DUBLIN – Claims of a looming immigrant invasion from eastern Europe if Ireland adopts the Nice Treaty on European Union enlargement, have been dismissed as a gross distortion by Justice Minister Michael McDowell.
“There is no reason to believe, as has been suggested by some commentators, that large numbers of workers will wish to come here,” McDowell told the MacGill summer school conference on Ireland’s future in Europe.
He dismissed arguments by some opponents of the treaty that it would “open the floodgates” to immigrants from countries bidding to join the European Union.
“The same concerns were raised in the past when Spain and Portugal joined the E.U. and they proved to be totally groundless.”
Named after the French Mediterranean city where it was agreed by E.U. leaders in December 2000, the Nice accord covers key institutional and power-sharing reforms to enable the Union to add up to 12 new-member states from as early as 2004.
Voters rejected the treaty by 54 percent in June 2001, but the Government plans to hold a second referendum vote later this year.
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The treaty must be ratified in all 15 E.U. member-states by the end of the year, or else it falls. Ireland is the only country where a constitutional amendment by referendum is needed.
Twelve countries are negotiating to join the E.U. as early as mid-2004, including Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, the Baltic states and Cyprus.
Along with Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands, Ireland had indicated its intention to apply the principle of free movement in full to new E.U. members.
This is “because it is right and because it is in our broad economic interest”, said McDowell.
He added that freedom of movement was a fundamental E.U. principle which Irish people had benefited from in the past when the country was less prosperous.
Anthony Coughlan of the National Platform against Nice had said 75 million people from applicant countries would all be free to live and work in Ireland from the date of their E.U. accession.
“This is so, even though they will have no right in E.U. law to migrate to the rest of the E.U. for 7 years.
“This irresponsible commitment by the Government significantly changes the argument about E.U. enlargement.”
Coughlan said this would happen without any debate in the Dail, consultation with the public, or consultation with the UK Government, which could be significantly affected by this Irish Government commitment.