Joint Committee on European Affairs, Address by Minister Cowen on Ireland's EU Presidency Preparations and Programme (1)
Check Against Delivery
It gives me very great pleasure to be here today, with Minister of State Dick Roche, to speak to you about Ireland's forthcoming EU Presidency. It will be our most challenging Presidency to date and one of the biggest tasks ever faced by an Irish administration. Ireland's sixth Presidency of the European Union comes at a particularly complex and important time in the history of the Union.
Firstly, we will have the immense privilege of presiding over the formal accession of the ten new Member States on 1 May 2004. This will clearly be an historic moment for the continent of Europe and indeed an event that has a wider significance globally. It will also, of course, present a major challenge in organizational terms. How we handle the practicalities of enlargement, in terms of managing Council agendas, chairing meetings effectively and, generally, keeping the normal day to day functioning of the Council running smoothly, will be crucial to meeting our objective of running an effective and impartial Presidency.
The second important event affecting our Presidency will be the European Parliament elections in June 2004 which mean that effective business in the Parliament will be concluded by April. This will impact on our Presidency work programme, with all legislative work in the Parliament being telescoped into the first three or four months of 2004.
Thirdly, 2004 will be the last year of the current Commission's term. The new Commission President will be nominated during our Presidency at the European Council in June 2004 and the new Commission will take office in November 2004.
With less than four months to go we are now well into the “count down” for our Presidency. Preparations began some two years ago and are increasing in intensity as the Presidency approaches. Contacts have been stepped up at all levels, both political and official, with other Member States, the Accession countries, the EU institutions and with key partners on the international stage. In December, the Taoiseach, Minister of State Roche and I will receive the Conference of Presidents of the European Parliament in Dublin and in January 2004 we will host the Government/ Commission meeting in Dublin, the traditional launch event of the Presidency.
Over the coming months we will be developing and refining the Programme for our Presidency which will be finalised after the European Council in December. The Programme will be influenced by the on-going EU agenda, the decisions made at previous European Councils and the progress achieved in the current Italian Presidency. While it is too early to be conclusive about our Presidency priorities, certain headline issues can already been identified. These include enlargement, the Lisbon Agenda of social, economic and environmental reform, the Treaty and European Council commitments in relation to the area of Freedom, Justice and Security and of course the Union's external agenda. It also remains to be seen whether political agreement on a new Constitutional Treaty will be successfully concluded in the Intergovernmental Conference being convened for that purpose, by the end of this year.
Ireland, as I said, will hold the Presidency of the European Union at an historic moment for Europe. We will be the first Presidency to preside over a European Union of 25 Member States when, on 1 May 2004, the ten accession countries will become full members. The Heads of State or Government of the 25 Member States have been invited to Dublin to attend a ceremonial event to mark this occasion.
The enlargement facing the European Union in 2004 poses unique challenges as well as opportunities since it is without precedent in terms of scope and diversity. The ten new states will increase the area of the Union by 34%, its population by 105 million and add a wealth of different histories and cultures. Ensuring that this enlargement is a successful one for the Union and its citizens will be a major task for our Presidency.
It is important to recall that the enlargement process does not end on 1 May 2004. The Irish Presidency will pursue accession negotiations with Bulgaria and Romania based on the same principles that have guided the accession negotiations to date, with a view to a target date of 2007 for their accession. In addition, the Irish Presidency will monitor closely developments with Turkey, in advance of the key decision on opening negotiations to be taken in December 2004.
It remains unclear whether and, if so, to what extent the Intergovernmental Conference to agree a new Constitutional Treaty will run into our Presidency. The European Council at Thessaloniki in June agreed that the IGC should be completed “as soon as possible and in time for it to become known to European citizens before the June 2004 elections for the European Parliament.” It is to begin in Rome on 4 October with a special meeting of Heads of State and Government. Foreign Ministers will play a central role in the negotiations and several additional meetings at Foreign Minister level have been scheduled for the coming months. The Italian Presidency has made clear its determination to do all it can to reach agreement in the IGC by the end of the year - this is a central element of their Presidency priorities. I am strongly supportive of the Presidency's efforts to manage the IGC efficiently and agree that the great bulk of the Convention's outcome should not be re-opened.
There are obviously many issues and details to be discussed and worked on at the IGC. At last weekend's informal meeting of Foreign Ministers, it was clear that there is a balance to be struck between the specific concerns of individual Member States and the need to agree an overall consensus which is in Europe's interests. None of us wants to see a lengthy and sterile wrangle, but equally most Member States want a proper debate on aspects of the Convention draft. But it should be clear that there is overwhelming support for the overall architecture of the draft Constitutional Treaty and for the great bulk of its substance.
We look forward to the conclusion of the negotiations by the end of the year if final agreement can be reached in that time. In that case, it would fall to us during our Presidency to finalise the technical work on the new Constitutional Treaty before signature can take place, which cannot in any event be before the enlargement of the Union on 1 May.
If, however, final agreement is not possible under the Italian Presidency, and Ireland is then asked to take forward the IGC, we will of course do so. We would work to ensure that the timetable set out at Thessaloniki - completion of the negotiations before the European Parliament elections - is respected.
Lisbon Agenda and the Spring European Council
One of our key tasks as Presidency will be to advance the Lisbon agenda of social, economic and environmental renewal. At the Lisbon Summit in 2000, the Union set itself the objective of becoming the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world by 2010, capable of sustained economic growth with more and better jobs. Much has been achieved thus far, such as creating employment opportunities, opening up energy markets, modernising competition policy, putting in place an integrated Europe-wide financial market and agreeing a Community patent.
Our Presidency comes at a critical time for the Lisbon strategy as it nears its half-way point. This provides us with an opportunity, at the 2004 Spring European Council, to review the measurable differences that have come about as a result of this wide-ranging strategy. It is evident that we will face a number of challenges in seeking to maintain the momentum of the Lisbon agenda. The ambitious Lisbon goal was agreed at a time of rapid economic growth throughout Europe. I am convinced that we will need to intensify the pace of reform if we are to ensure that we can still implement demanding targets in a more difficult economic climate. Similarly, we will need to put supports in place to ensure that the pace of reform is maintained in an enlarged Europe.
The most effective way to achieve clear progress with regard to Lisbon is to prepare a focused agenda for our Presidency that identifies key priorities and aims to secure agreement on concrete deliverables. Our aim is that our Presidency should reinforce the relevance of Lisbon to citizens and business. We also consider it critical to manage the Spring European Council effectively so that Heads of State and Government can have a focused and strategic discussion that can give direction to essential economic and social reform and that can secure the commitment of all Member States to achieving progress on core issues.
We are currently in the process of identifying priorities for our Presidency in this area. Areas that are being considered for possible prioritisation include:
• Competitiveness, where our focus will be on boosting investment in research and development and advancing the internal market;
• Infrastructural investment;
• Employment where our key concern will be to boost job creation and promote increased investment in training and upskilling;
• Social protection and inclusion, where our themes are likely to include the issues of employment incentives, pensions and the related demographic challenge, healthcare and care of the elderly;
• Sustainable development, focusing particularly on the promotion of innovation and investment in clean technologies.
During our Presidency, our approach will be driven by our experience of social partnership and the creation of social dialogue across all sectors. We believe that this approach enriches policy-making, increases productivity and enhances the prospects of managing change successfully. The co-operation of social partners nationally has demonstrated the contribution of social partnership to economic growth and expansion. The annual tripartite social summit with the European social partners, to be held before the Spring European Council next year, will provide an opportunity to deepen the engagement of the social partners with the Lisbon strategy.
Justice and Home Affairs
As this Committee will be well aware, Justice and Home Affairs issues form an increasingly significant proportion of the Union's day-to-day agenda and will be a very important aspect of our Presidency. The Treaty of Amsterdam which entered into force on 1 May 1999 makes May 2004 the deadline for the adoption of a range of measures directed to providing citizens with a high level of safety within an area of freedom, justice and security. The requirements set out in the Treaties were further elaborated by the Tampere, Seville and Thessalonica European Councils.
A key focus for our Presidency in this area will therefore be on delivering
• The requirements of the Treaty of Amsterdam
• The broader Tampere Programme as updated by subsequent European Councils
• Continuing operational co-operation in areas of identified need.
Key issues facing the EU are the separate but closely related issues of asylum and migration. This is one of the most rapidly expanding areas of policy and legislative development in the EU. The Tampere European Council called for the development of a common EU migration policy and the establishment of a common European Asylum system. The Treaty of Amsterdam also requires a number of measures directed to specific issues for this purpose to be adopted by May 2004.
The recent Thessalonica European Council further elaborated on priorities in relation to immigration, frontiers and asylum with a particular emphasis on improving operational co-operation, a number of aspects of which will require follow-on action during our Presidency.
Tampere and subsequent European Councils also established the framework for the development of cooperation under the Treaties in areas such as police cooperation in criminal matters, including organised crime and terrorism, and judicial cooperation in both civil and criminal matters. During the Irish Presidency we will also be required to take forward work programmes in these sectors in keeping with the Tampere European Council conclusions. Ireland regards improving police and customs arrangements as essential to successful law enforcement in the European Union. The emphasis on the fight against terrorism, following on from measures agreed in the wake of the events of September 11 2001, will also be maintained.