Address by Minister Roche to the Irish Members of the Committee of the Regions: 2
The Government has made no secret of its views in the area of Economic
Governance. We were not unduly surprised when the Working Group tasked with
examining this area failed to reach an agreed outcome on many of the issues
it tackled. In the Plenary debate on the report of this Group it was
suggested that this was one group where there were differences of opinion
than in any other Working Group. Some on the group proposed extension of
the use of QMV in the area of taxation; our firm view that unanimity should
continue to apply was shared by other states. On monetary policy, the Group
supported the current breakdown in competence between the Union and the
Member States. However, there was further division on the question of
whether the Commission should be given a strengthened role in oversight of
the Broad Economic Policy Guidelines and Stability and Growth Pact. In both
these areas the Government believes that the current arrangements get the
The External Action Working Group was asked to consider ways in which to
improve the coherence, efficiency and visibility of the Union's external
relations, including its development programme, external trade policy and
the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP).
Discussion in the Group has focussed on institutional arrangements in the
area of external action and practical measures which can be taken to
enhance the Union's role on the world stage in support of its agreed
principles and objectives. Issues relating to Defence have been discussed
in a separate Defence Working Group.
The Government is committed to strong and coherent external relations for
the Union, including in the Common Foreign & Security Policy. Ireland has
played an active role in this Group. We believe that there is a need to
find ways in which we can bring about greater coherence in our efforts
whilst maintaining the role and voice of the Member States. This includes a
recognition of the essentially intergovernmental nature of the CFSP whilst
preserving the lead role of the Commission in areas such as development
cooperation and commercial trade policy. We have kept an open mind on
institutional questions, such as the relationship between the External
Relations Commissioner and the High Representative for the CFSP, as long as
they would bring practical benefits and would not undermine the rights of
the Member States in this area.
We have argued that development cooperation continue to be a distinct
policy area with its own principles and objectives in Treaties, whilst
acknowledging also the importance of the Member States' development
Together with like-minded Member States, we will pursue these positions in
the Group's discussions of the final report, being brought forward by the
Group's Chairman, the former Belgian Prime Minister Jean Luc Dehaene. This
report will be debated at the Convention next week.
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 at Amsterdam. The
Government is not represented on this group although Deputy John Gormley
and Proinsias de Rossa are both parliamentary members.
Discussion in the Group has focussed on issues such as the Union's ability
to realise its objectives in the crisis management area and the scope of
the Treaty definition of Petersberg tasks.
We have been closely following developments and maintaining contact with
other member States on the issues involved, especially with those countries
that share a similar perspective in the security and defence area. The
final report, which is brought forward by the Group's Chairman, Michel
Barnier, the French Regional Affairs Commissioner, will be presented to the
Convention in plenary session next week.
The Convention discussed the final report of the Simplification Working
Group, of which I was a member, last week. The Group was looking at ways
in which the number of different instruments could be reduced and perhaps
re-named so that they become more comprehensible to citizens. The Group
recommended that the number of instruments be reduced from fifteen to five,
with the two main instruments, Regulations and Directives, being re-named
"Laws" and "Framework Laws". The proposals in this area seemed very
sensible and likely to increase understanding of the decision-making
I had some concerns about some of the report's recommendations. I was
concerned about the possible implications of the recommendation to abolish
the distinction between compulsory expenditure and non-compulsory
expenditure in the budgetary area. Whatever the procedure, it is vital that
expenditure on the CAP remains ring-fenced so that farmers can have
certainty over a multi-annual period. This principle needs to be protected.
I received a great deal of support for this view in the plenary debate.
The report made some recommendations on transparency and the quality of
legislation that I felt were positive.
I was disappointed, however, that the remit of the Group was very tightly
drawn - I felt more time should have been directed towards bridging the gap
between the EU and its citizens. There are very sound organisational,
economic and political reasons for doing so. Instead of looking at this
area, the Group focussed largely on internal issues. These are certainly of
importance, but they are not of immediate significance to citizens. I will
be pressing for the newly constituted Working Group on Social Europe, of
which I will be a member, to look more closely at how the divide can be
Deputy Bruton chaired the Working Group on Freedom, Security and Justice.
His Group's Final Report was debated by the plenary last week. I very much
welcomed the recommendations on an integrated approach to visas, migration,
residency, asylum seeking, and refugee issues. The Government has no
difficulty with QMV and co-decision being used in this area. I also
welcomed moves to simplify decision-making in keeping with the
recommendations in the Simplification Working Group.
The Government sees a need to balance the two realities of trying to
achieve more effective European action across the range of areas considered
in the report while recognising that many of these issues are deeply
sensitive and are at the heart of the relationship between the citizen and
The report, therefore, raises some areas of concern for us. As the
Minister for Justice said in his recent speech in Trier, we very much
believe that unanimity continues to be the best way of achieving real
progress in the area of police and judicial cooperation. This is necessary
to ensure widespread public support for progress in this area.
As I mentioned earlier, the Convention will be moving into the next phase
in the New Year. Work will begin on fleshing out the draft Constitutional
Treaty brought forward by the Praesidium at the end of last October.
Issues which have yet to be addressed, the institutions, for example, will
come more to the fore. In approaching these questions Ireland will operate
not from a dogmatic position, but from a pragmatic one. The balances
between the institutions - the Commission, the Council, the Parliament -
have been one of the Union's strengths. The current balance is right from
the viewpoint of smaller member states. While we would support measures to
make them more effective and to prepare them for the challenges of a very
much enlarged Union, we share the widespread view at the Convention that
any changes agreed should not upset those important balances.
The Government is approaching the Convention in a positive and constructive
manner and will continue to do so. We recognise the need for reform if the
European Union is to rise to the new challenges ahead and if it is to
sustain and develop public support across the Member States. Ultimately
the IGC will make the final decisions on the content of the next Treaty.
The exact timing of the IGC is not yet certain. We have proposed that
there should be a 'gap' period for reflection between the end of the
Convention (June or July 2003) and the IGC. We would also strongly support
the view that the new member states must be in a position to play a full
role in the IGC.
I our deliberations we should, I believe, bear in mind that the Union has
been an overwhelming success and we should not lose sight of this.. In
moving forward, we should take great care to protect the institutional
balances and the broad policy mix which have served us well to date. I am
sure that my colleagues here will confirm that there is wide support for
this view across the Convention, and on the basis of its proceedings to
date some very useful proposals, including those for enhancing the role of
national parliaments in the Union, are likely to gain consensus support..
As I said earlier the Convention is a matter of the highest priority for
the Government. The work of the Convention will be important in mapping the
way ahead. It will obviously play a significant role in the deliberations
of the Intergovernmental Conference that will agree the next treaty. It is
important that the work of the Convention receives rather more attention
than it has to date in this Country. I have already suggested that the
Seanad should dedicate some time to considering the Convention and the
future of Europe. I am particularly pleased that the National Forum is
holding a number of sessions dedicated to the work of the Convention. I am
also pleased to recognise the work of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on
European Affairs which has already held one major session on the topic and
which has decided to set aside valuable time in the New Year to continue
its deliberations. All of this, like your work here today, is valuable in
raising the level of public consciousness of the Convention, its work and
the wider debate on the future of Europe.
I thank you for inviting me and I look forward to your continuing interest
in the Convention.Top