Tuesday, 20 January 2004
European Presidency: Statements.
Michael Mulcahy (Dublin South Central, Fianna Fail)
I thank Deputy Haughey for permitting me to share some of his time. I welcome the programme of the Irish Presidency, Europeans — Working Together, as well as the speech made by the Taoiseach in the House earlier. Many issues referred to in the programme will have to be tackled. When one examines the broad thrust of the Presidency, one notices that one or two important issues come to the top of the agenda. Although fewer than 15 years have passed since the fall of the Berlin Wall, many east European countries will join the EU on 1 May. This Presidency will be known for the enlargement process.
One of the major tasks of the Presidency is to oversee the smooth enlargement of the Union from 15 to 25 member states. In that regard, I welcome the comments in the programme on the issue of Cyprus. I hope that the plan submitted by the UN Secretary General, Mr. Kofi Annan, can be implemented before 1 May so that a united Cyprus can form part of the European Union. I note that the Presidency programme states: "The Irish Presidency will fully support the efforts of the Secretary General and will encourage all parties to re-engage with imagination and determination in talks on the basis of his proposals with a view to reaching a settlement which will enable the accession of a united Cyprus".
I hope we can all look forward to ten new countries joining on 1 May this year. According to the Presidency document, Bulgaria and Romania may join in 2007. In December of this year the European Council will make a decision as to whether Turkey should finally enter into negotiations with the EU on the issue of membership. The primary task of this Presidency will be to ensure that the enlargement process is completed as smoothly and efficiently as possible.
As my colleagues stated, the second most important aim is the new constitutional treaty. The work of the Irish delegation in the sub-committee has previously been recognised in this Chamber and I wish to highlight it once again.
It is understandable that certain countries had a serious problem in regard to the Council voting strength. They are joining the EU on the basis of the Nice treaty, yet before they are even in the door they are being asked to change the terms of their membership. It is similar to being accepted as a member of a club but even before one walks through the front door somebody says, "I am sorry but the rules have to be changed again." We must be sensitive to countries that historically have been under the jurisdiction of other larger countries as they may feel that their sovereignty is compromised. I have considerable sympathy for some of these countries that want to maintain certain voting strengths and a European Union where smaller and medium-sized countries will not be dwarfed by what has thus far been the admirable engine of Europe, the Franco-German-Italian alliance. One has to recognise that with enlargement when the EU reaches 25 or more members, the focus of the centre of Europe will shift from that core in western Europe to a much larger Europe.
I echo Deputy Haughey's comments that the Taoiseach is ideally placed to resolve the problem with the constitutional treaty and to seek an honourable compromise whereby small, medium and large countries can sit down together with a shared vision for the future of Europe and go forward together.
I welcome the Presidency programme and the Taoiseach's speech introducing it today.