Other Questions. - EU Enlargement.

Bernard Allen


9 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs when he envisages the next stage of EU enlargement will be completed; and the States likely to join the EU at this time. [15012/02]

The Government fully shares the view expressed by the European Council on 21-22 June at Seville. That meeting's conclusions state that "decisive progress has been made in the accession negotiations during the first six months of the year. The negotiations are now entering their final phase." The Council reaffirmed that

if the present rate of progress in negotiations and reforms is maintained, the European Union is determined to conclude the negotiations with Cyprus, Malta, Hungary, Poland, the Slovak Republic, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, the Czech Republic and Slovenia by the end of 2002, if those countries are ready . . . . It would seem reasonable to expect that the Treaty of Accession could be signed in spring 2003. The objective remains that these countries should participate in the elections for the European Parliament in 2004 as full members.

A failure by Ireland to ratify the Nice treaty, which every member state and every candidate country agrees provides the necessary legal framework for the accession of candidate countries, would prevent the enlargement proceeding as planned and would precipitate a crisis in the Community. The Government, a strong supporter of enlargement, will therefore be seeking in the autumn the approval of the people for the ratification of the Nice treaty.

Will the Minister confirm that the accession of ten member states, if I recall correctly, is likely to take place during Ireland's next Presidency of the European Union in the first half of 2004? What procedures does the Minister intend to put in place to keep the House informed of the preparations for such enlargement? What is the potential additional market for Irish products amongst the new member states in terms of population?

In reply to the second question, the additional market is in excess of 100 million people. It is a very significant market and one which Ireland is well capable of addressing.

With regard to the first question, the accession will take place during the course of Ireland's Presidency. We are already initiating actions in regard to the Presidency and clearly one of the issues of which we will have to be conscious is that the Community will be much larger than is currently the case. Enlargement will pose all kinds of different problems for the Presidency and we will have to facilitate and assist the new member states that will – if the Irish people turn the key in the autumn – hopefully be able to become full members of the European Union in early Spring 2004.

As I understand it, the Schengen agreement will be extended to all of the new members who join the EU. I do not know if this will be an automatic right or if it will be phased. With a new EU of some 25 members and more after 2004, Ireland and the UK will be the only two countries to remain outside of the Schengen agreement, if I recall the facts correctly.

Has the Minister given any consideration to negotiations as part of the enlargement process which would allow Irish citizens travel within the extended EU on a lesser document than a passport? The passport is a request from the Minister for Foreign Affairs to all foreign governments to give decent and proper treatment to Irish citizens travelling abroad. Not having to use it would take the idea of being foreign out of the EU if it could be brought about. I am not suggesting the introduction of a compulsory identity card, but some kind of system which would allow us to travel across the EU without having to produce a passport. Has any discussion taken place on new developments in that regard, particularly given the imminent enlargement of the Union?

As Deputy Mitchell well understands the arrangements at Schengen are necessary because of the common travel arrangement between ourselves and the UK. I am not aware of any international document, other than a passport, that would facilitate EU-wide travel. Neither am I aware of any discussions, negotiations or considerations that have gone into the creation of a new document to facilitate international travel between member states of the EU. I will check if that is the case and communicate with the Deputy directly.

It may be useful for the Minister to examine the arrangements between the Benelux countries before the Schengen agreement came about, or between other countries where citizens of one state can travel freely to another without a passport. I feel that a passport makes us foreign. I understand the problem with the common travel area, as I was previously in the same job as Deputy Roche and sought to find a new way around it. I think many Irish citizens would be happier travelling within the EU not having to use a passport, notwithstanding the difficulties there are for us in the common travel area. Perhaps we can find a half-way house between the two.

I am not aware of the situation that existed in the Benelux countries, but think it may have been similar to the common travel arrangements we have with the UK. I will check it out and reply directly to the Deputy.