Ireland has nothing to fear in new EU treaty, says commissioner


Viviane Reding says Irish people should place trust in leaders trying to strengthen Europe, writes ARTHUR BEESLEY, Europeen Correspondent

A SENIOR member of the European Commission has said Ireland has nothing to fear from a new treaty to reinforce the single currency, an initiative viewed in Brussels as a step towards a federation of nation states.

Viviane Reding said she would be astonished if the Irish people rejected such a treaty and said they should place their trust in political leaders who were trying to strengthen Europe’s foundations for the future.

Reding, vice-president of the commission and EU Commissioner for Justice, argued that the debt crisis has exposed the need to deepen European integration, but said moves towards a new treaty should not take place behind closed doors.

Her remarks in an interview with The Irish Times come ahead of a visit to Dublin today and tomorrow in which she will meet Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter and senior business figures.

The development of a federation would see the EU system operating more and more like a central government for member states, with important powers reserved for European institutions.

This is highly contentious in many European countries, Ireland among them, given the inevitability of controversy over the ceding of national discretion over key policies.

Reding said: “From what I personally have experienced from your people, I would be very much astonished if the Irish people would not say: ‘Yes, we want a strong Ireland in a strong Europe because that is the best guarantee that the Irish citizen will be secure and will have a preserved future’.”

Noting that the US and Switzerland were federations, she said “one has to inspire oneself by systems which exist” and examine the distribution of power in different systems.

“At a certain moment there are a lot of things we can do in the treaty of Lisbon, but there might be things which we need to do and for which we need to go a step further,” she said.

“This is to be discussed with the people, and that is the difference with how things have happened in the past.” Only four months have passed since the Irish referendum on the fiscal treaty, but embryonic talks are already under way at the highest level on yet more measures to toughen Europe’s system of economic governance.

Many governments are very sceptical, but the initiative has the blessing of German chancellor Angela Merkel.

Commission chief José Manuel Barroso called for the creation of new federation of nation states a fortnight ago, but did not say what this meant exactly.

Reding, who is Luxembourg’s commissioner, acknowledged that talks on a new treaty could continue for up to five years but said it was crucial to tease out all questions in open debate with citizens. She believes any future treaty should be ratified by referendum. Coming from a small country, however, she saw much to be gained from the pooling of sovereignty.

Asked if the Irish people had anything to fear from the endeavour, she said: “I think they should not be afraid and they should trust those political leaders who want to develop a better future for the next generation.”

She was confident Ireland would accept a new treaty because people recognise now that the authorities need to be able to respond quickly to a crisis.

Reding had nothing to disclose about the Government’s campaign for bank debt relief beyond saying “everyone” recognised the problem remained unsolved. Like other senior European politicians, she said Ireland was an exemplar for other stricken countries and was going in the right direction.

“The crisis was not the fault of Europe or of the euro. At the time the housing bubble burst in Ireland it was the national supervisors who were responsible for supervising their banks – and they did not do a great job,” she said.

“Nobody can say that Ireland is in a brilliant situation. But it is like in life, there are ups and downs. And it is also like in life, when there is [a] down you can stay in the down and complain and say how unfair this is or you can get your act together and fight to get out.”