Dáil Éireann - Volume 494 - 07 October, 1998

Ceisteanna — Questions. - Official Engagements.

10. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach the communication, if any, he has sent to the German Chancellor since the general election in Germany. [18401/98]

11. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach his planned official visits abroad between now and the end of 1998. [17571/98]

12. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach the invitations he has extended to Heads of Government or of State to visit him in Ireland between now and the end of 1998. [17574/98]

13. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his visit to Paris on 12 and 13 July 1998. [17635/98]

The Taoiseach: I propose to take Questions Nos. 10 to 13 together.

I visited Paris on 12 and 13 of July. During the course of my visit I met the French Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin, and the President of the French National Assembly, Mr. Laurent Fabius.

My discussions with Prime Minister Jospin covered a wide range of European issues, including the Agenda 2000 negotiations and the implementation of the Amsterdam Treaty. In particular, we discussed the issues surrounding institutional reform in advance of the special informal Heads of State and Government summit, HOSG, in Austria in October. As regards Agenda 2000, I outlined Ireland's position on the Commission's current proposals on Structural and Cohesion Funds. I also took the opportunity to brief the Prime Minister on the British-Irish agreement and thanked him for the ongoing support of France for the peace process.

In the course of my meeting with Mr. Fabius, we discussed Franco-Irish relations in the context of 1798, historical cultural links and EU support for the British-Irish Agreement. I also briefed him on the performance of the Irish economy over the past decade and the nature of the social partnership process, [1258] a subject on which he expressed a particular interest. In addition, we discussed the question of institutional reform and Agenda 2000.

I sent a message of congratulations to Gerhard Schröder on his election victory and that of his party last Sunday in Germany. I have also sent a message of appreciation and best wishes for the future to Helmut Kohl. I would like to speak with the incoming German Chancellor at the earliest opportunity. Due to his schedule of negotiations for the formation of a new government, a meeting in advance of the next summit would seem unlikely.

Between now and the end of 1998 I plan to visit Austria on 24-25 October for an informal meeting of Heads of State or Government and the President of the Commission. I will also visit Edinburgh on 29 October to deliver the Lothian European lecture at the invitation of the Scottish Secretary of State and I will attend the European Council meeting in Vienna on 11-12 December.

In terms of incoming visits to Ireland by Heads of State or Government, I will meet with Federal Chancellor Viktor Klima on Monday, 12 October when he visits Ireland as part of his tour of capitals in advance of the informal Austrian meeting. I will also be meeting Polish Prime Minister Buzek on 16 November and Prime Minister Blair in late November when he visits this House.

Mr. J. Bruton: What is the Government's view of the proposals tabled at the European Commission today to the effect that member states will have to undertake a largely increased share of the cost of the Common Agricultural Policy expenditures?

The Taoiseach: I have not seen any of the proposals put forward today. I have no information on those proposals other than the reports that have been in the public domain for some weeks. From an Irish perspective, we stated in March when the CAP reforms and Agenda 2000 discussions commenced that we will argue against many of these reforms as they fundamentally change the position. I am glad that other countries have also taken that view over the summer.

Mr. J. Bruton: Would the Taoiseach agree that the idea that a common European policy should be financially met by member states and not by the common European budget is an exercise in power without responsibility and is wrong? It should not occur, particularly at a time when we are trying to build a common currency which requires a common budgetary policy. The idea of renationalising part of the existing common policies is entirely contrary to the idea of a common single currency and a common economic policy.

The Taoiseach: I make my remarks pending sight of the proposals. In the broader context, the Deputy is arguing for a continuation of what some member states have been arguing concerning the 1.27 per cent budget figure. They want to [1259] cap that figure and reduce it and to see enlargement take a greater share of that percentage. Some proposals argue that this objective can be funded from own resources. However, that would not be in line with the Common Agricultural Policy, as I have strongly stated at a number of European meetings and in statements since last March. It goes against the principle which has worked successfully for the past 25 years.

Mr. J. Bruton: The renationalisation approach is favoured by Britain, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and Sweden. If the Government is to be successful in stopping this insidious proposal from a European point of view, it will have to build an alliance with those countries who share Ireland's basic interest in this matter, such as France, Spain, Portugal and Italy. This cannot be left until the last minute next March when the decision has to be taken. The Taoiseach should consider a tour of European capitals before Christmas to deal with these crucial Agenda 2000 issues. These issues are not only crucial for farmers; they are also crucial to the success of the common currency and the common European economic policy.

The Taoiseach: The second part of what the Deputy said is correct. However, I have answered questions on the first part of his question. These are the very issues I have been discussing with the French, the Portuguese, the Finns and others where we have sought support. I have gone to each of these countries over the past few months and had discussions on Agenda 2000, particularly as it concerns agricultural issues. The Deputy will have seen some helpful remarks by the French President on these issues during the past weekend. We will build a consensus wherever possible.

At this stage these are proposals which I will examine. Our campaign, and those of countries who share our views, will continue to put forward the best negotiating position possible. These will be tough proposals. The House will be aware that the Spanish and Portuguese have not agreed any strategy on these proposals because of their fundamental objections to them. We have been able to go some way towards an agreement but not on any of these issues.

The 1.27 per cent figure is not agreed by some countries but my view is that it will remain. We saw the position taken by Prime Minister Wim Kok in the Dutch general election earlier this year and by Gerhard Schröder in the recent German election. These issues will lead to robust and intensive negotiations this winter.

Proinsias De Rossa: Has the Taoiseach stressed the absolute necessity to raise the proposed budget level from 1.27 per cent with the Commission and our European partners in view of the fact that we are planning to take in a number of countries which will need Structural and Social Fund support? The EU is likely to disintegrate [1260] unless this is done, particularly if it is also in the process of renationalising common policies. Solidarity and cohesion are the basis of the EU. If we move away from that all we will have is a single market in which the weakest will suffer.

The Taoiseach: I would like to be able to say to the Deputy that I think we can move away from the 1.27 per cent figure but that would be to mislead the House. I have visited about ten countries so far and have spoken to others at meetings in Brussels and Luxembourg. On the basis of the discussions on the next round between now and next March, it would be a misrepresentation of the situation for me to say that I can see the 1.27 per cent figure being breached. I do not think that is going to happen.

The positive side is that it appears from what the Commission is saying that enlargement is unlikely to remove dramatic resources out of the budget for the next negotiating period. Enlargement may not be as big a problem as we imagine. It will be an argument for holding onto the 1.27 per cent. That will be achieved because some countries will say they want refunds. The Germans had been saying that prior to the election and they will certainly continue to say it now. An examination of the figures shows that 1.27 per cent is adequate and we must ensure it is not reduced.

Mr. J. Bruton: Is it the case that the budget is running at about 1.1 per cent of GDP? Will the Taoiseach agree, in view of the dramatic income crisis in farming in Ireland and also in other EU countries, there is room for the EU to assist the farming community in an acute income crisis? What is the Government doing to ensure something is done at national and international level?

The Taoiseach: Yes, the Deputy is correct. The figure is slightly over 1.1 per cent of GDP and will remain at that level for the remainder of the year and next year. While there is no enlargement there will be no pressure. The point made by Deputy Bruton was made very strongly at the Agriculture Council meeting last week and the previous week where the Minister, Deputy Walsh, achieved some ease on a number of fronts in the agricultural budget. He will continue to pursue it in the difficult period ahead for Irish farmers.