Response by Minister Cowen to Commission and Benelux Papers on the Convention on the Future of Europe
I welcome today's papers from the Commission and the Benelux countries as significant and important contributions to the on-going work of the Convention on the future of Europe.
We have been maintaining active contact with these and other participants in the work of the Convention and will be studying these papers carefully. They have just been received and they contain many detailed proposals. It is important that they are given proper consideration. While I will not be commenting on them other than in general terms at this time, I intend setting out the Government's thinking on the issues arising in the Convention in some detail at an early date.
Historically, Ireland has been a strong supporter of the role of the Commission. We endorse its role as described in the paper - “an independent institution working for equal treatment between the Member States and embodying the principles of coherence and concern for the general interest”.
In broad terms, I would agree with the Commission's assertion that any proposed changes should reinforce the institutional balances as they exist. As the paper rightly observes, these reflect the specific nature of the Union in which all Member States are equal. This must continue to be a touchstone for us all.
On first reading, there are interesting and creative proposals in relation to the Presidency, in relation to the election of the Commission President, and in relation to the composition of the Commission. We are already reflecting on many of these ideas, and teasing out their possible implications with like-minded partners.
There are, of course, areas of the paper where I can say now that we could not go along with Commission thinking. The paper appears to suggest, for example, that there are no matters to which unanimity would continue to apply, except, perhaps, the most sensitive aspects of defence.
While we have always said that QMV should be - and, in fact, is - the norm, there are, and always will be, specific areas of national importance for Member States where unanimity is appropriate. This is a view shared by many partners. Each has its own sensitivities. For us, taxation is one such area.
The Benelux paper is also of great interest. It results from a process of negotiation and compromise between the three countries who, while close in many matters, do not agree on all fronts.
I envisage, including from on-going discussions with the Benelux partners, that we will be in a position to support a number of the proposals in the paper. I know that other Member States will be doing likewise.
We also share the philosophy that underpins the paper - the need to strengthen common institutions and to make them more effective.
There are obvious positive elements. On the Commission, for example, I warmly welcome the reference to the decisions made at Nice, and to guaranteed equality of all Member States both in the operation and membership of the Commission.
The question of ‘double-hatting' the High Representative and Commissioner for External Relations - having one person serve in both jobs - is another proposal which has much support at the Convention and which could increase the coherence and effectiveness of the Union's external actions.
One area where we are probably more ambitious than the Benelux countries is in giving National Parliaments a greater role.
As I have already indicated, we are in active and on-going dialogue with partners, both through the Convention and directly, on these and other proposals. I will be making a further detailed contribution to the process at an early stage. Top