Written Answers. - Agenda 2000.

John Bruton

Question:

44 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach the role he envisages the Ministers and Secretaries group will have in co-ordinating the Government's response to the EU Agenda 2000 proposals; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1216/99]

John Bruton

Question:

45 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if, further to Parliamentary Question No. 1 of 17 December 1997, he will make a statement on the activities of his Department in recent months to make an effective Irish input to the work of the European Council on major issues on the EU agenda, including the Agenda 2000 negotiations. [1738/99]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 44 and 45 together.

The Ministers and Secretaries General Group on EU Policy which I chair meets approximately every four to six weeks. As part of its general supervisory role in relation to EU policy, the group is responsible for co-ordinating the Irish approach to key European issues, including Agenda 2000.

However, we are in a period of very intense negotiations on the next round of Structural, Cohesion and Agricultural Funds. In recognition of this, the Government has established a Cabinet subcommittee, which I chair, on Agenda 2000 specifically, to co-ordinate the Government position on the main elements of Agenda 2000 negotiations as they develop. This committee is serviced by an expert technical group which I also chair and is comprised of senior officials from my own Department, the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Department of Agriculture and Food and the Department of Finance. This group has met twice already and prepared a number of papers for the Cabinet subcommittee. The smaller more frequent meetings of the subcommittee and of the technical group will allow for much greater engagement by the key Ministers in the detailed strategy of the negotiations.

The German Presidency has underlined its determination to reach agreement on the Agenda 2000 package by end-March. To achieve this aim, it is now almost certain that there will be an informal Heads of State or Government Meeting on 26 February. After this meeting, the Presidency intends to bring all strands of the negotiations together in advance of the special summit meeting in Berlin on 24-25 March.

In addition to the groups I have mentioned, the Department of the Taoiseach participates in policy formulation and follow-up on key issues arising in the EU Agenda such as Agenda 2000, Structural Funds and Enlargement; EMU; institutional reform; employment; justice, freedom and security; and external relations of EU, CFSP through a variety of interdepartmental groups and fora.

EU policy formulation is the product of liaison between my Department and the other key Departments, notably the Department of Foreign Affairs, Finance, Agriculture and Food, Enterprise, Trade and Employment and Justice, Equality and Law Reform. My Department also liaises with the offices of other EU Heads of State or Government, HOSGs, and their embassies in Dublin. Through this network of contacts the Department advises me on the views of our European partners and contribute to the development of EU policies.