HomeNewsArchived Speeches and Press Releases

Speech at the IEA/TEPSA Conference on the Priorities of the Irish Presidency, Dublin Castle


May I begin by saying what a pleasure it is to be here today. Under its Director General, Alan Dukes, the Institute of European Affairs is at the very heart of debate on European matters in Ireland. Its research and discussions are not only insightful and informative, they are also frequently challenging to policy makers and practitioners. That is as it should be.

It is very important that this debate also take place at a Union level. Therefore, I am particularly pleased to welcome TEPSA back to Dublin and to wish you every success in your Conference.

We will take over from our Italian colleagues at a time of hope and opportunity for the European Union.

In our Presidency, we will endeavour to make a real difference. But we will do it in the right way. We are working closely with the Presidencies before and after ours to ensure a joined-up approach. For the first time, we will be part of a three-year Presidency programme.

In doing this, we will bring our own perspective and experiences to bear. We are committed to making the Union as relevant as possible for its citizens. We will do all in our power, therefore, to ensure progress on the issues that matter most to people - economic growth, jobs, security at home, in the Union and throughout the world.

The most immediately striking thing about the Irish Presidency is that we will begin our work as one of fifteen, and end it as one of twenty-five. Enlargement is already becoming a reality the Accession Countries are, for instance, sitting around the table at the Intergovernmental Conference. 

We need to continue with the preparations to facilitate the new Members taking their seats as full and equal partners next May. It will be a fantastic moment in the history of Europe one which would crown any Presidency. We will celebrate it here in Dublin with genuine warmth and delight. The Accession Countries have worked extremely hard to get here.  It has been a tough and difficult process. We owe it to them to make sure that their integration is as smooth and as seamless as possible.  

We also need to continue to press forward with the future enlargement agenda.  As Presidency, we will facilitate and be supportive of the on-going negotiations with the Commission by Romania and Bulgaria, with a view to their accession in 2007. Working with the Commission, we will ensure that the pace is kept up. We will also be supportive of Turkeys efforts to fulfil all the necessary criteria for membership, with a view to the decision to be taken by the European Council in December 2004. The tragic events of recent weeks have pulled this question into even sharper focus.

We must work, over the coming years, to ensure that the proposed enlargement of the Union, which is the most ambitious foreign policy initiative of the existing EU, is successfully completed.

Discussions on a new Treaty for the enlarged Europe are at an advanced stage in the IGC. With the right political will, we can bring our work to conclusion in the next week. I certainly hope that we do. Any outstanding work to prepare the text for signature will fall to the Irish Presidency. We will ensure that this important task is completed as quickly as possible so that our citizens can be familiar with its contents ahead of the European elections next June.

The Constitution or Treaty will represent a crucial step in the Unions development. The European Convention did excellent work. It produced a document which is legible, accessible and generally sensible in its approach. Most of it will stand. However, it is the responsibility of governments to take the final political decisions about the new Treaty. 

We cannot be a rubber stamp. The Presidency has done an excellent job in clearing away many of the technical issues. We now have a clear picture of the issues that are of central concern to participants.

In Irelands case these are tax where we insist on unanimity continuing to apply; Justice and Home Affairs, where we need to ensure that our particular legal tradition is protected; and defence, where we believe that, to be fully legitimate,arrangements must be inclusive and accountable.

We have taken a pragmatic view on institutional questions. The Union is growing. I have seen at first hand how very different a meeting with 25 countries around the table can be. We need to recognise this basic fact and accommodate it in an effective way.One way as the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Brian Cowen, suggested here at the IEA some 12 months ago - is to replace the existing six monthly rotation by team Presidencies. This seems to me a sensible approach, and one which should contribute to greater efficiency. We will also see a new President of the European Council, and I look to this person to provide impetus and direction to the work of the Council.

I fully recognise that the drive for efficiency may sometimes sit uncomfortably alongside the need to reflect the equality of Member States. But there can be an acceptable balance between the two. In the Commission, for example, Ireland accepted at Nice that it would not always have a Commissioner at all times. It was a tough decision. 

But we took it on the basis that equal treatment of all Member States was guaranteed. In whatever agreement we reach, we will not depart from that essential principle.

The question of voting weights also highlights tensions between the practical and the political. In a Union of 25 plus, we need to make our decision-making procedures as efficient as possible. Yet the Union has always been built on careful balances and compromises. Member States, understandably, can be very strongly attached to these.  

Again, we need to seek out a reasonable balance. As a small Member State, Ireland has always had to rely more on the strength of our argument than on the weight of our vote. Against this background, we were happy to accept the Nice arrangements on voting. We could, for the same reason, equally live with the Convention outcome.  But if we are to reach agreement on this sensitive issue, every participant has to be able to get up from the table with a sense that their concerns have been heard. No country should be left with a proposal that it simply cannot sell.

Closing a deal on a new Constitutional Treaty will provide the Union with the bedrock for its future work. But at the end of the day, it is the work itself that delivers for our citizens.

There are serious economic challenges facing Europe. To take these challenges on effectively, we need the right policy focus. We need above all to restore dynamism to foster strong economic growth, competitiveness and job creation right across the Union.

Lisbon Agenda

At Lisbon in March 2000, we set ourselves the goal of being the worlds most competitive knowledge-based economy by 2010. Businesses and citizens are already seeing the first positive and concrete benefits from many of the reform and renewal processes we set in train under Lisbon. But we would be deluding ourselves if we thought our progress has been fast enough. We have clearly yet to achieve many of the objectives envisaged. Indeed, I would argue that the whole process now needs its credibility renewed. 

We need, therefore, to bring a new focus and momentum to the Lisbon process. I have written to my EU colleagues telling them that this will be a primary aim of the Irish Presidency. Our priorities are clear sustainable growth and increased employment.To deliver on this, we will focus on a limited number of issues,and we will drive these forward. The traditional wish list or Christmas tree approach will not be entertained. 

The spring meeting of the European Council will be central to this strategy. We will facilitate and encourage growth-orientated policies, including the structural reform of product, capital and labour markets. Investment, both in physical and human capital, will be key. Likewise, we will place a strong emphasis on investment in research and development. In that regard, it is significant that the growth of the U.S. economy is driven by its superior research and development. We will also work to ensure that the impact of new Union policies on competitiveness is properly tested.

The services sector, where progress is lagging, needs specific attention. We will also advance the proposal for a Directive on Services, which is expected this month.

Creating more and better jobs is a vital challenge for the Union. The recommendations of the Employment Task Force under the former Dutch Prime Minister, Wim Kok, will form a key part of our approach. We will also seek to underpin high levels of employment by encouraging adaptation to change by workers and companies, in particular through advancing social dialogue. In this latter regard, we in Ireland will be bringing a distinctive and successful experience to the approach of the Union. 

We will likewise seek to enhance worker mobility across the Union, simplifying and modernising provisions which can act as a barrier or deterrent.

A safer Union

As recent events highlight only too clearly, our citizens need to feel that they live in a safer Union. And they also want that Union to be part of a safer world. Crime within the Union must be combated successfully and effectively; interlinked with this, the Union must play an active, engaged and forward role in creating a more peaceful and stable world. In doing this, it must use all the instruments at its disposal political, security, economic, development and, where necessary, peace-making and peace-enforcing.

Only in this coordinated way can we successfully counter the distinctive challenges of the 21st Century coming as they do from non-State actors and including international terrorism, organised crime, drug cartels and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.  

External Relations

I am very conscious of how much of the time and energy of the Presidency is devoted to the Unions external relationships.

The Unions interaction with the wider world is fundamentally based on a common set of values democracy, the rule of law, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. We want to see a strong and effective multilateral order, with a reformed UN at its centre.

This is universally recognised, including by the United States. I welcome President Bushs statement in London last month that Our first choice, and our constant practice, is to work with other responsible governments. And I also agree with his view that the success of multilateralism is not measured by adherence to forms alone, the tidiness of the process, but by the results we achieve to keep our nations secure.

If we are serious about our commitment to making the multilateral system work, then we must take action now. We cannot on the one hand denounce unilateralism and, on the other, refuse to take the action necessary to make the United Nations system a more effective instrument for addressing threats to peace and security, including those posed by terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

This is why I strongly welcome the Secretary-Generals announcement of the establishment of a High-Level Panel to examine the major threats and challenges the world faces in the broad field of peace and security and to bring forward proposals for reform of the UN.  It is an experienced and broadly-based panel, and its report will carry authority.  The challenges, both institutional and policy, are very great.

As Presidency, Ireland will be responsible for guiding the EU input to UN reform.  We will work with our partners to prepare a joint contribution for the consideration of the High Level Panel.  It is time for the EU, as one of the most ardent supporters of the UN system, to help build momentum in support of reform. We must take up this critical challenge, and we will. To that end, we will include effective multilateralism and UN reform in all of our political dialogue with other regions and third countries.

As a Union of 25 Member States with over 450 million people, and producing a quarter of the worlds Gross National Product, the European Union is inescapably a global actor. Our size and wealth bring not only opportunities but also obligations. In this regard, I believe the EU is uniquely placed to play a much stronger role in the future.

It is proposed that the Union will finalise and adopt its new Security Strategy at the European Council next week. It will fall to our Presidency to guide the Unions first steps towards implementing its recommendations.   

Follow up will involve practical and operational means to support and advance effective multilateralism, conflict prevention and non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. These three issues are central to achieving international security.

The European Security and Defence Policy is the key instrument. Through it, the EU can make a practical contribution to conflict prevention and crisis management. But to be able to do so, we need to further develop the Unions capabilities capabilities which are civilian as well as military. Ireland will take forward work in this area.

There is great scope for the EU to offer assistance in post-conflict stabilisation, policing and judicial reform, re-establishment of the rule of law and building civilian administration. We have seen at first hand the value of this work in the Western Balkans, where, despite past lapses, the EU is now playing a leading role in support of reconstruction and reconciliation. We will give a particularly strong focus in our Presidency to developing our wider neighbourhood policy with the objective of ensuring a zone of political stability and economic growth in the states bordering on the new frontiers of the Union.

Drawing these different strands together, conflict prevention will be an important cross-cutting aim for our Presidency. It is in this area, where States are struggling to develop new approaches to preventing and resolving conflicts, that effective multilateralism is crucial. 

EU-US Relations

In the Presidency, we will actively work with all countries of good will who share our objective of a strong and functioning multilateral system. In particular we will work to develop the relationship in this area with the United States. It is a false analysis to suggest that all US policy is anti-multilateral.Opinion polls consistently show that US public opinion remains committed to the UN and international cooperation to tackle global issues and crises. 

There is also a tendency to play up differences between the EU and the US. Of course there were serious differences over Iraq.  But with the unanimous adoption of Resolution 1511 in October, the international community has come together in support of the reconstruction of Iraq.  Ireland has consistently advocated a central role for the UN in the reconstruction of that tragic country.  As part of this process, I wish to see the earliest possible restoration of sovereignty to the Iraqi people under a representative government. This is vital for the Iraqi people, for the wider region and for the entire international community.

It has long been our view that a strong EU-US relationship is an essential element of a policy triangle for the EU. The other sides of that triangle are a firm commitment to the UN and a coherent and effective EU common foreign and security policy. We can achieve infinitely more by working together the evidence is there to be seen in the Western Balkans, in cooperation on global terrorism,and in Afghanistan.   On these and very many other issues, Europeans and Americans have a shared view and a common desire to achieve progress. 

The transatlantic partnership will be a key dimension for our Presidency. This relationship, which is central to the security and prosperity of both Europe and the United States, is strong, long-standing and secure. It is not a question of building bridges between Europe and America the ties of friendship and cooperation that bind us are too strong for that to be necessary. And while we may not always see eye-to-eye on every issue, I am determined to find ways to further develop and deepen our already close cooperation. Naturally and rightly, there is a particular public focus on the shared fight against global terrorism. The relationship, however, is a rich and multidimensional one. Reflecting this, we want to see progress across the full spectrum, including on EU/US trade, where current problems urgently need to be addressed.

One issue where the United States has a lead role to play is in the search for peace in the Middle East. The long running conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbours presents particular challenges. This running sore of international relations has defied the efforts of statesmen and soldiers to find either a military or a political solution for almost sixty years. The Quartets Road map for peace sets out the steps towards a lasting settlement based on two states living side by side in peace and security. We have all agreed on the analysis. Now we need to urgently get on with the implementation. As with our own peace process in Ireland, this should have a ceasefire at its core, and this should be built on progressively with confidence building measures. These measures should be reciprocal and not sequential. 

The EU can and must play a key role in moving the process forward. And it will do so as an equal, not a secondary, partner. For the quartet is exactly that, four equal partners and not one partner with a Troika added on.

The Challenge of Poverty

The over-arching target of reducing by half, by 2015, the number of people living in extreme poverty is fundamental to our concept of an internationally just order, an order which should underpin international peace and security and show itself determined to implement the Millennium development goals.

This is also why the EU is the worlds largest donor of development assistance.  The internal concept of social solidarity between the peoples of Europe is reflected in an external aid programme, which promotes Europes solidarity with the poor and oppressed.  The EU Commission and the Member States collectively contribute over 50% of global ODA, or over €25 billion per year.  The EU is the largest donor to multilateral debt relief.  It is the largest donor to AIDS programmes.  It is, by far, the biggest donor to Africa.  

We will also ensure that Africa is brought to the top of the EU agenda. This is primarily why the Minister for Foreign Affairs recently made a pre-Presidency visit to South Africa and Mozambique the current Chair of the Africa Union. There is a critical need for serious focus on conflict prevention and resolution be it in Burundi, Liberia, the Ivory Coast or Sudan - on economic and social development; and on the enormous burden Africa faces in dealing with the HIV/AIDS crisis.

Ireland does not believe in a moral order in which the developed world averts its gaze or shirks its responsibilities.  Our approach will be driven by the need to support African-owned and African led initiatives, including the New Partnership for Africas Development.

The range of international issues is indeed daunting.  I have not even had time to mention Russia, or Canada, or China our relationships with each of which will demand attention and effort and will receive such attention during our Presidency.


Driving forward the external and the internal agendas of the Union involves both clarity about objectives, and realism about competences and means. We cannot pick and choose what we do. But we need to know what we are doing and what we can do.

I hope this speech gives you some flavour of what we will seek to achieve in our Presidency. We do not have a magic wand to wave. In adopting a targeted and open approach, however, we can make a real difference.

Naturally, we are also preparing ourselves to expect the unexpected nothing is ever entirely predictable and things rarely go strictly according to plan. However, a great deal of effort has been invested by a great many people throughout our system in making sure that we are ready.   

I hope that you will find us fit and prepared for the task ahead.  And let us once again not forget the historic nature by any standard of the year 2004 for Europe, as we in very significant part re-unite the Continent, much of which was for far too long  curtained off  from friends and neighbours. 

In this the European Union can again claim success. It is a success that is sometimes lost sight of in the hard bargaining that we engage in day to day. Our new partners will have had a taste of this during their long, sometimes difficult and ultimately fruitful negotiations for accession.

But let us make no mistake about it: in the centuries before the European Union was created neighbours in Europe fought each other to the death over resources, over territory and over their beliefs. 

Ireland was not immune from this reality. One of the lessons we learned in the first fifty years of independence was that the framework in which we operated had a profound effect on our ability to ensure the welfare of our people. We learned the hard way that without a benign framework in which to trade goods and foster cooperative approaches the Irish economy suffered and Irish people emigrated.

Within a benign framework, made of rules which we helped to shape, Ireland has flourished. The European Union has provided that framework. Looking into the future, we continue to see the Union as the means through which the challenges of globalisation will be mediated to the benefit of all.

Today as Europeans, in the framework of the European Union, we engage with each other continuously. We sometimes agree and sometimes disagree. But we are always willing to listen and to try to accommodate the essential interests of our partners.  This is a sea change in the relations between countries. It is the very essence of what has been called the community method which, I have every confidence, will thrive in the post-enlargement European Union.

I greatly look forward to our discussion, and wish you every success with your Conference.