Joint Committee on European Affairs, 8 October 2003 Minister Cowen discusses forthcoming GAERC Luxembourg, 13-14 Oct (1)
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Joint Committee, may I begin by saying that I am very pleased to have the opportunity to appear again before this Committee to review the agenda for the forthcoming General Affairs and External Relations Council. As you will know, the Council meets in Luxembourg on 13 October next and will begin by reviewing the general affairs agenda, followed by the external relations items. On the morning of Tuesday, 14 October, Foreign Ministers will hold a working session of the IGC. Minister of State Roche will represent Ireland at the meeting between the troika and the countries of the European Economic Area, as well as at the Association Council with Jordan.
If I may begin with the items on the general affairs agenda.
Preparation of the Brussels European Council: 16-17 October 2003
The Council is due to consider again the draft annotated agenda for the European Council meeting on 16-17 October. Issues covered in the draft annotated agenda include initiatives to promote economic growth. It is expected that the European Council will discuss a Presidency initiative, A European Action for Growth, which aims at boosting growth through more effective use of the European Investment Bank to support greater investment in infrastructure and research and development. Ireland recognises the importance of promoting growth in the current economic climate. We look forward to advancing progress on related issues such as the promotion of employment creation, competitiveness and environmental sustainability at the Spring European Council next year. The European Council will also consider conclusions in the area of freedom security and justice. The European Council is likely to look at ways to develop more effective management of the Union's external borders particularly in the context of the forthcoming enlargement of the Union. The European Council is also likely to consider issues around the management of migration flows. There will also be a session on the IGC at the European Council, which will focus on institutional issues.
Statute of Members of the European Parliament
In relation to the Statute of Members of the European Parliament, the Presidency has indicated that it wishes to place on the Council agenda the 1965 Protocol on Privileges and Immunities with a view to updating it. The Protocol is the basis for the parliamentary immunity of Members of the European Parliament. There is no consensus yet on the procedure to be followed that might allow it to be amended. The matter is scheduled for further discussion at tomorrow's meeting of Coreper. We share the view that time for further reflection is required before this matter is taken any further.
Before turning to external issues, I would like to say a few words about the IGC. While the IGC is not formally part of the Council's agenda, I feel that it would be useful to brief the Committee on it at the same time, given that many of its sessions coincide with meetings of the Council.
As you will be aware, the IGC formally opened in Rome on 4 October with a meeting of Heads of State and Government. The Taoiseach made clear Ireland's strong support for the Italian Presidency and its approach to the IGC. We will seek to play a constructive role as far as possible. As we have indicated before, we remain broadly happy with the outcome of the Convention. That said, the IGC cannot be a rubber stamp and we, like others, have a small number of key concerns which we will be pressing. The work programme set out by the Presidency allows us the scope to raise those concerns.
At the Foreign Ministers' meeting in Rome it was agreed to drop the proposed provision for a separate Legislative Council, which the great majority of Member States, including Ireland, felt was impractical. Instead, the legislative work of sectoral Councils will take place in public. This is an important development.
There was also a first discussion of the Presidency, on the basis of a questionnaire circulated before the meeting. Ireland's response to the questionnaire has been circulated to this Committee. We have indicated support for the team Presidency concept, while remaining open to other models, so long as the basic principle of equality between Member States is retained. At our meeting on 14 October, Ministers will have a first debate on the role and status of the proposed Union Foreign Minister, the composition of the Commission and we will begin preparation for the meeting of the IGC at the European Council on 16 and 17 October.
Ireland is supportive of the proposed creation of a Union Foreign Minister and while some aspects of the text may need clarification we think the broad balance is about right. I have queried at last Saturday's opening meeting whether it might be better if the Member States continue to chair the Foreign Affairs Council. As is well known, we wish to see thorough consideration at the IGC of the Convention proposals on security and defence issues. These issues have not so far been discussed in sufficient detail and a number of practical points remain to be clarified.
Turning now to the external relations agenda.
Our discussion on the Western Balkans will concentrate on the cooperation by the countries of the region with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia war crimes tribunal in The Hague. The Chief Prosecutor, Carla del Ponte, will be present for the Council discussion, following her presentation to the United Nations on Thursday of this week of the Tribunal's annual report. While there has been some improvement in cooperation by the countries of the region with International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, more remains to be done, in particular in the cases of Karadzic, Mladic and Gotovina.Top