Seanad debates

Tuesday, 6 April 2004

11:00 am

Photo of Dick RocheDick Roche (Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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I am happy to be here today to participate in the discussion of the spring European Council which took place in Brussels on 25 and 26 March last.

The conclusions of the European Council and the declaration on combating terrorism have been laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas. Members will be aware that the Taoiseach made a statement on the European Council to the Dáil on 30 March. The meeting was very successful for the European Union.

The European Council adopted a declaration on combating terrorism; reached agreement to resume negotiations in the Intergovernmental Conference on the constitutional treaty; identified what needs to be done to promote sustainable growth and more jobs in the context of the Lisbon agenda; and had an exchange of views on a range of international issues.

The first session of the European Council was devoted to combating terrorism. It was held as a direct response to the horrific terrorist bombings in Madrid on 11 March. The scale of that attack demanded a real and rapid response. That is the reason the Irish Presidency drafted, and the European Council adopted, a comprehensive declaration on combating terrorism. The declaration underlines that we are at one in the European Union in our determination to face down the terrorist threat.

Since 11 September 2001, an enormous body of work has been ongoing in our fight against terrorism. The attacks in Madrid injected a new urgency in bringing this work forward. The declaration adopted by the European Council was considered at a specially convened meeting of Justice and Home Affairs Ministers and was also considered by Foreign Ministers in a meeting which preceded the European Council. It highlights existing co-operation, seeks to improve it and emphasises the need to implement what we have agreed. It also sets out a number of important initiatives in the fight against terrorism.

The declaration includes measures to improve intelligence-sharing, to strengthen border controls and the security of travel documents, to enhance protection for our transport systems and to counter the financing of terrorism. The European Council renewed our commitment to implement the European arrest warrant in every member state and strengthened our efforts to prevent the financing of terrorism.

Combating terrorism demands a more effective and systematic approach to the exchange of information between our police, security and intelligence services. High Representative, Javier Solana, has been asked to report to the June European Council on how intelligence capacity within the Council structure can be integrated. The European Council agreed new strategic objectives for a revised plan of action on terrorism and will agree, in June, the key tasks and deadlines by which these tasks are to be achieved. Improved co-ordination across the whole of the European Union is essential to defeating terrorism. That is why a counter-terrorism co-ordinator has been appointed. Dr. Gijs de Vries will have the job of co-ordinating the work of the Council and following up on Council decisions to make the fight against terrorism more effective. He brings a great deal of experience to the job, having been interior Minister for a time in the Netherlands.

The European Council recognises the need to enhance international co-operation. Thedeclaration underlines the central role of the United Nations. It underscores the need to continue to enhance our co-operation with partners, including the United States. In addition, the European Council agreed a declaration on solidarity against terrorism. That highlights an element of the draft constitutional treaty for Europe which commits the member states to act jointly in a spirit of solidarity if one of them is the victim of a terrorist attack. This is, of course, subject to the constitutional requirements of each member state.

The message coming from the EuropeanCouncil meeting was simple. We are building on our existing co-operation. We seek to improve it, and we emphasise the need to implement what we have agreed. We are also looking at what more we can do. Following the session onterrorism, the Intergovernmental Conference considered the draft constitutional treaty. The session was both positive and constructive. There was great appreciation for the Irish Presidency's approach to the IGC. The Taoiseach askedcolleagues to commit themselves to a timeframe in which to bring the IntergovernmentalConference to a conclusion. It was agreed toconclude it no later than the June European Council. That is a remarkable change in affairs since the December European Council, when the atmosphere was entirely negative. It is a verysignificant achievement on the part of the Taoiseach.

Of course, there is still a substantial amount of work to be done in the context of the constitutional treaty. There are complex and important issues to be resolved. However, there is a strong will to find a way forward, and it is understood that there will have to be compromises. In negotiations, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. I mentioned on a previous occasion in the Seanad that if the political will existed I was confident that the Irish Presidency would find a way of constructing a path through the many difficulties that still face the constitutional treaty. The positive decisions at the European Council have confirmed my views in that regard.

The process of bringing the constitutional treaty to a conclusion is a collective one in which we must all play a part. Everyone has shown some flexibility, and in the discussions that will follow, more compromises will have to be made. The Government would, of course, like to see agreement on the new constitution sooner rather than later. At the same time, the Government fully appreciates that the best possible outcome may require a little time. We should not forget that when we began at the start of the year there were many who said it would not be possible to set a target for the end of the 2004. We now have a commitment to finish the negotiations by June.

While combating terrorism and crafting a constitution for Europe are critically important matters, the spring European Council was originally conceived as an economic summit. In advance of the European Council meeting, the Taoiseach had written to colleagues outlining the Irish Presidency's priorities on the Lisbon Agenda and our approach to making progress on it. The Taoiseach also used bilateral contacts to emphasise the need for a focused agenda, concentrating on the main issues needing to be addressed. The Taoiseach highlighted the fact that overall Europe is well behind target in a number of key areas and that we must now give the highest level of political priority to the critical issue of delivery.

Our approach underlined the importance of stepping up implementation at national level of the commitments to which member states had agreed over the past four years. Fortunately, the climate for delivering on the Lisbon Agenda is improving. The global economy is recovering, and the European Union must position itself to benefit from any upturn.

We decided to concentrate on two urgent priorities, sustainable growth and more and better jobs. One of the problems with the Lisbon agenda to date has been that it has not been well focused. The temptation for every Presidency has been to bring on board its own favourite topic. We took the view that less is better — if we can add some focus, much more progress will be made. The true test of the Lisbon agenda will be whether the European Union will be able to sustain higher levels of growth and employment in 2010 compared to those recorded in 2000.

For growth to occur, the right combination of sound macroeconomic policies and greater competitiveness is needed. To this end the European Council decided the draft directive on services should be agreed so that barriers to the Internal Market, which limited opportunities for business and consumers, would be removed. Services account for approximately 70% of the gross domestic product of the entire Union and yet there is less freedom of movement in this area than in any other. If progress can be achieved in this area and the barriers that prevent the growth of an Internal Market in services are removed, everybody will benefit. Consumers will benefit as of course will the economies in general.

The Heads of State also committed themselves to accelerating regulatory reform, another issue that has been discussed in this House on more than one occasion. There is a problem with Europe regulating itself to stasis and the view of the Irish Presidency is that good governance requires less, or more focused, regulation. I am pleased to point that the Irish Presidency's view on the issue of regulation is shared by Holland, Luxembourg and the United Kingdom, which respectively will host the next three Presidencies. A common Presidency programme has been issued to cover the two-year span, focusing on the issue of regulation. I believe this will have a positive impact.

The European Council also agreed on the need to invest in basic research in the life sciences. The level of private sector investment in research and development in the European Union is far too low. The private sector invests three times more in human capital in Japan and a staggering five times more in the United States than it does in the European Union. All member states have been asked to improve the general conditions for research and development and to consider targeted support and incentives to encourage greater investment by business. The research and development area is obviously critical as Europe wishes to become the world's leading knowledge-based economy by the year 2010.

Growth will not be sustainable if it is coupled with the increased use of finite natural resources. For this reason, the European Council called for the rapid implementation of the environmental technologies action plan. As well as protecting the environment, this plan will contribute to competitiveness and economic growth. The European Council also called for the full implementation of the Kyoto Agreement. It is worth reminding the House that environmental science is one of the key areas of technology that is currently being developed. Europe has an edge and advantage in this area and it should be pursued.

Growth and competitiveness are not ends in themselves. They are means to securing and developing the European social model with its emphasis on sustainability and inclusion. Protecting the most vulnerable members of society is an essential part of the Lisbon agenda. I am pleased that the Council agreed that social cohesion was central to this. The other focus was on jobs. The European Council agreed that the EU's top priority must be to increase the employment rate throughout Europe. Higher employment will not only boost growth, but will also provide the best route out of poverty and social exclusion. The European Council focused on four major challenges, namely, increasing the adaptability of workers and companies, attracting more people into the labour market, improving the quality of employment and investing in human capital.

It was agreed that a detailed response would be undertaken at next year's spring European Council meeting to examine the progress of members states in addressing the employment challenges. The European Council acknowledged that substantial progress had been made in a range of areas that would promote mobility including the European health insurance card. The Taoiseach displayed the first of the European health insurance cards at the Council. In addition, the reform of Security Council regulation 1408, which will protect the social security rights of migrant workers, is an important measure which will be agreed over the coming weeks. This too will be a significant achievement for the Irish EU Presidency.

The European Council also called for political agreement to be reached by June 2004 on directives aimed at making it easier for workers to have their professional qualifications recognised when seeking work in other EU member states. I recall when I was a civil servant in the Department of Finance in 1973, when we first joined the European Union, we discussed the right of establishment of the freedom to move workplace from one place to the next. We talked of the challenge of having a common set of professional qualifications. It is extraordinary that 30 years later this has not been achieved. One of the positive outcomes of the European Council meeting was to indicate a timetable for getting that work concluded, with June 2004 being the projected date. That is very ambitious, but would be a very positive outcome if achieved.

The Government cannot on its own bring about the range of changes required. All stakeholders have a vital role to play. It was also agreed that each member state would establish national reform partnerships in accordance with its own national arrangements and traditions. The states would have to build commitment and legitimacy as a lever for change at national level. We do not often regard ourselves in Ireland as innovators, yet one of the great innovations in recent years has been social partnership. I know there are debates on the extent to which social partnership should be involved in the evolution of policies, yet one must accept that social partnership has been fundamental in creating a more flexible arrangement within the workforce, as well as creating a consensus and agreement on policies which would otherwise have been difficult to deliver. We believe, as does the European Council, that this model can be extended to the European Union.

The Council also looked ahead to 2005, the mid-point in the Lisbon goal and the appropriate time for an in-depth review of delivery. While we all agreed that the continuing validity and relevance of the Lisbon agenda is not in question, we need a comprehensive mid-term evaluation to guide us over the second five years. The European Council therefore invited the Commission to establish an independent high-level group, headed by the former Dutch Prime Minister, Wim Kok, to undertake this evaluation. Wim Kok and his proven track record will provide continuity with the earlier work of the employment task force, given that employment is one of the key areas of the Lisbon agenda.

The European Council discussed Kosovo, Afghanistan and the Middle East, focusing on our partnership with the wider region, and it also discussed Cyprus. European High Representative Solana and Commissioner Patten reported on their visit to Kosovo on 24 March. While the situation appears to have stabilised, the recent outbreak of violence was a major setback. The European Union must try to ensure there is no further descent into the type of ethnic violence which destroyed so many lives throughout the western Balkans over the last 13 years. The European Council reconfirmed its support for Security Council Resolution 1244 and for the policy of standards before status.

The Council welcomed Germany's decision to host the international Afghanistan conference in Berlin on 31 March and 1 April. The people of Afghanistan require a future governed by the principles of freedom, justice, respect for human rights and fair political representation. The Berlin conference marked another step towards securing those objectives.

The Middle East continues to be of grave concern to the European Council. Extrajudicial killings are contrary to international law and undermine the rule of law. The European Union has condemned the killing of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin by Israeli forces. Violence must cease in the region. The European Union called on the people of the region to look beyond the politics of the latest atrocity. They need to summon up the political will necessary to overcome the current impasse in the peace process. The European Council remains convinced that the Quartet road map offers the basis for a lasting peaceful settlement resulting in two viable, sovereign and independent states, Israel and Palestine, based on the borders of 1967.

The Irish Presidency maintains close contact with the leaders of the principal Arab states to ensure the momentum in the peace process is not lost. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, visited Cairo last week where he emphasised the need for a concerted effort to advance our common goals of peace and security in the region through a just resolution of the conflict. The Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs intended to represent the Union at an Arab summit in Tunis last week, but it was cancelled.

The European Council expressed the desire of the European Union for partnership with the countries of the Mediterranean and the Middle East. The European Council welcomed the interim report drafted by the Presidency, An EU Strategic Partnership with the Mediterranean and the Middle East, and which was endorsed by Foreign Ministers at the General Affairs and External Relations Council on 22 March. The European Union and the countries of the Mediterranean and the Middle East are neighbours, sharing strategic interests and concerns. Many of these countries face challenges that require far-reaching political, economic and social reform that must come from within. At the same time, the European Union stands ready to help.

The European Council discussed Cyprus, at a time when the UN led negotiations on a settlement were at a critical stage. Heads of State and Government acknowledge the long-standing effort of the UN Secretary General, Mr. Kofi Annan, to create a unique and historic opportunity for a settlement to the Cyprus problem. The Government maintained close contact with the negotiations throughout and continues to be in touch with all parties concerned. It is now up to the people of Cyprus to decide on a plan for a settlement that Mr. Annan presented to the parties on 31 March. At its meeting on 26 March, the European Council reaffirmed its strong preference for the accession of a united Cyprus to the European Union. The European Council reiterated its readiness to accommodate the terms of such a settlement in line with the principles on which the Union is founded. As Members will be aware, if there is no agreement in the two Cypriot referenda, one of the challenges then faced is how to accommodate the arrangements for 1 May. Within these arrangements, there is sufficient flexibility to do that.

The European Council meeting was good and productive. We are now at the half-way point of the Irish Presidency, yet much work remains to be done. As in the past, this term of the Presidency will be judged on its results over the entire six month period and whether it achieved what it set out to do. We can be satisfied with what has been achieved to date and that this good work will be continued.

Photo of Paul BradfordPaul Bradford (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Roche. Over the last 18 months he has presented us with the message from the European Union in a balanced and fair fashion. I agree the Irish Presidency will be judged on its results over the six months term. However, at this stage, we must say, "so far, so good". The work done on EU issues by the Minister of State, the Taoiseach and their colleagues is excellent. I wish them well over the concluding three months of the presidency. I also wish, on behalf of the Fine Gael Party, to extend congratulations to the Irish diplomatic corps and civil servants who it seems are working on an almost 24 hour basis.

The Irish Presidency is an example of what a small country can achieve within the European Union. Future presidencies and the management of the Union will change but Ireland is finishing this presidency in style. The accession states, particularly the smaller ones, will notice this and emulate what Ireland has achieved in the management of EU business. Ireland is up there in lights and not only is it good for us but it is good for the accession states and Europe.

Though it may not be pertinent to this debate, what those minority groups who speak for nobody in this country, or across the Union, will attempt through protest on 1 May must be discussed. Over the weekend, newspapers carried disturbing reports on planned protests due to take place in Dublin on May Day. Groups of thugs from all over Europe are being invited to Dublin by thugs in this State to bring anarchy and chaos to our streets. Who are these people? Sometimes they claim the title of "Reclaim the Streets". One wonders what they are reclaiming, from whom and for whom. These people have no political agenda except a negative one of destruction. They have no electoral record. If they put themselves forward, they would get little support from the electorate. However, they are attempting to close down Dublin city and the country on 1 May. It is an absolute disgrace.

The accession of new states to the EU will be marked on 1 May. Many of these states lived behind the Iron Curtain in fear and terror for years. This will be an outstanding day in the history of the Union and Europe. Those groups across Europe, supported by a tiny minority who speak for no one in this country, should not be allowed to disrupt 1 May. The weekend newspapers gave details of a video on an Internet site speaking for direct action in a weekend of resistance to say no to fortress Europe and to drag down the EU. This is shocking.

The democratically elected Oireachtas must say no to these unelected Trotskyite thugs who have nothing to contribute to the EU but to hark back to days long gone. These thugs are abusing the word "globalisation" to bring protests onto the street. Global trade has not just built up this country, but the Continent and its Union. It is time for us to strike back at these people. It is we who should be reclaiming the streets from these thugs whose record is one of trouble and misery. What is their agenda for Europe? They speak of bringing down the EU, the very body that has brought peace and security to the Continent. After 1 May, when the Union is 25 states, that peace, stability and economic progress will extend eastwards which any decent, thoughtful and constructive person should support. These people must be told they are not welcome to protest on our streets with their message of violence and thuggery.

The European Council last week was dominated by the shocking and tragic events in Madrid. The EU had to respond and the putting in place of mechanisms to combat terrorism is welcome. It will always be impossible to combat terrorism because its ideology and operation is not just negative but secretive. One can never have an absolute security response to terrorism. I welcome the fact the EU is speaking with one voice, not only about the futility of terrorism but also about its absolute commitment to ensuring it will not bow to the threat of terrorism and the mechanisms used by terrorists. I welcome the decision to appoint an overall co-ordinator at European level. Every Government has a role to play, working in conjunction with the co-ordinator. It is important the legislation that needs to be put in place across the EU is debated urgently and enacted as quickly as possible.

Last week, the Seanad debated the Transfer of Execution of Sentences Bill 2003, which is not as dramatic as it sounds. The Bill was waiting debate and conclusion for a number of years, apparently. It was mentioned during the course of the debate that a number of such similar measures are awaiting final debate and conclusion. If we are to try to combat terrorism from a European perspective, it is important that national Parliaments should do their work as quickly as possible. I am sure the Minister of State will work with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to make progress in respect of any outstanding delays and to ensure we play our part in responding to terrorism.

The Minister of State gave the House an indication of the progress that has been made in finalising the proposed EU constitution. He has spoken in the Seanad about the debate on the constitution on a number of occasions. It is disappointing the matter was not resolved at last December's summit. We hope the missing pieces of the jigsaw can be put in place during the final months of the Irish Presidency. It is too early to talk about the final picture that is emerging, but the fact the Government has succeeded in getting our EU partners to sit down and to engage strongly with the matter is to be welcomed. It is in the interest of all member states — the Europe of 15 as well as the Europe of 25 — that the constitution is finalised as soon as possible so we can put the constitutional question and the constitutional test to the people of Europe.

It is possible the constitution, more than anything else, will be our response to those involved in the "Reclaim the Streets" movement and in other organisations that are anti-globalisation and anti-everything. When the people of Europe speak on the constitution of Europe, they will send the clearest possible message that the future of Europe is one of 25, and more, countries co-operating on economic, social and international issues. I wish the Government well in trying to conclude the constitutional process.

Senator Ormonde and I have debated the Lisbon strategy at great length in recent months at meetings of the Joint Committee on European Affairs. We have had interesting and lengthy debates about many broad policy matters relating to the strategy. It is appropriate, as the Minister of State said, that a group should be put in place at the halfway stage to examine the progress that has been made to date. Significant progress has been made, but it is clear from the work done by the joint committee, chaired by Deputy Gay Mitchell, that many problems remain, for example in respect of job creation, sustainability and environmental issues. We have discussed broader matters such as landfill and incineration policy at recent meetings of the joint committee and some questions remain in that regard. If the EU ensures the issues of job creation, social security and building a fair and balanced Europe are at its core, we will be moving in the rightway.

When a delegation from Macedonia addressed the Joint Committee on European Affairs last week, members of the committee asked, as they asked when other delegations addressed the committee, about the cost to the Macedonian social security system of trying to underpin the economic advances necessary for accession to the EU. The Macedonian delegation and previous delegations said that although they recognise the social pain associated with economic advances, they are willing to look at the broader picture. They know their futures will be much more secure if they join the EU, as they will be able to participate in broader free trade and a more liberal economic market. If such countries are willing to make certain sacrifices, we should be willing to work with them and to assist them in every possible way. In that regard, I hope the Lisbon strategy is progressed as quickly and strongly as possible.

The Minister of State said in his contribution that central issues such as competition and regulatory policy need to be discussed. We have to discuss issues at home if we are to put in place mechanisms to enable us to make further progress on competition and regulation. It is not simply a case of public transport but applies to a broad policy area. This great and interesting debate shows how dramatically Europe has changed, as well as how dramatically Ireland has been changed by Europe. It demonstrates, from the point of view of the social contract, the influence Ireland is having in Europe. We are benefiting from Europe and Europe is benefiting from us. That is the way it should be and long may it continue.

I would like to comment briefly on the Minister's remarks about the EU's ongoing foreign policy work, for example in respect of Kosovo, the Middle East and Afghanistan. It is sad that today's answers to such questions may not be appropriate tomorrow. The EU is well placed to work to resolve global conflicts because countries that opposed each other bitterly throughout the history of Europe have successfully come together to co-operate on certain matters. Great progress has been made in respect of the problems in Cyprus. We all hope that a united Cyprus will be in a position to join the EU at the earliest possible date.

The German initiative on Afghanistan is to be welcomed. World politics moves quickly and it easy to forget that two or three years ago, the Taliban were in charge of Afghanistan, which is now moving forward and making progress. When I think of the Taliban being in charge of Afghanistan, I am reminded of those to whom I referred at the start of my contribution who want to destroy Europe rather than help to construct it. I refer to those who want to march and to claim and take over our streets on 1 May next. I asked earlier if they have any policies and for whom they stand. In a sense, they actually are the European Taliban and the Irish Taliban. We should say "No" to such people.

I congratulate the Minister of State on his work. He can be proud of his performance in his portfolio. I wish the Government well in the next few weeks as we draw nearer to the accession of the ten new member states and the conclusion of the Irish Presidency. Given that it might be the last time that Ireland has a conventional Presidency, I hope its legacy will be a good example of what small countries can do and the role they can play in an ever-enlarging Europe.

Photo of Ann OrmondeAnn Ormonde (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister of State. I congratulate him on his work in all areas relating to Ireland's Presidency and on his role in bringing the EU closer to the citizen. It is worthwhile this morning to discuss the Irish Presidency and where we are at. A review of the spring European Council is necessary because we need to relate to the public at large again. It is natural that the debate so far has been mainly about the security problem. I am delighted we have received a clear message again that all member states should work together to demonstrate solidarity in the light of the bomb attacks in Madrid on 11 March last. In such a spirit of solidarity, we should support any member state that becomes a victim of a terrorist attack. I acknowledge the ground work that was done by the officials, through the Presidency, in getting a clear message and in forging an agreement on a declaration on combating terrorism. The Irish Presidency played a major part in that agreement and in bringing about these anti-terrorism measures. I also welcome the fact that we have now appointed a co-ordinator to encourage the exchange of information, police, security and intelligence co-operation and strengthening of border controls between member states. We need a co-ordinator to keep all these measures under review and keep member states up to date on developments. If the spring Council did anything, it brought about the reinforcement of these measures. Security is a very important issue for Irish people, who want to know what Europe is all about. Here is a golden opportunity to find out. The security measures adopted through this declaration will help in combating terrorism.

The consultations of the Intergovernmental Conference are ongoing and there is a genuine hope that all outstanding matters will be agreed shortly. Among these are the size of the Commission and the issue of qualified majority voting. Knowing that the Taoiseach is at his best in these negotiations, I have no doubt that the June Council will bring about a satisfactory solution to these problems along with the finalisation of the constitutional treaty.

The spring Council was initiated on the basis of the Lisbon Agenda, although part of it has been taken up with security and the IGC. I have taken a special interest in the Lisbon Agenda, the ten-year plan and our current position. I am delighted that our need to set the agenda has been acknowledged by the Irish Presidency. The pace has been slow and we have not really aimed for the targets that were set out for 2010. I support the idea of setting up national agendas, rather than following the Lisbon Agenda, so that we can investigate areas in which the pace has been slow.

The focus of the Irish Presidency has been on the areas of sustainable growth, competitiveness and better jobs. How can we go about achieving these? As the Minister of State pointed out, the only way in which this can be done is to improve competitiveness through better education, better harmonisation of our qualifications and greater adaptability in the workforce. Investment not only from the Exchequer, but also from the business world, can enhance competitiveness. We may not be sluggish about these matters in Ireland but other member states do not really have a grasp of how to handle it. Recently, I visited Istanbul for a conference on the issue of whether Turkey was ready to apply to join the EU. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of delegates from other countries who asked about Ireland's recipe for success and what model we were using. The whole of Europe seemed to focus its attention on our success story.

We talked about the Lisbon Agenda. We seem to have got it right in some ways: we have better mobility and our education system is first class. Perhaps we need to work on the adaptability of workers in certain areas and encourage research and development to enhance the European store of knowledge. On the whole, however, we seem to be achieving our aims in a natural way. This was nice for the delegation from Ireland, whose members were able to talk about our success story. More needs to be done, however. The Irish Presidency has reinforced this idea.

We are halfway through the Lisbon Agenda, which started in 2000. There still seem to be some loopholes.

Photo of Paul BradfordPaul Bradford (Fine Gael)
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A lot done, more to do.

Photo of Dick RocheDick Roche (Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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That is a good slogan.

12:00 pm

Photo of Ann OrmondeAnn Ormonde (Fianna Fail)
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Yes, and it holds true for everything in life. I wish the Presidency well in that aspect of the Lisbon Agenda. If we do not provide more and better jobs, achieve greater competitiveness and work towards harmonisation of our qualifications we will not be able to help those who need to be helped. Unless there is competitiveness we will not have the money to work on our social model. An important part of the Lisbon Agenda is attempting to eradicate poverty and looking after those who cannot look after themselves. We can only make improvements in the health service and in the area of pensions if we have a vibrant economy. We have this, but we must work on maintaining it. That is the model we must sell to Europe. The only possibility for achieving this is to ensure greater competitiveness, sustainable growth and more jobs. This will ensure that we can help those who cannot help themselves.

I note the points raised in the Minister of State's contribution about the ongoing efforts in Kosovo, the Middle East peace process and Iraq. Part of the discussion on the accession of Turkey to the EU was about the reunification of Cyprus and whether this will happen on 24 April when the two referendums will be held. It was asked what would happen if the Greek Cypriots voted "No" and the Turkish Cypriots "Yes" or if both sides voted "No". There are many possible problems. It is a difficult issue. I came away feeling that there was some doubt about the matter. The Turkish Cypriots seem to be agreeing to make progress but the other side seems not to have the required commitment. However, we will see what the outcome is on 24 April.

I understand a conference entitled Communicating Europe will take place on 7 and 8 April. This is an issue that is close to my heart. The conference was initiated by the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, and all the member state representatives will be discussing how we can bring Europe closer to its citizens. How can we get rid of the gobbledegook language? I became interested in this issue when I became a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Affairs and began to look at all the documentation that was coming through. I spent hours trying to understand jargon. I am here to bring Europe closer to its citizens — to make Irish citizens feel we are moving in the right direction and that without Europe we would be isolated. I welcome the Communicating Europe conference, at which we can discuss how we can best develop closer relationships with our citizens. That will be a very important day for the Minister of State and I look forward to the outcome of the conference. I wish him every success with it.

The date 1 May is D-Day and I look forward to participating in a full schedule of events. That date, however, should not be dominated by, as Senator Bradford said, self-appointed groups with no democratic mandate. Some may wonder from where such groups come. They come from the very countries that were under the mantle of the Soviet Union for such a long time. They seem to have no home, nor do they want one; they are just creating disturbances. We must be careful that proper security measures are in place so those thugs will not get an opportunity to disrupt proceedings, as we have read in newspapers in recent days.

I hope 1 May will be a great success. As regards the second half of our EU Presidency, I extend every good wish to the Taoiseach and his Ministers for the conclusion of the constitutional treaty. I know it will be a great success. The challenge for us is that when all that is over we will not sit back but will continue to take pride in the fact that Ireland had a successful EU Presidency, hosting the enlargement ceremony on 1 May and completing the negotiations on the constitutional treaty. In the coming years we will continue the drive to maintain a strong economy.

This debate has afforded us a great opportunity to discuss the recent spring Council meeting in Brussels. I am proud to be able to speak about our country in this manner, as well as recognising that the Taoiseach has spearheaded the EU spring Council so successfully. The next EU summit meeting in June will confirm Ireland's position as the EU's most successful economy to be used as a model for the accession states.

Photo of Feargal QuinnFeargal Quinn (Independent)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on this topic. I join Senator Bradford and Senator Ormonde in congratulating the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, on his grasp of this portfolio. Since his appointment, he has demonstrated enthusiasm for and commitment to his job. The breadth of the Minister of State's address to the House was evidence of the wide-ranging nature of his portfolio. Last year, when I met the former French President, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, he appeared to be criticising the Minister of State, Deputy Roche. In fact, however, Mr. Giscard d'Estaing was critical of the Minister of State for being so committed to the case for small nations, while, at the Convention on the Future of Europe, the former French President hoped to ensure those nations would remain small and would not have the same power as larger states. I congratulate the Minister of State on what he has done. I also wish to congratulate the Taoiseach and the Irish diplomatic team for the progress they achieved on the new constitutional treaty.

I wish to focus my remarks on the Lisbon Agenda. It was a tragic side-effect of the Madrid bombings that this European Council, which was originally to concentrate mainly on revitalising the Lisbon Agenda, had to divert much of its attention to other things. Some time was devoted to the original planned topic and some progress was made, but it is fair to say that the revitalisation of the Lisbon agenda did not take place. At the Forum for Europe last week, the Taoiseach said he found the need to re-inject momentum into the Lisbon strategy and he has done so very effectively.

I wish to spell out why this matter is so important and why I was so pleased that the Irish Presidency has adopted the Lisbon Agenda as one of its priorities — perhaps its main priority. The Lisbon Agenda has as its central objective that the EU will become by the year 2010 "the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs, and greater social cohesion".

The importance of this declaration was that it provided an answer to a question that has been nagging at Europe ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, namely, what is Europe's place in the world? Is it, as some people continue to believe, as a type of second-level military power, designed to counter balance the United States on a global scale? Those who think so believe that international influence must be based firmly on military might and that everything, including trade, follows from that dominating fact.

One of the problems with that approach is that, almost by definition, it involves casting the United States in the role of an enemy or at the very least as a rival. That is a very barren approach to adopt, however. We need never regard the United States as an enemy, however much we might disagree with its policies, as we do on many occasions. Surely it is much better to address these differences through the offices of a friend, rather than as a rival with whom we could never compete on equal terms.

The main problem with the vision of Europe as a military power is that it is unnecessary. It is true that global influence follows from military might, but it is equally true that it can be brought about without the involvement of military power. Since the Second World War, the military power of Germany and Japan has been effectively neutralised, yet that fact has not prevented both countries from becoming major global influences on economic grounds alone.

The Lisbon Agenda was, first and foremost, a statement that the EU would compete on the world stage by economic and social means, rather than through military might. In particular, it was a statement of how Europe intended to compete with the world's only remaining superpower, the United States. The aim was to close the economic gap between the EU and the US, and for Europe then to take the lead in the new knowledge-based economy that is opening up before us. In Lisbon, the member states agreed, in the Minister of State's words, to "make our labour markets more flexible, stimulate innovation, encourage entrepreneurs, spend more on research and development and complete the Single Market".

According to the European Commission, success with this reform programme could increase the EU's underlying annual growth rate by up to 0.75% over the decade, which would bring it into line with the US by the target date of 2010. Whether all the member states fully realised it at the time, the Lisbon agenda represented a fundamental choice as to the future direction the EU could take, a choice of the economic rather than the military path. Given our own non-militarist background and tradition, it is particularly appropriate that Ireland should emerge as the champion of this agenda.

Unfortunately, as the Irish Presidency realised, agreeing the agenda was one thing but implementing it has proved a different matter. In its recent scorecard on the Lisbon Agenda, the Centre for European Reform summed it up as follows: "Even the most enthusiastic proponents of the Lisbon Agenda can only describe the EU's performance over the last 12 months as mediocre."

The economic gap between the EU and the US is widening, rather than narrowing. The hard fact now is that there is little prospect of closing that gap before the original target date of 2010. The worst case scenario is emerging as a real possibility: that by the end of the decade, the gap between Europe and America will be even wider than it was at the start. The failure of Europe as a whole to match up to the targets of the Lisbon agenda has led some people — we have seen it in this country — to question the whole process. This idea is strengthened by the pattern of patchy performance across the 15 member states. A number of countries, notably in Scandinavia, are doing well. Ireland is doing well in terms of employment and productivity but its performance is still well below par in terms of both innovation and social inclusion. Other member states, including a number of the biggest economic players, especially Italy, have made little or no progress on the reform programme.

This raises the question of whether the EU should abandon the Lisbon Agenda as a European project and instead allow each country to pursue its own destiny at the pace of its choice. The argument for doing so is strengthened because most of the actions required under the agenda must be taken at national rather than European level. Most of the agenda is outside the competence of the EU.

Such an approach would be a disaster, however well an individual state might do by ploughing its own course. Part of the thinking behind the Lisbon approach was the introduction of the concept of peer pressure, as each member state monitored the progress of its partners and encouraged those falling behind to maintain the overall European pace. This device was also aimed at bringing a European dimension to policy making that would help to offset and overcome the narrow political motivations which too often dominate at national level.

However, without the Lisbon Agenda, the Union would lack the vision that can bind it and all its citizens together in pursuit of a goal that everyone can relate to and share. Aspiring to realise and live up to such a vision is vital to the survival of the Union as an economic and political force. Turning our backs on that vision would be tantamount to turning our backs on the EU itself.

Despite the window dressing of the Council communiqué, and without wishing to undermine the modest progress made at the meeting, we have failed on this occasion to provide the Lisbon agenda with the reinvigoration it desperately needs. The Taoiseach was correct that momentum needs to be injected into it. My hope is that this failure will not put the Government off persevering with the project because the future of Europe depends on it.

I attended and spoke at the Forum on Europe last week. When we focus on something, we sometimes do not recognise the immediacy required in terms of achieving its objective. I was on the board of a hospital 20 years ago, which was contacted by the Department of Health regarding the Government's job creation programme. The board was asked how many jobs it could create in the hospital, even if they were not required. However, the objective was job creation. Many of the jobs that were created were not needed. Sustainable growth, therefore, is an important aspect of the Lisbon Agenda. If the EU is to succeed in terms of job creation, it must be sustainable and a way must be found to ensure the Union perseveres with innovation. Ireland has slipped up in this regard over recent years and investment in science and innovation in our education system needs to be reinvigorated. While momentum must be injected into the Lisbon Agenda, momentum must also be injected in this area. That is in our own hands and we can do it.

John Dardis (Progressive Democrats)
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I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources to the House. I thank the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Roche, for his attendance because it was extremely difficult for him, given the programme being undertaken during the Presidency by the Government, to find enough time to outline the outcome of the Council to the House. We should register our appreciation to him and acknowledge the work being done by the Taoiseach, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, other members of the Government and the officials who give them the necessary back up to ensure the Presidency is successful.

Last Thursday the Taoiseach gave a tour de force overview of the Council meeting when he spoke at the Forum on Europe in Croke Park. There was a long question and answer session and one could not but be impressed by the Taoiseach's intimate knowledge of the issues without referring to notes. The Council addressed a number of issues, the first of which was the constitutional treaty. It is good that progress is being made in this area and congratulations are due to those involved. A negative message would have been sent to the accession states if the adoption of the constitution were to drag on for a long time and it is good that the hope is it will be concluded by 1 June. Each member state has outstanding issues but a consensus is emerging regarding the need to reach agreement.

The Taoiseach referred to the issue of qualified majority voting last Thursday. There will be a combination of a member state's votes in terms of population and its votes within the Commission. There will be a debate on the balance involved but that is the way the issue is going and the Taoiseach is firmly committed to such an arrangement, which is welcome.

Taxation and how it will be dealt with is a serious and important issue from Ireland's point of view. We still should be able to exercise control over our own taxation affairs because together with social partnership that has been central to creating the economic success we have experienced in the recent past. This is the critical issue from a domestic point of view.

A view is also emerging that each member state should have a commissioner and that is welcome. While there is a debate about the reduction in the size of the Commission, how will it physically deal with 25 member states if it is small? It is important that the Commission should examine what is happening on the ground in member states. It is not desirable that the Commission should be so small that it finds it impossible to do its work and to visit member states. That is why each member state should have at least one commissioner and should have an equal voice at the table, irrespective of size. That is a critical issue.

The Taoiseach also referred to representation in the European Parliament and the minimum threshold that will apply. When the Union was formed, a base level of five was decided. In other words, every member state started with five members. There must be a system of that nature whereby the smaller countries have a base level below which they do not fall. If one were to use a crude population measure to decide representation, the smaller countries would have little representation, which would be undesirable from a democratic point of view.

The issue of terrorism is uppermost in all our minds, given what happened in Spain and the appalling loss of life following the train bombings. Our sympathy went out to the Spanish Government and people. It was good that Heads of State attended the memorial service in Spain to commemorate those who died and a declaration was produced at the Council on combating terrorism. While the declaration is aspirational and good, I am not sure about the practical measures that arise from it. In other words, real practical measures on the ground to combat terrorism are not much in evidence in the declaration. It is obvious that the only way to combat terrorism is through a European approach to sharing intelligence through greater co-operation between police forces. Notwithstanding the fact that the United Kingdom and Ireland are not a party to the Schengen Agreement, it would be wrong for all the national agencies to operate in isolation given that once a person enters the border of the EU he or she is effectively in one common country. That would not be a very strong basis on which to combat terrorism. A degree of detachment from these issues is evident, as people feel that Ireland should not participate in some of these pan-European forces, whether it be military or police forces or intelligence gathering services. That would change fundamentally in the unfortunate event of an incident occurring here. Obviously we hope that would never happen, but the public would expect Europe to intervene, which would be a dramatic change. Solidarity must be shown not just in regard to natural disasters, but in response to terrorism and intelligence gathering and that is the only way to deal with these issues on a European-wide basis.

The Lisbon Agenda has been debated this afternoon. I was very impressed by the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Roche's radio interview on this issue. He was explicit that it was vital that Ireland would move beyond the talks stage to the point where the European Union was acting on the Lisbon agenda. He stated very forcibly the responsibility of Ireland to ensure the necessary legislation was put in place to support the war on terrorism. He is to be commended for that. Senator Quinn is correct. The forecast for growth in GNP in Europe this year is of the order of 1.7%, which is very far short of the forecast growth in the United States. Rather than closing, the gap is widening and Europe is lagging behind the US, which has serious consequences for Europe and the achievement of the objective of the Lisbon Agenda, namely social cohesion. It is through creating a knowledge-based economy and competitiveness that we arrive at the point where we achieve the desired social cohesion. The evidence of the Irish domestic experience suggests that can be done.

Europe is still paying for German unification. I remember a German Minister stating to the Institute of European Affairs at the start of the unification process that it would not affect German growth as it had the resources in the economy to finance unification. I queried it at the time but it has turned out that German and European growth has been seriously affected by the unification of Germany, but it has been well worth paying that price. Nobody would suggest that Germany should not have been unified. A separate question, however, was whether the value given to the Ostmark against the Deutschmark was realistic, although I fully appreciate there was a political dimension to that decision.

It is essential that we go beyond the talks stage on the Lisbon Agenda. One of the difficulties is that it is very diffuse. When we had the discipline under convergence, before the Single Market, there were very specific targets for economic performance in terms of the debt to GDP ratio, inflation and so on. The targets were a barometer of performance relative to the strategy. In this case it is much more diffuse and many more disciplines are involved. That was part of the problem because it is very difficult to focus on precise parameters by which progress can be judged.

One of the main areas that requires progress is the question of research and development. When we discussed competitiveness in the Seanad, I referred to an article in the past few months on the brain drain in Time. The reasons that some of the best people in research are leaving Europe and going to the United States are twofold, first, the level of resources for their research, particularly in the sciences and second, the salaries. Several stated quite openly that it would be difficult to imagine returning home to Italy or France given what was available to them in the United States. That is a major drain on the ability of Europe to compete. However, the Irish experience was given as an example of one of the more successful approaches to research and development.

It will be a marvellous occasion on 1 May to welcome the accession states to the Union. The vision of the founding father, Schuman, and Spaak and Adenauer and Monet when they launched the initiative arising from the devastation of the Second World War and their determination that it would never happen again will be realised. I doubt if they could have imagined a unified Europe from the Atlantic to the Balkans. The enduring success of the project is the longest continuous period of peace since the Second World War, notwithstanding what is happening in Kosovo and other areas. Senator Bradford correctly stated that some protesters from anti-globalisation and reclaim the streets groups have an extreme left wing perspective with no democratic mandate. The protest outside the Dáil against the US military aircraft flying through Shannon gave a taste of their aggressiveness. One lady who wished to protest peacefully wrote to me in great distress because she had been swept aside by these people and when she spoke out against the way they were protesting, she was harangued by people half her age, which was a measure of their lack of commitment to democracy.

The events in Palestine and Israel are very distressing, the assassination of Sheikh Yassin and the abhorrent image of a young boy being used as a suicide bomber. The Taoiseach and the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, have reiterated our commitment to the quartet road map for peace and I accept it is the way forward and is the only show in town. I am encouraged by Deputy Roche's reference to the need for two sovereign independent states based on the 1967 borders. It will require a major effort by all concerned in Europe to try to make progress in that area in general. The European politicians and Foreign Ministers must be applauded for their commitment in this area but it will require dedication to bring it forward. It is disappointing to see more walls and settlements being built on hillsides. This is a direct provocation of the Palestinian people.

We welcome wholeheartedly the accession of the prospective member states. Hopefully, Cyprus will be among them in the sense that the entire island will accede on 1 May. While that has yet to be determined, it will be a good day for Europe as well as for Ireland. We have a great deal to bring to the party. Several of the accession states can identify with us as readily as with any other EU member given the way in which we used the opportunity afforded to us by membership to improve our economy, living standards and ethos. We made the transition from an inward to an outward looking society. Ireland is no longer solely obsessed with what is happening on the neighbouring island; it looks beyond that to Europe. As a small country, our experience can provide a valuable example to accession states in achieving their goals and objectives.

Photo of Paschal MooneyPaschal Mooney (Fianna Fail)
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I join colleagues on all sides in expressing appreciation and admiration at the manner in which the Irish Presidency has progressed. We are feeling a little complacent as whenever Ireland takes the Presidency, irrespective of the political complexion of the Administration, it has always excelled. This honour has fallen to Governments drawn from all sides of the Oireachtas since Ireland joined the EU. It must be said, however, that the momentous times through which we are living now mean Ireland is playing a pivotal role in the development and shaping of Europe in the context of enlargement.

The manner in which the House, the media and the public embrace debate on Europe always impresses itself on me. I could not help but reflect given Tip O'Neill's overused cliché that all politics is local. Local authority candidates may be engaged on doorsteps come June explaining the intricacies and complexities of the constitutional treaty Ireland has rightly been lauded across Europe for progressing to the point where, hopefully, it will be agreed by the end of that month. Everybody has his or her priorities be they at local or macro political level.

The presentation of the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, covered the key areas of the European Council and the mid-term review. Inevitably, combating terrorism was at the top of the agenda followed by the Lisbon agenda and foreign policy issues, the subtext of which relates to several countries and areas of tension in Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere. Sadly, the spectre of terrorism continues to loom large. We must ask whether the world is a safer place than it was ten years ago. I feel less safe than I did then. In the aftermath of 11 September 2001, the direction of US foreign policy and its near obsession with certain unilateral rather than multilateral, inclusive approaches is cause for concern from the perspective of Europe. I am somewhat disappointed that while the recent meeting focused on the most immediate problem we face, there was not more emphasis on bilateral relations between the EU and the USA.

That is not to say the matter was not mentioned. In fact, the Minister of State Deputy Roche referred to the need to enhance international co-operation and the Council's declaration underlining the central role of the UN. It underscored the need to continue to enhance co-operation with partners including the United States of America. I would have thought that would be at the top of the agenda. The USA has taken its eye off the ball and is distracted by internal soul searching and analyses of its foreign policy and the direction of the Bush administration since its election. Given the year that is in it, the decisions being taken in Washington as well as in US society generally have a direct bearing on our future.

I am pleasantly amazed by the openness and transparency of democracy in the USA. What other superpower, of which there have not been many, would bring its chief policy adviser before a tribunal of her peers as will happen on Thursday with Condoleeza Rice? Superpowers are usually closed, authoritarian and totalitarian societies. Ms Rice will explain in detail why decisions were taken which affected hundreds of millions of people. I am sure the world will watch in fascination as that exchange unfolds. Hopefully, it will provide us with answers and, to make a strongly partisan political point, expose the neo-conservatives within the Bush administration. They seem to have thought the only way forward was to use force and that the only way to conduct foreign relations is according to the maxim "might is right". They seem to have thought the USA could act alone and treated the UN and its members with total contempt in the lead up to the Iraqi war. Now they are approaching the UN with cap in hand to seek a joint resolution at the end of June to somehow get them out of the morass in Iraq. What of the parents, children, brothers and sisters of the unfortunate American soldiers being killed in increasing numbers in what is becoming as difficult and complex a war as that in Vietnam? The spectre of Vietnam rides over all American foreign policy. I will not point the finger at the responsible parties; the American people will make that decision in their wisdom next November.

There have been flowery words and expressions of commitment to improving and enhancing international co-operation and taking decisive action. That is the least the citizens of Europe expect from their political leaders. We demand to be reassured that we can live safely and go about our business in our own countries. Is it not extraordinary that a small country like Ireland should be thinking about terrorist threats, something that was beyond our comprehension even a short time ago? I point to the hypocrisy of political leaders who should look back on the last decade of the 20th century with shame. Have we learned anything from the disintegration of Yugoslavia, Srebrenica, Rwanda and the continuing open wound of the Israeli-Palestinian tragedy? The civilised European Union stood by and did little about the disintegration of Yugoslavia and the Bosnian tragedy.

We now have the problems of Kosovo. While the Minister of State was merely reporting on decisions taken by all member states, I question the Council's reconfirmation of its support for Security Council Resolution 1244 and the policy of standards before status. Surely, it is time to address the final status of Kosovo. Are we to continue to see images on our televisions of ethnic division and tension in a country in which Irish soldiers are holding the line and playing an international peacekeeping role?

Serbia continues to shelter and protect two of Europe's greatest mass murderers since Hitler, Mladic and Karadic. We are told Serbia is an openly democratic society and yet the combined forces of the European Union, the United Nations and NATO have been unable to find these two murderers in a small parcel of land in this continent.

President Kigami of Rwanda rules a country which still has not fully addressed the psychological, emotional and economic damage of the genocide of ten years ago. Our Minister for Foreign Affairs, rightly, will be in Rwanda on Wednesday when we will remember the tenth anniversary of a genocide which occurred while the world stood by, where, because of what had happened in Somalia, President Clinton refused to expand the definition of what was happening in Rwanda to a genocide, which would have legally obligated American troops to get involved, and where the general in charge of the United Nations passionately called on the United Nations for a further mandate and said that if he could have 5,000 troops he could stop the killing, but what happened? The United Nations, of which we are a member, reduced the forces, yet Rwanda, which will be feted on Wednesday, is still involved in colonial adventures in Uganda.

Mugabe continues to operate with impunity, sticking up two fingers at an impotent international community. There is little reference in the Council's declaration to what is happening in that sad and unfortunate country.

We then come to the Middle East. We in Ireland are best positioned to understand the pain and suffering consequent on a policy of bombings and shootings. Both sides in the conflict, with the active participation of many countries, including the EU, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States, eventually came to realise that the war was unwinable. The terrorists would continue their reign of terror — I mean the IRA — while those charged with maintaining law and order, the British, would continue a policy of containment. The result, as we all know, was stalemate. Dialogue and parity of esteem is the only way forward. The initiative of the Arab states, led by Saudi Arabia, to recognise the right of Israel to exist, stated unequivocally and unambiguously last year, should be built on. The Arab states fund Hamas and other Palestinian terror groups. I applaud the fact that the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, went to Cairo where he attempted to engage the Arab states in that area. Unless the European Union addresses the underlying fundamental problems of Palestinian self-determination and what is happening in the West Bank, there will never be peace and there will never be a resolution.

Previous speakers referred to the other areas of concern and interest in Europe, including Afghanistan and Cyprus particularly, although I remain pessimistic about an outcome there unless the people, given the chance in the referendum later this month, decide to take the logical step and accept the Kofi Annan plan, but I have my doubts. I wish them well.

The Mediterranean was touched on and it was highlighted that in regard to relations between the European Union and the Mediterranean countries, we have common concerns and strategic interests. I hope the EU will continue to monitor political developments in those countries, especially in Algiers and Morocco. Morocco is now dangerously poised to go the way of Algerian Islamic fundamentalism. It is attempting to reform and democratise itself but it is under severe pressure from external forces in nearby Algeria. One has only to remember the terror of Casablanca less than 12 months ago which now appears to have faded from the public view because of the many subsequent atrocities, not least what happened in Madrid.

Overall, there is an urgency to ensure that despite the ongoing US presidential election which appears, on the face of it, to be a close contest, it is incumbent on the European Union, and on Ireland which holds the Presidency until the end of June, to ensure the United States continues to engage in international relations. I am convinced it has taken its eye off the ball in the Middle East, that it is no longer interested in the short term in what is going on and that it is engaging in a policy of containment. One of the main planks of the Irish Presidency was to use our unique position not only geographically, but historically and emotionally, and our relationship with the United States to rebuild the building blocks of friendship, fraternity and understanding between Europe, old and new, and the United States. That remains a fundamental plank of the European Presidency and now that we have got the constitutional treaty issues sidelined to a degree in that they are off the main agenda, I hope that in the remaining months the Irish Presidency will focus on improving EU-US relations because unless there is engagement at that level, I fear for the future. Despite the best efforts of the Council declaration on removing the threat of terrorism and strengthening the legal infrastructure that is necessary to identify, arrest and contain terrorists, unless there is a firm engagement between the United States and the European Union, I fear for the future.

I want to conclude on a positive note. The tone of the presentation by the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, was upbeat and positive. As politicians and political leaders, if we eschew optimism and bow down to threats, pessimism follows and disintegration follows that. Overall, however, the tone has been well presented by the Minister of State, Deputy Roche. The Irish Presidency can be justly proud of what it has done to date and I hope it will continue to be a success.

Don Lydon (Fianna Fail)
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On the European Council, the first item that arises is the terrorist attacks in Madrid. As Members of this House we all express our deepest sympathies to the Spanish people and it was important, therefore, that the first Council meeting was devoted to the issue of combating terrorism. Justice Ministers were convened especially to consider a declaration on combating terrorism and the Foreign Ministers presented this work to the European Council. The declaration was discussed and adopted by the Council. Within a few weeks of the Madrid bombing, our Presidency had forged agreement on a significant response to the threat of terrorism. That is vitally important not just because of the bombings that occurred, but because of the bombings that were prevented. The bomb found on the mainline railway in Spain recently and the seizure of large quantities of explosives in London are an indication that active terrorism is continuing and it is important that we tackle those issues. The declaration was adopted but the Council members were not starting from scratch because this process has been going on since 11 September and the European Union has been concentrating on terrorism since that time.

The spring European Council was originally conceived as an economic summit in order to advance the Union's jobs and competitiveness agenda, namely, the Lisbon Agenda, and it was a key priority of the Irish Presidency. The European Council agreed last week on the need to re-inject momentum into the Lisbon Agenda. The idea is to make Europe the most dynamic and competitive-based economy in the world by 2010.

The Taoiseach wrote to all his colleagues outlining the Irish Presidency's priorities and his approach to progressing them. He outlined two key areas on which efforts will be concentrated. The first is sustainable growth and the second is more and better jobs. On the first of these priorities, sustainable growth, we need the right combination of sound macro-economic policies and greater competitiveness. One call made was for a draft directive on services, to be agreed as a matter of priority, to benefit both consumers and business. An issue the Taoiseach stressed in his speech to the national forum on 1 April was the emphasis on research and development. He asked that all member states actively support research and development and also give incentives to encourage greater investment by businesses throughout Europe.

The Joint Committee on European Affairs, of which I am a member, was credited with doing significant work, especially in terms of scrutiny of legislation from Europe which is phenomenal.

As Senator Ormonde mentioned, the language in some of the directives is impenetrable. At times it would not be possible to write a more complicated document. I welcome that the Minister of State with responsibility for European Affairs, Deputy Roche, has taken a major initiative on the European stage by hosting the first ever formal meeting of European Union Ministers to address the challenge of Communicating Europe, which will be held in Kilcoole, County Wicklow, tomorrow and the next day. This initiative is important as developments are taking place at an ever higher level and are not addressed at grassroots.

It is significant that the European Council decided that agreement on the constitutional treaty should be reached no later than June. While this is an aspiration, I do not believe it will be realised. While I support the European Union and the constitution, I have grave fears about it. It is one matter to get the constitution written; it is another matter to get it agreed and ratified.

It is not possible to discuss the history of any current or acceding European Union countrywithout reference to its Christian heritage. We seem afraid to stand up and insist that this be mentioned in the preamble to the constitution. Milward Brown conducted an opinion poll for the Sunday Tribune last November, which showed that 49% of people want the constitution to contain a reference to God, 34% do not and 17% did not know. When the "don't knows" are excluded the majority is about 60% to 40%. The question put to those polled was as follows:

As you may know, a new constitution is currently being drafted for all the member states of the European Union. It is currently being proposed that there be no reference to God within this EU constitution. Do you agree or disagree that there should be no reference to God in the new EU constitution?

Remarkably the poll in Dublin showed the strongest support for a reference to God with 50% of those polled saying they wanted God mentioned while 32% did not. This translates to more than 60% of those expressing an opinion. Among voters aged 35 and upwards the support for a reference to God was even higher. We cannot simply ignore this opinion, as it will arise. There is great concern about this matter not just in Ireland, but also in other countries.

This preamble to the proposed constitution was pushed by Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, who has a humanist outlook and a brother who heads an extreme form of masonry. While the humanist outlook is mentioned in the preamble, there is no reference to God or Christianity. I cannot understand why we are afraid of it. Who are we afraid of hurting or insulting? If we did not want to mention Christianity, God can certainly be mentioned.

For the first time the constitution will establish the European Union as a juridical body in its own right. Article 1-10 provides that the EU constitution shall have primacy over national constitutions and law. This was never stated in any European Community treaty before. This covers not just economic policy, but every area of government. Some 30 new policy areas will be transferred from having national responsibility to Brussels. This is in addition to all the decisions previously transferred under the treaties of Amsterdam, Maastricht and Nice.

The constitution will extend the scope and competence of the EU by giving the Court of Justice in Luxembourg the power to determine the fundamental rights of EU citizens overriding national constitutions and Supreme Courts as well as the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. While the constitution in itself presents no difficulties, the power it will give to the Court of Justice presents problems, as it will end up with almighty power. It will bring this court into virtually every area of life and society as human rights issues arise everywhere including the right to life per se, the right to life of the unborn, family law, health and education, religion, property law, labour law, etc.

In some sensitive areas there are differences in what are perceived as rights in EU countries, for example, preventative detention, legalisation of drugs, same sex marriages, abortion, euthanasia and trial by jury. Should the EU be empowered to lay down a uniform standard for such matters across Europe? This proposal has more to do with power than rights. Unless these issues are tackled and explained clearly to the people, I fear we will have great difficulty ratifying it.

Article 1-24 of the constitution allows Presidents and Prime Ministers to move European policy areas from unanimity to majority voting without the need for new treaties involving ratification by national parliaments or referendum. Article 1-17 provides that if the constitution has not given the EU sufficient powers to attain its very wide objectives, the Council of Ministers can "take appropriate measures" to give themselves such powers. These articles open the way for ever further expansion of EU powers at the expense of national parliaments and the citizens who elect them, without the need for prior consent.

We are trying to introduce a constitution so that the previous treaties, which were difficult to understand, can now be understood. While the constitution in itself is quite easy to read, I am not sure that people have read it or had it explained to them. I hope there will be a wide discussion on this matter in this House, the Lower House and everywhere else before theconstitution is ratified, which may pose difficulties.

I support the European Union and the new constitution. I have views regarding defence and our responsibilities, with which many Members of this House disagree. As one who has always been pro-European, I feel we are moving in the right direction. However, I caution the way we move sometimes. While I am sorry the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, had to leave, he has heard me express these views in other fora. I will continue to voice my concerns until something is done about it. I do not know if anything will ever be done or if anyone pays any attention to what we say. However, if one does not speak about this, it would not be possible to stand up to oneself again.

The European Council hopes to agree the constitution by June and I agree that it would be good if this could be done. I urge caution in some areas and I cannot understand why some areas are not tackled. I do not want to go into detail about the Presidency. However, when dealing with areas like Cyprus, Kosovo, the Middle East, etc, it is important that we do so with a unified voice in the European Union. The week before last I attended a meeting of Asian-European parliamentarians held in Hue in Vietnam. When attending such a forum, it is possible to understand how importantly people view the Irish Presidency. While we sometimes see ourselves as a very small country with little influence, that is not true. With the European Union acting as a large union of people we will have a stronger voice. It is only 60 years since Europe was torn apart by horrific wars, which have not occurred since. We are clearly doing something right and I hope we can continue.

Sitting suspended at 1 p.m. and resumed at2 p.m.