Greens win battle over Irish role in EU defence agency

ANALYSIS: AFTER A disastrous showing in the recent elections, the Greens finally have something that can be displayed to their…

ANALYSIS:AFTER A disastrous showing in the recent elections, the Greens finally have something that can be displayed to their supporters as a political trophy. This is a concession wrung from their Fianna Fáil partners which leaders of the Green Party regard as significant.

The European Defence Agency Bill 2009 is to be passed into law in time for the next Lisbon referendum, which is due to be called in early October. The agency was established five years ago with the official aim “to improve European Union’s defence capabilities in the field of crisis management and to sustain the European Security and Defence Policy as it stands now and develops in the future”.

But from a Green perspective and given the party’s traditional quasi-pacifist outlook, participation in the agency could be seen as the thin end of the wedge to becoming involved in a European army or, at the very least, militaristic adventures under the EU flag in co-operation with former imperialist and colonial powers.

The initial negotiations on the matter began, literally, in a bunker: the basement of Government Buildings on Dublin’s Merrion Street.

The Greens were represented by programme manager Dónall Geoghegan and Senator Deirdre de Búrca, meeting officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Defence, representing Ministers Micheál Martin and Willie O’Dea.

The atmosphere at this initial discussion was described as “very stiff”, with the Greens’ representatives arguing for total withdrawal from the defence agency, whereas the other side wanted what is described as “full, untrammelled membership”.

Following this somewhat unprofitable exchange, there were further, sporadic meetings and documents were exchanged, but talks only resumed again in earnest last March. Finally at the end of April, things started to “get real” with a meeting of Greens’ leader and Minister for the Environment John Gormley and Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin.

This encounter took place in Martin’s office on the ministerial block in Leinster House.

The two Ministers dismissed their officials and continued the negotiations on a one-to-one basis. That meeting, as sources put it, “broke the ice” and allowed a compromise position to be reached whereby Ireland would remain in the defence agency but our involvement would be subject to Government decision on a case-by-case basis and Dáil oversight.

In addition, the Government would have to be satisfied that such involvement would “contribute to enhancing capabilities for UN-mandated missions for peacekeeping, conflict prevention and strengthening international security, in accordance with the principles of the United Nations charter”. Any such decision must also be approved by a majority vote in favour of a Dáil motion from the Government.