I am very pleased to be here at the launch of the European Public Information Centre. It is an impressive space and the thinking behind it is an impressive idea.
The provision of a welcoming, accessible space in the centre of Dublin is a great resource in itself. Its existence side-by-side with the EU public information centre is an added bonus, given the importance of conveying information about the Union to the public.
It is a clear demonstration of the effort of the EU institutions to reach out to the public and to open out to the community they serve.
We all know how important it is for information about the Union’s activities and the very real benefits we derive from them to be properly communicated.
These activities and benefits can sometimes be taken for granted or pass without due credit. It is a challenge for us all to ensure that the Union is given the credit it deserves.
I see this new information space as a natural extension of the European Commission’s policy of “going local” and I am sure that there will be a very healthy demand for its use.
I hope that the public will make full use of this facility. Those who do will see that the EU is not the secretive conspiracy that its opponents allege. They will see that it is very open and democratic.
They will see that the Lisbon Reform Treaty is far less dense and impenetrable than its critics suggest. Along with the information available from the Referendum Commission, from my Department’s website, www.reformtreaty.ie and other organisations, this centre will give our people every opportunity to understand the essence of this important treaty.
The European Commission is, of course, a vital EU institution. Ireland has always supported the policy of a strong, effective, balanced and impartial Commission.
We have always believed that such a Commission is particularly in the interests of small Member States.
This is very much how we see the Commission developing under the Lisbon Treaty.
In the debate on the Treaty, much has been said about the size and role of the Commission in the future. Some of it is wildly inaccurate.
The facts are that each Member State will be treated exactly equally with regard to membership of the Commission. All Member States, large or small, will have a Commissioner for 10 out of every 15 years.
This is a real gain for the smaller states like Ireland.
Consider that until 2004, the largest states each had two Commissioners while the smaller states had one.
Under the Lisbon Treaty, from 2014, the Commission will be reduced in size from 27 to 18. Agreement to reduce the size of the Commission was reached in the negotiations on the Nice Treaty. The Lisbon Treaty gives effect to what was agreed at Nice.
The aim is to ensure that there will be meaningful jobs for all Commissioners. This will create a leaner, more effective Commission.
A strong, impartial Commission has always been to the benefit of the smaller Member States. It ensures respect for the rules by all, large and small.
Small countries in particular benefit from the existence of these rules and an effective referee. It ensures a balanced and ordered playing field.
Ireland only has to think of the export opportunities we have seized in the Single Market, which is policed by the European Commission, to see how we stand to benefit.
The idea that Ireland will find ourselves isolated and without influence in Brussels is without foundation. In addition to equal access to the Commission, we will continue to have equal access to the Council of Ministers.
Also, the full-scale engagement of Irish officials in the legislative process will continue.
Just about every government department has a presence in the Irish Representation in Brussels. Their officials influence and monitor every detail of legislation as it moves toward political level decision-making in the Council of Ministers.
I know that sometimes this vital work is not visible to the general public. But it goes on everyday and often at night – it is not a nine-to-five job.
Ireland will do what we have always successfully done. We will engage with full strength at political and official level. What is vital is that we have an effective system in which to participate and with which to engage. The Lisbon Treaty will create just that.
More generally, some opponents of the Treaty are alleging that, in highlighting the benefits of the Union to Ireland, supporters of the Treaty are looking backwards.
That we are living in the past.
That we are relying on old arguments.
I don’t agree.
First, I would say that these benefits are very much of the present. We are living with and enjoying these benefits - and without them we would not be able to build the prosperous future we want.
Second, I would say that past performance is a good indicator of future performance. The Union has served our national interests very well since we joined in 1973.
And there is nothing in the Treaty to hinder us or to obstruct our course.
To those who argue that we are living in the past or that we are relying on old arguments I would remind ourselves of this.
These same groups are repeating their arguments of the past. They put forward arguments that would never have allowed us to join the Union in the first place.
In their new manifestation as champions of Ireland’s corporation tax system they also claim to be pro-EU – although they refuse to acknowledge that they were wrong when they opposed our Accession Treaty, the Single European Act, the Maastricht Treaty, the Amsterdam Treaty and the Nice Treaty (twice).
However, I am not going to dwell here on the opposition. In addition to acknowledging the benefits membership of the Union has brought us over the past three-and-a-half decades, I wish to mention specific positive aspects of the Treaty.
The Treaty will make the EU more democratic
The Treaty respects vital Irish national interests
The Treaty allows the Union to act more effectively on the international scene.
The Treaty provides for equal treatment of member states
I plan to elaborate on these and other themes as the debate on the Treaty gathers pace in the coming weeks.
There is every reason for the Irish public to support the Treaty. I and my colleagues in Government will be putting the case with full vigour.