Lisbon - you know it makes good business sense

Tue, May 6, 2008, 01:00

The Lisbon debate has been dominated by red herrings. The treaty is in Ireland's interests and should be supported, argues MARTIN NAUGHTON

ON JUNE 13th, Ireland will have its day in the sun as it stands in the world's spotlight. Hopefully, the headline will be that Ireland supports a new Europe. A Yes to the Lisbon Treaty on June 12th will send a strong signal that Ireland remains at the centre of Europe. It will also provide clarity on Ireland's future at a time when the economy is moving into a new and less certain phase.

Our membership of the EU contributed significantly to our economic success over the past 15 years. The introduction of the euro and enlargement of the EU to the east provided Ireland's economy with both stability and vast new markets to exploit. The Lisbon Treaty builds on these successful initiatives.

I welcome the launch of the Business Alliance for Europe. The fact that more than 30 of Ireland's leading business organisations have come together in a single forum to campaign for a Yes vote to the Lisbon Treaty speaks volumes.

Irish business, through the Business Alliance, is saying loud and clear: "The Lisbon Treaty is good for Ireland and good for Irish business." The treaty enables the EU to complete the single market project, specifically in the area of services, opening up vast new opportunities to Irish business in the EU's 496 million-strong market. This will enable more indigenous Irish businesses to grow through exporting goods and services to this marketplace, thus securing employment levels and creating new opportunities.

I started my business in 1973, the same year that the Republic, the UK and Denmark joined the EU. It was a milestone in the long history of this nation. I have seen at first hand the extraordinary impact it has had on my business and this country.

When we joined the EU in 1973, the Republic exported 54 per cent of goods produced here to the UK and only 21 per cent to the rest of the EU.

Today, we export 18 per cent of all goods to the UK and 45 per cent to the rest of the EU.

The growth in exports to the EU was paralleled by a significant growth in Irish gross domestic product (GDP). In 1973, Ireland's GDP was only 58 per cent of the European average. By the end of 2007, it was 144 per cent. These figures clearly demonstrate the potential available to develop and evolve our economy through an EU that moves forward in confidence.

The Lisbon Treaty, before it was signed in the city of Lisbon, was known as the reform treaty for good reason. The Lisbon Treaty sets out to reform the EU so that it takes account of the changes we have experienced in recent years. The Lisbon Treaty is the EU's response to these changes. Only if the EU evolves its structures and procedures can it continue to be a positive force for Ireland, Europe and the world.

If a business ignores changes in its marketplace, it will not prosper for long. Responding, in a considered manner, to the changes means that the EU will continue to work well, and that directly benefits Ireland.

The treaty contains a number of reforms to the EU institutions, including the parliament, the commission, the council and qualified majority voting. These reforms are designed to make a more efficient decision-making body politic as well as providing for greater input by national governments.

What does not change is equally as important, particularly for Irish jobs and for the Irish economy. The treaty ensures that key national interests are protected. Our ability to set our own tax policy is guaranteed, and I welcome the Referendum Commission's clarity on this issue. The maintenance of our business-friendly tax policy means that multinationals based in Ireland will stay here, and continue to employ tens of thousands. It also means that Ireland will remain among one of the most attractive places in the world to invest. The success of the treaty will encourage more investment and the creation of more jobs here.

The treaty also prioritises the fight against climate change, the greatest challenge we face. The EU has provided global leadership on climate change and the Lisbon Treaty strengthens the EU on this vital issue. Other issues important to Ireland, like neutrality, are unaffected by the treaty.

The Lisbon Treaty is being put to a vote at a time when we are facing uncharted economic waters. I do not believe in talking the economy down. What I do believe in is sending a positive signal to foreign direct investors and to our economic trading partners in the EU that Ireland is committed to being a key player in the world's most successful economic union.

The debate on the Lisbon Treaty has been dominated by both red herrings and issues that have been debated at each referendum over the past 35 years. The support the treaty has across the political spectrum, the business community and many other sections of Irish society should give those who have yet to make up their minds food for thought. One only has to ask, why would 160 out of 166 TDs in the Dáil and the Irish business community support the Lisbon Treaty? The answer clearly is that this is a treaty that benefits Ireland.

If I were asked to sum up in one sentence what the Lisbon Treaty means to me, I would say: it will make the European Union function more efficiently and more effectively, and it will ensure that Ireland retains a strong voice at the European table.

Martin Naughton is chairman and owner of the Glen Dimplex Group and a member of the Business Alliance for Europe, which yesterday launched its vote Yes campaign in the Lisbon Treaty referendum campaign