[Sinn Fein]


Irish decision gives opportunity to build a Europe of equals

Address by Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams MP to the Institute of European Affairs, Tuesday 19th February 2002.


I would like to begin by thanking the Institute of European Affairs for the invitation to speak here tonight. It is through forums like this that we can tease out and develop our attitudes and political philosophies in relation to the EU and maybe begin to build an EU that will act in the interests of all. There is no doubt in my mind that now more than ever there is a pressing need to create a dynamic international dimension in Europe that acts on the common challenges facing us all whether they be humanitarian, social, environmental or economic. The validity and development of the diverse cultures within the EU is also one of those challenges.

I would like to use this opportunity tonight to look at some of the issues which were raised both during the Treaty of Nice debate and during the Forum on Europe discussions and also to put forward Sinn Fein's position on the type of European Union we would like to see develop in the future. But before I begin I would like to make a few comments about the government's behaviour in recent months.

Last June, the electorate in this state rejected the Treaty of Nice. When that democratic decision was made, the government was under a clear obligation to implement it. But the Taoiseach and the Tanaiste have not implemented the decision of the people and have not respected their democratically expressed will. The government has not requested the other EU states to halt the process of ratification of the Nice Treaty, nor has it notified them officially that the legislative process to implement Nice has effectively halted. For now it seems that the Irish Government is prepared to ignore the wishes of the electorate and continue to move towards ratification of Nice, as if nothing has happened.

EU Treaties legally require the approval of all member states and if one member state rejects a Treaty, then that Treaty falls. But the Irish government has made no such request and the other EU states are proceeding with ratification regardless of the decision of the Irish electorate. There is no way the population of Germany or France or Britain would be ignored in this way. If Nice had been rejected by referendum in any of those states, they would have returned to the negotiating table to work out a new treaty.

The conduct of the Irish government, the EU Commission and the governments of the other EU member states proves the point made by those of us who opposed the Treaty of Nice - that it is undemocratic and, if adopted, the smaller states would be second-class members of the EU, dominated by the states with the larger populations. It appears that that is already the case where the Irish state is concerned.

EU and process of integration

In recent months we have seen the beginning of a real debate in both Ireland and the rest of the European Union about what is frequently referred to as the European Communities' democratic deficit, the process of EU integration and what it means and the militarising of the European Union.

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 two tier European state. The EU Commission and the EU Council of Ministers have become more powerful and more unaccountable. More and more democratic control has been taken away from people in this part of Ireland in relation to both domestic and international affairs. The Nice Treaty attempted to accelerate this process and remove yet more democratic control from the hands of elected representatives in this state.

The Nice Treaty, if it is about any one thing, it is about taking yet more steps towards the creation of an EU superstate. This would mean the further pooling of political sovereignty and would have major implications for the independence of member states, particularly smaller states.

It is 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 is trying to move away from the right of veto of individual states and away from the requirement for unanimity based on consensus. It is about removing the automatic right of each state to nominate a Commissioner and would see the voting weight on the Council of Ministers favouring the larger states with our strength decreasing. These changes would be introduced regardless of enlargement.

It is interesting to note that the EU Convention beginning in just a few weeks is discussing many of the issues raised by the No side during the referendum campaign. The Laeken declaration said that, ``Citizens believe that the EU is behaving too bureaucratically...What they expect is more results, better responses to practical issues and not a European Superstate....Citizens are calling for a clear, open, effective and democratically controlled Community''. When the No campaign raised these issues during the referendum debate we were said to be scare mongering. Now with just one of the smallest electorates in the EU saying No to Nice, those concerns have now become part of a new debate about where the EU is going.


Central to the process of EU integration is the economy. Recent weeks have seen a huge public interest in the EURO and the ease of transition to the new currency has been lauded. While this is important I firmly believe that this should not be seen as an endorsement for the economic and monetary union project.

What Sinn Fein wants to see is economic power and control retained in the country. Obviously this would include the power to set interest rates, control the growth of your money supply and determine an ideal exchange rate position. Together these instruments are vital tools of any state's economic strategy and play a crucial role in ensuring a dynamic sustainable economy. The experience of the first years of the EURO has been that the new European Central Bank has taken absolutely no account of the needs of the small economies on the peripherary of Europe when formulating monetary policy.

We want to bring real power back to the people of the island economy, not cede it to a new union. We believe that vesting our economic future in the hands of the European Central Bank and removing our ability to control the growth of the economy will not work in the interests of the people of this island.


The last six months have seen a major concentration on the issue of enlargement. This is an important matter but its real position viz a viz the Nice Treaty is something that is becoming more and more obvious as we move towards the beginning of discussions on the Convention on March 1. However during the referendum campaign itself, and indeed in its aftermath, those who supported the Treaty claimed that the campaign for a No vote was opposed to the entry of applicant countries into the EU. Nothing could be further from the truth, especially where Sinn Fein is concerned. Entry to the EU is a matter for applicant countries. But what we want to see is all applicant countries being dealt with on a basis of equality with current members.

One important point of interest in terms of enlargement was the accommodation of Greece (1981), Spain and Portugal (1986) into the union. These states were welcomed into the union on equal terms with the existing members as a help to cement the institutions of these newly established democracies. Why is the same hand of help not being offered to the new applicants from Eastern Europe this time around?

We want the applicant states to have the right to at least join the EU on the same terms as we joined.

We deplore the attempts made by those in favour of Nice to dress up the undemocratic and flawed proposals in that treaty as being a process of reform necessary for EU enlargement. The ongoing centralisation of economic and political power is a process independent of EU enlargement. The fact that those in favour of Nice could not let the proposals stand on their own merit without playing the bogus enlargement card shows just what a flawed treaty Nice is.

The secret meetings in recent months of the defence ministers and prime ministers of eight member states including Britain, France and Germany to discuss the war in Afghanistan, leaving out the other seven, all give tangible proof that an emerging two-tier Europe is a reality. Such secret meetings are in fact becoming the rule rather than exception. Why can the subject matter of these discussions not be part of the summits proper? What are they trying to hide? Why are the representatives of the electorate of this state not to be trusted? This is just one more example of radical changes are required to how the EU operates.

When this state joined the then EEC, the process of economic integration was in reality only beginning and we joined on the same terms as the existing states. There was a power of veto and every member had at least one commissioner. There was no majority voting, no enhanced co-operation, no economic and monetary union, even though the 1971 Werner Report had mapped out the principles of the single currency. Yes, there were the growing tentacles of the unelected EU bureaucracy, but not on the scale experienced today.


Another key area of concern is the ongoing militarisation of the EU and the impact of this on our neutrality. This governments u-turn on NATO's Partnership for Peace was followed by its commitment of troops to the Rapid Reaction Force - the core of an EU army. The Nice Treaty is attempting to further develop the common foreign, security and defence policies of the EU and has clear implications for neutrality and the pursuit of an independent foreign policy. Support for the EU armaments industry was written into the Treaty. Indeed we have already seen a significant increase in the governments defence spending as a result of our involvement in the Rapid Reaction Force and the Partnership for Peace.

It is worth remembering that the EU's ``Rapid Reaction Force'' will have 80,000 combat ready troops and 250,000 personnel in total ready to enforce EU foreign and security policies, not just within the EU or on its borders but up to 2,500 miles outside of the EU. This is not some kind of Red Cross. It is an army designed for war, an army to impose by force the interests of the EU or an elite within it. There is no requirement within Nice to have a UN mandate and in the past when NATO went to war against Yugoslavia they did so without a UN mandate.

The provisions setting up this force were included in the Amsterdam Treaty. What the Nice Treaty is about is trying to tidy up some of the loose ends. By voting No, the people of the 26 Counties mandated the government to renegotiate the defence and military aspects of both these treaties to a position where Irish neutrality is enshrined in Irish law and accepted by our EU partners.

There is an alternative to the EU defence policy in its present form. We believe that a reformed and empowered UN, where all have an equal say is a basic requirement in any process aimed at ending the regional and international conflicts that are creating such enormous human costs throughout the world.

Irish troops should not be part of any military campaigns that are not peace keeping or humanitarian rescue missions and instead maintaining our unparalleled role in the UN peacekeeping expeditions. There is an imperative for co-operation with the more progressive European states including those not in the EU for a common security policy that has as its centerpiece an objective of nuclear disarmament and the dismantling of the EU's war economy. If we are only going to act under the UN mandate as successive governments have told us then why do we need to be part of the Rapid Reaction Force in the first place?


That sets out some of the concerns but what of where we are going? In 1972 Sinn Fein campaigned against entry to the EEC. Our view was that as a small, partitioned island we would not benefit from what was essentially a rich mans club led in the main by former colonial powers. Reflecting on the last thirty years of membership it is clear that there have been many advances particularly in the area of social and equality legislation. However the impact of EU membership on farming and fisheries has been disastrous with many thousands of families driven out of these industries. Small indigenous industries have also suffered and natural resources have not been utilised and exploited in the national interest.

30 years on the European is a reality. Today Sinn Fein's position is one of engaging with the Union and its institutions in a critical manner. One of the core issues facing voters particularly following the Nice referendum is what kind of Europe we want and how best this can be achieved. Sinn Fein is committed to:

But what are the views of others? The Forum on Europe was established last year in the wake of the Nice Treaty referendum. It has been holding plenary sessions in Dublin Castle and public meetings such as this around the country. The Forum was established to address this country's role in an enlarging European Union and the future direction of the EU. Through our participation in the Forum, we are asking people what type of Europe they want to live in and what role should Ireland play in that Europe? The establishment parties overlooked these important questions during the Nice referendum debate. In fact, they have been ignored through nearly 30 years of EU membership.

We know that EU Commission President Romano Prodi wants to create an EU, which is, in his own words ``a world power'' But we don't know the ideal Europe that Fianna Fáil, Labour and the Progressive Democrats aspire to. Fine Gael has not even bothered to turn up at the Forum to tell us. There has been a clear failure on their part to tell the Irish people what they think is the best possible Europe. For instance do they support a partnership of member states or a sovereign European state with its own constitution?

Sinn Fein's vision, and I believe that of most Irish people, is for a European Union as a partnership of equal states, co-operating economically and politically. We want a European Union in which wealthier regions and nations assist the poorer ones. We welcome the enlargement of the EU to include new member states if that is the wish of their peoples. But we do not want to see further powers taken away from democratically elected parliaments in the member states and handed over to un-elected bureaucrats.

We want to be able to relate to the rest of the world on our own terms and not as part of a giant EU state.

We want to see a European Union defending our democratic rights not eroding them.

We want a Europe that will act collectively to promote equality across the EU in terms of the rights of women, children, disadvantaged communities and the aged.

We want to see a Europe that will tackle racism and act decisively to protect and enhance our environment on an EU level, not one that subsidises nuclear power building programmes.

We want to be part of a European Union run democratically from the bottom to the top, not the reverse that is the case today.

We want to see a Europe that welcomes and recognises the validity of the diverse cultures embraced by the EU and beyond.

We want to be part of an Ireland in Europe that does not have to lobby and cajole the EU into letting us decide how to spend our own money.

Unfair Trade

But we cannot talk of the EU in purely selfish and indeed isolationist terms. Decisions taken at EU level effect not only member states but people throughout the world and in particular the developing world in terms of trade. We in Sinn Fein believe that the Irish people do not want to be part of a European superstate. The people of this island have a special understanding of imperialism and how large states can trample the rights of smaller ones.

Ireland does not and cannot stand alone. Neither can the European Union. It too has a responsibility to the rest of the world particularly the Third World. In this regard the European Union is long on rhetoric and short on delivery.

EU policies on trade and development are not consistent. Article 130 of the Amsterdam Treaty obliges the EU to consider development objectives in the design of all policy but what is the practice.

For example, one EU initiative proposed duty and quota free access for goods from the world's Least Developed Countries (LDCs). It became known as the `Everything but Arms' initiative, insofar as it promoted the import of everything but weapons from the developing world. However, it ran into stiff resistance from the EU's own well-financed lobbies. As a result, key agricultural goods - sugar, rice and beef - were excluded from the proposal.

From the 1980s for the underdeveloped and poor, the demand from the EU and others has been unceasing: open up your economies to (our) goods; cut tariffs and other protectionist measures; cut social spending on health and education.

And so, during the 1980s, the world's poorest countries duly opened up their markets/ economies - under IMF driven Structural Adjustment Programmes - and waited for the promised boom. It never materialised.

Equally, the rich economies of the northern hemisphere also reneged on repeated promises to allow free access to their own markets, to goods from the developing world.

The impact of their failure to do so cannot be overstated. Trade plays a vital role in developing economies - they derive 42 percent of national income from trade.

The result? Child mortality figures have risen, the numbers living in absolute poverty have risen and gains made in the areas of health and education during the 1960s, have been virtually reversed over the last two decades. Since 1980, Africa's per capita income has dropped by 25 percent.

The fall in income has been mirrored by a fall in trade: in the last two decades Africa's least developed countries have seen their share of global trade fall from a pitiful 0.6 percent, to a miserable 0.3 percent.

The same countries `command' less than 0.5 percent of global investment.

Trade barriers cost the developing world an estimated $700 billion every year - which is 14 times what they receive in development aid.

Had the world's poorest countries been able to maintain their share of world markets at mid-1980s levels, their average per capita incomes today would be US$32 a year higher. Instead, the process has gone into reverse.


I would like to conclude by raising the EU Convention - which is made up of representatives from all the member states - and which will begin work on 1 March to consider the next EU Treaty and the constitutional future of the EU. This State has to nominate two members from the Dáil and two alternates. A number of weeks ago Sinn Fein TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin called on the government to ensure that the No side in the Nice referendum campaign is represented. He made the call because we believe that it would be a mockery of the democratic process if the Irish delegation at the Convention consisted only of representatives of the parties who supported the Nice Treaty and lost the referendum. I would be concerned therefore at media reports this weekend, which indicate that the government intend to nominate somebody from the No campaign but only as an alternate rather than a full member. I would call on the government to re-visit this decision and ensure that the views of those who voted no to the referendum are fully represented.

Sinn Fein believes that there must be real choices for EU citizens about the direction the EU is taking. There is a clear sense of disenchantment and disapproval throughout the member states of the EU about the direction of the union.

The choice is clear. Do we want to see - a partnership of member states proceeding together on the basis of agreement or an EU superstate with its own constitution or indeed any other formulation?

At the heart of all of these discussions is one central issue - democracy and the need for voters to have their say and for their decision to be respected. That is the basis on which we must proceed.

Sinn Fein Press Office, 44 Parnell Square, Dublin 1
Tel: +353-1-8726100 and +353-1-8726839   ·   Fax +353-1-8733074
E-mail: sinnfein@irlnet.com   ·   Website: http://www.sinnfein.org

Sinn Fein   ·   Sinn Fein Documents