4th September 2002
Nice Treaty Dáil Debate
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD
"Democracy in this State has been undermined by the conduct of the Government and the EU will be made even less democratic if the Treaty of Nice is ratified"
This Government has been in office for just over three months and already it has earned a well-deserved reputation as a Government of Broken Promises and Broken Mandates. They have deceived the people in the General Election with promises they knew they would not keep. They have spurned the decision of the people in the Nice Referendum Mark 1 and now they are presenting us with Nice Referendum Mark 2.
This government has as little regard for the referendum mandate of the people on 7 June 2001 as they have for their election mandate on 17 May 2002.
Democracy is the key and critical issue in this debate. The very publication of this Bill and the holding of the referendum is a denial of democracy. Democracy in this State has been undermined by the conduct of the Government and the EU will be made even less democratic if the Treaty of Nice is ratified.
There is no precedent in the history of this State for what the Government has done with regard to the Treaty of Nice. For the first time a proposal to amend the Constitution to facilitate an EU Treaty was rejected by the electorate on 7 June 2001. And for the first time a government chose not only not to implement the decision of the electorate in a referendum but to openly defy it.
The polls were hardly closed in June 2001 when the Taoiseach flew to the EU Summit in Gothenburg and told the other EU Heads of Government that they could proceed with ratification of the Treaty. The Irish electorate had mandated the Government to seek a renegotiation of Nice but the people's mandate was spurned. Instead the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs belittled the people of this State and themselves by promising the other EU states to put the Treaty to a second referendum and to 'get it right' on their second attempt.
Thus only a week after our referendum, and thanks to the Government's cap-in-hand attitude, the German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder was saying: "The Irish people will have to decide in a new referendum."
The Government threw away the political leverage and the potential bargaining power given to them by the vote of the people. That would have been critical in renegotiating a better Treaty which addressed the concerns that led people to vote against Nice. By now, over a year later, such a new or amended Treaty might have been in place had the Government acted according to their mandate from the people.
Those of us opposed to Nice have been accused of damaging respect for Ireland internationally. But only those with self-respect earn the respect of others. The government displayed to all of Europe a lack of respect for its own people and surely that can only have diminished the international reputation of the Irish government and of this State.
I repeat a question I have asked many times but which has yet to be answered by any member of this Government or by any other prominent 'Yes' campaigner. If Germany, or France or Britain had voted down this Treaty in a referendum would their governments have acted as ours has done? Would there be any question of the Treaty of Nice proceeding through ratification by the other states while the government in the rejecting country went back to their people to try again? The answer to these questions is of course a resounding 'No' and the government and the rest of the 'Yes' side in this debate know it only too well.
They are unwilling to admit it because it goes to the core of why the Treaty of Nice should be rejected again. This referendum is about the political elite in this State allowing the big states to call the shots in the EU. Nice increases the power of the larger states, acting both individually and collectively in so-called 'enhanced co-operation'. It reduces the democratic power of the people in each state because it reduces the sovereignty of the nation-state. The smaller member states inevitably lose out.
The very holding of this referendum sends out the message that the people of the smaller states do not have the right to say 'No'. Under EU law the approval of each individual member state, regardless of population size, is required to ratify EU treaties. If one state dissents, then the Treaty cannot be ratified. This State dissented in the most definite and democratic manner possible - by vote of the people.
Ní hé an Stát an rialtas ná an tOireachtas ach an pobal. Deir Airteagal a Sé den mBunreacht gur ón bpobal a thagas "gach cumhacht riala, idir reachtaíocht is comhallacht is breithiúnas, agus is ag an bpobal atá sé de cheart rialtóirí an Stáit a cheapadh, agus is faoin bpobal faoi dheoidh atá gach ceist i dtaobh beartas an Náisiúin a shocrú de réir mar is gá chun leasa an phobail".
The State is not the Government nor the Oireachtas, it is the people. Article Six of the Constitution states that all powers of government, legislative, executive and judicial derive from the people "whose right it is to designate the rulers of the State and in final appeal, to decide all questions of national policy, according to the requirements of the common good".
The final appeal on the Treaty of Nice was the referendum held last year. The same Treaty should not be put before the electorate again.
Those on the pro-Nice side have attempted to refute this argument by saying that issues were put to referendum more than once in the past. But it is absurd to compare the repeat of this referendum with previous second or third referenda on such issues as divorce, abortion and proportional representation. In each of those cases years had elapsed since the previous referenda and they were matters of domestic policy which required detailed legislation to accompany constitutional change. There is one other essential difference. Referendum decisions of the people affecting purely domestic law or policy can be reversed or otherwise changed by the people in the future. But if the people ratify an EU Treaty it becomes EU law and they cannot change it or reverse it in the future. It would require all EU states to do so.
In the first Nice referendum the issue was straightforward - to ratify or not to ratify the Treaty. There was a clear course for the government to follow in the event of rejection and that was to inform our EU partners that we would not ratify the Treaty and that therefore it must be revisited and renegotiated.
The government has done otherwise and has thus devalued the referendum process. It is in effect telling the people that it will only implement the result of a referendum if the result concurs with government policy.
The Treaty of Nice is not about enlargement. It is not necessary that Nice be ratified for enlargement to proceed. And the Irish electorate did not vote against enlargement last year. The President of the EU Commission, Romano Prodi, stated in Dublin on 20 June 2001 that "legally, ratification of the Nice Treaty is not necessary for enlargement" and that "enlargement is possible without Nice". Giscard d'Estaing, Chair of the EU Constitutional Convention has said: "If the Irish vote No the solution will not be to ignore the vote but to handle the situation. Probably it requires taking what is needed from the Nice treaty to carry through the enlargement."
The Treaty of Nice is about changing the governance of the EU before any new states join. Those who claim that by voting No again we would be placing the applicant states at a great disadvantage seem to forget that the very purpose of Nice was to change the rules before enlargement. If the political elite in the EU and in this State were so concerned for the rights of the new member states why did they not proceed with enlargement and then, when the new states were in, proceed with a debate about the governance of the EU and with negotiations in which the new members could fully participate?
And we might also ask, if the other EU governments are so definite in their belief that all of Europe is waiting on Ireland and longing for Nice to be ratified then why have they not had referenda in their own states? The answer is obvious. They fear that the Irish example will be followed by their own people.
In a democracy the elected representatives of the people make laws and decide policies. If the people think they are doing a bad job they can turf them out at the next election. There is no such democratic process in the European Union because it is not a democracy. Laws are made by the unelected EU Commission and the Council of Ministers from each of the member states. The minimal input we have in terms of the Commission is set to be reduced under Nice as we will not have an Irish Commissioner in place at all times.
Instead of making the EU institutions more accountable to the citizens in each of the member states the Nice Treaty increases the power of these bodies. The power of individual member states, and of smaller member states in particular, is reduced, while more laws and policies can be imposed upon us by the EU without the scrutiny of our own parliament, let alone a vote on them.
Under the Nice Treaty the voting weight of each member state on the Council of Ministers is changed significantly. Small states like the Irish state double their voting weight but larger states like Germany and Britain treble their voting weight. In addition more decisions will be made by the Council of Ministers by Qualified Majority Voting. In other words the Irish government will not be able to block a decision by a majority of EU states and will have to implement that EU decision even if it is against the interests of the Irish people.
These changes will come about whether or not any new state joins the EU.
Crucially, the Nice Treaty creates a two-tier EU. Under Enhanced Co-operation it allows a group of states to move ahead of the remainder of member states, using the institutions to form an inner core or advance guard. This breaks up the EU as a partnership of equal states.
On 21 January this year the Financial Times reported that the British government was considering putting forward proposals to establish an EU body similar to the United Nations Security Council. This body would comprise Britain, France and Germany as the three dominant powers in the EU. On the same day the French and German EU Commissioners were putting forward the idea of a Franco-German confederation with a common army and a common diplomatic corps. These ideas may seem like pie in the sky but they give a clear indication of how the elite groups who run the affairs of the EU are thinking. And in the Nice Treaty under Enhanced Co-operation they have the potential to carry out such projects. It has been stated that neutrality is not as big an issue in this referendum. I believe it is more important than ever. Since Nice 1 we have seen the government further violating our neutrality by allowing US warplanes to use Shannon Airport on their way to fight their war in Afghanistan. We have seen them allow those planes to carry out exercises over our southwest coast. Today we note their presence once again as citizens are arrested at Shannon for protesting against a US Air Force Hercules plane. This is the reality behind the rhetoric about neutrality and the Seville declaration. Seville did not change one syllable in the Treaty of Nice. Denmark exercised its right to opt out of the Rapid Reaction Force, the core of an EU army, and we could and should have done the same thing. A Yes vote will consolidate our position in that Force.
The people ought not to trust a party which promised a referendum on membership of NATO's Partnership for Peace and, when in government, and with the support of the Fine Gael party, brought us into that force without a referendum.
There is an alternative to the direction in which Nice would take the EU. It is neither the break-up of the EU nor a futile attempt to create a giant EU democracy. Peace and democracy in Europe can be served by maximum co-operation between sovereign democracies, with respect for diversity within and between nations.
The alternative to Nice as advocated by Sinn Fein includes:
- The EU as a Partnership of Equal Sovereign States to be the basis for a new Treaty to replace Nice.
- Clear recognition of Irish neutrality in the new EU Treaty.
- Irish neutrality to be enshrined in the Irish Constitution.
- Withdrawal of the State from the EU Rapid Reaction Force and from NATO's 'Partnership for Peace'.
- Irish international policy to be based, as set out in the Constitution, on the peaceful resolution of international disputes.
- Independent Irish foreign policy which opposes military alliances such as NATO and works for disarmament and demilitarisation.
- Irish troops to train and serve abroad only as peacekeepers under the auspices of the United Nations.
- Retention of the right of each State to veto measures as currently laid down. No extension of qualified majority voting. Retention of the right of each State to nominate a Commissioner.
- All EU institutions to be more accountable to national parliaments and to the individual citizen through institutional reform and the elimination of excessive EU bureaucracy.
I want to turn briefly and finally to the issue of the EU and the Border. Since the time of Seán Lemass there have been claims that the European project would make the Border irrelevant. We know that was not and is not the case. There are those who argue that further EU integration will help to bring the two parts of Ireland together. Our view in Sinn Fein is that integration must begin at home. We cannot wait for the very doubtful project of EU integration to create an All-Ireland economy and society. We must do that ourselves.
I believe the Nice Treaty will be rejected again by the electorate in this State and I believe that will be a positive outcome, one that will be welcomed by people all over Europe who want to reclaim the EU for the citizens and to halt the anti-democratic drive to create a superstate. There is nothing to fear from such a result and I hope that this time the government will respect the wishes of the people.
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