democratic, more efficient and closer to its citizens, [and is] inspired by the willto promote universal values.".

In the months ahead we should keep these inspirational words in mind.

Indeed the values set out in the draft Constitutional Treaty area fundamental aspect of the Conventions output. The draft Constitutional Treaty has set out in a clear and accessible way the values on which the European Union is founded. These are values in which citizens of the Union can see themselves reflected. They are values that both underpin the work of the Union and inform its actions. They are the values on which the European Union has operated since its foundation. For the first time they are set out in an accessible way.

It is now time for the Intergovernmental Conference to build on and complete the good work achieved by the European Convention. It is, of course, for the IGC to make the final decisions.

At our meeting in Rome on 4 October and again on 16 October, the Heads of State or Government of the member and observer countries set out their broad negotiating stances and clarified positions. Ireland too set out its broad negotiating approach and expanded on its position.

Let me say, that in our approach to the Intergovernmental Conference, Ireland will respect the outcome of the European Convention. We do not wish to see that work unravelled.

At the same time, a number of areas require further work. This is especially so in the security and defence area. Here the detail of the security and defence proposals were not properly discussed by the Convention and further clarification is required by the Member States.

The Governments main objective in this area is to achieve an outcome that will enable the Union to play a greater role for good internationally, while respecting the values and traditions of the Member States. The ESDP has been built upon principles of openness, inclusivity and accountability to the Union as a whole. We have agreed that any new security and defence arrangements should bebased on these key principles, and I can tell you a large number of Member States share these concerns.

The proposals drawn up by the Convention do not change the present situation as regards common defence. Irelands position on this question is clear. While we have said that we would not stand in the way of others, Ireland cannot participate in EU common defence without the prior consent of the people in a referendum.

We have a limited number of other key concerns going into the IGC. We wish to see unanimity retained for all elements of taxation and for the criminal law aspects of justice and home affairs, both of which are areas of particular sensitivity.

We will also seek improvements in the text on a range of other issues where it is possible to do so. On institutional issues we are broadly satisfied with the Convention text but will remain open to new options if they garner consensus. On the Commission, the principle of guaranteed equality between Member States, which was achieved at Nice and was maintained by the Convention, remains the cornerstone of our approach.

The Government will support a reference to God or Europes Christian heritage in the preamble of the Constitutional Treaty should an agreed wording be possible.

We have strong allies in all our areas of concern. We will work with others to ensure positive outcomes. And we will keep in mind both what is good for Ireland and what is good for the European Union as a whole. The discussion in the IGC is likely to be intense and concentrated over the next two months. It is the ambition of the Italian Presidency to complete the IGC in December. We fully support them in this. We believe that if the IGC focuses on the main concerns of the member states, the negotiations can be completed within the proposed timeframe.

At the same time, each participant must be able to see its concerns reflected in the outcome of the IGC. This will be important for the Member States when they come to ratify the Constitutional Treaty that is likely to emerge.

A significant number of states has indicated that they may hold a referendum on the outcome of the IGC. Whatever the system of ratification, it is important that the Constitutional Treaty that emerges, serves to unite the Member States and the citizens across the European Union.

While fully supporting the Italian Presidency in its aim to complete the work of the IGC in December, we will be fully prepared, nonetheless, for the possibility that the IGC timetable may slip somewhat and that the IGC will spill into our Presidency.

For many, one of the most significant aspects of the work of the European Convention was that it was accessible. At our meeting in Rome on 4 October, I underlined the need for the IGC to have a communications strategy which would convey the issues at stake to the widest possible audience.

I hope that this debate will contribute to our collective and individual understanding of the crucial issues for Ireland and for Europe in this Intergovernmental Conference.

I hope that this debate will enable also a greater understanding of the developments that are likely to frame our European Union, and Irelands place within it, for many years to come.

At a national level, we are working to ensure that the issues are better known. The Minister for Foreign Affairs has produced a brief Explanatory Guide to the outcome of the European Convention. So far this month, there have been two debates in the Dáil devoted to the outcomes of the IGC and the European Council meeting. We welcome in particular the work of the Oireachtas Committee on European Affairs in this area. This Plenary Session today on the outcome of the Convention is another contribution.

Looking further ahead, we will use all available opportunities to keep people informed about developments at the IGC. I hope that everyone here at the Forum will inform him or her self fully about the issues. It is up to each of us here, whether we are democratically elected representatives or representatives of groups interested in Europe, to study the issues and separate belief from fact, fact from fiction.

There is a duty on each of us to encourage an informed debate on the draft Constitutional Treaty. In this context we need to recognise a number of key facts and principles:

First; this draft Constitutional Treaty doesnot fundamentally change the relationship between the Union and its member states. It certainly does not provide for the creation of a federal state at European level. What the text does is reflect the reality that the European Union is a unique Union of states and peoples;

Second; the document must be read in its entirety. It is simply not appropriate or honest to pick out some provision of the draft Constitutional Treaty and treat it in isolation from the Articles that are vitally linked to it, and

Third; it is the case that the great bulk of the draft Constitutional Treaty constitutes existing Union law.

From my own perspective, I see the IGC as providing a great opportunity for the European Union to demonstrate what it is, what it stands for, who does what and why.

I see the IGC building on the work of the European Convention and producing a Constitutional Treaty that will increase the democratic legitimacy and transparency of the Union and bring it closer to citizens.

I see the IGC producing a Constitutional Treaty that will be easy to read, because the simple, clear and legible style of the Convention text will be retained.

I see the IGC as accommodating all major concerns so that each member state can see itself reflected in the final text, so that each Government will be able to say that the outcome accommodates its key interests.

We are approaching this IGC in the same way that we approach all our interaction with the European Union - positively and with a view to finding solutions. Our successful experience of the past will inform our practice for the future.

I have every confidence that the outcome of the IGC will be positive for Ireland and for the European Union.

Thank you.