Dáil Éireann - Volume 517 - 11 April, 2000

Written Answers. - Qualified Majority Voting.

141. Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the possible areas for extension of quality majority voting in EU intergovernmental negotiations; the likelihood of extension to specific areas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10813/00]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Cowen): As the Deputy will be aware, it was agreed at the Cologne European Council in June 1999 to convene an intergovernmental conference in 2000 with a mandate to examine changes to the European institutions necessary for enlargement, including the possible extension of qualified majority voting in the council. Ireland fully supports efforts to ensure that the Union is equipped to cope with the demands posed by enlargement, while maintaining the necessary balances. Like other small member states, Ireland has a particular interest in the effective functioning of the [1402] Union and its institutions, including in the context of a potentially significant increase in the number of members.

With regard to qualified majority voting – QMV – the position under the current treaties is that it already applies to a very sizeable portion of the work of the council. Our experience to date has been that the operation of qualified majority voting has been generally helpful to Irish interests, and has facilitated the adoption of measures which were beneficial from an Irish perspective. We are also conscious that in an enlarged Union the prospect of another state blocking decisions of interest to us is inevitably increased.

The approach taken thus far in the Intergovernmental Conference discussions is to identify the various articles, organised by categories, where unanimity currently applies, and which might be considered for transfer to qualified majority voting. The articles cover a broad range of areas, including the environment, social provisions, international agreements and financial issues. The discussions are inevitably are at a preliminary stage, and without prejudice to the final outcome, which requires the agreement of all member states.

Progress in the Intergovernmental Conference was reviewed at yesterday's ministerial meeting which I attended. I availed of the opportunity to reiterate our willingness to examine positively the scope for extension of QMV, examining each area on a case by case basis. It will be recalled that at Amsterdam, Ireland, with others, was prepared to agree to a further extension of the list of issues in the First Pillar area subject to QMV, but, in the end, agreement did not prove possible. However, we have also indicated that in relation to, for example, certain constitutional issues, decisions should continue to be taken on the basis of unanimity. At the ministerial meeting, I also made clear our view that unanimity remains appropriate in the taxation area.

As regards the eventual outcome of the conference, given the exploratory character of the discussions to date, and the fact that decisions on QMV are likely to be part of an overall package covering the full Intergovernmental Conference agenda, it is at this point difficult to predict the likely shape of the final agreement.