Wednesday, 12 March 2003
Dáil Eireann Debate
28. Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach the arrangements for the visit to Dublin by the President of the Convention on the Future of Europe on 26 March 2003 which have been made; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4282/03]
29. Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the matters discussed and conclusions reached at his meeting with the Prime Minister of Portugal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4349/03]
44. Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach his priorities regarding the visit to Dublin on 26 March 2003 by the President of the Convention on the Future of Europe; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6119/03]
45. Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach the matters discussed and conclusions reached at the special summit of EU leaders concerning Iraq on 17 February 2003; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6120/03]
47. Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach the matters discussed and conclusions reached at the special summit of EU leaders concerning Iraq on 17 February 2003; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6886/03]
I visited the Czech Republic on 30 and 31 January. The visit coincided with a very successful trade mission organised by Enterprise Ireland. I was accompanied on the visit by the Minister of State for Trade at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Michael Ahern. As part of the official programme, I had a meeting with the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, Mr. Vladimir Spidla, followed by a working lunch. The Prime Minister and I noted our excellent bilateral relations and in particular our bilateral economic relations which are developing in a very positive manner. The large trade delegation accompanying my visit was a clear indication of our intention to further enhance these relations. We discussed the broad range of European Union business, the Convention on the Future of Europe, EU enlargement, including the forthcoming referendum on EU accession which will take place in the Czech Republic on 15 June, and the Lisbon agenda. We also discussed the current international situation concerning Iraq.
During my visit, I paid courtesy calls to the Chairman of the Senate of the Parliament, Mr. Petr Pithart, and had a very useful meeting with the outgoing President of the Czech Republic, Mr. Vaclav Havel. I was the last official guest to be received by President Havel before his retirement from office. The President particularly stressed the need to make EU institutions more accessible to the people and to reduce bureaucracy. He was particularly interested in the Northern Ireland peace process because of his many visits there.
I attended a number of Enterprise Ireland business related events to mark important Czech-Irish business developments. I had an opportunity to meet members of the Irish business community in Prague and members of the Czech Friends of Ireland. I paid a courtesy call to the Chamber of  Deputies of the Parliament before returning to Dublin. The Minister, Deputy Ahern, remained on for an extra day to attend further business related events.
On 6 February, I visited Lisbon. This visit, like my visit to Prague, formed part of a structured series of engagements at prime ministerial and ministerial level with our EU partners in the context of the forthcoming Irish Presidency of the European Union and the ongoing business of the Union. I had a useful meeting with Prime Minister Barroso at which we discussed issues of mutual concern regarding both European Union and international matters. The meeting revealed a broad coincidence of interest between our countries on many issues at the European Convention.
We also discussed the situation regarding Iraq and the postponement of the EU-Africa summit scheduled to be held in Lisbon in April. I paid a courtesy call to President Sampaio. When asked about the Iraqi situation, I pointed out that the Government wants to see the differences between Iraq and the rest of the international community resolved peaceably, through the United Nations.
The President of the European Convention, Valery Giscard d'Estaing will visit Dublin on 26 March. The Minister for Foreign Affairs will host a lunch in his honour following which he will meet me in Government Buildings. Our meeting will present a useful opportunity to discuss the work of the European Convention to date. Following our meeting, he will pay a courtesy call to President McAleese.
In relation to the Special European Council held on 17 February, I refer Members to my statement to the House on 18 February and the subsequent question and answer session. On this occasion, therefore, I will be brief in my comments. The meeting of the European Council on 17 February was both timely and useful. It was skilfully managed by the Greek Presidency, and Prime Minister Simitis is to be congratulated for the manner in which he prepared and handled the meeting. Ireland made a significant contribution to the shaping of the agreement which emerged from the meeting. The most important aspect of the meeting was that the European Council as a body was able to reach agreement. It should be recognised by all that there is an overwhelming consensus and that Ireland's approach to this issue is very much in line with that consensus. I had no bilateral meetings during the Council.
As I informed the House in reply to questions on 29 January, I will attend the European Council in Brussels on 21 March. I will travel to Brussels on 20 March for the social summit. The objective of the social summit is to assist the Presidency of the Council in assessing progress towards achieving the goals of the Lisbon strategy. The social summit also ensures the participation of the European social partners in achieving the Lisbon goals. While a formal agenda for the social summit has not yet been received from the Greek Presidency, the normal format is that the first half of the summit allows for an exchange of views  between the Troika and the EU social partners on the Lisbon process. The second half usually involves presentations by the social partners, with interventions by the President of the European Commission and the President of the European Council. The summit will be followed by a press conference.
While the agenda for the European Council has not yet been finalised, the main item on the agenda for this Council will be to review the progress of the Lisbon Agenda. In addition, the Council will receive a report from the Chairman of the European Convention, Valery Giscard d'Estaing. The international agenda is also likely to arise at the European Council. Ireland's key priority for the Council will be to ensure that the momentum behind the Lisbon reform agenda is maintained. The Government has submitted a priorities paper to the Greek Presidency in which Ireland's objectives for the Council are set out and the likely priorities for the spring European Council in 2004 are outlined. In addition, I have co-signed a letter with the Dutch Prime Minister, Jan Peter Balkenende, on the internal market for services and a letter with the Swedish Prime Minister, Goran Persson, on small and medium enterprises and sustainable development. The Irish priorities paper and joint letters with the Dutch and Swedish Prime Ministers have been laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas.
The next spring European Council will, of course, be during the Irish Presidency. I have no plans at this stage for bilateral meetings of the Council. That position might change because I believe there will be bilateral meetings. The next European Council following the spring Council will be held in Greece on 20 June. Dates have not yet been finalised for the two European Councils to be held during the Italian Presidency of the Union from June to December 2003.
Mr. Kenny: I thank the Taoiseach for the long reply. In a rather robust exchange here some weeks ago, the Minister for Defence was taking questions on the Government's decision to buy the first of a fleet of jets. During the exchange, he referred to the necessity to take trade missions abroad. He indicated that members of the trade mission might fly in the Government jet. Will the Taoiseach confirm that when trade missions travel abroad, as his did to Czechoslovakia, members of the Government and civil servants travel by jet, but industrialists and those involved in business do not?
Has he examined the papers from the European Convention produced to date? Deputy John Bruton, a member of the convention, has clarified that the comment “the Union shall administer certain competencies on a federal basis” refers specifically to certain competencies like the common agricultural policy or trade policy, which are dealt with on a federal basis. Does the Taoiseach agree with that? How does he envisage the documents produced by the convention to date will  be debated and clarified from the Government's point of view?
Does the Taoiseach consider it important that each country retain a Commissioner in the context of the overall perception of the importance of what is known as “the European project“? In other words, will he continue to fight for the retention of a Commissioner for each country?
The Taoiseach: On the question of the jet, we are considering the best and most cost effective way to deal with the matter. We have not reached a decision on the issue raised by the Deputy. Other countries bring the media and business people on trips, and they pay. The British Government, and several others, operate in this way, which probably makes some sense. It depends on the economics of the situation.
Work is proceeding on the convention. Articles 1 to 18 have been presented and amendments have been tabled. Amendments were tabled on a federal basis. I am aware of the clarification of the federal basis. Deputy Kenny will agree that, even on the clarification, it is federal in the sense that the competencies covered work on a full Union basis. I understand that and I do not have great difficulty with it. I appreciate that Deputy Bruton has done a lot of good work in other areas, as have other Members of the House who are involved in the convention. However, it gives rise to people taking another meaning from it. As we know from recent referenda, when something is included, it is not easy to convince people what it means. I would prefer if it was not worded in that way, but it may not be possible to change it.
Articles 18 to 24 are now being considered. The intention is that the full draft of the text should be available by May. There is some doubt whether it will be achieved but it is the intention. I am more concerned about Articles 1 to 18, to which there are more than 1,000 amendments. I saw some of the redrafts which did not seem to take account of many of the amendments. I am concerned about that issue because people have put in a lot of work. The Government is doing an enormous amount of work, as are other parties.
On the question of a Commissioner, I hope to have a meeting with some of the other countries next week. During the debate on the Nice treaty, the argument was that there would be a strict rotational system. We would not always have a Commissioner. We would be out at certain times but so too would the larger countries. While that was not the ideal position, and there were some differences of opinion in the House on the issue, it was fair. Some of the larger countries were not happy but they agreed to that. They are changing their view now as are some of the smaller countries.
My concern is the same as it was three years ago when this was last discussed. If we get to the position where we have 25 to 30 member states and each one has a Commissioner then we will get into different levels of Commissioners on the lines of Ministers and Ministers of State. I can see  that happening straight away. The question would then arise as to what level of Commissioner one would have in the future. Our Commissioner, so far, has always been at the table. I know that Commissioners do not act strictly for their country but there are advantages in being at the table. We have been lucky that our Commissioners have always been good there.
The position is a matter of concern. At the moment we are sticking to the position as per the Nice treaty. We are looking at the other arguments and I think the debate will move forward. It will probably come down to the position where people will say that even if their Commissioner is not a front line Commissioner they would rather have that than none. I have no problem with that, but it is not as good as the present position. It is arguable. Some people feel it is not a good idea to be without a Commissioner. Others would say that not having a French or German Commissioner for a period makes no sense because France and Germany are both large countries and need a Commissioner at the table. The debate is open. My hunch is that there will be different levels of Commissioner.
Mr. Rabbitte: With regard to what the Taoiseach refers to as the international situation at the Council meeting, does he envisage any initiative being taken at that level? What is his view of the reported advice this morning of the UK Attorney General to Mr. Blair to the effect that any war without a UN mandate is illegal? This would imply that any overflights are similarly illegal. Does the Taoiseach intend to raise this issue at the forthcoming Council meeting?
The Taoiseach: I have no doubt that at some session of the Council, or at some working dinner, Iraq will be discussed. The present position with the European Council is that it agreed what I reported on concerning the meeting a fortnight ago. Not much more can be done within the Council on an initiative. There is no move for an initiative because people feel the situation might have moved on between now and then if the Security Council meets and decides whether it can or cannot agree on a resolution. Those matters are still uncertain so there is no effort by the Presidency or by any of the member states to come to a conclusion.
I do not want to comment on anything going on within the British system. It would be wrong for me to give an opinion on that. In regard to our own position, it is my preferred position to see a second resolution. If there is no second resolution we will have to see what we will do. On a strictly legal interpretation of advice I have got these issues do not arise. There are many examples over the years of where there were not resolutions but Shannon was available. Shannon was available and used at the time of the Vietnam conflict. It was used in more recent times for Kosova. Therefore, it is not an issue on a legal basis but there is more to this than law.
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