Tuesday, 20 January 2004
European Presidency: Statements.
Eoin Ryan (Dublin South East, Fianna Fail)
I wish the Government, in particular the Taoiseach, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, and the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, the very best in the Presidency. They have done a huge amount of work in organising it and getting it into the right framework and I wish them every success. Ireland has a tradition of running the Presidency very well and I have no doubt that this will be a very successful Presidency. I am aware from talking to people in Brussels last week when the Taoiseach was there who are not Irish but who work in Brussels, that they were very impressed with the way we kicked off our Presidency and the way the Taoiseach and the Government have handled their relationship with all of the people in the European Parliament but especially the leaders of the various groups. We have started well and I have no doubt we will continue to do well.
Our Presidency of the European Union offers us an extraordinary opportunity to shape the future enlargement of the European Union for the better. It will be during the Irish Presidency that the EU will undergo its largest enlargement yet. In May, an additional ten members from central Europe will join the Union while a subsequent further enlargement in 2007 will bring in Romania and Bulgaria. That is ten new countries, 450 million people, 25 member states and 25% of the world's gross domestic product. That brings about challenges for us but they are challenges we are willing to face and solve. That is why it is important that we achieve common ground on the issues that face the people of Europe and the theme "Europeans Working Together" is very apt and is the right theme to set for our six month Presidency. What really matters to the people of Europe is economic growth, employment, prosperity and security. That is what people want. These are the issues that need to be sorted out and the challenges that face us.
There is one issue about which I have concerns, although I am aware we intend to take initiatives on it. Enlargement will mean that the nations of the western Balkans — Croatia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro — will be encircled by the EU, in effect creating a black hole of underdevelopment, ethnic tension and political instability within the geographical heart of the EU. Wars have killed hundreds of thousands in the region. Over 1 million people were displaced, and remain so. The widespread destruction of critical infrastructure remains unrepaired in many places. While steady economic growth has started in the region, the legacy of conflict still has to be overcome. Poverty and unemployment remain widespread. Gross national incomes remain low. While Croatia's are relatively high at approximately €4,640 per year; in the other countries it is below €1,500.
The excess of organised crime, narcotics, human trafficking and corruption in these countries represents not only a serious impediment to progress but a very real threat to the security of the EU. There are credible reports of al-Qaeda building cells in Bosnia and Kosovo and in the region as a whole there are thousands of militant extremists with easy access to weaponry. The region remains plagued with the problems of human trafficking, narcotics and cigarette smuggling, clandestine migration, money laundering and the link which still exists between rogue elements of the police, armed and organised crime and, in some cases, extremist parties and terrorist groups. In 2007, the countries will be surrounded by the EU, geographically at the heart of Europe but excluded from the EU and all the rights and benefits of EU membership. It will be the political equivalent of a black hole no longer in the EU but in its midst.
If we are to prevent this nightmare scenario we must act now. Ireland should make the western Balkans a priority in this Presidency and ensure that the EU and the new accession countries launch a joint programme for the region. The Minister for Foreign Affairs has announced that he intends to take some initiatives in this area. The programme should be designed to build national capacities, reform judiciaries, root out corruption, enhance policing and, most importantly, build support for democratic values as a countervailing force to rising hard-line nationalism. While the new nations of the European Union would not be expected to make substantial donations in cash terms, they have built up significant expertise during the lead in to accession which they could make available to help these nations' building effort.
The challenges faced by the nations of the western Balkans are huge. They need our help if they are not to slide back into the quagmires of instability, ethnic conflict and war. We can intervene now and pay the price of a programme or wait until the situation sours and pay a far greater sum in blood to restore peace. Ireland should use the Presidency of the EU to push for a new plan, this time for Europe to assist the people of the Balkans to build new nations from the ashes of the former Yugoslavia. Failure to act may well condemn the people of the Balkans to a rerun of the wars of the late 20th century and Europe to another bloody and preventable chapter in its history. By acting boldly, Ireland and Europe can show that the people of the democratic nations of the EU have not forgotten their plight, make a tangible difference to their lives and, not least, ensure the security of the region and Europe as a whole. This is a serious challenge facing us and it is one that will not go away unless we take some action.
We have considerable expertise in this area. However, these people need not only money but help. We have excellent civil servants. We also have excellent politicians who have gone to other countries and helped people to understand the democratic process and how to set up good governance structures. We have the necessary expertise, as have other EU member states. Such expertise should be used to help these countries. If this is not done, we will face problems because of the presence of criminal elements. Anyone who has spoken to people working for the United Nations in this area will be aware this is a serious problem facing the European Union. I would like the Government to pay special attention to it and embark on a major plan to tackle it.
I wish the Government well. I am delighted we are making Africa a priority. Some 280 million people in Africa, of whom approximately 30 million are HIV positive, live below the poverty line. Anyone who has visited Africa is aware that it is long past time to take special initiatives in this area. I am delighted all the African leaders will be here in April and I wish the Government well in that regard. It is important that we take on these types of global issues. I wish the Minister of State well. I have no doubt he will do a great job and that at the end of the six month period we will have made significant progress in areas in respect of which work has been required for a number of years.