Tuesday, 5 December 2006
Ceisteanna — Questions
Question 1: To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on his attendance at the recent meeting of the European Council in Lahti, Finland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35497/06]
Question 2: To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the bilateral meetings he held on the margins of the recent European Council meeting in Finland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35498/06]
Question 12: To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the European Commission President, Mr. José Barroso, in Brussels on 8 November 2006; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37449/06]
Question 13: To ask the Taoiseach the issues raised in his meeting with the European Commission on 8 November 2006; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37450/06]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 16, inclusive, together.
On 20 October I attended the informal meeting of EU Heads of State or Government in Lahti, Finland and the working dinner that followed with the President of the Russian Federation, Mr. Vladimir Putin. The meeting in Lahti was not a full European Council and did not, therefore, adopt formal conclusions. However, it provided a useful forum where the Heads of State or Government could discuss in depth the key areas of innovation and energy. We also had shorter discussions on the position in Darfur and on immigration policy. While I had no formal bilateral meetings in Lahti, I did have brief discussions with a number of my colleagues including the President of Cyprus, Mr. Tassos Papadopoulos and Prime Minister Blair. The meeting with President Putin was timely and the European Union spoke with one voice on energy and the need for Russia to more actively address human rights issues. I have received a draft agenda for the European Council meeting on 14-15 December. The Council will deal with enlargement including the absorption capacity of the European Union, justice issues, innovation and energy, and external relations.
I travelled to Brussels on 8 November for a meeting with the College of European Commissioners. In advance of the meeting, I had a short tête-À-tête with the President of the European Commission, Mr. José Manuel Barroso. Following the meeting with the College of Commissioners, I also attended a working lunch hosted by President Barroso. Our discussions were very useful and constructive. I underlined to the Commission the absolutely central role the EU has played and continues to play in Ireland's economic and social transformation. We discussed the current state of play in respect of the draft European constitution. We also had a useful exchange on competitiveness and I explained the Irish Government's position on Aer Lingus, stressing the necessity, in our view, of competition in the Irish market. I briefed President Barroso on the situation in Northern Ireland. In response, President Barroso informed me that the Commission had been following the situation in Northern Ireland closely. He expressed his hope that all parties would give their support to the St. Andrews Agreement and he extended an invitation to the nominees for First Minister and Deputy First Minister to visit Brussels after 24 November. I also thanked the Commission for supporting official and working language status for the Irish language.
On 29 November, I travelled to Brussels to address a plenary session of the European Parliament. In my address to the European Parliament, I underlined the importance of the constitutional treaty to the future of Europe. I outlined what I feel are the greatest challenges facing Europe including competitiveness, globalisation, external relations and the need for Europe to connect better with its citizens. My address to the European Parliament has been laid before both Houses. In addition to addressing the Parliament, I had an informal meeting with the Irish MEPs, from North and South. I also had a very good meeting with President Borrell. We touched on current issues of Irish interest, including according official and working language status for the Irish language from January. I had a useful lunch with representatives of the various parties in the Parliament.
What view has the Taoiseach articulated in respect of the increasing danger due to the attenuation of the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons treaty? The review of the treaty has been postponed until 2010, with serious consequences with regard to North Korea and Iran. Has the Taoiseach articulated the Irish view and what is the EU response to it?
The EU Vice President, Mr. Franco Frattini, stated that immigration and terrorism will be the two main issues on the European agenda for the foreseeable future. He stated it would be necessary to spend €272 million between now and 2013 to protect European borders. At the recent European People's Party, EPP, meeting it was made clear that this is a serious problem no European country can deal with alone. Last year the Dutch sent back 17,000 people and this year some 25,000 people were arrested attempting to enter Greece. A similar figure applies to Malta and the Spanish Government of Zapatero has legalised several hundred thousand people, principally from North Africa, since 2004. With the population of Africa doubling within the next 20 years, no European country could deal with even a small percentage of that population deciding to migrate. We welcome immigrants to our country and the role they play in the development of our economy and its services. What is the view of immigration? What progress has been made on a comprehensive, clear and practical EU policy on immigration?
The Copenhagen criteria were adopted by the EU regarding the entry of Turkey. At this stage entry cannot become an eventuality unless criteria are agreed and accepted on both sides. Are we putting off the decision day when Turkey, as a secular state, refuses to recognise Cyprus? This is a clear problem. A conclusion on Turkey's entry will not be reached until the problem is solved. This matter was discussed at the recent Heads of Government meeting. What was the outcome and what view did the Taoiseach articulate as the Irish Prime Minister? What is his view on whether this will become a reality?
There were three questions on non-proliferation. We were disappointed and spoke quite clearly about the lack of progress to date. We are one of the countries that has pushed this issue recently and we have reiterated the Irish position. It was not discussed at the Lahti meeting and it will not be discussed at next week's meeting. It has been discussed at the General Affairs and External Relations Council, GAERC, a number of times and we will continue to outline our position on it.
Deputy Kenny's comments on immigration are correct as it is an enormous problem, particularly for the Mediterranean countries. The numbers that came in to small countries such as Cyprus and Malta this summer have been very large, and that has created significant problems for them. There are plenty of policies, co-operative agreements and memorandums of understanding across the Community on how these matters work, but as the Deputy is aware, when people arrive and come into the system, an attempt must be made to deal with them. These countries are bound by the Geneva Convention 1951 and other protocols, but that does not take from the pressure that will continue to be felt by them.
There are long-term goals that we play a part in, such as the significant resources we put into ODA in helping countries in Africa, but as long as there are so many conflicts and problems there, the huge pressure will not be reduced. The Minister for Foreign Affairs has visited Darfur twice this year and has lent his voice to solving many of the problems in Africa.
Countries have pledged to work together but the Spanish decision clearly creates pressure for other countries in the region which do not take the same view. Such countries have made their own assessment. Italy, for example, made a number of decisions that were outside the normal European position, but there are continuing efforts in the European Council, particularly the justice affairs council, to get everybody to work together. There will not be a totally coherent policy when some countries are being hit by such a level of immigration.
We dealt with the issue of Turkey during the Irish Presidency of the EU when the UN initiative had come about, and I remained close to the issue for that reason. I discussed it earlier and reported to the House previously about discussions with the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel. At her bequest I spoke to Tassos Papadopoulos, whom I have spoken to a number of times since. We spoke again last Friday by telephone. In our view, Turkey must redouble its efforts in pursuing its reform agenda, which it has been told to do and which it should do. The main stumbling block currently is the implementation of the Ankara Protocol and if a solution is not found urgently, I fear the negotiations will head for trouble, which I have made clear. I expect the issue will be discussed in depth at the December European Council meeting.
I have been sympathetic in recent years towards President Papadopoulos, who has been under much pressure. It is not just another issue in Cyprus, it is enormously important for the Cypriot people. On the day I was with the Commission four weeks ago, it had issued its paper and the Deputy will be aware of the effort made since with a number of chapters and in trying to keep the issue going without a total collapse. It will be difficult to proceed without a collapse. Although the Finnish Presidency has worked extremely hard on this, President Papadopoulos will not take a soft option. The original intention was for this to be discussed at a foreign affairs meeting and that agreement would be reached, but I do not believe that will happen. I believe it will end up on the table at the European Council and President Papadopoulos will take a tough line. His position is the Ankara Protocol is not agreed. Where do we go? His position as he sees it, and as we supported during the Irish Presidency, is that if Europe does not stand by one of its own members, which is the issue, he will take a tough line and he has contacted colleagues in his campaign on this.
Deputy Kenny knows from his group that others take a different view. The European pro-Turkey lobby will take its line to smooth a way of continuing the process. We are in for a lively session on this issue.
At the main discussions or in any of the side meetings did the Taoiseach discuss with the EU Heads of State the practice which disturbed many people in the EU in recent times of the CIA and US intelligence agencies kidnapping individuals and bringing them to the Guantanamo gulag or other places to be tortured? Recently, the Taoiseach was quoted in the Irish press as stating that last St. Patrick's Day, "I was sat closer to him than you are to me now" in reference to President Bush. He also stated, "I looked at the great——
The question is that the Taoiseach stated he looked at President Bush, and asked him whether he could be sure to be sure that so-called "extraordinary renditions" did not involve this country. He was assured this was the case.
Does the Deputy have a question relative to the questions before us? The questions deal with a meeting of European Heads of State. If the Deputy has a question I will hear it. If not, I ask him to resume his seat and allow Deputy Ó Caoláin to contribute.
It is in order. I can read Standing Orders for myself. I asked the Taoiseach whether he discussed with EU leaders at the meeting the involvement of countries of the European Union in extraordinary renditions. Is that in order?
I might as well come in with an algebraic formula and put it in front of the Taoiseach if we are not allowed to utter a single word outside of the Ceann Comhairle's extremely narrow definition of what is in order.
Does the Taoiseach think, and is there any suggestion, that within the European Union, which claims to be a zone where human rights are respected, there should be a common position in absolute opposition to this so-called "extraordinary rendition"? What is the view of other leaders in the European Union with regard to certain countries co-operating with the kidnapping of individuals and facilitating it?
Regarding the discussions between the EU and President Putin, what assurances, if any, were given on the human rights inside Russia of members of opposition groups, trade unions, journalists who are routinely murdered and the people of Chechnya who are brutally repressed? What is the basis of the understanding of the relationship between the EU and Russia in respect of what this regime is allowed to do? I know the recent suspicions about the death of Alexander Litvinenko had not come to light at that stage, but it is all part of a process. What did President Putin say to the Taoiseach in this regard?
In respect of the first matter, extraordinary rendition was not discussed at the recent meetings. It was raised this time last year by the Minister for Foreign Affairs at the General Affairs and External Affairs Council. The EU wrote to the Americans. Following this, the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, visited Europe and gave assurances. I reported on the previous meeting on St. Patrick's Day to the House at the time.
In respect of the situation in Russia and the meeting with President Putin, the matter attracted quite considerable attention at the European Council because the journalist had been killed in the preceding few days. There was a common EU position on the issue. The European Commission intends to open negotiations on a new legal framework to govern EU-Russia relations which will supersede the current partnership and co-operation agreement, which expired on 30 November. It has been agreed to roll over the existing agreement and that more time is needed for discussions. A number of issues are covered in this.
The death of Anna Politkovskaya has again highlighted civil and human rights. There are considerable tensions surrounding this issue. If one asks me whether President Putin satisfied everybody on this issue, the answer is that he takes quite an aggressive line with European leaders on this issue. He continually does so at meetings, defends his position and denies any involvement by any Russian state sources in any killings, interference with the press or others involved. This is the standard answer. It generates a substantial amount of tension at all of the meetings. This tension is increasing, regardless of the recent event, because almost every time a meeting is held, some other litany of actions has happened. As Deputy Joe Higgins rightly pointed out, only some of these events are publicised here. A considerable number of business people, chairmen of major organisations, journalists and human rights advocates have been executed in one form or another in the recent past. This issue is not only raised at meetings with President Putin but also at meetings held every six months with the Presidency. Each Presidency in turn meets President Putin. He gives his stated answer and that is as much as I can say about the matter.
Did the meeting of the European Council in Finland discuss the services directive? Is the Taoiseach aware that the directive, despite the fact that it has been amended somewhat, remains a very bad deal for workers in Ireland and throughout Europe? Is he aware that employers are in a position to sell services throughout the EU with very few restrictions applying, yet can employ workers at the lowest possible wage return and with very poor conditions applying?
We thought we had seen and heard some of the worst examples in the Irish Ferries affair. However, is the Taoiseach aware of the example of the Norfolk Line freight ship that serves between Heysham and Dublin on which workers are receiving as little as €2 per hour? Can he explain why he and his Government——
Fair enough. If the issue has not been addressed at the most recent meeting, maybe the Taoiseach will explain it to us, given the real concerns of Members. Will it be on the agenda of a future meeting of the European Council? Will the Taoiseach seek to address it in the context of these abuses?
Did the European Council discuss or will it address the proposed use of EU battle groups, to which this Government has now clearly committed itself, clearly against our stated policy of neutrality? Does the Taoiseach agree this merits serious address at the European Council meeting, not least in the context of the statement by the Secretary General of NATO, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, regarding what the battle groups represented to him? Let there be no mistake that this issue merits very serious address. Has the Taoiseach raised the issues concerning the services directive and the battle groups or engaged thereon with others in attendance at the European Council meeting?
On the first questions, the matter was not discussed at the meeting of the European Council. The Parliament's compromise and the modification to which it has agreed have moved on and have received strong support in the Parliament.
We have the second highest, if not the highest, minimum wage. The legislation we had worked out with the social partners is under preparation. The first part of it was put to the Government today. Separate units are working on two other parts and we are committed to the arrangements we came to. I hope the services directive will find its way into the various policy initiatives by the Commission over the months ahead.
The EU battle groups were obviously not discussed at the recent European Council meeting but we are going to participate. Participation will be based on the triple-lock mechanism. Training will commence in 2007 with a view to commencement in 2008. It will be on the basis which the Minister for Defence, Deputy O'Dea, puts before the House.
Does the Taoiseach envisage the European treaty being put to the people in 2007? A recent address by him, if I read it correctly, warned against the unravelling of the constitution and the cherry-picking of elements thereof. What is his current assessment of the prospects of success regarding the existing document? What is his assessment of the attitude of other member states, particularly France and the Netherlands? Notwithstanding this, does he believe we are likely to have a referendum on the matter next year? Is it possible to maintain the Irish position of opposing changes to the document and, at the same time, rationally expecting the peoples of France and Holland to approve the same document they already rejected? Is it not inevitable that, after the French referendum, there will have to be some changes if the document is to be successful?
Consider the meeting with President Putin regarding the energy crisis and the fact so much of our gas supply is from Russia. After that meeting, the Taoiseach referred explicitly to the informal meeting with President Putin. What is his view of the outcome of that meeting regarding a guarantee of supply to EU member states, particularly this one?
I presume the issue of enlargement and a migration document will be discussed at the December summit in Brussels. How does the Taoiseach see enlargement in the case of Turkey? Has the climate changed, having regard to recent developments in respect of the terms with which it was to comply?
I do not expect the Netherlands or France to accept the EU constitution exactly as it is. If they wish to, these states could have protocols written and attached as addenda to the constitution to cover the points they coherently argue created difficulties for them. They would get agreement for this. The European Parliament and Council would be open to supporting that position. Some said it should not be called a constitution but a revision of treaties. However, it was called a constitution because that was the wish of the former French President who chaired the convention. Therefore, it was a French position.
Having been involved in the process and the convention, one could simplify the document. If one was doing it again, one could take sections out that would not radically alter the document. There are several things one could do to simplify it. If there was a will in the Netherlands and France to do this, it would be possible. Support is available to deal with it.
When he was here, President Borrell told me — he said it previously also — that the countries which had not yet ratified the constitution, Ireland, Denmark, Sweden and perhaps Portugal, should go ahead and have a referendum anyway, even though we know it will be changed in either a minor or substantive way. I do not think that will happen in any country, as there has to be certainty before all of the countries will be happy to go ahead and have a referendum.
It looks as if Angela Merkel will make a considerable effort. The top two items for her presidency are energy and the EU constitution. She will put life into it and work around the March declaration of the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome to try to bring forward a policy position and get others to buy into it. The topic has been aired a great deal in the French presidential campaign and the French are leading the cherrypicking campaign. The trouble with cherrypicking is that everyone picks different cherries. It will not be possible to achieve agreement if they proceed on that basis.
Everything moves on over a period of a few years. I reminded the Parliament and Commission last week that once we had 27 member states, in a month's time, under the Nice treaty, about which they have all conveniently forgotten but will not be able to forget for much longer, there would no longer be one commissioner per member state. We are straight back into that argument and I suspect they will all wake up to it around February. They almost reckon it does not matter but they will realise it is a written treaty and the law. Once Bulgaria and Romania join, there will be a difficulty. That will bring some sense to the debate. It will also bring some interesting issues to it.
I agree with the view articulated by Deputy Rabbitte's colleague, Mr. De Rossa, MEP, that one could simplify the constitution and add some protocols to it that could be worked out, a little like what we did. That would be easy to do if one really wanted to do it. If one takes the French line, it will become a major problem. An election has been held in the Netherlands but I am told it will be several months before a government sees the light of day. That will not be great for the process either.
The position on the energy issue is far better than it is on the human rights issue with regard to the Putin meeting. The water was much clearer in that regard. He recognises that he has 500 million or 600 million consumers and that he is getting a good price for energy supplies. Energy companies — mainly Gazprom — have to renew many of their pipes. As significant capital investment is required, they would gladly do deals with European businessmen to update their infrastructure. To ensure security of supply, we must ease the situation and avoid conflicts such as the ones started this year but this may be unlikely. Whether it is right or wrong, our Polish colleagues have taken a tough line with the Russians. I will not make any comment, other than to say they have taken a tough line and delayed European discussions on the ACP agreement which is based on farm produce. If they were to take a similar line on energy matters, it would not be helpful but apart from this, it would work itself out quickly.
There are two camps on the enlargement issue. Turkey is now an applicant country, as is Croatia. There are commitments to other countries in the Balkans that cannot be withdrawn. Discussions will have to take place at some level. There are no great difficulties with Croatia's application but it will take a number of years to process. Major difficulties surround Turkey's application which will take a long time to process, it will extend certainly into the next round of the financial perspective, almost a decade away in 2014. The Balkan countries will not be ready but a cause must be given to them to continue the process. That brings me back to the point that one cannot have enlargement until the institutional arrangements are worked out in the constitution. They will have to decide how the issue is to be dealt with, if not in 2007, which I doubt, then certainly in 2008.
As I stated in reply to Deputy Kenny, the Commission's view — probably the Presidency's view and the majority view on the Council — on the Turkish position is that we should at least keep the discussions going on certain chapters, even if it is not at the same pace as perhaps envisaged a year ago, and see how they proceed. It will be a long process.
A commitment was given by the Commission in terms of its communication on reducing the impact on the climate of aviation and its expressed intention to bring forward a legislative proposal by the end of this year. Is this still on course? Has there been contact with the aviation sector here? What position will the Government take on the general thrust of such a legislative proposal if it emerges?
Those proposals are still live but I do not know when they will come to parliament. The Commission's view still is that this is a big area of concern for emissions. It is sticking to its policy and, I think, it will continue to do so. I do not think it is listed. On the aviation area, it had hoped to put forward a whole package of measures, but this has been deferred because of what has happened with its own agreement. The Commission had hoped that the open skies agreement would have led to considerable rationalisation but it will probably deal with it as an environmental issue and proceed with it. It is still on course.
Tá trí cheist agam, agus tá mé ag fanacht lena gcur. Déanfaidh mé go tapaidh é.
On the European Council meeting and the forthcoming international human rights day, did the Taoiseach hold discussions with the British Prime Minister on collusion? Will that issue be pressed further on demand for co-operation with the British Government and, on foot of that, does the Taoiseach propose to establish a public inquiry into murders in which State-sponsored terrorism seems to have played a part, according to the committee of which Deputy O'Dowd is a member?
Again, with human rights in mind, the last time we had questions on this area I raised with the Taoiseach the murder of a Russian journalist. Since then the former spy, Mr. Alexander Litvinenko, was poisoned. Is there an understanding that we will not press this issue from a human rights point of view, in spite of the fact that Russia has said it will not extradite poison spy suspects, according to the title of a report I have seen, or is it that our dependence on energy——
I appreciate it is a serious matter that needs to be dealt with by a number of Ministers, but the Taoiseach has discussed this matter at the European Council meeting. Is it the case that we have to be quiet on human rights issues because of our dependence on Russia for energy? In regard to the December European Council meeting, given the adoption of targets of 15% to 30% cuts on 1990 carbon dioxide equivalent emissions by 2020, is it not likely that member states will be asked to identify targets for each country in terms of CO2 emission cuts? Is it not the case that the Taoiseach, on behalf of the Government and the country, will have to indicate Ireland's target and, if so, has he done that?
I would like a brief resumé of whether the Lisbon Agenda was discussed at the meeting and whether the Taoiseach is confident that it will be met or even partially met by 2010.
To respond to Deputy Kenny's question, that matter is always discussed in detail at the spring Council, which is given over to it totally, and there are always some updates on it at the other Council meetings. I do not think all the targets will be reached by 2010 but substantial progress has been made in many of the areas. All member states are still very committed to the ongoing issues of the Lisbon Agenda. It will continue to be policy for the foreseeable future. Obviously it is being used as the benchmark for every member state to report back.
On Deputy Sargent's question, I would not like to give the impression that the relationship between the European Union and Russia is soft on the human rights issue. There is considerable tension on this issue. It applies far more to others than to ourselves as they are directly engaged in many everyday dealings with Russia. Those tensions, if anything, are getting greater by the month. Obviously, because the recent poisoning happened in London it has received far more publicity here than, in fairness, did the death of Anna Politkovskaya. There have been so many that the tensions are growing and there were sharp exchanges at the European Council. There have been fair reports of the meeting, but there were very sharp exchanges, both ways. President Putin does not sit there on these issues. He defends his position and attacks fairly aggressively.
On extradition, there are a whole range of people. Part of the problem in this is that the United Kingdom, as I understand it, has given residency to an enormous number of former KGB people. They are legally in the UK and this is part of their difficulties in dealing with these issues.
Last week the Minister, Deputy Roche, had detailed discussions with the relevant Commissioner on our entire programme. Obviously there are pressures and tensions where we must deliver on what we said and also acknowledge what we have done. The Minister will outline our steps on this matter. I believe questions in this regard appear on the Order Paper.