Joint Committee on European Affairs, Address by Minister Cowen on Ireland's EU Presidency Preparations and Programme (2)
Ireland's Presidency will coincide with the need to initiate a final evaluation of the EU Action Plan on Drugs 2000-2004 and to look forward to the need to develop a new EU Strategy and Action Plan for the period beyond 2004. This will therefore be an area of particular focus.
Justice and Home Affairs issues also increasingly feature in the area of EU relations with third countries. This will require the preparation and implementation of a detailed JHA work programme in the area of external relations which will take account of the priorities being established in particular by reference to the EU's relations with other regions and third countries.
Moving to international relations, as the EU Presidency, Ireland will take the lead in managing the EU's external relations and its engagement with the rest of the world. The General Affairs and External Council, which I will chair, plays a central role in that regard. Throughout our conduct of the Presidency, we have to remain conscious of our responsibility to represent EU agreed policy. The ongoing engagement and support of this Committee, and indeed of the Oireachtas as a whole, will be important throughout the lead up to and during the Presidency.
The EU's External agenda that we will manage is extensive, and includes EU relations across the globe and with all of the major International Organisations. In the time available, it is not possible to touch on all of the issues on the agenda but I will mention some of the more important.
The enlarged EU of 25 will have an enhanced voice and weight in the United Nations, and we will use the Presidency to strengthen the EU-UN relationship. The aim is to commit the EU's weight and influence to contributing to “effective multilateralism” through a reinvigorated UN.
Conflict prevention is at the heart of EU-UN relations. It will feature predominantly in our work in the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP). Through the ESDP, the EU continues to develop and improve its capacity to contribute effectively to international efforts to prevent and manage crises. Our involvement in the European Security and Defence Policy is fully consistent with our support for the UN and with our policy of military neutrality. The UN greatly values the EU's work, through the ESDP, to improve capabilities for conflict prevention and crisis management, and we will continue to develop the relationship in this area during our Presidency. Effective conduct of ongoing ESDP operations will be a central priority, as will planning for any future missions which may arise.
The Middle East Peace Process will inevitably be at the top of the agenda throughout our Presidency. I issued a statement yesterday on the current situation, in which I underlined that the Quartet Roadmap still offers the best hope of a peaceful settlement to this long – running conflict. The parties must act in accordance with their commitments under it and work to give effect to its provisions. The highest priority must be given to a renewal of the ceasefire. I have asked that a copy of my statement be distributed to members of the committee.
Post-Saddam Iraq is likely also to be a continuing issue. In this regard, I very much welcome the move by the United States to initiate discussion in the UN Security Council on a more central role for the UN in Iraq. Over the weekend, at the Informal Meeting of EU Foreign Ministers, there was broad agreement on the need for the Security Council to reach consensus on a new resolution that sets out in clear terms the enhanced UN role.
The promotion of EU-US relations, which are so important to a stable and prosperous international climate, will feature prominently on our agenda. Efforts are being made on both sides of the Atlantic to rebuild relations following the Iraq war, and for our part we will work strenuously to improve them. The Taoiseach will lead the European side for the EU-US Summit.
The Taoiseach will also lead the EU at four other Summits:
• The EU Latin America and Carribbean Summit, which will take place in Mexico at the end of May, and which will be co-chaired by the Taoiseach and President Fox of Mexico;
• The EU-Russia Summit, which will take place in Moscow on dates to be agreed;
• The EU-Canada Summit, which is likely to be in Dublin, and which will be the first with the new Canadian Prime Minister (yet to be chosen);
• The EU-Japan Summit in Tokyo, for which dates are under discussion with the Japanese.
In addition, there will be separate EU Ministerial meetings here in Ireland with Mediterranean Foreign Ministers and with Asian Foreign Ministers. The regular Informal Meeting of EU Foreign Ministers will take place here in Ireland on 16/17 April.
Another issue that will also feature prominently during our Presidency will be the EU's role in ensuring stability and peace in the Western Balkans.
Africa is also an issue to which we will devote considerable attention. The ongoing conflicts situations in Liberia and the Great Lakes, the situation in Zimbabwe, and of course the overall crisis on the continent require a sustained international effort. We will work to move Africa higher up the EU agenda.
Human rights will be a major concern across the whole agenda. Our focus will be on the annual session of the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva in the spring.
Disarmament and non-proliferation issues are also high on our foreign policy agenda. The Council will focus in 2004 on the further elaboration and implementation of the EU Strategy and Action Plan on Non-Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction. We will also lead the EU at the 2004 Non – Proliferation Treaty Review Conference in New York. Non-proliferation concerns which arise in relation to specific regions or countries such as North Korea and Iran are also issues that may require increased attention during our Presidency.
The Accession of ten new partners on 1 May creates new neighbours for the EU and underlines once more the importance of EU-Russia relations. We will work to enhance EU-Russia relations during our Presidency and to take forward the New Neighbour initiative with the aim of extending the zone of stability and prosperity beyond the new borders of the EU to the east and south.
The most difficult part of any Presidency is not the agenda that can be predicted and planned for, but the unexpected or unforeseen crisis. I am confident that the level of our preparations for the Presidency is such that we will be ready to deal with any eventualities in a competent and professional.
I should like to express a word of appreciation for the very valuable work undertaken by the Members of the Advisory Group established by the Joint Committee on European Affairs on 31 July 2002, whose terms of reference were “to examine the role of the European Union in its relations with developing countries, especially given the HIV/AIDS crisis in some of these countries, their debt burden, food shortages and international trade arrangements.” I should like to assure the Committee that every effort will be made during Ireland's forthcoming EU Presidency to add value to the international development efforts of the EU by the implementation of the practical initiatives put forward by the Advisory Group in their Report, in so far as this is possible.
The Committee can be assured that Ireland will seek to give development issues a high profile during our Presidency. We are planning an in-depth discussion of these issues by Development Cooperation Ministers at the April meeting of the General Affairs and External Relations Council. It is also the intention of Minister Kitt to convene a meeting at Dublin Castle, on 1 June 2004, of the 25 Ministers with responsibility for development cooperation, following the accession of the 10 new Member States on 1 May 2004.
The HIV/AIDS epidemic is a key development issue which we will highlight during our Presidency. At the United Nations and at the country level, Ireland has been pressing for a stronger and more coherent response to a crisis which is undermining development in sub-Saharan Africa. We are nationally now contributing over € 40 million annually to the global fight against HIV/AIDS. Development Cooperation Ireland and the Department of Health and Children are exploring with a number of relevant UN Agencies the possibility of holding a major conference in Dublin during the Presidency. The conference, at Ministerial level, would focus on the issue of HIV/AIDS across the European Continent and Central Asia.
Ireland, like a number of other like-minded EU Member States, is conscious of the need to ensure that EU development objectives and development spending remain focused on poverty reduction and that any additional funding should be concentrated on poverty eradication. We intend to promote this approach both during the Irish Presidency and at the forthcoming Inter-Governmental Conference.
I should add that Minister Kitt who is representing Ireland at the 5th WTO ministerial Meeting in Cancun, Mexico would have wished to be here today and I know that he will be happy to meet with the Committee at an early date to present in more detail Ireland's approach to development issues during our Presidency, and to reply to any questions which you may have.
Meetings in Ireland
Over one hundred Presidency related meetings will be held throughout the country during the six month period. These will include the summit level meetings already mentioned, Ministerial meetings hosted by various Government Ministers and Ministers of State and meetings of officials. We have tried to spread these meetings as widely as possible throughout the country, and I am pleased to say that counties hosting events so far include Dublin, Kerry, Waterford, Cork, Wicklow, Kildare, Offaly, Galway, Donegal and Clare.
I am making arrangements to have deposited in the Dáil library the current list of Presidency-related meetings to be held in Ireland and this will be updated on a regular basis from now on.
The logistical preparations for all of these meetings, including the setting up of meeting infrastructures, security, interpretation, transportation, accommodation and catering is ongoing, with my Department working very closely with the other Departments, the Office of Public Works, the Gardai and local authorities.
The Government sees the Presidency as an ideal opportunity to highlight what is best about Ireland particularly in relation to our economic success in recent years. The Government also believes that the Presidency offers an invaluable opportunity to promote trade and tourism. In keeping with its Partnership approach and to encourage wider ownership and participation in the Presidency, my Department is currently exploring the question of engaging the business community by inviting sponsorship of goods or services. This will increase the profile of Irish business while minimising the cost of the Presidency to the Exchequer.
In this context also we intend, like other Presidencies, to use this opportunity to promote Irish culture and heritage. The Department of Arts, Sports and Tourism is developing a Cultural Programme for the Presidency which will include an exhibition in Brussels, cultural activities in EU capitals and a series of cultural events to mark the accession of 10 new member states on 1 May, 2004.
Following a selection process involving the country's school children, a logo for the Presidency was chosen. The logo was launched officially by the Taoiseach on 27th July in St Stephens Green.
Work is currently underway on developing our Presidency website which will be a key source of information for the media, officials from other member states and members of the general public on Presidency-related activities. It will contain information relating to meetings, press statements, speeches and Council conclusions. We will also seek like other Presidencies to use the website to promote Ireland and our Presidency.
The 2004 Presidency presents a major challenge for Ireland, for the Government and for the administration as a whole. It is a challenge which I look forward to and one which I have no doubt we can meet.
One key element in making the Presidency a success is careful preparation, and I am happy that preparations have been carried forward effectively in my own and in other key Departments and that appropriate coordination arrangements have been in place for some time. Moreover, the necessary networking has been undertaken over the last number of years at all levels, both Ministerial and official, with key interlocutors in EU institutions and in other current and future Member States.
While I know that much still remains to be done, I am happy that the work done so far, both at home and abroad, including in the Permanent Representation in Brussels, constitutes a solid basis for confidence that Ireland can, as in the past, fully meet the challenge of conducting an effective, efficient and strong Presidency, and one in which our people can take pride.
The Minister of State and I will, of course, be happy to answer any questions which you may have.