Statement by the Minister of State for European Affairs, Joint Committee on European Affairs, 8 December 2004 Part I
General Affairs and External Relations Council Brussels, 13-14 December 2004
Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee
I am very pleased to again have this opportunity to meet with you. This is the first time I have attended since your appointment to the Chair and I am pleased to offer you my congratulations and to wish you well in your duties.
Next Monday’s meeting of the General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) will be devoted largely to the preparation of the European Council on 16 and 17 December.
Ireland will be represented at the Council by my colleague, Minister Dermot Ahern and myself. I will also attend a working lunch for European Affairs Ministers which is being organised by the Presidency on communicating Europe.
The Council agenda is a very heavy one. With your permission, I propose to address first the items on the General Affairs side and then those relating to External Relations.
Preparation for the European Council (16-17 December) The Presidency has circulated draft European Council conclusions in relation to enlargement, terrorism, the Financial Framework for 2007-2013, the area of Freedom, Security and Justice, external affairs and other issues. These draft conclusions are being discussed by the Committee of Permanent Representatives (Coreper) in Brussels today and tomorrow. It is expected that a revised version to take account of discussions in Coreper and other developments, will be available for consideration by Ministers on Monday next.
Enlargement The Council will consider a series of enlargement issues as part of the final preparations for the European Council. These are the closing of accession negotiations with Bulgaria and Romania, a date for the opening of negotiations with Croatia and the next step in Turkey’s application for membership.
Discussion is likely to focus primarily on Turkey. The European Council must decide whether Turkey fulfils the Copenhagen political criteria, and, if so, when accession negotiations should open. This is a hugely important decision for the EU, which will have an impact on the development of the Union over the coming decades. Mr. Chairman, I would like to congratulate the Committee for taking the initiative to visit Turkey in November to assess the issue of possible Turkish accession. I understand that the Committee will present a report on the issue in the coming days. The Government looks forward to receiving the report, which will be of great value in our preparations for the European Council.
The European Council will consider the progress made by Croatia in preparation for the opening of accession negotiations. Ireland believes that the EU should maintain the decision taken at the European Council last June to open negotiations with Croatia in early 2005. I hope that next week’s European Council will be able to agree on a precise date for the bilateral IGC to begin negotiations, perhaps in March. The issue of cooperation with the war crimes Tribunal in the Hague is an extremely important one, for Croatia and for all the countries of the Western Balkans. There are concerns that, while Croatia has significantly improved its cooperation over the past year, one senior figure indicted by the Tribunal remains at large. Ireland would agree with any proposal to insert the requirement for full cooperation with the Tribunal clearly into the negotiating framework which must be agreed by the Council in advance of the opening of accession negotiations.
With regard to Bulgaria and Romania, the European Council should be in a position to note that negotiations have concluded. Signature of an Accession Treaty is due to take place early next year. Accession for both countries is set for January 2007, if they are ready.
Terrorism Last June’s European Council adopted the EU Plan of Action on Combating Terrorism. The Action Plan sets out the detailed measures which the EU intends taking under seven strategic headings. Each of the approximately one hundred and seventy actions is accompanied by a time-frame for implementation. The European Council also provided for the holding of progress reviews on the implementation of the Plan every six months. The December European Council will hold the first such review.
It will receive and consider a report from Javier Solana on progress in the fight against terrorism. This report is expected to be positive, reflecting the good progress achieved under the Dutch Presidency and since the appointment of the EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator.
The European Council will also be asked to take note of some supporting documents dealing with particular aspects of the implementation of the Plan of Action. These address such issues as the strengthening of the fight against the financing of terrorism; the integration of the fight against terrorism into external policy; the integration of an intelligence capacity in the General Secretariat of the Council; conclusions on prevention, preparedness and response to terrorist attacks; and the Draft EU Solidarity Programme on the consequences of terrorist threats and attacks.