Meeting of the National Forum on Europe: Comments by Minister Cowen: Part 2
Ireland's approach at the Convention has been that development cooperation should be defined as an EU policy area with its own specific objectives, which would be set out in the Treaties. Development cooperation should also be endowed with a standing in the Treaties similar to other areas of EU external policy, including CFSP.
Ireland's interventions on this topic in the Working Group have been based on these principles. In particular, we have been to the fore in arguing that a basic principle of the Union's external action should be poverty reduction in low-income countries. Our efforts, combined with those of others, have helped to secure agreement on this aim in the External Action Report. We will continue to work on the basis of the foregoing principles in the negotiations ahead.
The Group also discussed the external representation of the Union, with the objective of enhancing visibility for the Union's efforts on the world stage. One way in which the report suggests this might be achieved is through allowing the Union to seek a formal status, including the possibility of full membership, in international organisations. Of course the EU already plays a role in many organisations, while full membership in some international organisations, including the UN, is reserved for States. There were a number of other suggestions in this area, including a proposal for a single representation of Eurozone members in the International Financial Institutions. A number of Members, including Ireland, felt there was scope for greater coordination of Member States' positions within international organisations without necessarily requiring new arrangements in all cases. These proposals will need to be examined carefully to see how they would function in practice before a view can be expressed on their value.
The Government was not represented on the Defence Working Group, although both Deputy Gormley and Prionsias de Rossa MEP were parliamentary members. Given his close involvement, I am glad to see Deputy Gormley here to-day to give his first-hand knowledge of the deliberations of the Working Group.
Let me recall the mandate of the Group.
The Defence Working Group was asked to consider the Union's role in the field of security and defence and, in particular, whether there is support for developing this role beyond the arrangements agreed in the Amsterdam Treaty.
Overall, the Report of the Defence Working Group, which was published last December, raises a number of questions for Ireland. The core issue in this regard was identified by this very Forum. The most basic question identified in a previous report by this Forum in the security and defence area was - “how do we accommodate Ireland's policy of military neutrality in relation to the Union's security and defence policy?” This was also an issue that of course gave rise to considerable debate and discussion during the Nice Referendum.
The Convention proceedings have taken place against the background of substantial changes in the international security situation in recent years. The Cold War has ended. Threats to international peace and security are increasingly random and varied, even involving non-State actors, like Al Qaeda. In some instances, for example Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan, the international community failed to intervene effectively at an early stage, resulting in considerable cost in terms of human life and political instability.
We will also need to take into account the potential impact of the Iraqi crisis on the proposals in the defence area. It seems probable that the crisis may impact by sharpening the focus on some of the defence-related proposals that have been brought forward.
The Report has tried to bridge the gap between the diverse positions of member States. In my view it has done so with some success.
I am reassured that it clearly states that the aim should not be to transform the Union into a military alliance. Rather, the EU should be provided with the instruments it needs to defend its objectives and to contribute to peace and stability in the world, in conformity with the principles of the UN Charter and international law. This is very much in keeping with Ireland's approach.
Overall, I feel we can be positive towards many of the recommendations while carefully delineating the aspects that are problematic, most notably the issue of mutual defence.
Under the heading Crisis Management, improvements are proposed through modernisation of the humanitarian and crisis management tasks that can be undertaken by the Union – the so-called Petersberg Tasks. I welcome the recommendation that these should be expanded to include areas such as conflict prevention, disarmament, and post-conflict stabilisation. This is in keeping with the challenges of to-day.
Ireland can also look positively at suggestions for better coherence and effectiveness in the implementation of crisis management operations, including those that would provide more flexibility of decision-making and actions in crisis management.
Another set of recommendations sets out suggestions for three ways of developing defence cooperation. We should be open to the idea of a solidarity clause that would assist in the EU's response to emergency situations and new threats against civilian populations. Such a clause would enable all the instruments available to the EU to be mobilised, both civilian and military, within the territory of the Union, to avert the threat from terrorism, protect the civilian population and assist a Member State in dealing with the implications of a possible terrorist attack. This idea is broadly in line with our own approach. The other neutral and non-aligned members of the Union – Austria, Finland and Sweden – also support a solidarity clause along these lines.
Suggestions for collective security arrangements, including the idea of a “solidarity and common security clause”, as supported by France and Germany, are more problematic. This could extend beyond emergency situations and represent a step in the direction of a mutual defence clause. It will be necessary for Ireland to maintain a clear distinction between emergency arrangements arising from natural or man-made disasters and any more “hard defence” issues.
As regards mutual defence, let me be absolutely clear. Ireland's Constitutional position is unambiguous. Ireland cannot join a common defence without the approval of the Irish people in a referendum.
The issue of enhanced cooperation also arises. France and Germany have been pressing for the application of enhanced cooperation in security and defence matters. Let me recall that enhanced cooperation in this area was specifically excluded under the Amsterdam Treaty and this position was carried over into the Treaty of Nice. From the Government's perspective, the parameters of any proposed provision for enhanced cooperation in this area would need to be very carefully considered. In my view, the EU already has the potential to achieve much under existing arrangements, including through constructive abstention
The issue of closer armaments cooperation is also covered. But we should situate this in its proper context. This arises in the context of ensuring that Member States' respective military forces are properly equipped to carry out crisis management operations. The current EU and EC treaties provide for a degree of armaments cooperation, but on the proviso that this should occur “as Member States consider appropriate”. A key aspect from Ireland's perspective is that proposals to date have recognised the need for flexible arrangements.
Like the reports from other Working Groups, the reports on Defence and on External Action are not a definitive statement of views or positions among the different members of the Convention. Rather, they are an attempt to capture the spectrum of opinion on individual topics and, where possible, to identify potential areas for agreement. It is clear from the discussions in the Plenary so far that many of these issues will require further reflection before agreement can be reached.
This discussion and debate will take place in the weeks and months ahead and I look forward to listening to the views expressed here this morning on these important issues as part of that debate which is so important to Ireland's place in Europe.
In formulating its response to the issues raised by these two reports, the Government will seek to protect Ireland's interests while promoting measures which aim to enhance the Union's relations which the rest of the world.
As I have said, I believe the Union can play a strong role internationally in support of peace, development, democracy and the rule of law. What we must focus on is how we can best equip the Union to play that role in our changed international environment.