Dublin 5 May:  A conference on the future of the EU Constitutional Treaty took place in DIT today, just six weeks ahead of the EU Council meeting in Vienna (15-16 June). Entitled 'The future of the EU Constitutional Treaty: Pathways and Pitfalls' the conference brought together policy makers, legal professionals and academics to discuss issues informing the debate on the future of the EU Constitutional Treaty. 

Bruce Carolan, DIT, with the Hon. Mr. Justice Nial Fennelly, Minister Noel Treacy, and Stephen Carruthers, DIT

Mr. Bruce Carolan, Head of DIT's School of Social Sciences and Legal Studies, opened the conference with an outline of the background to the Constitutional Treaty.  The first session, chaired by the Hon.  Mr. Justice Nial Fennelly, member of the Supreme Court, heard contributions from Noel Treacy, Minister of State at the Departments of the Taoiseach and Foreign Affairs, and Mr. Martin Territt, Director of the EU Commission Representation in Ireland. 

In his address to the conference, Minister Treacy said that the purpose of the EU Constitutional Treaty was to create a more effective and efficient European Union and he stated that while its ratification does not guarantee a brighter future for Europe, it is worthwhile as a means to an end.  'Ultimately the people of Europe will decide the fate of the Constitution' but, he warned, "We must not cede the argument about Europe to the perennial sceptics or the naïve idealists.  It is too important for that.  Europe is central to Ireland's interests and to the wellbeing of our people.'

Mr. Martin Territt addressed the conference on behalf of Commissioner Margot Wallstrom.  Outlining the EU policy agenda, Mr. Territt acknowledged that the Commission had not been good at listening to people in the past but was very anxious to change that.  Speaking about how the EU is viewed in different countries, he quoted figures from the Eurobarometer report released today and noted that it showed 83% of Irish people believe the EU to be 'modern' while 42% feel it is' technocratic'.  He also said that while 62% are in favour of enlargement, two-thirds believe that enlargement will pose problems in the Irish labour market.

Both France and the Netherlands have held referenda on ratification of the proposed Treaty, and in both cases the proposition was defeated.  France's Ambassador to Ireland, Mr. Frederic Grasset told delegates that for many French people this result had been a shock - 'a discovery that we were not any longer among the front runners of the construction of Europe".  Commending the declaration of a 'period of reflection' after the referenda defeat,  Ambassador Grasset said the EU had wisely 'bought time' and now should progress on two tracks - improving daily management and aligning the balance of power between the institutions and the parliament.

Mr. Gay Mitchell, Fine Gael TD and MEP, spoke about Ireland's success within Europe and stated that the EMU and access to the internal market had greatly contributed to the Celtic Tiger economy.  Although he acknowledged that it is extremely difficult to get people to engage in a discussion on Europe, he pointed out that it was important to make it real to everyone by raising difficult issues and debating them openly.  He claimed the real issues for Europe are peace and stability.  'The first half of the twentieth century was marked by the deaths of 60 million people and this can never be allowed to happen again'.  He argued that Ireland should participate in a European common defence force and should not fear any loss of sovereignty. 'We do not lose sovereignty in Europe - sovereignty is pooled'.  He said Ireland participates in decision making on issues that affect our economy and should do so on common defence also.

The final speaker in this session was Mr. Brendan Halligan, Chair of the Institute of European Affairs and himself a former MEP.  He argued from the outset that the EU Constitutional Treaty was dead, and in his speech he focussed on the future of the EU rather than of the Treaty. Urging the abandonment of the Treaty 'political cul de sac' and a return to the guiding principles of Monnet and Schumann, he said "The end objective for Europe should be 'a federation of states and not a federal state", and that the Union was never more badly needed than it is now.  He advocated that the new agenda should 'tackle energy security and climate change as a joint enterprise in conformity with the Monnet Method of integration.'

Participants included Dr. Garrett Fitzgerald, former Taoiseach, Colin Harvey, Professor of Human Rights Law and Director of the Human Rights Centre, Queen's University Belfast, Ben Tonra, Jean Monnet Professor of European Foreign, Security and Defense Policy at the UCD School of Politics and International Relations and Director of the Dublin European Institute, and  Stephen Carruthers, lecturer in EU and Human Rights Law at the DIT Department of Legal Studies.

For pdf of conference programme click here.

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