EU must retain those factors which ensured its success in the past


IF IT works don't fix it. That's part of the advice I've had since I first proposed a White Paper on foreign policy. Our foreign policy has served us well over the years. It has produced a range of benefits that are now being felt more keenly than ever, as our economic successes reflect themselves in a stronger external performance.

Ireland's most significant external engagement, membership of the European Union, has brought considerable political and economic advances. From July onwards we will, for the fifth time, occupy the EU presidency. We will have a position of leadership within the EU and we will have a correspondingly enhanced international role.

EU membership has altered the relationship between Ireland and Britain in ways that have facilitated the two governments, working together in pursuit of a peaceful settlement in Northern Ireland. In the wider arena, excellent relations have been maintained with the United States, to the considerable benefit of the peace process.

At the same time, through an expanding Irish aid programme, we have developed our commitment to, and relations with, the countries of the developing world.

On the economic front, our external trade performance has resulted in substantial surpluses in recent years. The level of our prosperity predicted to reach 89 per cent of the European Union average by the end of this year up from 62 per in 1980. Last year we were one of only three countries meeting to qualifying standard for participation in a European single currency.

So why a White Paper? When I first mooted this exercise, I had two main motivations. First, I wanted to stimulate greater public debate on, and understanding of foreign policy in order to produce a deeper sense of public ownership of what has sometimes been mistakenly viewed as a rarefied chapter of public policy.

Appearing as it does on the eve of the Inter Governmental Conference to review the EU Treaty, which begins in Turin on Friday, I expect this document to inspire a worthwhile debate on the future evolution of the EU.

The second incentive behind the White Paper was to enable our foreign policy to take its bearings in the rapidly changing environment created by the ending of the Cold War, and the emergence of a radically different political configuration in Europe, with its inevitable implications for the European Union and our place within it.

Challenges and Opportunities Abroad represents an effort to get the best out of our foreign relations, and, drawing on the strengths we possess, to equip ourselves to meet the challenges of a changing Europe and a changing world. It is not a question of shifting our ground, but of applying well established values and traditions to the new international circumstances in which we find ourselves.

The first focus of our foreign policy is to work for a peaceful and prosperous Ireland within the European Union. The White Paper sets out our position in relation to the future development of the Union at this crucial point in the evolution of European integration with a potentially radical expansion of membership on the horizon. We are seeking an inclusive Europe, with a proper place for the priorities and aspirations of all its member states and their citizens.

The Union that so many countries aspire to join acted as a powerful source of hope during the years when the countries of Central and Eastern Europe were emerging from under the shadow of totalitarian rule. For this reason, enlargement must not be used as a pretext for dismantling the key elements of the EU's achievement.

Instead, we must preserve the essential policies and structures from which the applicants will benefit when they join. Arrangements for enlargement must permit the interests of existing members and of new entrants to be fully reconciled.

IN the coming negotiations, we will insist on preserving the basic structures that have served the Union well throughout successive stages of its development. These structures, and the institutional balances embedded in them, have given all member states a sense of belonging.

They have avoided any impression of domination by the more powerful member states, which would be detrimental to the Union's political cohesion. In my view the EU must, if it is to flourish, retain what is most valuable in its makeup, namely the successful policies that bind its member states together. Of these, the Common Agricultural Policy and the cohesion policies are of particular concern to Ireland. If these are to be adjusted, this can only be done with due regard to the interests of the Union's membership as a whole.

His essential to hold on to the EU's best qualities of inclusiveness and the judicious mix of policies developed to accommodate different national concerns. But of course, the Union's policies cannot stand still. It must acquire new strengths if it is to live up to expectations. It must learn to espouse more directly the interests of its citizens.

That is why we will be looking for ways of refining the Treaty, for example to embrace the rights of people with a disability, to deal with the problems posed by international crime and drug trafficking, and to promote social inclusion by combating unemployment.

Unemployment has become a corrosive, Europe wide problem warranting the highest priority from a Union committed to serving the needs of its citizens. We want to see EMU enter into force as envisaged in the Maastricht Treaty, with the participation of as many states as possible. We intend to pursue the goal of making EU social policy a fully inclusive process once again.

Side by side with the EU's unparalleled strides in promoting integration there is an emerging consensus that it should be better equipped to, play its proper role in maintaining regional and global security, without which economic gains could be seriously imperilled.

On foot of the dramatic changes in the strategic landscape during the last decade, the security situation facing the EU is now much more complex than it was when the Cold War imposed stark divisions of a crude simplicity.

As the White Paper's analysis highlights, the changes that have occurred provide the first opportunity in 50 years to build a just and peaceful world order. At the same time, regional and intrastate conflicts have multiplied. They threaten to undermine the positive prospects flowing from the ending of the Cold War.

Over the years, Ireland has developed a distinctive approach to security derived from our own capacity and experience. We set out to play a constructive role as a small country outside of military alliances. Our policy of military neutrality is cherished by the majority of Irish people for the positive values that inspire it. Evolving security realities present new opportunities for developing our traditional peacekeeping strengths and deploying these in a European context.

The White Paper takes an inclusive view of security, reflecting the fact that it is a broad concept going well beyond the purely military dimension. It argues that, while retaining our neutrality and refraining from membership of WEU and, Nato, we can contribute to current security needs by taking on, as WEU observers, some of the peacekeeping and humanitarian tasks identified in the 1992 Petersberg Declaration.

The tasks in which we are proposing to participate are completely in tune with our traditional outlook, even if these are new undertakings for the WEU itself.

The Government will not be proposing that Ireland seek membership of WEU. I believe that the role we see for ourselves may be more in keeping with current European security needs than the geographical extension of military alliances. The key issue is to enhance security and not to create new dividing lines.

IRELAND has always favoured multilateral approaches to security problems. That is why we seen firm advocates of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) with its inclusive membership and its co-operative and preventive approach to security problems.

For similar reasons, the Government intends to explore in a positive way the possibility of participating in the Partnership for Peace (PEP), which brings together the vast majority of European countries in a flexible framework of co-operation on security issues of common concern.

In our case, the centrepiece of prospective involvement in the PEP would be the enhancement of peacekeeping capabilities. The Partnership's membership includes Nato countries but it also includes other European neutrals and, indeed, former members of the Warsaw Pact including Russia, and all but one of the independent states that made up the former Soviet Union.

There is no credible rationale for turning our back on the Partnership for Peace, which stands alongside the OSCE as part of the means by which European security is promoted. The suggestion that PFP is some sort of associate membership of Nato is simply ludicrous in view of the breadth of its participants.

While European themes run through the White Paper, it also keeps a sharp focus on the international system and especially on the United Nations, with its universal membership and its all embracing agenda, as the linchpin of that system.

The UN is uniquely placed to promote the collective security and economic and social development of the world community. With a membership of 185 countries, and despite all the difficulties that such diverse membership brings, the UN is the only international organisation with the capacity to assert the will of the entire international community.

As the White Paper puts it, the UN is "imperfect but irreplaceable". Our goal is to ensure that it continues to be an effective vehicle for the implementation of its founding principles.

We want to strengthen the UN's capacity for early warning of looming conflicts and for international mediation. We are aiming for greater Irish involvement within the UN system in the years ahead, especially in the fields of disarmament and human rights, two central and enduring Irish priorities in both the UN and EU contexts. The White Paper incorporates a full statement of our objectives in these priority fields.

Challenges and Opportunities Abroad sets out a comprehensive vision of Ireland's place in the world. It spells out the values and principles that inspire our foreign policy and constitutes a blueprint for the vigorous pursuit of objectives deriving from them.