Statement by Minister of State for European Affairs, Dick Roche - Europaisches Forum (Part III)
It was also our privilege to hold the Presidency when the ten new Member States formally entered the Union on 1 May. We marked the occasion with a formal and symbolic ceremony - a Day of Welcomes – in which the flags of all 25 Member States were raised together. It was moving and memorable day for all members of the European family.
The enlargement process went smoothly, so smoothly that one could be forgiven for believing it required no effort. That is not the case. The 10 newest member states had to make heroic adjustments and are still doing so. And the process of enlargement did not end on May 1st, 2004. We are delighted that significant progress was also made during our Presidency in the negotiations with Bulgaria and Romania. We hope that progress will continue to be made so that both countries will be able to accede in 2007 if they are ready.
The European Council in June was also able to welcome the sustained efforts the Turkish Government has made towards meeting the Copenhagen political criteria. The Union has reaffirmed its commitment that accession negotiations with Turkey will open without delay if the European Council in December decides that the necessary political criteria have been fulfilled. Croatia is also now a candidate for membership and negotiations should begin early next year.
Other Aspects of the Presidency
As I mentioned earlier, in our Presidency we also sought to move things forward on the Union’s extensive agenda in the area of Justice and Home Affairs. Time does not permit me to go into detail, but I would point to the adoption of the Asylum Qualifications Directive and political agreement on the Asylum Procedures Directive as particular achievements. Following the appalling terrorist attacks in Madrid in March, the European Council adopted the Declaration on Combating Terrorism. We also established the important new post of EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator.
The external relations agenda was also too extensive to go into on this occasion. However, our approach was guided by a strong commitment to effective multilateralism, conflict prevention and the development of European Security and Defence Policy. We worked hard to develop key partnerships, including the Transatlantic relationship. As we all know the Transatlantic relationship has been through a ‘rocky time’. Ireland because of our location and history was in a particularly fortuitous position to help with the task of normalizing the relationship. The US – EU Summit in Drumoland Castle in the closing days of the Presidency was a particularly positive meeting in this regard.
There were other highpoints. For me one high point was the positive response to the Communicating Europe initiative taken by the Irish Presidency.
In Ireland we have been more conscious than in other Member States of the need for an informed and ongoing public debate on the European Union. We where given a very loud wake-up call on the first Nice Referendum. Other Member States and the Institutions of the European Union have been less conscious of the importance of such a dialog.
With an increasing number of Member States likely to seek to ratify the New Constitutional Treaty by Referendum there is a growing awareness that the gap which has been allowed to grow between the European Union and the citizens of Europe must be bridged. The Union must be much more conscious of the concerns of citizens and of citizens groups than it has been in the past. It must communicate the ending objectives of European Policy much more clearly than it has ever done. It must above all make sure that in its actions it is always conscious of the fact that the decisions and directives that flow from the European Union and its Institutions have an impact on the lives and livelihood of 450 million citizens. The challenge for the EU is to ensure that its policies are relevant to the needs of the citizens, that those policies are implemented in a way that is neither overly burdensome or overly bureaucratic, that regulation where introduced is necessary when focused fully understood and implemented in a way which is not overly burdensome.
A reflection paper on the challenge of Communicating Europe was presented during the course of our Presidency to the first ever informal Council meeting of Ministers for European Affairs. The Irish initiative on communicating Europe was indorsed by the European Council in June last, has become a central feature of the Dutch Presidency and is now to be a central policy of the Barroso Commission all of this is very good news.
It is flattering that both the Dutch Presidency and the New European Commission has decided to continue work on an Irish Presidency initiative. Identifying the problem is an important first step, constructing policies to address the problem comes next and after that the solutions must be implemented across the European Union Institutions and in the individual Member States.
One final area that must be mentioned is Africa. The Irish Presidency was particularly anxious to move issues relating to Africa and the developing world. With this in mind we pressed for the Millennium Development Goals, with their strong emphasis on poverty eradication and sustainable development and the HIV/AIDS pandemic, to be given the focus they deserve.
Every Presidency comes with a very full agenda – I have only been able to scratch the surface. A great many other initiatives and decisions were taken during our six months in office – including on the appointment of Jose Manuel Barroso as President of the Commission. The period ahead will be a challenging one for the new Commission which will take office later in the year. Presidency Barroso is already demonstrating what an excellent choice he was.
In Ireland we always say that self-praise is no praise. However, if I may set this rule aside for a moment, I believe that the Irish Presidency can take some satisfaction in what we, one of the EU’s smaller members were able to achieve. Our overall aim was to secure outcomes which would have a positive impact on the lives of European people and, working with partners, we did so.
The successful enlargement of the Union, the agreement on the European Constitution and the appointment of a new President of the Commission are particularly important and positive steps forward.
The work does not end. The Netherlands is now doing an excellent job, pressing forward with the important challenges the Union faces, including on its future funding. I wish it well in its task.
If there is one key challenge facing us as a Union it is to find better ways to communicate and connect with our citizens. This is the boundary that the EU must next cross. Our citizens must feel more involved, better informed and more attached. Excitement about Europe must displace cynicism. As politicians, as academics, as citizens, we all have our part to play. As I have already said the Netherlands Presidency has taken this challenge on board. I wish them well. I believe their work will be carried forward by succeeding Presidencies. This is an important endeavour and I greatly look forward to our discussion here today as a part of the process of Communicating Europe.
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01 September 2004