Tuesday, 18 May 2004
Bertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
That proposal was discussed at the March meeting when I gave the report to the European Council. I also discussed it last year, in the preparations for the Presidency, with most of the countries, although perhaps not all of them. It has been discussed by the contact group which met two weeks ago. It was discussed again yesterday at the Foreign Ministers' meeting on the Intergovernmental Conference issues, and I have discussed it with individual countries. As the Deputy is aware, it is not agreed yet because nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, but it has much more consensus.
The other position would have brought in a system where we would move, almost inevitably, to the larger countries having a full-time Commissioner and other countries having a Commissioner who would have been seen to be of lesser status, not only in terms of voting but also in that there would have been two cores — the main Commission group and a parliamentary secretary type structure, as is the case in many European countries. I never supported that system and it was against what was in the Nice treaty.
The Irish people voted on two occasions on the Nice treaty but we were voting on a strict equality position where everyone would be treated equally. That is much better because it is inevitable that Europe will expand to 30 countries at least, if not beyond that, and we will never get a position of equal status among 30 Commissioners at the same level. We may get at least two or three groups but some countries would have liked a small, select inner core, which inevitably would have been the large countries. The Convention proposal was around that arrangement, something the large countries liked but which certainly was not acceptable to the smaller countries. Our effort is to seek something that will remain for a decade, with a Commissioner per member state, and then move to a smaller number on the basis of strict equality.