State of the European Union Address by Brian Cowen TD, Minister for Foreign Affairs Part 2


Closer Cooperation

Also agreed at Nice were significant development with regard to Closer Cooperation. We had consistently signalled our readiness to take an open approach in this area, provided any loosening of the rules was accompanied by additional safeguards to ensure that the cohesion of the Union was maintained.

Our assessment is that Nice got this about right. On the one hand it agreed to the lowering of the minimum size of group to 8 - we were clear it should not go lower - and, in the First and Third Pillars, to dropping the emergency brake procedure. This was balanced by a specific role for the Commission in ensuring consistency, improved arrangements regarding the right to join a newly-formed group, and the explicit exclusion of the Single Market from the scope of Closer Cooperation.

It was also agreed that Closer Cooperation would have limited application in the Second Pillar, or common foreign and security policy area, subject to unanimity in the decision establishing the group and involvement by a minimum of eight countries. The draft Treaty provides that closer cooperation will apply only in respect of the implementation of agreed positions, and does not relate to matters having military or defence implications. Again, this was an example of where, by taking into account the specific concerns of Member States, it proved possible to reach agreement on a way forward which all could support.

Other Institutions

The negotiation also had to address the question of representation in other EU institutions, post-enlargement. With regard to the European Parliament, it was agreed to raise the ceiling to 732 from the 700 seat limit adopted at Amsterdam. With 12 MEPs, as compared to the 9 seat allocation recommended by the European Parliament, Ireland secured an outcome at the top of the range identified by the Presidency. It is perhaps worth noting that Ireland's percentage of seats will be more than double its percentage of the population in a Union of 27, a seat-population ratio more favourable than that of any other existing Member State, except Luxembourg.

The outcome also protects important balances in respect of other institutions. The right of each Member State to nominate a member of the European Court of Justice has been formalised. The same applies to the Court of Auditors. We have also retained our right, as at present, to nominate 9 members of the Committee of the Regions, and of the Economic and Social Committee.

ESDP

The EU is engaged in a process of historic enlargement for peace, security and stability in Europe. The development of a European Security and Defence Policy is significant in enabling the EU to play a greater role in achieving this objective. I believe it is essential for Ireland to be centrally involved in helping to shape future changes in the direction we would wish to see them take.

We are actively and constructively participating in improving European responses to the crisis management challenges which can arise. An important step in this direction was taken by the European Council at Nice with the approval of the Presidency Report on progress made in establishing an EU capability to undertake crisis management tasks. The developments in European Security and Defence Policy have their basis in the implementation of provisions of the Amsterdam Treaty and this Report was therefore adopted outside the context of discussion on the draft Treaty of Nice.

With over forty years of involvement in UN peacekeeping Ireland has played a full role as part of the wider international community. Peacekeeping has for long been an important element of our foreign policy. This is not an area where we have ever sought to isolate ourselves.

The Taoiseach and I are satisfied that the steps taken in European Security and Defence Policy at the European Council at Nice are consistent with Ireland's overall approach in this area. The Presidency Report on progress made in establishing an EU capability to undertake crisis management tasks embraces the implementation of the decisions reached at Helsinki, supplemented by the further decisions of the Feira European Council in June. The Report takes substantial account of Irish views and concerns. For example, considerable emphasis has been given to the role of the UN, to the principles of the UN Charter, including a reference to the UN Security Council and to recent contacts between Kofi Annan and the EU, and to the role which the EU could play in support of the UN and the OSCE.

The UN dimension in this area is of particular importance and the centrality of the UN is explicitly recognised by the EU. Indeed, what the EU is doing in identifying military capabilities is in many respects similar to what has been happening at another level in the UN with the UN Standby Arrangements System, in which Ireland takes part. Participation by members of the Defence Forces in Petersberg tasks will only arise in clearly defined circumstances, namely when UN authorisation is in place and when the terms of the relevant Irish legislation have been met.

Looking to the New Year, our membership of the UN Security Council should enable Ireland to play an enhanced role in the current review of UN peacekeeping, which uses concepts and approaches similar to those involved in the EU approach.

Concerning EU-NATO relations, Nice further elaborated how these might operate. The principles agreed at Feira were confirmed which specify that there should be full respect for the autonomy of EU decision-making, recognition of the different nature of the EU and NATO and no discrimination against any of the member States. We will continue to seek to ensure that these underlying principles to EU-NATO relations, to which we attach importance, are maintained.

The emphasis which the incoming Swedish Presidency will place on conflict prevention issues and on civilian crisis management is to be welcomed and we intend to make an active contribution to developing these significant aspects of European Security and Defence Policy. Progress in these areas will complement the work already achieved. As is stated in the Nice Conclusions, the objective now is that the capabilities of the European Union should quickly be made operational and that a decision should be taken by the end of 2001 at the latest.

Post Nice

Looking further ahead, the European Council agreed that the Swedish and Belgian Presidencies should examine how best to take forward work on a number of longer term issues aimed at bringing the Community closer to its citizens. These include a more precise approach to delimiting competencies, and to improving the operation of subsidiarity within the Union; moves to simplify the Treaties and make them more accessible; the possible status of the Charter of Fundamental Rights; and the role of national Parliaments.

While it is envisaged that these issues will eventually be taken up at a new IGC in 2004, with obvious implications for the next Irish Presidency, the focus over the next year or so will rightly be on encouraging greater public debate and awareness of the issues at stake. We will work closely with the Swedish and Belgian Presidencies to develop specific outreach initiatives in this area.

I would expect that in this next phase the emphasis should be on ways of explaining better what the Union is already doing, rather than necessarily extending further the scope of Union activity. Across the Union, there is a need for a renewed effort to deepen understanding at grass roots level of what the Union does, and why it does it. I suggest this does not reflect any particular malaise on the part of the Union, but rather a recognition that at every level of government there are heightened demands from citizens for a level of information, and participation, for which conventional methods no longer suffice. In due course, on the basis of the recommendations from the Swedish and Belgian Presidencies, we will be examining what further steps we in Ireland might take in this regard

The major item on the Union's agenda over the next couple of years will be the completion of Enlargement negotiations. It is perhaps entirely appropriate, as we prepare to admit to membership a section of the European family for whom accession to the Union represents the culmination of a period of extraordinary change, that we who have enjoyed its benefits for almost three decades, should use the opportunity to strengthen awareness by our own citizens of this vital undertaking. Here, this Institute can make a valuable contribution to this process.

While there is always room for improvement, and as I have indicated, more needs to be done to maintain popular support for our common enterprise, I believe that the state of the Union gives grounds for optimism. I appreciate that there are some who decry a lack of vision, or who, for example, bemoan the level of ambition at Nice. I suggest that the reality is more complex. The Union is after all a Union of States and of peoples. Government leaders know, because their jobs depend on it, what public opinion in their countries is prepared to accept. The task of making compromises may not always provide the most elegant solution, but it does reflect the reality of today's Europe. The cause for encouragement is surely that despite the conflicting pressures on 15 national governments, is was possible to reach agreement, which will allow the historic process of enlargement to proceed. Faced with a choice, the Union did not turn its back on its European brothers and sisters, but showed itself ready to move forward shoulder to shoulder. This is the real, and by no means minimal, legacy of the Nice European Council. Top

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