Speech by Minister Cowen on the National Day of Commemoration (Part 2)
Looking back, I am pleased to say that we achieved much of what we set out to do. Just as nationally we are firmly committed to the multilateral system, one of our central priorities as Presidency was to enhance support for the UN. Progress has been achieved on EU-UN Cooperation in Crisis Management, and the Union also made a joint contribution to Kofi Annan’s High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change. We also engaged actively with key regional partners, in Africa, Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean, in reaffirming our shared commitment to the multilateral system. The presence of 430 Irish troops with the UN mission in Liberia is testament to the enduring Irish commitment to both the UN and to the multilateral system as a whole.
The EU’s agenda was also carried forward in the areas of non-proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction and, of course, human rights.
A just and lasting solution to the Arab – Israeli conflict is something we all wish to see and, as Presidency, we worked tirelessly to promote this. We continued EU efforts to encourage both sides to implement the Road Map. Ireland will remain committed to this cause and will continue to engage with the Middle East as a whole. This will be guided by the EU’s Strategic Partnership for the Mediterranean and Middle East, adopted last month. This sets out a policy agenda through which the Union will carry forward its support for peace, progress and reform in the countries concerned, in a spirit of partnership. The rebuilding of a democratic Iraq is clearly a key issue for the region. As Presidency, we finalised the EU’s Medium-Term Strategy on Relations with Iraq. We look forward to assisting the Iraqi Authorities in the political and economic reconstruction of their country.
We also set out to put Africa higher up the EU agenda. I am particularly pleased that our Presidency saw the launch of the African Peace Facility. This will provide €250 million to assist African-led initiatives in peacekeeping and crisis management. It is already being used to assist the African Union to monitor the ceasefire in Darfur in Sudan. Conflict prevention in Africa was also an important element of our work; In this regard I travelled to Ethiopia and Eritrea in April to urge both governments to comply with the Algiers Peace Agreement, as well as to Burundi to discuss the peace process in that country.
I believe we have also been very successful in revitalising the important Transatlantic relationship. We held excellent Summits with Canada and US. At the Dromoland Summit we demonstrated clearly that the EU and the US are committed to working closely together across the broad agenda of Transatlantic cooperation. The strength and vitality of the EU-US relationship is reflected in the seven Joint Declarations which we adopted - on issues as varied as our economic partnership, support for the people of Iraq and the fight against HIV/AIDS.
The historic enlargement of the EU on 1 May gave renewed impetus to our relationship with Russia and our neighbours to the East. The extension of the EU-Russia Partnership and Cooperation Agreement to the ten new Member States and the successful EU-Russia Summit in Moscow, have breathed new life into this strategically important relationship. Relations with Asian partners, and with Latin American and Caribbean countries, were also important for us. I believe we achieved significant progress in deepening these important relationships.
As Presidency, we also completed the task of ensuring that European Security and Defence Policy continues to develop in the service of peace and to seeing an appropriate and ongoing balance struck between its military and non-military elements. Following extensive preparations, the EU stands ready to launch a follow-on operation to SFOR in Bosnia-Herzegovina later this year. We also finalised arrangements for the first EU rule of law mission in Georgia. Ireland will continue to contribute to the development of ESDP capabilities for conflict prevention and crisis management as part of our commitment to playing our full part in support of international peace and security.
Overseas development is an integral part of our foreign policy and represents one of the Government’s priorities. Ireland has a proud record in this field and we are determined to extend it further in the period ahead.
Development issues were centre-stage during Ireland’s EU Presidency. Our priorities included the fight against HIV/AIDS and the eradication of global poverty. In February, we hosted a Ministerial Conference on HIV/AIDS in Europe and Central Asia. The Dublin Declaration which emerged from the Conference included targets and timetables to address the fight against HIV/AIDS in the European and Central Asian region. We also hosted a conference in April which explored the role of Parliaments in combating AIDS in Africa, and a further meeting in June on the development of HIV vaccines and microbicides.
A second key priority for our Presidency was the fight against global poverty, which is at its most acute in Africa. In preparation for the 2005 UN High Level event to review the Millennium Declaration and the Millennium Development Goals, we secured Council agreement to an Irish initiative to coordinate EU inputs into this review process. Much more progress towards meeting the MDGs is needed if African countries are to have a chance of meeting the 2015 targets.
Prospects for the global economy are brighter than at any point over the past few years. In Ireland also, business and investment confidence in the economy has rebounded reflecting this steady economic recovery. Investment flows into Ireland are picking up strongly, unemployment remains low and tax revenues are running well ahead of targets.
Openness to trade has been a key factor in Ireland’s phenomenal economic development. We have demonstrated that openness to international trade, supported by the solid foundations of the rule of law, good governance and a positive enterprise environment is a central pillar of sustained economic development.
It is my hope that, in the light of the more positive global economic climate, we can work closely together to exploit mutual beneficial trade opportunities in goods and services, and collectively benefit from a sustained period of economic growth.
Finally, I would also like to thank you all again for joining me here today to mark our National Day of Commemoration. The prevention and resolution of conflict is the noblest objective of diplomacy. I appreciate the role that you, and the countries that you represent, have played in the search for peace throughout the world.
I would now like to offer a toast to the Heads of State represented here.