BaileNuachtCartlann Aitheasc agus Preaseisiúintí

Statement by the Taoiseach, Mr. Brian Cowen T.D. to Dáil Éireann on Wednesday 11 November 2009


I attended the meeting of the European Council in Brussels on Thursday and Friday, 29 and 30 October. I was accompanied at the meeting by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Micheál Martin, T.D, and by Dick Roche, T.D. Minister of State with responsibility for European Union Affairs.

Lisbon Treaty
The European Council meeting was the first regular meeting of European Heads of State in some time at which the subject of Ireland's ratification of the Lisbon Treaty was not the focus of both our own national efforts, and a key interest of others.

However, the Council was, once again, concerned more than one might wish with institutional issues and the Lisbon Treaty. On this occasion, the spotlight was very much on the Czech Republic and the prospect of signing the instrument of ratification after the Czech Parliament had approved ratification.

Given that it was the first meeting of the Council since the decisive vote of the Irish public on 2nd October, I was invited to say a few words about the referendum by the Presidency. In making my remarks, I was quite mindful of the significant difference between our own predicament and that of the Czech Republic.

I informed my colleagues that we had completed all the formalities relating to our ratification with the deposit in Rome by Minister Dick Roche T.D. of the instrument of ratification on 24 October.

I recalled the outcome of the first referendum in June 2008, and how we had made clear then that we would not be rushed into any course of action, but would have to consider and assess in depth, the reasons which underlay that decision of the Irish people.

The Government, and indeed the Oireachtas through the work of the Sub Committee on Ireland's Future in Europe, had worked to identify and understand the issues and, at the same time, ensure that the significance of the European Union in the every day lives of the public was fully appreciated.

I recalled our previous discussions at Council, notably the support I had sought and obtained in order that we would have a satisfactory response for the concerns raised by the public. I thanked my colleagues around the table for their consistent engagement with that task.

I explained that, to our mind, Ireland and the European Council had negotiated in good faith, and had been true to those negotiations.

Above all, I emphasised how decisive the outcome was when the referendum result was declared on 3rd October. I said that the overwhelming nature of that result was a clear statement of Ireland's support not just for the Lisbon Treaty, but for the European Union more generally.

And I concluded by making clear that the most fitting conclusion to the entire process would be the rapid implementation of the Lisbon Treaty.

The Council then discussed the situation which had arisen in the Czech Republic

The Council noted that the Treaty had been approved by the peoples or parliaments of all 27 Member States.

In order to provide a constructive response to the Czech Government's efforts to resolve their difficulty, the Council agreed that in due course, at the time of a future accession Treaty, the Czech Republic would be added the UK and Poland in what is currently protocol 30 to the Lisbon Treaty which relates to the application of the Charter of Fundamental Rights in those countries.

While there was concern that the Czech Republic seeking this change might lead others to engage in similar manoeuvres, the over-riding priority of seeing the Treaty enter into force and allowing the Union concentrate on policy rather than institutional issues prevailed.

Subsequently, the Czech Constitutional Court rejected the remaining legal challenge to the Treaty and, later the same day, President Klaus signed the instrument of ratification which Prime Minister Fischer has said he will deposit in Rome this Friday 13th November.

Because of the situation with the Lisbon Treaty, the question of discussing the new positions, notably the President of the European Council and the High Representative, did not arise.

That issue has moved on somewhat since President Klaus signed the Czech instrument of ratification, as it is now clear that the Treaty will enter into force on 1 December.

The Swedish Presidency is currently engaging in discussions with each Member State regarding the filling of the new posts. These discussions will continue over coming days. The Swedish Presidency has now signalled its intention to convene an extra meeting of the European Council tomorrow week, 19 November, to deal with this matter comprehensively.

I have consistently said that the question of who we will support for President of the European Council ultimately depends on what names are in the frame. In that context, during an interview following the referendum result, I indicated that Tony Blair was well regarded in Ireland particularly because of his role in the Northern Ireland Peace Process. More recently, when John Bruton put his name forward as a potential compromise candidate, I made clear that I would be very happy to see an Irish person in the post, that John Bruton had excellent experience and credentials, and that his candidature has the full support of the Government. There is also a view being expressed that the President of the Council should be one of the present members of the Council.

Filling the post of High Representative cannot be done in isolation from that of the Council President, so the same situation applies in terms of the Swedish Presidency taking soundings. There is also a question of political balance across the top EU positions.

Securing agreement to retain one Commissioner per Member State under Lisbon was a hugely important factor for us in running, and winning, the second Lisbon referendum.
I have had discussions with President Barroso about this matter on Monday and over the past couple of weeks and will be talking to him again in the coming days. We will then be in a position to put forward our nominee for the position of EU Commissioner.

Climate Change
The other key focus of discussion at the Council was, as expected, Climate Change, including the issue of financing.

The Council agreed a clear and ambitious mandate for the negotiations in Copenhagen in December. The Union has provided leadership from the start on climate change, and the October European Council agreement allows us to continue to do so.

There were of course, different views within the Council about how far to commit at this point in advance of the final negotiations in Copenhagen. How far we go depends also on the actions of others. And there were and still are differences of view on how the financial burden should be shared internally, differences I am confident can be resolved and which do not, in any event, impede the Union's ability to push forward global negotiations.

So the outcome of the Council represents, as it always does, a balanced outcome to accommodate the various views.

It is now widely expected that the Copenhagen Conference will not result in a fully fledged legally binding international agreement. But that does not mean we should drop our level of ambition. What we must ensure is that Copenhagen gets us as far along the road to a comprehensive and binding agreement as is possible. So rather than wind down the pressure on others to step up to the plate, we must in fact increase it.

The EU position heading into Copenhagen remains ambitious. Europe has made its commitments in a transparent way, backed up by resources. By endorsing the global figure of 100 billion euro in international financing per year by 2020, and by committing to pay our fair share of that, Europe is once again taking the lead and setting the pace for what must be achieved in Copenhagen.

But of course, the purpose of all of this is to achieve an international agreement that prevents the catastrophic global consequences of our planet warming too much. So our position is strongly conditional on others accepting and then fulfilling their own obligations, proportionate to their responsibility and means. Only in that event, whether it be at Copenhagen which looks increasingly unlikely, or shortly afterwards, can we have a Treaty which will achieve what we want.

It may be that Copenhagen results in a political agreement, rather than a legally binding Treaty. Even in that scenario, we must work to ensure that it achieves the maximum feasible.

Clearly there is much to play for in the negotiations over the coming weeks. But let us be clear: Europe, and Ireland, remain fully committed to an ambitious, comprehensive and effective global deal. Notwithstanding that the December meeting creates the potential for deadline-driven momentum, the quality of the agreement is, within reason, more important than the timing.

Economic and Financial Issues
While it was not top of the Council's agenda on this occasion, the Council nonetheless was extremely mindful of the ongoing difficulties in the global and European economies.

The Council recognised the progress made in relation to improving the financial regulatory structures, both in relation to systemic risk and banking supervision.

We agreed on the need for coordination of exit strategies, and the need to avoid choking off any potential recovery, work that is being advanced most notably in ECOFIN. The Council was clear that the stimulus measures put in place by most of our partners should not be removed until the recovery is fully secured. The Commission and the Council of Ministers were tasked to revert to December's European Council in relation to exit strategies.

There is an increasing focus on the impact of the current economic difficulties on sustaining and creating employment - on people's jobs - which is where the real pain is felt.

The European Council looked forward to discussing a new European strategy for jobs and growth. That will form part of the upcoming review of the Lisbon Strategy, which is likely to be a core element of the next Spring European Council.
One particular sector which the Council was seized of was the milk sector which, as Deputies are fully aware, is experiencing on-going difficulties. The Council welcomed the Commission's efforts so far. For our own part, we are pleased that the work of a new high level group on milk is being accorded this level of recognition because that reflects the priority that we and many other Member States attach to this very real issue.

The Council returned to the issue of immigration which had arisen also in June, not least as a result of the considerable difficulties being experienced by our Mediterranean partners.

The Council noted progress made on implementing measures regarding illegal immigration and also called for further efforts to be made, notably in relation to FRONTEX, which is the EU's dedicated body aimed at improving coordination on border issues.

In that regard, the December European Council is expected to adopt a new multi-annual programme in the field of Freedom, Security and Justice, often referred to as the "Stockholm Programme".

The Council also adopted conclusion on the Baltic Sea strategy, and on external relations.

Concluding comment
To conclude, from an Irish perspective this was a good Council. Over the past two years, Lisbon Treaty issues have inevitably dominated our domestic consideration of EU issues and absorbed time, energy and resources.

A similar if less acute difficulty has affected the rest of the Union. So it is to all our advantages to see the Lisbon Treaty enter into force. That seems set to happen on Tuesday fortnight.

I look forward to the putting in place of the new elements under the Lisbon Treaty, including the filling of the new posts and appointment of a new Commission. Then, we will be in a position, both domestically and with our EU partners, to engage thoroughly on the full panoply of issues such as climate change and energy, cross border crime, jobs, competitiveness, agricultural markets to name a few: issues where decisions taken at EU level can make a real difference to our public.