Dáil debates

Tuesday, 20 January 2004

European Presidency: Statements.


5:00 pm

Photo of Dick RocheDick Roche (Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Wicklow, Fianna Fail)

I apologise if I am unable to deal with every issue raised by Deputies. Nobody should be under any illusions about the energy, enthusiasm, drive and commitment of the Presidency on the matter of the Intergovernmental Conference. The Taoiseach, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and I have spent a huge amount of time since Christmas dealing with this area. Most of the main players have already been consulted. The Minister for Foreign Affairs has had face to face meetings with some of his counterparts and I have had a number of meetings with my counterparts. The Taoiseach has been in contact with all the senior leaders and by the end of next week will conclude a complete round of discussions with every leader in the European Union. Nobody should be under any illusions in that regard.

Deputies Rabbitte, Gay Mitchell, Kenny and, in particular, Deputy Quinn all pointed out its significance. It is vitally important that we make progress on this treaty. It is vitally important that we understand the nature of the difficulties. It is not just about voting rights, neither is it about old versus new nor big versus small. Unfortunately there has been a misrepresentation of the nature of the dispute. The difficulty in Brussels last month was on voting but that was not the only issue to be resolved. If this matter can be resolved it will be resolved by the Irish Presidency, as our effort is widely recognised. At the end of the day the most important ingredient in the whole process will be political will. If the will is there a means will be found.

Some Deputies suggested that the Irish Presidency's programme was less than ambitious. Objectively, the Irish Presidency programme is recognised widely as one of the most ambitious in recent times. Enlargement, the Lisbon agenda, justice and home affairs and external affairs were the key issues on which we were to focus before the difficulties with the IGC. The European Council difficulties last month mean that the new treaty must be a top priority.

In raising the issue of the two-tier Europe, Deputies Quinn, Durkan, Haughey and others point to one of the most fundamental problems facing Europe. The discussion on a two-tier Europe is extremely disquieting because the European Union's great strength has been its ability to move forward together. There are instruments available in Europe which allow a differential approach, for example, the Schengen Agreement or——


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