Dáil Éireann - Volume 504 - 05 May, 1999

Ceisteanna–Questions. - EU Council.

13. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach the preparatory meetings he will have in Ireland before the next meeting of EU Heads of Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10832/99]

14. Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach the plans, if any, he has for preparatory meetings in advance of the Cologne summit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10862/99]

15. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting with the Governor General of Australia; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11322/99]

16. Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the progress report in the selection of [148] the nominee for the position of European Commissioner to be prepared for the incoming President of the Commission, Mr. Romano Prodi, for his review during the first weeks of May 1999; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11511/99]

17. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if a date has been set for the possible visits to Ireland in the coming weeks of the German Chancellor, Mr. Schröder, and the President Designate of the European Commission, Mr. Prodi; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11518/99]

18. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach the written communications, if any, he has had with the German Chancellor, Mr. Schröder; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11520/99]

The Taoiseach: I propose to take Questions Nos. 13 to 18, inclusive, together.

The next EU Council will take place in Cologne on 3 and 4 June. It is not yet clear whether Chancellor Schröder will undertake another tour of capitals in advance of it given that he undertook a tour prior to the Berlin Summit. It is possible instead that the Chancellor will consult his EU partners by phone to outline his ideas for the summit. I last met Chancellor Schröder at the informal European Council in Brussels on 14 April and prior to that at the Berlin European Council on 24-25 March. I last wrote to the Chancellor on 23 March, when I outlined the discussions I had held with the Russian Prime Minister, Mr. Primakov in Shannon that day.

I have invited the President of the European Commission, Mr. Romano Prodi, who incidentally was formally approved by the EU Parliament today, to meet me in Dublin in advance of the Cologne Summit. In light of my discussions with the Tánaiste and Mr. Prodi, the Government will formally nominate a candidate who will be in a position to hold a high profile portfolio. A date for that visit has not been decided as yet.

In addition to these political level meetings, I will meet Ministers and officials from the relevant Government Departments, as appropriate, in relation to the issues on the agenda of the Cologne Summit.

I met briefly the Australian Governor General, Sir William Deane, and Lady Deane, at Government Buildings on Friday 30 April. I also hosted a lunch for them on the same day. I had an opportunity to discuss a range of issues with Sir William and I briefed him on developments in Ireland, including the economy.

We also discussed the Northern Ireland Peace Process. I expressed our appreciation for Australia's generous contributions to the International Fund for Ireland. Sir William told me of his visit to an Australian-funded cross-Border project in Dundalk and I expressed the hope that Australia would continue to contribute to such important projects in the future.

[149] I thanked Sir William for the constant support we have received from Australia in our campaign for a seat on the UN Security Council. We also discussed the extensive cultural links between our countries, and the recent very successful State visit to Australia by President McAleese.

Mr. G. Mitchell: Will the Taoiseach agree, that if the GNP of all 11 applicant states is added together it amounts to GNP the size of a medium sized existing state such as the Netherlands or Belgium and that there are major challenges in the next process of enlargement? Will he agree the whole raison d'etre for the European Union is illustrated by what is happening in Kosovo and that we need enlargement just as much as the applicant states? When are we likely to see momentum for the whole process of enlargement given that the issue of Agenda 2000 is out of the way? Has the Government made a decision or considered the matter of who will be Ireland's next European Commissioner? In relation to Kovovo, will the Taoiseach agree we have disgraced ourselves in the way we have approached the whole question of taking refugees, that we should have a specific generous quota in mind and that our preparations should be much more advanced?

The Taoiseach: I have stated many times that as soon as Agenda 2000 was finished with the discussions on enlargement would be stepped up. The Commission has been going through the analysis of the economies, the difficulties with the countries involved and the early stages since early last year. That work is continuing. The enlargement issue will be moved forward if not at the Cologne summit, probably at the summit in the second half of the year. I agree – and I think everybody else agrees – that has to happen. The period of examination to see how these economies develop and in what timescale, are all matters on which the Commission reports. At that stage it will become the task of the new President of the Commission, Mr. Romano Prodi. He spoke about that at the meeting in Brussels on 14 April.

The Government has not yet given any thought to the appointment of a Commissioner. Mr. Prodi said that once he was appointed, he would speak to us at an early date. I look forward to hearing from him shortly as his appointment was ratified today.

Regarding Kosovo, Ireland has in no way disgraced itself. Refugees will start arriving next Monday. I am not sure of the final figure but we said that initially we would take 1,000. The first group includes 150 people and arrangements for their arrival have been made over recent weeks. The figure of 1,000 is relatively high given Ireland's size and we will play our part. There has been close contact between Departments and agencies and the UN High Commissioner in the intervening period.

[150] Mr. Quinn: Regarding the meeting which is due to take place soon with the newly elected President of the European Commission, Mr. Romano Prodi, has the Government considered possible nominees whose names may be put forward for consideration by Mr. Prodi? When does the Government expect that the identity of the Irish Commissioner will become known in the public domain?

The Taoiseach: As I said, the Government has not given great thought to the matter. It is on my mind, but the Government has not yet taken action. Under his new powers, Mr. Prodi is obliged to discuss the people he is seeking for his Commission. This should happen as early as possible. We must ensure that we nominate a person of high calibre who fits the bill and this will be done.

Many of my colleagues on the European Council believe that nothing much will happen until after the European elections, perhaps in July, and that the matter will drift on until later in the year. I would prefer to move more quickly but I am not sure what will happen in the rest of Europe. However, we should try to deal with it quickly.

Mr. Quinn: Is the Taoiseach stating that he does not expect the outline composition in terms of personalities of the incoming Commission to be known at the Cologne Council on 4 June and that developments will take place after the European elections? Is the Taoiseach aware that it is the intention of the European Parliament in its plenary session in the last week of July to confirm in draft form the composition of the Commission? The identity of the Irish Commissioner will need to be known by 4 June at the latest.

The Taoiseach: The Council has not agreed this matter yet. However, Ireland should move quickly, get its own house in order and talk to Mr. Romano Prodi.

Mr. Quinn: Yes.

The Taoiseach: Other countries have no intention of discussing the matter or taking action at Cologne. My information is that they do not intend to nominate people until after the European elections. However, that is a matter for them and Ireland will make its own moves.

Mrs. Owen: Will the Taoiseach's meeting with Mr. Romano Prodi include a discussion on the possible portfolio of Ireland's Commissioner? Will that decision be made before the name of the Commissioner is put forward by the Government? Is the Taoiseach saying that a nomination will only be made after the post Mr. Romano Prodi is trying to fill is discussed? Will this form be used rather than announcing the name of the Commissioner and seeking the best portfolio for the person? Which will come first, the chicken or the egg?

[151] The Taoiseach: Under the new regulations under the Amsterdam Treaty, the Commission President is obliged to discuss the make-up and structure of the Commission and the type of people he wants before names are submitted to him. We must undergo this process. However, this does not preclude any member state, including Ireland, from considering its most suitable candidate.

Mrs. Owen: It is not the portfolio.

The Taoiseach: No. He will not only think about the portfolio for Ireland, he is obliged to first consider the overall make-up of the Commission and the type of people he wants. Ireland will take the opportunity to discuss possible nominees with him.

Mr. Sargent: Is the Taoiseach seriously saying he has not given much thought to the appointment of the Irish Commissioner, given the widespread speculation on that appointment? There is a growing fear that the less the Taoiseach thinks about the appointment, the greater the risk of getting a lame duck instead of the desired portfolio. Will he put this fear to rest?

Is it proposed to increase the provision for refugees should the number be greater than 1,000 as appears likely from reports from Kosovo?

The Taoiseach: The Deputy should not loose sleep over the appointment of commissioner. The President of the Commission was appointed today and it will take a few weeks to go through the process. As I said in reply to Deputy Quinn, I have thought about the matter, but it has not yet been discussed at Cabinet. Under the new rules I have to talk first to Romano Prodi.

Mr. Quinn: The Taoiseach will have to talk to the Tánaiste.

The Taoiseach: I would have to talk to everybody, if I offered it to Deputy Bruton

Mr. Quinn: Does the Taoiseach know the number?

Mrs. Owen: The Taoiseach did not talk to the Tánaiste for five days last week.

The Taoiseach: There is no need to worry. On the question of refugees, we have indicated we will take 1,000, but as the spokesperson said it is flexible and we have to await developments.

Mr. G. Mitchell: The Amsterdam Treaty took effect last Saturday. Given that the European Union now has the power to direct the Western European Union on policy issues in relation to the Petersberg Tasks, such as humanitarian search and rescue, peacekeeping and peace enforcement, has there been, or will there be, a discussion on a possible role for the European [152] Union via the Western European Union in Kosovo?

The Taoiseach: No discussions have taken place. As the Deputy knows, on a humanitarian basis, we were glad to see that happen because we have always argued for involvement on a humanitarian basis.

Mr. G. Mitchell: Would the Taoiseach be prepared to go beyond the humanitarian tasks and consider a role for Ireland in peace enforcement and other tasks under the Petersberg agreement, should the European Union so decide?

The Taoiseach: That is not on our agenda at this stage.