On 1 January 1973, Ireland, together with the United Kingdom and Denmark, joined the original six Member States (Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands) as members of the European Community. (Greece joined in 1981 followed by Spain and Portugal in 1986. Austria, Finland and Sweden became members on 1 January, 1995.)
By the end of 1977, following an initial transition period, all tariffs on trade with other members of the Community had been removed. The Single European Act of 1987 initiated the removal of the remaining barriers to economic activity between Member States. The Single Market was completed on 1 January,1993.
The European Union was established in November, 1993 on the entry into force of the Treaty of European Union (the Maastricht Treaty).Successive Governments have favoured progressive evolution to a closer union. In referenda in 1972, 1987 and 1992 the people overwhelmingly endorsed accessioon to the Communities and thesubsequent treaties involving major steps towards the goal of union.
Ireland nominates one member of the European Commission and elects 15 members to the European Parliament. (There are also 3 members from Northern Ireland.) The country has held the six-month Presidency of the Council of Ministers on four occasions, most recently in 1990, and will do so again during the second half of 1996.
The Single Market: the most obvious economic benefit of membership of the Union has been the unhindered access it allows to a market of some 370 million people. This has in turn required an adjustment of the economy to international competition. Membership has contributed to rapid progress in a range of areas including the development of agriculture, industry and services.
Apart from the economic benefits, membership of the Union has had a major impact on social and cultural life. In addition, every Irish citizen is also an EU citizen. Among the rights conveyed by EU citizenship are the right to move and reside freely within the territory of other Member States, subject to certain limitations.
Economic and social cohesion: the Union embodies the principle of economic and social cohesion according to which the less prosperous regions are helped to reduce disparities between their levels of development and those of the more prosperous regions. This principle was reinforced in the Single European Act and again in the Maastricht Treatyy. Under the present round ofstructural funds, which will apply until the end of 1999, Ireland will receive funding of approximately £1 billion per year.
Membership of the Union has strengthened Ireland's contacts with the wider world. In the case of Central and Eastern Europe, the Union and its Member States are committed to developing close economic, political and cultural relations with the countries of the area and to assisting in the process of future integration. Likewise, solid foundations have been laid for closer relations with the Baltic States. Ireland, together with its partners, supports the economic and political reform process in Russia and in the other countries of the former Soviet Union.
The southern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean, as well as the Middle East, are areas with which the Union has strong interests in terms of peace, stability, security and regional economic and social development. In this region, the Union has special relations with Cyprus, Malta and Turkey.
Considerable importance is attached to the Union's relations with the US and Canada. Relations are underpinned by substantial trade and investment flows and by a shared commitment to democracy and human rights. In Latin America, Ireland participates in the development of the Union's relations with such regional entities as the Mercosur and Rio Groups.
In Asia, mutually beneficial economic and political cooperation is developing with the members of ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) and with other countries, many of which are, or are rapidly becoming, major partners in the world trading system.
Development Cooperation: the European Development Fund (EDF) is the main financing instrument of the Lomť Convention. Through its participation in the work of the EDF Ireland cooperates in the development of some 70 countries in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific.
The objectives of the Common Foreign and Security Policy include the promotion of international cooperation, the preservation of international peace and security, the development and consolidation of democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. These are traditional aims of Ireland's foreign policy. Participation in CFSP enables the country to pursue these aims more effectively, in cooperation with its European partners.
The Maastricht Treaty provides that the Common Foreign and Security Policy shall address all questions relating to the security of the Union, including the eventual framing of a common defence policy which might in time lead to a common defence. It also makes provision for the EU to request the Western European Union (WEU) to elaborate and implement decisions and actions which have defence implications. In view of this relationship between the EU and the WEU, Ireland became an Observer at the WEU on 1 November 1993, the date on which the Maastricht Treaty entered into force.
A conference of the representatives of the Member States of the European Union will be convened in 1996 to examine those provisions of the Treaty for which revision may be required. These provisions include the common foreign and security policy, including the question of a possible common defence policy, the powers of the European Parliament, the size of the European Commission and the system of voting in the council.
Changes in the Treatyís provisions would have to be approved by all Member States and, in the case of Ireland, are likely to require the approval of the people in a referendum.The Conference will coincide with Irelandís next Presidency of the Union during the second half of 1996.
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