Joint Committee on European Affairs, 8 October 2003 Minister Cowen discusses forthcoming GAERC Luxembourg, 13-14 Oct (2)
Full cooperation by the countries of the region with International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia is an essential element of the Stabilisation and Association Process.
The situation in the Middle East remains a matter of major concern. There has been no improvement in the situation on the ground since I last addressed the Committee. It remains extremely grave and prospects for progress towards peace are bleak. The suicide bombing in Haifa on 4 October and the Israeli air attack on Syria have increased tension and raised the possibility of a wider conflict. At the Council, Ministers will discuss developments in the region and partners will brief on recent bilateral contacts.
The Middle East was discussed at the General Affairs and External Relations Council on 29 September. This followed a Quartet meeting at Ministerial level in New York on 26 September and contacts between European and regional Ministers at the UN General Assembly. The Quartet reaffirmed the importance of the Roadmap and issued a statement reminding the parties of their obligations and responsibilities. The Council on 29 September adopted conclusions noting the Quartet statement and calling on the parties to immediately and simultaneously address the core concerns of the other. The Council also stressed the need to establish a ceasefire. This need is made all the more urgent by recent events.
The situation in Iraq remains very difficult. While the north and south is reported to be showing some signs of improvement, the majority-Sunni areas west of Baghdad are still very volatile. The US hopes to attract troops and fund contributions through a new SECCO Resolution. A revised US draft resolution was circulated to permanent five members on 1 October. A number of new elements were evident in this draft. However the extent of these additions falls short of what is needed if the Resolution is to achieve its objectives. This relates especially to the quickest possible orderly transfer of sovereignty, the provision of a timetable for the political process and the role of the UN. The US may obtain their resolution, but it may not attract the desired troop or funding commitments. In addition, the UN system remains deeply worried about being given a mandate by SECCO which it can not fulfil in the current situation.
The Council will also discuss relations between the EU and Iran. The third round of the EU-Iran human rights dialogue will begin today in Brussels. We have been disappointed so far at the lack of progress in the human rights situation in Iran. It is critical that we see some progress on the ground in Iran and in this dialogue.
On the question of Iran's nuclear programme, Ireland fully supports the content of the resolution adopted by the International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors on 12 September. In this connection, we consider that there are a number of questions still outstanding in relation to Iran's nuclear programme which give cause for serious concern. We would call on Iran to provide continued and accelerated cooperation and full transparency on all aspects of its nuclear programme. At its September meeting, the Council resolved to revert to the issue of EU-Iran relations and review future steps in light of the report of the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Association in November. The Government and our EU partners will continue to monitor the situation closely.
Wider Europe/New Neighbourhood
At its June meeting, the Council agreed the main elements of the Wider Europe Initiative and the Council Conclusions which were subsequently endorsed by the Thessaloniki European Council in the same month. Specifically, the Council invited the Commission to present proposals, in the form of >action plans=, for all the countries concerned, commencing inter alia with Ukraine, Moldova and the Southern Mediterranean partners with Association Agreements. The Commission was also asked to present a communication on a New Neighbourhood Instrument, which would focus on promoting sustainable economic and social development of the bordering countries based on the evaluation of existing instruments.
At the Council next week, Ministers will consider developments in relation to the initiative since Thessaloniki and Commissioner Verheugen will give us an up-date on the current schedule of work. I expect that this will include proposals to develop Neighbourhood Programmes for the 2004/6 period. These Neighbourhood Programmes would cover the external borders of the enlarged Union as an intermediate step before the creation of a single new Neighbourhood Instrument. They would be designed to promote sustainable economic and social development in the border areas and will be based on the existing legislative and financial framework.
Ireland, of course, strongly supports the Wider Europe initiative and we will follow ongoing discussion closely. Accession for new Member States will take place in the course of our EU Presidency next year, and for this reason it is vitally important that progress should be made as quickly as possible in determining policy in relation to the new neighbours.
The Council will also prepare for the forthcoming summit with Russia. It is intended that the EU-Russia Summit in Rome on 6 November will follow up on the four common spaces for co-operation which were identified at the St Petersburg EU-Russia Summit in May. Dialogue on regional and international issues will also take place. In addition to the EU-Russia Summit, Russia's application to join the WTO will be discussed at the Council.
The EU-China Summit at the end of this month offers a valuable opportunity to establish good working relations with the new Chinese leadership. I hope that the new EU Policy Paper, introduced by the Commission on 10 September 2003 will provide new impetus so that the EU and China can become strategic partners into the future, with the EU continuing to support China's transition to an open society based upon the rule of law and the respect for human rights.
European Economic Area Enlargement Agreement
As Members of the Committee will know from the agenda, there is a meeting with the European Economic Area countries in the margins of the Council. The EEA Enlargement Agreement, which has only recently been concluded, will enable the ten new accession states to also become members of the European Economic Area. It is intended to hold a signing ceremony at the European Economic Area Council next week. This will allow time for ratification by all participating States so that it may enter into force at the same time as the EU enlargement.
Ireland welcomes this agreement as one of the essential steps in ensuring a smooth transition to enlargement. The European Economic Area and European Free Trade Area (EFTA) countries will also contribute €600 million over a five-year period to alleviating social and economic disparities in the enlarged EEA.
In conclusion, may I state that I am happy to take questions from Members of the Committee on any of the agenda items scheduled for discussion at the forthcoming Council.