Tuesday, 30 January 2001
Dáil Eireann Debate
88. Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the priorities which have been chosen by Sweden during its Presidency of the EU; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2239/01]
Mr. Cowen: A comprehensive statement of Sweden's intentions is contained in the programme for the Swedish Presidency of the European Union, presented by the Swedish Prime Minister to partners on 14 December last. This document, along with an extensive range of other explanatory material is available on the Swedish Presidency website – www.eu2001.se – to which I refer the Deputy for detailed information.
Sweden has set out an ambitious programme of work across the whole range of EU Council formations. However, three particular areas of enlargement, employment and the environment – the three Es – share top priority on the Swedish Government's agenda.
Now that the Intergovernmental Conference has been concluded and much of the early necessary negotiations with the candidate countries satisfactorily completed, negotiations under the Swedish Presidency will enter a more concrete phase. The Swedish Presidency has brought forward a very ambitious programme of work for negotiations with the Luxembourg and Helsinki candidates. This work programme is built upon the Commission's strategy of last November which was endorsed by the Nice European Council. It also takes fully into account the need for  differentiation and flexibility in the enlargement process. Ireland fully supports the dynamic approach of the Swedish Presidency. We are anxious to play our full part in the success of the programme of work and look forward to a positive review of enlargement at the European Council in Gothenburg in June.
Full employment, economic growth and social cohesion are the EU's most important economic and social objectives. The Presidency has made it clear it will act to promote an efficient and ambitious follow-up to the meeting of the European Council in Lisbon last March and to ensure that the summit meeting in Stockholm in March contributes to further progress in areas such as employment, economic reform, innovation/IT, education, social security and welfare. It has already indicated that several issues bearing on demographic change and of importance to full employment will be discussed at the summit meeting in Stockholm. We therefore expect a very positive outcome from this European Council that will enable us to show to both Europe's citizens and the world that the Union's objectives defined at Lisbon are being taken seriously.
Sweden sees the second European Council at Gothenburg as a key milestone in the Union's efforts to define an overall sustainable development policy. A strategy for the long-term adjustment of EU policy to the needs of ecologically, economically and socially sustainable development will be tabled at that European Council. The environment formation of the Council, attended by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, will be most closely involved in preparations for this policy area.
As regards EU-Russia relations, traditional Swedish concerns derived from its geographic position, with the added dynamic of EU enlargement, will ensure that relations with Russia feature prominently on the agenda during the Swedish Presidency. The Swedish Presidency work programme stresses the significance of co-operation between the EU and Russia. Ireland supports the suggested approach of the Presidency in this area.
Additional Information.We also fully support the suggested approach of the Swedish Presidency in developing co-operation along EU borders through further development of the northern dimension programme.
Ireland supports the Swedish Presidency's priorities for the EU's Common Foreign and Security Policy. We share the high priority being given to human rights and to the role of the EU in preventing and managing crises, in particular by strengthening the Union's military and civilian crisis management capabilities. Sweden's approach to conflict prevention and to co-operation with the UN and the OSCE is very much in line with Ireland's thinking. We will work closely  with the Presidency to make progress in these areas.
The Swedish and succeeding Belgian Presidency have been requested to develop proposals for taking forward debate, on a wide basis, on a number of topics relating to the future development of the Union which were identified at Nice. These include the status of the charter of fundamental rights; the simplification of the treaties; the role of national Parliaments in the EU; and a catalogue of competencies outlining at what level issues are best deal with, whether at EU, national or local level. The two Presidencies are due to report to the Gothenburg and Laeken European Councils in June and December 2001, respectively, with proposals for moving ahead with this process, leading eventually to the Intergovernmental Conference in 2004. We look forward to co-operating closely with the two Presidencies, but will obviously wish to ensure that this does not distract from the priority task of securing the ratification of the Treaty of Nice. We also look forward to the active participation of the candidate countries in this process.
Mr. M. Higgins: I am grateful for the reference to the Swedish website of which I was aware. That website is up to date. The Minister might update his Department's website which is deficient since last November.
As regards the issues of employment, enlargement and the environment, will the Minister support the Swedish Presidency's initiatives as regards transparency? Does he support an initiative which I believe will come to fruition during the Swedish Presidency regarding the outlawing of advertising on television directed at children under 12 years of age?
Mr. Cowen: I did not discuss the specifics of the Deputy's second point as a priority with the Swedish Foreign Minister during a tele-conference in November or early December when I omitted to update my website. I updated the website yesterday and the Deputy can look at it today. The Deputy will know it is important to be accurate for reasons of transparency.
The priority issues mentioned by the Swedish Foreign Minister during our discussion are those mentioned in my reply. I will bring any other issues raised with me to her attention. We could agree with the main objectives she outlined for the Swedish Presidency. For example, we are pleased at the emphasis the Presidency is placing on security and defence policy and on ensuring  civilian crisis management receives priority in that context. We welcome that fact.
Mr. J. O'Keeffe: The Minister did not deal with Deputy Higgins's point regarding the Swedish attitude towards a ban on advertising toys to young children and its desire to extend the ban throughout Europe. Where do we stand on that issue?
Earlier, I asked the Taoiseach, although he did not have time to reply, about Ireland's top priority to be achieved under the Swedish Presidency. Would the Minister accept that Ireland's relations with Europe have been somewhat damaged by the “gung-ho” bravado response of Deputy McCreevy to the EU Commission's strictures?
Mr. Cowen: The ban on advertising toys was not raised with me bilaterally. However, it may come up in one of the sectoral Councils in which case the relevant Minister can deal with it. We are a fun-loving people. Perhaps more fun-loving than the Scandinavians in some respects.
As regards transparency, much discussion is taking place, which is not yet resolved, between NATO and the EU on the arrangements which would have to be put in place concerning the procedure by which information is shared. Sweden, Ireland and others would have a different approach or nuance of emphasis than EU members who are also members of NATO. These matters will be and are being resolved.
There are also problems arising under the transparency issue but not between Javier Solana and the Swedish Presidency. However, non-EU members of NATO have indicated concerns. Turkey comes to mind in that regard. It would be wrong to depict the current discussions as being a row between Javier Solana and the Swedish Presidency. The nature of the issue has brought about the delays in resolving these issues. However, they will be resolved in due course.
I am not aware of any “gung-ho” attitude. We have a right to defend our national interests and we do so properly and appropriately. The Taoiseach stated earlier that we disagree with the assessment, as do many international commentators, given that inflationary pressures in Ireland have, in the main, been brought about by rising oil prices and the weak euro over which we have no control. We have not had an interest rate mechanism for the past two years since we entered the euro and this is one of the reasons we have little room for manoeuvre. If the Opposition  believes we should remove £200 million or £300 million of expenditure I would like to hear it.
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