Thursday, 5 February 2004
Dáil Eireann Debate
27. Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Defence the extent of the discussions he has had with his EU counterparts in the area of European defence and security and the European response force; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3395/04]
Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith): During the Italian Presidency an informal meeting of Defence Ministers was held in Rome on 3 and 4 October 2003 and an EU Defence Ministerial en marge of the General Affairs External Relations Council was held in Brussels on 17 November 2003. As I have previously reported to the House, these meetings provide a useful forum for Ministers to exchange views on the continued development of the European Security and Defence Policy, in particular the development of EU capabilities to carry out Petersberg Task operations.
Two meetings of EU Defence Ministers will be held during Ireland's Presidency. The first, an informal meeting, will take place in Brussels on 5 and 6 April 2004, while the second will be held in the framework of the General Affairs and External Relations Council on 17 and 18 May 2004.
As part of my preparations for Ireland's Presidency of the EU I met informally with a number of my counterparts both en marge of previous ministerial meetings and through visits to capitals. The purpose of these discussions was to exchange views on Ireland's prospective mandate for the Presidency.
Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith): The conclusions of the European Council held at Thessaloniki in June 2003, tasked the appropriate bodies of the Council to undertake the necessary actions towards creating, in the course of 2004, an intergovernmental agency in the field of defence capabilities development, research, acquisition and armaments. Work towards creating the agency was progressed under the Italian Presidency by way of an ad hoc preparation group, AHPG, comprised of senior officials from the defence ministries of the EU member states and acceding states.
On 17 November 2003, the General Affairs and External Relations Council decided to create a small agency establishment team to take work forward on the financial, legal and administrative aspects of the setting up of the agency, with a view to the team starting work in January 2004. The Secretary General-High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Mr. Javier Solana, was invited to implement that decision.
As part of the mandate for the Irish Presidency, the European Council invited the Presidency to take forward work on the further development of European military capabilities including, “to advance the establishment, in the course of 2004, of an agency in the field of defence capabilities development, research, acquisition and armaments”. On 28 January 2004, the Secretary General-High Representative announced the appointment of Mr. Nick Witney from the United Kingdom as the leader of the agency establishment team. It is envisaged that the team will submit proposals to the Council relating to the creation, structure and launching the agency in the course of 2004.
The Secretary General-High Representative will continue to operate to ensure that member states are kept abreast of developments. The overall aim of the agency will be to support member states in their efforts to improve European defence capabilities in support of European Security and Defence Policy. Improvements in competitiveness and efficiencies in the defence equipment sector may yield some future economies of scale which might be of benefit to the Defence Forces and I will maintain a close interest in this aspect. Participation by member states in the agency will be voluntary.
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