Thursday, 23 February 1995
Dáil Éireann Debate
7. Ms Keogh asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on potential future accessions to full membership of the European Union; the likely time scale of such accessions; and his assessment of their likely effect on Irish national economic and political interests. [4152/95]
40. Mr. Clohessy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs the Government's views on the possible accession to full membership of the European Union of Cyprus, Malta, Turkey, the Baltic Republics, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Slovakia. [4151/95]
There are currently five applications for membership of the European Union on the table. These are from Turkey, Cyprus, Malta, Hungary and Poland. The aspiration to eventual EU membership of the other associated countries of Central and Eastern Europe, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Romania and Slovakia, and of those countries with which the Community is currently negotiating Europe Agreements, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, or expected to commence such negotiations in the near future, Slovenia is well-known. Applications for membership of the Union from some or all of these countries and from other European countries may be made at a future date.
Ireland's general attitude to the question of enlargement of the European Union as expressed in the conclusions of a number of recent European Councils is open and positive. Enlargement must take place in the context of deepening European integration and the maintenance of the Union's key policies.In the period in advance of enlargement, the Union's relations with  the countries concerned must be reinforced through the various institutional arrangements which they have with the Union.
In the case of the associated countries of Central and Eastern Europe with whom the Union now has a formal structured dialogue, the Copenhagen European Council agreed that if they so desire these countries shall become members of the European Union, with accession taking place as soon as an associated country is able to assume the obligations of membership.
These obligations include the stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for, and protection of, minorities; the existence of a functioning market economy as well as the capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union; and adherence to the aims of political, economic and monetary union.
Furthermore, when agreeing a strategy to prepare the associated countries of Central and Eastern Europe for accession, the Essen European Council stated that the institutional conditions for ensuring the proper functioning of the Union must be created at the 1996 Intergovernmental Conference, which for that reason must take place before accession negotiations begin.
The Turkish application was the subject of a Commission Opinion in 1989 which concluded that it would not be useful to open accession negotiations straight away but that a range of steps should be taken to intensify EU relations with Turkey. Discussion on the establishment of a Customs Union with Turkey is under way.
At this stage I would not wish to engage in speculation as to the duration of future accession negotiations. This will depend in the first place on the timing of the completion of the 1996 Intergovernmental Conference and then  on the complexity of the issues arising in the negotiations themselves.
Clearly the further enlargement of the Union will offer both opportunities and challenges as far as Ireland is concerned.In particular, the accession of countries which are less developed than our own poses important questions, especially as regards the future of the CAP and of the Union's cohesion policies.
The Commission is undertaking detailed studies of the implications of enlargement for the Union's policies in general, for the CAP in particular, and of the application of the internal market in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. The results of these studies will emerge in the course of 1995 and will have an important bearing on the assessment of the issues involved in further enlargement and on the evolution of Ireland's negotiating position.
The Intergovernmental Conference in 1996 will consider adjustments to the operation of the Treaties designed to accommodate further enlargement. We will be approaching that negotiation with two concerns in mind. First, there is the need to preserve the balance in the Treaty and enable the enlarged Union to continue to respond to the needs of all of its members. Second, the efficiency of the Union, and its capacity to serve its citizens' needs effectively must be maintained.
Mr. O'Malley: I thank the Tánaiste for his full statement on a matter of great importance to us and Europe. I put it to him in general terms that many of the applicant countries to which he referred and which are mentioned in Question No. 40 are likely to have a serious effect on Irish economic interests, because their interests will clash with some of our requirements, particularly in terms of agriculture. Notwithstanding that, will he agree that we will have to balance that consideration with the political and often human rights and democratic considerations of trying to ensure membership for those countries? I would like to see countries,  such as, Cyprus and Malta become members of the Union. Given that those are small countries with populations of less than one million people, will they acquire the rights in regard to commissionerships, voting at the Council and so on existing member states have or can some system be devised for small applicant states such as those and the Baltic Republics which would also fall into that category?
Mr. Spring: I tried to give a reply that was as comprehensive as possible. I am sure the Deputy will appreciate that this whole area is one of enormous complexity and ten questions could be asked about each country. I will ensure that the Deputy gets a copy of the reply.
The accession of some of those countries to the Union would bring opportunities and challenges. The greatest challenge from our point of view will be in the operation of the CAP and Cohesion funding, because the balance within the Union will obviously be tilted towards Eastern Europe. I have had recent discussions with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry and we will carry out studies on the impact of accession of those countries on our economy. The requirements under which these countries can gain accession to the European Union are detailed and searching, for example, the capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union. Some of these countries would not be in a position to comply with this requirement at present. Those countries will have to make enormous changes in relation to their accession.
The question arises of facilitating smaller countries within the mechanisms and the institutions of the European Union. The Deputy will be aware that there is a growing feeling in some of the larger states that the Presidency should not go to the smaller states as is the case at present. We would object to that. We have carried off our presidencies with style and impact and this has been well recognised. Credit must go to the previous Government on the success  of the last Presidency. I would hope we will do the same next year. Questions have been raised because of the possible accession of countries the size of Malta and Cyprus vis-à-vis the Commission and the Presidency. These questions will have to be addressed in the context of negotiations.
Mr. R. Burke: The Minister gave the comprehensive reply which this subject is worthy of. This whole area is complex.How far advanced is the preparatory work for the Intergovernmental Conference from an Irish point of view? We have an unique opportunity in the Presidency of directing the change which will come about in the expanded Union. Exactly what plans are underway and how are we getting on with them?
Mr. Spring: At this time it is not possible to say where the inter-Governmental conference will be held because it has to be agreed and set up. We would see it happening during our Presidency, depending on how much work has been done in preparation for it by the Italian Presidency prior to ours.
Mr. Spring: I can tell the Deputy and the House that I have already presented to Government a memo on the importance of the Inter-governmental Conference and the issues that will arise during our Presidency. From the experience of previous presidencies we are well aware of the demands and the pressure it will put on every Department and on our public service and we will be well prepared for it.
Mr. R. Burke: Is it a fact that our fellow member states are putting intensive efforts into getting their own point of view on the agenda for the Intergovernmental Conference even at this early stage? Are we engaged in a similar process not just in Foreign Affairs but throughout the various Departments? The Minister mentioned CAP, Cohesion Funds and other areas. Is there a united and co-ordinated effort behind this?
Mr. Spring: I can assure the Deputy there is both a united and a co-ordinated effort being put in place. It will be monitored on a monthly basis for the first part of this year, and later perhaps on a weekly basis, because of the importance of the Intergovernmental Conference.
Mr. J. Mitchell: Will the Minister accept that many of the criteria for membership of the European Union, other than economic, fiscal and monetary criteria, are the same as those for membership of the Council of Europe? Many countries such as the Baltic States, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic are already full members of the Council of Europe and meet fully the demands of democracy, human rights etc. Will the Minister accept that there are enormous economic transitional problems for these countries and that it is likely to be a long time before they are economically ready for full membership of the European Union? Will he consider the suggestion that the precedent of special guest status, which exists in the Council of Europe, might be considered at the next Inter-governmental Conference as a half step towards enlargement of the Union?
Mr. Spring: I accept what the Deputy has said in relation to the similarity of some of the requirements, for example, in the area of human rights, institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law and protection for minorities. At the same time the half way house already  exists in the context of Europe agreements.On the one hand we are offering these countries access to our markets. We are also offering assistance to these countries in terms of strengthening their own market economies to bring them up to a level where they would be able to compete in a functioning market economy with the European Union. I agree with the Deputy that the transitional period will be considerable given the weakness of the emerging democracies and their economic systems. At the same time we should not underestimate the potential strength of their economies and should assist them. The other aspect is the widening and deepening of Europe simultaneously. We must ensure within the new European Union that there will be no return to conflict.
Mr. J. Mitchell: Will the Minister accept that many of these countries are concerned about the on-going instability in Russia and that the Europe agreements do not give any assurance in that respect? If there was some form of special guest status, as in the Council of Europe, the umbrella protection of the European Union might be more readily understood in Russia. Therefore, any future attempt by Russia to extend its sphere of influence might be halted.
Mr. Spring: I think the Deputy is straying into security matters. I acknowledge the concerns of the Baltic States and Central and Eastern European countries in regard to the unstable situation in Russia. That is a matter of concern to the European Union, to the rest of the world and it is one we have to take cognisance of at all times. We have to ensure we have good relations with Russia and that Europe is allowed to develop its relations with Russia in such a way that we avoid any potential for conflict.
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