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NATIONAL FORUM ON EUROPE—Ireland’s EU discussion platform
Libertas comments at Forum for Europe
Speech by Fine Gael Foreign Affairs Spokesperson, Bernard Allen TD, at the Forum for Europe, Thursday July 5th 2007
European Citizensí Consultation

 

7 Feb 2008
Libertas comments at Forum for Europe

Responding to Minister for Europe Dick Roche and Labour Leader Eamonn Gilmore at today’s Forum on Europe, Libertas Campaign Director made the following points.

“Deputy Gilmore refers to the citizens initiative as part of bringing Europe closer to the citizens.

This has no basis and collecting one million signatures would be almost impossible from 15 member states. Libertas has pointed out already that over one million signatures have been collected to get rid of the 'travelling circus' of two parliaments - wasting hundreds of millions of Euro a year – in true form,  that petition has been ignored, as will future petitions.

On the idea that "The voting system for the council will continue to favour smaller countries" - Libertas challenges that point - QMV would do the opposite, giving greater power to bigger countries.

Deputy Gilmore mentioned a greater role for the Oireachtas - Libertas points out that at present the Oireachtas is doing nothing more than rubber stamping legislation. In 2006 the Oireachtas EU committee dealt with 422 legislative proposals, which on average would have taken them 2 minutes each to deal with - irish legislation takes weeks, months or even years at present, and the EU legislation can be more important at times

On the Role of the Dail – and the contention that "Europe can only act within the competencies conferred on it by this treaty" – Libertas would point out that this is absolutely right - but we would also point to Article 48 and 308 which would give the Dail the power to approve changes to the treaty - power which would be (obviously) vested with the Government.

Finally, Libertas rejects the suggestion by Dick Roche that we would be rejecting the very goals and values that Europe stands for by rejecting Lisbon. Libertas reminds the Minister that this is not a referendum on the Europe but on the actual proposals in the treaty.”

 

Thursday July 5th 2007
Speech by Fine Gael Foreign Affairs Spokesperson, Bernard Allen TD, at the Forum for Europe, Thursday July 5th 2007
From this vantage point, a very rocky and precarious road lies ahead with regard to the new reform treaty, and Ireland’s place at the centre of the European Union.

We all remember that, when the first NICE Treaty referendum was held, the then Government was unable to ensure that even all the members of the Cabinet supported the treaty. Now, with a Government mixture of FF, Green, PD and Independent, a single, unified voice on Ireland’s place in the European Union and the reform treaty seems even less likely.

For starters, the Government has allowed a huge level of confusion to develop with regard to the Charter of Fundamental Rights, and its place in the final treaty. In the aftermath of the European Council meeting the Taoiseach said that the Charter would be an important selling point for the new treaty, but it then emerged that the Government had negotiated the right to opt out of the Charter.

Since then, the Government has tried to perform a delicate balancing act on both sides of this argument, but the question must be asked – if Ireland supports the Charter of Fundamental Rights, if Ireland is happy for Europe to be bound by the Charter of Fundamental Rights, then why will Ireland not say – clearly and unambiguously – that Ireland will adopt the Charter of Fundamental Rights? Time and again – at this Forum and at other venues – the last Government was 100% behind the Constitution for the European Union. This Constitution included – in full – the Charter of Fundamental Rights. What on earth has changed, and why is the Government – now, belatedly – examining the legal position? In answer to that question, it seems to me that what has changed is that the Government has decided to follow the unhelpful lead of the United Kingdom on this issue. This is deeply regrettable, as we should be clear in our own minds as to the direction we want Europe to take, and as to the role that we will play in promoting our view of Europe.

Fine Gael has always strongly supported the inclusion of the full Charter in the document, and – from the time the Constitution was agreed – we have consistently argued that the inclusion of the full Charter was a major step forward for Europe.

One of the Government partners, the Green Party, has already said that they will not agree to an opt-out of the Charter. In addition, the manner in which the reform treaty was agreed recently is directly opposite to the method that they called for in their recent General Election manifesto. So, even leaving aside the issue of the Charter, that party may well oppose the reform treaty on other grounds.

Whilst I acknowledge what the Minsiter of State has told us this morning, it appears to me that he is not in a position to speak for the whole Government and this is of concern for those of us who see the pressing need for reform at European Union level, and the need for political agreement to drive that process forward.

 

Sunday 11 February, 2007
European Citizens’ Consultation
Address by the Taoiseach, Mr Bertie Ahern, TD
Royal Hospital, Kilmainham, on Saturday, 10 February, 2007
It is a great pleasure to be here today to launch the first Europe-wide citizens’ face-to-face consultation involving 27 Member States of the European Union.

I would like to welcome all the citizens who have come here today to discuss and debate European issues. May I congratulate the King Baudouin Foundation in Belgium for taking this initiative and thank the National Forum On Europe for acting as the Foundation’s partner in Ireland.

I would like to take this opportunity also to greet the citizens of Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia and Slovenia who are participating in this exercise today. I know that they are discussing exactly the same topics and that you will be in contact with them during the day to share your views. Citizens from the remaining 22 Member States will take part in this exercise over the coming weeks. And I look forward to seeing the outcome feed into the agenda of the European Union over the coming months.

This is truly a unique event. The Treaty of Rome, which was the start of the European Union, will be 50 years old this year. In 50 years, this is the first Europe-wide consultation of this nature involving citizens in all the Member States of the European Union – now 27 countries. You have a shared agenda and a set timeframe. This consultation may well be the start of a trend.

Of course, European citizens have been consulted before. Each Member State consults citizens in different ways. Debates and discussions in the Oireachtas are the corner-stone of our representative democracy. The National Forum On Europe stimulates debate among political representatives and civil society organisations and gives citizens the opportunity to discuss European issues. European Parliament elections, held every five years, give everyone an opportunity to engage with European issues. And from time to time, citizens are asked to decide issues directly in referendums.

In Ireland we have been, perhaps, the most active of the Member States in consulting our citizens on European Union issues. In the 34 years of our membership of the European Union, we have held six referenda. The first was on our Accession Treaty in 1972 and, most recently, a second referendum on the Treaty of Nice in 2002.

Our plans to hold a seventh European referendum on the Constitutional Treaty were obviously affected by the no votes in France and the Netherlands in May-June 2005. It is our intention to hold a referendum, but only when there is clarity as to the way forward. The German Presidency currently has the job of drafting a road map on the way forward for the Constitutional Treaty and we hope for clarity in the coming months.

Of course, I am fully supportive of the text of the Constitutional Treaty that was agreed during the Irish Presidency in 2004. I know personally how hard it was to get unanimous agreement among the Member States. The agreement that was reached was the best possible outcome for the European Union and for Ireland. And this has been recognised across the political spectrum in this country.

In the meantime, the European Union has conducted a “period of reflection” and has been looking at ways to engage citizens. Very significant efforts have been made to do so. I am glad to say that Ireland, through the National Forum On Europe, has been held up as something of a model which could be emulated across the European Union. The Forum, which has called this a “period of reflection and engagement” has been stimulating debate here. It has been seeking new ways to engage all sections of Irish society in discussion and debate on the key issues on the European Union’s agenda.

Today’s event is part of that process of engagement. I am delighted that the National Forum On Europe has partnered with the King Baudouin Foundation in Belgium to enable you all to be here.

And I am delighted that you will be discussing issues that have been agreed by European citizens as being the key ones for them. The process of selecting the issues was itself an innovation. And I know that a number of the Irish citizens who participated in that event are here today and have given you an insight into their deliberations.

The three issues that they chose:
• Energy and the environment;
• The family, the economy and social welfare, and
• The European Union’s global role and immigration into Europe
are the critical ones that affect people day to day and will have profound impacts on generations to come.

Occasionally, I have to say, I get a little frustrated at the time spent discussing European institutional issues. I know that the effective working of the European Union is one of the critical success factors for Ireland as it faces into the future. And the provisions of the Constitutional Treaty are hugely significant. But, like most citizens, I do get irritated when the focus remains on the process of decision making and the big picture – the framework for peace and prosperity that the European Union has provided – seems to be lost sight of.

It is the big picture that you are looking at over the next two days. How to shape a European Union that will be responsive and relevant to the needs and expectations of its citizens in the decades ahead is what you will be doing.

You have been selected as representative of Ireland today – a cross section of men and women, young and not so young, urban and rural. And you are here to look at the future and try to work out what kind of European Union you want in 2020. In other words, what kind of Ireland you and your democratic representatives should be working for. The outcome of these two days deliberations will be a very significant input into all our thinking about, and work for, the Europe of the future.

What you will be doing over the next two days is very close to my own heart. Last year, I set up a Task Force on Active citizenship which is due to report shortly. I know that the National Forum On Europe has been working with the Task Force on the European Union dimension of that citizenship. I look forward to that dimension forming a significant element of the final report.

Thank you. And best wishes for a very productive two days.



 

Further details of the Forum’s 2005 programme at www.forumoneurope.ie

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