1 Mr. Noonan asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting in Dublin on 30 May 2001 with the Prime Minister of Sweden, Mr. Goran Persson; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16346/01]
Vol. 538 No. 1
1 Mr. Noonan asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting in Dublin on 30 May 2001 with the Prime Minister of Sweden, Mr. Goran Persson; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16346/01]
2 Mr. Noonan asked the Taoiseach if the agenda for the forthcoming European Union summit meeting in Gothenburg has been finalised; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16347/01]
3 Mr. Noonan asked the Taoiseach the bi-lateral meetings he intends to hold during his attendance at the European Union summit meeting in Gothenburg; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16348/01]
4 Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach the matters discussed and any conclusions reached at his meeting with the Swedish Prime Minister, Mr. Goran Persson, as part of the preparations for the Gothenburg Summit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16643/01]
5 Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach the bilateral meetings he plans to have with other leaders at the EU summit in Gothenburg; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16863/01]
6 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach the agenda for the Gothenburg Summit to be held on 15 and 16 June 2001; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17201/01]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 6, inclusive, together.
I met Prime Minister Persson on 30 May during his tour of European capitals in preparation for the Gothenburg European Council on 15 and 16 June. We discussed the major items likely to be on the agenda at Gothenburg. These have now been confirmed by the Presidency as enlargement of the EU, sustainable development, social and economic issues, including the broad economic policy guidelines, transatlantic relations and foreign policy issues, including the circumstances in the Middle East and the Balkans.
On enlargement, we noted that agreement had recently been reached on the free movement of persons, which will help advance the process. We discussed the possibility of moving towards setting accession dates for the candidate countries. We also discussed the ongoing debate on the future of Europe, which will be raised alongside enlargement, noting the importance of focusing on the substance of the Union and not just its institutions.
We discussed the proposed EU strategy on sustainable development and agreed that the environmental dimension should be reflected in the Lisbon process. Social and economic issues discussed included broad economic policy guidelines, the single European sky and the Community patent.
We noted that the Council meeting will be preceded by a dinner attended by President Bush and the 15 heads of state and government, and it is likely that developments in the Middle East and the western Balkans will be addressed.
The outcome of the referendum on the Nice treaty has been a major disappointment to our European partners and I will brief my colleagues on this matter.
At the EU summit in Gothenburg, I plan to meet the Prime Minister Mr. Blair to discuss the ongoing effort to implement the Good Friday Agreement. I also plan to meet the Polish Prime Minister, Mr. Buzek, to discuss economic issues.
The Taoiseach may recall that during Question Time on 8 May 2001, I proposed that he should initiate a broad debate on the future of Europe. Does he believe the outcome of the referendum on the Nice treaty would have been different had such a debate begun at that time? Is the forum to which the Taoiseach referred last night to be the forum for such a debate on the future of Europe and not simply a debate confined to considerations of the Nice treaty? If so, what time scale and modus operandi does he have in mind? When does the Taoiseach feel the Nice treaty will be put before the people again and when will a debate take place on the wider European issues that will arise at the Intergovernmental Conference in 2004?
With regard to a debate on European issues, the Presidency has reported on the progress of the debate. Very few contributions have been made. We are one of the first countries to have set down some of the guidelines, but there has been no discussion on the range, agenda, format, etc. They are unlikely to be discussed until the European Council meeting at Lachen on the 14 and 15 December. It will set the agenda for progress in 2002, which will be reported to the European Council probably in the summer of 2003.
Last November, a number of countries, including Ireland, drew attention to relevant issues that should be discussed. In this regard, the Minister for Foreign Affairs made a number of speeches, as did I. As part of that debate, it had been con sidered that there should be a wider consultation for the 2004 Intergovernmental Conference, which is regarded as a broader Intergovernmental Conference than those of either Nice or Amsterdam. As I said to Deputy Howlin when he raised the proposals of his party on how best to engage in a debate on Europe, my intention was to have the Nice treaty ratified and then move immediately to the debate on the future of Europe. However, because some of the issues involved are inter-related, it makes sense to deal with both the issues of the Nice treaty and the future of Europe side by side. Having done this, we can have an influence on the discussions in Lachen and those of 2002.
Where Deputy Noonan's third question is concerned, I want to move quickly on the debates on the future of Europe and the Treaty of Nice. We must reach an agreement both inside and outside the House and examine all the options available to us.
I do not believe we should return immediately to deal with the issue of the Nice Treaty because that would be the wrong route to take. We must reflect on, appreciate and understand the will of the people who, after all, voted against the treaty. At the same time, however, we are obliged to deal with enlargement. Even Deputy Gormley stated yesterday that he does not want to see the enlargement process stopped. That issue, therefore, must be dealt with before the end of next year and a considerable amount of difficult work will need to be done. We will have to reflect on this and consider how the issue should be handled. I do not believe we should rule anything out at this stage, we should consider all options.
I have spoken with various senior officials and been in contact with the European Commission. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, has been in contact with representatives of the applicant countries, both on a one-to-one basis and collectively, at the General Affairs Council. Over the three days – Thursday, Friday and Saturday – of the impending summit I will make it my business to speak with the leaders of the applicant countries. I wanted to have the referendum on the Nice Treaty passed at this stage in order to assist the progression of matters over the next three days, particularly in view of the fact that the leaders of the applicant countries had not intended to meet for a further year and were not meant to be involved in the Lachen discussions. The next discussions in which they were due to be involved are those which will take place this time next year. I must consult them and the Commission, establish the proposed forum here and move forward as quickly as possible.
As stated yesterday, I am open to suggestion on the forum's terms of reference. I suggested, following an original suggestion from the Labour Party, that we should consider the models of the New Ireland Forum and the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation and use them as a basis on which to proceed. Both models worked well, but per haps some changes could be introduced to ensure the scope of the new forum is wide-ranging.
Deputy Noonan's final question related to the benefit of the forum, on which, I accept, everyone cannot serve. The value of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation was that all groups with an input to make – whether it was in respect of education, equality or community issues – on Northern Ireland were able to make presentations to it. The discussions and question and answer sessions which took place on Friday mornings proved very useful. If we could do the same in terms of discussing European issues, perhaps the misunderstandings, confusion and other matters can be dealt with in a more open way.
I put it to the Taoiseach that he has a tendency to drift into monologue and only deal with supplementaries in a tangential manner. Will he deal with a supplementary directly?
Ask the question.
Is the Taoiseach committed to establishing the forum? When will it be established? Who will be the participants? What will be the timescale involved? Is the Taoiseach in a position, without being precise, to outline what will be the general terms of reference?
Yes, we will be establishing a forum and will get it into operation as soon as possible. I will discuss its terms of reference with the Opposition. The issues to be discussed will be the future of Europe and the debate on the Nice Treaty. I hope we will be able to proceed quickly with this matter.
Will the Taoiseach give an assurance that his Ministers will not take up positions in advance of the forum's discussions which, in effect, would prejudice those discussions? He may be aware of comments by the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, Deputy de Valera, to the effect that the reason for the outcome of the referendum was that the Irish people were opposed to any further European integration. She proceeded to say that she also held this view. What is the point in establishing an all-party forum and inviting the various interest groups to participate in order to develop, in so far as is possible, a consensus policy on the future of Europe if Ministers are determined to make pre-emptive strikes before anyone reaches the negotiating table?
I was present for almost the entire debate yesterday and various suggestions and reasons were put forward from all sides regarding the reason there had been a "No" vote. The Minister, Deputy de Valera, stated that she did not want to see the emergence of a united states of Europe. I do not believe that is inconsistent with what Members on other sides of the House stated, not only yesterday, but on several other occasions. The intention is that if we establish a forum similar to the previous forums, political parties in this House will be represented on it. People must have their input, not only to the debate on the Nice Treaty – the ratification process in respect of which will continue – but also to the debate on the future of Europe. As stated previously, both in the House and in reply to Deputy Noonan, the Intergovernmental Conference which will take place in 2004 will involve debate on a number of fundamental issues.
It is important that parties and individuals in this country express their views on these matters in order that we can try to build a consensus. However, I do not believe that anyone will be prevented – within the forum, within their parties' political structures or within the Government – from expressing their views. As I understand it, everybody wants to build a consensus. Apart from the political points made in yesterday's debate, to which I listened carefully, everyone who contributed indicated that they were in favour of enlargement, which is what the Nice Treaty is about. However, there are other areas where people have concerns which are either related or perceived to be related to it and it is these we must address.
The Taoiseach is scheduled to be present in Gothenburg with his European colleagues on Friday morning. I understand one of the early items on the agenda will be his report on the outcome of the referendum in Ireland on the Nice Treaty. Does he intend his report to be simply a statement of fact or will he take the opportunity to outline to his counterparts how he intends to proceed in order to ensure the Nice Treaty may be ratified in Ireland?
I have asked the President of the Commission to allow me to report to the European Council before the debate on enlargement commences. I will make as detailed a report as possible on what happened in the referendum and some of the decisions we have taken. However, I will not be setting out a strategy of how we intend to deal with this issue. In the light of events at the General Affairs Council and on foot of discussions with President Prodi and others at the Commission, the meeting of the Cabinet committee on European affairs later this evening will consider all options and strategies and not make a quick decision. I will do nothing other than reiterate that this country is in favour of the enlargement process. I do not wish to seek to derail that process, but will explain that there are other issues with which we must find a method of dealing.
I wish to put three questions to the Taoiseach in relation to the last point he made. With regard to the issues other than enlargement which were of concern to the Irish people when making up their minds on the Nice Treaty, in his discussions with Prime Minister Persson did the Taoiseach debate the implications of the treaty for Sweden, a country which has remained neutral and which has a long and distinguished tradition in that regard for 200 years? Was the possibility of the defeat of the referendum on the Nice Treaty discussed? What contingency arrangements, if any, were discussed? I welcome last night's announcement by the Taoiseach to accept the Labour Party's proposal to establish a forum modelled on the New Ireland Forum to discuss the structure of a developing Europe in order that we can build in this country the broadest possible consensus, based on complete understanding of in what way and how Europe is to develop. In this context, will the Taoiseach indicate how he proposes to make the forum as inclusive as possible? Has he given any thought to who should chair it?
The Swedes see no difficulty whatever being posed by any aspect of the Nice Treaty to their neutrality and they totally support it. It is not for me to paraphrase what he said, but, when asked questions about this matter, Goran Persson stated at his press conference that neither he nor any lobby group in his country could see why people would be concerned about this issue because, as the Deputy stated, his country has remained passionately neutral for 200 years. Other than discussing the result and hoping it would be a positive one, we did not discuss the negatives of the "No" vote. I outlined to him a number of issues which would arise and which were on the periphery of the Nice Treaty. His view was that these were not included in the treaty. As he said in his various press conferences and statements, those who worked on the Nice Treaty perceived and believed it to be the treaty of enlargement. He did not see the issues I raised as being part of the Nice Treaty.
I have not given any consideration to a chairperson of the forum. As with the other forums, it is best that it be an independent person involved in these issues. There are a number of such people. I will consult the political parties on the matter, something I did on previous occasions, such as the second forum in which I was involved and for which I followed the same process. I would like it to be a broadly based forum, but it is not possible to have a forum of political parties represented in the House, the model used for the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation which worked very well, while also including the social partners, which represent the broad base of people in the organised labour movement and employers, and others, such as farmers, who represent broad aspects of society. While it is not possible to include everyone, the use of submissions and presentations should assist in making it a broadly based forum.
I call Deputy Sargent. I will return to Deputy Howlin.
There are two questions. The Fine Gael leader was allowed ask four supplementary questions for his three questions.
The Deputy did not table the questions.
No, but the normal procedure is that, when the leader of the Labour Party is absent, the deputy leader is extended the courtesy normally extended to the leader.
I want to bring in Deputy Sargent who tabled a question.
Perhaps I could ask a supplementary question.
The first item on the agenda for the summit which was circulated is a report at the request of the Taoiseach to his colleagues on the position in Ireland. He said he would report on his view of the outcome of the referendum. What specifically does he intend to tell his colleagues, the European Prime Ministers, about the outcome? Will he share that with us in advance of going to Sweden?
I will outline to them the strategy we intend to adopt when establishing the forum. I will give them a flavour of some of the options we will examine and which Members will discuss later today. I will also clarify for them the issues which created difficulties for the Irish people. Those are clear and were put forward in the debate by the various sides.
Will the Taoiseach indicate exactly what he will say? What are the issues?
The Deputy should not interrupt.
There are many issues, such as NATO, neutrality, military alliances, superpowers, the rapid reaction force and the concerns expressed by the main lobby groups in their position papers. These were well reported in the applicant countries and the international press in recent days, but I do not intend to dwell on this.
We must endeavour to build a consensus around how we can deal with the enlargement issue and explain to the applicant countries how we can begin to do this. The forum is one way we can do this and outline our continued support for the European model and the enlargement process. We must also make clear to the applicant countries the fact that not once in the campaign did anyone argue against the process of or date for enlargement. I will reflect the views of the people and Members given in the debate last night. I intend to give a comprehensive report.
In as much as the Taoiseach does not represent the consensus of the people on the question of neutrality, the Swedish Prime Minister might find he has a similar problem in Sweden. That, however, is a matter for another day.
Will the Taoiseach when he goes to Gothenburg talk more than just about the difficulty following the referendum on the Nice Treaty and say it was rejected? Can he bring himself to say this? Is it not undemocratic to ignore that decision and say at the same time that ratification will proceed as before? Will he be more legally correct in his words to his EU partners by saying that ratification will proceed if the Nice Treaty is amended or renegotiated and a further referendum is held, but not before?
Can the Taoiseach answer a question about another aspect of the Gothenburg summit which will also deal with common security and defence? Does he regret that the referendum he promised on Partnership for Peace was not proceeded with to provide a certain amount of clarity which is needed from the people for the Nice Treaty? Is there a way of making up for this by holding a referendum on neutrality?
The summit will also deal with sustainability and climate change. Is the Taoiseach in a position to say to EU member states that Ireland is also likely to fail in complying with the targets set down under the Kyoto Protocol as part of the EU package? Has that become known to our EU partners yet or are we waiting for the final day to make this information known to them?
I said yesterday and today that the "No" vote won last week and that the Nice Treaty was rejected. That was the result of the vote. That said, it is not fair to comment on how I put that view to our EU partners because we must balance a number of realities. One is that every member state has a sovereign right to ratify the treaty in whatever way it chooses on the basis of its own constitutional procedures. Much has been written in recent days by people on the "No" side that everything should now stop. That is incorrect. It is not for us to lecture other countries about their constitutional procedures.
It cannot go the whole way.
No, but that is not what has been said in recent days. It has been said that I should call a halt to the ratification process by saying no one else can proceed with it. That has been put forward by some of Deputy Sargent's colleagues, but it is factually and legally incorrect to say so. It is misinformation. Each individual country has a sovereign right to ratify the treaty on the basis of its constitutional process. I have no right to interfere with this.
The second reality that must be balanced is the consensus view within the Union that the ratification of the Nice Treaty is necessary for enlargement to proceed. That is the view in Ireland also. The people who argued against the Nice Treaty made it very clear in their broadcasts and presentations that they did not oppose enlargement. They did not win the vote on the basis of opposing enlargement. They were asked about it and were upfront and said they were in favour of enlargement.
The third reality is that there is strong support for enlargement across the board and we must find an agreed way forward. I do not suggest what that might be because I do not have it and, even if I thought I had it, it would be wrong for me to put it forward. We must work to see if we can obtain consensus on it. Ultimately the people have the right to make a decision and I accept that that is the main right. Nonetheless, we have an obligation in this area.
There will be much discussion on sustainable development and the Kyoto Protocol this weekend. President Bush will attend the working dinner tomorrow evening when Kyoto and the Middle East are the two issues to be discussed. Europe will state its position, as it has done since President Bush made his first statement on this matter at the beginning of March last. I will support the European position on the Kyoto Protocol.
Some of the other countries, and the Swedish Presidency, believe we should be more specific on some of these issues. I know the Deputy is aware of this because he alluded to it recently in a parliamentary question. That will also be discussed. It is not an agreed position. The view is that we should first implement what we are committed to under the Kyoto agreement. When he was here on 30 May, President Goran Persson said he would continue to press for more specificity. That would form part of the debate, if not tomorrow evening then on Friday and Saturday.
I also asked the Taoiseach about security and defence. Does the Taoiseach regret not going ahead with a referendum on Partnership for Peace, given the questions that arose during the Nice treaty campaign?
I do not. I said at the time that if it was legally necessary we would hold a referendum.
The Taoiseach promised a referendum.
No. I said if it was legally necessary. It was proved not to be legally necessary. When all other countries indicated that they would not have a referendum on the Nice treaty I said that when we had finished negotiations, if the Attorney General viewed it necessary to have a referendum we would have one, and we did.
When in Opposition, the Taoiseach promised a referendum.
(Dublin West): Will the Taoiseach convey to EU leaders in Gothenburg this weekend that their reaction and that of the permanent EU bureaucracy to the rejection of the Nice treaty by the Irish people illustrates the view of many people in this country that democracy in the EU is a concept and not a reality and that a referendum is a pretence at consultation but not a genuine consultation, because any negative decision by the people – presumably of any member state – is not accepted?
The Taoiseach and the Government do not accept the decision of the people. All their words since the referendum have been concerned with their need to dress up the Nice treaty and force it down the throats of the population. Will the Taoiseach convey this feeling to the EU leaders? They have been afraid to consult their own people on this question because they fear they will get the result we did in Ireland. Where does this leave the concept of democracy in the EU?
In the sphere of economic policy, how is the massive power of the multinational corporate sector reflected at EU summits with regard to privatisation, for example? Does the Taoiseach agree that EU summits merely amount to window dressing for decisions which are made elsewhere, particularly by the corporate sector, and are not really democratic?
The Taoiseach told us yesterday that the proposed forum on the EU would consist of the major political parties in the Dáil and the, so-called, social partners – business, trade union leaders and farming organisations. Does the Taoiseach not see that these are precisely the sectors of society which encouraged, pressurised and cajoled the people to vote for the Nice treaty and whose advice was rejected? What new dimension does the Taoiseach think these groups can bring to the forum? Will the Taoiseach make provision, therefore, for the 54% – the ordinary people – to be represented?
This is a five minute speech.
(Dublin West): These are all questions. Deputy Howlin is given much more time to speak than I am.
(Dublin West): Will the Taoiseach convey to President Bush our revulsion at his policy on the environment and the revulsion and disgust of the majority of the Irish people at the ghoulish and macabre circus conducted by his Government—
The Deputy is making statements.
(Dublin West): I merely wish the Taoiseach to convey a simple matter. Will he convey the revulsion of the people at the circus conducted by his Government around the execution of the perpetrator of the Oklahoma bombing? I need hardly say what an unspeakable crime that was. Will the Taoiseach convey to President Bush the wisdom of the people who, by their vote last week to outlaw the death penalty in all cases, rejected the idea that the appalling wrong which murder does can somehow be redeemed by the State descending to the same depravity and even involving those who were deprived of their loved ones by the crime?
In so far as there is a question in all of that, I believe the Deputy is asking if I believe the multinational corporations and capitalists of the world are represented in some direct or indirect way around the European council table. I do not. They are the leaders of the sovereign countries of Europe representing their people and they are democratically elected. Around the European Council are groups, and politicians from all over Europe who feed into those groups, who meet also. It is an extremely democratic process representing the views and interests of all of the people. They are not motivated in the way mentioned by the Deputy. The work of the Councils and the decisions made by them are in the best interests of their people.
I have answered the question about last week's position. On the one hand the Deputy wants me to tell the European leaders not to criticise our procedures and, on the other, to tell them to hold referendums in their countries. Each member state follows its own constitutional procedure. I have no intention of telling member states who have a sovereign right to ratify the treaty how they should do so. They will do so as they choose. The Deputy is contradicting himself. He says I should tell them not to admonish us and at the same time to admonish them.
(Dublin West): I did not. I said they were afraid to consult their people.
They are following their democratic and constitutional procedures.
I will outline our view on the Kyoto Protocol and sustainable development, as the Minister for the Environment and Local Government has done many times to the House.
I understand the Taoiseach intends holding a bilateral meeting with Mr. Blair in Gothenburg. Will he put proposals to the Prime Minister to ensure that the new round of talks on the Good Friday Agreement will proceed to a satisfactory conclusion? Will he inform the House if it his view and the view of Mr. Blair that no solution can be arrived at without significant progress being made towards decommissioning in the next couple of weeks?
We intend having a bilateral meeting. I believe it will be on Thursday evening but that is subject to correction. We will discuss the possibility of taking up where we left off a number of weeks ago. Nothing has changed on the agenda. The voting situation and membership may have changed but the same issues remain to be addressed. I do not think we will get very far unless we make progress on all of the issues. That certainly includes demilitarisation and decommissioning.
I ask Deputies to be brief as several Deputies are offering. I hope to accommodate all Deputies but that depends on brevity.
With respect, it is a bit late in the day to discover brevity.
Has the Taoiseach a report from the Swedish Prime Minister on his discussions with the Prime Minister of Israel and the President of the Palestinian state? Does the Government support the initiative of the United States on ceasefire proposals for the Middle East? What exactly will the Taoiseach say about the Irish view of the current situation in the Middle East? The Swedish Presidency will host a dinner which is to be attended by President Bush. Is the Taoiseach concerned that the Government's lack of enforcement of its own commitments under the Kyoto protocol will diminish his moral authority in pressurising the American President to live up to the arrangements freely entered into by his predecessor?
I wish to return to a question I asked earlier concerning climate change. Given that we have set ourselves on this course, the Government will have to report three breaches of the commitment that we made at Kyoto. If the Taoiseach is asked in Gothenburg, "How are you getting on, Mr. Ahern, with your compliance with the Kyoto protocol?", will he simply reply that we have a very strong view on the matter? Or, will he say that we have an appalling record? Will the Taoiseach make it clear that we have problems in that area and not just with the Nice treaty?
Will the fall-out from the outbreaks of foot and mouth disease and BSE – including what effects they may have on the European Union budget – be on the agenda for the Gothenburg Summit? If the Minister of State, Deputy Ó Cuív, is asked to represent this country at delicate negotiations about agriculture or rural development, is the Taoiseach concerned that it might prove to be a disaster for our country?
Given the Taoiseach's explanation for the "No" vote on the Nice treaty, will he explain to his EU colleagues that the implementation of EU regulations both by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development and the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, has led to a negative vote in many rural communities? Will the Taoiseach comment on that? Will the proposed forum on Europe, which the Taoiseach is to establish, provide for public fora at which people can discuss European issues, including the Nice treaty and the bureaucratic red tape caused by the Departments I have mentioned?
As regards the relationship between the forum and the new referendum that is required consequent on last week's vote, will the Taoiseach confirm that a referendum will not take place at least until after a report of the forum has been published? It is important to note that we are dealing in time frames.
There is a general communications deficit between this State and the EU. One of the problems arises from the fact that our members of the European Parliament, who are ambassadors to Europe, do not have a domestic platform on which to vent their opinions. It is the fault of the Taoiseach and of his Government that little progress has been made on Dáil reform to allow for the participation of EU Commissioners and MEPs before the Seanad and Oireachtas committees. It is one of the reasons there was such inertia among voters last week.
A final reply from the Taoiseach.
To answer Deputy Flanagan's point, EU Commissioners have attended the Committee on European Affairs and have also appeared before the Seanad.
It was very low key, though.
Unfortunately, as we know, that is the case with regard to questions on Europe. Last year, at the request of the House, I arranged for the Minister and his officials to attend the House and committees to give extensive briefings both before the Nice Summit and after it. That had never been done before but it was all low key. Those presentations were made and at the time people believed they would be extremely helpful.
I agree with the Deputy about the communications issue. That was the reason people were talking about doing things differently at the Intergovernmental Conference in 2004. That has led us to establish the forum on Europe, which we would have done anyway.
I do not think BSE, CJD or foot and mouth disease issues will be on the agenda for the Gothenburg summit but such matters can arise during the lunch or dinner meetings.
It would be appropriate.
I hope there will be beef.
I hope they will all eat beef.
We had a long discussion on it at the last summit but I do not think it will come up this time. It came up in March for quite a lengthy part of the discussions.
Is there any danger of Deputy Ó Cuív being there?
He will not be there for long.
Time is running out.
One of the overall objectives of the Swedish presidency is to decide on the European Union's sustainable development strategy with a strong environmental dimension. It will complement the objectives that follow on from the social and economic strategy of the Lisbon Summit which we have supported. While we might be in breach of some objectives, we are not the only offenders. However, we are also well within the objectives in many other areas. The Swedish Presidency has produced a paper, which we will support, on combating climate change, promoting clean energy, addressing threats to public health, reversing the depletion of natural resources and easing transport congestion.
Any chance of it happening here?
I must ask the Taoiseach to conclude.
All these matters will be discussed. While Ireland is strongly committed to sustainable development, a number of proposals contained in the strategy have implications for us, including the establishment of changed targets to 2020. We do not agree with all of those but our sustainable development and climate change policies, as put forward by the Minister, are things of a positive nature that we can examine.
As regards Deputy Howlin's question on the Middle East, the Swedish Prime Minister, Mr. Persson, will report to the summit on his discussions with the Palestinian President, Mr. Arafat and the Israeli Prime Minister, Mr. Sharon. At today's EU-US Summit it is hoped to develop those proposals somewhat. Naturally, we support them, which is the question the Deputy asked. An effort is being made to try to have a greater EU dimension in these proposals. That did not happen during the last US Administration but the Americans are now more on side for this. In recent weeks, the EU has had its own people working on this matter in Israel, and the President of the European Council hopes for an imminent breakthrough. At least, an improvement of the situation will be reported after the EU-US Summit tonight.