European Commissioner for Internal Market and
Economic aspects of Lisbon Treaty
IBEC, Confederation House
Dublin, 26 May 2008
Thank you very much Brian for these words of introduction.
As most of you know, I've had many opportunities over the years to address you in Financial Services Ireland. It's therefore a great pleasure to be back amongst so many familiar faces in Dublin today.
I've also had many occasions in the past to address meetings here in IBEC's Council Room and to hear the views of the business community on the major national issues of the day.
The message I want to pass on to you today, ladies and gentlemen, is as important as any I have given to you over the years. And that message is simple. The Treaty of Lisbon is an essential enabler – perhaps the essential enabler – to Ireland's economic prosperity in the 21st century.
I'd like to take a few minutes to outline some of the economic aspects of this Treaty, then make some general remarks on the content of Lisbon and I'll conclude with my vision of what it means for Ireland and the rest of the EU.
Let me start with the basic aims of the EU. Article 3 of the Treaty now says that the "Union shall work for the sustainable development of Europe based on balanced economic growth and price stability, [and] a highly competitive social market economy".
When I compare these goals to the mission and vision statements of IBEC, I must say I don't see much difference at all! So can I take this opportunity to congratulate the work of Turlough O'Sullivan and his counterparts in BusinessEurope on their work some years back in the European Convention, where they cleverly managed to put IBEC's mission statement into the EU Treaty!
I only say this half in jest, because I am well aware of the role business played to ensure that the goal of competitiveness remained in the Treaty.
In a similar vein, I can thus only repeat the words of President Barroso to you in the Conrad hotel last month, when he welcomed both the 'active support of IBEC for the ratification of the Treaty', and also your positive and constructive engagement with the Commission on a wide range of EU policies over many years.
Financial Services Ireland, as a major sectoral player in the Irish business community, and a key branch of the IBEC family, is also playing an important leadership role in the campaign on the Treaty. You are doing this both through the forceful position you have taken on Lisbon, and through your work in the Business Alliance for Europe.
Let me return however to the economic aspects of Lisbon. As you all well know, it is essential for any businessperson to know "who does what?" The Lisbon Treaty makes an important contribution to clarifying this. The starting point is that powers not conferred upon the Union remain with the Member States. I believe this is worth highlighting because it confirms, for once and for all, that we are talking about a Union of Member States, and not about a "federal Europe".
The Treaty then goes on to clarify the division of powers between the Member States and the Union. It reaffirms which powers are exclusive to the Union level, which ones are 'shared' with Member States, and in which areas the Union only loosely coordinates national approaches, without adopting legislation.
In the economic sphere, the so-called exclusive competences include the euro, competition policy, monetary policy and the common commercial policy. I do not need to convince this audience of the enormous opportunities and benefits these policies have brought to Ireland in recent years.
Secondly, the internal market will remain a competence that is shared with Member States, as would environment, Research and Development and consumer policy for example.
In the financial area, the Treaty will not allow Member States to take any measures which would constitute a step backwards in Union law with regard to the liberalisation of the movement of capital to and from third countries, unless every Member State agrees to it. So foreign investment is protected in this way.
Secondly, the EU's powers will remain limited, as I believe they should, in areas such like the coordination of economic and employment policies of the Member States, or in the field of industrial policy.
I could carry on, but now let me say something about the things the Treaty doesn't do. In other words, the dogs that didn't bark in Lisbon.
It doesn't regulate what kind of public services we should have in Europe. On the contrary, it stresses that they should operate on the basis of national economic and social conditions. The Lisbon Treaty clearly recognises that Member States maintain the essential role in organising their public services to the needs of the users. I know this was a very important point for the trade union movement, and I very much welcome the decisive ICTU vote last week in favour of Lisbon.
Then there is the argument that Ireland will somehow lose all power and influence in Brussels. Those who bemoan the future arrangements for membership of the College of Commissioners would not only have Ireland try to re-negotiate the Treaty of Lisbon - which was seven years in the making - they would also have us tear up the Treaty of Nice, which decided on the policy of rotation in the first place. The reality is that Lisbon postpones the introduction of rotation in the Commission from 2009 to 2014, and also reaffirms the strict equality of Member States – big and small – in terms of how often their nationals get to sit at the Commission table.
The same argument about power and influence goes for the Council of Ministers. In all my years as a Minister negotiating on Ireland's behalf there, it was seldom the precise number of votes I had up my sleeve that mattered. It was the capacity to build networks and coalitions.
But perhaps the most insidious red herring of all thrown around by Libertas and others is the assertion that corporate tax harmonisation will be forced on Ireland hot on the heels of Lisbon. Ladies and Gentlemen, and for the record: No, there will be no harmonised rate of company taxation imposed on Ireland as a result of this Treaty. Does anyone really think that Charlie McCreevy would have stood idly by if company taxation had been under threat?
The emptiness of the arguments advanced by the 'No' camp is demonstrated by their inability, incapacity or unwillingness to explain to the people what are the alternatives to the European Union. What vision do they have for an Ireland that is not a full member of the EU? What are the prospects for an Irish economy that is not fully integrated into the European Union? How would we continue to attract investment in Ireland if we were no longer part of the EU and no longer part of the Euro zone? Could you imagine the inflationary pressures on a small island economy?
If we were to withdraw from Europe what currency would we adopt? Reinvent the Irish pound? Turn the clock back to an age when we were economically totally dependent on our nearest neighbour and let our best and brightest go abroad in search of the jobs we were incapable of providing? Is there anyone in their right mind who wants to return to the economic misery that has too often beset our country?
The Ireland of today is not perfect. The EU of today is not perfect either. But both the Ireland and the European Union of today are incomparably better places than they were even a few decades ago. What is the 'No' camp offering as an alternative? An end to progress? A return to mediocrity? When it comes to the arguments advanced by the 'No' campaign I urge Irish voters to say 'No thanks' on 12 june and vote 'Yes' for Ireland's and Europe's future.
The Treaty of Lisbon is essentially about bringing the Union closer to the people. And I believe Lisbon actually contains the tools to possibly achieve this.
It is about making the EU more democratic, more transparent, and more efficient. Lest we forget, our Union is now three times the size it was compared to when I started my political career.
In other words, it is about bringing common sense to the way the EU organises itself. That is what it's about. It is not about winners and losers.
From a business perspective, the perspective all of you know best: growth, jobs, foreign direct investment, exports, opening up of markets, this Treaty is likewise a positive force. Just as all the earlier treaties were positive forces for this country.
You all know well that a good track record gives confidence: it gives confidence to business, and it gives certainty to inward investors. At the end of the day, this is the real interest for the Irish business community in avoiding a deep crisis in Ireland's relations with the EU.
As Europe's weathervane on the Lisbon Treaty, the question on 12 June is whether the Irish people will choose to herald menacing storm clouds, or rather to finally put to bed years of endless treaty negotiations. In conclusion, I do believe that Ireland now has a golden opportunity, at a time of economic uncertainty both here in Europe and at the global level, to affirm its leadership role in the European Union.
Thank you very much.