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Statement to the Dáil on the outcome of the European Council in Brussels on 4/5 November

 

A Ceann Comhairle

I attended the European Council in Brussels on 4 and 5 November.  I was accompanied by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern and the Minister of State for European Affairs, Noel Treacy.

The Presidencys Conclusions of the European Council have been laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas.

The European Council was a most useful one.  It approved the Hague Programme.  It noted the report of the Kok group and provided the forum for a good exchange of views on the economic and social challenges facing Europe. The Council also took forward the Communicating Europe initiative launched during the Irish Presidency. 

The meeting of the European Council was preceded by an exchange of views with the new President of the European Parliament, Mr. Josep Borrell.  This was Mr. Borells first meeting with the Council since his election to succeed Pat Cox in July.

The discussion with Mr. Borell took place in the aftermath of the deferral of the vote in the European Parliament on the approval ofthe new Commission. 

During the European Council, on the basis of consultations with key players, Mr. Barroso proposed changes to his team, namely the nomination of new Commissioners from Latvia and Italy and the exchange of portfolios between the Latvian and the Hungarian Commissioners designate.  The Council adopted a new list of Commissioners designate.  The presentation of a revised list to the European Parliament puts the approval process back on track.  The new proposal from Mr.Barroso deserves the full and early support of the European Parliament.

The nomination of Charlie McCreevy as Commissioner responsible for the Internal Market and Services is unaffected by the problems that arose in the European Parliament. Mr. McCreevy had a very good hearing in the Parliament and remains the designated Commissioner for this portfolio.

In the interim, it has been agreed by the European Parliament that the new list of Commissioners designate will be voted on at its forthcoming Plenary session in November.

Given the challenges facing the EU, it is vital that the new Commission should be able to start work, in full cooperation with the European Parliament, as soon as possible.   

The Hague Programme

The main item on the European Councils agenda was agreement on a new programme in the area of freedom, security and justice.

Five years ago, in Tampere, Finland, the European Council adopted an ambitious programme, the Tampere programme.  This five year programme dealt with asylum and migration policy, justice issues and the fight against all forms of cross border crime.

In June, the European Council, under the Irish EU Presidency, invited the Council and the Commission to prepare a programme for the coming years to be considered by the European Council before the end of 2004.

The European Council last week adopted the new Programme, the Hague Programme, which builds on the excellent progress made under the Tampere programme in setting out an ambitious range of measures to be agreed in the coming years. 

The Hague Programme envisages around 90 actions.  It includes measures on asylum and migration policy, police co-operation and the fight against terrorism, and judicial co-operation in civil and criminal matters. 

The Hague Programme will fully observe human rights and, in particular, the European Convention on Human Rights, the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the Geneva Convention on Refugees.

A strategy on drugs will be added to The Hague Programme in December 2004.

The European Council invited the Commission and the Secretary General of the Council to present a strategy on all external aspects of the Union policy on freedom, security and justice by the end of 2005.

The Council also invited the Commission to present an Action Plan in 2005 to translate the aims and priorities of The Hague Programme into concrete actions and a timetable for their adoption and implementation.

The Hague Programme deals with issues of direct concern in the daily lives of our citizens.  It demonstrates the strong determination of the European Council to facilitate the free movement of our citizens throughout the community, to fight terrorism and organised crime, to strengthen security and to ensure that criminals cannot evade justice by fleeing from one Member State to another.

I commend the Dutch Presidency for their successful handling of this difficult and sensitive issue.  The Programme will, I have no doubt, make a real difference in Europes constant fight against crime.

The key now will be to translate the programme into concrete action.  We must all of us work together to protect our citizens from criminals and terrorists who do not respect borders. 

Lisbon Agenda

The second key item on the Councils agenda was also of direct relevance to our citizens.  

We discussed progress on the Lisbon agenda since the Spring European Council, and in particular preparations for the mid-term review.  The Lisbon Agenda is the framework within which we are working to ensure Europes future prosperity and to achieve a sustainable and fair quality of life for all. 

At last weeks European Council, we built on the work done under the Irish Presidency, which had focused on putting the Lisbon Agenda at centre stage.  Jobs, growth and quality of life are issues that matter to all of our citizens, right across the Union.

During the Irish Presidency, we reached agreement on a process to prepare the way for a mid-term review of the Lisbon Agenda.  We asked the Commission to establish an independent high-level group, headed by Mr. Wim Kok, to bring forward a report to assist us in our deliberations.

At the European Council last week, we heard a presentation from Wim Kok on the work of his group, following publication of their report Facing the Challenge, on 3 November.  I have arranged for copies of that report to be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas.

The report sets out fairly starkly the difficulties which Europe faces due to economic slowdown, high unemployment, an ageing population and increasing competition from both US and Asian economies. 

While Europe has made significant progress in some areas over the past five years, the report is critical of the lack of implementation in many key areas.  It therefore urges accelerated action in order to deliver the Lisbon goals of growth and employment. 

Crucially, however, Wim Koks report concludes that the Lisbon target and the level of ambition it set are still appropriate.  While there is no single solution, the report stresses that the focus must now be on growth and employment in order to achieve the Lisbon ambitions across the range of economic, social and environmental objectives. The report calls for determined political action, including the preparation by Member States of National Action Programmes.

The Kok report is avaluable input to the mid-term review process.  The European Council noted the report and invited the Commission to bring forward the necessary proposals for the mid-term review by the end of January 2005.  We are agreed that this is a critical point in the Lisbon Agenda, and we need a comprehensive and meaningful set of proposals to guide us over the next five years.

Over dinner on 4 November, we also had an informal exchange of views on promoting growth and managing change.  This allowed the Heads of State or Government to discuss our relative experiences, at national level, in implementing the Lisbon Agenda. It was particularly useful to have this exchange in the light of EU enlargement which, while very welcome, has made European-wide achievement of the Lisbon goal more challenging. 

Enlargement

The European Council  received a presentation from Commission President Prodi on enlargement. 

The Commission has concluded that Turkey sufficiently fulfils the political criteria for candidate countries and recommends that, providing certain key legislative reforms are implemented in time, accession negotiations should be opened. The final decision on opening negotiations is a matter for the December European Council.

The Council also received an update on the current state of play in relation to the future accession of Bulgaria and Romania and the opening of accession negotiations with Croatia.

All of these issues will also be considered in more detail at the December Council.

Communicating Europe

The European Council also had a discussion on the continuing importanceof strengthening awareness among citizens of the work of the Union.

I am pleased that the Dutch Presidency has taken forward the Communicating Europe Ministerial process launched in our Presidency.  The initiative will also be carried forward by future Presidencies. 

The European Council welcomed the intention of the European Commission to present an enhanced communication strategy in advance of the June 2005 European Council.

Given the importance of public support if the European Union is to continue to function effectively, it is vital that the Member States are as effective as possible in informing the public about the EU. 

International Issues

The Council discussed a broad range of international issues including: Iraq, where we agreed a declaration and a package of support measures; Sudan, where we fully support the African Unions efforts to establish stability and security; the Middle East peace process; Iran; and Ukraine.

The Council expressed its solidarity with the Palestinian people at this difficult time when President Arafat is gravely ill.

The Council also warmly congratulated President Bush on his re-election and stressed the shared responsibility of the EU and the US in addressing key global challenges. At Irelands suggestion, the importance of EU-US cooperation in the Doha Round of global trade negotiations was specifically included in the conclusions.

I have already conveyed my warmest personal congratulations to President Bush.  I look forward to working with the President to ensure that our relations with the US continue to expand and flourish.  

The European Council met Prime Minister Allawi of the Iraqi Interim Government over lunch on Friday to discuss the situation in Iraq and how the EU can best help.

The European Council adopted a Declaration on Iraq, including a package of EU measures to support the Iraqi Government and Iraqi reconstruction.

These measures include political support for the Iraqi Government, support for reconstruction work in Iraq and for the UN presence in Iraq, assistance in the preparation of the Iraqi elections, and an EU assistance action in the field of policing and the rule of law.

The European Council asked the Commission to start preparations on assistance programmes for Iraq aimed at developing the conditions for an agreement between the EU and Iraq.  The agreement should reflect the mutual interest in developing political and trade cooperation.

The Council welcomed the International Conference that will be held in Sharm el Sheikh on 23 November, in which the EU will participate, to support the political and reconstruction process in Iraq.

The European Council condemned the attacks on Iraqis who are trying to take part in the reconstruction of their country as well as the taking of hostages, of whatever nationality, and the brutal killing of many of them.

We are all of us in this House, of course, gravely concerned about the situation of Margaret Hassan, and we are doing everything we can to ensure her safety.

The elections planned in Iraq for January 2005 will obviously be a crucial step, but organising them in the current environment will be a serious challenge.  The EU will be giving every assistance it can to the Interim Iraqi Government in holding those elections.

The European Council had a useful discussion on the Middle East Peace Process. Our discussions focussed on recent developments, such as the illness of Palestinian President Arafat and the Israeli Parliaments endorsement of Prime Minister Sharons proposal for unilateral disengagement from Gaza.

The EU agreed a short-term programme of action to support reform in the Palestinian Authority focussing on: strengthening the Palestinian Authoritys ability to provide security and prevent terrorism; political and institutional reform; the continuation of EU economic aid; and support to the electoral process.

The Israeli Knessets decision on withdrawal from Gaza is a positive development.  The EU has repeatedly stated that the withdrawal plan can be a positive step, if and only if it takes place in the context of the Quartet Roadmap and if it marks a step towards a negotiated two state solution.

The European Council confirmed that the EU and the Member States would remain actively engaged with the objective of achieving progress on the Iranian nuclear issue before the International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors meeting on 25 November.  I welcome the further contacts that have taken place with Iran on this issue since the European Council and the indications that progress has been made in reaching a successful conclusion.

The European Council also expressed its deep concern at the political and humanitarian situation in Darfur, Sudan and called on the government of Sudan and the rebels to meet the demands of the international community.  The Council reaffirmed its support for the African Union Mission in Darfur and its readiness to provide assistance and expertise to the expansion of this mission.

On the Ukraine, the European Council, while welcoming the high turnout of voters in the recent Presidential elections, regretted that the elections did not meet international standards for democratic elections.

The European Council called on the Ukrainian authorities to address the deficiencies in the electoral process before the second round of elections.

This European Council, the first under the Dutch Presidency, was a business-like and effective meeting.  In focussing on issues of direct concern to our citizens in their daily lives including jobs, social cohesion and the fight against crime and terrorism, it proved once again the relevance of the European Union.  It was a productive and worthwhile meeting for which the Dutch Presidency is to be complimented.

At the Council, I also held a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Blairat which we reviewed developments in the peace process.

ENDS