Tuesday, 16 December 1997
Dáil Éireann Debate
Mr. Howlin: I thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this matter for the Adjournment and the Minister of State for coming in to respond. It is a direct and straightforward issue and I hope the Minister can give clear and precise answers to the points I want to raise.
The House will be aware that under Article 198 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, subsumed into the Treaty on the European Union, the Committee of the Regions was formally created. It is an important body representing elected members on a regional basis across the European Union and adds to the dimensions of representation and inclusion within the democratic system of the European Union. It was always envisaged that the members to represent Ireland in 1998 would be selected in accordance with legislative measures enacted by the Oireachtas in the first instance and secondary legislation signed by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government in 1993. Under Statutory Instrument No. 394 of 1993, the Local  Government Act, 1991, Regional Authorities Establishment Order 93, section H, the statutory provision is that members will be selected by the regional authorities. Section H states that one of the functions of the regional authorities would be to select, when requested to do so by the Minister, a person being a member of a local authority in the region to be proposed as a member of the Committee of the Regions or a person to be proposed as an alternative member of such a committee using, in relation to each section, the methods set out in the Fourth Schedule for the election of the cathaoirleach of a regional authority. Two clear points for the future arise from statute law: first, the obligation on the Government to use the legally established regional authorities as the mechanism to select next year's members of the Committee of the Regions for formal appointment by the Council of Ministers and second, to have that election in accordance with the schedule to which I referred to ensure proportionality.
I raise this matter on the Adjournment because rumours are abounding in local government circles that the Minister does not propose to follow the statute route laid down and understood to be the accepted mechanism by all political parties represented in this House. I seek the assurance of the Minister tonight that he will state clearly and without equivocation that the method set out in statute law and in the statutory instrument to which I referred will be the method employed. I want him to assure us that it will be a regional decision by the democratically constituted regional authorities and not rubber stamped by the Minister. That will ensure that democracy, as provided for in law, agreed by this House and signed in 1993 by the then Minister for the Environment, will be the methodology that will be employed in this important work.
Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government (Mr. D. Wallace): I thank Deputy Howlin for raising this matter on the Adjournment which has given me the opportunity to respond to it. The EU Committee of the Regions — COR — was established by the Treaty of the European Union and held its first meeting in March 1994. It is composed of 222 representatives of local and regional authorities, with an equal number of alternates. There are nine Irish members and nine alternates.
Under the Treaty the COR must be consulted by the European Commission or the Council in five policy areas that directly affect the responsibilities of local and regional authorities. Those areas are: economic and social cohesion, including Structural Funds; trans-European transport, telecommunications and energy infrastructure networks; public health; education and youth and culture.
Members are nominated by the member states and appointed by the EU Council of Ministers for a four year term. The current term of membership expires on 25 January 1998. Precise arrangements  with regard to nominations for new members have yet to be made. There is provision for proposed nominations to be sought from the regional authorities. A range of factors will have to be taken into account in the making of any nominations, including geographic balance.
One of the major challenges to be faced in the coming years is to strengthen the links between the citizen and the Union. The citizen is the cornerstone of the Union. In the Committee of the Regions members are in the unique position of being in touch with the local concerns of the Union's citizens in their home constituencies and at the same time familiar with the differing needs of the Union's citizens from region to region. Through co-operation with their committee colleagues, members have a key role in linking local, regional and European politics.
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