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McDonald - Government refusal to hold a full parliamentary debate on draft EU Constitution is a disgrace

2 October, 2003


Sinn Féin's Dublin EU candidate Mary Lou McDonald has described as 'disgraceful' the coalition government's refusal to reveal their positions on key issues or to hold a full parliamentary debate in advance of this weekend's Inter-Governmental Conference negotiations on the draft EU Constitutional Treaty. She was speaking prior the launch of the Forum on Europe's 'Summary of the Draft Constitutional Treaty for the European Union.'

Ms McDonald said:

"Sinn Féin has been demanding a full public parliamentary debate in advance of the negotiations since the draft was published early in the summer. While we were previously told there would be a Dáil debate in Government time, it now seems that this request has been refused.

"It's like the invasion of Iraq all over again - the Government is waiting to schedule the debate until it is essentially a useless PR exercise. This is not acceptable. This document under negotiation isd and concerned about inequality and exploitation not just here but internationally we have grave concerns about the implications of ratifying the next treaty if it is based on the EU Constitutional document as drafted." ENDS

Summary of Sinn Féin concerns on Draft EU Constitution and recommendations for treaty negotiation outcomes

The Draft Constitution has been portrayed merely as a necessary consolidation and simplification of existing Treaties. But it is much more than that.

The Draft Constitution makes fundamental changes in the structures of the EU. It gives those structures more powers. It gives the EU a single legal personality for the first time. It shifts the balance of power yet further from sovereign national parliaments and towards the EU, taking the single biggest step so far in the creation of an EU superstate.

While there are elements of the Draft Constitution we support, Sinn Féin has grave concerns about others. We have therefore made a series of constructive recommendations to the coalition Government for consideration in shaping their negotiation demands.

Sinn Féin believes the Government should be demanding the following changes:

Respect for National Sovereignty

Article I-5(1) states that the Union shall respect 'national identities' and 'regional and local self government', but makes no reference to national sovereignty or national self-government. This Article should be amended to include respect for national sovereignty and self-government.

Article I-10 states that the Constitution and law adopted by the EU institutions 'shall have primacy over the law of the Member States' in exercising competences conferred on the EU. This would firmly establish EU law as superior to national law. This provision entails the diminution of basic democratic rights. The Irish IGC negotiators should therefore s the costs of re-unifying Germany but not for Ireland where the arguments for funding all-island infrastructure in energy, transport, telecommunications, health and education are compelling. Will the Irish negotiators advocate national interests on an all-island basis?

Respect for Economic Sovereignty

Article I-5(1) of the Draft Constitution should be amended to explicitly recognise that ensuring the social and economic well-being of its people is among essential State functions. Such an amendment would properly emphasise the right of states to control their own economies, a right currently undermined by the EU.

Independence in Foreign Policy and Respect for Military Neutrality

The new EU Constitution will require Ireland to cede most or all of our remaining independence in foreign policy to the EU. Article I-11 (4) establishes EU competence in the area of Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), giving it primacy in "all areas of foreign policy and questions relating to the Union's security, including the progressive framing of a common defence policy, which might lead to a common defence". Irish IGC negotiators must protect and strengthen Irish exercise of sovereign independence in international affairs by securing an explicit statement that EU competence in foreign policy is a shared competence. They must also ensure the retention and strengthening of the unanimity requirement in both spheres of CFSP, which is undermined by proposals in the draft Constitution.

Article I-6 confers a separate 'legal personality' on the EU, which would empower it to negotiate and conclude international agreements on behalf of its members, and to represent its members in international fora. Article I-27 establishes an EU Foreign Minister. Both of these features are the accoutrements of states, and are indicators of superstate ambitions and the Irish negotiators should therefore oppose them.

Sinn Féin rejects on principle Article I-40 on an EU Common Defence as its provisions threaten military neutrality, and as we oppose the creation of an EU Army. If the Common Defence provisions are not removed, the Irish negotiators must take other concrete measures to protect the traditional Irish policies of military neutrality and UN primacy by securing a specific Article explicitly recognising the rights and duties of neutral states within the Union and explicitly recognising the right of those states requiring a UN mandate for military operations. The rights of the EU neutrals must be given the same weight of recognition as that accorded to the obligations of EU NATO states.

Independence in Justice and Home Affairs

The pace at which the EU has developed a competence in criminal law over the past decade is staggering. Our concern with the emerging European criminal justice system is that it will not be a synthesis of the best procedures and protections that currently exist among the member states but will be a new system with increased powers transferred to policing and prosecuting authorities at the expense of human rights and civil liberties. At minimum, we call on the Irish negotiators to ensure the retention of unanimity in the area of Justice and Home Affairs.

The Partnership of Equal States Model

Article I-21(1) proposes the new post of permanent President of the European Council. This sets aside the partnership model of the rotating presidency, and puts in place another key characteristic of a single state - a Head of State in all but name. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the presidential proposals are designed to suit the aspirations of large countries and to marginalize the influence of smaller countries such as Ireland. The Irish negotiators should reject the proposal of a permanent president.

Equal Representation on the Commission

Article I-25(3) entails the loss of right of each State to appoint a voting Commissioner. The IGC negotiators should defend the current arrangements whereby all states have the right to nominate a voting Commissioner.

Real Power for the National Parliaments

Sinn Féin welcomes proposals for improved information flow from the EU to the national parliaments. However, whether parliaments can use that information to protect their national interests if necessary remains ambiguous. The Irish IGC negotiators must therefore ensure that national parliaments are given clear and meaningful sanctions in relation to Commission proposals.

Increased Subsidiarity

Sinn Féin supports the principle of subsidiarity and believes that it should be further extended to sub-national levels. We are of the firm view that decisions should be taken at the lowest possible level and with the greatest amount of decentralised democratic control. We call on the Irish negotiators to ensure that it is clearly stated that the principle of subsidiarity includes decision-making powers at regional and local levels as well as national level.

An Enforceable Charter of Fundamental Rights

The production of a Charter of Fundamental Rights is, in principle, a welcome development, as is any measure that maximises available and enforceable human rights. However, we are concerned that its potential force may be diminished as it has not been included in the body of the Draft Constitution, and call on the Irish negotiators to ensure that this doesn't happen.

We are also concerned about Article II-16, which establishes the freedom to conduct a business. This Article should be clarified. While we accept the right of a person to conduct a business, this Article could allow a scenario where the rights of corporations supercede not just the rights of the individual but national ones also. We therefore call on the Irish IGC negotiators to ensure that the economic and social rights of the citizen are paramount.

A Strengthened Social Market

There is some confusion as to what sort of economic market is being advocated in the Draft Constitution. Article I-3(2) envisages „a single market where competition is free and undistorted‰. This contradicts Article I-3(3), which calls for a social market economy. An unhindered capitalist market-driven society can neither be described as a social market, nor can it be something desirable to anyone with an interest in equality. We oppose the idea of competition being completely free and unhindered and believe that states should be allowed to exercise democratic control over their economies. We are concerned that the free market model will emerge dominant from this contradiction, and that economic priorities will continue to outrank social ones. We therefore call on the Irish IGC negotiators to ensure a strengthening of the pre-eminent status of the Social Market.

Enhanced State Aid Provisions

Existing EU provisions on state aid to industries are hampering the Irish economy by restricting state funding and the development of much needed infrastructure in ICT, transport, energy, environmental waste management and and health services. Articles III-56 to 58 in relation to state aid to industries are no better, and need to be expanded substantially. Irish IGC negotiators should demand the broadening out of conditions for state aid. They should also seek special provisions supporting an all-Ireland economy, along the lines of the special provisions for subsidising the reunification of Germany (in Article III-56.2.c).

Stop the Militarisation of the EU

Article I-40(3) directs that member states contribute forces to a Common Defence and improve their military capabilities. It also establishes a European Armaments Agency, the basis for a European arms industry. This is contrary to our belief that universal disarmament - and universal nuclear disarmament in particular ˆ should be a central goal of both Ireland and the EU. As responsible global citizens, we believe that the Irish negotiators should mount the strongest possible arguments against these provisions.

And the Government must go public on the hard questions:

The Draft Treaty in its current form also has unresolved tensions between its objectives and principles, between the powers of states and the role of the EU Commission, between the desire for subsidiarity and the increased use of qualified majority voting.

We still don‚t know where Fianna Fail or the Progressive Democrats stand on the following important questions (and others):

(1) Does the government honestly believe that the EU can facilitate a fully transnational market economy and still be a social economy with full employment as its core objective? Both of these apparently conflicting goals are in the treaty.

(2) The Draft Constitution rightly commits itself to the eradication of poverty outside its borders but contains no such objective for the citizens inside. Will the inclusion of an internal anti-poverty objective be a priority for Cowen and Ahern?

(3) Does the government agree that the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights needs more teeth than it has in the present draft?

(4) Does the coalition accept the new formula for Qualified Majority Voting?

(5) Will they look for more details in the definition and division of competences between nation states and the EU?

(6) Do they support the extension of Qualified Majority Voting to the remaining areas of EU Common Foreign and Security Policy and Common Defence?

(7) Do they support the Article 40 Common Defence provisions and particularly enhanced cooperation on defence matters?

(8) In terms of partition, the Draft Treaty allows for special provisions for state aid and spending for the costs of re-unifying Germany but not for Ireland where the arguments for funding all-island infrastructure in energy, transport, telecommunications, health and education are compelling. Will the Irish negotiators advocate national interests on an all-island basis?

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