25th October 2001
Aengus Ó Snodaigh
EU Forum discussions on Enlargement
Since the formation of the European Monetary System in 1979 and the Single European Act in 1987 the clear direction of EU development has been towards the creation of a giant state.
More and more democratic control has been taken away from us in relation to both domestic and international affairs. The EU Commission and the EU Council of Ministers have become more powerful. The Nice Treaty attempted to increase that power and remove yet more democratic control from the hands of elected representatives in this state.
The Nice Treaty was presented by its supporters as a Treaty of Enlargement. It was no such thing. In reality this Treaty was about changing very significantly the structure of the existing 15-member European Union. By introducing Qualified Majority Voting in a whole range of new areas, 30 in all, it was trying to move away from the right of veto of individual states and away from the requirement for unanimity based on consensus. Current EU plans would also see the automatic right of each state to nominate a Commissioner being removed, voting weight on the Council of Ministers would favour the larger states and our strength would be decreased. These changes were to be introduced regardless of enlargement.
Under Nice, `Enhanced co-operation' was the euphemism for the development of First-Class and Second-Class membership of the EU. It was about a core group of states being able to advance ahead of the rest, using the EU institutions to further their perceived common interests, including common foreign and security policy. This is a fundamental shift away from the idea of the EU as a partnership of equals.
Those who supported the Nice Treaty tried to present the NO to Nice vote as being against enlargement. This was totally incorrect.
Sinn Fein is not opposed to enlargement. However we are opposed to further centralising the EU, placing greater power in the hands of the larger states and allowing them to create a two-tier EU - something which would see applicant countries entering the EU as second class citizens. The rejection of the Nice Treaty by the people of this state can now be used to help to secure a better deal for applicant countries. We want applicant countries to join the EU on the same basis as we joined.
Among Sinn Fein's major concerns regarding the European Union is the lack of openness, transparency and democracy at all levels of decision making. The current situation is that most decisions are made by the Council of Ministers whereby votes are increasingly weighted on the basis of size, while on crucial issues such as treaties and taxation it still remains one country, one vote with a veto.
We do recognise that as we move towards an EU of 20 or 30 members that there are issues to be dealt regarding decision making. However, in terms of institutional reform, we are opposed to a reduction in national representation and any streamlining of the process that would exclude some countries at least some of the time or weaken their voice.
Regardless of size we believe that the EU should remain a partnership of equals with no state having less power or influence because of its size, and all proceeding together on the basis of agreement.
Another area that is critical is the lack of openness in terms of EU decision making. At present there is no transparency. The Council of Ministers and Commission meetings are treated like the Cabinet rather than Parliament. We believe that there is a strong argument for having their meetings and decision making in open forum.
Not only would this increase democracy it would also increase awareness of and interest in EU issues.
Enlargement and Economic Policy
As we have seen this week with Aer Lingus, the ideology of the EU Commission, especially in terms of competition, is overwhelmingly and dogmatically free-market (neo-liberal) in its focus. They are free marketeers Michael O'Leary style. So a rational pragmatic decision like saving Aer Lingus, as a vital and strategic element of an island economy, is relegated to the ideological demands of `competition policy' - no state intervention. EU commitment to a free market based on private sector competition is preventing pragmatic solutions to real problems, something which is putting at risk thousands of jobs both in Aer Lingus and in tourism in this country,
Given the transitional state of the economies in Eastern Europe the Commission needs to be more flexible in its approach. There should be an immediate end to its absolute opposition to state led enterprises so that state owned companies can respond to economic shocks by seeking investment from their shareholders. If Europe is going to guarantee a level of social protection higher that that in the USA then this has to be built in to the model of integration offered to applicant countries.
Indeed the dogmatic refusal of the Commission to countenance direct state aid to Aer Lingus - even after September 11 - should be a solitary lesson for applicant states.
Is it in their interests to join the EU on such terms? We don't believe so.
We must also recognise that there is very significant opposition to EU membership within applicant countries and those are views we also need to hear at this Forum.
To conclude, Sinn Fein's position is one of support for enlargement but it much on the basis of the EU as a partnership of equals and be based on openness, transparency and democracy.
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