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 apologise if the Minister of State has only five minutes in which to answer all these questions. I have a list the length of my arm but I will not go into them. The Minister of State mentioned the priorities, namely, banking union, youth unemployment and the European semester - many of which fall into the Commission timetable. What is being done differently in Ireland in regard to youth unemployment? Are there any particular initiatives that will be approached in a different way by the Irish Presidency? Youth unemployment figures have been mentioned: Spain, 52%; Greece, 54%; Germany, 8%. What is being done differently in Germany in the area of training and skills? Those are the types of issues that have to be dealt with. How are we going to grab certain issues by the scruff of the neck and say we will do things in a different way and put our stamp on them during the Irish Presidency, rather than follow the actual timetable? Rather than take up issues already in progress I suggest we put a stamp on the Presidency.
Can the Minister of State provide the committee with an update on the all-Ireland angle and how it will be portrayed? Are we going to promote all-Ireland food, the all-Ireland economy, all-Ireland tourism and so on? Is that part of the image that will be portrayed? Are we going to sell the island of Ireland?
The Minister of State referred to the Bosnian position. She mentioned the reform on the Bosnian side, and probably knows more about the region than me, but part of the difficulty is that the European Union has not encouraged Bosnia's neighbours to adopt policies that support its functionality. There are still territorial difficulties, property issues outstanding, access to ports and so on. One of the difficulties for Bosnia is that Croatia will impose a ban on products from Bosnia, such as milk, vegetable products, honey and so on, from January 2013, as they do not meet European Union standards. If that issue is not dealt with properly, it will create instability in the region. As this is a region coming out of conflict it is important that, while encouraging integration, we do not destabilise the economy. Perhaps that is not a matter for today's discussion but it is an issue to which I would like to return.
In regard to PEACE IV funding, the hope is that it will be signed off on during the Presidency. That would be great news for Border counties, particularly people in the North. Some of us visited the North in recent days where we met with various groups and witnessed the positive work that had been carried out under that programme. Will the Irish side push for a PEACE IV funding, as a unique programme, which is not top sliced? Is the British side similarly committed to the PEACE IV programme and has it been supportive during the discussions?