Wednesday, 28 November 2001
Dáil Eireann Debate
6. Mr. Noonan asked the Taoiseach the bilateral meetings he will hold during his attendance at the forthcoming European Council meeting in Laeken; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27576/01]
7. Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he was invited to attend the mini-Summit of EU leaders at Downing Street on 4 November 2001 by the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair; if he had contract with the British Prime Minister concerning this meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28026/01]
9. Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach the other European leaders he expects to meet as part of his preparations for the European Union Summit in Laeken, in December 2001; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28631/01]
As is the usual practice, the agenda for the Laeken European Council will not be finalised until shortly before the meeting. However, at the European Council in Nice, Heads of State or Government agreed that the European Council in Laeken would initiate a formal process of wider and deeper debate about the future of the  European Union. A key item to be discussed at the Laeken Council will therefore be the future of Europe debate. The European Council is likely to agree the text of a declaration which will set out the terms of reference of the future of Europe debate, and will establish the arrangements for a convention to carry the process forward in advance of the next intergovernmental conference. It is also expected the Council will consider issues arising from the events of 11 September and the enlargement process.
Our priorities for the Laeken European Council will be to ensure the declaration, which leaders will agree at the Council, provides a solid basis for the convention that is to carry forward the future of Europe debate into 2003. Ireland will work to ensure the convention is structured so as to take account of the concerns of all European citizens. We also wish to send a clear signal to the world, that the EU is serious about addressing the threats posed by terrorism, and that we intend to implement in full, the justice and home affairs milestones, agreed at the Tampere Council in 1999. Another priority will be to send a clear message to the candidate countries, that both the EU, and Ireland in particular, remain fully committed to the enlargement process, and that we look forward to welcoming new member states into the Union from 2004.
I will meet Prime Minister Verhofstadt of Belgium on 6 December to discuss the preparations for the Council. At this stage I have made no plans for bilateral meetings at Laeken. However, we will keep this matter under constant review.
With regard to the meeting of a number of European leaders convened by Prime Minister Blair in London on 4 November, I understand the meeting was primarily called to discuss the military involvement of certain member states in the current situation in Afghanistan. I did not receive an invitation to attend this meeting. This meeting could not be considered a meeting of the European Union, as it was not convened under the chairmanship of the EU Presidency and was not attended by all 15 member states of the Union.
Individual member states are free to meet informally, on a bilateral basis, or from time to time in smaller groups, to discuss matters common to themselves, or to agree a certain course of action within the parameters of normal EU business. However, such meetings cannot in any way commit the EU to a specific course of action, nor can the views expressed at such meetings be considered representative of the wider EU membership.
Mr. Sargent: In relation to the Laeken summit, the Taoiseach outlined that defence matters would be addressed as a result of the events of 11 September. Will the defence of installations such as Sellafield be raised by him, in particular following the revelations in The Observer which indicated that security there was perhaps being compromised owing to the links between the  major investor in security there and the war on terrorism, as it is called, in regard to Afghanistan? I also raised this matter on the Order of Business this morning. It would be worth following up these reports before the Taoiseach goes to Laeken.
Will the Taoiseach note the observations by a retired senior army officer, and myself and others who visited Sellafield recently, on the lack of defence security so that matter can be raised at Laeken?
With regard to the question of a European constitution in the Laeken declaration, will the Taoiseach elaborate on how the issue of an EU constitution was included in that declaration, given that it did not seem to figure in the 19 November meeting of EU Foreign Affairs Ministers? Perhaps it arose through a bilateral summit between France and Germany on 23 November. If the Taoiseach proposes to deal with this matter, as I assume he will at Laeken, will he be objecting to this part of the declaration and, if not, will he address how the constitution could relate to any possible future EU constitution?
On the issue of the convention, as the Deputy knows, arising from the completion of the work early last year on the Charter of Fundamental Rights there was a debate within that working group prior to its completion of the charter as to whether it should have a legal basis or whether it was a list of rights, directives and policies of the EU. That was not progressed at that stage because it could not take legal effect. Debate centred on the question of issues within the charter being challenged and that the European Court of Justice would say this was in the charter but it did not have legal effect. A number of countries indicated that this matter should be revisited. There was much discussion at the time but no great agreement on the issue.
The Deputy has answered the question regarding where the issue arose in more recent times. The press release by the Belgian Presidency stated it supported a French and German proposal to develop a European Constitution. The charter is one of the items of discussion at the next Intergovernmental Conference and I have nothing to add to the press release. It states: “The future of Europe debate is at an early stage and it is inevitable that in any such debate it is natural for a wide range of ideas to be floated”. Many are being floated day in, day out and decisions on the charter and the other issues are not likely to be taken until the Intergovernmental Conference in 2004. Europe already has a constitution in the form of the treaties. They are the legal base under which all of us live and work.
The Taoiseach: No, but the Union's constitution is in the form of the treaties because they govern it. They have been considered to be the constitution for years. That is not what some member state are now saying. They say they would deal with it in another format. This issue will go on for the next three years because many people believe the Community should have a constitution.
The Deputy previously asked if that were the case, would it create difficulties in terms of how that would complement the constitution of an individual country. It would, and that would open a different debate.
The Taoiseach: No. I hope the Deputy was listening to me and did not wait until I stopped talking to make that intervention. I do not support a federal Europe but I accept that the present treaties are by themselves a constitution. However, other people want to write the charter of fundamental rights into a constitution and that would create—
Mr. Noonan: Does the Taoiseach believe Ireland's failure to ratify the Nice Treaty will weaken his negotiating position at Laeken? When the issue of enlargement and the ratification of the Nice Treaty is raised by other heads of government with him, what programme for ratification does he intend to outline to his colleagues at Laeken?
The Taoiseach: The programme I outlined at Goteborg still stands so there will not be new discussion on that. That is still the programme we are following and I will outline the progress we have made on that issue. A number of individuals from different areas of the Commission and other countries have been or will be in Ireland and they will assist us in participating in that. I welcome that and I will ask for their co-operation on these issues over the coming months.
On the other issue, our position is not affected at this stage because other countries know that we must deal with it. However, the four issues that were set out at Nice will be discussed at Laeken and they will be extended, although they will not be the only issues raised at Laeken. The four issues are the limitation of powers between the Union and member states; the charter of fundamental rights; the simplification of the treaties; and the role of Parliaments in the European structure. A number of European colleagues, both Heads of State and, in particular, Ministers  for Foreign Affairs, who have had a number of meetings to debate the report that will be sent to Laeken, have raised other issues which they want to form the debate at the intergovernmental conference over the next few years.
The debate will be more detailed than that about which people were talking a year ago. That is inevitable. The items that will be finally agreed at Laeken to be discussed at a broader intergovernmental conference over the next few years are the subject of speculation at this stage and they will probably not be fixed at Laeken. The Laeken Summit will decide the structure, composition and formats for progressing the debate between 2002 and 2003. There will then be a firebreak period before the intergovernmental conference commences in 2004.
Mr. Noonan: The Taoiseach is most likely to be asked by his colleagues in Europe what he intends to do to ratify the Nice treaty. What will he tell them? He said he would report the progress that has been made. What progress has been made? If progress has been made towards the ratification of the Nice treaty in Ireland, it is the best kept secret in this democracy.
Mr. Quinn: Has the Government a position going into the Laeken Summit regarding the structure of the debate? Does the Government agree it should contain a brief analysis of the issues involved, including the question of re-writing the treaties to put them into a coherent constitutional framework? Most people agree that if one was to read all the treaties from cover to cover, one would not have the slightest idea as to the full and total powers of the EU and the European Community and there is a need for clarity in regard to the legal basis of the Union. That is normally described as a constitution and an EU constitution is clearly on the agenda. Whether it is to be a federal Europe, a federation of nation-states, a post-federal Europe or a confederation is a matter to be resolved down the road.
Does the Taoiseach agree, as the EU faces enlargement to up to 25 member states, there is a need for a constitution along the lines I have outlined without putting a label on what the nature of the state will be? Does he believe the fundamental charter of human rights should be incorporated in that constitution and the fundamental rights encapsulated in the constitutions of existing and future member states should be brought into line with the charter in a manner not dissimilar to the way the European Court functions in relation to our Constitution at present?
My second set of questions relates to the composition of the convention, which will be the negotiating body that will lead to the intergovernmental conference and, ultimately, to a treaty in 2004. during which year Ireland will hold the EU Presidency. What will be the nature of Ireland's representation at the convention? Each member state will be represented and I take that to mean  the Government will nominate a person. National Parliaments will be represented by two persons. I want an undertaking from the Taoiseach that the three main parties in the House will be represented, unlike the previous convention on the fundamental charter on human rights from which the Labour Party was excluded. Does he agree the Government nominee should represent the Fianna Fáil Party and the Parliament should nominate two representatives from the two largest parties to maximise democratic representation?
Mr. Quinn: What action will the Government take in Laeken with regard to the unilateral action by the Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, in calling a meeting and summoning to London a number of Heads of State and Heads of Government having a representative of the European Union at it, to wit Javier Solana? Will the Taoiseach raise on behalf of small member states generally, the practice and precedent whereby if a large member state or any group of member states wishes to have a special meeting of interested European states to discuss an issue of immense concern – the war in Afghanistan is undoubtedly that – there is a clear precedent for that, and it is to use the existing Presidency? It happened during the time of the collapse of the Berlin Wall when there was an extra meeting convened by the Presidency here. Members will recall that in the spring of 1990 the Irish Presidency responded to a call from President Mitterand and Chancellor Kohl and a proper communitaire meeting took place at which all member states were present. Did Ambassador Anderson at COREPER act unilaterally or did she speak formally and officially on behalf of the Irish Government when expressing concern at the nature of the non-communitaire meeting? Will the Taoiseach agree it is a bad practice to be tolerated where large groups of member states acting in a quasi-director form can ride roughshod over the institutions of the Union in general, particularly the interests of small member states?
The Taoiseach: Deputy Quinn has asked three sets of questions to which I will give three sets of answers. The Deputy has raised two of four issues that came out of the Nice European council that will form the basis of discussion. First was the delimitation of powers and, second was the status of the charter of fundamental rights. I explained in reply to Deputy Sargent that we need to take that from where it was left at that stage, where it was a document which was completed by the convention, and take it forward. There would be constitutional difficulties for a number of countries if it was left in the form it was in. The  Deputy asked what if it was done in such a way that it adhered to the European Court of Justice and I agree that is the way it should proceed. In that way it could be more easily supported by people.
The Taoiseach: Yes, and we did so at the convention. The position was articulated by Deputy O'Kennedy who spent an enormous amount of time dealing with the issue that if it was just taken as a charter, it would not be linked with European constitutions or the European Court of Justice.
On the simplification of the treaties, I agree that the treaties have evolved and developed and have been extended into so many areas that there is an enormous amount of work to be done to arrange the treaties, whether in blocks, in terms of rights, obligations or whatever. However, there is agreement that the debate will be about the simplification of the treaties. The Irish Government agrees with that but, needless to say, there will be a debate on how it can best be done. Deputy Quinn is familiar with some of the argument in regard to what blocks are put with what and how they are treated in the future. I have an open mind on how this is done.
The Taoiseach: The Minister, Deputy Cowen, put forward views in the preliminary discussions. We do not have just one stated position. We have said we agree with the simplification of the treaties. The Minister supports putting together the constitutional rights as against a great deal of the detail which is now built into the treaties. That would make the treaties far simpler, more readable and more manageable. The Deputy is aware of the role of national parliaments in the European architecture.
On the composition of the convention, there is general agreement that the convention should be comprised of representatives of member state governments, national parliaments, European parliaments, the Commission and that applicant countries should be fully involved with the process. The Irish Government supports that position. It has not been defined precisely how applicant countries could do that. The exact details of the convention, which is going through the General Affairs Council, is still being debated, but that is the general position.
On the question of parliamentarians, it is currently envisaged that each member state will nominate two national parliamentarians. It is too early to say how they will be nominated but clearly the two members could not be from the  Government side. The Deputy asked could there be more nominees.
Mr. Quinn: The Government will nominate the member state representative, that is this side? I am saying the other two members, amounting to three in all, which is what we are entitled to, should consist of one Fine Gael and one Labour member. It is very simple.
An Ceann Comhairle: Before the Taoiseach responds, I would point out that Members should not interrupt when the Taoiseach or anyone else is speaking, for two reasons. First, it is disorderly and, second, the microphone is not live and Members may subsequently wonder why the word “interruptions” is included in the report, as was raised yesterday during the course of the debate. Members should be clear that it is far better to wait until the Chair gives them the floor.
The Taoiseach: I hear what Deputy Quinn is saying. The Governments are represented as national Governments in each case and parliaments are represented as parliaments. It would mean in this instance that a large part of parliament would not have any representative as parliamentarian.
The Taoiseach: I repeat that the composition of the convention will include Governments, parliaments, the Commission and member states. These issues will be resolved at Laeken and we will try to move on in that format. We will try to get the system up and running so that it can begin in the spring, which is the intention. The work will go on until the summer of 2003.
On the meeting called by the Prime Minister Mr. Blair, at the last hour, late on the Sunday night, 4 November, the Belgian Prime Minister and President in office, Mr. Verhofstadt was informed and did attend. I do not want to say too much about that business. Others who heard about the meeting invited themselves. That is not the way to do business but I do not have to say any more about the matter.
 The agenda of the meeting, had it been organised in a way which would have been satisfactory to everyone, related to the military actions and that is what should have been discussed. Unfortunately, other issues were discussed, which should not have been. With a number of other countries, we participated in a formal protest on the issue the following day to the Presidency and to the President of the Commission. It was the formal position of the Government that Ambassador Anderson put forward.
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: What is the Taoiseach's view of the joint statement issued by the President and Prime Minister of France and the German Chancellor on Friday, 23 November, in which they called for an EU constitution, which has already been referred to, an EU-wide arrest warrant and harmonisation of tax and public spending? Will the Taoiseach acknowledge that the Franco-German statement took no account of the decision of the people in this State to reject the Nice Treaty? Will he avail of the opportunity at Laeken to formally request that the other member states not proceed with the ratification of the Nice treaty because, unless all EU states are agreed, none are agreed? Will the Taoiseach take the opportunity at Laeken to raise the continuing crisis in the aviation industry and the dire need for State aid for national airlines, especially Aer Lingus?
The Taoiseach: The debate on the future of Europe has gone on, in one form or another, since last year. Various countries, Ministers and political parties within countries have made many suggestions on numerous items and that will continue before and after the Laeken summit. There is nothing anyone can do about that and I do not think we should be overly concerned with people floating ideas. In some countries different government parties have floated very different ideas. The French and Germans have laid out a number of different positions on different issues, as they are entitled to do, but it will be a negotiated process. I have already given the items that have been agreed. I have told Deputy Noonan that many other items will be on the agenda and not just in four categories. A far more extensive debate will go on between now and 2003 and into the intergovernmental conference of 2004.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, has put forward many ideas and suggestions for the debate at Laeken. It would not be helpful to start taking up positions and getting into arguments about every speech that is made. Recently five different speeches were made in four different countries in the course of one day. We must participate fully in the best way we can from Government, Parliament and official level. That is the obligation we must undertake and the process we must be involved in over the next two years.
Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Does the Taoiseach accept that it will be extremely detrimental to Ireland's long-term standing throughout the EU and eastern and central Europe if we are responsible for delaying the enlargement process or making it more difficult? With other EU members ratifying the Treaty of Nice over the next six months while we sit on our hands, does he accept that we will end up being in a minority of one and being the only State that has not ratified the treaty?
Mr. J. O'Keeffe: —from the point of view of informing people on Europe? If this Government is to give any leadership on this issue the proper course of action is to set out a programme of action as to what it feels is necessary to ensure the Treaty of Nice, when it is put before the people again, is ratified.
Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Does the Taoiseach accept that a programme of action and its implementation is needed if we are to have any hope of having a referendum on this issue passed next year? Does he accept that delaying things, as this Government is doing, will possibly contribute to the defeat of the referendum?
The Taoiseach: I agree that if we are not to ratify the treaty then we would be likely to be on our own. I do not see any difficulties in other countries. The ratification of the Treaty of Nice is essential for the process of enlargement to happen. That will then require us to go through a number of stages of development, which I outlined at Gothenburg and has the support of the European Council and the vast majority of this House. We have to follow our procedures and look at the issues that are important to us. All of those things are going on in the Committee on European Affairs and being looked at by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, me and others.
We live in a democracy and unfortunately, or  fortunately – it depends on how one looks at it – when the Nice treaty was presented to the people in a referendum the “yes” side, which I was on, was defeated.
The Taoiseach: —on how we do that. We have set up a forum which is looking at and debating the issues. I understand the frustrations of some people, but perhaps if they attended the forum to ask those questions it would be useful.
The Taoiseach: It is not. Unfortunately the arguments put by some of the “no” campaigners, as much as the Deputy and I might think they are entirely wrong, actually won the people over. We live in a democracy and when people vote for something then the issues arising must be dealt with. It is very inconvenient, but that is how it is.
The Taoiseach: It is not counterproductive. We live in a democracy. I would prefer had the “yes” side won and I would not have to deal with these issues, but it is not like that. I cannot ignore the will of the people, and neither can the Deputy. We now have to deal with those issues, debate them and bring people around to seeing them as we do. We can then go back to our colleagues and see with which issues they can help us.
Mr. Sargent: Does the Taoiseach appreciate the level of antagonism towards the European Commission among staff in Aer Lingus, which  was loudly articulated at a large public meeting last night attended by his brother?
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: The Taoiseach did not respond when I asked if he would take the opportunity at Laeken to raise the continuing crisis in the aviation industry and the dire need for State aid for national airlines, especially for Aer Lingus.
Mr. Higgins: (Dublin West): Will the Taoiseach raise for discussion the future direction of the common foreign and security policy at the Laeken Summit? In view of the fact that most EU states have supported the military action in Afghanistan, will the Taoiseach raise for discussion the re-evaluation of this support in view of the utter disregard for the Geneva Convention and the massacre of prisoners on a daily basis? Will he raise the issue that one member state, Britain, had military specialists directing a pitiless slaughter of soldiers trapped in a compound?
Mr. Higgins: (Dublin West): Large groups of people, perhaps hundreds of thousands, including young people and trade unionists, will be going to Brussels to show peacefully that they disagree with many EU policies. Will the Taoiseach call on the Belgian authorities to ensure they are treated peacefully and not subjected to the kind of provocation we saw in Gothenborg and Genoa?
Mr. M. Higgins: Arising from the Taoiseach's previous reply in relation to the informal meeting in London, the Minister for Foreign Affairs has already stated that he does not understand the basis on which Javier Solana attended the meeting given that his position is co-ordinator of European foreign policy. I have a straight question. Will Javier Solana be making a report to the European Council clarifying the basis for his attendance at the meeting? Does the Taoiseach further agree that co-ordination of European foreign policy at European Union level has been seriously compromised by the attendance of Mr. Solana at this meeting, which apparently has no status and does not have the general support of members of the Union?
Mr. Noonan: Those of us who do not attend the forum are pleased by the insight we have got into its proceedings today, interminable, meaningless monologues in which the confused wrestle  with the more confused in the dark of Dublin Castle.
The Taoiseach: On the aviation issue I have already stated that it might come up as an issue but we will continue to press the matter with the Commission because of the causes for it and because of the enormous drop-off in the movement of travellers around the world.
The Taoiseach: The issues of common foreign and security policy and humanitarian issues will be addressed and we will continue our support for the humanitarian effort, which has increased substantially over recent weeks. We will raise breaches of human rights conventions in any form.
The Taoiseach: That is the point. The Minister for Foreign Affairs has already raised the point that he should not be at such meetings if these meetings are between member states in an informal way. That was the objection and Mr. Paavo Lipponen, the Finnish Prime Minister, acted on behalf of the small countries. He rang around and we agreed to his statement on the matter.
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