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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 10 Jul 1997

Vol. 480 No. 3

Private Members' Business. - Amsterdam EU Council Meeting: Statements.

I congratulate you, Sir, on your appointment and wish you well in your duties as Leas Cheann-Comhairle. The Amsterdam EU Council Meeting was a very important event of the European Union. I am pleased the House is now afforded the opportunity of hearing statements on the outcome of the Council.

I am in the unusual position of reporting to the House on the Council, which was attended by my predecessor, Deputy John Bruton, and the then Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Spring, accompanied by the then Minister for Finance, Deputy Quinn, and the then Minister for State at the Department of Foreign Affairs with responsibility for European Affairs, Deputy Gay Mitchell.

As the House will note, the outcome of the Council was very satisfactory from an Irish viewpoint. This was due in no small measure to the negotiating skills of the Government lead by Deputy John Bruton leading up to the Council. I salute their performance in this regard. I am also grateful to the previous Government for the briefing we received prior to the Council on the issues arising in Amsterdam.

I have paid tribute to the achievements of the previous Government in the area of European affairs. This was perhaps most exemplified by the successful Irish Presidency of the EU during the second half of 1996. The Irish Presidency gave a major impetus to the EU and in such key areas as the Intergovernmental Conference and economic and monetary union. Perhaps most importantly from an Irish viewpoint, the efficiency and effectiveness of the Presidency, as indeed of the previous Irish Presidency in 1990, testify to the ability of a small member state in general, and Ireland specifically, to run a successful Presidency.

The Amsterdam Council was billed in advance as the council to conclude the Intergovernmental Conference and this was its main achievement. The Council also addressed other issues, albeit briefly, and these are detailed in conclusions to the council. Copies have been placed in the Oireachtas Library.

Before dealing with the Intergovernmental Conference outcome I acknowledge the contribution of Deputy Spring throughout the negotiations at ministerial level on the Intergovernmental Conference. I also express on behalf of the House the appreciation of the outstanding work done by Mr. Noel Dorr, Ireland's representative on the Intergovernmental Conference negotiating group. Apart from most effectively and constructively representing Ireland's interests, Mr. Dorr made a major contribution to the successful outcome of the Intergovernmental Conference in his period as chair of the negotiating group during the Irish Presidency.

The initial reaction to the outcome of the Intergovernmental Conference, as reflected in the Treaty of Amsterdam, was somewhat muted. Reaction centred on the assertion that the outcome does not represent a great leap forward towards further European integration. This response ignores the real advances in the Treaty of Amsterdam. Unrealistic ambition would have meant there would not have been agreement in Amsterdam and the consequences of such a failure would have been most serious for the EU with regard to economic and monetary union and future enlargement. It was important for the momentum of these two major projects that the EU leaders were able to demonstrate at Amsterdam the political will to agree on a wide range of issues and, thereby, conclude the Intergovernmental Conference. The Dutch Presidency and, particularly, Prime Minister Kok also deserve praise for this outcome.

From the viewpoint of strategic Irish interests, the outcome of the Intergovernmental Conference has been most satisfactory. Four areas were of particular concern: institutional issues, especially the retention of the right to nominate a full member of the European Commission; common foreign and security policy issues; a strengthening of provisions in the justice and home affairs area, including the fight against crime, while still protecting the common travel area with the UK and assisting the EU in addressing the real concerns of its citizens more effectively.

With regard to the institutional issues the outcome ensures Ireland will maintain the right to nominate a full member of the European Commission. This was a priority objective shared by all sides in this House and I am pleased it was realised. The treaty provides for a future review of institutional arrangements, including the composition of the Commission. The outcome of such a future review is not prejudged and, specifically, there has not been a decision to limit the size of the Commission in the future to 20 or any other definite number of Commissioners. In effect, the larger member states have agreed, in the context of the first round of the next enlargement, to give up their right to nominate a second Commissioner provided that before this there is a limited reweighting of votes in the Council acceptable to all member states.

More generally with regard to the institutions, the significant extension of the co-decision power of the European Parliament will mean greater democracy in the decision-making procedure of the EU. The treaty contains the new provisions on flexibility which allow certain member states, in strictly defined circumstances, to co-operate more closely using the institutions of the EU. Sufficient safeguards are included to prevent this development leading to a two tier Europe.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs will deal in greater detail with common foreign and security policy issues in his contribution. I am satisfied Ireland's best interests have been served by what was agreed, especially with regard to defence, as it protects our position of military neutrality, while allowing us to contribute constructively to peacekeeping and humanitarian tasks with our European partners. I am glad to see a distinctive European contribution developing along these lines rather than by an integration of the EU and Western European Union. I welcome the opportunity for Ireland to continue on a case by case basis, under EU auspices, the peacekeeping work we have done for many years under UN auspices.

The treaty includes strengthened provisions in the area of justice and home affairs, most notably by equipping the EU to act more effectively at Community level in the fight against organised crime. With regard to the issues of freedom of movement, asylum and immigration, as well as the incorporation of the Schengen Agreement into the Treaty on European Union, Ireland's overriding concern was the preservation of the common travel area with the UK. This concern is fully met by a separate Protocol in the treaty. We are also concerned, however, to continue to play as full a part as possible, compatible with the preservation of the common travel area, in developments at EU level in the area of justice and home affairs. The Treaty of Amsterdam acknowledges this by providing that Ireland may opt in to some or all of the Schengen arrangements and the new Title on Freedom of Movement.

A key aspect in this regard is the decision-making procedure for Ireland exercising its right to opt in. As Deputy John Bruton is aware, Ireland believes what was agreed at Amsterdam was that Ireland and the UK could opt in to some or all of the Schengen arrangements unless a qualified majority of those countries participating in Schengen objected. The text of the treaty circulated after the Amsterdam Council states that unanimity would be required to approve such an opt in. Deputy Bruton has written to me on this issue and I am aware of his strong views on the matter. We are seeking to resolve the matter in a way satisfactory to every member state. I have no doubt that with goodwill it will be possible to resolve these issues. It is important that we have the facility to opt in to some or all of the Schengen Agreement and the new treaty arrangements on freedom of movement while protecting the common travel area. We will carefully monitor developments to see how our interests can be best served in the future by seeking to exercise our right to a partial or full opt in.

Perhaps the most innovative aspect of the Treaty of Amsterdam is the concentration on issues of real concern to the EU's citizens. The treaty will allow Europe to address more effectively the most direct concerns of citizens about employment, crime, the environment, public health, consumer protection, social exclusion and non-discrimination. Nobody is under the illusion that the new Employment Chapter in the treaty will of itself solve Europe's unacceptably high level of unemployment. It will, however, underpin and advance policy co-operation between member states with regard to employment policy. It also contains a new provision for some limited EU funding in this area.

With regard to social issues, the provisions on social exclusion and the incorporation of the Maastricht social Protocol are welcome, especially from an Irish viewpoint. The social exclusion provision was promoted by Ireland and I am aware that the former Minister for Social Welfare, Deputy De Rossa, was a particularly strong advocate. The provision will allow the EU to develop programmes to the benefit of the most needy and socially excluded in European society. The incorporation of the social Protocol will allow for a single coherent legal basis for action by the 15 members on social issues. Perhaps more importantly from an Irish viewpoint, the UK's acceptance of the social Protocol will ensure a level playing field in this area between Ireland and Britain.

The Treaty of Amsterdam will enable more effective action at the EU level in combating international crime. It is particularly important that the provisions in the treaty facilitating greater co-operation in the fight against organised crime and drug trafficking are fully utilised. Ireland will work to ensure this through the Justice and Home Affairs Council. It should also be noted that on foot of an initiative taken during the Irish Presidency, an action plan on organised crime was endorsed by the Amsterdam Council. The Justice and Home Affairs Council has been mandated to implement the plan and will report on progress to the European Council in June 1998. There is also a welcome provision in the treaty, again proposed by Ireland, in the health area, providing for the Community to complement member states' action in reducing drugsrelated health damage.

I welcome the fact that the treaty provision which allows every citizen of the EU to write to the EU's institutions and have an answer in the same language will now also apply to the Irish language.

The conclusions of the Amsterdam Council state the treaty will be formally signed in Amsterdam in October next. While the formal legal advice of the Attorney General in the matter is awaited, it is the expectation of the Government that the treaty will be put to the people for approval in a referendum with the support of practically all parties in this House. I also anticipate that the Government will produce a White Paper on the treaty for the information of the public in advance of the referendum. The White Paper and the conduct of the referendum will take account of the McKenna judgment and the Government will assess the position in the light of the advice of the Attorney General.

Overall, I am satisfied the Treaty of Amsterdam represents an outcome which is good for Ireland and for Europe. Membership of the European Union is overwhelmingly in Ireland's national interest and this remains the view of the vast majority of the Irish people.

At Amsterdam the European Council took decisive steps towards EMU. It agreed the detailed legislation to give effect to the Stability and Growth Pact, the main elements of which had been agreed already at the Dublin European Council at the end of the Irish Presidency. The pact is designed to ensure budgetary discipline in the third stage of EMU and is vital to ensure coherent European economic policies in the future. The agreement on the Stability and Growth Pact was complemented at Amsterdam by the adoption of a European Council resolution on growth and employment. This resolution, together with the proposed new Title on Employment in the treaty, is evidence of the firm commitment to place employment at the top of the EU's political agenda. The European Council also adopted a resolution which lays down the principles and fundamental elements of the new exchange rate mechanism, ERM2, to be established on 1 January 1999. This resolution will ensure that member states outside the euro area which participate in the mechanism orient their policies to stability and foster convergence.

The Amsterdam European Council endorsed the design of the common face for euro coins. Together with the euro banknotes, this gives tangible evidence to citizens of preparations for the euro. Some outstanding aspects of the legal framework for the euro were also agreed and the Council decided that the text of the relevant regulations should be published to ensure maximum certainty for the markets in their preparations for EMU.

Europe remains on course for the introduction of the single currency on 1 January 1999. Member states have once again confirmed their commitment to the commencement of EMU, in accordance with the provisions of the Maastricht Treaty and the timetable agreed by the European Council in Madrid in December 1995. The Government believes EMU will commence on time and Ireland will be a member from the outset. The successful transition to economic and monetary union is a key challenge facing the Government. As stated in An Action Programme for the New Millennium, a major task is to ensure the Irish economy copes successfully with the challenges of entry into EMU, in accordance with the provisions in the Maastricht Treaty, particularly in the initial absence of Britain. The Government's action programme also identifies a number of requirements for successful EMU entry, including tighter fiscal discipline and support for the Maastricht criteria across Europe and support for Europe wide employment measures. This approach is fully consistent with the conclusions of the Amsterdam Council.

I have already touched on the employment issue in my comments on the Intergovernmental Conference and on EMU. The Amsterdam Council decided to convene an extraordinary meeting of the European Council under the Luxembourg Presidency, to review and maintain the momentum in the fight against European unemployment. Ireland's employment performance has been well above the European average in recent years. A stable macro-economic policy allied to the social partnership approach are the keys to this success and the new partnership Government will continue to support this national consensus.

The completion of the Single Market is of great relevance to the employment problem. The Amsterdam Council considered the Commission's action plan for the single market and endorsed its overall objective of a better functioning internal market. Ireland fully supports measures to make the Single Market deliver to the full its employment creation potential. The Commission has tabled proposals to reform regional aid guidelines in the context of the Single Market action plan. Discussions on these proposals are ongoing between the Commission and member states and we will be vigilant to ensure Ireland's interests are protected in this regard. The Amsterdam Council also adopted conclusions on a range of EU external issues, and these will be dealt with by the Minister for Foreign Affairs in his statement.

Negotiations for enlargement, which is one of the Agenda 2000 items, will begin as soon as possible after December 1997. The others include the future financial framework of the EU beyond 1999 and CAP reform. The Commission is expected to unveil its outline view on these issues in a paper to be circulated on 16 July next. I stress that these will be Commission proposals. Decisions on them will be for the European Council in the final analysis. Agenda 2000 has major implications for Ireland. The outcome of the negotiations on future funding, especially Structural and Cohesion Funds, and the implications of CAP reform will significantly influence Irish economic and social development into the next millennium. Ireland has made impressive economic strides over the relatively recent past. Notwithstanding this, Ireland still has major infrastructural needs, an unacceptably high level of unemployment, urban and rural deprivation and a growing labour force. There must be full recognition of these factors in the Agenda 2000 negotiations. It is my intention to ensure a comprehensive and co-ordinated Irish negotiating position on these crucial issues. The Ministers and secretaries group on EU policy, which I chair, will formulate and oversee implementation of this position.

The Amsterdam European Council was a success. The Intergovernmental Conference was concluded, thereby paving the way for the EU to move on to its next business. Economic and monetary union remains firmly on target. The Amsterdam Council signalled the highest priority in the fight against unemployment. The EU has a series of crucial decisions to take before the year 2000. The objective must be that the EU should arrive at the next millennium as a cohesive, unified entity, delivering prosperity and security in Europe, and with an ever more influential political and economic voice in the world. The EU has much to be proud of in its first 40 years of existence. We can also be justly proud of our contribution to Europe during the 25 years of membership. I look forward to this mutually beneficial relationship continuing and intensifying into the next century.

I am in the unusual position of presenting the report to the House but I acknowledge the work of my predecessor, Deputy Bruton, the ongoing work over the past four and a half years of the former Tánaiste, Deputy Spring, and that of the former Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs, Deputy Gay Mitchell. As a nation we can be very proud of the contribution which Ireland made in implementing change over the past number of years, particularly during its Presidency and the achievements in Amsterdam.

I congratulate you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, on your election and wish you well during your term in office. I thank the Taoiseach for his kind words which are much appreciated and wish him and his Government, in particular the Minister and Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, well in their new duties. I join him in congratulating Mr. Noel Dorr on the work done in the Intergovernmental Conference. It is unusual to name civil servants in the House but I might add the name of Bobby McDonagh since he worked with me on the reflection group and with Mr. Dorr on the Intergovernmental Conference. They did a very good and important job. I express my appreciation to the officials in the Departments of the Taoiseach and Foreign Affairs who worked very professionally in this area.

Jean Monnet writing of the 1953 Draft Treaty seeking to establish a European political community stated in his memoirs:

Nothing that has been conscientiously made in this way is ever useless; for, by working together, everyone acquires a better knowledge of his partner's and their problems, and he passes it on to others in his turn.. The constitution-makers were. insufficiently (cautious) when they imagined that European unity would begin with the establishment of a federal political system.. It was a step in the right direction; but it proposed to go too fast, without waiting for the force of necessity to make it seem natural in the eyes of Europeans.

We should reflect on these words but must also acknowledge that the member states which talked most about "deepening" the EU before "widening" did not follow through on their rhetoric. The designation "European Union" is not to be found in the Treaty of Rome and it was not until the 1991 Treaty on European union, the Maastricht Treaty, that the concept was brought into existence.

It is regrettable more progress was not made in Amsterdam but from the enforcement of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) Treaty (the Treaty Of Paris, 1951) in 1952 to the Treaty on European Union (1992) in November 1993 there have been nine treaties in the evolutionary process of the EU. The Amsterdam Treaty will be the tenth. I refer to the proceedings at the Amsterdam Summit in regard to Ireland and Britain being able to opt into individual parts of the Schengen aquis.

The Dutch Presidency's draft treaty provided that a decision to allow this would be taken by existing members by qualified majority vote. During the meeting at Amsterdam, the Spanish Prime Minister, José Aznar, sought to change this to require unanimity for the decision. He raised this and was asked by the chair to circulate an alternative treaty wording. No such wording was ever circulated at the meeting or agreed to by it. However, despite this, the language of the treaty was changed, along Spanish lines, in the draft circulated the following morning after the Summit was over. This procedure is not legal or valid. Unless a new amended wording was circulated and agreed to at the Summit, one must presume that the existing draft wording as circulated remained unamended by the Summit.

The nine treaties to date are the European Coal and Steel Community Treaty (Treaty of Paris 1951), which came into force in 1952 and concluded for 50 years the Schuman Plan among the then six member states; the European Economic Community (EEC) Treaty, (Treaty of Rome, 1957), which came into force in 1958 and gave the EEC a broad range of objectives, being therefore the most important Treaty; the European Automatic Energy Community (EURATOM) Treaty which was also signed in Rome in l957 and came into force in l958, having specific objectives of limited application; the Treaty establishing a Single Council and a Single Commission of the European Communities — the Merger Treaty, l965 — which came into effect in July l967 and amended the ECSC, EEC and Euratom Treaties to create a Council and Commission which served all three Communities; the Treaty amending certain budgetary provisions of the Treaties establishing the European Communities, and of the Merger Treaty — Treaty of Luxembourg, l970 — which came into effect in l971 and laid down a new procedure for settling the budget, introducing the system of "own resources"; the Treaty amending certain financial provisions of the Treaties establishing the European community, and of the Merger Treaty, l975, which came into effect in l978 and refined the budgetary procedure to give the European Parliament more power and to create the Court of Auditors; the Act concerning the election of members of the European Parliament by direct universal suffrage — European Elections Act, l976 — which came into force in l978 and was the basis for a directly elected European Parliament, commencing in l979; the Single European Act, l986, which came into force in July l987, and amended and expanded the EEC Treaty, most significantly by extending the scope of qualified majority voting, and laid down new foreign policy co-operation procedures; the Treaty on European Union — the Maastricht Treaty, l992 — which came into force in November, l993, establishing the European Union, amending and expanding the EEC Treaty, creating the co-decision procedure, introducing a new pillar structure into the union consisting of the Common Foreign and Security Policy, CFSP, and co-operation in the fields of Justice and Home Affairs, JHA, the inter-governmental second and third pillars which complement the Community pillar; the draft Amsterdam Treaty of June, l997 which will be signed in October next and shall come into force after the required ratification procedures.

This tenth treaty falls into six broad sections: an area of freedom, security and justice; the Union and the citizen; an effective and coherent external policy; the Union's institutions; closer co-operation —"flexibility"— and simplification and consolidation of the Treaties.

Given that the Taoiseach has set out most of the details there is no need for me to repeat them. The whole process of preparation and conclusion of the Amsterdam Treaty took almost two years from the setting up of the Reflection Group, on which I had the honour to be the Irish member, which had an intensive round of meetings between June and December l995 and which prepared the annotated agenda for the inter-governmental conference which commenced its work under the chairmanship of the Spanish EU Presidency, then the Italian Presidency, signally the Irish Presidency which brought about a draft treaty for the Dublin European Council meeting in December l996, and concluded under the Dutch Presidency on 16, 17 and 18 June, l997.

Some may frown at the length of time it has taken to bring about the new Treaty, especially given its lack of ambition. Having read the advice of Jean Monet quoted in my opening comments we might be thankful for the progress made to date. The problem is we do not have a blank page on which to draft a constitution for Europe; we must do it stage by stage and bring the people with us at each stage.

We might reflect also on how business was done in the first half of this century before the institutional arrangements which have produced the tenth treaty — an important step in European integration. In the first half of this century 60 million Europeans lost their lives in two wars. So far this century approximately 190 million people have lost their lives in wars and conflicts. What is now the European Union, and its predecessors, has been a great source of peace and stability in Western Europe. This peace and stability has given us the opportunity to enjoy unprecedented prosperity and material wealth across Western Europe.

The Amsterdam Treaty, building on nine other treaties, is helping to pave the way for a Union of 15 to become a Union of 25 or more member states. The Union will spread from the west coast of Ireland to the Black Sea and from Finland in the north to, I predict, Malta in the south. This will ensure the peace and stability we enjoy in Western Europe will continue because the whole continent of Europe will be at peace and stable. This will allow us to continue to enjoy the levels of prosperity we now enjoy and to share that prosperity with our nearest neighbours. Furthermore, it will allow Europe as a continent to organise to keep its place in a global system which is becoming increasingly competitive.

It has been stated that the GNP of all 11 applicant states added together would equate to that of about one medium-sized existing EU state, i.e., the Netherlands. This indicates the challenge which faces the Union in the next stages of enlargement but these challenges must be met.

Next week the European Commission will present its opinion on the state of preparedness of the applicant states and will at the same time give its view of the financial perspectives from l999 to 2004. For the cohesion states and those states enjoying transfers of Structural Funds, as well as for the common policies and, in particular, the Common Agricultural Policy there will be challenges in the years ahead. However, by the investment which has taken place here over the past almost quarter of a century since we joined the European Union, and by the transfers which will continue to flow to 2004, Ireland and other cohesion states, will be prepared for the challenge. We have been given the tools with which to do the job. We must not be too defensive, not only will the stability of Europe continue to produce great opportunities and prosperity but an enlarged market will mean new outlets for member states, such as Ireland, for our products. We must not see the glass as half empty, we must see it as half full. We have common purpose with our neighbours in the European Union and with our neighbours who wish to become members of the European Union.

The Amsterdam Treaty is good news for our children and grandchildren. Never again should Europeans go out to kill each other in the name of "nationalism". No longer will the strongest army and strongest navy determine the course of European history. The word "nationalism" comes from the word "natio" which means "greater community". As Irish men and women we are members of the Irish nation but also members of the European "Greater Community". We should be proud to be Irish in Europe playing our part in bringing about agreed integration and institutional arrangements for the governance of a civilised, democratic and free Europe into the third millennium. The Amsterdam Treaty is the tenth step, and an important one, on the road of European integration.

On the issue of security and defence we need to ask ourselves two questions. What do we want of Europe? What role do we want for Ireland in the role we want for Europe? It is time we stopped being reactive. I note the Government will present a White Paper on defence. Once and for all I hope we can have a civilised debate on the whole issue of defence and security where differing views can be offered so that we can see the principles on which our approach to this whole question are based.

This State is now three quarters of a century old. For the first half of the century we were outside the EEC, for the past quarter of a century we have been within what is now the European Union. Far from taking from our sovereignty our membership of the Union has given us a new and important role. If the founders of the State could have looked forward three quarters of a century to see us successfully conclude our fifth Presidency of the Union while at the same time conducting the chairmanship of an inter-governmental conference on the future of the whole continent of Europe during the most critical stage of that conference they would have been very proud and we too should be proud.

Economic and monetary union, EMU, will move to stage III on 1 January l999, with the locking of participating currencies. The decision as to which countries will participate will be taken by a special European Council meeting in May l998 and will be on the basis of the most recent and reliable actual data for l997. Convergence tests for member states wishing to join EMU include long-term interest rates, inflation rates, exchange rates and general Government deficits as well as gross State indebtedness. The criterion for judging whether Government deficits are excessive is that they should not be more than 3 per cent of GDP, and the general Government gross debt should not be more than 60 per cent of GDP. However, deficits can exceed 3 per cent if "the ratio has declined substantially and continuously and reached a level that comes close to the reference value, or, alternatively, the excess over the reference value is only exceptional and temporary and the ratio remains close to the reference value". The debt-GDP ratio can exceed 60 per cent "if the ratio is sufficiently diminishing and approaching the reference value at a satisfactory pace".

Interpretation of these provisions of EMU depends on a political judgment on how the Commission and the Council will choose to apply the provisions. A strict interpretation might exclude most member states while a loose interpretation could include most. Some of the larger member states whose ambition has been to advance the EMU project are encountering difficulties meeting the criteria — I refer specifically to France and Germany. It is, therefore, understandable that these member states may not have been in a position to be as ambitious as they would have wished in relation to, for example, the extension of qualified majority voting and the question of Commission membership and weighted voting in Council. However, it is clear from the Amsterdam Treaty that the question of Commission membership and weighted voting will be dealt with in advance of enlargement. It is in Ireland's interest that these issues be considered together. Larger member states did try to change weighted voting procedures now and change Commission membership later. We insisted that these issues are related and should be decided upon together, and would have been content to deal with these at Amsterdam. However, our concerns are covered in the procedures adopted.

Taken together, the Amsterdam Treaty, the EMU project and the preparations for enlargement and enlargement itself combine to make the next stage of European integration a significant step in European history. It is a pity the Summit was not more ambitious, but we must now build on the foundations so far laid.

A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, let me offer you my congratulations and wish you every success in your position as Leas-Cheann Comhairle. I thank the Taoiseach for his remarks on the performance of the previous Government in the lead-in to the Amsterdam Treaty. I too wish to thank Mr. Noel Dorr and Mr. Bobby McDonagh who took the burden of the negotiations at the Intergovernmental Conference, and Deputy Mitchell who was our representative on the Reflection Group. I also thank the former Taoiseach, Deputy Bruton, and the officials from his Department for their co-operation and work, because it is important in the national interest that all ministries work together, particularly the Ministers and Secretaries Group. Many meetings were held. We had vital national interests to secure. Four particular areas of concern were outlined, the institutional questions, the common foreign security policy issues, the strengthening of justice and home affairs and the addressing of the concerns of ordinary citizens.

I agree with the Taoiseach that the Amsterdam Council was a success from our point of view. It does seem a long time since the Spanish Presidency and since the launching of the Intergovernmental Conference in Turin, but it is the way Europe works. As Deputy Mitchell said, we are not working off a blank sheet of paper. We are where we are through ten treaties. There will be more treaties, and in terms of issues of importance, there are very heavy issues on the agenda. One which I raised this morning with the Taoiseach on the Order of Business is the Commission's opinions which will start a whole new debate within the European Union. Agenda 2000, will encompass many of the areas. The Special Employment Summit during the Luxembourg Presidency will be of vital importance. It is unacceptable that we have 18 million people unemployed in Europe, and we owe it to ourselves and to future generations to ensure that Europe is able to compete with the United States of America and with the ASEAN countries in particular. We have lost out in recent years to these countries. We have lost our edge in terms of the role of Europe and we have to readdress that.

The proposed reforms of the common agricultural policy are topical. These will bring considerable difficulties for Ireland, but we have to face up to them. We will all have to work together in the negotiation that will take place once the President of the Commission has launched his proposals.

The question of enlargement will be a fundamental one for the European Union for the next ten to 15 years. The past few years have seen the enlargement of the Union with the addition of Finland, Austria and Sweden. If anything, that was an easy negotiation, because it was beneficial to the Union. They were coming to Europe to make a contribution. This House welcomed Finland, Austria and Sweden. They have, to some extent, shifted the dynamic of the debate within the European Union, and I welcome that. They are excellent Europeans and make a very positive contribution. We have a great deal in common with them in terms of attitudes towards neutrality or towards common foreign security policy positions.

I await with interest the opinions of the Commission. I am not sure what the procedure will be. Obviously the Government will get them. I hope they will be available to all of us because, as has been said by Deputy Mitchell, given the disparities between the developed European Union countries and the African countries in terms of GNP, in terms of level of development, the transition they will have to undergo to come effectively from communist systems into market economies will be a long one and will present the African countries with difficulties. However, it will also be an enormous burden on the European Union.

We have to look at other aspects of the applications and the enlargement countries in relation to the level of co-operation they are exercising among themselves. It is very important that they would seek to build a union among the African countries while they are preparing themselves for membership of the European Union. To some extent we are speaking in a vacuum; we have some of the information currently and we will have more after 16 July. However, when the Dáil resumes for normal business on 30 September — it may well resume for other business in the meantime — we need to have a longer discussion. By then the new Government will have had the opportunity of looking at all the issues in the wake of the Amsterdam Summit. I hope that by then we will have resolved the question mark over Schengen in relation to the Irish and UK positions, because it was our understanding that we would have the option to opt in.

I agree with Deputy Mitchell that there were no formal proposals accepted or agreed to in relation to the Spanish proposition. That is something that will have to be sorted out in the coming weeks. I would ask the Taoiseach to bear in mind that we should have a discussion soon after the Dáil resumes. By that time we will have much more information on the Common Agricultural Policy proposals which will warrant debate within this country; likewise in relation to the preparations for the employment summit which, because of the 18 million unemployed, will be very important for all of us; and, of course, the debate on Structural and Cohesion funding which the Minister for Finance commented on in Brussels at his first meeting last Monday. That will be an extremely difficult debate and negotiation for this country, not that there has ever been an easy negotiation — negotiations do not come easy in Brussels.

We are in a situation now where our income per capita has increased significantly to the extent where it is higher than that in the UK and that has a bearing on the response we get from our European colleagues. All of these issues — EMU, enlargement, justice and home affairs, employment, Structural and Cohesion funding and the Common Agricultural Policy — will put a very heavy burden on the Taoiseach, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and other colleagues in relation to preparing for the negotiations. It does warrant an early debate in the House, particularly enlargement. Perhaps the committee on foreign affairs will be established by that time and it can look at it in more detail. However, it behoves all sides of the House to work together to ensure that Ireland is well prepared for the next millennium in the context of Europe. We are regarded as good Europeans and long may that last.

On the Amsterdam Treaty, we have protected Ireland's interests and, at the same time, made a very significant contribution to its success. The ambition was limited but, at this time for Europe, that was the correct approach. Any more ambitious agenda by the bigger countries would not have proven successful or achievable in the context of the Amsterdam Treaty.

Debate adjourned.