Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Madrid European Council.

Bertie Ahern

Question:

2 Mr. B. Ahern asked the Taoiseach the items likely to be discussed at the next European Council meeting. [17760/95]

As the member state currently holding the EU Presidency, it is for Spain in the first instance to propose the matters for discussion at the European Council on 15-16 December and the Spanish Presidency has not yet finalised its proposals. The Taoiseach will be meeting the Spanish Prime Minister, Mr. Gonzalez, on Monday next. This meeting will enable him to ascertain more precisely Presidency intentions for the Madrid Council.

It is nonetheless clear that a wide range of items will be discussed at the Madrid European Council meeting. These items will include the report of the Reflection Group on the Intergovernmental Conference and the timetable and agenda for the conference, future enlargement of the Union, economic and monetary union and employment policy. It can also be anticipated that the Council will address external issues notably former Yugoslavia and relations between the Union and the US.

From long experience I am aware that Council meetings can be an opportunity to highlight properly certain issues, thus leading to action, or they can be a wasted opportunity. What precise submissions will the Minister of State be making to the European Council with regard to curbing long-term unemployment?

That is a separate and distinct matter worthy of a separate question.

Employment is a priority item on the European Council agenda. As the Deputy is aware the Essen Council conclusions set out a framework for the implementation by member states of employment policies and policies on competitiveness and growth. At the Madrid Council it is expected that there will be a single report on employment from the ECOFIN Council, the Social Affairs Council and the Commission which will form a focus for the Council's deliberations on employment. Our Ministers have already made an input into those reports.

The Minister referred to economic and monetary union. While we all aspire to the attainment of a common currency, will the Minister of State exhort his Government to highlight the difficulties a common currency would have for us in the event of not all EU states participating in European Monetary Union? I refer particularly to our neighbours across the water. If they do not participate in European Monetary Union at the same time, this would create extreme difficulties for us as a nation. As Border areas have suffered because of differentials between North and South over the years — thankfully in recent times there has been a plus on this side — I ask the Government to be aware when going to the Council meeting and future meetings that people in those areas are worried about the implications if we were to join the European Monetary Union and Britain were not.

All members of the Government and Ministers of State dealing with European affairs are aware of the specific implications and the various concerns. This is the subject matter of Question No. 6 which my colleague, the Minister for Finance, will answer shortly.

Will the Minister of State indicate whether the Taoiseach will be bringing forward any further proposals to tackle the trans-frontier drugs problem? This question was raised at previous meetings and I understand further developments are expected.

That is a very distinct matter but if the Minister of State wishes to comment he may do so. It is worthy of a separate question.

The Taoiseach has strongly indicated his concerns about this matter. It is no secret that he raised the matter at very high levels in Europe — in fact, he instructed me to ensure it was raised at the meeting of the Reflection Group. Without anticipating the report of the Reflection Group, the House should be assured that this matter will be contained in its report, which will be on the agenda of the European Council. I share the Deputy's concerns as does the Taoiseach.

Given the difficulties that may arise in our relationship with the United Kingdom if it abstains from participating in European Monetary Union, will the Minister of State agree this matter should be on the agenda for bilateral discussions between the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister because of its importance and its impact on the relationship between the two countries?

The whole question of what is called "cohabitation" is being examined. It is the subject matter of Question No. 6 with which my colleague, the Minister for Finance, will be dealing shortly.

Let us not anticipate that question.

Arising out of the question on the submission of the Reflection Group on which the Minister of State did not wish to comment fully until it is made public, is he concerned about the growing remoteness of Europe to the lives of ordinary people? Will he agree that in regard to the language used and the dissemination of information coming from Europe, more people are saying they do not understand it and that it has nothing to do with them?

The Deputy raised an important point. A survey carried out earlier in the year indicates that people are pro-Europe but they feel they do not have much information on Europe. I am currently chairing a task force to disseminate as much information as we can. Last week, I published a booklet,20 Questions and Answers on Europe, which each Member of the House will have shortly, and throughout 1996, particularly given the intergovernmental conference and our Presidency, I hope to find ways and means to communicate this information. The difficulty is that most of the information concerns serious issues and it is hard to get press coverage for those.

Plain language.

The Deputy is correct in saying that much lingo is used and that is a problem I am anxious to address.