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)

The discussion on a two-tier Europe illustrates the nature of the difficulties and the significance of the work that has to be done. It is hard for those who take a different view to understand precisely what a two-speed Europe actually means. The point is that it is not on the agenda and is not being contemplated. We want to complete the treaty if that can be achieved.

It is simply untrue for Deputies to suggest that the issue of enlargement is done and dusted and all issues relating to it are resolved. As Deputy Durkan has stated, we welcome the ten accession countries as rejoining a family but after 1 May more detailed background work has to be done on enlargement. We have to move forward in the case of Bulgaria and Romania. Croatia's position is being examined by the European Commission and in all probability another application for membership will be received next month. The enlargement of the European Union has not been completed. It is true, however, that 1 May is truly a remarkable day. It is remarkable that Europe, divided by so many bloody wars, will be reunited without a shot being fired. That is something to celebrate.

On the question of the Irish language raised by Deputies Sargent, Kenny and others, the Government's approach is to take every appropriate opportunity to enhance the standing of the Irish language in the European Union. That has been the position of all Governments. It is simply not true to state, as has been suggested, that all that is needed at this stage is a cnog ar an doras. There is a little more to the issue than that.

Deputy Kenny dealt with the issue of the peace process. The Middle East peace process is a central issue as Deputy Kenny and others recognise. The Minister for Foreign Affairs has been in the region in the recent past and already there have been a series of meetings. We are focused on the EU's role within the international quartet road map. Europe has a moral responsibility to play a significant role in that regard. On the specific issue of the security wall, raised by Deputy Kenny, during the Minister's visit to Israel in the past week our concerns and those of the EU about the security wall were raised with the Prime Minister, Mr. Ariel Sharon, and the Foreign Minister, Mr. Shalom.

Deputy Rabbitte and others referred at length to the Lisbon agenda, which is a critical issue for Europe. It is not true to suggest, however, that our policy in this regard is anything other than ambitious. We have made it clear that in the recent past there has been a propensity for people to bring new issues to the Lisbon agenda and effectively it has become overburdened. During the Irish Presidency we will focus on four key issues; the promotion of growth-oriented economic policies; to foster competitiveness; to deliver more and better employment; and to ensure sustainable growth. There has been a widescale acceptance that this is a prudent way forward. We will be assisted by Mr. Wim Kok's report, to which Deputy Rabbitte referred and to which the Taoiseach has referred on a number of occasions. There is an acceptance in the European Union that the Irish programme on the issue of the Lisbon agenda is both realistic and well focused and marks the way forward.

On the Stability and Growth Pact, both Deputies Quinn and John Bruton made prudent observations that it cannot be regarded as an entirely inflexible instrument. Both suggested we should look forward to creating a more flexible instrument, which is very much the Government view. The decision of the ministers at the ECOFIN meeting of 25 November last was not essentially different in substance from what the Commission proposes, basically that France and Germany come into line with the deficits allowed under the Stability and Growth Pact. France and Germany have indicated that is their intention. There is the issue of the European Court of Justice and whether the Commission will move forward. The Commission's role is quite separate from the Council, in that the Commission is the guardian of the treaties, a role we well understand. The legal services of the Commission and the Council have differences on this issue.

Deputies Harkin, Haughey, Rabbitte and, in particular, Gay Mitchell spoke on development co-operation and the related issue of HIV/AIDS in Africa. We have clearly indicated that the EU-Africa dialogue should be moved up the agenda. We all accept that the EU has an historic and moral role to play with regard to the continent of Africa. During our Presidency the emphasis will be on the eradication of poverty, dealing with HIV/AIDS, debt and development issues. In this context Deputy Harkin questioned how we communicate the role of the EU to others. I am glad she asked that question because communicating on the Union to the people of Europe is a key priority during the Irish Presidency. For the first time ever, on 6 to 8 April a new programme specifically focused on communicating Europe will be launched. All of my counterparts in the 25 states will attend the launch as will my counterparts from the countries that have applied for membership. Deputy Eoin Ryan and other asked how we would involve the Balkan states and we are seeking to involve them as a way of showing them how the Union operates.

Deputy Sargent has misportrayed EURATOM once again. Deputy John Bruton dealt in his contribution with the situation at the Convention. The outcome of the Convention was the best that could be achieved. The idea that it would be better if EURATOM were scrapped is nonsensical. I found Deputy Ó Caoláin's contribution somewhat perverse as his interpretation of the European Union is not shared by any objective observer. The European Union has been described by Mr. John Hume as the most significant peace process in the world. It has been remarkable both in what it has achieved and what it is about to achieve on 1 May. To take the view adopted by Deputy Ó Caoláin is to deny history, fact and reality. Deputy Ó Caoláin mentioned the approach to asylum and immigration. Tackling immigration and people trafficking is a good example of where the European Union can be effective. Deputies Haughey, Éamon Ryan and others referred to transatlantic relations Re-establishing the good relationship between Europe and the United States is a key priority for the Presidency.

Deputy Kenny raised the issue of child pornography and, in a related contribution, Deputy John Bruton suggested that difficulties in voting were causing problems. The framework decision on child exploitation was, in fact, adopted last month by the European Council despite the difficulties to which Deputy John Bruton correctly referred.

Deputies John Bruton and Carey mentioned the subsidiarity issue and this is a good example of why people should take the time and trouble to make themselves aware of what is in the new constitutional treaty. Deputy John Bruton described this correctly and appropriately — as did Deputy Mitchell on a previous occasion — as an important innovation involving national parliaments and creating a real Europe from top to bottom.

A number of Deputies mentioned the issue of enlargement, to which I have already made reference. I will return to the point made by Deputies Quinn and John Bruton. What will happen on 1 May during Ireland's Presidency is truly remarkable. Europe, which was divided for more than a century by a bloody series of internal civil wars and international wars that caused the deaths of tens of millions of people, is coming together without a shot being fired.

We should always bear in mind that the European Union, for all its frustrations and warts that we may criticise, has given the European continent the longest period of peace, stability and progress it has known in its history. That is a cause worth celebrating.

The Irish Presidency has an extremely ambitious programme and nobody should be under any illusions about that. We have big challenges to meet and we have not set the hurdle low for ourselves — it has been set high. Our previous five Presidencies have been remarkably successful and have been recognised as such. I guarantee the House that if human effort can make the difference, the sixth Presidency will also be successful and illustrious.


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