Ceisteanna–Questions. - European Summit.

John Bruton

Question:

1 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on his attendance at the EU Heads of Government meeting in Feira, Portugal, on 19 and 20 June 2000. [19127/00]

John Bruton

Question:

2 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on his meeting with the President of the European Commission, Mr. Prodi, at the European Summit meeting in Feira, Portugal, on 19 and 20 June 2000. [19128/00]

John Bruton

Question:

3 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, at the European Summit meeting in Feira, Portugal, on 19 and 20 June 2000; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19129/00]

John Bruton

Question:

4 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the bilateral meeting he had with the EU Heads of Government at the European Summit meeting in Feira, Portugal, on 19 and 20 June 2000; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19130/00]

John Bruton

Question:

5 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the President of Greece, Mr. Stephanopoulos, in Dublin in July 2000; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19131/00]

John Bruton

Question:

6 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach the official overseas trips he has planned between October 2000 and the end of the year; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19138/00]

John Bruton

Question:

7 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach the Heads of State or Government he expects to meet here between October 2000 and the end of the year; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19139/00]

John Bruton

Question:

8 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach the communications, if any, he has had with the new President of Mexico, Mr. Fox, following his recent election; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19170/00]

John Bruton

Question:

9 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach the recent communications he has had with the President of the European Commission, Mr. Prodi; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19241/00]

John Bruton

Question:

10 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach the European Union meetings he will attend in the second half of 2000; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19242/00]

John Bruton

Question:

11 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach the plans, if any, he has to visit Austria in the next six months in view of his recent statement that he now looked forward to strengthening Ireland's close relationship with Austria; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19750/00]

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

12 Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Taoiseach the communications, if any, he has had with the Austrian ambassador to Ireland, the Austrian Government or its representatives following the announcement on the lifting of the special measures on Austria imposed by EU member states; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19753/00]

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

13 Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach the official trips abroad he plans to make before the end of 2000; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19834/00]

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

14 Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on his meeting on 5 July 2000 with the Greek President. [19840/00]

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

15 Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach the dis cussions or contacts he has had with other EU leaders on the report of the three wise men regarding the lifting of sanctions against Austria; the specific steps he will take to strengthen Ireland's close relationship with Austria in view of his statement of 12 September 2000; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19846/00]

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

16 Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach his priorities for the informal EU summit in Biarritz, France; if he plans to meet or have discussions with any other European leaders in advance of the summit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20262/00]

Following the circulation of the report of the Wise Men, officials from my Department made contact on my behalf with the French Presidency in relation to the measures implemented by the XIV against Austria, indicating my satisfaction with the report and my support for the immediate lifting of the measures and a renewal of high-level contacts with Austria. I have no plans at present to visit Austria, however I will meet Chancellor Schüssel during the forthcoming EU Councils. We have long-standing positive relations with the Austrian Government, both at political and official level. We have maintained positive working relations, particularly in an EU context over the past year. Official level contacts have been maintained with the Austrian Embassy throughout and I am pleased to announce that preparations for a working visit to Dublin by Chancellor Schüssel on 23 November are in hand.

On a point of order, Question No. 1 relates to the EU Heads of Government meeting in Feira and to nothing else. The Taoiseach seems to be answering other questions.

Questions Nos. 1 to 16.

That was not stated and I raise my objection to it. Questions Nos. 7 and 8 have nothing to do with the remainder.

These are all the European questions and—

Mexico is not part of Europe. The Taoiseach's geography is a little off.

—and in line with long established practice, I am taking the European questions together.

Mexico is not in Europe.

Please allow questions to continue. It is the Taoiseach's prerogative—

Will the Taoiseach remove Questions Nos. 7 and 8?

I am taking Questions Nos. 1 to 16 together.

Some of those refer to Mexico which is not in Europe.

As the Deputy should know, it is the Taoiseach's prerogative to take questions together.

He did not even announce he was taking them together. He started to read the answer without referring to the questions he was answering.

The Deputy was late, even after three months.

That is rubbish.

When I stood up to answer a point of order was raised. I was about to do that.

Questions Nos. 1 to 16 are being taken together.

I would have thought the Deputy would have welcomed the fact that I met Chancellor Schüssel in Dublin.

I simply asked what questions the Taoiseach was answering. He proceeded with his reply as if it was to Question No. 1. Presumably, he intended to answer Questions Nos. 1 to 16 but he did not do the House the courtesy of informing us which questions he was answering. I raised the matter with him and his only response was to make a personal remark.

A total of 45 minutes are allocated for Taoiseach's questions. Please allow the Taoiseach to continue his reply.

The Ceann Comhairle did not announce that these questions were being taken together.

What happened to Dáil reform?

Questions Nos. 1 to 16 are being taken together. I call the Taoiseach.

Perhaps the Taoiseach would start his reply again.

I will be glad to. Following the circulation of the report of the wise men, officials from my Department made contact on my behalf with the French Presidency in relation to the measures implemented by the XIV against Austria, indicating my satisfaction with the report and my support for the immediate lifting of the measures and a renewal of high level contacts with Austria. I have no plans at present to visit Austria. However, I will meet with Chancellor Schüssel during the forthcoming EU Councils.

We have long standing positive relations with the Austrian Government, both at political and official level. We have maintained positive working relations, particularly in an EU context over the year. Official level contacts have been maintained with the Austrian embassy throughout and I am pleased to announce that preparations for a working visit to Dublin by Chancellor Schüssel on 23 November are in hand.

As I outlined in my comprehensive statement to the House on 27 June, I attended the European Council in Feira on 19 and 20 June. The Feira summit, the second of the Portuguese Presidency, sought to build on the positive outcomes from the Lisbon summit of March last, while developing the agenda for the French and subsequent presidencies.

Together with other parties, I was pleased that the Portuguese Presidency invited a representative of the convention charged with drawing up the draft charter of fundamental rights to attend the summit and to report on the progress made to date. It was clear from our discussions that a majority of member states wish that the charter would remain a political declaration. It was decided that a draft of the charter should be prepared in advance of the informal European Council which is to be held in Biarritz on 13 and 14 October. The draft was formally submitted by the convention to the Council yesterday.

I expressed strong satisfaction with the report produced by the Portuguese Presidency on the Intergovernmental Conference, as it sets out clearly the main options and areas where possible solutions may lie which are now being further pursued under the French Presidency. There is increasing acceptance, which we share, of the need to retain one Commissioner per member state. This is an essential link between member states and Brussels based institutions of the Union. We will continue to argue strongly that nothing should be done to weaken this link, especially at a time when the governments of each of the member states are seeking to bring the Union closer to its people.

The Intergovernmental Conference will also address issues such as the extension of qualified majority voting, the reweighting of votes in Council, the allocation of seats in the European Parliament and the reorganisation of the European Court of Justice, the Court of First Instance, the European Court of Auditors, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. At Feira, we also formally added the issue of flexibility to the Intergovernmental Conference agenda.

Together with my EU colleagues, I stressed the importance of ensuring that the work of the conference can be successfully concluded at the Nice summit in December. A successful conclusion to the Intergovernmental Conference is essential if the Union is to ready itself by end 2002 for the accession of new members. I have especially emphasised the need for a balanced outcome which takes into account the interests of all members of the Union.

The European Council welcomed the Portuguese Presidency's wide ranging draft progress report on the follow up to the Helsinki conclusions and mandated further work to be conducted during the current French Presidency. The report and its four annexes represent, from an Irish point of view, a balanced outcome acceptable to us and to other neutral and non-allied EU members. The report focuses on military and civil aspects of crisis management and, importantly, incorporates references to the role of the UN and the importance of the EU co-operating with the UN and other relevant security organisations in both military and civil fields.

As regards military aspects, the report records progress on the elaboration of the so-called Headline Goal target whereby the EU wishes to be in a position by 2003 to field a force of 60,000 personnel. Such a force would be equivalent to that operating in Kosovo at present. I welcome this ongoing progress, including the decision to hold a capabilities commitment conference in November where member states will make initial national commitments. We have a proud history of peace-keeping and current developments are in keeping with our practices in this area.

Apart from the issue of capabilities, the Helsinki conclusions called for progress in relation to the Union's decision-making structures. The report submitted at Feira noted the progress to date in the establishment of the interim political and security committee and the interim military committee. At Feira EU leaders called for an overall report to be presented to the European Council in Nice on the ongoing work in this area and for the interim structures to be put on a permanent footing as soon as possible thereafter.

The individual annexes to the Presidency report dealt with consultations and relations between the EU and third countries. I am happy to say that the recommendations in this regard for consultation with European non-EU members of NATO are in line with Ireland's open approach to having inclusive and transparent consultations with such countries, provided the EU's decision-making competencies are respected. Similarly, the issue of EU relations with NATO and the use of NATO assets are also dealt with satisfactorily from an Irish point of view.

I welcomed the concrete target for the provision of policing support for UN authorised military crisis management missions, for example, the KFOR operation in Kosovo. Together with my EU colleagues, I was satisfied to adopt the capability target whereby the EU collectively aims to be able by 2003 to provide 5,000 police officers to international missions across the range of crisis prevention and crisis management operations. I argued, of course, that EU developments in this area should take place in close co-operation with the UN and should avoid duplication of the work of the UN and the OSCE.

The Lisbon summit was extremely significant in seeking to define the input by the European Council into the general economic and social strategic management of the Union. Clearly, each of the specific Council formations has unique treaty based roles, and particular expertise in the execution of their responsibilities. It is important that EU leaders provide political direction in the form of a contextual framework for the work of ECOFIN and the other Councils to which it falls primarily to achieve the strategic goal set in Lisbon, namely, to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge based economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion.

At Feira we were able to review the progress which has already been made in this regard and to take note of a number of important documents, including the Europe Action Plan and the Charter for Small Enterprises. It is important that the Luxembourg process relating to employment and the Cardiff process relating to structural reforms are mutually compatible and inform the development of the annual broad economic policy guidelines. I look forward to the synthesis report which is to be produced by the Commission each year in the run up to the spring Council which, in line with the decisions taken in Lisbon, will allow Heads of State or Government to review in a holistic way the progress made in achieving the Union's strategic goal for the next decade. The annual spring Council will also allow for strategic directions to be taken across a range of horizontal issues, such as the information society and social inclusion, while providing EU leaders with an opportunity to give political guidance in the drawing up by the Commission of the first draft of the broad economic guidelines. The guidelines were welcomed by the Council. The general and country specific guidelines presented no difficulties from an Irish point of view.

ECOFIN had a number of formal and informal meetings during the course of the European Council with a view to progressing two key items. The first was Greece's entry into the Euro which will take effect from January 2001 and the second was the tax package, which has been under discussion for some time. The tax package consists of three elements, a draft directive on the taxation of the interest on savings, a code of conduct on harmful tax competition and a draft directive on the taxation of interest and royalties. The first of these items has been under intensive discussion over the past six months and on which an agreement was finally reached at Feira. The agreement sets out a timetable by which an exchange of information system will be established for the taxation of savings income of non-residents. I strongly supported the decision taken by ECOFIN to reach a comprehensive agreement on all three elements of the tax package as soon as possible and no later than the end of 2002.

In relation to the Feira Council, in addition to meeting informally with President Mbeki in the margins of the Feira Council, I took the opportunity for discussions with President Sampaio, President Prodi and each of my EU colleagues. I also held a formal bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Blair. We discussed a range of issues relating to Northern Ireland, including the work of the Assembly, the Executive and North-South institutions. We also reviewed the situation in relation to the police Bill when I again emphasised the importance of the Bill faithfully reflecting the recommendations of the Patten Commission. The marching season, in particular Drumcree, were among the other issues discussed. The Prime Minister and I discussed the tragic death of 58 refugees at Dover. This human tragedy underlines the need for governments to take firm, decisive and tough anti-trafficking measures. Ireland is co-operating fully with other EU member states and third countries in working together to defeat the traffickers.

I met President Stephanopoulos of Greece in Dublin on 4 July. I welcomed the President to Ireland and highlighted the positive relationships which I have enjoyed in Council with Greek Ministers and Prime Ministers over the years. I congratulated him on the decision at the Feira European Council to confirm Greek entry to EMU with effect from next January and noted the substantial efforts which the Greek Government has made in recent years to put its economy on a sound footing. We discussed a range of issues, including enlargement, the Balkan Stability Pact, the Intergovernmental Conference process and the ongoing discussions in regard to Cyprus.

Following my visit to South Africa in January, I was in communication with Commission President Prodi on the issues of HIV/AIDS in developing countries. On foot of my visit to Australia I wrote to President Prodi in relation to the proposed establishment of a centre of EU studies in Canberra. I also spoke yesterday with the President, who wished to inform me about his statement to the European Parliament today concerning the importance of maintaining the momentum behind enlargement and the need to ensure that the institutional reform which it will necessitate is appropriate. He argued that the Biarritz and Nice Summits must address both the short-term reforms of the current Intergovernmental Conference and the more long-term institutional issues which arise in the debate on the future of Europe. He cautioned against a drift towards intergovernmentalism and putting at risk the Community model which has served the Union well. I assured him that these were sentiments which Ireland as a small country could support.

I wrote to President-elect Fox on 14 July 2000 congratulating him on his success in the Mexican presidential election. President-elect Fox replied to me on 31 July expressing his thanks for these congratulations and his intention to maintain the friendship between our two nations.

With regard to other meetings and engage ments, my attendance at the UN Millennium Summit from 6 to 8 September is the subject of separate questions. On 13 September, I received President Persson of Sweden in Dublin on a working visit, which focused primarily on the current EU agenda and the prospects for the Swedish Presidency which starts next January.

I will attend the Special European Council in Biarritz on 13 and 14 October. I will also travel to Seoul on 18 October for the ASEM III Summit which will take place on 21 and 22 October. On my return I hope to meet President Museveni of Uganda during his visit to Ireland from 23 to 25 October. On 23 November I will meet Chancellor Schüssel and on 24 November I will participate in the EU-Balkan Summit in Zagreb. As part of the Presidency's tour of capitals I will meet President Chirac of France in Dublin on 30 November to discuss the agenda for the Nice Summit. On 1 December I will travel to New York to present a gift from Ireland, the "Diaspora Ship", to the UN. I will also attend the European Council meeting in Nice on 7 and 8 December.

In addition to considering the draft EU charter which has been submitted to it, the Biarritz informal council will take stock of the ongoing Intergovernmental Conference negotiations, give leaders an opportunity to assess the progress that has been made and, I hope, it will also allow for the identification of areas where possible solutions may be found. There has been much discussion this year about the future of Europe, by which is meant the long-term future of the Union, and leaders will have the chance to exchange in an informal way their ideas about the working and shaping of a Union with 25 to 30 members, albeit that these matters will not fall to be dealt with in the context of the current Intergovernmental Conference. The ongoing situation in the Middle East and Yugoslavia is also likely to be discussed.

What was behind the speech by the Minister, Deputy de Valera? Did it signal a new approach on the part of the Government to Europe? Does the Government as a whole believe there is undue interference by EU bureaucrats in Irish affairs? Has Deputy de Valera's verbal frustration anything to do with the fact that Ireland is in breach of EU directives regarding wildlife habitats, water quality and the disposal of toxic waste? Does the Government find itself uncomfortable with having to comply with EU views on keeping clean, the water that Irish people drink?

I do not think Deputy de Valera's views should be taken as criticism of anything.

Should they be taken seriously?

She was pointing out that there is a European debate in every country and that the EU will almost double. We will move to a Community of 500 million people. Enlargement, as she said, is a positive thing which is strongly welcomed here but integration is also happening, as a result of which Ireland is part of the euro 11. In her subsequent interviews she also cited some examples where issues create difficulties and are not always in line with the views of member states. People have to compromise on these matters, however, and that is why subsidiarity is there in some respects. In other respects it is a matter of integrating one's policies and sharing one's sovereignty, which is what happens. The Minister, Deputy de Valera, cited broadcasting as being such an issue. She thought it would be extremely difficult to have just one broadcasting directive for the whole community. I looked to her views as a welcome contribution to the ongoing debate taking place throughout the Community this year. This morning's speech by President Prodi should be seen as a further example of that, along with the contribution last week by our Commissioner, Mr. Byrne.

Given that the Fianna Fáil Party has been in office for 11 of the past 13 years, is it not pretty likely that any of the EU directives, to whose implementation Deputy de Valera might have an objection, were actually agreed to by Fianna Fáil Ministers at the Council of Ministers' table?

Mr. Hayes:

The penny drops.

As regards who signed or negotiated what directives, I do not—

The EU habitats directive was definitely agreed to by Fianna Fáil.

There is no harm in any of us making a contribution to the current debate.

That is fine for the Opposition and for backbenchers.

Is the Cabinet a debating society?

If the Opposition had been making a contribution it might have been more interesting but, unfortunately, it did not make a contribution on the issue which has been rather difficult.

We called for a wide-ranging debate.

We asked for a referendum.

They did not want it when they were in Government.

That is not true.

The essential point and the serious element of Deputy Bruton's question is that under the treaties we voluntarily agreed to share powers and sovereignty in a number of areas and to submit to the authority of the Commission and the Court of Justice in areas of Community competence. We are doing that and as we go forward into an enlarged Europe there will be far more of that. The debate in Europe has moved on now to a position where perhaps we will have a group of countries working on integration while others remain static. It is something that we should address and it would be far better to address it. In the past 14 years, I have been through three campaigns concerning the Single European Act and the Maastricht and Amsterdam treaties. At the end of the debate in this country, people said, and probably rightly so, that they were not aware of this, that or the other. As we go into this Intergovernmental Conference and a subsequent Intergovernmental Conference on major issues of integration it would be far better to at least know what the issues are. That is the essential point of what the Minister, Deputy de Valera, rightly said.

That is why she said it in Boston, so that we would hear it, I suppose.

She said it in Dublin previously.

To inform the electors of Massachusetts.

Did the Taoiseach ask the Minister, Deputy de Valera, to which directives she was referring when she said that directives agreed in Brussels often impinge on our culture and tradition? Did she have any particular directives in mind? Which one?

I asked the Minister that and she said it was the current discussion on broadcasting, because in her view—

That has not yet been agreed.

I know it has not been and that is why she was making the point.

I can give the Taoiseach the right quote if he likes.

The Taoiseach is in possession.

She made the point with regard to the broadcasting directive that it was very difficult to take what will be—

I am sorry—

The Deputy may be sorry but I am giving him the answer. Will he listen to it?

The Taoiseach is answering questions that I did not ask.

I asked her what directive she was thinking of.

She said that directives agreed, past tense, in Brussels often impinge on our culture.

In the media she has answered a number of questions which Deputy Bruton has already raised.

On a related matter, since the Taoiseach will not answer the question that has been put to him—

He cannot.

—will he state what is the formal position of the other Governments to the Intergovernmental Conference in respect of Ireland and all other member states, particularly small ones who only have one Commissioner, retaining that Commissioner on a permanent and ongoing basis? There should not be a rotation process, such as that which is currently under consideration. In the interest of debate, will the Taoiseach outline prior to the meeting in Biarritz the positions of the countries attending the informal Council session there?

Many proposals on this issue have been put forward, including the possibility of rotation. The French Presidency is suggesting a system where there would be a Commissioner in place most of the time. The position would rotate. Ireland has totally rejected that suggestion. The Irish position is, as it has always been, that it is essential that member states maintain their Commission positions.

What is the position of the other countries?

In terms of the position of the other countries, there is a difference. All the small countries are in agreement that we should hold that position.

One Commissioner all the time.

Yes. There is a reluctance among some of the large countries to lose their second Commissioner. They are maintaining that position.

Will the Taoiseach identify those countries?

Effectively, they are all the big countries. A number of them have expressed the view that they will delay moving their position on that matter until they see how much success is achieved with regard to qualified majority voting.

In the interest of debate, will the Taoiseach reveal the identity of those countries? Will the Taoiseach tell the House the countries that have adopted that position?

None of the countries with a second Commissioner has moved its position.

The Taoiseach said some of them are moving.

Some of them have said with regard to Biarritz that they will be prepared to move if there is sufficient progress on qualified majority voting, the weighting of voting, flexibility and reform of the institutions.

Which countries have not yet indicated that position?

France, in particular.

Is France the only one?

France in particular has said that it will not move.

I am raising this matter in the interest of debate.

What is Ireland's position on closer integration within the European Union? The Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, Deputy de Valera, indicated in her Boston speech that she was not in favour of that approach. What is the Government's position now on closer integration?

The Minister, Deputy de Valera, did not say she was against closer integration.

She did. She said "It is a move I would not personally favour."

She equated that to decentralisation and an over-bureaucratic system. In fairness to the Minister's speech, it is a slightly different emphasis.

What is the position?

Mr. Coveney:

Clarity.

It is not worthy of the Deputy.

As I outlined last March, we are still in favour of integration. It must be discussed with regard to each issue as it was with regard to Eurojust and Schengen previously. It is being discussed in a number of areas now. We are in favour of integration and negotiating that with a view to getting the best position. Euro 11 shows the strength of that position, and we will take the same view as other issues arise. If it is in the interest of the Community and Ireland, we will move with closer integration.

Given that the Taoiseach has disowned the Minister, Deputy de Valera, on the question of integration—

There is no question of disowning.

—did the Government support the sanctions against Austria? Does the Government have a view on what lessons could be learned from what many people considered was a debacle?

As Deputy O'Keeffe is aware, the measures were supported by all 14 members. We also strongly supported the report of the Wise Men and the total removal of the sanctions.

That was not supported by the Opposition.

There were other conclusions and other countries argued for the phasing out of the sanctions. We believed they should be removed quickly. The House has been as helpful as possible to Austria recently and we will continue to be. All countries in Europe hold the strong view that it was necessary to put down that marker last January and I agree with that.

Does the Taoiseach agree that the treatment of Austria suggested to many that there were double standards among the Heads of Government in terms of their approach to smaller countries relative to their approach to larger countries? For example, when Italy had the Allianza Nazionale in Government, a former fascist party which was a direct political descendant of Mussolini's party, there was no attempt made to impose any sanctions on Italy because it was a big country. However, when the Freedom Party acceded to Government in Austria, which is a small country, the European Union took action which was not legal because it was not taken at an EU Council meeting. Does the Taoiseach agree this failure to treat large and small countries consistently did great damage to the cause of those promoting the euro in the referendum in Denmark because people there felt that as another small country they would not be treated as well as Germany, for example, just as Austria was not treated as well as Italy?

Last January, after the elections and the prolonged debate in Austria, all the countries in Europe believed that some clear markers had to be put down about the stated policies and leadership of the parties in Government in Austria. That was subsequently done. A similar view would be taken, regardless of where it came from. The Portuguese held the Presidency and they co-ordinated the efforts to employ the sanctions. If it had gone on indefinitely, it would have become negative. The point was made, policies, leaderships and structures were changed and a different position was achieved. Some argued – we argued strongly against this when the wise men report was published – that to continue it unnecessarily would have been a mistake. Some countries refused to talk to Chancellor Schüssel or to co-operate with him in any way during that period, but I took a different view which was well publicised at the Council meetings. I am glad the position has now been reversed. I welcome him here to the first country he will visit since these difficulties arose.

The Austrians threatened a referendum.

They must ensure they do not get into some of the difficulties they seemed to be in last year. I know Chancellor Schüssel strongly holds those views.

Will the Taoiseach answer the question I asked him concerning the contrast between the treatment of Austria and Italy when the Italian Government contained a former fascist party, the MSI, and a party, the Lega Nord, whose leader, Umberto Bossi, had made a number of remarks which were at least as bad as those made by Jorg Heider? Yet the big country, Italy, was not sanctioned whereas the small country, Austria, was. Why did the Taoiseach agree, as the leader of a small country, to this discriminatory treatment of a small country when a larger country had got away with it?

In the case of Italy, there was no sanction proposed and there was no great debate on the issue. Perhaps there should have been. However, there was in the case of Austria. There was great disenchantment not only in Europe but also in Austria. There were monster marches and protests on this issue which went on for several weeks in the cold of the winter. That had to be responded to and it was. The EU should send a message. Deputy John Bruton wishes me to say that perhaps that should be the case regardless of the country involved. I agree it should be the case and that policy should be consistent whether it is a large or a small country.

Does the Taoiseach agree the policy has not been consistent up to now in that the treatment of Austria when Kreiske was Chancellor was different from when Schüssel was Chancellor and that the treatment of Austria was different from that of Italy and the Government led by Berlusconi? Does the Taoiseach accept that in the next 12 months the same problem will arise in regard to Italy if the centre right wins the election because the centre right coalition in Italy will include Lega Nord and the party led by Gian Franco Fini, the former fascist party? What proposals is the Taoiseach making in regard to the Italian situation in order to be consistent with the position to which he agreed in regard to Italy?

Neither I nor anybody else will say, in advance of an election in another member state, what action they will or will not take. The consistency of a viewpoint based on the policies put forward by individual parties is an issue which should be reflected on by the European Council.

It has nothing to do with the policies of the Government, which were entirely acceptable. It was all to do with the past Government—

Please, Deputy Bruton, I have called Deputy De Rossa.

That is not correct. It was on a manifesto that Heider argued—

It was a policy statement that Heider said he would carry out in Government. That is what led to the issue.

No. That is not the case.

In relation to the European Charter on Human Rights, which the Taoiseach referred to in his reply, will he indicate the Government's position on and attitude to this charter given that the Government representative at the presidium of the convention last week announced that the Irish Government could not accept this charter? Will the Taoiseach indicate now to this House what precisely is the Government's position? Does he now accept that this is a charter agreed by every other member state? No other member state has indicated its opposition to it. Will the Taoiseach accept that it will go before Biarritz and will he urge that it be adopted at the Biarritz summit as a charter of rights for the citizens of Europe?

Deputy De Rossa is incorrect if he said we tried to block it. It went through yesterday.

I specifically said it at the presidium of the convention last week. The full convention met on Monday and it was adopted there. The formal objection was made by the Irish Government representative, Deputy Michael O'Kennedy, at the presidium of the convention last week where he made clear the Irish Government would not accept the convention in its present form. I want to know if that position has been withdrawn and does the Government accept the convention?

The Deputy has got it right the second time –"in its present form"—

No. The Government got it right the second time.

—after he got the amendments. I would not send people out who would sit down and agree to anything. Not alone were substantial amendments changed at the meeting last week but whole chapters and treaties were changed and thankfully, from the good work of Deputy Michael O'Kennedy—

The Taoiseach is misleading the House.

I am not misleading the House.

Deputy De Rossa, I do not want to pursue this matter because it is not appropriate to the questions before us.

Deputy Michael O'Kennedy stated at the convention that the Government could not accept it in its present form—

In its present form, and the form was changed.

—at the end of the debate last week.

Deputy Gay Mitchell.

Sorry, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, I was just correcting the error the Deputy made. I want to answer the question. As the Deputy is aware, last December the European Council stated it would deal with this charter. We are able to move to a position now where it will go before the Biarritz summit – it is a draft – for consideration. The final text has taken on board our concerns, principally with regard to possible duplication of the conflict with the role of the European Court of Human Rights, that might arise from the charter, which was the particular point Deputy O'Kennedy was making. We will now support it. This matter came up originally at Cologne where it was decided that the charter would draw together the existing rights of the Union, not new rights. The convention has now done that. The procedures, the time scale etc. will be discussed either in Biarritz or in Nice. It is not a legal document but the way it will be taken when it is completed will be an issue also to be decided in Biarritz. I believe a political binding declaration in this area is important. I support it and I will support it in Biarritz.

In reply to the questions put to him by Deputy Bruton, the Taoiseach said that he would welcome a debate on European issues, to which the Minister, Deputy de Valera, contributed. The Taoiseach also referred to the report of the three wise men and he could have referred to the Cologne Declaration, the St. Malo Declar ation and the appointment of Javier Solana, the former Secretary General of NATO, as Mr. CFSP, and his double-hatting as Secretary General of the Western European Union. For example, my party and others have clearly set out positions on security and defence in policy documents, from the time of Sean Lemass to Deputy John Bruton as Taoiseach. Why is this Taoiseach the only one not to have set out his position on this matter? Given that he is participating in these discussions at European level, as part of the debate can we anticipate that he will now set out his stall on European security and defence matters?

I will give the Deputy a copy of my speech of last March.

Can I take it the Government will issue a position paper prior to Biarritz or will the Taoiseach outline the evolution of the debate following whatever tentative conclusions are reached at Biarritz so that we can have the sort of debate for which he frequently calls but refuses to engage in?

Before the summer recess I told the Deputy I would do that and that when we realised where the debate was going in the autumn I would set out the position and I intend to do that.

After Biarritz.

Will the Taoiseach state his and the Government's view on the re-weighting of voting rights in the qualified majority voting system to favour larger countries, a proposal that is being made to compensate them for the possible loss of their second Commissioner? Is that a proposal or compromise he would be willing to accept? Is he in favour of extending the area wherein qualified majority voting may occur, in other words, where unanimity and a veto is no longer automatic and, if so, will he indicate in which areas he is willing to see an extension of qualified majority voting?

I do not want to give away my negotiating hand in those discussions. In general I am in favour of moving a considerable distance on qualified majority voting.

In regard to weighting or the areas covered?

In both. The arguments made by President Prodi and others that the veto should exist but should be used only in a limited number of cases are fair. In a Community that works efficiently and effectively the threat of the veto in other than very important areas should not be used. Deputy Bruton attended European Councils for several years. If the veto was maintained in an extensive area with regard to 26 or 27 countries, I do not know how we could do business. I do not know how that would work, therefore, I am in favour of moving a considerable distance on that. As to the precise areas, I would prefer not to comment on that until we finalise the negotiations.

I would like to say something nice for a change.

Deputy, we are running short of time.

I am pleased the Minister, Deputy de Valera, was present to hear the Taoiseach say that. I hope she found it educational.

(Dublin West): Will the Taoiseach agree that in coming into the Dáil today and supporting the Minister, Deputy de Valera's questioning of the EU project, he and the Fianna Fáil Party are guilty of monumental hypocrisy since they have accepted everything that the EU bureaucracy threw at this country for decades because the begging bowl for EU funds was so firmly in their grasp that their knuckles turned white? The Government still justifies reactionary policy such as privatisation, which as we know now in the case of Telecom is a plot to rob—

The Deputy is wandering from the subject of the 16 questions before us.

Ministers agreed this, not the bureaucrats.

(Dublin West): The point is that the Government used the EU and is now questioning the—

Deputy, please stick to the questions.

(Dublin West): On the EU's common foreign and security policy, what is the Taoiseach's attitude to the EU shortly taking over the satellite centre in Spain belonging to the Western European Union, which the Taoiseach knows is the armed nuclear site of the Europe NATO states? In allowing this to happen and in allowing the Western European Union to grow ever closer to the EU, will the Taoiseach admit that he is allowing further significant steps to be taken regarding the EU forming a military wing, an EU army? Does this not render hollow the commitment to Irish neutrality made by the Taoiseach many times in the debate on PfP?

Regarding the first matter, it is ironic that Deputy De Rossa criticises me because we have a representative out there arguing against accepting everything the EU puts on the table, while two minutes later Deputy Higgins criticises me because we are accepting it.

Different parties.

The fact is one participates in these issues and one fights one's national position, but one compromises. There is pooling of sovereignty on these issues, but it is for any representative to argue the case, a Minister, a Minister of State or, in this case, Deputy O'Kennedy, who has put an enormous effort into arguing this case at the presidium.

On the other issue, I have outlined in detail what is happening with the capabilities convention and what the Political and Security Committee is doing on one side while the Military Committee works on the other side. Nobody in Europe is taking over anything. There is co-operation on the Petersberg Tasks and NATO's assets and data are used and pooled so that the community can move to a stated objective of being able by 2003, in approximately two years, to put a force of approximately 60,000 people into a difficult situation. Of course, both the Defence and Security Committee and the Military Committee have been debating this issue, but it is not a question of Europe taking over any of these capabilities.

I point out that we have come to the end of Taoiseach's questions, but I will allow a question from Deputy Quinn and perhaps a double question from Deputies Jim O'Keeffe and John Bruton.

Does the Taoiseach agree he indicated that he would not declare his negotiating hand, but that his hand is already well known by the various positions of the other countries in these circumstances? What is required is that the Irish people, on whose behalf the Taoiseach is negotiating, know what the present position is if these are not secret negotiations. Does the Taoiseach agree that it would be desirable for him, in order to strengthen his position, to publish what the present position is in advance of Biarritz, not the March 2000 position? What is the present position of the Government regarding the trade-off for QMV and other matters in return for security on the issue of the Commission? Then we will see what comes out of Biarritz and we will see if we can support the Taoiseach, but he is obliged to let us know where he is at this point.

Deputy Quinn has taken what I said to Deputy Bruton incorrectly. It was not about where we are on qualified majority voting in advance of that; Deputy Bruton asked me specifically about the areas where I felt it should be removed and where the veto should be kept. I said we should keep it in very few areas, but there is still considerable debate and disagreement on precisely which areas. Deputy Quinn should specify which areas.

As Deputy Bruton correctly said, it is hoped this will come to a stage where there is a trade-off, but we are not at that stage. The larger countries have not yet conceded on the Commission, so why should I concede on aspects of the veto? Regarding the overall question of qualified majority voting and weighted voting, I am in favour of this because, to be frank, I am a strong supporter of the Commission and believe it is the right way to go in the future. I am glad of President Prodi's comments today about the strength of the Commission. It should not be pulled left, right and centre, because it has looked after the small nations.

These are not secret negotiations.

No, they are not, but let us wait and see the larger countries concede on something – at present they are not doing that. The French, who are co-ordinating this for their own good reasons, are not giving anything. I have had this discussion with my colleagues in the small countries – we must play our cards together but we cannot stupidly say we are against things. I fundamentally believe Europe will not work if we do not concede on them.

Is the Taoiseach aware that at the summit in Amsterdam, which I attended on behalf of the Government shortly before the change of Government, it was clear that at that stage the big countries were willing to accept the trade-off of a loss of Commissioners in return for a change in qualified majority voting in their favour? Does it not appear that what has happened in the last three years is that the big countries have slipped back in their positions, at least in principle, in terms of what they were prepared to accept at Amsterdam? What is the Taoiseach's view on the introduction of qualified majority voting in the area of tax policy?

On the second question, I am totally opposed to that. On the first question, if that were the case, Amsterdam would have concluded those matters but, unfortunately, that is why we have Amsterdam leftovers.

Will the Leas-Cheann Comhairle allow one brief question from me?

Sorry, Deputy, we have run well over time on Taoiseach's questions and a number of Deputies are offering at this stage.