Tuesday, 20 January 2004
European Presidency: Statements.
I am delighted we have the opportunity of a special sitting of the Dáil to debate Ireland's sixth Presidency of the European Union. Today's sitting of the Dáil provides us with a valuable opportunity to discuss the issues on the European Council's agenda during our Presidency. A number of these issues will impact on us for many years to come.
One of the challenges facing the Union is the need to bring Europe closer to its citizens. We have to strive to keep people fully informed and engaged on issues and developments that have real and significant impacts on their lives. The Dáil has a critical role to play in this regard. The work done in this House enables the representatives of the people to get to grips with the external forces that shape our world and to strive to understand the challenges we face now and will face in the future. We can work to mediate outcomes so that they benefit our people without disadvantaging anyone else. I would like to praise the Joint Committee on European Affairs in this context. The work of the committee in ensuring adequate scrutiny of EU proposals is highly significant. Understanding, engaging with and influencing the EU legislative process is of fundamental importance in a globalised world, with the EU as our framework. The committee's work goes to the heart of promoting and protecting the interests of the Irish people. It serves to strengthen the Union. The work of the committee and the debates we have in the Dáil are likely to become even more important in an enlarged and more complex EU.
It is an honour and a privilege for Ireland to assume the Presidency of the European Union. We will be in the driving seat for six months, seeking to move agendas forward and looking for the best possible outcomes. Significant efforts have been made recently to ensure that each Presidency acts within a coherent and co-ordinated framework. For the first time, a multiannual strategic programme involving six future Presidencies was agreed at the European Council last December. Ireland drove this process as the first Presidency in office of the six. The process has resulted in a document which sets out the EU's broad framework for action up to the end of 2006. Similarly, Ireland and the Netherlands worked together over the course of 2003 to produce an annual operational programme which sets out in considerable detail the EU's agenda for 2004. It provides an overall focus and direction for the two Presidencies and serves as a context for the individual Presidency programmes. The programmes have been laid before the Dáil and the Presidency programme has been distributed to each Member of the Oireachtas.
Before I outline for Deputies the key features of our Presidency programme and set out our key aims and objectives for the coming months, I would like to review some of the developments so far. Almost three weeks have passed since Ireland assumed its sixth Presidency of the European Union. We have made a good start in that time. We launched the Presidency with a flag-raising ceremony in Dublin Castle on 1 January. The first full meeting of the Presidency took place a number of days later, on 6 January, when my Government colleagues and I met the European Commission. There was a very useful and productive series of meetings, both in plenary session and bilaterally. The meetings offered us an early opportunity to establish a common sense of purpose with our colleagues on the Commission.
I travelled to Strasbourg last Wednesday to address the plenary debate of the European Parliament. I outlined the priorities for our Presidency in my address and I had an exchange of views with the members of the Parliament. I am aware that close and constructive working relationships with the Commission and the Parliament are vital for a successful Presidency. A good working relationship is also essential to progress the collective work of the European Union. I believe that the engagements with the Commission and the Parliament have established firm foundations for a successful partnership over the six months of our Presidency. Partnership, which goes to the heart of our approach to the Presidency, is reflected in its theme — "Europeans — Working Together". Our theme embodies the shared vision of the people of Europe working collectively for common objectives.
Our Presidency has come at an exciting and historic time for the European Union. The addition of ten new member states from 1 May next and the ongoing work aimed at agreeing a new constitutional treaty for Europe are just two of the major challenges that face us. Our Presidency programme is set against this background.
We have pledged to progress the Intergovernmental Conference. The draft constitutional treaty, which was produced by the Convention on the Future of Europe last summer, is written in a simple and clear style. The text allows the ordinary citizen to know what the European Union is, what it stands for and who does what and why. The convention text of the draft constitutional treaty provided a good basis for the Intergovernmental Conference which got under way last October. We had hoped that the negotiations would result in agreement in Brussels last month. To our disappointment, however, this did not prove possible. A new constitution will enable the Union to respond better to the demands and expectations of its citizens into the future. It would make the Union more democratic, more accountable and more transparent. It would put in place structures to enable it to operate more effectively.
We are grateful to the Italian Presidency for the good work it did during its term. The significant progress which was made was due in no small part to the efficiency and determination with which the Italian Presidency approached the negotiations.
It now falls to us to try to make further progress. At the European Council last month, I undertook to consult partners and to make a report to the spring European Council. I assure Deputies that we are determined to do whatever we can to encourage and facilitate the earliest possible agreement.
We have already clearly demonstrated our intent. I have been undertaking an initial round of consultations with my counterparts. Further contacts and visits with partners are planned over the coming weeks. My soundings to date suggest a willingness to support our efforts to progress the IGC during our Presidency. Our approach is supported and all have indicated a willingness to help us find a way forward. I will continue to explore with my counterparts how and when progress in the IGC can be achieved.
A number of key issues have still to be resolved before agreement can be reached on the constitutional treaty. There is broad agreement, nonetheless, on many important elements. We are attempting to encourage a spirit of compromise and commitment and to build the consensus necessary for agreement. If it appears at any time that agreement is achievable, Deputies may be assured that we will seize that opportunity. This is an issue of the highest priority for our Presidency and we will spare no effort and leave no stone unturned to make progress during our term.
Welcoming the ten new members to the Union on 1 May will be an immense honour and key highlight of our Presidency. It will be a momentous time in the history of Europe, as old divisions are at last overcome and east and west are united with the common purpose of ensuring lasting peace, democracy, stability and prosperity.
We have been working for some time now planning a "day of welcomes" for 1 May. This will consist of a major event here in Dublin to welcome our new partners into the European Union. This event will be complemented by a series of community arts and cultural events in locations around Ireland, including concerts in Dublin and Belfast, broadcast live throughout Europe. These cultural events will aim to share and celebrate the great diversity of Europe's cultural heritage.
Enlargement on this scale is also unprecedented in the Union's history. While it presents clear opportunities it also presents challenges. A key priority for us will be to respond effectively to one of these challenges: ensuring that the Union's business is conducted effectively and efficiently in a new enlarged context. We will work to ensure a smooth transition from a Union of 15 to one of 25, integrating the new member states fully and effectively into the structures of the Union.
We also have an important role to play in terms of progressing the Union's agenda for future enlargement. In regard to Romania and Bulgaria we will advance the Union's aim of concluding negotiations in 2004, with a view to their accession in January 2007, if they are ready. We will also work to support Turkey's efforts to fulfil the necessary criteria with a view to a decision being made at the European Council in December 2004 on the opening of accession negotiations.
The enlarged European Union must work effectively for all its people and it can best do this by promoting sustainable growth and employment. Four years ago, at the Lisbon European Council, we agreed on the goal of making the European Union the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world. The programme of economic and social reform that has been undertaken to achieve this ambitious goal is known as the Lisbon Agenda.
The enlargement of the Union also offers a new dynamic framework for implementing and driving forward the Lisbon Agenda. We will work throughout our Presidency to support the new member states in making real progress towards achieving the Lisbon goal. During our Presidency, I am committed to ensuring that the goal of a truly competitive European economy, capable of delivering sustainable growth, more and better quality employment and social progress to its people, is progressed in a meaningful way.
Next year, we will be half way towards the 2010 target date set at the Lisbon European Council in March 2000 and we have already achieved a great deal. We have seen advances in the areas of research and development, financial services, liberalisation of energy markets, environmental protection and regulatory reform. It is now much easier for workers and students to move around the European Union to access jobs and education. It is easier to set up and run a small business. Consumers are starting to see the benefits of cheaper heating bills. Significant strides have been made in terms of equality and social protection. The European Union's commitment to the environment means a cleaner and safer world for our children and grandchildren.
Despite these achievements, it is increasingly clear that unless we increase momentum we will not meet the overall Lisbon target of making Europe the most competitive economy in the world by 2010. I am very aware of the urgency of the situation and of the need to speed up reforms. We are fortunate at present that positive signs of economic progress are emerging, both in Europe and internationally. It is imperative that we make the most of the current positive economic outlook. We intend to use this year's spring European Council to give renewed focus and impetus to the Lisbon Agenda. Achieving the overall goal and targets will require substantial commitment from European institutions, political leaders, and also from social organisations at European and national level. We must increase our efforts at individual member state level to implement those reforms and legislative changes already agreed if we are to reap the full social, sustainable and economic benefits. An example of this is the Internal Market. Although we have an agreed European Union framework for this, it can only achieve its full potential if legislation agreed at European level is effectively implemented and applied by all member states.
In Ireland we have been playing our part over the past year in clearing a backlog of EU legislation awaiting transposition into Irish law. I am delighted to report that figures published by the European Commission last week show that we have exceeded the Union's 1.5% deficit target in transposition of Internal Market directives. We are now ranked joint third among the five member states who have exceeded the target. Transposition is only one part of the equation. We must continue to press ahead with implementing further reforms. Maintaining the status quo will not improve Europe's economic standing, competitiveness or employment rates.
I have written to my colleagues in the European Council setting out my proposed approach and the key elements of the Lisbon agenda on which I intend to focus at the spring European Council. Our primary focus is clear. Sustainable growth and high quality employment are our twin priorities. I intend that the spring European Council will have a real debate on the most pressing economic and social challenges facing Europe. Investment in physical and human capital to support higher rates of growth across the EU economy while maintaining macroeconomic stability is one such challenge. Such additional investment is necessary to support growth recovery and to further Europe's transition towards a knowledge-based economy. To this end, we will encourage investment in physical capital and human capital as well as research and development.
Competitiveness is the key to European growth. While the Internal Market has been one of the Union's most important achievements, we see the further development of the services sector as the remaining motor of growth and job creation. The remaining obstacles to trade in goods and services must be removed if the full benefits of the Internal Market are to be seen by business and consumers alike. In this context, the Commission's recently published proposal for a directive on services is welcome. We will work towards advancing this dossier during our Presidency. We must also press ahead with regulatory impact assessments to ensure that the impact of new proposals on competitiveness is properly assessed.
Perhaps the greatest challenge facing Europe at present, however, is the need to create more and better employment. We welcome the focus and practical country-specific messages in the report of the employment task force, chaired by Mr. Wim Kok. We will work with our European colleagues, the Parliament and the Commission to implement its recommendations alongside the employment guidelines. Among the issues we must address are promoting greater adaptability by workers and companies; supporting higher rates of labour force participation, especially participation by women; and eliminating barriers to people moving from welfare to work. I also look forward, during our Presidency, to promoting opportunities for social dialogue at European Union level. We will work with the European social partners through the tripartite social summit to boost their involvement in achieving the overall Lisbon goal. By using all these channels we will involve the representatives of European citizens.
Before moving on from the Lisbon agenda I must point out that next year, 2005, will offer a unique opportunity for a mid-point review of the overall process. Staying on course to realise the Lisbon goal in the new climate represents a considerable challenge. The Irish Presidency will contribute to the process of establishing a meaningful evaluation of the agenda in co-operation with our partners, including the incoming Presidency.
One of the areas highlighted for action in the annual operating programme for 2004 is the Union's agenda for creating an area of freedom, security and justice. There is no doubt that enlargement and the growth of the Internal Market have provided enormous benefits for our people. Moving forward as a Union of 25, we must ensure that the benefits of the Internal Market and the freedoms we enjoy do not leave us exposed to exploitation by criminal elements for illegal gains. We must equally provide a safe and secure environment for our citizens. The Union's agenda in this area is wide-ranging, encompassing such issues as asylum, immigration, civil law co-operation and police and judicial co-operation in criminal matters.
During our Presidency we will work to advance this ambitious agenda by focusing on the delivery of the outstanding requirements under the Amsterdam treaty and the broader Tampere programme. We will also initiate the process leading to the development of the post-Tampere agenda in the area of justice and home affairs.
As Deputies are aware, the fight against terrorism continues to be a priority. The Irish Presidency will focus on operational co-operation between police, customs and security services to combat organised crime, drugs and terrorism and other forms of crime that pose a threat to the security of our people.
The European Union's external commitments are intensive and the Presidency programme details the main issues on the agenda. I do not propose to go through the full list of external engagements. However, I do want to underline some of the principles that will inform our approach.
The Irish Presidency will promote EU-UN co-operation in crisis management, fight the spread of weapons of mass destruction, promote human rights and strive for UN reform and effective multilateralism. We will work with our partners in all regions of the world to achieve our shared goals. Our approach will be based on the common values of the European Union and contributing to peace, security and sustainable development. We will work for free and fair trade, the ending of poverty and we will support democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights. The Minister for Foreign Affairs will be heavily engaged with the external commitments of the European Union over the coming months. Last week he visited the Middle East and, today, he is in the European Parliament.
I have outlined the broad issues that will inform our Presidency and the approach we will take. There are many other important areas of the Union's work that we will be addressing during our term, including the future financial perspectives, on which the Commission will shortly issue its communication. Our overriding aim is to manage the business of the Union in an efficient, effective and even-handed manner. The role of the Presidency is to drive forward the agenda of the European Union.
Ireland has a strong record of conducting good terms of the EU Presidency. I pay tribute to the members of the Opposition who were in the driving seat during the 1996 term. It is fair to say that we have prepared well for this, our sixth Presidency. It is possibly the last Presidency of its type we will have the honour to conduct. The Presidency of the European Union provides Ireland with a unique opportunity to make a positive contribution to the lives of ordinary people, both here and across Europe. We will seek to build on the successes of previous Presidencies and to manage our responsibilities in the best interests of Europe and all Europeans. We rely on all Members of this House to support us in this task.
I wish the Taoiseach and the Government well in the responsibilities entrusted to them under the EU Presidency. I offer him and the Government support from this side of the House where it is appropriate. I wish him well in the onerous task he has undertaken for the next number of months.
There are four key issues I wish to raise regarding Ireland's Presidency of the EU. First, there is the constitution for Europe. Just as nature abhors a vacuum, so too must the EU. The over-zealousness of some member states in pursuing their own national agendas saw us fail to reach the necessary agreement on a constitution for Europe. I urge the Taoiseach to persuade the more recalcitrant member states that it is time to put Europe first. Cohesion and singularity of purpose are what will keep the Union strong. It is in all our interests that we reach agreement and prevent the emergence of a multispeed and multitier Europe.
We must avoid adding new fault lines to those that appeared during the Iraq war. Certain member states are still unconvinced on the constitution for Europe. However, agreement can be achieved and Ireland is the one member state that can do this. Ireland is the one country that can bridge the gap between the old and new, the aristocrats and poor relations, the first speed and second speed, the tier one and tier two. This is a marvellous opportunity for us and we must not be found lacking.
Bridging that gap will come from belief, leadership and principle. Regrettably, these three commodities are notably absent in this Administration. I hope for the sake of Ireland and our European partners, old and new, that the Government will be able, even in the short term, to acquire the necessary strength of purpose to achieve the desired agreement. The future direction of the EU now lies in its hands.
When it comes to reaching agreement, the Taoiseach would do well to remember that, though we are a small country, we are not inconsequential. If Ireland, a tiny island on the Union's western edge, can broker the conclusion of agreement on a constitution for Europe, it would offer hope and example to the many small nations joining us. We could be a perfect example of the strength of Europe, showing how a small nation can help redirect the path, even the destiny, of an entire continent. I wish the Taoiseach well in brokering an historic agreement for the peoples of Europe.
Second, there is the latest crisis in the Middle East. Since becoming leader of Fine Gael, I have said repeatedly that the European Union should play a more direct role in resolving what for the Arab thinker, the late Edward Said, was the crux of the Middle East crisis, the Palestinian issue. Europe has shown a modicum of solidarity with the Palestinian people, for example, by financially supporting the Palestinian Authority but with 2005 fast approaching and not a glimmer of the Palestinian state proposed under the EU supported road map to peace, it is time for Europe not just to give but to act. It is time for real European diplomacy, and I commend the Minister for Foreign Affairs for travelling to the region recently.
Right now, Gaza alone is a tinderbox with 1.2 million people packed into an area of 365 square kilometres but even as they are, the so-called new "Berlin Wall" is exacerbating the situation. I believe Europe has a duty to actively address this problem. For Israel, the wall is a security fence created by Yasser Arafat, the terror of Hamas and the Al-Aqsa Intifada. For the Palestinian people, the wall is an attempt by Ariel Sharon to further annex their territory and redraw the boundaries of 1967. They fear, too, that the wall could define the border of any new Palestinian state, making it a prison where Israel would control access.
Of course, our motives would not be just altruistic. There is also pragmatism involved here. The Middle East, and all its complexity, is coming closer all the time: Cyprus will join the EU in May and within 15 to 20 years, Turkey's possible accession will give the EU a border with both Iraq and Syria for the first time. That is quite a prospect.
The Council of Europe took good positions in the Gulf Wars. Europe, particularly Mediterranean Europe, has always been open to the Arab world, both in terms of culture and migration, but in the end Europe's vision, empathy and understanding of the Arab world counted for nothing. We failed to prevent a war there because while individually countries did their best, collectively we failed to bring a more enlightened view of the global interest. Europe cared but we never acted as a community. In the end, we were split and sidelined — again, a salutary lesson.
I am a hard-core European who believes that Ireland should be part of any collective EU foreign and security policy. Ireland is no longer neutral, we are merely unaligned. In the meantime, as we have not had a debate in the House on this issue, I urge the Government to make resolving the Palestinian issue a critical part of Ireland's Presidency of the EU. An apartheid 25 foot high wall, of what will be eventually 720 kilometres of fences, ditches, patrol towers, wire and concrete, should not be allowed snake along the West Bank and the Jordan Valley. The wall has met with the most serious international concern and criticism, and I look forward to a hearing of the issue by the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
The third issue I wish to raise with the Taoiseach under Ireland's Presidency is the rise of paedophilia and the research into the causes of it. Child pornography and paedophilia facilitated by the Internet is of particular concern. Ireland's last Presidency took a number of very important initiatives and the Taoiseach could do the same under his Presidency. As a father, I found it horrifying that according to Professor Max Taylor of UCC's COPINE project, it is often children who are lonely and unloved who most fall prey to paedophiles in Internet chat rooms. I am sure I speak for everyone in the House when I express outrage that every six weeks, Professor Taylor's team download up to 140,000 pornographic images of children, many of them, horrifyingly, images of babies and toddlers in terrifying, sadistic situations. These images are available publicly without charge on Internet websites. It is even more disturbing that organised crime in certain areas of eastern Europe is now controlling much of the charged child pornography Internet trade.
I want to see Ireland's Presidency take an initiative and start an investigation into what causes adults to have a sexual interest in children. There appears to be little research into what causes paedophilia. I propose that Europe push for research into this issue as a matter of urgency. This is a transnational problem of the most insidious kind and the EU could usefully take the initiative here. The Union provides resources for Internet monitoring and other activities, which is welcome. However, under his Presidency of the EU, the Taoiseach could bring this issue to a higher level.
The fourth issue I wish to raise is to suggest, respectfully, that the Taoiseach should move immediately to have EU recognition for our native language. This is not a big deal. It is merely pushing an open door. Come 1 May there will be 20 official languages in the EU, among them Slovak, Estonian, Lithuanian and Latvian. It is not the case that every document needs to be translated into the language, but we will arrive at a position where Ireland will be the only sovereign state in the European Union not to have its first official language recognised by the EU institutions, and that is quite a distinction.
Cuireann sé sin isteach go mór orm. Bhí mé thíos i gclós Chaisleán Bhaile Átha Cliath ar an gcéad lá den bhliain nuair a bhí bratach na hÉireann ag dul suas ós cionn an fhoirgnimh. Bhí mé ag ceapadh go labhrófaí abairt nó focal amháin as Gaeilge, ach níorbh é sin an rud a tharla ag an am sin.
Just before Christmas the EU advertised in the national newspapers for 350 English language secretaries. It was clear from all the advertisements that, while all duties would be carried out through English, prospective candidates were required to have knowledge of another European language. In that way, an English person with a small degree of French, or a Maltese person who speaks the official languages of Malta — English and Maltese — would easily qualify, but not so in the case of Irish people. The reason being that, in effect, unlike the Maltese, being bi-lingual in this country is no good. We must be tri-lingual, because Irish, one of Europe's oldest and richest languages, is not recognised as an official EU language.
In Ireland approximately 380,000 people speak Irish every day. Incidentally, the same number speak Maltese in Malta. In effect, under EU law, these genuine Irish speakers are deemed to speak only one language — English. More than 1.4 million people have a knowledge of Irish, yet when we apply for EU jobs, all of which require knowledge of two or more official EU languages, Ireland is caite ar leataobh, as they say. It would be hard to invent a better way of discriminating against genuinely bi-lingual Irish people in the European job market.
I was mystified by the Taoiseach's recent comments on television to Charlie Bird that his job, as he saw it, was to start out with 15 EU members and to end up with 25. Accession is already a done deal. The new members will join on 1 May. I suggest that, in his Presidency of the EU, the Taoiseach should apply himself to the real challenges, namely, the EU constitution, the Middle East, curbing paedophilia and gaining EU recognition for our native language.
I thank Deputy Kenny for sharing his time with me. I also thank the Taoiseach for his kind words about the Committee on European Affairs which works on a cross-party basis. Often when we meet in the basement we wonder if anybody notices. Therefore, I appreciate the Taoiseach's comments.
I regret the rise in euroscepticism apparent in certain parts of the State. As we commence our Presidency of the EU, when we look back on our membership of the European Union we should recognise that the greatest benefits we have gained have not been the ones on which we traditionally put emphasis. We had a meeting before lunch with a delegation from the Foreign Affairs Committee of the British House of Commons at which one of the members of that committee said Ireland would be in favour of the European Union because we received all those transfers. We have let it go abroad that the so-called transfers have led us to the success Ireland has had in economic terms. However, at their height, the transfers were of the order of 3% of gross domestic product. They never made as significant a contribution as is sometimes thought. Having built up these contributions and as we move towards becoming a net contributor which, from what I hear, will not happen for another seven or eight years, it is easy for people to build scepticism.
We have built on the wrong foundations. Those on which we should have built are of peace and stability, which are the prerequisites for prosperity. We cannot have prosperity in Europe without peace and stability, and the European project concerns those. That is how we have prosperity in Ireland and throughout Europe. It is in our interests and not just those of the applicant states that enlargement takes place and that we welcome into the European Union, as soon as possible and practicable, all European democracies capable of taking on the responsibility of membership. That is why there are interesting and exciting opportunities in this Presidency not just to complete the Intergovernmental Conference, which is important, but also to bring about successfully the most significant enlargement of the EU since its foundation.
We often talk about Irish sovereignty but, and I hope this does not offend anyone, we never truly became sovereign until we joined the European Union. Our currency was dependent on what happened in Britain. If it devalued its currency, we devalued ours, and if its interest rates increased or decreased, so did ours, sometimes with 20 minutes' notice. Our exports were mainly agricultural and went mainly to Britain. We now have diverse exports and information technology, financial services and pharmaceutical sectors. That is not just because of investment and transfers from Europe but also because of the Single European Act and the confidence that gave us as a nation which was part of the European Union.
If those involved in the 1916 Rising or the foundation of the State could have looked forward to us taking on our sixth Presidency of the European Union, they would have been very proud. We should also be proud because this is a real indication of our sovereignty and the role we play in the world. I recall that, not too long ago before we joined the EU, few countries wanted to locate embassies in Ireland. We had the British and American Embassies and a few from Africa and some but not all the major EU states. Now more countries want to locate embassies here than we can facilitate in so far as doing so would stretch our small diplomatic service if it had to open embassies in their countries. These countries do not locate embassies here because of a liking for large houses and chauffeur-driven cars but because they want the ear of a sovereign Government and Parliament which has a role to play in the world and at the governing table of the single largest political and economic bloc in the world.
These are challenging and interesting times. I join Deputy Kenny in wishing the Taoiseach and the Government well and assuring them of our co-operation in any way we can in the proper conduct of the responsibilities of the EU.
Last year the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Affairs, on an all-party basis, invited David Begg, general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, to chair an advisory group to the committee. The group consisted of Dr. Garret FitzGerald, Mr. David Andrews, Mr. Noel Dorr and Ms Bride Rosney. It was a distinguished group which gave its services to the committee free of charge. We asked them to examine the issue of Third World hunger, HIV-AIDS, indebtedness and trade, and to report to the committee on how we might help the Government to make these issues a Presidency priority. We felt that, as a country which suffered a famine in recent history with the associated effects of the Irish diaspora and loss of life, Ireland had some credibility, especially in the light of the work of missionaries and non-governmental organisations, and that this was an area where we could make real progress during Ireland's Presidency.
While an ongoing multi-annual agenda has been agreed between Ireland and the other countries which will be taking on the Presidency, which is welcome, I am pleased the Third World issues to which we referred have been put on the agenda. Members of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the British Houses of Parliament whom the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs met today remarked that we had put this issue on the agenda. We can drive the agenda forward if we have the credibility of reaching our target of Third World contributions of 0.7% of gross national product. It is easy for us to ask others to forgo or reschedule debt when no Third World countries are indebted to us.
Meeting our UN commitment would give us a certain moral authority, not just with existing EU states but also the accession states. Some of the accession states are not meeting their target, for understandable reasons. For various reasons, approximately €20 billion of EU aid does not find its way to the Third World. I urge the Taoiseach to pursue this issue with vigour.
I very much regret that Ireland's opportunity to conclude a European common defence agreement on terms acceptable to Ireland, with an opt-in clause, is not being pursued with the vigour and conviction it should. A protocol has yet to be written and it could accommodate non-NATO members as well as NATO members, giving Ireland the opportunity not just to opt in, but to acquire an umbrella of defence were we ever to require it. I urge the Taoiseach to revisit this issue. I know Fine Gael sounds out of tune with everybody else in the House when we raise this issue. However, this is an important issue and there is now an opportunity for Ireland to shape the protocol. I urge the Taoiseach to take it.
It is appropriate that the Dáil should reconvene after the Christmas recess to a discussion of the Irish Presidency, an event which successive Governments have taken pride in dealing with well. I had the privilege of being President of two Councils of Ministers when Ireland last held the Presidency and I have no doubt that the Government and excellent public service back-up will again do the job competently and well. Towards that objective, I wish the Taoiseach well.
However, it cannot go unnoticed that the organisation of this week's Dáil business is without precedent in that all normal opportunities to question or challenge the Government are removed. The Government has deliberately contrived to sanitise the business that might be transacted, further undermining the relevance of Parliament in the process. It is a tactic deployed by the Government since it introduced this type of sitting on Fridays in the last session in response to Opposition demands for real Dáil reform and now we will have a week of Fridays. It is difficult to speak with credibility about transparency in how the EU does its business when this is the example the Government imposes at home.
This is Ireland's sixth Presidency since becoming a member of the Community. Assuming the Presidency does not simply mean taking on a general administrative role for six months, nor is it an exercise in neutral chairmanship where we set out to please everybody. It involves exercising genuine political leadership on complex and important issues — for example, in respect of the issue of the constitution, or regarding the serious dispute between the Council and the Commission over the Stability and Growth another critical if not immediately pressing issue, the future funding of the Union — the Pact, or, "financial perspectives" to use the Euro-jargon.
The agenda the Government is charged with managing and progressing is more complex than it might have hoped for a couple of months ago. In particular it has been dealt a dossier that it might have wished would not have passed to it, namely, the treaty on a constitution for Europe.This is no longer an exercise in overseeing the formal ratification process and basking in its reflected glory, much as the Government apparently proposes to do in respect of the formal enlargement to take place on 1 May.
The Taoiseach has outlined the priority objectives of the Presidency, namely, the successful enlargement of the EU; working together for economic growth — the so-called Lisbon agenda — to make Europe the most competitive economy in the world; a safer Union, by developing the EU as an area of freedom, security and justice; and global engagement with the outside world with the promotion of a fairer, peaceful and more secure world.
This is a less ambitious agenda than it might appear and contains no explicit reference to the principal issue confronting the Union, the successful conclusion of the IGC and ratification of a new constitution, nor does it explicitly purport to address the impasse concerning the Stability and Growth Pact.
The Union has already been successfully enlarged, as Deputy Kenny said, all that remains is the ceremony associated with 1 May formalities, in respect of which the Taoiseach has promised much officially sponsored revelry in the streets in the summer in which we will all join, if invited.
The Lisbon agenda is plagued with difficulties and competitiveness is primarily a national concern. To quote the Tánaiste in her launch of her Presidency programme, "Most progress on the fundamental issues of competitiveness and innovation can be made at national government level." This Government pays lip-service to the Lisbon agenda and to competitiveness yet, through stealth taxes and the chaos that characterises its infrastructural investment programme, has contributed in no small way to a serious deterioration in our national competitiveness during the past two years.
Talk of a safer Union, justice and so on is all very comforting for citizens but will have real meaning only if more tangible measures can be agreed than we have managed to implement domestically where crime, policing and related matters are such a significant preoccupation of our own people.
Europe's global engagement with the outside world is largely talk in the absence of a resolution to the foreign policy dispute and the resumption and successful conclusion of the IGC to agree on a draft for a European constitution. There is nothing in the official agenda about the European constitution and the collapse of the IGC, or how the Irish Presidency proposes to exercise political leadership in respect of this problem. The Taoiseach spoke on the topic in his address some days ago to the European Parliament. His pledge to the Parliament, which I welcome, was "The Irish Presidency will spare no effort to make progress and to facilitate consensus during our term in office." He told Parliament that he is consulting widely, will listen and will report to the European Council in March. Elsewhere he has taken the opportunity along with several of his Ministers to take out an insurance policy, by talking about the need for a period of reflection and warning that we should not expect too much during the Irish Presidency.
There is, in principle, a strong case for a European constitution. The existing treaties and the acquis as represented by the various decisions of Council, the body of directives and regulations and the decisions of the Court of Justice, are unwieldy, often impenetrable, and sometimes confusing and incoherent. It all demands simplification and consolidation and a need to restate simply a visionary agenda in the spirit of Europe's founding fathers and the Delors Presidencies. We have today a far from vigorous Union in a state of some disarray, not dissimilar to the situation immediately prior to the Delors Presidency of the Commission.
On the Constitution, the Taoiseach told the Parliament, "Stalemate is not an option any of us can contemplate." However, above all we need a good constitution rather than any old constitution at all. What we have at the moment by way of proposals is something of a curate's egg at best, good in parts with many major problems, and not simply for Germany. I have problems with, for example, the foreign policy proposals of men with many hats and with the tinkering that has gone on in respect of the role of the Commission vis-À-vis other institutions. If anything is to emerge to be put to the electorate it must be a good draft, in conformity with the best principles of constitutional design if it is to merit being recommended to the people.
In 2000, the leaders of all 15 member states signed up to what is commonly known as the Lisbon agenda. This agenda adopted the goal of making the EU the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world by 2010.
The agenda centres on five key projects: creating a knowledge-based economy, modernising the European social model, fighting social exclusion, supporting viable economic policies, and incorporating sustainable development. This is in the context of reversing high unemployment in the Union, the need to increase employment, including female participation in the workforce, tackling thorny issues in respect of intellectual property law, and under the heading of sustainable development, the environment, the Kyoto Protocol and climate change.
Who can object to any of this? It is all highly laudable, yet one wonders if, given the differences in the politics of member states and governments and the complex nature of the Union, especially after enlargement, it is anything other than rhetoric. The real key to competitiveness lies in domestic policies within an EU and global framework, as is clear from the story of Ireland in recent years where the Government oversaw and had its own hand in the unwinding of national competitiveness. Nothing has been done in respect of, for example, the provision of child care facilities which are important not only from the point of view of access to the workplace but also for wider equality of opportunity, the achievement of a fair society and developing the European social model.
There are other issues. The Tánaiste spoke of her commitment to achieving agreement on new rules for intellectual property. The agenda here is highly contentious, not least in respect of proposals, in effect, to extend patent rights to software companies. Companies and software developers are divided on proposals that appear on the face of it to be weighted too much in favour of the marketing arms of some large companies at the expense of innovators and developers. This is the opposite of the expressed aims of the Lisbon agenda.
There is another aspect to the competitiveness agenda, namely, sustainable growth in the context of the adoption by the EU and Ireland of the Kyoto Protocol. While the Tánaiste addresses herself to the competitiveness agenda at EU level, her colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, has overseen and done little to avert the serious overshooting by Ireland of its binding obligations under the EU burden-sharing agreement in respect of greenhouse gas emissions. As a result, the economy, including industry, agriculture, construction and the transport sectors, is likely to face significant and demanding CO2 emission targets and restrictions from 1 January 2005 to 2012. Business undertakings have yet to be told by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government what the emission caps will be, what the competitive implications may be and how the burden is to be shared nationally between the various sectors.
Since the adoption of the Lisbon competitiveness agenda, an employment task force headed by the former Dutch prime minister, Mr. Wim Kok, has been established. It recently reported, concluding that "the European Union is at risk of failing in its ambitious goal, set at Lisbon in 2000 ... it is looking increasingly unlikely that the overarching goal for 2010, and the employment objectives, will be attainable". Today's Financial Times describes the agenda as "ambitious but, sadly, implausible" .
There is one crucial aspect of EU as opposed to national policy that does impinge on the Lisbon objectives, which is the so-called Stability and Growth Pact. For a considerable period the pact — once famously, correctly and colourfully dismissed by the current Commission President — has been in trouble and has proved to be contentious. Arising from the dispute between the Commission and the Council of Finance Ministers, it is, at the initiative of the Commission, to be arbitrated upon by the Court of Justice. It should not have come to this and says something about the tensions and disarray that have crept into the life of the Union and between its institutions that we have come to such an impasse.
Without the intervention of decisive political leadership, the Commission may have had little choice but to refer the matter to the court. However, the supreme court of the Union is not the place to be deciding economic policy. So far, the Irish Presidency appears to lack the interest to take an initiative or provide political leadership to deal with the turmoil that has led to this situation, or to advance the political agenda of reforming what is certainly an outmoded pact. EU Finance Ministers will, however, get to see Punchestown, a privilege denied to the majority of those who paid for it.
I extend my best wishes to the Taoiseach, his Ministers and their civil servants who will be extremely busy over the next six months. All prospects of annual leave for them will have to take second place to the exigencies of the Presidency. We should all be aware of that.
I welcome the presence in the Chamber of the European Union flag which is also being flown from a number of Government buildings in Dublin city. I respectfully suggest to the Taoiseach that the House could afford a second flagpole on the roof to proclaim the fact that Ireland holds the Presidency of the European Union. We should consider displaying permanently this symbol of dual identity that is at the heart of Irish sovereignty. We are both Irish and European and are proud to make such a contribution to the European Union.
In the short time I have to add to the comments of the Labour Party leader, I wish to concentrate on two issues, namely, the Intergovernmental Conference and the Stability and Growth Pact. There is a frightening lack of ambition in public about the position of the Taoiseach and the Government on saving the constitutional treaty that was so tantalisingly close to agreement before the breakdown of the Intergovernmental Conference. The Taoiseach is well-known in negotiating circles for intervening only when he knows a positive outcome is possible. He must do more than that, however, and knows exactly to what I refer.
The Taoiseach must do much more than that. It is important that a small member state such as Ireland be seen to try as much as possible to achieve a solution. If the prospect of failing deters intervention of the courageous kind in which Deputy John Bruton has exhorted the Taoiseach to engage and if such difficulties prevent him from using his undoubted skills of persuasion and negotiation, then the Irish Presidency will be a disaster. We are close to achieving agreement on a constitutional treaty. Notwithstanding comments by eurosceptics, the draft treaty has come through a much more democratic, transparent and participatory process than anything engaged in by the American founding fathers in Philadelphia more than 200 years ago.
Yes, exactly, and they were not all property owners either. The current situation concerning the IGC and the search for a satisfactory compromise on the EU constitution was not of the Taoiseach's choosing. It is now a necessity, however, to continue the search for a compromise, effectively between Poland, Spain, Germany and France. The Taoiseach knows, as I do, that agreement is close, but that should be proclaimed aloud in public rather than it being ascertained privately in the corridors of power in Brussels, Strasbourg and Dublin whether it is possible.
My second point concerns the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy. We cannot simply have six months of indifference to the chaos that now surrounds the abandonment of the Stability and Growth Pact by the Council of Ministers which was, sadly and wrongly, supported by our Minister for Finance. In voting against the Commission, Deputy McCreevy went against Ireland's best interests in every respect. It has been a canon of truth for successive Irish Governments and through the six Irish EU Presidencies that the European Commission is the best guarantor of small member states. When the Commission sought to have the rules of the Stability and Growth Pact properly applied, it was politically overruled in a procedural way with the outrageous support of the Minister for Finance. He may be a proclaimed eurosceptic, but his attitude should not be reflected in the view of this Administration through collective Cabinet responsibility.
The fact that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is also a eurosceptic with regard to the single currency is not of such a political prejudicial nature that it should override the interests not just of this republic but of the entire European Union. Therefore, I ask the Taoiseach to instruct the Minister for Finance to ensure that the Commission's proposals for the reform of the Stability and Growth Pact, which will be brought forward in a matter of weeks, receive the vigorous support of the Irish Presidency. If that is not done, the conclusion of the Internal Market, which was the hallmark of the Delors initiative when he took on the Presidency of the European Union 12 years or so ago, will begin to unravel. There is no such given state as a stable set of circumstances in which we can afford to do nothing because the status quo is permanently guaranteed. That is not the case in either personal or political life.
I make this request on behalf of the Labour Party — be brave about the IGC. Risk the possibility of failure for the prospect of success. Distrust your natural conservative instincts and go for the big prize which will be not only great for the Taoiseach but wonderful for the rest of the Union. This country, as many coming from the west of Ireland know, has a tradition of a landscape furnished and occupied by stone walls. The strength of the stone wall is provided by the big stones, but the unique, architectural creativity of such masterpieces of natural architecture is the stability provided by the small stones.
It is the nature and role of the small member states in the European Union, which with nothing to lose and no special interest make small interventions, to provide that unique stability. The Taoiseach can provide it if he has the courage to find it.
I wish the Government well during its Presidency of the European Union. The Taoiseach and the Ministers will play a significant role in shaping Ireland's Presidency. I have read the Government's comprehensive programme for the Irish Presidency of the European Union. I would like to raise a number of issues but will concentrate on two. The first is the issue of development, poverty reduction and the combating of HIV-AIDS, which was one of the priorities of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Affairs, and the second is the enlargement process.
According to the programme set out by the Government, the Irish Presidency will give developing countries' concerns the highest priority and will pursue with determination the fulfilment of the millennium development goals. These goals focus on achieving specific measurable improvements in people's lives. Many poor countries such as Cameroon and Zambia are heavily in debt and unable to make progress in the eradication of crippling poverty while trying to service their debts to the First World.
The Government has come out in full support of 100% debt cancellation. While some progress has been made in this regard, countries like Honduras have well over one third of their population with no access to health care and in Zambia the average life expectancy is 40.5 years. The Government now has an opportunity to try to influence the European Union to implement 100% debt cancellation. Recent research indicated that if we cancelled the debt of 52 of the poorest countries it would cost each of us in the wealthy nations about $4 per year over 20 years.
I have discussed this issue with the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Kitt, at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Affairs. While I recognise his position when he says that debt cancellation is not one of the issues on which Ireland can get common ground in the European Union, he can further this issue, particularly under the umbrella of combating HIV-AIDS.
The Government will host an international conference on HIV-AIDS in February. I suggest to the Minister that there is a direct link between HIV-AIDS and debt cancellation. Debt reduction can be used as a vehicle to help in the fight against HIV-AIDS. It was agreed at Cancún that certain drugs would be provided to poorer countries. Even when these drugs are available, they cannot be properly distributed. There is a very poor health service in these countries and the logistics of distribution are a nightmare.
Zambia has a population of 8.8 million, of whom one million have HIV-AIDS. It spends approximately €150 million on health care. Ireland has half that population yet spends in excess of 50 times that amount. Zambia must spend almost one third of revenue on debt repayment, more than it spends on education and health. It has no chance of dealing with the AIDS epidemic unless its debt is cancelled. I ask the Minister to link the two issues and put debt cancellation on the table at the conference in February.
The Government programme states that in the context of enlargement and the changing global scene, the Union needs to become more effective and better able to respond to the expectations of its citizens and that the Irish Presidency will work to foster a closer relationship between the institutions of the European Union and its citizens. That sounds great but what concrete steps can we take to ensure these ideals become a reality?
The first item mentioned in the Government programme is the day of welcome. Presumably this is on 1 May when the ten new member states join the Union. Celebrations will be organised in Dublin and throughout the country on that day. Hungary, for example, has been twinned with Sligo and that will be an opportunity for us to get to know our new neighbours and to experience some connection with the people of Europe. I ask the Government to make this a day to celebrate the people of Europe. We should not just welcome the Presidents and the politicians but the people who are joining.
I acknowledge the Taoiseach's comments about the arts and cultural events that will take place, but this is a day when schools, local, voluntary and community groups and organisations, and individuals should play a central role in celebrating and welcoming. Apart from the formal ceremonies, this should be a day when MEPs, Deputies and Ministers do not take centre stage. We should concentrate on people rather than politics, PR or protocol. This might in some way counter some of the euroscepticism which is creeping into the country. If the EU Presidency is about cavalcades in Dublin and other towns, and banquets for dignitaries, it will alienate people.
We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to engage the people, and the day of welcome should be used to achieve this aim and to allow the people of Europe take centre stage.
Is mian liom "Go n-éirí libh" a rá leis an Taoiseach, na hAirí, an Rialtas agus na státseirbhísigh sna sé mhí rompu. Is trua é nach bhfuil ceisteanna chun an Taoisigh ar ár gclár an tseachtain seo, rud a chuireann díomá ar mhuintir na hÉireann agus ar Theachtaí Dála. This is supposed to be a debating Chamber but unfortunately all we have at the moment is a sounding board. It belittles the House that we do not have a full operating Dáil this week.
Is onóir don tír agus is tábhachtach an deis é Uachtaránacht an Aontais Eorpaigh. I want to focus on items important to the Green Party, the EURATOM Treaty, the arms industry, Third World debt, the status of the Irish language and the issues surrounding sustainability and environmental well-being, which the Taoiseach, unfortunately, omitted in his opening remarks.
The EURATOM Treaty and the proposed EU constitution will be debated during the six months of the Presidency. Addressing the treaty should be given clear priority. As the Taoiseach knows, the EURATOM Treaty, which dates back to 1957, was designed primarily to promote nuclear energy. We know now about the environmental, safety and security issues surrounding nuclear power. The Irish people are all too well aware of the horrors not just of Sellafield but of Chernobyl and other sites at which accidents have occurred. Attaching this protocol to the EU constitution will ensure that it continues to be the case that nuclear power is afforded special treatment not given to other forms of energy generation. This distorts the single energy market to the disadvantage of other energy sources, including renewables. It is also, unfortunately, contradictory to the Article 3, section 4 provisions of the draft EU constitution which require the integration of high level environmental protections into all other EU policy areas.
The draft protocol simply amends the administrative aspects of the EURATOM Treaty. Unfortunately, the aspects of the treaty which promote nuclear energy remain. This will permit the continued provision of special and exclusive help to nuclear energy producers. Groups like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth are arguing, as we are, for the scrapping of this protocol. Issues like nuclear safety and the regulation of the nuclear industry can be dealt with in other ways. The regulatory powers could be incorporated into the EU constitution and specific measures subsequently enacted as directives or framework laws as appropriate. It would be farcical were the Government, which enjoys flaunting its anti-nuclear credentials, to oversee the adoption of an EU constitution which promoted nuclear power.
The Green Party is very concerned by the fact that the new EU constitution will boost the armaments industry by establishing a European armaments and military capabilities agency which will encourage and support EU arms industries. All member states will be obliged to "progressively improve" their military capabilities in this context. Boosting armaments in this way represents a regressive step in terms of the implications domestically and, lethally, internationally. Amnesty International, Oxfam and AFrI have recently highlighted the role Ireland now plays in the arms trade. Deals are now being brokered on Irish soil which kill civilians in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and elsewhere. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment has released figures which verify that the export from Ireland of military and dual-use goods is a multi-million euro business. Many of the goods in question are being sold to countries with dubious human rights records.
Only this morning, I spoke to a friend of the late papal nuncio, Archbishop Michael Courtney, who told me that a plane he was travelling in was shot at as it came in to land in Burundi. That illustrates the great proliferation of armaments throughout the world. Every year, 500,000 people are killed through armed violence which is the equivalent of one person every minute. It is time Ireland and the rest of the EU developed much stricter arms export rules and stopped promoting the arms trade. EU member states are among the worst offenders in the arms trade.
Deputy Harkin referred to Third World debt. The members of the Green Party welcome the fact that the Irish Presidency is trying to refocus EU attention on Africa, particularly sub-Saharan Africa. It is welcome that the Presidency is focusing on the HIV-AIDS crisis. The millennium development goals will not be achieved through a business-as-usual approach. New thinking and behaviour is required of the developed states. Ireland must promote a 100% debt cancellation policy to other member states. We call on the Government and others to establish a timetable, as called for by Trócaire, in the first quarter of 2004 to demonstrate the manner in which Ireland will increase overseas direct assistance to 0.7% of GDP as promised. We are falling behind in achieving this UN goal at a time when we must encourage other member states to aim for it also.
Ó thaobh stádas na Gaeilge mar theanga oifigiúil san Aontas Eorpach de, caithfidh go mbeidh cothrom na Féinne ann do gach saoránach in Éirinn mar atá ann do dhaoine i dtíortha eile. Tá sé ráite go soiléir ag neart eagrais, Comhar na Múinteoirí Gaeilge srl, ó thaobh na fostaíochta de, go mbíonn postanna in institiúidí an Aontais oscailte do shaoránaigh ag a bhfuil dhá cheann nó níos mó de theangacha oifigiúla an Aontais acu. Mar sin, faoi aitheantas conartha, mar atá ann faoi láthair, fágtar saoránaigh na hÉireann faoi mhíbhuntáiste toisc nach bhfuil an Ghaeilge san áireamh. Níl le déanamh ach cnág a bhualadh ar an doras de réir gach duine a labhair linn ó thíortha eile. Beidh bua éigin ann tar éis sé mhí má bheidh an Ghaeilge mar theanga oifigiúil.
It is strange to hear the Taoiseach talk about the success of liberalising the energy market and of cheap energy as if it were going to be there forever and a day, given the way in which we are using it. In a report published last month, Amárach Consulting stated quite clearly that the era of cheap energy was at an end, not just for Ireland, but for the rest of the world. A combination of international trends, including the peaking of global oil production in the next five years, 12 European initiatives, which include a carbon tax on CO2 producing business activities, and domestic realities such as our island status and the lack of indigenous fuel sources on any scale mean that energy costs to Irish businesses and consumers will rise inexorably over the next five years. The pace of that rise will be well in excess of the general rate of inflation. Ireland must address this issue. During the Presidency, Ireland must communicate that we are not in a position to have cheap energy because cheap energy will not be available in the future. It is a reality we must recognise.
Eighty five years ago, on 21 January 1919, the first Dáil Éireann met and declared the independence of the Irish republic. In its message to the free nations of the world, the Dáil stated: "The permanent peace of Europe can never be secured by perpetuating military dominion for the profit of empire but only by establishing control of Government in every land upon the basis of the free will of a free people." It is a sad reality that 85 years later many in the political establishment here are more concerned with creating a united states of Europe than with completing the work of the first Dáil and achieving a united Ireland. In the Irish Presidency programme, the Government speaks of the historic ending of the post-war division of Europe, but what about ending the division of Ireland?
The Government programme has disappointed Irish hopes for a distinctive and progressive Presidency that could be a source of pride for our people. This failure reflects the Government's characteristic lack of vision and political will when it comes to Europe. Sinn Féin, on the other hand, believes that another Europe, a socially just and socially responsible Europe of equals, is possible, but remains to be built. In keeping with this vision, Sinn Féin has set out its proposals for a positive Presidency, and I urge the Minister and the Government to adopt and act upon them.
The Presidency should initiate a global social justice agenda equivalent to the Lisbon and Tampere agendas, whose priorities would include UN reform and fulfilment of the millennium development goals. The Irish Presidency should also initiate a process for human rights proofing of all EU legislation and policies focusing not only on aid and trade, but also on the so-called EU anti-terrorism road map measures and the common migration and asylum policies which the Presidency will be responsible for progressing. Sinn Féin commends to the Government the Trócaire recommendations on how the Presidency could be used for the greater good, the proposal from Dóchas to make human security the priority for the Presidency and the recently launched Amnesty International EU Presidency campaign entitled Human Rights Begins at Home. There is no valid reason these recommendations should not be accepted by the Government.
On the issue of the Tampere agenda measures which the Government is responsible for progressing, the human rights concerns raised by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the European Council on Refugees and Exiles and Amnesty International, not to mention our own Human Rights Commission and the Refugee Council, must guide the development of any common migration and asylum policy. Such a policy will not be acceptable to Sinn Féin unless the human rights sector is satisfied that it is fully compliant with our international obligations and maximises protection of the rights of refugees and migrants rather than effecting a downward harmonisation, as is the current trend. We demand a full Dáil debate on this critical issue and I hope it will be accommodated as soon as possible.
In the economic field we recommend that the Presidency seriously address the problems caused for particular member states by the fact that some states are in and some are outside the euro zone. Ireland is a prime example of a country whose economy is distorted by a euro zone border. We recommend two key environmental initiatives, to campaign to make the EU a GM-free zone and to initiate a programme for the targeted reduction of carbon emissions on an EU-wide basis. To enhance social protection, the Presidency should oppose the privatisation agenda in the Lisbon agenda and defend public services. It should push for the EU-wide upwards harmonisation of workers' rights and for further EU equal rights instruments, including a specific gender equality directive and a disability directive.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an naoi dteanga a mbeidh aitheantas acu mar theangacha oifigiúla oibre don Aontas Eorpach ar Lá Bealtaine 2004. Ba chóir go mbeadh an stádas céanna ag an Ghaeilge, agus tá rún maidir leis sin curtha os comhair na Dála inniu ag Teachtaí Shinn Féin. Deireann an rún "Go dtathantaíonn Dáil Éireann ar an Rialtas cur in iúl do Chomhairle na nAirí gur mian leis an Rialtas go mbeidh an Ghaeilge in a teanga oibre oifigiúil don Aontas Eorpach agus iarraidh ar an gCoimisiún Eorpach an leasú cuí ar Rialachán Uimh. 1, 1958 a dhréachtú agus a chur faoi bhráid Chomhairle na nAirí."
We note that there will be great pressure on the Irish Government to conclude the fundamentally flawed constitutional treaty, the text of which has now been fully agreed, save for the text on the vote weighting formula. We urge the Government to stand up for the right of states not to be bullied into accepting the formula that the most powerful states' interests will insist on. By agreeing to the common defence text of the draft constitutional treaty, the Government has not only acquiesced to the EU militarists, but has also failed to pursue a policy of positive neutrality and action as recommended by my party.
We note with alarm that the Chair of the EU Military Committee, General Haglund, has suggested that the agreements on common defence need not wait for the treaty conclusion but instead should be progressed by the European Council. I cannot stress strongly enough that this would mean depriving the Irish and other populations of the right to a referendum on this issue and cannot be allowed to happen under this Presidency or any other. I note with regret that, not for the first time — it has happened as a pattern — the Taoiseach left the Chamber after the Labour Party's contribution and that is a discourtesy to the Independents and smaller parties in a very important statement opportunity.
I welcome the opportunity to say a few words as Ireland assumes the Presidency of the EU for the sixth and possibly final time. The next 12 months will be a momentous time for the European Union and Ireland will play a major role. It seems there is a sense of relief throughout Europe that the Presidency is being taken up by Ireland. Expectations of the Irish Presidency and the subsequent Dutch Presidency are high.
Irish Presidencies have in the past been efficient and effective. Our Government, diplomats and civil servants are respected throughout Europe and we continue to punch above our weight in international relations. The current President of the European Parliament is an Irishman, as is the President of the European Council.
The Presidency is very demanding for a small country. A great amount of planning has gone into this Presidency and we have a daunting programme of work ahead. More than 7,000 people, including Ministers, senior EU officials, Department officials, delegates, journalists and interpreters will fly into Ireland over the next six months. More than 100 different meetings have been arranged. This will be a great opportunity to show the new member states in particular what a small country can do. In the process we can showcase Ireland and its achievements. The theme of the Irish Presidency is Europeans — Working Together. As the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, said recently in reference to the task facing us, we will do it with a smile.
At the top of the Irish Presidency agenda must be the need for agreement on the new EU constitutional treaty. In his contribution, the Taoiseach has recognised this. I assume our Presidency was planned on the basis that the treaty would be agreed at the Intergovernmental Conference in Brussels last year. The collapse of the negotiations was a disappointment for all concerned. The need to make progress on this treaty is a major challenge for the Irish Presidency. The Taoiseach must try to reconcile the diametrically opposed positions of some of the major powers in the European Union. He must try to achieve compromise and do everything possible to break the current impasse. I have no doubt that the Taoiseach will work extremely hard in conjunction with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs to achieve a consensus. He certainly has the skills to do this.
The Taoiseach has said that he will consult widely and report back at the March summit. Progress, however, may be difficult to achieve during our Presidency, and the Taoiseach has stated this in various interviews. He has highlighted that the Spanish elections are due to take place, the incapacitation of the Polish Prime Minister following a serious accident and that the European Parliament elections are scheduled to take place in June. All these pose challenges and difficulties. The stand-off in relation to voting strength by Spain, Poland, Germany and other countries at the Council of Ministers will not be easily resolved. Other issues too may have to be opened up in the negotiations, issues such as taxation, defence, justice and the right of each country to an EU Commissioner. These could cause problems for Ireland. I have no doubt that Ireland will put the interests of the European Union first in its role as President but will also do everything possible to ensure that the final agreement is of benefit to us in our endeavours.
I would welcome a response to calls from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions that Ireland drop its opposition to tax harmonisation. Congress has put forward the view that new member states will undercut our 12.5% corporation tax rate. What is the Government's view on that?
Against the background of all this are the remarks by the President of the European Commission, Mr. Romano Prodi, on the inevitability of a two-speed Europe, which is favoured by France and Germany, if agreement is not reached. Some countries will want to press ahead with integration. I suggest, however, that the new member states, and Ireland as a smaller state, are very much attached to the notion of national sovereignty and are not supportive of further integration at this time, or in favour of a two-speed Europe with some states pressing ahead and leaving other states behind. All this represents a great challenge for the European Union at this time.
The Irish Presidency must make some progress on the treaty negotiations and do everything possible to try to reach agreement and complete the treaty negotiations as soon as possible. Failure to do this will put the future of the European Union itself at stake. We cannot risk a stalemate. I wish the Taoiseach and his Ministers well in their endeavours in this regard.
I put on record my support for the Convention on the Future of Europe and for the delegates, particularly the Irish delegates, at the convention. They did a tremendous job and prepared the ground for the Intergovernmental Conference. The contribution they have made should be recognised here in this House.
Enlargement will be a major part of our Presidency. Ireland will oversee the accession of ten new member states: Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. It will be an historic occasion because it will mark the end of the division of Europe. A defining date will be in the history of Europe will be 1 May next. I welcome the fact that major ceremonies are planned for Dublin and other places in this country on that date. It will be a day of welcomes. There will be concerts, fireworks and street parties and twinning arrangements will be highlighted.
While the celebrations are important, some of the problems associated with enlargement will have to be dealt with. New relations will have to be developed and outstanding problems will have to be resolved during our Presidency. The European Union will have a population of 450 million after this enlargement. By any measure, this is extremely significant and historic. I would also like to wish the Irish Presidency well in its endeavours to advance the membership applications of Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey. I welcome the Taoiseach's comments on this matter earlier this afternoon.
There has been a great deal of comment about giving new impetus to the Lisbon agenda which aims to improve the economic competitiveness of the EU. It is intended to make the Union the most dynamic and competitive economy in the world by 2010. Associated matters include making structural reforms, investing in education, training and physical infrastructure, improving competitiveness, developing and advancing environmentally positive technologies and improving our performance in research and development. It is a sizeable agenda. The citizens of Ireland and Europe will relate to the agenda as something concrete and positive because it relates to providing employment. The Irish Presidency will do well if it can inject a new momentum and a new impetus into sustainable growth and progressing the Lisbon agenda which was first agreed in 2000.
In a recent speech, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, suggested that the Lisbon strategy has already brought benefits to the people of Ireland and the people of the European Union. Such benefits include cheaper air travel, gas and electricity prices and more jobs. Citizens expect the European Union to be involved in such matters. The question of economics was to the front of people's minds when Ireland agreed to join the then European Economic Community over 30 years ago. The Lisbon agenda relates to economics, as well as to the concerns of the people.
The Irish Presidency intends to concentrate on many other objectives in the next six months. It is obvious that the question of developing closer relations with the United States of America is among its priorities. It will be a difficult task, as the Iraq war brought about many splits. Divisions emerged between the US and Europe, between the UK and the Franco-German axis and between present and future member states. It is surprising that the common security and defence policy survived this conflict. Other differences between the EU and the US relate to the steel tariff, the International Criminal Court, the Kyoto Protocol, etc. A great deal of work remains to be done if relations between the EU and the US are to be improved. I suggest that Ireland's history and present circumstances mean that it is in a unique position to broker agreement on many of these issues, however. We are close to Berlin and Boston. We can advance this objective during our Presidency.
I welcome the fact that the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Taoiseach are committed to promoting African issues on the EU agenda. They are keen to do something to address the HIV pandemic on that continent. As the Minister, Deputy Cowen, pointed out in The Irish Times on 19 December last:
There are 291 million people living below the poverty line in sub-Saharan Africa. An estimated 28 million are infected with HIV/AIDS.
This serious matter needs to be dealt with and given more priority by the western world. The Minister for Foreign Affairs also highlighted the centrality of the United Nations in world affairs in the newspaper article to which I have referred. He said that multilateral diplomacy is a priority for him and for the Irish Presidency. I fully support him in that regard. He should highlight this matter as part of the process of restoring relations between the EU and the USA.
I would like to highlight some minor matters before I allow my colleague, Deputy Mulcahy, to speak. I welcome the logo which is being used as part of the Irish Presidency. I welcome the fact that the schoolchildren of Ireland played a role in selecting it. The symbol conveys a message and adequately reflects the Ireland of 2004 and our state of mind at this time. It is an excellent logo. I wish also to speak on the subsidiary issue of sponsorship. I do not think anybody in this House has criticised the role of sponsorship in the Irish Presidency.
I pay tribute to the role of the media since 1 January. I welcome the fact that European Union affairs have been given extensive coverage. Such media attention will engage citizens and long may it continue.
The year 2004 will be a momentous one for the European Union because it will be the year of enlargement and, I hope, of a new constitution. There will be a new Commission and a new European Parliament in the first six months of the year. I am confident that Ireland can rise to the challenge once again and fulfil its obligations.
I thank Deputy Haughey for permitting me to share some of his time. I welcome the programme of the Irish Presidency, Europeans — Working Together, as well as the speech made by the Taoiseach in the House earlier. Many issues referred to in the programme will have to be tackled. When one examines the broad thrust of the Presidency, one notices that one or two important issues come to the top of the agenda. Although fewer than 15 years have passed since the fall of the Berlin Wall, many east European countries will join the EU on 1 May. This Presidency will be known for the enlargement process.
One of the major tasks of the Presidency is to oversee the smooth enlargement of the Union from 15 to 25 member states. In that regard, I welcome the comments in the programme on the issue of Cyprus. I hope that the plan submitted by the UN Secretary General, Mr. Kofi Annan, can be implemented before 1 May so that a united Cyprus can form part of the European Union. I note that the Presidency programme states: "The Irish Presidency will fully support the efforts of the Secretary General and will encourage all parties to re-engage with imagination and determination in talks on the basis of his proposals with a view to reaching a settlement which will enable the accession of a united Cyprus".
I hope we can all look forward to ten new countries joining on 1 May this year. According to the Presidency document, Bulgaria and Romania may join in 2007. In December of this year the European Council will make a decision as to whether Turkey should finally enter into negotiations with the EU on the issue of membership. The primary task of this Presidency will be to ensure that the enlargement process is completed as smoothly and efficiently as possible.
As my colleagues stated, the second most important aim is the new constitutional treaty. The work of the Irish delegation in the sub-committee has previously been recognised in this Chamber and I wish to highlight it once again.
It is understandable that certain countries had a serious problem in regard to the Council voting strength. They are joining the EU on the basis of the Nice treaty, yet before they are even in the door they are being asked to change the terms of their membership. It is similar to being accepted as a member of a club but even before one walks through the front door somebody says, "I am sorry but the rules have to be changed again." We must be sensitive to countries that historically have been under the jurisdiction of other larger countries as they may feel that their sovereignty is compromised. I have considerable sympathy for some of these countries that want to maintain certain voting strengths and a European Union where smaller and medium-sized countries will not be dwarfed by what has thus far been the admirable engine of Europe, the Franco-German-Italian alliance. One has to recognise that with enlargement when the EU reaches 25 or more members, the focus of the centre of Europe will shift from that core in western Europe to a much larger Europe.
I echo Deputy Haughey's comments that the Taoiseach is ideally placed to resolve the problem with the constitutional treaty and to seek an honourable compromise whereby small, medium and large countries can sit down together with a shared vision for the future of Europe and go forward together.
I welcome the Presidency programme and the Taoiseach's speech introducing it today.
Deputy Haughey made an interesting contribution in regard to US-EU relations. It was his father who, during the Irish Presidency of his time, introduced the transatlantic dialogue between the European Union and the United States for the first time, creating a very useful structure wherein problems could be ironed out, much as the Anglo-Irish Agreement created a structure between the British and Irish Governments for discussing problems and provided almost a parking place for their anger, which in many cases succeeded in diminishing the anger. It is appropriate for Deputy Haughey to make the contribution he made in regard to that matter.
There are certain risks attendant on the Irish Presidency. There is a risk that it will develop into a sort of cook's tour of crisis spots in the world. We will do a little bit about Cyprus, a little bit about Palestine, a little bit about our relations with Latin America. We will have a lot of hot air about the Lisbon process where everybody will preach at everybody else about what they should be doing with not the slightest intention of doing anything themselves. That would be a very disappointing outcome. A Presidency will only be successful if it focuses on one or two key achievements which it sets itself to complete.
There is only one key achievement which the Irish Presidency must aim at, and that is agreement on the constitution. It will be very risky for the European Union to drift into a European election against a background of constitutional uncertainty. It would be very risky for the European Union to drift into the very emotional negotiation that is going to take place about financing from 2006 to 2013 in the absence of an agreement on the constitution.
In such a scenario one will have people who are looking for money being willing to be bought on one of their reservations in regard to the constitution or people thinking they can be bought by money and finding that cannot be so. If the two negotiations have to be conducted in parallel, they will have a negatively symbiotic relationship with one another. That is a very strong reason the Government must make a serious effort to nail this down before we get into that negotiation, which is already starting in regard to the money, and before people take fixed positions in the European elections.
In the run-up to the European elections there is a risk that parties campaigning to get seats will present themselves as being the better one to stand up to the French, the Germans, the Europeans or the Commission. People will take shapes in order to win votes in the election which will rigidify the positions their governments will take in the negotiations on the constitutional treaty. It will be more difficult for the Dutch Presidency to achieve agreement on the constitution after the European election than for the Irish Presidency to achieve it in advance of the election.
The Government should also be very wary about handing this over to civil servants. I have heard that initiatives are being taken where some committee of wise civil servants will be set up to look into the matter of the constitution. The constitutional draft is a political exercise drawn up by politicians who understand politics. It is not a technical business, it is a political business. It is very important that the politicians, and by politicians I mean particularly the Taoiseach, keep complete control of the agenda and do not allow it to slip away into the hands of people who could be crossing t's and dotting i's until kingdom come as far as this treaty is concerned. Undoubtedly there are lots of technical difficulties in the treaty that astute and practised defenders of civil service turf, and there are many such in the public administrations of all 25 countries, could find to keep themselves occupied for years arguing about the detail of this constitution and whether this or that phrase is right and if it prejudices the rights of a particular agency or country. I plead with the Government not to let them at it. It should not let them near this issue and should keep it political. It is not a technical problem, it is a political problem and it will be solved politically, by politicians.
I do not have the same sympathy as Deputy Mulcahy expressed for the position of the Spaniards and Poles. It is true that the Poles joined the European Union on the basis of the Nice treaty. However, they joined it knowing that the treaty was up for revision, that the Convention was in place and that anything in the treaty was subject to revision. They joined a moving train not a static train. For them to insist that the train stay exactly where it is now that they have joined is to say they want no constitutional progress in regard to the voting system. The great attraction of the double majority system is that it is automatic, three fifths of the population and a majority of the states. If ten new members are added to the European Union one does not have to change the formula. That is also the case if the population of one country falls and another country rises. The formula adjusts itself after each census in each country. If, on the other hand, one reverts to the system agreed in the Nice treaty, one will get to a situation where one has to haggle every time the population of one country rises or falls and every time a country joins or leaves for that matter. The whole negotiation about voting weights would have to start all over again because the Nice system is entirely arbitrary. There is no underlying logic to it, it is a case of figures being put beside particular countries to indicate the voting strength they will have. It has no guiding principle, whereas the double majority has a guiding principle. The Government should be loth, as I am sure it will be, to depart from the double majority.
The European Union is expanding to include many poor countries which need the same level of Structural Funds as was received by Ireland and Spain. However, it is not politically realistic to expect the Germans, as net contributors, to pay more if, when it comes to counting votes on how this money will be spent, two Poles will be equal to one German. That is not on. Over the years we have worked in the EU on the basis that as far as Europe was concerned, there were no politics in Germany — that the Germans, because of war guilt, could be expected to pay the bill. That era has passed. The war has been over for almost 60 years. It is not reasonable to expect the Germans not to have the same demands for equality of treatment as the Irish, the Poles or the Spaniards. The double majority gives them equal treatment. It does not give them a single vote more than they are entitled to but exactly what they are entitled to on the basis of population. The case being made by the Spaniards and the Poles against that has no substance in reality.
I agree with Mr. Jean-Claude Juncker, the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, who said this week that 1% of the Community's GDP is too little for the EU to be spending if it is to do its job properly. We should be spending closer to 1.5% of the EU's GDP at Union level, but there is no way the Germans will agree to that unless they have a fair voting system. The present system is not fair. There is not much point in saying who is to blame for this. I know who is to blame. Mr. Chirac, the President of France, is entirely responsible for this mess because of what he did at Nice. As Deputy Haughey's father once said, there is no percentage in that kind of recrimination. We are where we are.
Germany agreed to it reluctantly and with deep and lasting bitterness. We must realise that. It agreed for the sake of Europe. As far as Europe is concerned, the Germans' agreement to the Nice treaty could be said to be the last instalment of their political payments to discharge their war guilt. That German concession is not a sound foundation upon which to build a new Europe.
I am not quite sure where the Government stands on this, but the idea of a 25 or 30-person Commission seems ludicrous. It could not work other than on the basis of its President being a semi-dictator and there would be no real collegial discussions. Fifteen is about the maximum number possible. As somebody who has chaired a diverse Government, I know something about this.
The Commission will be much more diverse than the rainbow coalition. Fifteen people is the most a chairman can hope to keep on the right track individually, giving them encouragement when they need it — a pat on the back or an encouraging phone call — so they can play as part of a team. A Commission of 30 will not work. We have a Commission of 20 now and it is not working. There is no collective responsibility in the present Commission. In today's newspapers we see Commissioners sniping at one another about the budget. Michel Barnier's proposals are being criticised by the Budget Commissioner. They are attacking one another, and this will become far worse with a Commission of 25 or 30 people. The Convention's proposal for equality of treatment between countries is the right approach. Under it every country would rotate into the Commission on an equal basis. We would have a Commissioner five out of every ten years, as would Germany. It maintains collegiality and provides for equal treatment for every country. To decide on a Commission of 25 or 30 members in which every country has a Commissioner, saecula saeculorum, is crazy. It will mean the Commission President will become a dictator, because the only way in which he can make anything work is to cook all the decisions with his vice-presidents before the Commissioners even come into the room. The Commissioners will be told the matter is already agreed.
Deputy Kenny referred to the importance of qualified majority voting in the area of crime with reference to paedophile activities. Lewd images of children are being promulgated through the networks of Europe at a furious rate. The only way this can be tackled is through co-ordinated action at European level. We have not been able to get a directive through on this because the Danes, taking advantage of the fact that unanimity is currently the rule, objected to it on the grounds that one could not be penalised for possessing pornography for personal use. They wanted to preserve this great right. We have had no progress on the matter because of the need for unanimity. In the Convention we proposed to use majority voting on a limited range of cross-border crimes. That is now being diluted. There is a proposal for what is called an emergency brake, whereby if one country is being overruled it can demand recourse to the Heads of Government. It can obtain permission to do this and the Heads of Government will presumably halt the process. If a country's justice Minister uses the emergency brake in the justice Ministers' Council, there is no way his or her Prime Minister can do anything other than press the matter again when it reaches the Council. This is, in effect, a reintroduction of the veto. If there is to be an emergency brake it should only be usable in the European Council by a Prime Minister. It should not be usable by anybody else anywhere else. A Minister for justice on his own, in his own Council, should not be able to use it. It should only be usable by the Head of Government at the Council on the day in question.
The Stability and Growth Pact is Deputy Quinn's and my joint achievement from the Irish Presidency of 1996. The idea of having rigid rules for economic policy is not a good one, nor is the idea that one can write down formulae dictating the right budget deficit at a given point in the economic cycle for all countries in the EU and that it can all be incorporated in a constitution — as in the case of the balanced budget amendment in the Polish constitution — or in the Stability and Growth Pact, which is an analogy to the European Union. Economics is an art, not a science — nor is it law. However, if the Heads of Government and the countries of the EU are unwilling to have an economic government, voting on economic policy by majority, there is no choice but to have something like the stability pact. The reason we have a rigid stability pact is that in 1996 none of the Governments were willing to decide that countries could decide these matters without the guidance of a rigid rule but on the basis of a majority. We were forced into rigidity because of people's timidity about allowing majority voting in this area. Some of the critics of the stability pact are getting it wrong because they do not recognise the political context in which this was negotiated. As one of the joint authors of the pact, I am the first to admit it is not a perfect document. However, if there is to be a document its rules must apply equally to everybody.
If countries do not like the rules they should change them. We cannot exempt large countries from the rules while applying them to small countries. This makes no sense at all. If we want to create a sense among the new countries of the EU that this is a Union of rules and principles and not of persons——
——and of equals, then we must apply the rules equally to everybody. This is an area in which I am extremely critical of France and Germany.
I stress the importance of the subsidarity early warning system, in so far as it will involve national parliaments in scrutinising EU law before it is considered by the European Council or Parliament. It would be a great step if this could be introduced in advance of the constitution. Why can we not introduce the protocol on subsidarity and national parliaments without waiting for the constitution? Such a move in consulting all member states' national parliaments on EU legislation would create a good atmosphere.
I do not know if Deputy Sargent is in the Chamber as I do not have eyes in the back of my head.
I agree with the Deputy's viewpoints on the EURATOM Treaty. It is a pro-nuclear and distorted treaty that distorts the energy market. However, it is the only one we have in this area and the only one under which the Sellafield plant could be closed down. If the EURATOM Treaty is abolished, there would be no supra-national, EU mechanism for closing an unsafe nuclear plant. I do not know if Deputy Sargent disagrees, but the EURATOM Treaty should be reformed, not scrapped.
I hope I will have the Deputy's help in getting me into a position to do so.
I believe the idea of a European armaments research agency is a good one. Do Members, especially those in Sinn Féin, believe that we can exist in a world without arms or armies? Do Members believe that such a world is about to break out upon us? I am especially surprised that Sinn Féin should advocate such an approach as it is the only political party in this House that has an army. However, it says that European countries should not have armies, but it is all right for it to have one. I do not buy that concept.
Having already quoted Deputy Haughey's father, I wish to quote his grandfather, the former Taoiseach, Mr. Seán Lemass and agree with him when he said that, if a political union were to be created in Europe, we in Ireland should be willing to defend it. We have created enough in Europe that, if it were to be threatened by an external military force, we should be willing to defend it. It is well worth defending.
In 1987, I recall an eloquent Deputy not of Deputy Quinn's party but in the same constituency as him who sneered when I said Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia should not be forgotten. He sneered at the idea that there was anything worthwhile saying about these countries because they were then part of the Soviet Union. Is it not marvellous that we will welcome these formerly enslaved states into the European Union as equal members?
The day of their accession will be a truly wonderful day in European history. We must not forget that the EU is a quality mark of democracy. States want to join the Union because it is a seal of approval. If a state is eligible to be a candidate for EU membership, it is an indication that it is a truly functioning market democracy. The Union is a great success without parallel in the world.
I am proud that the Taoiseach is President of the European Council and have no doubt he will do a great job. It is a great achievement for this country that we can hold the Presidency. It is also a great achievement that we have broken out of our subject status vis-À-vis Britain with which we had to live prior to our becoming a member of the European Union.
The Irish Presidency will see the historic enlargement of the European Union to include ten new member states on 1 May 2004. This event marks an historic ending of the post-war division of Europe. It is important that this opportunity is taken to bring all Europeans together to build a better Europe for us all. The Irish Presidency programme has been drawn up in the context of the multi-annual strategic programme for 2004 to 2006 and the operational programme for the Council for 2004, which was drawn up by the Irish and Dutch Presidencies.
The Irish Presidency programme identifies four priority objectives. The first is a successful enlargement of the EU to include ten new member states. The second is to ensure that all member states work together for economic growth, with emphasis on pursuing the Lisbon strategy to make Europe the most competitive economy in the world. The third is the creation of a safer Union by developing it as an area of freedom, security and justice. The fourth is global engagement with the world and ensuring the EU will work towards the promotion of a fairer, peaceful and more secure world.
There is a public perception that the principal benefit of EU membership for Ireland has been the transfer of structural funds and agricultural subsidies. These have undoubtedly made a substantial contribution to the improvement of the Irish economy. However, there are many other important ways in which the EU has contributed, and continues to contribute, to the improvement of the quality of life and opportunity in Ireland.
Since becoming a member state in 1973, in terms of gross domestic product per head of population, Ireland has advanced from being the poorest member state on entry to having the second highest GDP per head of population in the EU. We have advanced politically towards taking our place among the nations of the world in terms of equality of esteem, successful Presidency terms and partnership within the EU.
Driven by EU initiatives, Ireland has made enormous strides in social, equality and environmental policies, legislation and rights, infrastructural development and the development of workforce skills. Irish culture, in terms of national pride, music, dance and social ambience, has become the envy of people throughout Europe and the wider world.
Our annual Common Agricultural Policy receipts amount to more than €1 billion. We have seen improved relations with neighbouring countries and a reduction in economic dependence on the UK.
The positive trade benefits and increased opportunities arising from EU expansion into eastern Europe should outweigh the effects of the inevitable increased competition from the accession states. The main threat to Irish exporters comes from mainland Europe, especially our third largest export market, Germany. The applicant countries will enjoy better access than Irish exporters to these markets, especially as many of the countries have strong traditional links with Germany and Austria. However, over the years as the accession countries develop, their disposable incomes will increase and provide good markets for Irish goods and services.
The balance of trading opportunities should move our way, with opportunities for hi-tech and consultancy proving attractive to Irish businesses. Irish banking, software, telecoms, food ingredients and engineering services companies have already been trading successfully in the accession countries. The estimated €90 billion expenditure forecast over the next ten years in the accession countries will provide extensive expansion opportunities for these and other Irish companies that commence tackling these markets early. There is no doubt that other investments will move from western EU countries, including Ireland, to the accession states, particularly from companies under pressure to rationalise. US companies, however, our main overseas investors, may be slower to move to central and eastern Europe as, unlike companies such as Phillips, many do not have existing operations there.
Our main trading partners among the applicant countries are Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic. Four hundred indigenous small and medium-sized companies are working in these markets and 60 of those companies have already established local operations. Irish companies are active in a diverse range of economic activities ranging from financial services and construction to commercial radio and public relations consultancy.
I was also delighted to see the recent Irish results of Eurobarometer which polls opinion on European issues. In general, Ireland showed a high level of awareness, particularly on enlargement. Ireland was the most well informed member state with regard to enlargement and very supportive of a larger EU, although it believed the traditional economy may suffer as a result.
Confidence in the European institutions increased. The Parliament was up to 61% from 52% at the time of the last Eurobarometer in October 2002. The Commission was at 57% from 48% and the Council of Ministers gained 14 points to stand at 50%. There was not much understanding, however, of what the Council of Ministers does in the decision-making process.
The Irish public was more confident about expressing opinion on European issues after being supplied with more information, although general knowledge had not necessarily improved. People knew more about other institutions of the EU, like the Court of Auditors, the Court of Justice and the Convention on the Future of the EU.
The Irish Presidency has begun in a Union of 15 member states and will end in a Union of 25. It is a particular privilege to hold the Presidency at a time when history is being made. We greatly look forward to welcoming the new members of the family at an official ceremony in Dublin on 1 May.
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.
I am pleased to speak on this matter, pertinent as it is at this time. Like other speakers, I wish the Taoiseach and the Government well in pursuing the Presidency and ensuring that Ireland and the rest of Europe remain focused on the issues that require attention at this time. Hopefully, they will not be side-tracked, as suggested by one speaker, into chasing butterflies across the world in trying to resolve problems before they arise. If that were to happen our Presidency of the EU could become a farce with one photo-call after another.
This is an historic time for Europe and for the Irish Presidency. It is a formative time in the evolution of modern Europe. We do not want a reversion to the old Europe that existed at the beginning of the 20th century. We all know the lessons that, hopefully, were learned in the course of the 20th century in Europe where might overran right and time and again lessons that should have been salutary were not and targets were missed, in the course of which massive loss of life took place. We tend to forget that. Some news programmes from time to time introduce revisionism and put forward the view that the position was not that bad and that if this generation understood it a little better, we might perhaps look at these matters in a different light. That is rubbish, as we all know. One lesson we should have learned at this stage is that Europe, as it was then, failed. The new concept of Europe worked extremely well for the first 50 years of the EC, or the European Coal and Steel Community, currently the European Union. The test is whether from now onwards Europe remains cohesive and single-minded in pursuit of its original objectives. If it does not and deviates in pursuit of one member state's goals or objectives at the expense of another, therein will lie its failure and the makings of a future disaster.
I mentioned previously that an American arms manufacturer — we criticise arms manufacturers, most likely for good reason — at the turn of the previous century developed a new machine gun which was the last word in killing technology. He said to one of his colleagues that it would sell very well in Europe where they love killing each other. A commercial decision was made at the time on the basis of the market as that manufacturer identified it. He was not an idealist but saw a market for his product in Europe. Lessons must be learned from that.
A two-speed Europe has been mentioned. I fully understand that Ireland has played a major role in dictating the speed of Europe and in creating the kind of Europe we have, but some countries are impatient. I would be concerned if two of the larger states were to accelerate their speed and leave the rest behind. Therein lies a great danger, particularly having regard to European history. Where will we end up if we go back over that same old course? This is a particularly sensitive time, for some of the new member states who have sad and recent memories of alliances formed in the past to their detriment. The Irish Presidency has a duty to focus on those areas and ensure that the original concept, thought up by Adenauer, Monet and others all those years ago, of bringing Europe together with a single objective and vision, is not lost. If it were lost in pursuit of commercialism at this time, it would be a disaster.
Deputy John Bruton and others referred to the Stability and Growth Pact on which I wish to briefly dwell. The danger of allowing members states, particularly the more influential and powerful, off the hook in one area of policy cannot be allowed to happen without comment. If we allow that to happen today and ignore what needs to be done, tomorrow somebody else will do the same thing and we will be faced with the same problem. If there is a need to review the Stability and Growth Pact, it should be done officially and properly, but permission should not be given to the big boys in the class to move outside and operate at their own speed. That would not solve the problem but create another serious problem, particularly if small countries were treated in a different fashion as they have been in the past and if they envisage a likely repetition of such treatment. That is an issue the Irish Presidency must tackle and resolve, difficult though it may be.
In recent years when the Boston-Berlin debate was taking place, we heard much discussion about the necessity to defend our taxation system and not to consider entry into any area that might be covered by a Europe-wide taxation system. That argument has merit, but we should not forget that quite a number of aspects of European taxation are more beneficial to the European consumer than many aspects of the taxation system that prevails here. None of us should have the notion that we have the best and most consumer conscious system because we do not. One only needs to ask anybody in the motor business. Every so often we have seen notices in newspapers that cars will be cheaper here in the future, but that is rubbish. We have heard this before. In other European countries they are cheaper but for some unknown reason those lower prices have not yet percolated down to here. It is a bit like the case of St. Augustine — make us good, preferably sooner rather than later.
Deputy Eoin Ryan mentioned the Balkans and our likely responsibilities in this area in the future. There is no question that our Defence Forces have vast experience in that area. They have a useful contribution to make.
At some stage Ireland must stand up and be counted in the area of European security and defence, as we on this side of the House have said repeatedly. The Government must take that on board at some stage and now, during the Irish Presidency, is the time to do it. I echo, as Deputy John Bruton did, the words of the former Taoiseach, the late Seán Lemass, who said that, if we are part of the European project and have responsibilities to it, then we must be prepared to defend it as opposed to being offensive, which is a different matter. When the time comes, I hope we will examine these issues, try to put our stamp on Europe and be fair, equal, progressive and conscious of the less well-off in society.
Our society is not a great model at present, however, especially in the areas of housing, health, crime and education. One would not advertise Ireland worldwide as achieving the ultimate in progress in these areas. However, perhaps our failings in these areas will give us room to illustrate to our European colleagues the way in which we believe these issues should be dealt with.
Different speakers referred to the trafficking of human beings. With modern technology and the degree of interaction between the different EU member states and states outside the Union, I do not understand why it is so difficult to tackle modern crime. How is it possible for hardened criminals to live high on the hog in the EU? Other states seem to have difficulties extraditing criminals or getting sufficient evidence, be it the parent state in some cases or the sponsoring state in others. It should be possible to deal with these issues. It is done in less sophisticated jurisdictions so why can we not do so here? The Irish Presidency should deal with this.
The Presidency gives us a great opportunity to set out our stall as a democratic society and to welcome those states which have come in from the cold in recent times and which did not have the benefit of democracy. There will always be a sense in those applicant countries of the way it was and the way it is now. No society or system is perfect and there will be those in the applicant countries who will say that it was not as good as they thought. It is our job to ensure it is as good as they thought and to ensure that Europe evolves in a way that is positive, responsible and conscious of their needs and ours.
There are those in Ireland who talk as if every applicant state was a threat to us, which is rubbish. If we expect any society to kow-tow or lay out a red carpet for us, we are codding ourselves. It does not work this way. We live in a commercial world and must be competitive and attract investment. It is no use being a high wage economy which tilts itself at a specific segment of the market. We must be tilted towards all segments of the market. We must be prepared to encourage investment in the country to keep our people, and those who come here, at work. If we do not do so, we will fail in our job even though we have had the expertise and experience heretofore to be successful. It is important to recognise this. There is no sense in our blaming the new applicant states if we do not perform well. We must ask ourselves how we are doing, how we are marketing, whether we have changed our procedures, if we are up to date and whether we doing what others do. Every new state has the advantage of modern, state of the art technology instantly.
I wish the Presidency well and hope it is successful. It is time to light a beacon for a modern, evolving Europe and the Irish Presidency has a chance to do so. That beacon can become a focus for incoming countries and existing members of the EU. It is unfortunate that our next door neighbour, Britain, has remained on the periphery, especially on the currency issue. Other countries are in the same position. It would be hugely beneficial if the Irish Presidency could use its influence to encourage our next door neighbour into the inner circle, making it that much more effective.
To be fair, since Ireland took over the Presidency, there has been an ongoing debate on European issues. Thankfully certain elements of the electronic and visual media have engaged with the European issues, which was not always the case. Those of us who are members of the Joint Oireachtas Committees on Foreign Affairs and European Affairs, like Deputy Quinn and I, have met a number of interesting groups in recent weeks. Yesterday our colleagues from the Danish Parliament were here and today we had a useful exchange of views with our colleagues from the United Kingdom Parliament. The representative for trade and development for the United Nations was here this afternoon and tomorrow morning the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Roche, will meet the Joint Committee on European Affairs prior to the General Affairs and External Relations Council meeting which will take place next week. In addition, the Joint Committee on European Affairs Sub-Committee on EU Scrutiny will meet on Thursday.
That has been par for the course for some months and our Parliament has begun to engage proactively with the European debate. I am not being condescending when I say that some worthwhile contributions have been made. Deputy John Bruton referred to the danger that we might be engaged in a cook's tour. Although that danger exists, there are two key priorities.
First, we must ensure the enlargement goes well and that the ten new states are bedded in as quickly as possible and feel at home in the new expanded Union. I have said before that the dynamic of the European Union will change dramatically with the accession of the ten new states, which is all to the good. In one of the exchanges with our United Kingdom colleagues today the reason for joining was raised, and clearly the reasons for joining are different for different countries. One reason Spain joined, for example, was to avoid a return to fascism. Deputy Gay Mitchell said we joined to enhance our sovereignty which has not been diminished but enhanced. Other countries will join for different reasons but the sum of the contributions they will make will be infinitely greater than their individual parts, and I do not use that expression as a cliché.
Second, we must look carefully at the possibility of concluding the work of the Intergovernmental Conference, something I know the Taoiseach is doing. No treaty would be better than a bad treaty and it is facile to think that matters were more or less concluded at the European Council meeting before Christmas. The Council was tantalisingly close to a solution but it was also distant from it. Many issues have the capacity to unravel and become open to renegotiation. For that reason the Taoiseach's negotiating abilities will be necessary to ensure we try to conclude a good agreement to have the best possible draft constitutional treaty we can possibly achieve.
Deputy John Bruton made some interesting remarks, one of which referred to the size of the Commission. However, as matters stand, I disagree with the Deputy. It is important that the accession countries have a sense of ownership and of belonging to the European Union. Having a commissioner, even if only until 2009, would ensure this is the case. While it may be that a smaller, more efficient Commission might be desirable in the longer term, a commissioner per country is desirable in the short term. I do not think it is beyond the capacity of the President of the Commission to run an efficient and effective Commission, even with 25 members.
Deputy Bruton also raised the protocol on subsidiarity for national parliaments. This is an interesting suggestion. I am not sure how the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, will respond to this point. It would reassure many national parliaments across Europe that they have a meaningful role in the governance of the Union. This merits further consideration.
I now turn to the external relations policy of the Union. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Taoiseach are extremely concerned about the stability, or instability, of the western Balkans. I am concerned that the new neighbours policy of the Union could be seriously jeopardised and destabilised if there is not stability in the western Balkans. Significant efforts must be made in an attempt to restore stability to the region in so far as it is possible and to bring forward good governance there.
As Deputy John Bruton said, Irish Presidencies have always done something significant during their terms. The Stability and Growth Pact was negotiated during the Presidency headed by Deputy Bruton. During the Presidency headed by the former Taoiseach, Mr. Haughey, the mechanism to engage with the United States was put in place. It is important that this Presidency has brought the focus on to the relationships between the EU and the UN. Ireland is well placed to promote EU-UN co-operation and to support effective multilateralism and UN reform.
The EU is a major bloc at the UN and will be a bigger bloc from 1 May. I am glad that the Government intends to use its Presidency to assist the work of ensuring the EU enjoys a role and profile at the UN that is appropriate to its size and reflects its budgetary contribution. It is important that this strength is harnessed to support the UN's capacity for effective collective action. A key priority for Ireland is to ensure that the EU assists the process of UN reform so that the UN is effective in dealing with issues of international peace and security and is seen as enjoying legitimacy among its members. It is fair to say that the UN is currently a damaged entity.
It is heartening to see the Government's focus on advancing EU-UN co-operation in crisis management. The European Union and the United Nations are natural partners in carrying out peacekeeping operations. Irish military neutrality is a policy to which the Government is deeply attached. However, Ireland has never been ideologically neutral or morally indifferent to the major international and security challenges of the day. Ireland's neutrality is not rigid, frozen in time or isolated from the evolving international security realities. Ireland's neutrality originated as an important expression of sovereignty and became practically possible with the return to Irish control by Britain of the treaty ports in 1938. Irish neutrality has not been imposed from outside, nor is it guaranteed by international treaty. It is a policy espoused by successive Irish Governments and its core defining characteristic is non-membership of military alliances. Our neutrality has gone hand in hand with a strong commitment to international co-operation for stability and security.
There is no conflict between Ireland's military neutrality and full and active support by Ireland for collective security, based on international law. The progressive approach taken by Eamon de Valera in the League of Nations in the 1930s is clear evidence in this regard. When faced with the challenge to international security of Mussolini's invasion of Abyssinia, Ireland supported sanctions against Mussolini. Owing to the absence of the United States and the weakness of its enforcement mechanisms, the League of Nations was unable to deal effectively with aggressor states led by dictators. As the League of Nations failed to meet its responsibilities, the world descended into war.
The history of Europe from 1935 to 1945 showed clearly that military neutrality on its own is not enough to maintain conditions of peace and security internationally. It is also necessary to work actively for international peace and security, taking account of prevailing circumstances. In advocating UN membership to Dáil Éireann in 1946, Eamon de Valera emphasised his hope that the UN would be better able to act against an aggressor than the League of Nations when he said: "Either the time for action is going to pass in futile discussion or there must be a method by which effective forcible action will be taken." He also emphasised that "if there is ever to be a rule of law, nations must make up their minds that they will take part in such enforcement, because, if there is not enforcement, then, of course, the duties and the rights that are guaranteed will be all thrown aside".
It is the responsibility of the Government to ensure that the safety of our personnel on peacekeeping missions is at the top of the agenda. While one cannot give absolute guarantees regarding safety, we have analysed the risks involved and as well as ensuring that intensive training is undertaken, robust and modern protection assets, including armoured military vehicles and armoured personnel carriers, will be deployed. Our troops deserve the best equipment and facilities we can give them.
Although 20 countries will be participating in the UN mission in Liberia, Ireland is the only western country making a significant contribution. This illustrates the high regard the UN has for us. It knows our track record and we should be honoured that the unique qualities of the Irish peacekeeper continues to be recognised. Irish peacekeepers are among the most acceptable from the community of troop contributing nations for several reasons. Our troops have high standards of experience. As Ireland is a neutral country which was never a colonial power, our troops are recognised as being impartial. The Congo operation in 1960 marked the first opportunity for the Defence Forces to serve alongside armies from other nations. This experience showed that Irish troops were as well trained and suited to peacekeeping as any other nationality. Subsequent peacekeeping experiences in places such as Lebanon, Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor and Cyprus have reinforced this conviction.
I am sure the current Presidency will have the same flair, efficiency and energy that have been a hallmark of our previous Presidencies. I wish the Taoiseach and his Ministers well.
Dick 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)
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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——
Dick 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)
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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.