Minister's Opening Statement to the Joint Committee on European Affairs, 10 June 2010
Joint Committee on European Affairs, 10 June 2010
General Affairs Council, Luxembourg, 14 June 2010
Minister’s Opening Statement
Mr Chairman, Members of the Committee
I welcome this opportunity to meet with you to review the agendas for next week’s General Affairs Council and Foreign Affairs Council.
With your permission, I propose to give the Committee a brief read-out of the key items discussed at the 10 May General Affairs Council and Foreign Affairs Council meetings, at which Minister Roche represented Ireland, before turning to the items on the agenda for this month.
The General Affairs Council held an initial discussion on the agenda for the forthcoming European Council. Next week’s GAC will return to this topic and I will comment in detail when we discuss next week’s agenda.
The Foreign Affairs Council discussed Somalia and piracy, with Ministers expressing consensus on the need to adopt a regional solution to address the prosecution of pirates, the creation of a robust security sector reform programme to address governance issues in Somalia and recognition of the linkage between reconstruction and development.
Ministers also discussed nuclear non-proliferation and had a useful exchange of views, with a particular focus on the NPT Review Conference in New York, as well as the recent Washington Summit on Nuclear Security and the START Treaty. There were no conclusions.
On Iran, the High Representative reported on her discussions on this issue during her visit to the United Nations. The discussion on EU-Russia relations enabled Ministers to focus on preparations for the Summit which took place at the end of May. Ministers also had a debate on the importance of enhancing EU relations with Strategic Partners, principally China and Japan.
There was also brief discussion on two additional points to those on the original agenda – namely on preparations for the EU-LAC Summit / Mercosur and Madagascar – but there was no substantive discussion on either point.
Ambassador Montgomery represented Ireland at the Development Segment of the May 2010 Foreign Affairs Council. HR Ashton and Development Commissioner Piebalgs briefed the meeting on the situation in Haiti. The main discussion in the plenary session was an orientation debate on the Millennium Development Goals and the EU position for the MDG Review Summit to be held in New York in September. Commissioner Piebalgs presented the Commission’s Communication on the MDGs, which was broadly welcomed.
Ambassador Montgomery stressed the importance of prioritising the most off-track MDGs, and MDG1 in particular. He also encouraged progress on the implementation of our aid effectiveness commitments and looked forward to the incoming Belgian Presidency taking forward work on mutual accountability and transparency.
Mr Chairman, I now turn to next week’s Council meetings. I will attend both the General Affairs Council and the Foreign Affairs Council. The Foreign Affairs Council will begin with a meeting of Development Ministers which Minister Power will attend.
FOREIGN AFFAIRS COUNCIL
The Foreign Affairs Council will open with a session on development, focusing in particular on preparations for the High Level Meeting in New York in September to review progress on the Millennium Development Goals. Development Ministers will finalise Conclusions setting out the EU’s position for the Summit, which will be forwarded to the meeting of the European Council later next week.
The Development Ministers will also adopt Conclusions on the important issue of Tax and Development. The High Representative will brief Development Ministers on her contacts in relation to piracy off the coast of Somalia, in advance of the discussion on the subject by Foreign Ministers. Finally, Sweden has asked that there be a short discussion on gender equality and development, in order to highlight the adoption of an EU Action Plan for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, in the context of the MDG Summit.
The MDG Summit in New York will involve a global assessment of progress towards the achievement of the ambitious set of development goals established by world leaders in the year 2000, as the framework for international development up to 2015. Their focus is the halving of extreme poverty and hunger – in all its manifestations.
The meeting will take place in the context of a global economic crisis, which has affected the poorest countries most seriously, but with a different impact in different countries and communities. It has also resulted in serious pressure on aid and development budgets across the developed world – including Ireland. It is essential, therefore, if we are to accelerate progress on the MDGs in the five years remaining that the international community agree to focus on key priorities, and to ensure that our development assistance is used to maximum effect.
In the preparatory discussions in Brussels, and in New York, Ireland has stressed the importance of a clear, concise and strong EU position in September. We have highlighted the need to focus on the continuing global hunger crisis – MDG Number 1 – which we believe is central to achievement of the Goals as a collective. We are also arguing for the acceleration of progress in the regions and countries experiencing the greatest difficulties in attaining the MDGs – notably the Least Developed Countries in sub-Saharan Africa, which is the geographic focus of Ireland’s aid programme.
As well as working with our EU partners, we are cooperating closely with the US Administration. In New York in September we will co-host, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a high level political meeting on food security, agriculture and nutrition.
This will be an important, high profile opportunity to maintain the political impetus that has been generated since the launch of the Government’s Hunger Task Force Report at the UN in September 2008, and to direct international attention to the need for a comprehensive approach to the escalating world hunger crisis.
The MDG Summit will emphasise the importance of aid flows, Official Development Assistance. But ODA is only one element in the picture. It is estimated that, today, domestic revenue raised about ten times more in financing for Africa that development assistance. The importance of domestic tax mobilisation for development will be highlighted at the Council on Monday when Development Ministers adopt Conclusions on Tax and Development. These will focus on efforts, which Ireland strongly supports, to build the capacity of developing countries to finance development in line with their own poverty-reduction programmes.
The Development Ministers discussions will be followed by a meeting of Foreign Ministers who will address a wide range of foreign policy issues.
Middle East Peace Process/Gaza Flotilla
Turning to the Middle East peace process, this item was not originally due to be considered by the Council this month. However, following last week’s events, I immediately wrote to High Representative Ashton to ask for a full discussion at next week’s Council of the Israeli military assault on the Gaza flotilla and its serious implications for the Middle East peace process. My Portuguese colleague, Luis Amado, wrote in similar terms and High Representative Ashton has now agreed to our request.
I will not recount or dwell at great length on all that happened last week in relation to the Gaza flotilla since I am sure Members will have seen and read my various statements throughout the week, including the detailed statements I made to both the Dáil and Seanad last week. Obviously, it is a source of relief to us all that the military interception of the MV Rachel Corrie last Saturday ended peacefully and with maximum restraint exercised on all sides. We now need to assess the implications of, and derive the appropriate lessons from, Israel’s totally unacceptable military assault on a humanitarian convoy, both in terms of sustaining the Middle East peace process and the current US-led proximity talks as well as mobilising greater international pressure to end the blockade.
There are two aspects which Ministers are likely to focus on when we meet in Luxembourg next Monday. Firstly, there needs to be a credible, transparent international investigation of last week’s events, in order to establish precisely what happened and ensure there is full accountability. An internal Israeli investigation alone will not suffice since it is quite clear that it would not command the necessary confidence on the part of the international community.
The UN Security Council has set the benchmark of the minimum required by referring in its presidential statement of last week to a “prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation conforming to international standards.” SG Ban has followed up on this by proposing an international inquiry, to be headed by a former New Zealand Prime Minister and comprising representatives from the US and Turkey as well as Israel, to investigate the events. There have also been calls, supported by partners such as Germany and Italy, for the International Quartet, comprising the US, UN, EU and Russia, to conduct the inquiry.
Either of these two proposals would have merits. However, what is critical is that any investigation must be international and must command widespread confidence in the international community. The appropriate lessons must be drawn from last week’s events and there must be accountability for what occurred.
We also need to ensure that a clear red line is established between what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable actions within the international community and to reinforce basic respect for the principles of international law. A properly constituted international investigation, commanding widespread international confidence, can greatly serve to advance both these aims.
The other issue requiring attention next Monday is, of course, the blockade itself and how the EU can contribute now to intensified international efforts to bring about its end. I have already stated my view that the attack on the MV Mavi Marmara and the rest of the Gaza flotilla is likely to constitute a watershed in terms of international attitudes to the blockade. I genuinely feel that, if it is possible for there to be any bright side to what transpired last week, it is that there is now significantly increased international pressure to lift the blockade and on Israel to change its misguided policies in relation to Gaza.
Various proposals have been advanced, both within the EU and internationally, in recent days as to how the blockade can be lifted or significantly eased. I am aware from contacts with the Obama Administration that the issue of ending or significantly easing the Israeli naval blockade is one that they are actively addressing with Israel.
There may also be scope for a significantly enhanced role for the UN and/or for the EU in inspecting aid consignments bound for Gaza. The details of such additional measures to ease the blockade still need to be fully teased out. However, what is important is that the opportunity which now exists for renewed international efforts to lift or significantly ameliorate the blockade is not lost and concrete actions eventually result.
I might add that the Government is continuing to press the Israeli government to allow the full consignment of aid delivered on the Rachel Corrie, including cement, to reach Gaza and I remain hopeful that current discussions underway with the UN and the Israeli military administration controlling the Gaza crossings will achieve this end.
I will be reiterating my strong view at the Council that the clear message which the EU must now deliver to Israel, as was stated by High Representative Ashton last week, is that we can no longer accept the continued policy of closure and that Israel must now end the blockade if it is serious, as it repeatedly says, about working to achieve progress and a peaceful settlement.
As a final Israel-related comment, Members will be aware that I have already stated, most recently when addressing the Dáil on the Gaza flotilla crisis on 1 June, that I will soon be deciding what action to take in the issue of the use of forged Irish passports in the assassination of Mahmoud al Mabhouh in Dubai last January. I remain anxious that this important matter be given the attention and focus it merits and that it not become mixed up with the issues arising from the military assault on the Gaza flotilla. It remains my intention to very shortly propose to the Government the action I believe appropriate in this case.
The Council will also discuss Iran next Monday. Committee Members will be aware that the issue of Iran and its continued non-compliance with the international community in respect of the concerns existing over its nuclear programme. Yesterday the UN Security Council in New York agreed on a new Resolution imposing further measures against Iran.
Ireland has long made clear its view that it remains fully supportive of the dual track approach pursued by the E3 + 3 and that, given Iran’s continuing failure to halt enrichment and cooperate fully with the international community as called for in various resolutions adopted by the Security Council and the IAEA in recent years, there was little choice at present but to impose new measures against Iran in the hope that this might finally persuade them of the seriousness with which the international community views their nuclear activities.
I discussed these issues when I met yesterday with Iranian Foreign Minister Mottaki during his visit to Dublin. I impressed upon him that Iran needs to engage and respond seriously to the international community on the nuclear issue. We also discussed the recent agreement between Iran, Brazil and Turkey relating to the Tehran Research Reactor which, while welcome, essentially constitutes a confidence-building measure rather than addressing the core issues. I also reiterated my strong concerns over the current human rights situation in Iran, issues which I have raised previously with Foreign Minister Mottaki, as we approach the first anniversary of last year’s disputed presidential election.
Given the adoption of a further UN Security Council Sanctions Resolution on Iran, discussion is likely to centre on the desirability and timeframe for the EU adopting additional complimentary restrictive measures of its own.
Such additional EU measures were foreseen in the Declaration adopted by the European Council last December. It may be that some discussion of Iran may even be necessary at the forthcoming European Council on 17-18 June. At any rate, the clear political signal I anticipate emerging from the EU next week is that it fully supports the new Security Council resolution and is willing to adopt additional restrictive measures of its own, in order to make clear to Iran that international pressure will continue to be intensified until such time as meaningful cooperation on its core nuclear programme is forthcoming.
- Western Balkans
It is expected that the Western Balkans will be discussed over lunch with conclusions to be agreed in the afternoon. These should cover the outcome of the Sarajevo Conference and may also address issues regarding Serbia, with updates on Albania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
The FAC will consider follow-up to the successful high-level EU-Western Balkans meeting in Sarajevo on 2 June, which was organised by Spain as EU Presidency. The meetings took place in an informal style to enable both Kosovo and Serbia to be present. This in itself was a significant achievement for the conference.
Cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) will be considered by Ministers. They will be joined for this item by the ICTY’s Chief Prosecutor, Serge Brammertz.
Outstanding issues on the Western Balkans agenda include ratification of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Serbia and how to deal with its EU application. Ministers may also receive an update on the bilateral negotiations under UN auspices between the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Greece over the name issue. There may also be a discussion on the political situation in Albania where the opposition still disputes the outcome of the June 2009 parliamentary elections.
- Somalia – Piracy
There is widespread agreement among EU partners and in the international community that there is a continuing need to address sustainably the challenges posed by Somali piracy, including addressing the root causes of this piracy which originate in the lawlessness plaguing Somalia. Demonstrating the urgency and priority afforded this issue, June will be the third month in a row that the Council will discuss how the EU can best contribute to a solution, along with the UN and other international partners as well as countries in the region.
From an operational perspective, the Council is expected to extend the mandate of the EU’s naval operation Atalanta for a further two years (until December 2012), as well as expanding the mission area of operations to meet the threat posed by pirate groups targeting vessels further south and east. Equally important, there is also a need to expand significantly and sustainably regional capacity for handling piracy, including finding sustainable arrangements for the prosecution and incarceration of Somali pirates. Development Ministers will consider relevant developmental aspects and HR Ashton will brief the Council on her visit last month to the region.
- Haiti - Disaster response
High Representative Ashton will introduce a review which her office and the Commission have jointly undertaken in relation to the Union’s emergency response capability, taking into account lessons learned from the EU response to the Haiti earthquake. Substantive discussion of the review has been postponed until the July Council.
Each year in June, the Council undertakes a review of the EU Common Position on Cuba. This annual review will take place next week and updated Council Conclusions, which are currently under discussion, will be adopted.
Discussions have begun within the EU with a view to the possible elaboration of a more extensive EU-Cuba Agreement, more consistent with association and cooperation agreements which the EU has concluded with other Latin American and Caribbean States. These discussions are at an early stage and Ireland is actively engaged in the process. The Common Position was adopted in 1996 and remains the main context for the EU’s relationship with Cuba.
It is intended to encourage a process of peaceful transition towards a pluralist democracy, promote human rights and improve the living conditions of the Cuban people. The EU seeks a constructive engagement with Cuba and a dialogue with both the authorities and civil society.
Members of the Committee will be aware that I met with the Cuban Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez Parilla during his visit to Ireland on 19 May. During this meeting, we discussed a range of bilateral and multilateral issues, including recent economic developments in both countries. We looked at the progress made in developing a structured framework for our future bilateral cooperation.
- Corfu process
The Corfu Process is listed for discussion at the FAC in order to elaborate an EU position in advance of the OSCE informal ministerial meeting, which is scheduled to take place from 16-17 July in Kazakhstan. The Corfu Process refers to the ongoing dialogue within the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on the future of European security in all its dimensions.
Georgia has been added as an agenda item at the request of Lithuania. It is expected that the focus of the discussion will be on the domestic situation in Georgia, in light of the recent municipal elections, and on further developing the EU-Georgia relationship. The situation regarding the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia may also be raised.
Member States want to have a discussion on the situation in Sudan and how the EU might proceed. This is especially important in advance of the referendum on self-determination which is to be held in south Sudan early next year. However, we are awaiting a paper which would form the basis for such a discussion, and this has yet to be issued. As a result, and given the already heavy agenda for this month’s Foreign Affairs Council, it is likely that this item will be postponed, probably until the July Council meeting.
- Child labour
Ireland is supportive of the Council Conclusions on Child Labour and will continue to endorse European Union efforts for the eradication of Child Labour.
The Foreign Affairs Council will be followed by the General Affairs Council.
GENERAL AFFAIRS COUNCIL
The main substantive item on the agenda of the General Affairs Council meeting will be preparation of the European Council which takes place on 17 June. Its agenda includes the Europe 2020 strategy, economic and financial issues, climate change and the Millennium Development Goals. The GAC will work on the draft Conclusions of the European Council, and an updated version will then be finalised at the European Council itself.
European Council, Brussels, 17 June 2010 - Draft European Council conclusions
I am aware that the Committee had the benefit this day last week of a detailed briefing on the new the European Strategy for Jobs and Growth (“Europe 2020”) by senior officials from a range of Government Departments, led by the Department of the Taoiseach.
The Government looks forward to the formal adoption of the new Europe 2020 Strategy by the June European Council. We believe that the Strategy will provide an essential framework for action by the EU and its Member States to achieve higher levels of sustainable jobs and growth as economic recovery is secured.
At this stage a considerable body of work has already been undertaken in relation to various aspects of the Strategy. Work is now being finalised with a view to reaching agreement among EU partners on numerical rates and appropriate indicators for educational attainment and poverty reduction targets respectively.
While I must emphasise that agreement has not yet been reached with respect to the specific education and poverty targets – that important task will ultimately fall to next week’s European Council – a significant measure of common ground has been achieved. My Ministerial colleagues, in the various Council formations (including Education, Youth and Culture; and EPSCO), have been working hard over the last months on proposals which, in the first instance the June GAC will consider, and which will subsequently be considered by the European Council. The following draft EU level targets will be considered:
· Education Target: School drop-out rate should be less that 10% and the share of population having completed tertiary or equivalent education should be at least 40% by 2020.
· Social Inclusion Target, particularly through poverty reduction: To be formulated in such a way that it would aim at lifting at least 20 million people out of poverty or exclusion.
It should be highlighted that these two proposed EU headline targets broadly conform with what the European Commission initially proposed in their Communication of 3 March. In the intervening period the various relevant Council formations, both at working and Ministerial levels, have carefully examined what these ambitious targets would mean for the Union as a whole and how Member States could contribute to achieving them over the coming decade.
Work has continued at the same time, in dialogue with the Commission, on the development of relevant national targets in each EU Member State. We expect that the June GAC will be briefed on the state of play with national targets by the Commission and the Presidency. It is anticipated that national targets will now be finalised in conjunction with Member States’ work on the identification of bottlenecks and as Member States prepare their National Reform Programmes this Autumn.
At EU level, the first of the Commission’s Flagship Initiatives, “a Digital Agenda for Europe” is expected to be considered and the presentation of the remaining six Flagship Initiatives looked forward to before the end of this year.
It is anticipated that the European Council will also give its political endorsement to the set of ten Integrated Guidelines (encompassing the Broad Economic Policy Guidelines and the Employment Guidelines), which will be formally adopted by the Council following the European Parliament’s opinion. These Guidelines set a framework for the Strategy at Member State level, as they will serve as the basis for issuing country specific recommendations and are hence especially relevant to the strengthening of EU economic policy coordination.
Economic Governance and the Task Force
President Van Rompuy is to present a progress report to the European Council on the Task Force, set up by the Spring European Council to look at measures on enhanced economic governance. The Task Force has now had two meetings and it is to present its report to the October European Council. The Task Force has so far been working on issues related to strengthening budgetary discipline through the Stability and Growth Pact and reducing the divergences in competitiveness between Member States.
At its forthcoming meeting it will turn its attention to issues related to an effective financial crisis mechanism and improving economic governance and coordination.
Regulating Financial Services and G20
Next week’s GAC will also consider Conclusions on the regulation of financial services and at the same time will consider the EU’s proposed position for the G20 Toronto Summit at the end of this month. That Summit will look at issues such as the coordinated implementation of exit strategies and common principles for comprehensive financial sector reform. The EU is expected to seek rapid progress on these briefs and implementation by all parties of commitments made at previous summits.
The Committee will be aware that the European Commission issued a Communication on climate change at the end of May, which concluded that at present the conditions for moving to a 30% target have not been met. The Government agrees with the Commission’s assessment that the conditions for a step up have not been met.
Along with other Member States, we have called on the Commission to provide further analysis to ensure that the implications for Member States of the various options are fully comprehended before choices are made.
We expect that the June GAC will look at the recent developments in the context of preparation for the upcoming European Council. By the time the GAC is held, it will be able to take account of the discussions at the Environment Council at the end of this week. It may also note the second formal round of negotiations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, currently underway in Bonn and ending on 11 June. The EU committed to present a preliminary state of play of our commitments at Bonn.
As you know, the Taoiseach announced at the December European Council that Ireland will contribute up to €100 million for fast-start financing for the period 2010-2012, as part of the overall EU pledge. Some of this will be new and additional to ODA and the precise amount is to be set by Government decision.
Reflection Group, Immigration and Asylum, Estonia and the euro
The European Council will also consider a range of other issues, including the report submitted by the Reflection Group, chaired by former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe González; progress made on implementation of the European Pact on Immigration and Asylum; and the Commission’s proposal that Estonia adopt the Euro on 1 January 2010.
In February, the Commission published a largely positive opinion on Iceland’s readiness for membership and recommended that a date should be set for the opening of accession negotiations. The next step is for the Council to consider the Commission’s recommendation. The possibility of including this matter on the agenda of the June Council is under consideration. Unresolved issues between Iceland and two member states, the UK and the Netherlands, concerning the Icesave dispute, are the focus of particular attention. Ireland supports the Commission’s recommendation to open accession negotiations and would regard Iceland’s accession to the EU as a positive development. Enlargement is of course a negotiated process and, as in any negotiation, the eventual outcome and timeframe cannot be predicted.
It is expected that the European Council will issue a Declaration on how the EU will implement the UNSCR sanctions on Iran and any additional measures. Such EU measures will likely be approved by July or September.
Cohesion Policy, Outermost Europe
The GAC will be given presentations by the Commission on its 2010 Strategic Report on the Implementation of the Cohesion Policy Programmes and on the 2010 Forum for Outermost Europe, which was held in Brussels at the end of May.
There may be a discussion of the European External Action Service, the EEAS, depending on the outcome of ongoing discussions with the European Parliament following the political agreement at the April GAC. If these discussions have progressed sufficiently, the Presidency may try to get political agreement on the organisation and functioning of the EEAS.
European Citizens' Initiative
The Presidency hopes that Ministers will agree a general approach to the draft Regulation on the European Citizens’ Initiative. Ireland supports the concept of a Citizens’ Initiative. The current proposals appear to strike a reasonable balance between our wish to have an open, user-friendly system and the need for reasonable controls to prevent abuse. This is subject to co-decision with the European Parliament.
That concludes my comments on the agenda for the Foreign Affairs Council and the General Affairs Council meetings next week and I’m grateful to have had this opportunity to set them out to the Oireachtas. I will be very pleased to hear the comments of the Committee as we finalise our preparations for the Councils in the coming days.
In addition to next week’s Council meetings, you have also raised a number of issues which I should be very happy to discuss with you, namely the use of fraudulent Irish passports in Dubai, Israel, and direct trade with Northern Cyprus. I will be very happy to answer any questions members may have on these topics.
10 June 2010