Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 27 November 2012
Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Union Affairs
Presidency of the Council of the European Union: Discussion with Minister of State
I will be concise and to the point. The Chairman raised the question of the banking union. I agree with him on how the supervisory mechanism should be constructed. It is important there is equality between member states. It is also important that we take into account the concerns of non-eurozone countries in this context. That will be tricky and difficult to work out but the most important thing is that we have a clear mandate from the European Council and a clear agenda to which all member states have agreed. We must find a way to move forward and to overcome the legal obstacles and political difficulties that exist. I have no doubt but that we will do that. I hope the European summit in December will give the added impetus that is needed to ensure that by the start of the Irish Presidency we will have a legal framework with which to move forward. The single supervisory mechanism is only the beginning. I would be emphatic in saying that the Europe-wide bank resolution scheme and the deposit guarantee scheme are equally important. We need a comprehensive banking union, as a single supervisory mechanism on its own is not adequate. We will be driving that agenda forward during the Presidency.
Our permanent representative has been consulting with the Cypriot Presidency, the Commission, the Parliament and other stakeholders at European level on the proposals in respect of semesters. Everybody knows the semester system is only in its infancy. We have lessons to learn from last year's experience. I hope that we can bring positive changes to the system during the Irish Presidency. The role for parliaments is a sensitive issue. The Presidency does not instruct Parliament on its role. Every national parliament is different, they have different procedures, and ways of handling things, but I discussed this with the committee this morning. Perhaps there could be a role for the Oireachtas to lead off on this process of debating the semester system, particularly country-specific recommendations. The CSRs are most pertinent to member states. They are specific to each individual member state. It is highly appropriate that national parliaments would debate the country-specific recommendations. It also holds governments to account. It is important that parliaments see this role. It is not a question of the Commission beating members states with a stick but that member states would take ownership of the recommendations and parliaments holding their own governments to account. I am very supportive of that. Perhaps we could give more consideration to how the Oireachtas might be able to lead the process and encourage other parliaments to do the same.
The European Parliament plans a structured engagement with national parliaments which will take place towards the end of January and again before the summit in June at which the European Council will adopt conclusions on the European semester. This process presents an opportunity to engage with the European Parliament. The President of the Parliament, Mr. Martin Schulz, the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee and others in the European Parliament are switched on to this process. I recommend that the joint committee discuss this issue because the link between the European Parliament and national parliaments is important.
On the tobacco products directive, I had an opportunity to discuss this matter with my colleague, the former Maltese Minister for Foreign Affairs and new Commissioner for Health, Mr. Tonio Borg, just before his appointment. During our brief discussion, Mr. Borg indicated his clear intention to launch the directive as his first priority. While we must wait for the Commission to produce its proposals, I expect the directive to be introduced quickly. Members should watch this space. I will revert to the joint committee on the directive.
Deputy Joe O'Reilly asked about Bosnia-Herzegovina. It is not the case that Bosnia-Herzegovina is being ignored or pushed down the list of priorities. I have visited the country and intend to visit again during the Presidency. Bosnia-Herzegovina and all the Balkan states are important for Europe, which has a commitment to the region. A European perspective has been provided for all the Balkan countries, including Bosnia-Herzegovina. However, progress has been slow. Shortly after my visit to Bosnia last summer, the country's leaders attended a high-level meeting in Brussels where they agreed a roadmap with a list of reforms. The blunt facts are that deadlines are being missed, the roadmap is not being adhered to in many instances and significant work remains to be done. The ball is in the court of the Bosnian authorities and leadership.
The European Union has standards and must demand basic protections for minorities and human rights, freedom of expression, the rule of law and so forth. We must insist on these matters and the quid pro quois that countries which meet the targets and adhere to the commitments to which they signed up will be rewarded by the European Union. We have not yet ratified the stabilisation and association agreement with Bosnia-Herzegovina, although this is an objective of the Irish Presidency and one on which we will, if possible, make progress. However, progress and reform are required on the Bosnian side. I am personally committed to this issue and intend to visit the region, including Bosnia, when I have an opportunity to do so during the Presidency.
On the Common Agricultural Policy, I am encouraged and enthused by the progress we made during meetings in Brussels last Thursday and Friday. As Deputies will be aware, the proposals tabled in advance of the summit by the President of the European Council, Mr. Herman Van Rompuy, envisaged significant cuts to the CAP budget. However, the revised version of the negotiating box we received on Friday morning contained a significant increase to the budget. The discussion is moving in the right direction and I believe it will continue to do so.
It goes without saying that I am convinced of the arguments made on food security, quality and costs for consumers. The other means of creating opportunities for the agrifood sector in Ireland and elsewhere in Europe is the use of bilateral trade agreements with other countries and regions of the world. The east coast of the United States is an area of significant potential for Irish farmers. For this reason, securing a free trade agreement between the European Union and United States is a priority for the Government and Irish Presidency. Such an agreement would have a positive impact on the farming community in Ireland and other agriculturally focused economies in the European Union.