Treaty of Nice: It will Give the EU Peace and Stability

It is only a decade since we watched the fall of the Berlin Wall being broadcast live on our television screens. We watched in amazement as the people of Berlin literally took the wall apart, brick by brick, and reached across to relatives or friends who had been divided from them by an accident of history. All over Eastern Europe, dictatorship was toppled and the seeds of democracy were sown.

The Irish people are being asked on 7 June to play their part in bringing peace and stability to the countries of central and Eastern Europe, as well as Cyprus and Malta, by voting ‘Yes' to the Treaty of Nice.

The debate on the Treaty has been distorted by the ‘no' lobby which has focussed on issues which are not at all in the Treaty. The Treaty is unequivocally and emphatically about enlargement of the Union and the opportunities it holds for us all: it prepares the way for the most radical expansion in its membership with the accession of up to 12 new countries.

It is most definitely not about a European army nor NATO. It is not about the creation of a two-tier Europe or throwing away sovereignty to a European super State. Neither is it a conspiracy by multinational corporations nor a sinister plot to undermine family values, as some have claimed.

The need for the Treaty of Nice prior to the first enlargement was anticipated in the Protocol to the Treaty of Amsterdam. The people approved of the Treaty of Amsterdam in a referendum in 1998. The Green Party which now looks to it as having addressed the issue of enlargement campaigned against it at the time. The Treaty of Nice which they are now denouncing has been described by their Green colleague, Joschka Fischer, the German Foreign Minister, as a step forward for Europe. He represented Germany in the negotiations and has the generosity of spirit to acknowledge its merits even though Germany's share of votes on the Council of Ministers will drop from 11.49% to 8.41% after enlargement to 27 member States and their representation in the European Parliament will drop from 15.81% to 13.52% at the same time. It is broadly the same story for the other larger member States who are also giving up their second Commissioner from 2005.

Enhanced cooperation was introduced in the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1998. Ireland's participation in the euro is a form of enhanced cooperation and demonstrates the potential there is for Ireland in these sort of arrangements. The Treaty of Nice simply modifies the rules for enhanced cooperation. In the course of the negotiations in Nice last December, the Taoiseach and I secured safeguards to ensure that if 8 or more states wish to proceed with enhanced cooperation, the following restrictions apply: it can only be used as a last resort and cannot apply to the single market (which accounts for 80% of EU activity) and cannot proceed in the security and defence area. The most important criterion, of course, is that every member State has the right to participate in any such group. The ‘no' lobby has been whipping up fears about enhanced cooperation but has been unable to articulate exactly what it is we should be worried about. They ignore the fact that Ireland has always wanted to play a constructive role in the forefront of European developments and that, as is the case with the euro, we are more likely to be in the vanguard of any group which may emerge at a future date. It will not be possible, as has been claimed, to set up a ‘club within a club' since article 43 of the Treaty states clearly that any enhanced cooperation must respect "the single institutional framework of the Union".

Talk by the ‘no' lobby of giving up our neutrality is nothing short of nonsense. The procedure for the Irish Government providing any contingents for EU peace-keeping missions will be exactly the same procedure for making them available for UN peace-keeping operations. The people should have no cause for concern on that score.

The Treaty of Nice is fundamental to correcting the current two-tier Europe which we have inherited from two world wars and grants Europe the prospect of securing the peace and stability which eluded it through much of the last century. A vote against the Treaty would be disastrous for Europe and would leave the continent even more divided than the Green Party is on this issue.

In Ireland we export more that 85% of what we produce here. We benefit enormously, therefore, from the current internal market of 370 million consumers. Irish entrepreneurs are already making inroads in the emerging markets in central and Eastern Europe. With enlargement that market will jump to 500 million. We are a trading nation and the message for us is clear: new members mean new markets for Irish exports and more exports mean more jobs at home.

Many of the candidate countries for EU membership look to Ireland as a model of what they hope to achieve by joining the European Union. I am confident that on 7 June, the Irish people will decide to give them the same chance that we were given nearly three decades ago, by voting ‘Yes' to the Nice Treaty. We owe it to them but we also owe it to ourselves, given the tremendous opportunities enlargement holds for us. A ‘Yes' vote will be a vote for peace, stability and prosperity across the continent.

Brian Cowen T.D.

Minister for Foreign Affairs

This article appeared in the Sunday Business Post on 27 May 2001Top

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