Remarks by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Brian Cowen TD, to the Joint Committee on European Affairs (Part II)
If I may now turn to the session on external relations, beginning with the Western Balkans.
The first annual meeting of EU Foreign Ministers with our counterparts from the Western Balkans will take place during this month's Council, as part of the intensification of relations agreed at the Thessaloniki Summit in June. During our meeting we will review relations between the EU and the region, as well as developments in the Western Balkans and in the European Union.
The regular discussion on the Western Balkans this month will include a review of the situation in Croatia, following the elections there on 23 November, and in Serbia, where early general elections have been called for 28 December. The Council will welcome the Commission's Feasibility Study on Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In its discussion on Iran, the Council will reflect on the Resolution adopted by the IAEA Board of Governors on 26 November, the text of which was supported by the EU. The international community now expects Iran to continue to cooperate fully with the IAEA and to provide the essential transparency and openness required to resolve all outstanding concerns in relation to its nuclear programme.
The Council will also discuss the best approach to the EU's dialogue with Iran, including negotiations on the Trade and Cooperation and political agreements. Ireland supports the EU desire to develop dialogue and cooperation with Iran, especially with regard to four key areas: human rights, the fight against terrorism, the Middle East Peace Process and non-proliferation. Ireland, along with a number of other EU partners co-sponsored a Canadian resolution entitled, “The situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran” at the UN Third Committee.
I was appalled at last weekend's series of attacks in Iraq. While the security situation continues to deteriorate, we have seen clear signs of progress on the political front in the last fortnight. Ireland welcomed the announcement by the Governing Council on 15 November of an accelerated timetable for the transfer of sovereignty. UN Secretary General Annan held consultations on Iraq at UN Headquarters on 1 December. Ireland's position remains one of support for the role of the UN Secretary General. We want to see a deeper UN involvement, but at the same time we have a full understanding of the difficulties involved. We also believe that a UN role in the oversight of the transfer of sovereignty would give the process greater international legitimacy. We are aware of concerns expressed by various Iraqi leaders about the process of transferring power and we hope that a broadly accepted agreement can be worked out. We wish to see an agreement, acceptable to all parties interested in peace, put in place as quickly as possible.
Situation in the Middle East
Ministers will consider recent developments in the Middle East peace process. While violence continues and the parties remain far apart, there have been a number of hopeful developments on the political front. International activity is taking off again. The US Special Envoy for the peace process, Assistant Secretary Burns, has paid a visit to the region and met with the Palestinian Prime Minister. The meeting of the Ad Hoc Liaison Group of donors to the Palestinians is now expected to take place in Rome on 11-12 December and it is probable that a meeting of the Quartet will be held in the margins. A meeting between Prime Minister Sharon and Prime Minister Queria is expected in the near future. However, there can be little doubt that the Middle East will be one of the most demanding issues facing the Irish Presidency in the international arena over the coming half year. We look forward to working with our partners in the international Quartet to advance the aims set out in the Roadmap for a final settlement of the problem and the achievement of a Palestinian State.
Barcelona Process (Follow-up to Euro-Med Conference)
Mr. Tom Kitt, Minister of State at my Department, represented Ireland at the 6th Euro-Mediterranean Conference of Foreign Ministers in Naples, on 2-3 December 2003. This meeting brings together Foreign Ministers of EU Member States and Foreign Ministers of the Mediterranean basin. The meeting discussed major regional questions including Iraq and the Middle East Peace Process. Ministers also reviewed progress in implementing the Euro Mediterranean Partnership on three specific issues; the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly, the future course of FEMIP (Facility for Euro-Mediterranean Investment and Partnership) and the Euro-Mediterranean Foundation for the Dialogue of Cultures. In addition they also pursued areas of common interest, including reinforcing security and stability in the region and the promotion of political and economic reform.
EU Security Strategy
Discussion of a revised text of the European Security Strategy will take place at the forthcoming Council, with a view to the adoption of the final document at the European Council on 11-12 December. Proposals for an overall EU strategy in the field of foreign and security policy were initially presented by Secretary General/High Representative Solana at the June European Council in Thessaloniki. Detailed discussion of these proposals in a series of seminars, as well as contributions from Member States, have been taken into account in the revised version to be discussed by Ministers.
Ireland has welcomed the overall approach of the Security Strategy. It is broadly consistent with Ireland's own perspective on security and defence matters through its embodiment of a holistic approach to security, including both military and non-military means. We have consistently emphasised that presentational aspects of the document are important and that, in particular, a public ownership of the final Security Strategy should be fostered.
It will fall to Ireland, as EU Presidency, to guide the Union's first steps towards implementing the Strategy's recommendations. We are currently working closely with the Italian Presidency and with the EU institutions to identify specific areas for practical follow-up. The core challenge of supporting and sustaining an effective multilateralism will be an important priority in this regard, as will enhancement of civil-military coordination within the EU and the continued mainstreaming of conflict prevention throughout all aspects of the EU's external action.
European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP)
Under the ESDP agenda item, the Council will be asked to approve a progress report by the outgoing Italian Presidency on European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP). The Presidency report on ESDP, currently under negotiation in Brussels, has become a routine feature of the final Council meeting of each six-month semester. The report will summarise developments in ESDP under the Italian Presidency and provide a mandate for the incoming Irish Presidency, which will be charged with taking forward work in this area.
The Presidency report is not anticipated to present any problems from an Irish perspective. We have been broadly satisfied with developments in ESDP under the Italian Presidency and are currently negotiating the terms of our Presidency mandate with partners in Brussels. Key tasks which will fall to the Irish Presidency include the further development of capabilities for crisis management, facilitation of work on ESDP operations, implementation of the EU-UN Declaration of 24 September on cooperation in crisis management and the further implementation of the EU Programme for the Prevention of Violent Conflicts.
Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)
The issue of Weapons of Mass Destruction will be discussed at this month's Council with a view to the adoption of a formal EU Strategy against Proliferation of WMD. This Strategy will be rooted in the Basic Principles already agreed in June this year. Ireland is satisfied with the European Union's progress to date in moving the WMD issue up the EU agenda including the imminent adoption of the Strategy. We look forward to carrying forward this work during our Presidency of the EU in 2004. In particular we will focus on implementation of the Basic Principles and Strategy, including the mainstreaming of disarmament and non-proliferation issues within the Common Foreign and Security Policy.
WTO / Doha Development Agenda
After the failure of the fifth WTO Ministerial meeting in Cancun earlier this year, the European Commission conducted an internal review of the Doha Development Agenda negotiations in consultation with Member States, the European Parliament and European stakeholders, such as business, trade unions and civil society. The Commission Communication, released last Wednesday, concludes that the basic rationale for the Doha Development Agenda remains valid, and that the EU's objectives as set out in earlier Council conclusions should be maintained.
These objectives include a clear preference for a multilateral trade system, a strong rules-making component alongside market access, and the need to ensure that the negotiations do deliver a development round. The Commission document also concludes that the EU should support the early re-launch of the negotiations and participate constructively in efforts to this end. However, it also notes that all WTO Members need to be seriously committed to the negotiations in order for them to make progress.
The proposed draft Council conclusions welcome the Commission's analysis, and the approach they intend to explore. They invite the Commission to continue to operate in close consultation with Member States, and to report back to Council as necessary.
As I mentioned at the outset, I would be very happy to take questions from Members of the Committee on the agenda for the forthcoming Council.