Government's explanation of referendum wording


When the Government published the Bill yesterday detailing the next referendum on the Nice Treaty, it also issued this explanation on the wording.

It refers to sub-section nine of part 2 of the Bill

1) Article 1.2 of the Treaty of Nice contains a revision of Article 17 of the Treaty on European Union. The first paragraph of this Article reads as follows:

"The common foreign and security policy shall include all questions relating to the security of the Union, including the progressive framing of a common defence policy, which might lead to a common defence, should the European Council so decide. It shall in that case recommend to the Member States the adoption of such a decision in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements."

2) This provision is unchanged from that contained in the Treaty of Amsterdam, which was approved by the Irish people in a referendum, except that it omits a reference to the role of the Western European Union (WEU) in the framing of the defence aspects of the common foreign and security policy (CFSP).

3) The term common defence employed in Article 17 of the Treaty on European Union is taken as implying a common defence arrangement involving a binding mutual defence commitment. This can be understood from the second paragraph of Article 17, which refers to certain Member States, which see their common defence realised in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).

4) The arrangement foreseen under Article 17 is that any decision to move to a common defence would be taken by the European Council, which acts by consensus and on which all Member States are represented.

No decision to move to a common defence could be taken without Ireland's agreement in the European Council.

5) If the European Council were to take such a decision, it would then have to be adopted by the Member States in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements. In effect, the Member States would have to ratify the decision of the European Council in the same way as they would an EU treaty.

6) The Constitutional amendment put forward by the Government, if approved by the people, would have the effect of preventing Ireland from adopting any decision by the European Council to establish a common defence involving Ireland. In order for Ireland to join a common defence, the people would first have to vote to delete or amend this Constitutional prohibition.

This would give Constitutional effect to the political commitment contained in the National Declaration, which was itself a confirmation of undertakings given by successive Irish Governments.

7) What the proposed amendment will not do is to prevent the Oireachtas adopting a decision taken by the European Council to establish a common defence which does not include Ireland.

While no decision to establish a common defence can be taken in the European Council without Ireland's agreement, it has never been Ireland's position that we would seek to block the ambitions of other Member States to establish common defence arrangements among themselves in circumstances where Ireland was not ready to participate, as long as these arrangements would not prejudice Ireland's national interests.

However, there is no prospect of a group of Member States establishing an EU common defence without the agreement of all Member States as the Treaty of Nice explicitly prohibits enhanced cooperation in matters having military or defence implications.

8) The situation which would arise if Ireland were to agree to the establishment of a common EU defence in which Ireland did not participate would be similar to that which occurred in relation to the creation of the euro which was approved by all 15 Member States, even though three Member States decided not to adopt the common currency.

Those Member States which opted out (UK, Sweden and Denmark) have all announced their intention to hold a referendum before joining the euro.

Full details of the Bill, an accompanying Government statement and an explanatory memorandum may be read on the Taoiseach's website,