European Union Reform Treaty

October 16th, 2007 - Pat Breen

EUROPEAN UNION REFORM TREATY

TUESDAY 16TH OCTOBER, 2007 – DAIL EIREANN

Deputy Pat Breen: I am delighted to have the opportunity to support the new EU reform treaty. Since the 1950s, the European Union has been governed by sets of rules and treaties, which have required amendment from time to time. Members will recall the Irish Presidency of 2004 secured agreement on the new constitutional treaty. Unfortunately, as other Members have noted, it was rejected by France and the Netherlands. This state of affairs continued until the German Presidency when Chancellor Angela Merkel secured agreement on a new EU reform treaty. I recall the many discussions and difficulties that arose in this regard, particularly with her Polish colleagues.

As a Fine Gael member of the Council of Europe, I am proud to be part of its European People’s Party group. The Council of Europe works to find solutions to issues such as human trafficking, terrorism, organised crime and corruption. As my colleagues have noted, Fine Gael supports the reform treaty but disagrees strongly with the Government’s decision to opt out of its policing and criminal law sections. Recently, Ireland has experienced a major resurgence in gangland crime, whose perpetrators have many links to Europe. The high number of recent gangland shootings demonstrates an out-of-control situation. This morning’s edition of the Irish Examiner reported that some criminals have hired hitmen from the Middle East to continue with their murdering expeditions and the only way to combat effectively cross-border crime is by increasing levels of co-operation at EU level.

Recent statistics have shown it takes Ireland six times longer than any other European country to surrender criminals on foot of European arrest warrants, EAWs. Fewer than half of the wanted suspects arrested by the Garda have been sent back to the states in which the crimes were committed. Criminal lawyers have suggested that this delay, combined with the low surrender figures, could result in Ireland being viewed as a safe haven for criminals on the run. The EAW scheme was set up to make the extradition of wanted criminals among member states more speedy and efficient and Ireland has been a member since 2001. Apart from Ireland, no European state takes longer than two months to surrender suspects who appeal their extradition under the EAW. However, it frequently takes longer than one year in Ireland. Moreover, figures from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform show that of the 169 suspects arrested under the EAW, only 81 were surrendered. In addition, European figures show that of the 60 warrants received in 2005, only 18 of the wanted suspects were arrested, of whom only seven were surrendered.

The Government has stated it will review its decision in this regard in three years’ time. There is no reason for Ireland to follow Britain automatically in the decision to opt out as Ireland should not separate itself from the European mainstream. The Minister of State with responsibility for European Affairs made the same point approximately one month ago when he supported all aspects of the EU reform treaty. Although he has performed a U-turn in this regard subsequently, that is nothing new for the Government.

Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs (Deputy Dick Roche): It is a pity the previous speaker thought to interpret what is in my mind. I thank all Members for their contributions on this highly important issue. The manner in which the reform treaty is handled will have an extremely important bearing on Ireland’s future position within the European Union. Ireland is perceived as a dynamic, progressive and forward-looking nation and the Government intends to preserve this perception. I agree with Deputy Coveney that our capacity within the European Union to win friends and partake in alliances has given us the great benefits we have enjoyed in the past. The great majority of Members rightly see Ireland’s future at the heart of Europe and this view has been expressed in many contributions.

Next year, the people will have the opportunity in a referendum to make a judgment on the treaty and the evolution of the European movement itself. As a small member state, Ireland has again the opportunity to take a decision that will have a fundamental and a positive impact on the European Union that has served Ireland and Europe well. There is a responsibility on Members as public representatives to conduct a well informed, productive and truthful debate and to ensure that the people see the issues as they are.

I was somewhat surprised by some comments alleging a lack of debate in this regard. Members had a good exchange of views on these issues on 27 June and significant exchanges also took place in July. I assure all Members that I will work closely with them on this issue because I believe it to be of fundamental importance to Ireland. As one who has been involved with this treaty since the time of the European Convention, I am pleased that many of the ideas teased out at it are on the verge of being endorsed by the 27 member states in the new reform treaty. I agree with Deputies Coveney and Rabbitte it is a great pity that it is not contained within a single coherent document that citizens of Europe could pick up and read. Its loss is a tragedy because that was one of the great efforts made by the convention. However, Members should bear in mind that most of the new treaty’s provisions spring directly from the convention’s work, as did those of the constitutional treaty. I am disappointed the latter was not endorsed as it came forward.

After 50 years of European integration and a series of historic enlargements, there can be no gainsaying that the present European Union of 27 member states needs a new basis on which to operate. The reform treaty will provide Europe with that basis, bring an end to the debate on institutional reform and help strengthen the democratic character of the Union. It aims to bring the Union closer to its citizens and the new voting arrangements will facilitate good decision making. The proposed posts of President of the European Council and High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, which is a mouthful, will give Europe a clearer voice in the world in order that we can work to achieve progress on those issues that are of particular importance to all.

The treaty is also to be welcomed by Ireland as there is no attempt to press changes in areas of special sensitivity, such as defence and taxation. Members will be aware that I have expressed strong views on the importance of securing Ireland’s reputation as a positive force within the Union in all areas in which it is growing. In particular, I underlined the need to differentiate ourselves by underlining our commitment to effective EU action in the areas of criminal law and police co-operation. I am satisfied the political declaration under discussion highlights Ireland’s intention to participate in Europe’s efforts to combat cross-border crime to the maximum possible extent, unless good legal reasons exist for not so doing. I am particularly pleased there is an unequivocal commitment to being involved in police co-operation. These are very important political signals to be sent to our European partners.

In addition, Ireland has committed itself unreservedly to the Charter of Fundamental Rights and has expressed no qualms regarding the judicial jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the field of justice and home affairs. I am somewhat mystified by arguments that were made regarding the role of the European Court of Justice. The Government has committed itself to reviewing the special arrangements that apply to Ireland in respect of justice and home affairs after only three years. This will enable the Government to make a considered judgment on the evolution of policy in this regard.

Another issue was raised and lest hares start running across fields, I wish to make a brief reference to EURATOM. The treaty is not completely ignorant on the issue of EURATOM, which is of course outside the-

Deputy Dick Roche: There is a specific Irish and Austrian protocol on this.

As to Europe’s future prospects, we clearly need a Union that can keep delivering for Europeans, including Irish people, as it has done so impressively over the past decade. The treaty provides the Union with the necessary tools to set about securing the gifts of peace and prosperity for future generations. The reform treaty is the latest stage in the development of the Union that has provided Ireland with a positive framework. The Irish people have always responded positively to Europe’s evolution and shown great commitment to Ireland’s European role. The reform treaty represents the next necessary step in Europe’s evolution. We will want to be part of this progression, which is completely in line with our own values and traditions. I am confident that our people will, when given the opportunity over the course of the next year, affirm their wholehearted commitment to a dynamic and progressive Union with Ireland at its heart.

I thank Members for their contributions. Any Member who wishes to discuss this issue will find my door open, because I believe that if we work together we can bring a good story to the Irish people. We did this in a unique way in the Convention on the Future of Europe. No other country had as wide a representation, in a political sense, as this one, and we gained immeasurably from that. I believe we can make progress in the area of the reform treaty in exactly the same way.