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26 April 2001 Edition

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Reasons to Vote No 4 - No to a two-tier Europe

BY ROBBIE MacGABHANN

`A rich man's club' was how, in the late 1970s, former Fianna Fáil leader Jack Lynch described the EU he didn't want to see happen. But this rich person's club was the EU we were part of then and still are now. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact has only intensified the us and them, rich and not so rich, nature of the EU and those outside its borders.

If you read the Dublin government White Paper on the Nice Treaty they claim that one of the core driving forces to actually draw up the Treaty was the need to reform the EU's structures and institutions before the next wave of enlargement.

However, the Nice Treaty's proposals include provisions to create a two-tier Europe within the EU. These are found in the area called ``Enhanced Cooperation''.

This idea of enhanced cooperation where some states agree ``closer cooperation'' on certain issues than is currently provided for in current EU treaties was introduced in the Amsterdam Treaty.

No enhanced cooperation has actually happened since Amsterdam was ratified in 1998. The reason given by the Dublin government for this is that because any one state could veto the proposals for enhanced cooperation. Groups of states would not invest the time in any closer ties only to have them vetoed by one lone state.

Under the terms of the Nice Treaty any eight states, regardless of size, can organise closer ties, needing only the support of a qualified majority. This means in reality that though the eight smaller states could agree to some form of cooperation, they really need the approval of at least one of the larger states to make it happen. However, the larger states could easily reach the majority needed to allow them to cooperate more.

The areas under which cooperation is allowed has also widened to include the Common Foreign and Security Policy but not defence policy, where we already have cooperation between the states with nuclear weapons and those in NATO.

The Nice Treaty will lead to the entry of up to 11 states with hugely different economies than those of the 15 current members. It is highly likely that through the use of the qualified majority system, some of the larger and more prosperous EU states will let in our poorer Eastern European cousins to the EU while forging ahead with their own faster paced closer cooperation, which the new states will not be allowed veto.

Enhanced cooperation is yet another example of the few positive original principles of the EU being undermined. The idea of a Europe where we all moved together at the speed of the slowest member, while offering that member a helping hand, was a positive one. It is one that will disappear altogether if the Nice Treaty is ratified.

Vote No to a two-tier Europe.

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