Statement by Minister of State Kitt to the Joint Committee on European Affairs (Part I)
Check Against Delivery
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Joint Committee, may I begin by saying that I am very pleased to have this opportunity to appear before the Committee to review the agenda of the forthcoming General Affairs and External Relations Council; the fifth of the Irish Presidency. The Council will be chaired by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Brian Cowen. The Ministers for Defence will also be participating in the Council. The Minister for Defence, Mr. Michael Smith, will represent Ireland.
With your permission, I propose to begin by saying a few words concerning the IGC Ministerial meeting which will also take place next Monday and Tuesday. I will then turn to the agenda items due for discussion at the Council. I am, of course, happy to take any questions which Members of the Committee may have on the forthcoming Council.
While Minister Cowen outlined the Presidency’s proposed work programme and timetable for dealing with the IGC at last month’s Council, this month’s meeting will be the first opportunity for Foreign Ministers to have a substantive discussion of the IGC since the decision of the European Council to reconvene the negotiations.
Foreign Ministers will meet over two days to discuss the outstanding IGC issues in detail. The Presidency is currently finalising the agenda but it is likely that there will be discussions on both outstanding institutional and non-institutional issues. The Presidency is also finalising a number of papers intended to facilitate discussion and these will be circulated to the Committee when they are available.
As you know, the Taoiseach wrote to his colleagues on the European Council on 8 April asking them to take a “positive and focussed approach”. This was very much in evidence at last week’s meeting of senior officials. Members of the Committee will have been circulated with the working document that formed the basis for that meeting. Officials discussed the outstanding non-institutional issues and considerable progress was made. The Presidency believes that, while of course nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, consensus has been found on a significant number of these issues and we hope that next week’s meeting of Foreign Ministers will confirm that consensus.
There are also a number of other non-institutional issues that require further discussion at Ministerial level and these will be set out in our papers to be published later this week. They include such issues as the procedures for adopting the Union’s annual budget, and decision-making in the Common Commercial Policy.
You will also be aware of the Taoiseach’s wish to make progress on as many issues as possible before negotiations return to the level of Heads of State and Government at the June European Council. We have decided to have a discussion on the scope of Qualified Majority Voting to encourage progress on this difficult set of issues, which is unlikely to be resolved until the end of the negotiations.
The Presidency also intends to have a discussion on the question of the composition of the European Commission. Again, we know that a final solution to this issue will depend on the overall balance of the institutional package.
Next week’s meeting is an opportunity to build on the commitment displayed by partners at the Spring European Council and at the meeting of senior officials. Together with the tour of capitals currently being undertaken by the Taoiseach where he is meeting with all of his counterparts on the European Council, we will seek to make significant progress towards agreement on a new Constitutional Treaty for the European Union.
Preparation of the European Council: 17-18 June, 2004
The principal item for consideration on the Council’s general affairs agenda will be “Preparation of the European Council”, which will take place in Brussels on 17-18 June. The items expected to feature on the draft annotated agenda include senior appointments, justice and home affairs issues, terrorism, enlargement, future financial perspectives, economic issues and employment and external relations.
At Monday’s meeting Ministers will have an initial opportunity to review the proposed agenda. Work will continue on this in the coming weeks and will be finalised by Ministers at their meeting immediately before the European Council in June.