Minister Martin's Statement to Joint Committee on European Affairs
Joint Committee on European Affairs
21 October 2010
General Affairs Council / Foreign Affairs Council
Luxembourg, 25 October 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 these two Councils in September before turning to the items on the agenda for this month.
The Foreign Affairs Council on 10 September, which was attended by my colleague Minister Roche, discussed Economic Partnership Agreements, the Free Trade Agreement with South Korea, and international investment policy. I attended the informal ‘Gymnich’ meeting of Foreign Ministers on 10 - 11 September in Brussels.
The General Affairs Council on 13 September discussed the draft Conclusions for the 16 September European Council. It also had a brief discussion of preparation for the October European Council.
Mr. Chairman, I now turn to next week’s Council meetings. There will be a dinner with President Van Rompuy on the evening of Sunday 24 October, which will have a broad political discussion in preparation for the European Council. Minister Roche will attend both the General Affairs Council and the Foreign Affairs Council.
The day will begin with the General Affairs Council.
GENERAL AFFAIRS COUNCIL
– Follow-up to the European Council
The General Affairs Council will discuss the follow-up to the 16 September European Council. The Taoiseach and I attended this meeting, which focused on the Union’s approach to external relations with the Lisbon Treaty arrangements in force. Principal themes were the need to keep a strategic overview of the external agenda, more effective engagement with key partners, more coherence and continuity: and all of this with a view to projecting Europe as an effective global actor. The central role of the European Council in setting orientations for strategic relationships and defining core objectives was reaffirmed.
EU leaders agreed on the need to make better use of regular summits with third countries and for the EU to perform more strongly at multilateral meetings. This involves making more effective use of the levers at the EU’s disposal, a point highlighted by the Taoiseach during his intervention in the debate. The EU has a wide range of policies and instruments that could be brought into better alignment; and the EU’s external actions and Member States’ bilateral relations with third countries could be more closely coordinated.
The key role that the European External Action Service will play in bringing the required coherence and consistency to the EU’s external actions was also highlighted.
There was a particular focus on China, which is among a group of countries whose growing importance and influence on the world stage is becoming increasingly evident. That discussion was timely, ahead of the EU-China Summit which took place on 6 October in Brussels.
There was also consideration of the EU position for the G20 Summit in Seoul, the EU – US Summit in November and the Cancun Conference on Climate Change, and this will be taken further at next week’s European Council.
The European Council also agreed a package of measures to assist Pakistan in the wake of the devastating floods, which included a commitment to grant increased market access to the EU through the reduction of duties on key textile and clothing imports from Pakistan.
There was an interim report from President Van Rompuy on economic governance; the main discussion on this will be next week.
– Preparation for the European Council on 28 and 29 October 2010
The General Affairs Council will discuss preparations for the October European Council. The main issue for decision at the European Council concerns Economic Governance in Europe. President Van Rompuy will present the final report of his Task Force for consideration by Heads of State or Government.
The other items on the October European Council’s agenda are agreement on EU positions for a number of forthcoming EU meetings – the G20 Summit in Seoul, Republic of Korea in mid-November; the Climate Change conference in Cancun, Mexico, starting at the end of November; and Summits with a number of strategic partners.
President Van Rompuy will deliver the final report of the Task Force on Economic Governance in Europe to the October European Council. The Task Force reached agreement on a package of economic governance measures at its concluding meeting on Monday of this week, 18 October. The Minister for Finance was Ireland’s representative on the Task Force.
The Task Force has agreed on a comprehensive package of recommendations and proposals with a view to addressing the shortcomings in the economic governance arrangements which have come into sharp focus in the present crisis. The key elements of this package of measures proposed by the Task Force include:
A strengthened Stability and Growth Pact (SGP), through greater fiscal discipline, including an enhanced focus on public debt as well as deficits. In order to ensure compliance, sanctions may be activated at an earlier point. There was agreement also that new sanctions proposed by the Commission would be subject to the ‘reverse majority rule’;
Creation of a mechanism for macro-economic surveillance mechanism, including an “Excessive Imbalances” procedure. Again, the possibility of sanctions for Euro zone members is envisaged;
Deeper and broader coordination through the “European semester”. This policy coordination mechanism was previously agreed;
A more robust framework for crisis management. The precise features and operational means of such a crisis management mechanism will require further work;
Stronger institutions at national level. The Task Force recommend the establishment of public institutions to provide independent analysis and forecasts on domestic fiscal policy matters.
Taken together this package of measures represents a major initiative by the EU and its Member States to get to grips with the how economic governance in Europe might best be organised over the years ahead. This package signifies the seriousness with which this issue is being addressed across all EU Member States and the EU institutions. We must avoid finding ourselves in the situation we faced earlier this year. We must now take the steps necessary to ensure that we have a substantially strengthened economic pillar of EMU, thereby enhancing confidence and making a real contribution to the creation of sustainable job and growth.
The European Council will consider the Task Force report and will be invited to endorse it contents. It is expected also that the European Council will call for a “fast track” approach to be adopted in the implementation of the contents of the report, given the urgency of having new arrangements in place as soon as possible.
The Task Force recognised the need, in the medium term, for the creation of a credible crisis resolution framework for the euro area. They concluded that further work is required on the precise features and operational means of such a crisis mechanism. It notes in its report that this may imply a need for Treaty changes, depending on the specific features, while noting that this is an issue for the European Council. The report further notes that the European Council may examine other open issues, such as the suspension of voting rights.
With regard to these latter points, Members may be aware of a Franco-German proposal issued earlier this week which sought Treaty changes limited to these two areas. This is a matter that the European Council can be expected to discuss at the end of next week, no doubt with the provision of some extra detail of their proposal by FR and Germany. We will need to give these proposals close consideration as their detail emerges, taking into account the interest we share with partners in preserving the stability of the eurozone.
The October European Council will also agree the EU position for the G20 summit, taking place in Seoul, Republic of Korea in mid-November. It is intended that the Seoul G20 Summit will provide a stock-taking opportunity and enable G20 members to follow up on commitments made at previous Summits. Discussion at Seoul is expected to centre on the global economy and framework for growth; IMF governance; and financial regulation.
The EU is expected to stress the need for concrete implementation of measures previously agreed on fiscal consolidation plans, financial regulatory reform and the need for further structural reforms. The need to keep markets open and avoid all forms of economic protectionism will also be points of emphasis for the EU. The EU is also likely to signal an openness to comprehensive reform of the International Monetary Fund.
Climate Change – Cancun Conference
Ahead of the COP16 Climate Change conference, which will begin at the end of November in Cancun, Mexico, the European Council will confirm the EU’s position for the negotiations. The EU will be working to ensure that the Cancun Conference delivers a significant intermediate step on the way towards a global and comprehensive legally binding framework, building on the Kyoto Protocol and integrating the political guidance given in the Copenhagen Accord. Action on this front is more urgent than ever.
Enlargement – Serbia
It is expected that Ministers will consider whether to refer Serbia’s application for EU membership to the European Commission for an avis, or opinion, at the General Affairs Council on Monday. This is essentially a technical request to the Commission, which follows any application for membership. Serbia formally applied for EU membership in December 2009. Although the June Council stopped short of referring Serbia’s application to the Commission for an opinion, the Council welcomed “Serbia’s commitment to EU integration” and indicated that it would “return to the membership application”. The June Council also agreed Ministers would submit Serbia’s Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the EU to their parliaments for ratifications. This followed a positive assessment of Serbia’s cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia by Chief Prosecutor of the Tribunal.
I believe it is important that we acknowledge the substantial progress that Serbia has made in the ten years since public outrage in Serbia brought about the end of the Milošević regime. In the past year itself we have seen further positive developments, which demonstrate clearly that Serbia’s government has moved away from the destructive politics of previous decades. These latest positive moves include:
§ the declaration by the Belgrade Parliament last March condemning the Srebrenica massacre;
§ in March, Bosnia and Herzegovina appointed an ambassador to Belgrade for the first time in 3 years
§ the joint visit by the Serbian and Croatian Presidents to Bosnia for the Srebrenica commemoration this July;
§ the handing over of the wartime notebooks of Ratko Mladić to the ICTY in May;
§ the indictment in September of nine former paramilitaries by the country’s war crimes prosecutor over the killing of ethnic Albanians during the Kosovo conflict; and
§ the joint EU-Serbia UN General Assembly resolution on Kosovo this September, which proposes EU sponsored talks between Kosovo and Serbia.
It is worth noting that Serbia’s neighbours, including former adversary Croatia, favour ratification of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Serbia and moving its overall EU accession process forward.
Moving forward at this stage also allows the EU to increase its leverage on Serbia for reform and ensure Serbia is fully compliant with ICTY – conditions of the SAA and any accession negotiations in the future. It also signals to the positive forces in Serbia, including its reformist government, that the EU recognises the significance of the risks they have taken in charting a new path for their country.
FOREIGN AFFAIRS COUNCIL
The Foreign Affairs Council will begin its work over lunch following the General Affairs Council. Ministers will discuss preparations for forthcoming EU summits in November with the United States and with Ukraine as well as the Union for the Mediterranean summit; review the current state of the Union’s relations with Cuba and have an exchange of view on developments in relation to Georgia.
The EU-US Summit will take place in Lisbon on 20 November. Together, the EU and the US account for over 40% of total global trade, making it the largest bilateral trade relationship in the world. Annual summit meetings between the two sides play an important role in promoting the transatlantic partnership.
At the Summit next month, the EU will be represented by President Van Rompuy, President Barosso and HR Ashton. As this will be the first such Summit with the US since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, it will be important that the EU demonstrates that the new arrangements can bring about more effective dialogue with the US. President Van Rompuy has acknowledged that this is a critical time for the transatlantic relationship. He has also underlined the need for the Lisbon Summit to address areas of substance, on which clear EU positions have been agreed in advance.
The Summit is expected to last about two hours. While the agenda is still being finalised, it is anticipated that the focus of the discussions will be on the global economy; security; climate change and regional policy issues. At the request of the US, there will also be a stand-alone discussion on development issues, which Ireland greatly welcomes. This could present an opportunity to further develop EU-US cooperation on development, focusing on the areas where it could have most impact, following the recent MDG Summit and in the light of EU priorities and the US Administration’s new development policy (which prioritises health, food security, climate change and aid effectiveness). Ireland is already cooperating bilaterally with the US on the hunger crisis and, together with Secretary of State Clinton, I hosted a major international meeting on nutrition in New York during the Millennium Development Goals Review Summit last month.
The 14th EU-Ukraine Summit will take place in Brussels on 22 November. It will be the first Summit since President Viktor Yanukovych took office in February and will, therefore, be a valuable opportunity to engage the new administration on a range of issues including internal developments in Ukraine, EU-Ukraine relations and international issues.
Union for the Mediterranean Summit
Ministers will discuss the preparation of the Union for the Mediterranean Summit which will take place on 20-21 November in Barcelona. According to the draft programme, the Summit will begin with a dinner hosted by the King of Spain on the evening of the 20th and will run to on the afternoon of the 21st. Regular meetings of Union for the Mediterranean senior officials are taking place in preparation for the Summit.
Cuba has been added to the agenda against the backdrop of the ongoing release of prisoners and the announcement of economic reforms. It follows Council discussions in June and July, at which it was agreed that Ministers would continue to monitor developments closely.
At this month’s Council, the High Representative will ask Ministers to decide whether these developments merit a change in the EU’s Common Position on Cuba.
As we discussed during our meeting in July, Ireland believes that developments in Cuba have been significant; to date 39 prisoners have been released and the Cuban Government has announced a number of economic reforms, such as the transfer of 500,000 jobs from the public to the private sector. It is clear, therefore, that these developments merit a significant advance in the relationship between the EU and Cuba. Ireland’s preference remains the early agreement between the EU and Cuba on arrangements for a more structured political dialogue and an enhanced social and economic agreement. I am aware from our last discussion that Committee members share this view and I hope we can achieve progress on this issue when we meet on Monday.
Turning to the Union’s relations with Georgia, Ministers are likely to have a general discussion on the EU’s approach to recent developments, particularly as regards the breakaway territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, both of which, as Committee members are aware, have declared themselves independent.
A major element in the discussion will be the Georgian action plan for engagement with the population of these two territories. T he plan, which was announced in early July, involves a number of measures designed to improve the living conditions of the population of the two territories through measures such as the provision of status neutral travel documents, infrastructural investment, and the facilitation of travel across the administrative boundaries of the territories. The EU has already welcomed the plan and discussion at the Council is likely to focus on how best the EU can support the Georgian authorities in the implementation of the plan.
Another issue likely to be raised will be progress in the talks between the parties to the conflict in Georgia. The thirteenth round of these talks took place on 14 October in Geneva. Despite the difficulties in making progress in the talks this is the one forum where all the parties to the conflict, particularly Georgia and Russia, can meet. Georgia cut off diplomatic relations with Russia after the latter’s recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Ireland welcomes the opening of negotiations on an Association Agreement between the EU and Georgia. We believe that the prospect of greater engagement with Europe can have a positive effect on Georgia and on the South Caucasus region as a whole.
Ministers are likely to recognise the importance of the EU’s engagement in Georgia and reiterate their support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia. There are no conclusions to be agreed on the discussion on Georgia.
Following discussion over lunch, the Council will take up the issue of the Sahel region of North Africa, which has been put on the agenda at the request of several Member States, notably France, who wish to see the EU become more active in this area in response to security concerns, including the kidnapping of five EU citizens, two of whom were subsequently killed.
There can be no doubt that there are serious security concerns in this region. Earlier this month the Commission and Council Secretariat published a joint report of a series of fact-finding missions in the region. Their report draws attention to security threats including: the trafficking of drugs and human beings, terrorism, local rebellions and intra-community conflicts. A number of Member States have written to High Representative Ashton on this matter.
In senior official-level discussions on this issue, Ireland has stressed the need for the EU to support the work of actors already active in the Sahel, most obviously relevant national authorities but also the UN, the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States. We will continue to push for a balanced and holistic EU response, with a strong focus on development and with ownership by the governments in the region.
The Council will also discuss the current state of the Middle East Peace Process and will be briefed by High Representative Ashton on her recent visit to the region at the start of October. Foreign Ministers Kouchner and Moratinos are also likely to report on their visit to Israel, the Palestinian territories and Jordan over the weekend of 9-10 October.
Committee Members will be aware that the much heralded direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians which resumed in Washington on 2 September remain effectively suspended, following Israel’s failure to renew or extend its moratorium on settlement construction in the West Bank which expired on 26 September. I have publicly regretted Israel’s decision not to extend the moratorium and have called for it to be re-instated. The EU, through High Representative Ashton, have done the same.
The Arab League meeting which took place in Sirte, Libya on 8 October endorsed President Abbas’ position calling for a complete cessation of all settlement activities so as to allow the resumption of direct negotiations. I n a highly significant and positive move, the Arab League also agreed to meet again in one month’s time so as to allow time for continuing US efforts to get the moratorium re-instated.
Ireland and our EU partners continue to strongly support the US efforts, led by Secretary of State Clinton and Special Envoy Mitchell, which brought about the resumption of direct negotiations, albeit briefly, and are now firmly fixed on agreeing a basis which will hopefully allow any resumed talks to move into a concentrated, substantive phase which decisively address all the core issues. It is now crucially important that all sides demonstrate the necessary leadership, flexibility and commitment to enable talks to resume and refrain from all actions which might undermine this prospect.
In this regard, it remains the case that there could be no single greater confidence building measure and practical demonstration of commitment to peace than a decision on Israel’s part to desist from all settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. As I made clear in my address to the UN General Assembly on 27 September, maximum restraint by all throughout the envisaged twelve months duration of the talks would be a very small price to pay for lasting peace.
The Government remains hopeful that the current window of opportunity provided by the Arab League’s decision will be usefully exploited and that an agreed basis in relation to re-instating the moratorium in some form to allow the direct talks to resume, can be reached. This, however, may have to await the outcome of the US mid-term elections on 2 November. High Representative Ashton is maintaining close contact with the US Administration and the other Quartet members in support of US efforts and the Council may well wish to endorse this, though no final decision has as yet been taken on whether formal Conclusions will be proposed or adopted, given the sensitive nature of current negotiations.
The Council would also hope to hear an update from High Representative Ashton in relation to the situation in Gaza. Finnish Foreign Minister Stubb has also visited there in the past week and may report his impressions. While there has been some easing of the blockade, the reality remains that much more needs to be done, particularly in terms of allowing reconstruction and exports to resume and greater movement of people. The visit to Gaza last weekend by a delegation from The Elders, led by former President Robinson, has helped draw attention to this. The EU therefore needs to maintain pressure on Israel to bring about a fundamental improvement in the situation.
European Neighbourhood Policy
There will be a brief information point on the European Neighbourhood Policy, in light of a letter from High Representative Ashton and Commissioner Fule seeking the views of the Member States on the development of the EU’s relations with its neighbours. The European Neighbourhood Policy was developed in 2004, with the objective of strengthening the prosperity, stability and security of the enlarged EU and its neighbouring countries and avoiding the emergence of new dividing lines between EU and non-EU countries and regions in Europe. The ENP offers political association and deeper economic integration, increased mobility and more people-to-people contacts. The level of ambition of the relationship depends on the extent to which these values are shared.
Finally, the High Representative will brief Ministers on developments in relation to the status of the EU at the United Nations. As Committee members will be aware, the UN General Assembly voted on 14 September to defer consideration of a resolution on this issue, which is necessary to enable the High Representative to speak for the EU at the UN General Assembly and to reflect other changes under the Lisbon Treaty. The aim of these changes is to enable the EU to play a more effective role and have a stronger and more coherent voice in the United Nations. They do not affect the status or rights of other members of the UN.
The High Representative will update Ministers on effort underway to explain these changes to our partners in the United Nations.
That concludes my comments on the agenda for the General Affairs Council and the Foreign 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 I finalise our preparations for the Councils in the coming days and I will be very happy to respond to any questions members may have.