Skip to main content
Normal View

Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 29 Mar 2001

Vol. 533 No. 5

Stockholm European Council: Statements.

With my colleagues, the Ministers for Finance and Foreign Affairs, I attended the Stockholm European Council meeting on Friday and Saturday, 23 and 24 March. The Council was a successful one. It dealt with a wide range of economic and political issues and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and I will deal with the most important of these in our statements to the House. As the Minister for Foreign Affairs will deal in detail with the foreign relations issues dealt with at the Council, I will restrict my comments on these aspects to some brief words on the meeting with the Presidents of Russia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

The conclusions of the Council have been laid before both Houses. Before I address the details of the summit, however, I would like to outline briefly the overall progress which is being made in building a European Union which makes a real difference to the day to day lives of the citizens of Europe.

We will shortly have a referendum on the Nice Treaty and, inevitably, the usual litany of myths and distortions will be trotted out by those opposed to the treaty. Were one to believe the wilder assertions made by its opponents, the European Union has been an unmitigated politi cal, economic, social and cultural disaster for the nations and people of Europe.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The European Union has created the framework within which its people have enjoyed an unprecedented period of peace and prosperity. It has also created the framework within which Ireland and its people have managed to reach new levels of economic prosperity, international recognition and cultural confidence.

The business conducted at the Stockholm Council reflected the reality of the European Union. At Stockholm we demonstrated our solidarity in the face of the threat from foot and mouth disease, which threatens the European agricultural sector; agreed to build on the good progress we have made towards achieving the target set as Lisbon and making the EU the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world by 2010. As a result, the European Union will be capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion; set out an ambitious programme of measures to underpin the employment and social policy objectives of the members states of the Union; acted as a force for peace in the Balkans by offering timely support to the Macedonian government; and had a full political and economic dialogue with the Russian President.

This is the real Europe. It is a Europe where, working together, the individual member states are building a more prosperous and a more socially inclusive European Union. It is a Europe where, through common action, the political, economic and social achievements of each member state are enhanced. This common action, achieved by forging consensus among the member states, may take time to put in place but, once in place, it will prove all the more effective.

More importantly, it is a Europe where the member states are free to disagree with each other and can defend their national interests. At Stockholm, for example, we failed to agree on target dates for the full liberalisation of the gas and electricity sectors. These were issues with which France, in particular, had real difficulties. The key difference between this type of disagreement and similar disagreements in Europe before the process of European integration began is that now the structures exist for the outstanding issues to be addressed on the basis of co-operation and compromise.

In this instance, we have committed ourselves to further considering the timetable for liberalisation and have asked the Commission to evaluate these sectors further in its report to next year's spring European Council. Ireland has and will continue to play its part in building the European Union. The benefits accruing to our people make this an essential task.

In the run up to the Council, Ireland made a number of important contributions to its preparation. On 19 January, in response to a letter from Prime Minister Persson, I outlined Ireland's priorities for the Council, which included the mainstreaming of the social inclusion agenda, the promotion of lifelong learning and the implementation of the financial services action plan. In addition, Prime Minister Persson visited Dublin on 26 February and we had a full exchange of views on the agenda for the Council.

In early March, Ireland submitted a paper entitled Better Regulation through Partnership, which highlighted the importance of ensuring the right quantity and quality of regulation. It was an appropriate time to focus on regulatory reform as a tool to give the European Union a competitive advantage as a global player. Such reform can also serve to bring the Union closer to its citizens and to protect consumer interests.

In addition, Ireland participated with Denmark, Portugal and the United Kingdom on a basic skills project as a valuable input to the development of a lifelong learning strategy at European level. Furthermore, following on from our joint contribution to Lisbon last year, Prime Minister Blair and myself submitted a joint paper to Prime Minister Persson on 8 March which highlighted the need for further action in the areas of employment for women, skills and lifelong learning, implementing the European Research Area and agreeing the community patent. All of these contributions played an important role in signalling to our European partners the Irish priorities for the summit.

The core business of the Stockholm European Council was ensuring further progress on the economic and social agenda of the European Union. The meeting produced a number of important results which will, over the coming years, bear fruit in terms of better policies and better economic and social performance at European level. I will give some examples of that.

The European Council addressed the demographic challenge of an ageing population of which people of working age constitute an ever smaller part; discussed how to create more and better jobs, accelerate economic reform, modernise the European social model and harness new technologies; issued strategic guidance for the broad economic policy guidelines to achieve sustained growth and stable macro economic conditions; and agreed to improve procedures so that the European Council's spring meeting will become the focal point for an annual review of economic and social questions.

The demographic challenge facing the Union is considerable with substantial increases projected in the number of retired people as a percentage of the working population. To meet this challenge and to ensure all European citizens have the opportunity to meet their full potential, the European Council adopted three new targets for EU wide employment rates. In Lisbon, the Council set targets for 2010 of 70% overall and 60% for women. In Stockholm, to ensure that the achievement of these targets is kept in focus, we set interim targets for 2005 of 67% overall and 57% for women. Member states are to consider setting corresponding targets in their national employ ment plans. In addition, we agreed to set an EU target for increasing the average EU employment rate among women and men aged 55 to 64 to 50% by 2010. These targets are fully in accord with Ireland's own employment policies.

To ensure the employment potential of the European Union is maximised and the increasing number of retired people have the fullest possible opportunity to provide for supplementary pensions, the Commission has been mandated to present to the 2002 spring European Council an action plan on opening up new European labour markets as well as specific proposals for the recognition of qualifications and the portability of supplementary pensions. To ensure the quality as well as the quantity of jobs improve, indicators on the quality of work and the reality of gender equality in the workforce are to be developed by the relevant Councils of Ministers and the Commission. With the introduction of euro notes and coins now only nine months away, the time is ideal for the acceleration of economic reform. The heads of state and Government agreed that well functioning markets are vital for increasing consumer benefits and creating an entrepreneurial environment.

Perhaps the most important achievement of the Council was the agreement to fast track the development of a common approach to the regulation of financial services within the European Union. Ireland has strongly supported for many years the implementation of the financial services action plan. The implementation of this plan has been subject to lengthy delays which have prevented Europe taking full advantage of the benefits of the Single Market. It was a key Irish priority that this aspect of the Union's agenda be given added impetus by the European Council.

The conclusions of the Council were most encouraging in this regard. In particular, the European Council approved the resolution on more effective securities market regulation and considers it constitutes a good platform for effective co-operation between the Commission, the Council and the European Parliament in this area. It agreed that the financial services action plan should be fully implemented by 2005, with every effort made by all parties concerned to achieve an integrated securities market by the end of 2003 by giving priority to securities markets legislation provided for in the plan. It also endorsed the objective of a well functioning risk capital market by 2003 through the implementation of the risk capital action plan. While the terminology in this area is technical, the effects of this agreement will be profound. It will be reflected in easier access to capital and in better and more competitive financial services which will, in turn, result in more jobs, better pensions and cheaper financial services for the people and companies of Europe.

Ireland has over the years pressed for the promotion of social inclusion at European level. I welcome, therefore, the fact that the Council recognised that the fight against social exclusion is of the utmost importance for the Union. It was agreed that priority should be given by the member states to implementing national action plans on combating poverty and social exclusion to progress on the basis of the common objectives agreed in Nice. The aim at the European Council is that the proposal for a social inclusion programme be agreed by the end of the year.

I was also pleased that the Council supported the committed and active involvement of social partners in implementing reform, the success of which requires commitment from employers and workers at the grassroots. This commitment to social partnership was made no less pleasing by the fact that the Council endorsed the setting up as soon as possible of the European Observatory for Industrial Change as part of the Dublin Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. This development will reinforce the role of the foundation, which is based in Loughlinstown, in supporting the development of European policy in this area.

There was a full debate on the situation in the agricultural sector at the European Council. The Council welcomed and stressed the importance of effective co-operation among national authorities and endorsed the thorough measures being taken by the Council, the Commission and the member states. The Council expressed its determination, a determination fully shared by the Government and myself, to contain and ultimately eradicate foot and mouth disease and BSE.

The European Council also issued a declaration on climate change which reaffirmed the EU's strong commitment to the Kyoto protocol and urged all negotiating partners to engage constructively in implementing it. I regret the US announcement that it will no longer pursue the implementation of the protocol. Ireland will continue to work with our EU partners and other like minded countries to seek a way towards the full implementation of Kyoto.

The European Council had a meeting and lunch with the Russian President at which we indicated our support for the modernisation of the Russian economy and the building of a genuine partnership between Russia and the EU based on common values. In this context, we expressed our strong concern over the situation in Chechnya and stressed the need for a political solution of the conflict as a matter of urgency. We also had a meeting with President Trajkovski of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia at which we reaffirmed our support for a peaceful and negotiated solution to problems in the region.

During the Council I had a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Blair where we assessed the current situation in Northern Ireland. I took the opportunity of the meeting to express my support for the United Kingdom's efforts to eradicate foot and mouth disease and asked that the most stringent measures be taken to ensure traffic between our two countries posed no risk of spreading the disease.

The European Council in Stockholm marked an important milestone for the European Union in that it showed that Europe is committed at the highest level to the achievement of the objective set at Lisbon. It proved once again, if further proof were required, that the European Union works and that it does so for the benefit of all its members.

I welcome the progress, although slow, made at this Council on a number of issues. I congratulate the Swedish Presidency on its conduct of the affairs of the Union. I note the progress towards a unified risk capital market, the liberalisation of the gas and electricity markets and the greater co-ordination of national combat poverty plans.

We are, to the great advantage of the economy, playing an increasing part in the provision of international financial services. The developments at the IFSC, Shannon and elsewhere have created good jobs for many of our well qualified graduates. The European Council's consideration of two matters, the financial services action plan and the creation of a unified risk capital market, should assist the further development of our financial services sector. I hope the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance will be to the forefront in efforts to achieve the risk capital market by 2003.

Now that the decision in principle has been taken to liberalise the gas and electricity markets, I urge the Government to ensure the ESB and Bord Gáis are put in a position to gain the maximum possible benefit from the liberalisation. I am concerned about the slow progress in the first phase of electricity liberalisation in Ireland and the many difficulties being experienced by prospective new entrants to the market. These problems must be addressed as a matter of urgency if our energy sector is to remain competitive in a fully liberalised European Union market. We, on this side of the House, have been uneasy with the relationships the Minister for Public Enterprise has had with many of the State-sponsored bodies in her remit. Her record of interference in their affairs, of confrontation with their senior management and of intolerance of points of view other than her own has stifled the talent of these organisations and impeded their development. The ESB and Bord Gáis have the experience and skills needed to take advantage of EU liberalisation. I ask that they be given the freedom and the encouragement to get on with it because they have not got that from the present incumbent.

I welcome the emphasis at the Council on the development of policies to promote social inclusion. The agreement to give the Council a central role in monitoring progress in the implementation of national action plans to combat poverty and social exclusion is important. It will provide a useful external check on the wealth oriented policies of some member states, including our own at times. It will help to reinforce Fine Gael's version of a genuine Irish social contract towards which we should all work. It is extremely ironic that a quarter of an hour after the Taoiseach again rejected our views on the Sinnott case he stated it is Government policy, which he promulgated at Stockholm, to encourage lifelong learning. Even though this is the central issue being challenged by the Government in the Supreme Court, it is actually a priority in Ireland's foreign affairs policy now. I think that is deeply ironic.

I come now to the European Council's focus on the current foot and mouth disease crisis. While realising that the arrangements for the meeting were essentially in the hands of a non-agricultural country, and one which has not itself felt the pain of the foot and mouth disease outbreak, I am disappointed that the Taoiseach did not find it possible to join with like minded countries to achieve a greater focus on the problem which will eventually impact directly or indirectly on all member states.

In my statement on Friday last I called on the Taoiseach to convey to the British Prime Minister the unease and concern of the Irish people at the way in which the control of disease is being handled in Britain. I have no idea what the Taoiseach might have said privately to the Prime Minister – he has not told us in his statement – but I know what he said publicly. He focused on criticising aspects of the handling of the situation in Northern Ireland, the area in the United Kingdom where action has been most decisive and most effective. We are all taking pride in the part which the Northern Ireland Agriculture Minister, Bríd Rodgers, is playing in managing the crisis. Her actions are a fitting monument to the SDLP's 30 years of commitment to constructive politics. I congratulate her on her most recent achievement of securing from the EU for Northern Ireland the regional status which will enable it shortly to resume exporting meat and dairy exports to other European Union countries.

The problem that I ask the Taoiseach to address, the heart of the foot and mouth disease problem, is across the water, not across the Border. The carefully crafted institutions set up under the Belfast Agreement have shown themselves to be capable of working well in the interests of all the people of this island. The Taoiseach should be supporting not knocking the spirit of co-operation which clearly prevails between the authorities on both sides of the Border.

I will conclude with two points relating to foot and mouth disease. While in Stockholm, the Taoiseach responded in the negative to my request for support for those businesses, especially in the tourist industry, which are, after the farming section itself, most severely damaged by the outbreak. Nevertheless, while visiting County Louth over the weekend, the Minister, Deputy McDaid, said he would be bringing proposals to Government to alleviate the difficulties in tourism. I wish to ask the Taoiseach who is making Government policy, who is in charge, why the mixed messages? The Taoiseach must tell the House what is the Government response to my request. Is it the Taoiseach's negative in Stockholm or is it the quasi-positive response of the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation in Carlingford?

The second point I wish to make regarding foot and mouth relates to the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue. It is some time since the media exposed in some detail the cross-Border sheep smuggling racket. Following these revelations, what did the Minister do? Did he have the matter investigated and what investigations, other than those taken by the Revenue Commissioners, were carried out? What were the conclusions of any investigations carried out at the Minister's instigation and what follow-up action was taken? Were extra cross-Border patrols put in place and additional Garda resources allocated to deal with the problem? If, on the one hand, no investigation was carried out, may I ask why not? Was the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform simply hoping for the best and was smuggling not included in the zero tolerance approach? These are important questions which I ask the Taoiseach to address without delay.

The Taoiseach has spoken of the Kyoto Agreement and the seeming decision by the United States authorities, as revealed by President Bush, not to implement the Kyoto Treaty in the United States. I have read the Taoiseach's script very quickly but I do not think that his references to Kyoto are included in the script which has been distributed. I wish to question the Taoiseach on it during Taoiseach's Questions. In so far as I understand the Taoiseach's policy position, I support it and we should do everything possible within an EU context to ensure that the Kyoto objectives are implemented in full.

I will now give some of my time to my colleague, Deputy Durkan, chairperson of the European Affairs committee.

I thank the House and my party leader for the opportunity to speak. It appears to me that the Stockholm Summit did not address the lack of cohesive action on the part of the EU and I can think of a number of instances over the last few years. The French truckers' strike last year had an impact on the whole European Union, especially in relation to fuel prices. The European Union did not take cohesive action. The French Government took unilateral action. Subsequently, the British Government took unilateral action and, as result, the rest of the European Union followed to a greater or lesser extent. That is not the way the EU is supposed to proceed. The action should be taken at the top level so that each member state will fall into line in so far as it can and any State which is unable to do so should say so. There has been an inability on the part of the EU in recent times to make a decision and stand over it. It has failed to give a signal to those both within and without the EU that it is taking that decision.

I note that the agricultural situation was discussed at the Stockholm Summit. However, I do not think the summit dealt adequately with the situation. It dealt superficially with it. It did not recognise that the regime in relation to animal health and consumer protection within the EU has failed. It has failed to deal with the BSE crisis and now the foot and mouth disease. The EU seems to be unable to act as a unit. This is so because it suits different individual countries to operate in different fashions.

Operating under the guise of freedom of movement, it has become possible to import into this country and to export from other member states animals and products that did not have the required status. The freedom of movement proposals were never intended to allow a situation to develop whereby the food chain was going to be put at risk, not just in one member state, but throughout the Union. The risk applies to everybody and it is a very serious matter. There are those across the water in the UK who seem to feel that it only affects 10% of their economy, the agricultural sector. There are much wider implications for the whole EU economy. It has very serious implications for our economy because we are an exporting nation. We export our food products and, as a result, the impact on our economy is considerably greater.

The European Union should have taken serious issue with the assessment of the present situation. It should have set out a formula to ensure that there is not a repetition in the future. We heard yesterday at the European Affairs committee meeting that it is quite common for imported food ingredients from outside the EU to be further processed and labelled within the Union. The Union has no control over the quality of the regimes operated in the countries of origin. I am aware these matters are covered by various EU regulations and instruments but it was never intended that they would operate in the manner they do. Serious risks are posed to the health of EU citizens by the continuance of these practices.

In recent years, I and countless other Members have raised questions about the importation of meat and meat products into this country and other EU member states. Once a product gets into one member state, it can circulate throughout the EU thereby presenting a very serious problem to the entire food chain. I am disappointed that a greater emphasis was not placed on this issue at the recent summit as it presented an ideal opportunity for discussion. A mere paragraph is contained in part 2 of the Presidency Conclusions on this matter. The degree of detail required to show this issue is being seriously addressed was not in evidence. I hope the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Taoiseach will ensure at the next summit that the fears and concerns expressed in this House, in the North and throughout other EU countries will be met with appropriate actions.

Deputy Noonan spoke about climate change and the US decision on emissions. I presume the participants in the summit were not aware of the impending US decision which has an impact on the rest of the world, particularly in view of the high degree to which the US contributes to the emission of greenhouse gases. I do not understand how the US could have made such a decision without reference to the EU, particularly as the previous US Administration had agreed to pursue a particular policy. The conclusions also refer to climate change. Perhaps the Minister will outline the extent, if any, to which the summit was aware of the impending US decision.

The summit did not adequately address – nor has the issue been adequately addressed for years – the question of a European vision and Europe's future direction, notwithstanding the Treaty of Nice and the views advanced by various member states. There is evidently a void in Europe at present in that there is no major or senior personality acting as a driving force in this area. In the past, there was always somebody in the European arena who was regarded as "Mr. Europe"–"who do I contact in the event of a crisis?" to paraphrase Henry Kissinger's words. This void stems from the fact that some member states have different priorities. Some wish to proceed at a faster rate that the rest of the Union can accommodate while others are proceeding at a slower rate. The member states in the middle are faced with a dilemma. It is important that this issue would be tackled at the next summit. There must be recognition with the EU and outside it of a person or a number of people who will drive Europe forward as a unit and who will make Europe recognised and respected throughout the rest of the world.

The harmonisation of taxation policies will arise again. I note the reference to taxation matters in the conclusions and this is an issue on which I would welcome the Minister's views. It is advantageous for us to have our own tax regimes but we must have regard to other areas of taxation. There are several other issues to which I would like to refer but time constraints do not permit me to do so.

I wish to share time with Deputy Sargent.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

This summit took place against the background of the Treaty of Nice. I reiterate my earlier comments on the importance for Ireland that the treaty be comprehensively debated. The Minister for Foreign Affairs may wish to outline his views on the necessity for such a debate outside these Houses. I compliment the Minister on the quality of the White Paper published yesterday and on the manner of its publication.

The Stockholm spring council is the second of what is described in EU jargon as the "Lisbon process", a process initiated this time last year to run for ten years. That process dictates that during the annual spring council meeting of the EU Presidency, progress would be monitored and targets set would be evaluated with a view to creating one of the most, if not the most, dynamic economic areas in the world. I welcome some of the progress which has been made and I welcome the contribution of the Government in setting targets which it has, in some cases, achieved.

While recognising the progress made, I put it to the Taoiseach that in regard to the necessity to increase the numbers of people participating in the workforce at European level and to provide for the renewal of the ageing European workforce – although Ireland is some decades behind the ageing cohort relative to other European countries – we have a problem in regard to the administration of proper work visas to people coming to work here from outside the European economic area. Yesterday's revelations that Filipino nurses attracted here to work and care for Irish people are living in what can only be described as conditions unfit for pigs is an indictment on all of us. I commend the trade union official and the other people involved for revealing this scandal.

If we invite people into the working environment of the EU, they are entitled to the same conditions and rights which the European labour movement has succeeded in putting on the Statute Book. I urge the Taoiseach to introduce legislation to provide for work visas, as distinct from work permits, for people coming to work here. A work permit is effectively the property of the employer as both the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, having formerly served as Ministers with responsibility for labour matters, will be aware whereas a work visa entitles people to work anywhere in the economy rather than being tied to a particular place of employment and employer. If the Filipino nurses and others were here on proper work visas, they would not be living in the exploitative conditions revealed yesterday. Speeded up action is necessary in that respect. I commend to the Taoiseach the Labour Party's policy on asylum seekers and immigration in which we said that, in line with the projected estimates of incoming workers into the economy, 10,000 work visas should be issued per annum for ten years and that, in the first year, they should be offered on a first refusal basis to the 15,000 asylum seekers in the State who have yet to have their appeals properly processed. Many of them are economic migrants and offering them work visas would deal with two pertinent issues.

One is the growing level of intolerance and racism manifest in some parts of the country because people believe outsiders receive benefits which ordinary citizens cannot yet receive. That understandably generates a certain degree of tension. The other issue is that it would enable many asylum seekers in Ireland to do what they wanted to do in the first place, which is to work. The slowness with which the Departments of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Enterprise, Trade and Employment have introduced this legislation is unacceptable.

Regarding the financial services action plan, the Taoiseach's report to the House is relatively glossy and much more optimistic than yesterday's second editorial in the Financial Times which referred to the regulation of the European financial markets:

Ostensibly, Stockholm was a success, allowing Tony Blair and others to proclaim faster progress toward a single European financial market by 2004. But, under pressure from Germany, leaders have agreed to an undesirable compromise that could make regulation of financial services more cumbersome.

The drawbacks are threefold. First, the deal upsets the delicate balance between European Union institutions and the powerful new Securities Committee made up of experts from member states. Second, it could give a de facto veto to big countries. Third, it risks antagonising the European Parliament, which already feels cut out of the process.

The deal would effectively force the European Commission to drop proposals on "sensitive" issues that face "predominant" opposition in the member states. This is a retreat from earlier wording that would have allowed regulatory proposals to go through unless there was a clear or "qualified" majority against.

The previous presumption in favour of the Commission – now overturned – had stirred suspicions in the City of London and Frankfurt. But it contained an important commitment from the Commission to consult fully and openly with market participants at an early stage.

The editorial goes on but I will not take the time to quote the rest of it except to quote from its concluding paragraph:

It is time for all sides to adhere to the spirit of give and take in the Lamfalussy plan. Now the Council has made its power-grab, the parliament must be given adequate guarantees that its own views will be taken into account. That is part of a democratic process. It is also vital if the ambition for speedier and more effective legislation in financial services is to be realised.

The Taoiseach and his Government, if they are still in office next spring, or their successors, should have as a priority on the agenda for next spring's council, progress on the full implementation of the Lamfalussy plan. The action taken by the Germans in respect of this will frustrate the very thing the Taoiseach said was desirable, namely, realising the full potential of the euro zone and the financial markets which depend on the liberalisation of movements of capital, properly regulated and supervised, in the euro zone.

On the Taoiseach's reference to the liberalisation of the gas and electricity markets and following on the comments of Deputy Noonan, the Labour Party does not have any confidence in the political ability or ministerial competence of the Minister for Public Enterprise. Her political skills are undoubted. She comes from a highly politically skilled family with a long tradition of political performance in the State. However, her stewardship of the Department of Public Enterprise leaves much to be desired. We are fearful of the manner in which liberalisation of the gas and electricity markets will be take place in Ireland as long as she remains Minister. I share the concerns already expressed and which have been articulated on more than one occasion by my colleague, Deputy Stagg. We need an effective energy market and security of supply to respect and recognise Ireland's strategic interests. To do that, we need the legislation to be brought forward to give effect to it. It is inexplicable why the necessary legislation at domestic level is not brought forward.

Regarding the reference to climate change, which was not included in the Taoiseach's speech but is no doubt available to Members, any commentators who cynically stated there was no difference between George W. Bush and Al Gore will see the real difference on the international stage. The idea that Al Gore, were he President, would unilaterally tear up the United States commitment to the Kyoto Protocol is inconceivable. The fact a report in the Financial Times today states that the Republican dominated Congress would probably not ratify the Kyoto Accord does not necessarily excuse the United States President for unilaterally abandoning it.

It is a return to a worrisome trait along the corridors of power in the most powerful country in the world of a take-it-or-leave-it unilateralism, where the most powerful country can decide to arbitrate global issues exclusively on the basis of what is in the best interests of the United States. It is a mixture of international swagger and domestic isolationism which does not bode well for this century. In that context and notwithstanding the sensitivity of the relationship Ireland must have with the United States, will the Minister for Foreign Affairs indicate in his reply, because this decision was made since the Stockholm Council meeting, whether Ireland will use its position on the Security Council to raise the issue of the unilateral abandoning by the United States of its commitment to the Kyoto Protocol? That protocol is a United Nations initiative.

There is a necessity to deal at European level with the issue of food safety and security. My colleague, Deputy Upton, has drawn attention on a number of occasions to the fact that the traditional relationship between the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development and producers and consumers has gone well past its sell-by date, if I can borrow a phrase from the shelves of supermarkets throughout Europe. It is not just in this country. Geoffrey Lean, writing in the Independent on Sunday made precisely the same observation about the British Ministry for Agriculture, Food and Fisheries. It is time to end the unhealthy relationship between the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development and the European Commission and consumers and people who depend on European produced food for health and growth.

The lessons of unregulated and unknown food and animal movements are frightening. The revelation by the Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, in the House of Commons earlier this week of millions of sheep moving in Britain in February has come as a great surprise to most, but perhaps not to some in the relevant Departments of Agriculture. The continued confusion between the Ministers, Bríd Rodgers and Deputy Walsh, and their officials as to what happened to the 60-odd sheep which disappeared somewhere between Meigh in Armagh and Roscommon and wherever else south of the Border is evidence of that. We must reconstruct the relationship of agriculture with producers and consumers. That can only happen at European level.

We will have another opportunity to debate other aspects of the outcome of Stockholm. The pattern whereby the Minister for Foreign Affairs went to the relevant Oireachtas committee was useful in that questions and answers were explored in a more comprehensive way and issues were explored in a manner satisfactory to committee members.

It is ironic that in the run up to the referendum on the Nice Treaty, members of the Fianna Fáil Party will portray themselves as great Europeans because, while their body language may be European, in their souls they are American. To put it at its crudest, the Berliners are on this side of the House while the Bostonites are on the other side.

Ich bin Berliner.

Members on the Government side and people in industry will breath a sigh of relief today because President Bush has torn up the Kyoto protocol. Ireland has fully embraced the American model and we cannot under any circumstances meet our commitments under the protocol. Ireland was given a good deal in that it was allowed to go 13% above 1990 levels, but even that cannot be attained. The papers produced by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, are useless. They do not contain any commitments to introducing eco or energy taxes, which are vital if Ireland is to meet its commitments.

One of the positive aspects of Stockholm was that European leaders showed that they were different. They called on President Bush to honour the Kyoto commitments and Ireland supported that call. However, the problem is that the Government today did not issue an unequivocal condemnation of President Bush. I call on the Government to issue such a condemnation. I regard President Bush as an intellectual pygmy who is grossly irresponsible. He should be a pariah as far as Europe is concerned, but that is not obvious in the comments of the Taoiseach or the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Such a step would show that Ireland belongs to the European camp and does not have a foot in the American camp.

The details of global warming are well known, but the Minister for Foreign Affairs should remember in any talks he has with his counterparts that the latest reports from the UN show that it will have catastrophic effects worldwide. I do not understand the attitude of the Americans, but perhaps it is related to the fact that we are all caught in an economic growth paradigm from which we cannot escape. We are totally dependent on fossil fuels to the extent that we have become fossil fuel junkies and this needs to be radically changed. Unfortunately, this attitude is not shared by the Government or the Bush Administration. I agree with Deputy Quinn that Al Gore, if he had been elected, would have held a different view.

If one considers the difference between the current and former Presidents of the United States, former President Clinton was a colossus compared to President Bush who will send the planet down the tubes if he continues in his current fashion. According to the UN, by 2100, tropical diseases will have spread to the US because of global warming. Many African deserts will have expanded and alpine glaciers will have melted. Tropical cyclones will have forced millions of people to flee Asia. There will be ecological rather than economic migrants because of global warming.

Regarding people's participation in European affairs and debates, there have been abysmally low turn outs in the last number of referenda. This is indicative of the fact that many people feel removed from Europe. This will continue because of further centralisation in Europe. People discuss subsidiarity, but few appear to understand or enact it. An increasing number of people are likely to become disenchanted with the European project. The Nice Treaty moves us away from a partnership of equals, which was the reason people joined the EU. Unfortunately and undeniably, a two tier and two speed Europe is being created. This is a worrying development in the EU. We want more people to participate in the debate, but the opposite effect will be created and, as I said previously, more right wing parties are likely to emerge. I am aware that right wing parties throughout Europe are experiencing a backlash, but that relates to internal party reasons. In the longer term, parties which are highly critical of EU developments will emerge.

I regard myself as a European, but I do not like the direction Europe is taking. I particularly dislike the fact that the development of European security and defence policy will result in Ireland moving towards a European defence union. This will mean increased military spending. My view is that more money should not be spent on tanks and guns, but should be invested in health, education and the environment. There is no reason that Ireland should partake in the creation of a European superstate. Many members of the Green Party abroad consider that vital to counteract the US. This may be the view particularly of Joschka Fischer of the Germans Greens. However, we should not let that dictate our way of thinking. Traditionally, Ireland has been supreme in terms of peacekeeping throughout the world. However, Ireland has had to cut back on its commitments in the Lebanon and elsewhere. This is disappointing for many people who have been committed to Irish neutrality and peacekeeping efforts over many years.

I ask the Minister to take the issue of global warming seriously when he and the Taoiseach meet their counterparts. They should state that Ireland finds President George W. Bush's actions in tearing up the Kyoto protocol unacceptable. His decision is alarming and can only be bad for humanity.

The purpose of the statements on the European Council is to place on record what happened in Stockholm. I take Deputy Quinn's point and I look forward to a more detailed debate of individual aspects and related matters that have been raised. I have no problem discussing these issues in detail at the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs or the Joint Committee on European Affairs which may be better fora for them.

The Taoiseach referred to some of the wider political issues that were discussed for the purpose of accuracy and the record of the House. I will refer to some of the issues mentioned by Members during this short debate. I intend to address the external relations issues discussed at Stockholm. The Taoiseach dealt with the economic aspects of European Union-Russian relations. Views on a broad range of economic and policy area were exchanged. The discussion focused on enhancing co-operation and relations with Kaliningrad in the context of enlargement on which the Commission has published a detailed paper – this was broadly welcomed by Russia; co-operation under the northern dimension, an initiative that focuses on the countries bordering the Baltic Sea and on the north west Russian regions; the further development of the energy dialogue between Russia and the EU; and Russia's accession to the WTO.

It was clear the European Council recognised that there can be no long-term stability without a lasting partnership with Russia. The European Council agreed to develop the political and strategic relationship with Russia while stressing that a genuine partnership in all areas must be based on common values. In relation to the Kyoto protocol and the discussions or the statements that have been made from the US President, clearly this Government welcomes the support of everyone in the House in regard to conveying our concern to the EU Presidency and the Swedish Prime Minister. There was support for the objective of President Putin to enhance the rule of law and democracy. The Heads of State and Government reiterated their serious concerns at the situation in Chechnya and stressed the need for a full and transparent investigation of human rights abuses and concrete progress towards a lasting political solution.

Discussions at the European Council in relation to the Western Balkans focused on the situation in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. EU Foreign Ministers were briefed by the Presidency and the High Representative, Javier Solana, on the outcome of his visit to Skopje the previous day. The issue was one of the main subjects discussed with the Russian Foreign Minister, Igor Ivanov, in our joint meeting with him. He informed us of his recent visit to the region.

On Friday evening, the European Council met the President and Foreign Minister of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, FYROM, and had the opportunity of hearing at first hand the actions their Government was taking to cope with the crisis in the area around Tetovo.

The European Council issued a strong declaration urging the Macedonian Government to continue to respond in a restrained manner to the crisis and reaffirmed our support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of FYROM and the inviolability of its borders. We welcomed the determination of the elected leaders of the ethnic Albanian community to remain committed to the democratic process and their renunciation of violence and assured them that the Union will be ready to assist the necessary internal political and economic reforms in order to consolidate FYROM's multi-ethnic society. The EU intends to sign a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia on 9 April, making it the first country in the region to be linked to the EU through this new instrument.

The European Council also called on the ethnic Albanian leaders in Kosovo to dissociate themselves from the Albanian extremists in FYROM and to condemn the violence unconditionally as the Government of Albania has already done. In this regard, I welcome the statement made last weekend by the leaders of the three main political parties in Kosovo calling on the extremist groups to lay down their weapons and return to their homes.

With the apparently successful action earlier this week by the Macedonian military in dislodging the extremists from their positions around Tetovo, I hope measures will now be taken by all sides to reduce tensions and restore peace in the region. When this has been achieved, the legitimate grievances of the Albanian community in FYROM must be addressed in accordance with normal democratic principles. The European Union High Representative, Javier Solana, will continue to be actively involved in the issue and will make recommendations to the Council.

On the Middle East peace process, great concern was expressed in our discussions at the very serious situation in Israel and the Palestinian territories and the mounting toll of casualties there. At the European Council in Stockholm, we recalled the declaration issued in Berlin in March 1999 which made clear our position that there could not be a veto on Palestinian self-determination, including the right to statehood. We reaffirmed our determination that the EU should make a more effective contribution to peace, stability and future prosperity in the Middle East. We called on other international donors urgently to join the European Union in pledging funding in support of the Palestinian budget. Israel must lift its closures and transfer the funds owed to the Palestinian Authority, which for its part must adopt a very strict budget, act against corruption and move towards democratic transparency. The European Union will continue to seek a way forward which will see an end to violence and the resumption of negotiations of an agreement within the framework of UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. To that end, Javier Solana will stay in close touch with all the parties and report to the Gothenburg European Council on how the European Union can play an enhanced role in promoting the resumption of the peace process.

The European Union has been seeking to play an active and constructive role in building peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. At the Stockholm European Council, our discussions focused on the contribution of the European Union to the efforts of building peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. In this context, we emphasised the commitment of the EU to contribute further to reducing tension between North and South Korea and to enhance the role of the Union support of peace, security and freedom on the Korean Peninsula. It is the expressed hope of partners that this enhanced EU commitment will expedite the holding of a second inter-Korean Summit and the implementation of the Joint Declaration made by the two Koreas in June 2000.

Prime Minister Persson of Sweden will visit Pyongyang and Seoul, representing the European Union, for talks with Presidents Kim-Jong-il and Kim Dae-jung on the full range of issues of concern to them and the EU, including, inter alia, disarmament and non-proliferation, human rights and humanitarian issues.

On the foot and mouth issue, the situation in the agricultural sector was the subject of extensive debate in Stockholm following the recurrence of BSE and the recent outbreak of foot and mouth disease in several EU countries. The European Council expressed its concern about the severity of the situation in the agricultural sector and its solidarity with farmers and others in rural communities. It welcomed and stressed the importance of effective co-operation among national authorities and endorsed the thorough measures being taken by the Council, Commission and member states. In particular, the European Council expressed its determination to contain and ultimately eradicate foot and mouth disease and BSE.

The importance of a food chain which is safe and sustainable in order to restore consumer confidence was underlined by the Council. Third countries were urged to lift measures which were not proportionate to either the extent of the problem or to the precautionary principle. The need for Community measures to respect the financial perspective was also stressed.

The European Council invited the Council and the European Parliament to ensure the decision on the establishment of a European food authority was taken before the end of this year. The Taoiseach underlined the Government's serious concern about the situation in relation to the outbreak of foot and mouth disease and informed his colleagues of the position here following confirmation of the case in County Louth on 22 March. The Taoiseach welcomed the solidarity and support of his fellow EU leaders for the plight of farmers and others affected by the outbreak of the disease. He endorsed the co-operation and commitment of the veterinary authorities throughout the EU in their efforts to contain the problem.

On the Nice Treaty debate, there is more prospect of a comprehensive focus on public debate in the time scale we have outlined between now and May than perhaps would be the case if there was a long drawn out debate continuing until the autumn or beyond. It behoves us as Members of the Oireachtas and political parties to lead that public debate. I look forward to the Second Stage debate beginning here next week on the treaty. It behoves all of us who agree that a "yes" vote is in the interests of the country, Europe and enlargement generally to try to devise a means by which we can get that wider public debate. I look to the social partners, the Council of the European Movement, the Institute of European Affairs and those who oppose the views I and others express in this House in support of it to engage in the debate. I am very anxious that the merits of the arguments are discussed in detail and comprehensively addressed. I believe in the overwhelmingly positive balance sheet, so to speak, in relation to Ireland's membership of the Union and the importance of Ireland pro-actively displaying its commitment, not just to the Union in its present state of development but to the dynamic that is inherent in how the European Union is developing. It is of crucial importance for peace and security in Europe, quite apart from economic issues, that progressive democratic forces in the emerging democracies of central and eastern Europe get a positive signal from a country such as Ireland. This is something to which we as a people should give great consideration in ensuring there is a large turnout in the referendum. We should show we care beyond our own borders or interests and show our concern for others who will be given this historic opportunity, should there be a positive vote in Ireland and obviously parliamentary approval in the other 14 countries. This will allow families, young people and others who have the very same ambitions, hopes and concerns as we have to have a better quality of life and opportunity in their own countries in central and eastern Europe. It behoves us, and will say much about how we see ourselves in the world, to be prepared to support the Nice Treacy which is the vehicle by which the political imperative and political inevitability of an enlargement can take place in a structured, orderly and comprehensive way.

Deputy Gormley should not be surprised about the European-ness of Fianna Fáil. It was the party who promoted this idea in the first instance and it was very much the Lemass view. At one time, we saw it as a move away from unhealthy dependence on Britain. We now see it very much in its international perspective. It is clear in the globalised world in which we live that Ireland can achieve far more in common with others than it can in isolation. I would put forward that argument in support of the treaty. It is one of the political arguments which we can discuss.

Mr. Lemass did not believe in neutrality.

He allowed for an informed and open debate on the issue. Being in that tradition, I am quite prepared to discuss the issue.

On the Nice Treacy debate, it is important within political organisations to try to activate our activists on the ground at all levels. Regardless of whether they are for or against the treaty, it is important that people become engaged.

I share Deputy Gormley's concern about the extent to which there is a real nexus of interest between the institutions and the people on the ground. One of the proposals for the Intergovernmental Conference of 2004 is to address this issue to see how we can delineate the competencies and ensure people see the relevance of these institutions and know what the European Union is doing. It is a central part of everyday life but, for many reasons on which we should perhaps reflect, citizens do not see the relevance of Europe in the everyday affairs of Ireland and other countries in Europe and throughout the world.

Reference has been made to the statements made by the US President on the Kyoto Protocol. I welcome the support of all Members in conveying our concerns on these issues.

Our condemnation.

The EU President, the Swedish Prime Minister, Mr. Persson, has contacted the United States in relation to these matters. There has been correspondence between the European Union Presidency and the United States on these issues. We will continue to work with our partners in the European Union and all the relevant international fora on the global issues involved in climate change. I assure the House that we will play our full role in this respect given recent developments.