Ceisteanna – Questions. Priority Questions. - Official Engagements.

Michael D. Higgins


4 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on his preparatory meeting with Ministers for Foreign Affairs of the EU in relation to the Seville meeting of the European Council; and his views on the conclusions of the meeting and any measures he proposes to take arising therefrom. [15042/02]

I attended the meeting of the General Affairs Council in Luxembourg on 17 June, at which preparations for the Seville European Council were discussed. The items considered included Council reform, illegal immigration, preparations for the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg and enlargement. In the external relations area, Ministers discussed the Middle East, India-Pakistan, the EU special representative in Afghanistan, European security and defence policy, relations with Iran, the western Balkans, Albania, Zimbabwe, the International Criminal Court and the Common Foreign and Security Policy budget. The conclusions of the General Affairs Council are available on the Internet.

At the General Affairs Council I briefed EU partners on the declarations which the Government subsequently secured at the Seville European Council. The Seville Declarations consist of a National Declaration by Ireland and a European Council Declaration. Both documents confirm that our traditional policy of military neutrality is in full conformity with existing EU treaties, including the Nice treaty. The Taoiseach made a detailed statement to the House on the Seville Declarations on Tuesday. It is my hope that the declarations will allay concerns about our military neutrality and provide a basis for the people to approve the Treaty of Nice which will be put to a referendum in the autumn on the basis of the referendum Bill just published.

The Minister might be surprised to know that I accessed the conclusions on the Internet, which have had a surprisingly small number of hits. As regards the specific reference in the conclusions to the disgraceful Spanish proposal, which is an anti-immigrant proposal that was opposed by France and Sweden, what was the Irish position? There is a vague formulation in the conclusions which refers to the Commission and the discussion on communication and the integrated management of the external borders of the member states of the European Union. What position did we take towards the Spanish Presidency's proposal to turn Europe into a fortress and to restrict people's freedom of movement?

I do not agree with the Deputy's characterisation of what we were trying to achieve in that area.

Who does the Minister mean by "we"? Is he talking about the Spanish Presidency or himself?

The European Council.

The Council took note of the contributions submitted to the Seville European Council by the Justice and Home Affairs Council on 13 June and heard a wide-ranging debate on immigration policy, which was one of the main items for discussion at Seville. The debate focused in particular on how to co-operate with third countries of origin and transit to jointly combat illegal immigration. I underlined the need to differentiate between illegal immigration, legal immigration and asylum. The Council broadly acknowledged the need to develop an all-encompassing and balanced approach on migration issues and to integrate it into the wider co-operation with partner countries established within existing or future EU agreements. That was also reflected at the discussions at Seville. The Seville conclusions note that the European Council is determined to speed up the implementation of all aspects of the programme adopted in Tampere for the creation of an area of freedom, security and justice in the European Union. The European Council points to the need to develop a European Union common policy on the separate, but closely related issues of asylum and immigration.

What was the Minister's attitude to the Italian discussion about a common border police?

Our view is that there is a need to improve co-operation between existing national authorities. The issue of immediately setting up an EU-wide cross-border police is not imminent in the discussions.

What was the Minister's attitude to the French and Swedish positions which opposed the Spanish Presidency's original suggestions?

What was proposed should not be regarded as not being in compliance with the ethos of the European Union.

It was rejected.

I will outline the views expressed. If I want to hear the Deputy's opinions, I will sit down and listen to them. Our position, which the Taoiseach outlined, is that in dealing with this issue it is important to recognise that we must help the development of these countries. One must provide assistance. There must be prospects of financial aid from the European Union to these countries to help them deal with development problems. Otherwise, there could be migratory flows of citizens from those countries. In international agreements one seeks compliance with international obligations from everyone, including the European Union and those with whom we have external relations. It clearly sets out that we wish to co-operate and provide a basis for co-operation with countries to see in what way we can address this issue in compliance with our international obligations. One cannot have a situation where countries turn a blind eye to obligations and where the European Union is forced to ask what it can do. All countries have obligations in this matter. We want to establish a basis for co-operation which will deal effectively with illegal immigration.

The Minister referred to the entirely retrograde position of putting conditions on aid. We spent 30 years trying to make the case for untied aid. The Minister referred to the obligations on both sides of the equation, for example, human rights in recipient countries. However, there has been little compliance by the arms export side of the donor countries. At the Seville meeting we had the outrageous proposal that the Union, having failed to disburse the aid which had been voted and having given aid to the Middle East which was bulldozed into the ground by the Israelis, should place new conditions on aid based on an anti-immigrant policy. Ireland should have said it was outraged by that and therefore opposed it. We cannot have it both ways. We cannot suggest the proposal was in the spirit of Europe while, at the same time, other people objected to it. I am interested to know Ireland's position.

I pointed out that Ireland fully supported the concept of the Union using all instruments at its disposal to encourage third countries to tackle the problem of migration to Europe, while underlining the need for proportionality in this area and the need to engage in this action in a positive way. These proposals will give illegal immigration a greater emphasis in the overall external policy of the EU and will integrate immigration issues into external actions. This type of strong political support is required if countries of origin, departure and transit are to be encouraged to participate in finding a solution to the problem of illegal immigration. A number of member states were unhappy with the language in the co-operation with third countries of origin and transit to jointly combat illegal immigration. Discussion on that proposal has emerged. We are not in the business of tying our aid. However, we recognise that if this problem is to be solved, we need a level of co-operation between the countries of the European Union and other countries, which is not there at present. That means that illegal immigration is making it difficult for those who are legally immigrant in the European Union and for asylum seekers. We must deal with the issue and find a solution.

That concludes priority questions. We now move to other questions.