Joint Committee on European Affairs, 11 June 2003 GAERC Luxembourg, 16 June 2003 (Part 2)
Weapons of Mass Destruction
Ireland has been very supportive of recent proposals that the issue of non-proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) should be made a priority for the EU. The EU has long been actively engaged in the disarmament and non-proliferation area but discussions at Ministerial level in recent months have provided new focus to this work. Ireland is actively engaged in the elaboration of proposals for the General Affairs and External Relations Council which should combine a statement of the EU's basic principles in the area of WMD proliferation with more practical operational steps which the EU might undertake in efforts against proliferation.
Under the ESDP agenda item, the focus is likely to be on ‘Operation Artemis', the EU-led temporary stabilisation force due to be deployed to Bunia in the Democratic Republic of Congo over the coming weeks.
The decision to deploy an EU-led force in Bunia follows a request from the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, to the Union to help respond to the rapidly deteriorating security and humanitarian situation in the region. Reflecting UN Security Council Resolution 1484, adopted on 30 May, the EU is providing a short-term interim force, which will enable the reinforcement of the UN forces already on the ground in Bunia. Key tasks will include contributing to the stabilisation of the security conditions and the improvement of the humanitarian situation, as well as ensuring the protection of the internally displaced persons in the camps in Bunia and protection of the airport. As Framework Nation for the EU-led force, France will provide the Operation and Force Commanders, the Operational Headquarters and a high proportion of the troops on the ground. A total force size of around 1,500 is envisaged.
This month's Council is also likely to see some broader discussion of ESDP issues. A number of key reports are being prepared by the Greek Presidency for next week's Council and thereafter for submission to the European Council in Thessaloniki. The report on ESDP summarises work completed in both the military and civilian spheres under the Greek Presidency and incorporates the mandate for future work by the incoming Italian Presidency. A conflict prevention report details specific measures taken over the past year to implement the EU Programme for the Prevention of Violent Conflicts, adopted in Gothenburg in June 2001, and points the way ahead for the incoming Italian and Irish Presidencies. A third report on the contribution of the Common Foreign and Security Policy to the fight against terrorism refers to specific initiatives undertaken within ESDP, including the ongoing process of defining possible interaction between capabilities developed under ESDP and counter-terrorism.
Developments in relation to an ‘EU Security Strategy' paper, due to be submitted by Secretary General/High Representative Solana to the European Council in Thessaloniki, may also arise. The document will seek to identify broad objectives which should inform the Union's conduct in international affairs, particularly, although not only, in the context of transatlantic relations. The intention is to set out a holistic approach to security, extending beyond the purely military perspective.
In relation to EU-US relations, I am looking forward to the Presidency's and the Commission's report at next week's Council on preparations for the EU-US Summit in Washington on 25 June. The Council will also allow for further discussion on the important issue of transatlantic relations following on from the very useful and interesting informal meeting of EU foreign ministers held in Rhodes last month.
I think all of us agree that the transatlantic relationship is of the most fundamental mutual importance to the EU and the US, both economically and politically. The EU-US Summit comes at a critical time in EU-US relations when there is a perception of a deep rift in transatlantic relations in light of the disagreements between the EU and the US and within Europe itself over Iraq. The summit is a good opportunity to demonstrate that the US and the EU can overcome these disagreements. This can be done by highlighting the benefits of close co-operation between the EU and the US and discussing ways in which we can build on successful co-operation on issues such as the Western Balkans, the fight against international terrorism and Afghanistan. It is also an opportunity to focus on areas of on-going and future co-operation such as the Middle East Peace Process, the reconstruction of Iraq and the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
In any discussion on transatlantic relations the economic and trade aspects are also very significant. Given the magnitude of the trade and financial flows between the EU and the US, it is not surprising that the transatlantic relationship defines the shape of the global economy as a whole. The generally smooth flow of economic relations, including both trade and investment flows, is sometimes overlooked, but despite their newsworthiness, disputes affect less than 3% of annual EU-US trade volumes. However, issues relating to e.g. medicines, market access, GMOs, steel and Foreign Sales Corporations (FSCs) will have to be solved and the EU-US Summit will give us an opportunity to discuss possible solutions. Solutions will have to be found to such questions by 2005 at the very latest, if the Doha Development Agenda is to have a satisfactory outcome for developing countries.
If I may now turn to the general affairs agenda, where the main focus of the discussion is expected to be the European Convention. The Convention is due to be discussed in its own right and as part of the discussions on the draft annotated agenda of the European Council.
Members of the Joint Committee will be aware, particularly having only met so recently with Minister of State Roche and the other Irish members of the Convention, that the work of the Convention has now entered its final phase. It is due to decide upon its final report at the end of this week.
It is as yet unclear what the focus of the debate at the Council on the Convention will be. It is likely, nonetheless, that there will be at least some discussion of the final report as well as discussion of how the issue should be handled at the European Council, which is likely to set a start date for the IGC - probably in October - and a target date for its completion.
The new Constitutional Treaty will undoubtedly be a significant improvement on the existing Treaties. It will set out in clear and comprehensible language what the Union is and what the Union does, and what its values and objectives are. It will greatly simplify decision-making in the Union. It will make clear that the powers of the Union are conferred by the Member States. It will enhance the role of national parliaments, particularly in monitoring respect for the principle of subsidiarity. These are all important steps forward that I believe fulfil the mandate given to the Convention by the European Council in Laeken in December 2001.
Much of the Convention's recent focus has of course been on institutional issues. The revised institutional proposals are a significant step forward, and represent a recognition of the need to preserve the key principles of equality between Member States and balance between the institutions, key principles articulated by the Government throughout the Convention process.
The revised proposals on Commission membership are of particular importance. Despite very considerable efforts to roll it back, the principle of guaranteed equal rotation, achieved at Nice, has been retained as regards the voting members of the Commission. This was a key objective. Moreover, in a step forward, all Member States not represented in any given Commission will now be entitled to nominate non-voting members. I also welcome the retention of the Treaty of Nice deal on the size and composition of the European Parliament.
While there will be a long-term elected President of the European Council, his or her functions should be so defined as not to cut across those of the Commission. Moreover, the principle of rotation in other formations of the Council is also set to be inscribed in the new Constitutional Treaty. This was something that we had argued strongly in favour of throughout the Convention process.
The significant progress made over the past week has greatly increased the possibility that a broad consensus can now be reached on the Convention's final report. At the same time, members of the Convention are likely to note that while the report is a solid basis for work in the IGC, they will have some concerns that they will wish to revisit. While good work has been done, Ireland will be working to make further progress on issues such as criminal law and tax.
I look forward to a preliminary examination of the Convention report with my colleagues at the Council in advance of its formal presentation to the European Council at the end of next week.
I am grateful to the Committee members for their patience and attention. I am, of course, happy to take questions on any of the agenda items due for discussion at the forthcoming Council.