Speech by David
Byrne, European Commissioner for Health and Consumer
Protection : Europe - Looking back, moving forward -
European Movement -Ireland, Dublin, 25 May 2001
Let me first say what a pleasure it is
to be here this afternoon as your invited guest and
Firstly what I do want to do today is to
share some of my own thoughts with you as to what Europe
and the European Union are about. Of course no reflection
on Europe at the moment would be complete without
mentioning the Treaty of Nice, which I believe makes an
important step towards righting the wrongs of the past and
setting out a clear direction for the future.
So secondly I want to speak on the
Treaty. Finally I will try to show how I believe my own
Commissionership on health, consumer protection and food
safety, touches every one of us. And makes a connection
between the European idea and brings it down to a level
that effects each and every citizen of Europe in a very
real way, every day of our lives.
So first of all, we have to ask the
question - What is Europe? Is Europe simply a geographical
area - the tip of Eurasia as the French poet and
philosopher Paul Valéry described it? - Is it simply the
landmass between Malaga and Malmo, Moscow and my own dear
Monasterevan? To a geographer it is. But when Europe is
mentioned in other parts of todays world it conjures up a
different image, an image of the European Union.
But this in itself begs the question;
what is this European Union? Is it simply an institution?
Is it purely a formal assembly of 15 countries, working
together for a common goal? - Well yes in part it is.
Perhaps Europe is in the eye of the beholder. But whatever
your eye sees. However you describe Europe, whether you
take it to mean a geographical zone, an institutional
innovation, a historical construct or a legislative
process. I have always believed that above all the European
Union Is a Union of Peoples.
Perhaps at the dawn of this new century,
as the dark and violent shadows of the twentieth century
subside, it may be useful to recall the commitment to
building such a union of peoples, that motivated the
founding fathers of the Union, and in particular men such
Robert Schuman, Konrad Adenauer and Jean Monet.
For these men and their successors they
managed to do what many great leaders - from as far back as
the emperors of ancient Rome - had tried to do without
success, to lay the foundations of a united Europe.
Instead of old re-activism of uniting
national territories by force, we have a united Europe
whose peoples were invited to freely partake in the pursuit
of a common purpose and whose freedom was guaranteed by the
rule of law.
They did it, not by setting out to
conquer countries, to enslave people to their way of
thinking. Rather they set out to create a new form of
Union, a union of peoples whose diversity of cultures and
languages, whose individuality and multiplicity are
celebrated and nourished. In place of the old world of
territory and invasion - a new world of movement without
In times of peace it is easy to forget
that peace is a new concept for Europe, a continent that
has been ravaged by the atrocities of war since the dawn of
Earlier this month, on May 9
th, we celebrated the anniversary of Robert
Schumans historic declaration, putting to the Federal
Republic of Germany, and to the other European countries
who so wished, the idea of creating a Community of pacific
interests, doing so from amidst the rubble and despair of a
In doing so he extended a hand to
yesterdays enemies and erased the bitterness of war and
the burden of the past. In addition, he set in motion a
completely new process in international relations by
proposing to old nations to recover together, by exercising
jointly their sovereignty, the influence which each of them
was incapable of exercising alone.
In my view the construction of the
European project was the most significant undertaking of
th century, driven by the resolve to establish
between the peoples of Europe, the conditions for a lasting
As we look back over the fifty years of
progress towards European integration we can see just what
a success the European Union has been. Countries that were
once enemies, today share a common currency - the Euro -
and manage their economic and commercial interests within
the framework of joint institutions.
Neighbours, who fought for years in the
mud and rubble of global wars for an inch of land, now work
together and trade without frontiers. Peoples who for a
century tried to batter each other into submission, now
guarantee a continent wide rule of law within shared
These achievements have not occurred
simply because of great ideals that the founding fathers
aspired to, but because of the common values of democracy
and human rights shared by all the peoples of Europe that
have flourished in this historically unprecedented
It is imperative that this new time of
peace for the European Union should not and can not be
taken for granted. The tragic events of the past and the
conflicts which still today undermine the Balkans are
timely reminders that we still have much to achieve.
So where is the European Union of today
in all of this?
The present European Commission is
working hard to restore the integrity which has driven this
process. With a view to reviving the dream of peace and
prosperity of our predecessors.
We are currently seeking to enlarge the
Union to the east and south. This is an ambitious project.
One with some risks and some costs for sure. But one which
provides an unprecedented historical opportunity to restore
and reunite Europe to its peaceful and prosperous
If we do not take these risks, will our
370 million citizens thank us in a decade, or decades ahead
for consigning our near neighbours to fend for themselves?
Could we countenance the de facto erection of an economic
Iron Curtain, by effectively denying the opportunity to
those who are legitimately seeking a better way of doing
things, a better way of life for their citizens?
While we have enjoyed not only economic
prosperity in the last decades since our own entry into the
European Union, we in the Union have enjoyed other
freedoms. Freedoms of speech, of religious practice, of
political beliefs. Free movement of goods, services,
capital and peoples.
Yet our freedoms have flourished while
our fellow Europeans in Eastern Europes were held hostage.
As Arthur Miller described it "A theatre where no-one is
allowed to walk out and everyone is forced to
When I hear commentators speak of
allowing the former Eastern block to Enter the European
Union, I believe that they are being slightly misleading.
We should speak of allowing the current and indeed future
candidate countries to Re-enter Europe. To once more take
their place as proud, modern, independent and free nations
and peoples. Equals at the European table where decisions
Many signal the fall of the Berlin wall
as the end of the cold war, others the break up of the
former Soviet Union. But surely we can only truly say that
the cold war has been assigned to the pages of Europes
troubled history when all the nations of Europe stand side
by side as equals.
To once more re-light the lamps of
Europe that Edward Grey saw extinguished as far back as
1914. To put it simply - to complete the reunification of a
free democratic and prosperous Europe by peaceful
I firmly believe that we must now grasp
the opportunity of true reunification and press ahead with
a constructive enlargement project. To this end the Nice
treaty is giving Ireland a unique and privileged
opportunity to allow the Irish people to extend the hand of
friendship to the peoples of Eastern and Central Europe. To
bring them back within the fold of our shared future in a
greater, wider and deeper European Union.
As the only Member State of the current
European Union to hold a direct referendum of the people on
the issues of the Nice treaty, the people of Ireland are
speaking, not only for themselves, but also for all the
citizens of Europe. We have an opportunity to give voice to
the aspirations of so many who remained voiceless during
the dark decades of Soviet oppression. As a nation which
has relatively recently found its own true voice on the
world stage, we should perhaps more fully than others,
appreciate what this means.
Over the last number of weeks and months
I have listened to many commentators speak on the Nice
treaty. Again I fear that you may be worried as to the
competition from the European Union, as once more a treaty
sends large masses of the population into a state of
catatonia, something I hope not to do to you this evening.
But what exactly is the Nice treaty?
The current composition and operation of
the European institutions and bodies were agreed in the
1950s, when the Union only had six members. The Union has
since undergone four enlargements reaching its current size
of 15 member states.
Yet, apart from the introduction of
direct elections to the European Parliament in 1979, there
has been no major reform of the institutions since the
founding of the European Community. In all, 12 countries
are currently negotiating accession to the European Union:
Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary,
Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and
The Intergovernmental Conference, which
ended with the Treaty of Nice, had to provide an answer to
one crucial question.
How can Europe function effectively when
the number of Member States almost doubles?
The Nice treaty set about a house
keeping exercise to ensure the efficient and progressive
working of the European Union. It makes changes to the
composition of the European Parliament. It proposes an
alteration as to the future structure of the European
Commission as well as to the functioning of the European
Council and the European Judicial institutions.
It does not create a European Super
State. It does not create a European army. What it does do,
is make strives toward ensuring the peace and security of
all its citizens.
Europe seeks to be in a better position
to carry out its humanitarian and crisis management
responsibilities as part of the international communities
as set down by the Petersberg tasks. So that for example,
in line, with our values of peace making and the rule of
law we can put Gardai on the streets of Pristina to express
in concrete terms our commitment to peace.
In my view the question of neutrality
does not enter the equation when it comes to playing a role
in peacekeeping and reconstruction such as after the
terrible events in the Balkans over the past decade. As it
has never been questioned in other regions such as the
Lebanon and the Congo.
It can no longer be justified to have an
impotent Europe that has no capacity to provide
humanitarian assistance for a crisis on the European
Unions own doorstep.
I certainly hope that the Irish People
will endorse the continuance of Irelands proud and
valuable tradition in peacekeeping.
As part of my responsibilities for food
safety, I have visited many of the applicant countries over
the past year. A constant theme I have heard in these
countries is how much they admire what Ireland has achieved
thanks to its membership of the EU.
To be able to replicate Irelands
success is the dream of the countries that now ant to join
the EU. We are the model, the standard they want to attain.
They are looking to us to help them in the road to economic
and social success. The message that the Irish people will
be sending out on 7 June by voting yes will be seen as
endorsing the aspirations of those millions of people who
want to regain their place in the Europe we have
There has been much misinformation, put
about by those opposed to the EU, to the effect that the
Nice Treaty is not needed to allow enlargement to take
place. This is totally and utterly false. Without the
ratification of Nice there will be no enlargement.
It is important to recall that without
Nice we will have no measures to allow the new members to
vote in the Council, to elect members to the European
Parliament and to take their seats in the
Without Nice, the enlargement process
will be stalled and we will face a crisis in our relations
with the applicant countries. I feel confident that the
Irish people will not allow this to happen. But to pretend,
as some have, that the Nice treaty is irrelevant to
enlargement, can be considered dangerously
Another theme that has featured in the
debate on Nice has been the respective powers of large and
small nations. It has been claimed that Nice will reduce
the influence of smaller nations. Again this is a
misrepresentation of what is really happening.
Nice provides the necessary changes to
allow enlargement. As I mentioned earlier it sets out the
votes in the Council and Parliament that each country will
have after enlargement. Inevitably there have to be changes
in the existing distribution of representation. This is
not, though, to the exclusive benefit of the larger Member
As has been a constant feature of our
European model there are checks and balances to ensure that
there can be no undue dominance by any single or grouping
of Member States.
It is worth recalling that the larger
Member States are about to give up one of the two
Commissioners they currently have. Since its creation the
Commission has been composed of two representatives
nominated by each of the larger countries as against one by
the smaller ones.
Yet the Commission has been able to
exercise its responsibilities in such a way that it is seen
by all observers as the best safeguard of the interests of
Some commentators have made much out of
the fact that one day Ireland may not have a representative
in the Commission. That day is a long way off and much
water will go under the bridge before then.
What Nice provides is that the number of
Commissioners is reviewed when there are twenty seven
member states. Even on optimistic scenarios this is going
to take some time. Nevertheless it is clearly written into
the Nice treaty that if this happens then any rotation
system applies to all Member states equally. There are no
advantages given to the large over the small in that
In the Council of Ministers, the votes
attributed to each Member State have been realigned. Yet
Germany with over 20 times our population has only 4 times
Irelands number of votes.
Let me add that in arriving at a
qualified majority decision in the Council that there not
only must be at least 169 votes in favour of a proposal but
this 169 votes must represent 2/3rds of the Member States.
In addition it should represent at least 62% of the
population of the EU. By any standards this is a very
democratic way of arriving at decisions.
Let me add a personal reflection on how
the Council operates. For my sins I attend three different
Council of Ministers meetings-Agriculture, Public Health
and Inter Market.
This has given me a privileged insight
in to the workings of the Council. I have never seen any
issue been discussed and decided where there were clear
divides based on the size of Member States. It simply does
not work like this.
So the question of the large ganging up
on the small does not happen in practice and cannot happen
because of the unique way voting takes place in the
All in all Nice is a treaty which will
ensure that Ireland continues to play its full role in the
EU process and thereby enable us to reap further benefits
from our membership.
And of course there is the economic
story. When Taoiseach Jack Lynch brought Ireland into the
European Union in 1973 we had high unemployment, high
emigration, low wages and a weak economy. Our young people
were not assured a job when they left school. Few could
afford the costs of third level education and the boat to
England was the fate awaiting many of our brightest and
One need look no further than the Dublin
skyline dotted with cranes as a symbol of our new found
prosperity. You never know OConnell Street may yet be the
Ireland has benefited hugely from its
membership of the European Union, through its careful and
considered use of structural funds. Through its membership
of the Common Agricultural Policy. Through the opening up
of its economy to the wider market that the European Union
provided for its goods and services.
Yet no one would argue that Germany or
France has suffered as a result of joining forces with a
poor Ireland in 1973.
The benefits of the European Union are
not zero sum.
Enlargement will not remove or lessen
the benefits of Union membership to Ireland or any of the
other current members, but rather extend the collective
benefits of the European Union to all members, both old and
new. Ireland will remain a central player in a wider, more
stable and more prosperous Union. A Union more capable of
expressing peaceful values to its neighbouring regions and
embodying the values of its citizens on a world
I would like to take a few moments of
your time, to talk about the future. In particular the
reflection now taking place on the future structure of
decision making in the EU. The current buzz word in
Brussels speak is governance which can be roughly
described as how we take decisions, the consultation
process involved and at what level should those decisions
As the EU grows larger there is a crying
need to make the decision formulation process more open and
inclusive. It is also vital that we reach an understanding
on the type of decisions that are taken at EU level and
what decisions are best left for national and regional
governments to take. This means we need to reflect on what
type of EU structure we want for the future.
As the EU has grown and peace has been
the norm in Europe there is no longer the same idealistic
approach to the EU that existed in the past. It is becoming
harder to interest the general public across Europe in
Yet if we are to have a meaningful
debate on issues such as governance then we need to involve
the wider public in this debate now.
In the past Inter Governmental Treaties
were negotiated often without any real public input. This
In the run up to the next IGC we have to
start a process that allows widespread discussion on the
issues that may figure on the agenda. The members of this
Council will have a key role to play in fostering and
informing these debates. I hope you will give me the
opportunity to take part as well. I believe it is vital
that we bring our unique experience to this debate.
Nice is of paramount importance for one
final reason. It sets out the need for a major public
debate on the future of Europe. To renew a sense of
ownership about Europe by its citizens. To restore a Europe
based on the ideals and principles that were first laid
down by the founding fathers. This debate must actively
involve not just EU governments, but the Candidate
countries and all stakeholders, including regions, local
institutions and civil society. The debate must be shaped
around many of the issues I have already spoken to you
about; issues of diversity and common understandings;
difference and shared values; equity and fairness; identity
and interdependence; prosperity and solidarity.
The Irish peoples referendum on the
Nice Treaty is at the very heart of this pivotal
I said in the opening of my speech, that
my own role as Commissioner for Health, and Consumer
Protection is one that touches the citizens of Europe in a
very fundamental way, every day.
It addresses the concerns that European
citizens hold in their daily lives.
It brings the series of Treaties,
Directives and Regulations into peoples homes. Similar to
the way in which environmental considerations have become
standard reflexes of the body politic over the last twenty
years - so public health, and food safety issues are fast
becoming embedded in the consciousness of todays decision
The current Commission has constantly
placed the citizen at the core of its work. And as such I
suppose, in a way, that Food Safety has become a litmus
test for confidence in Europe and its institutions.
The White Paper on food safety, which I
launched in January 2000 had the aim of establishing an
efficient and credible food safety system at an EU level.
The proposals, which it contained, provide a proactive
basis for Europe to protect public health and promote best
practice in the food chain.
Final preparations for the new European
Food Authority are currently being made. This new body will
aim to restore and retain public confidence in the
scientific basis of EU Food Safety Policy. It will ensure
that European decision-makers are provided with independent
scientific advice and leading edge scientific risk
assessment. It will provide badly needed information to
citizens about food related threats to public health during
emergencies. The recent FMD crisis has once again brought
the need for such an authority closer to all of us.
In the area of Public Health, my new
Health Programme aims to provide information to
practitioners and citizens alike to allow them to develop
their understanding of health related issues and make
informed choices based up this information.
It intends to create a rapid reaction
capacity to deal with infectious diseases that are proving
an increasing threat in an increasingly mobile world. It
will bring together health workers across Europe who fight
daily against major health problems, by tackling issues
ranging form tobacco control to creating good mental
It will make sure that the health
concerns of citizens are placed at the top of the list when
legislation is being drafted at a European level. For now
our quality of life is almost as important as our quantity
This afternoon I hope I have given you
some of my views on how far we have come in the European
Project. How far we have come in terms of economic and
monetary union, where we stand on issues of solidarity and
of social inclusion, but more importantly how far we have
come together from seeing the Union as a union of states to
a union of peoples. But not only how far we have come but
how far we have yet to go to share this rich heritage with
our neighbours in Central and Eastern Europe.
I think that it is only fitting that I
leave you this evening with a passage from the Memoirs of
We cannot stop, when the whole world
around us in on the move. Have I said clearly enough that
the Community we have created is not an end in itself? It
is a process of change, continuing that process which in an
earlier period of history produced our national forms of
life. Like our provinces in the past, our nations today
must learn today to live together under common rules and
institutions freely arrived at. The sovereign nations of
the past can no longer solve the problems of the present;
they cannot ensure their own progress or control their own
future. And the Community itself is only a stage on the way
to the organised world of the future.
FOOD SAFETY |
DIRECTORATE GENERAL "HEALTH
& CONSUMER PROTECTION"