Speech by Minister of State Roche to Seanad Eireann on the EU Presidency (Part III)
Private Members Motion on the EU Presidency
7 July 2004
Speech by Minister of State Roche (Part III)
I also know that some in this House have expressed particular concern about and interest in the Common Commercial Policy. Ireland, together with a number of other Member States, was concerned to ensure that international trade agreements in the very sensitive areas of health, education and social services would not undermine national systems. I am very pleased that the IGC agreed that where agreements in these areas risk seriously disturbing the national organisation of such services and prejudicing the responsibility of Member States to deliver them, unanimity is to apply.
Going into the negotiations last autumn, we said that our key national concerns were: retaining unanimity for decision-making on taxation; ensuring that our distinctive legal tradition was fully protected in the new arrangements in the area of Justice and Home Affairs; protecting our neutrality in defence matters; and ensuring a balanced outcome on the institutions, including equality in the Commission.
Working together with Member States who shared our concerns, we secured a positive outcome for Ireland in all of these areas.
We also managed to reach agreement on a balanced set of arrangements for the Union’s institutions which protect the interests of the Union and of all Member States, big and small. This was, perhaps, the most difficult aspect of the negotiations. On voting, we secured a compromise with which everyone could live. On the Commission, from 2014, each Member State will be represented in two out of three Commissions. However, all Member States will be treated on the basis of strict equality. It will also be open to the European Council, acting unanimously, to set a different size if it wishes to. On seats in the European Parliament, we reached agreement on a minimum threshold of six MEPs per Member State, a point which was a particular concern for the very smallest.
As I have said, I am greatly looking forward to the debate ahead. We have a good document to present to the people. It is good for the European Union. It is good for Ireland. We can be genuinely proud of the role we played in bringing it about.
The External Relations Agenda
In conclusion, I would like to say a brief word about the external relations agenda. The challenges of the Presidency were particularly evident in this area. During this time, the Taoiseach chaired five Summits with Canada, Russia, Latin America and the Caribbean, Japan and the US. In addition to chairing the monthly meetings of the General Affairs and External Relations Council, we hosted an Informal meeting of EU Foreign Ministers in Tullamore in April, as well as two large Foreign Ministerial meetings in Ireland with Asian (ASEM) and Mediterranean (Euromed) countries. We also conducted over 50 Ministerial meetings with key bilateral partners throughout the world.
In guiding the Union’s foreign policy agenda, we focused on the key foreign policy priorities which we set out in the Presidency programme - promoting democratic values and human rights; advancing support for an effective multilateral system based on the primacy of the UN; supporting the Middle East peace process through the Quartet and developing a strategic partnership with the wider Middle East and Mediterranean region; strengthening the EU’s relationships with its key partners, not least the US, China and Russia; and working with African partners to address the enormous development and security challenges facing the continent. Development issues, including the fight against HIV/AIDS, were given the highest priority.
These priorities, while common to all countries of the Union, reflect the traditional principles of Ireland’s approach to foreign policy.
A Presidency must also be able to respond swiftly and effectively to unforeseen events. We worked hard to develop a coordinated EU approach to combating terrorism, following the appalling terrorist attacks in Madrid. The June European Council took note of the significant progress made, including the adoption of a Declaration on Combating Terrorism and the appointment of an EU Counter Terrorism Coordinator at the March European Council.
Ireland’s Presidency came at a time of immense change and transition for the European Union. Aware of this, we set out to address ambitious goals in a realistic way. We were determined to run an efficient, fair and transparent Presidency.
I think we can fairly say that we achieved all our main objectives.
I would like to thank you and the House again for giving me this opportunity to speak to you about our Presidency. The task now for all of us, as the Union moves forward, is to ensure that our citizens are kept fully engaged and informed, and to build on the good will which our Presidency has generated amongst our partners to ensure that we retain a strong voice in Europe in pursuit of our values and in promoting the concerns of our citizens. Top