Tuesday, 18 May 2004
Bertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
I will deal with the Deputy's final question first. My honest assessment of the situation — we are speaking in this regard of ten years into the future — is that the larger countries would prefer the Convention-type proposal that there should be 30 Commissioners — it is inevitable we will reach that number in this decade. They would like to establish a small executive-type operation or cabinet structure comprising seven, eight or nine countries who would represent the larger countries, and the remaining countries would receive Commission portfolios down the ranks but would not be centrally involved.
The smaller countries among the 15 members previously involved in work on the convention and the ten new accession countries have a combination of views in this regard. The view is that it is far better to remain with the Nice arrangement where we have a Commissioner two out of three times on a strict rotation basis. In that way, smaller countries would always be involved and Ireland, when it does not have a Commissioner, would be represented by that group. That is the preferred position and is the one which I, too, prefer. I was always concerned about the other position though its proposed introduction is ten years away. The larger countries want a handy set-up for themselves with smaller countries on the margins. I believe they are wrong to favour that position because it would result in losing the great concept of acquis communautaire. However, that is what the larger countries would like and we have had to argue strongly against it because if Ireland did not have a Commissioner, we would be represented by like-minded countries.
It is a better system which will work more effectively. A representative group of the like-minded will always be possible with 18 out of more than 30 countries. The Irish people voted on this issue and, for all the reasons I have mentioned, it is much safer. I understand the view expressed by the Deputy but it is not as it would be now and that is the point.
The outgoing President of the European Parliament will be in office until 21 July when the new Parliament meets. If Mr. Cox has sufficient support to win the position of President of the Commission, the Irish Government will support him and that is our clear position. I have been asked that question by several countries and I have informed them of the Government's position.
I am honoured by what has been said by Deputies Rabbitte and Kenny. I have been asked by a substantial number of people, although not a majority. I am third in the pecking order although I am one of the senior people on the Council. I appreciate the interest but it is not for me. It is not what I would like to do with my life in the future.