Speech by Jerzy Buzek at the Institute of International and European Affairs: "The Lisbon Treaty, Ireland and the Future of the EU"
Mr Chairman Brendan Halligan
Ambassadors, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Before I begin, and since Irish is not only your first official language but also one of the twenty-three official languages of the European Union, can I just say:
Tá áthas orm bheith libh inniú. Go raibh maith agaibh.
[I am happy to be with you today. Thank you.]
I would like to especially thank the Irish Institute of International and European Affairs for inviting me to address you on the topic of the Lisbon Treaty. This has given me an opportunity to also meet representatives of civil society, and to engage with NGO's while in Ireland, which is very stimulating and interesting.
I would like to also personally salute my distinguished predecessor as President of the European Parliament, Pat Cox, I am glad you can be here with us, and congratulate him on the job that he is currently doing, namely informing citizens of the merits of the Lisbon Treaty, through the Ireland for Europe people's organisation that he is leading.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let's go to the heart of the problem. I am not here to represent any political party, any government, or to campaign for a positive vote on the Lisbon Treaty. I am certainly not here to tell the Irish people how to vote. I have lived too long under a dictatorship which told us not only how to vote, but how to think, to ever presume to do that!
I do believe though, that it is important for the information campaign to be truthful, honest, and fair. And I hope that the vote will be on the issues at stake in the Lisbon Treaty, and not a vote on the performance of the current government.
The Irish Referendum on the Lisbon Treaty on 2 October is too important for the future of Ireland, and the future of Europe, for it to be used as means of sending domestic messages to people here in Dublin. The vote of the Irish people on 2 October is about sending a message about Ireland's place in Europe.
I believe that this is too important a referendum for the luxury of a low turnout. I urge people to go out and vote, to make their opinions heard. But, ultimately, it is the sovereign decision of the Irish people - a decision that would be reinforced by high participation.
While in Dublin today, I was very surprised to see certain posters around the city regarding the Treaty of Lisbon which have been put up by the No campaign.
I have always felt it is important to listen to all points of view, all opinions, including eurosceptical ones. It is important to listen to all concerns or fears and to seek to address them. Indeed, it seems to me that this is exactly what the Irish Government did after the Irish people said NO to the Treaty last year.
However, I would like to take this opportunity to challenge some of the assertions being made by the No campaign through their posters and elsewhere.
Point number one. Taxation. It is simply untrue to claim that the Lisbon Treaty grants taxation powers to the European Union. There is nothing in the new Treaty on this. The principle of unanimity in Council remains. There is no change to either Union competences or the decision making method.
Point number two. Minimum wage. The Irish minimum wage is a matter which is decided exclusively by the Irish authorities. There is nothing in the Lisbon Treaty to suggest that the rate will be cut back to under two euros, nor that such matters will be decided by Brussels.
Next point. Abortion. May I also state for the record that the issues of abortion, protection of the unborn or of the family, and other ethical concerns can not be legislated by Brussels.
In all these cases, it is the Irish Government, the Irish Parliament and at the end the Irish people which will have the final say.
These are all issues which are very important for my own country, Poland, and are important to me as well. We had a similar debate and our citizens expressed similar concerns. Going back to abortion, as a Christian, I too share the concern expressed about many of the ethical issues which are raised in Ireland. But I am reassured that Poland, Ireland, and every Member State remain sovereign on these ethical questions.
I am also reassured by my firm conviction that the Lisbon Treaty and the Charter of Fundamental Rights enshrine our common European values that owe so much to our Christian heritage. Pope Benedict XVI has referred to the Charter as a "sign that Europe is once again consciously seeking its soul."
As countries, I find that Poland and Ireland have much in common. We have similar traditions and have a similar history: A history of occupation, a history of immigration due to poverty or political oppression. We are both now modern societies with a commitment to free trade, a market economy, export-driven growth, and a belief in the resources of our own dynamic people to bring about prosperity for our nation.
Ireland's European partners listened to your concerns and Ireland secured a good deal at the June European Council. Most notably Ireland will continue to have the right to designate a member of the European Commission. You have also received legally-binding guarantees on setting your own tax rates, on sensitive ethical issues and on your traditional policy of neutrality.
Ireland is now facing a difficult economic trial. At the same time, your Euro membership means that when the banking crisis hit, the EU showed solidarity, and came to the rescue. The Irish Government's NAMA plan has been approved by the European Commission, and has the backing of the European Central Bank.
I think in these discussions, it is important not only to hear the message, but also to consider the messenger. I note that all the major political parties in Ireland, the main farming organisation, the major trade unions, the business community with whom I met last week in Brussels, artists, sportspersons, journalists, and academics have come out in support of the Treaty. I couldn't help noticing by contrast that the No campaign is made up of marginal groups, some with very extreme views, and parties from outside your country.
Let me speak about what I see as the benefits of the new treaty for the European Parliament and its impact on EU policy.
I believe that the Lisbon Treaty will help in rebalancing the problems of the so-called democratic deficit of which the Brussels institutions have been accused in the past. Under Lisbon, the democratically elected Parliament from all Member States will finally become a true co-legislator with the Council of Ministers.
Second, I believe that the strengthened role of national parliaments in the European legislative process will be a long term benefit since it will help to legitimise EU law.
It will enable your Dáil and Seanad to be involved right from the beginning in helping to shape legislation because your two chambers will be able to indicate areas which they feel are sensitive to a particular member state, to your Member State, Ireland. You can do it ex ante, and not ex post. If a majority of Parliaments are against a proposed legislation, this legislation will be withdrawn. This is an added guarantee of subsidiarity.
This is something we in the European Parliament welcome. We feel that it is much better that we have a dialogue with all national parliaments early in the process, so that we adopt laws which are proportioned and necessary.
Third, I believe that the new citizens' initiative - which will enable legislative proposal to be tabled when one million signatures are collected - gives power back to our constituents. I see this as a check and balance mechanism, where ultimately citizens can also demand that certain legislation be withdrawn, or amended, or that we legislate in certain areas.
I think the institutionalised dialogue with Churches and religions is a very important development because it underlines that faith groups play an important role in our societies. The European Union is not just about economics and I believe that these consultations with all parts of civil society make for better policy making.
The European Parliament is adapting to the changes that the new Treaty will bring. One of my priorities as newly elected President is to make the work of the European Parliament as transparent, and as open to the public as possible.
For instance, I recently agreed with the current President of the Commission, José Manuel Barroso, that he will attend Parliament's plenary sittings for an hour's question and answer session, quite a new idea, so that our Members can raise issues or concerns they have over particular areas of the work of the Commission.
I am personally a strong supporter of the Lisbon Treaty. I voted for it in the European Parliament and have campaigned for it in Poland. I believe the Treaty strikes the right balance in strengthening the institutions and allowing them to function in a Europe of twenty-seven member states, but at the same time, guarantees the rights of each of our countries.
I think we can never forget that the motto of the European Union is 'United in Diversity'. Whatever some people may claim, we have never tried to create a European Super State, nor are we building one today in Brussels. We have to protect our diversity because this is what makes Europe strong. It is this blend of ideas, cultures, regional traditions and national identities which makes our unity more powerful.
I hope that when the people of Ireland make up their own minds about the Lisbon Treaty, they will also reflect upon the broader context of what the European Union has brought. I am convinced that when the Irish people examine closely what is at stake, they will find it in their hearts and minds to support the Lisbon Treaty - a treaty which is essential for the continued realisation of our shared European dream of peace and prosperity on our continent.
In conclusion, I would like to thank the Irish Institute for International and European Affairs for hosting me today. I am very happy to take questions but before I do, and since I am such a strong believer in defending national identities within the European Union, may I just say:
Go raibh míle maith agaibh! Go n-éirí libh!
[Thank you. Good luck]