Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Visit to Poland and Meeting with Greek Prime Minister.

Bertie Ahern


1 Mr. B. Ahern asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on his visit to Poland. [8555/96]

Mary Harney


2 Miss Harney asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his visit to Poland. [8606/96]

Mary Harney


3 Miss Harney asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the Greek Prime Minister in Dublin last week. [8794/96]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1, 2 and 3 together.

I paid an official visit to Poland from 24 to 26 April last. This was the first official visit by a serving Taoiseach to Poland and it was most successful.

During the visit I had detailed discussions with President Kwasniewski and Prime Minister Cimoszewicz. These discussions covered bilateral relations, enlargement of the European Union, the Intergovernmental Conference, international crime and drug trafficking, the security situation in Europe and other issues on the European agenda of mutual interest.

In my discussions with the President and Prime Minister I emphasised Ireland's support for Polish membership of the European Union. I also touched on Irish concerns that would arise in the context of enlargement, especially in the areas of agriculture and the Structural Funds. I made it clear that in Ireland's view enlargement must be accompanied by a deepening of European integration.

Arising from my discussions with the Prime Minister we agreed the following specific follow-up measures: the Minister for Justice and her Polish counterpart will meet at an early date to discuss action at bilateral and European level against international crime, particularly drug trafficking. There will be a bilateral meeting at appropriate political level to discuss how Ireland and Poland can best pursue the issue of nuclear safety at international level. Ireland and Poland have somewhat similar interests in this area as neither country uses nuclear power for energy purposes and both are concerned by the proximity of nuclear powered installations in neighbouring states. The Irish Presidency will, in accordance with the conclusions of the Madrid European Council, keep Poland fully informed of developments at the Intergovernmental Conference. The meeting in July next between the Tánaiste and the Polish Minister for Foreign Affairs will afford an opportunity to raise Polish views on Intergovernmental Conference issues. There will be close liaison between both countries at diplomatic level in Brussels in advance of the Association Council meeting with Poland during the Irish Presidency.

During my visit to Poland I also had discussions with the Deputy Speaker of the Sejm — Lower House of Parliament — the Speaker of the Senate and with the Polish-Irish Parliamentary Association. I also addressed the College of Europe. Natolin on the theme "Challenges facing the European Union — an Irish perspective". I attended a reception hosted by the Irish Ambassador to Poland at which the attendance included members of the Irish community in Poland and members of the Government and Opposition parties in Poland. Finally, I attended a state dinner hosted by Prime Minister Cimoszewicz. In my address at the dinner I paid tribute to the role Poland played throughout history and to its successful graduation to democracy after so many years of suffering and oppression.

Prior to my departure for Poland on Wednesday, 24 April I had a meeting with the Prime Minister of Greece, Mr. Constantine Simitis. The meeting was a friendly and productive one. We had a wide ranging exchange of views on issues of interest to both countries, including the forthcoming Irish Presidency, the Intergovernmental Conference, bilateral relations, the situation in Cyprus and relations between Greece and Turkey.

Deputies may wish to note that the meeting confirmed that Ireland and Greece agree on a large number of issues which will be addressed at the Intergovernmental Conference. On issues such as the role and composition of the European Commission, the decision making procedures of the Union and the need to preserve the broad institutional balance and the balance between the member states our positions are similar.

As regards Greek-Turkish relations, I indicated to the Prime Minister that we, with our EU partners, wished to see a reduction in tension between Greece and Turkey and informed him that the Irish Presidency would seek to be as helpful as possible in this regard. Finally, we both agreed that the European Union should continue to play an appropriate role in support of efforts to bring about a political settlement in Cyprus.

I thank the Taoiseach for his detailed reply and agree with him on the importance of Poland, one of the countries in Eastern Europe whose economy has made immense progress in recent years. He mentioned that he had detailed discussions on enlargement and the Intergovernmental Conference. Does he agree there is a need for a systematic study of the possible effects and implications for this country of accession of a number of Eastern European countries which will affect practically everything, certainly the CAP, the Structural and Cohesion Funds and a range of other matters? Does he consider this would be a suitable job for the NESC or the ESRI?

As the Deputy is no doubt aware, it was agreed at the Madrid summit that, after the Intergovernmental Conference, a report would be prepared for the following summit on the effect of enlargement on the financial perspectives for the European Union. Obviously, finances are a very important consideration. It is somewhat difficult at this stage to do a meaningful exercise on the impact of enlargement for a number of reasons. First, the negotiations have not commenced and therefore, the terms of accession are not known. Second, the negotiations are not likely to commence until after the Intergovernmental Conference and we do not know when that will be. It is not possible to make projections when one does not have a precise date. Third, there may well be transition periods which vary as between different countries and even within countries in regard to particular sectors of their economies or types of eligibility for EU aid.

Any exercise carried out by NESC at this stage would be general and might not be as useful as a later one. I agree with the basic thrust of the Deputy's comments that we need to study what is happening in these countries with a view to protecting our interests in an intelligent way while showing, at the same time, that the EU is open to new members.

When does the Taoiseach think countries such as Poland and the next five countries will join the EU?

We have decided that negotiations will not commence until after the Intergovernmental Conference.

I know that.

We do not know when that will end. The most intelligent guesstimate of when the Intergovernmental Conference will conclude is mid 1997, so it is likely that negotiations will commence in the second half of that year. Such negotiations will be influenced by decisions on the financial framework which will not be taken until after the Intergovernmental Conference. For sound political reasons, we should move forward with enlargement as quickly as possible. It is noteworthy that Poland, more than any other east bloc country, has made more progress in returning its GDP per head to the pre 1989 level and is at 105 per cent of its GDP per head in 1989. That indicates it has made the most progress in adjusting to the market economy. For that reason, it is likely to be in the first tranche of countries to be admitted but the terms of admission have not been settled and much work remains to be done.

I agree that it might be academic to carry out a study at this stage. However, if we discuss the budgetary issues at the end of the Intergovernmental Conference — presumably we will argue for enlargement of the budget and that CAP should not be diluted and others will oppose them — it will be too late to put a case forward. We need to examine what enlargement of the budget will mean as far as Structural Funds and other matters are concerned prior to such debate. The issue should be examined over the next 12 months.

I pointed out the problems and the fact that the study would not be complete but that is not to say that such a study should not be carried out. The Institute for European Affairs rather than NESC might be the best body to undertake that. There is need for as much preparation as possible in this area.

Does the Taoiseach agree that if CAP were extended to Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia and Hungary it would cost an extra £10 billion per year? Does he accept that if this happened Irish agriculture would have to move to a more market based system as we would not get the kind of subsidies we receive at present?

Although those countries are mentioned in public comment, it is too early to assume that such countries will accede at a particular time. Agriculture in those countries is going through a major adjustment and in three or four years' time may well be different from what it is now. As the economies of eastern Europe expand the demand for food products will increase dramatically. Historically, the availability of food has been one of the big deficiencies in the economies of the east bloc countries, even prior to transition to the market economy. There is slack to be picked up in terms of demand for food produced domestically in these countries and traded between them. One cannot make the assumptions the Deputy makes. I agree with Deputy Ahern that prudent preparation is wise and it is important to recognise that, independent of enlargement, CAP reforms are bringing agriculture in this and other countries closer to the marketplace.

I welcome the fact that the Taoiseach discussed with his Polish counterpart the problems we face from the use of nuclear power in adjoining nations. Will he elaborate on the other security issues that were discussed?

I hope the Minister of State, Deputy Stagg, will meet his Polish counterpart to discuss how to seek improvements in nuclear safety procedures not just in the EU but internationally. Poland faces problems from some countries which are unlikely to be in the EU. We need to strengthen international norms, IAE norms and so on. We had a general discussion on security and discussed Poland's relationship with its neighbours and the considerations that arise therefrom.

Does the Taoiseach accept that there is need for an independent inspectorate at European and international level to examine problems with nuclear plants and that it is in the interests of countries such as Ireland and Poland to lobby for such?

That is why I raised the issue with my Polish counterpart. Poland and Ireland have a common interest in this area and we are more likely to make progress together rather than separately.

Does the Taoiseach favour an independent inspectorate?

Yes, and so does the Government. Previous Governments also favoured it. It makes sense from our point of view. Obviously there will be problems getting other countries to agree to it but one way to move in that direction is for countries such as Ireland and Poland to work together. I broached the matter with the Prime Minister and he readily agreed to my suggestion that our respective ministerial colleagues have a more detailed bilateral discussion on the matter.

The Taoiseach mentioned that in his discussions with the Greeks there were many areas of common ground. How do they view European Monetary Union?

The Greeks are in favour of the existing criteria and of the European Monetary Union proceeding. The Greek Prime Minister is particularly active in seeking to put the economy and public finances in such a position as to ensure Greece will be a member of European Monetary Union in due course.