"The European Union is the most advanced form of voluntary integration between sovereign states in history. It is followed with great interest in the United States, as is the debate on the Lisbon Treaty.
The Lisbon Treaty embodies a unanimous agreement that emerged from over five years of intense public and private discussion between democratically elected representatives of twenty seven countries representing 500 million people. Unlike any previous European Treaty, most of the content of this Treaty was the subject of a consensus in a Convention, which consisted of opposition as well as Government Deputies from National parliaments, of M.E.P’s of all parties, and of all the democratically elected Governments of all the E.U. states.
The Lisbon Treaty is an agreement that can only come into effect if every one of those twenty seven countries later formally ratify what their elected representatives have thus agreed. The Irish people now have the full power to reject or accept the Lisbon Treaty, and if they reject it, it will not come into effect, even for the other twenty six states who may have ratified it. The Nice and other previous EU Treaties will remain in force, with their deficiencies unaddressed.
That is the way the European Union is established. Each country has a right to veto Treaty changes, and will continue if Lisbon is accepted to have that right on any Treaty changes that might be proposed in future.
The Lisbon Treaty also says explicitly, for the first time that a country has the right to leave the European Union, something that has always been so under international law, but which has not been formally stated in a European Treaty before. That right to leave is the ultimate expression of the continuing, individual, sovereignty of each of the twenty seven EU states, including Ireland. The states of the United States of America do not enjoy that right, as was discovered when South Carolina attempted to secede in 1861. It underlines the fact that the EU is a voluntary union of states.
Under the Lisbon Treaty, as under previous EU Treaties, individual member states also have the right to block any enlargement of the European Union to bring in further member states.
In many ways it is a truly remarkable achievement of democratic construction that we have been able to get all the existing members to agree at each stage to enlarge their Union from 6 to 9, from 9 to 10, from 10 to 15 , from 15 to 25, and most recently from 25 to 27 member states.
In so doing, the member states of the European Union have created the largest, and indeed the only, voluntary multinational democracy in human history.
It is voluntary Union because states are free to leave it, and because they all joined it originally without any compulsion.
It is multinational Union in that it encompasses twenty seven very different member states.
It is a democratic Union, in that EU laws must be approved by a Council of the twenty seven democratically elected Governments, but in almost every case, EU laws must also be agreed by an institution that is unique in global terms, the directly elected European Parliament. No other multinational institution has a directly elected Parliament working coequally with Governments and diplomats. None of the United Nations bodies, none of the other regional economic pacts like NAFTA, and indeed no other international institution is a democratic in the way the European Union is. None of them have a directly elect, multinational, parliament like the E.U.
And Ireland, and the Irish people, have had a direct hand in creating that unique achievement of international statesmanship – a voluntary, multinational democracy. Nothing like that existed in human history before this anywhere in the world. I tell Americans that the European Union is, in this sense, one of the great achievements of twentieth century political leadership, in which I am proud to say Irish people played a prominent part.
That said, why do we need a European Union anyway? Apart from the uniqueness of it creation and construction, what benefits does it confer?
These are not stupid questions. They are questions that it is only right to ask about any human institution from time to time. They are questions the answering of which requires us to look for the wood as well as the trees, to look for our enduring interests, as well as our tactical demands.
I believe we need the European Union now more than ever, because European states and their peoples have become so interdependent with one another that even the biggest state is too small to protect all its interests on its own .The lives and livelihoods of the citizens of European states are affected by what happens in other European states, and membership of the EU give their Government some influence on that.
Take the example of Ireland. Ireland is more dependent for jobs and prosperity on the goods and services it sells abroad, than is almost any country in the world. It is therefore in Ireland’s interest to be a full voting member of a democratic body like the EU that guarantees that our closest export markets will stay open to us, on a basis of free and undistorted competition and as of right , not as a favour granted by a powerful neighbour. Indeed that is one reason many other European countries, including much bigger countries, want to be full voting members of the European Union too.
There are other things that cross borders as well as exports. Money does. People do, and pollution does.
If we want the money, that Irish people and companies have recently invested in very large quantity in other parts of Europe, to be as safe as if it was invested in Ireland, we need a body like the European Union that can make rules that guarantee compliance with contracts, the enforcement of court judgements and respect for property everywhere in the EU.
Given that the worlds financial system is so inter linked, we need a body like the European Union that is big enough to act against cyber-criminals who might attack our bank accounts from the safety of another country.
One of the really important things about the European Union is that it guarantees that all EU citizens will have the right to live and work in any other EU state. Irish people know from history how valuable that right is.
But if people can cross borders, so too can criminals. So too can illegal drugs. So too can terrorists. So too can illegal arms.
That is why the Lisbon Treaty has been drafted to help the European Union to more rapidly develop rules to enable member states to work together against crime, by sharing intelligence, by sharing evidence, by apprehending accused persons, and by recognising penalties imposed by courts of other EU states. But this is a two way street. The EU is also developing rules to protect Irish people who might get in difficulty in other EU countries, perhaps while on holiday, by developing common EU rules on legal aid and on rights of accused persons which EU .
And The EU is doing all this by an open democratic lawmaking process, rather than by closed door diplomatic negotiations of the kind that are the rule in other international organisations working internationally on law enforcement.
The Lisbon Treaty, in particular, will enable the EU to be more effective in dealing with cross border crime and in protecting accused persons in other EU countries. This will be achieved by introducing majority voting in this area of work in place of the current rule which requires all 27 countries to agree before the EU can do anything. The problem of cross border crime, including the drugs menace that is now visible in every Irish county, is too urgent to await unanimity. I believe this change is one of the most important reasons we should pass the Lisbon Treaty. It will help make our streets safer.
Not only do money and people cross borders, pollution crosses borders too. As an island nation, climate change could affect Ireland dramatically. We cannot tackle it on our own. Europe cannot tackle it on its own either. We are too small, and the problem is too big. But together in the EU, the 27 EU states can wield sufficient diplomatic and trade muscle to ensure that all the countries of the world act together on this.
Being in the European Union changes the way a country can look at the world and at itself. One is no longer sitting on the stand at a game complaining about the players’ mistakes. One is on the field oneself, making the plays, winning sometimes, losing sometimes, but most importantly being part of the game at all times. Contrast Ireland’s position with the position of Switzerland or Norway. Because it is a member of the EU, Ireland does not have to implement EU rules without having a vote on them just to get access for Irish goods to EU markets, but non EU members like Norway and Switzerland have to do so.
Being in the EU changes the way a country looks at itself and at its neighbours. EU membership certainly changed Ireland’s relationship with Britain. The first official visit of a British Prime Minister to meet a Taoiseach in Ireland rather than in Britain did not take place until 1974, a year after Ireland and Britain had both become equal members of the EU. That was no coincidence. Common membership of the EU enabled the two countries to develop a more mature relationship. They both found they needed one another’s help in the wider arena
European Union membership has also helped take the drama out of other relationships between small countries and their bigger neighbours. It enabled them to reduce longstanding historical tensions and complexes, by putting them into proportion. The relationship between Netherlands and Germany has improved, as has the relationship between Hungary and its neighbours because of the common membership of the European Union.
These are reason why being in the European Union is good for Ireland.
But what about the Lisbon Treaty itself?
The Lisbon Treaty, as I have already said, will enable the EU to do a better job combating crime and protecting accused people.
It will enhance democracy in EU lawmaking by requiring that all future EU draft laws be first discussed in the 27 Parliaments of the member states, so they can give their opinion on whether the subject of the draft law is one that should be dealt with at EU level at all. This will happen before these draft laws go to the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers for the formal legislative process.
This change can have a dramatic effect. If the Dáil does its work, and if that work is properly reported in the media, it will mean that Irish people will be able to debate and understand the issues about which the EU is proposing to legislate much earlier and in a much more informed way than is now the case.
It will also mean that the EU will have better legislation, because it will be better informed of conditions in member states.
That provision on its own is, in my opinion, a sufficient reason for voting for the Lisbon Treaty. It is a dramatic improvement on the Nice and other existing Treaties, which otherwise be what we will be left with if Lisbon is voted down, and which do not contain effective guarantees of consultation with national Parliaments.
Another improvement that the Lisbon Treaty will make on Nice is that it will explicitly subject all EU lawmaking to a code of human rights. At the moment, member states are explicitly bound by such a code, but the EU is not. Lisbon will remedy that. It will be easier to appeal against EU laws on human rights grounds than it is now
Lisbon also makes provision for a possible, unanimous, decision to create a European public prosecutor to pursue cases in local courts where EU funds are being ripped off by fraudsters. In some localities, local law enforcement may be a bit lax, especially when it is EU, rather than local, money that is involved and there may even be local political interests in covering up or minimising what is going on. Ireland will soon become net contributor to EU funds. So it is in our interest to ensure that our money is protected.
The Lisbon Treaty will enable the European Commission to do its work, as the motor of the EU and guardian of its prerogatives and its funds, more efficiently. It will do this by limiting the Commission’s size, while giving all states, big and small, equal representation.
By any standard that is an exceptionally good deal for Ireland. For most of the EU’s history, big states had more representation on the Commission than smaller ones had, two Commissioners instead of one.
I had to fight very hard, in the Praesidium of the Convention, to ensure that equality of representation in the Commission for smaller states would be enshrined in the text the Convention produced. I am really glad that it has now survived into the final text of the Lisbon Treaty. I do not think we will do better deal in future by rejecting this deal, and throwing the whole issue of the composition of the Commission up into the air again. We could do much worse then. Big countries with a bigger population can, after all, make a case for more representation on credible grounds. Equality regardless of population is a real diplomatic success for a small country like Ireland.
Finally, the Lisbon Treaty will enable the EU to be more effective in foreign relations. The EU will get a ‘legal personality’ enabling it to conclude treaties. Its foreign relations will be put under unified management of one person. But foreign and defence policies will still have to be settled by unanimous agreement of all member states.
There is a lot of interest in the European Union in the United States. Americans see the EU as a new way of conducting international relations and of harnessing the power of economics to achieve the political goal of bringing diverse peoples closer together. Americans ask me why and how Ireland has done so well since it joined the EU. From a distance, they can see the big picture.
It is important that here in Ireland, we too see the big picture too when we cast our vote on the Lisbon Treaty."