asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if the recent EU summit in Austria considered proposals to transfer EU co-ordinating powers from Foreign Ministers and, in the case of Ireland, to the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22191/98]
Ceisteanna — Questions. Priority Questions. - Transfer of EU Powers.
As the Deputy will be aware, the discussion at the meeting of heads of state and Government at Poertschach was wide-ranging and informal and, as such, no conclusions were expected or reached at the meeting. The meeting was attended by the Taoiseach and other heads of state and Government and for part of the discussion by Austrian Foreign Minister Schuessel. A number of ideas relating to the better co-ordination of EU policy were discussed at the meeting. I understand the Taoiseach indicated that in any examination of the role of the Council of Ministers, Ireland would be concerned that the central link between the General Affairs Council and the European Council should be maintained and that reforms should be oriented towards making this link more direct, dynamic and efficient.
Is the Minister aware of a newspaper report which quoted the Tánaiste as expressing an active interest in taking on a role in the area of co-ordination at European level? What does he think of the Tánaiste's view in that regard?
I am aware of the newspaper report because I read it. However, there was no relation between the headline and the body of the report. I understand the necessity for the sub-editor to fit his type into a given space on the instructions of the chief sub-editor.
Like the old days in the Irish Press.
Having been in that predicament myself as a down the line sub-editor in the Irish Press many years ago, I was given all sorts of instructions to fit almost the unprintable into a headline. There is no truth in the rumour. No such consideration was on the agenda in the discussions which took place on the improvements which might be possible in terms of the functioning of the General Affairs Council. There was a wide measure of agreement at Poertschach that co-ordination at national level should be left to each individual member state to organise.
The Austrian Presidency got agreement at Salzburg on a package of efficiency improving measures which it is likely to develop and present in a report to Vienna. These measures included streamlining third country contacts, shorter lunches, separation of points for decision from information items and greater use of video conferencing. These adjustments seem unlikely to take the place of what appears to be a developing measure of agreement to separate the agenda and allow member states to decide themselves which Minister attends in relation to horizontal or external issues. The agenda has now been divided into horizontal and external matters.
I am not sure that cutting short the time for lunch is necessarily a step forward. My recollection is that much of the business was done over lunch and that it was kept long deliberately so that Ministers could not be manhandled by mandarins into situations in which they did not want to find themselves.
Does the Minister recollect that there was an attempt by the Taoiseach to appoint a Minister for European Affairs when he came to Government? We are unique in terms of European Union states in that we do not have a Minister for European Affairs to work with the Minister for Foreign Affairs. It is too difficult for the Minister to handle his workload because of the places he must be at any one time. Does the Minister agree that, if the Tánaiste does not take on a co-ordinating role at European level, he should have a Minister for European Affairs to assist him in his heavy workload?
The Deputy has made a valid point. Most European states have a Minister of State for European Affairs. Subject to the wishes of the Taoiseach of the day I would welcome the appointment of a Minister of State for European Affairs. The Deputy is right that it is becoming extremely difficult to keep up with General Affairs Council proceedings as well as the other work required to be done by a Minister for Foreign Affairs, as Deputy Spring knows.