I propose to take Questions Nos. 42 and 52 together.
EU Transport Ministers discussed this issue at the Transport Council held on 11 June 2004. At that time there was a proposed air transport agreement between the EU and the US on the table which would have included open skies between the EU and US. Transport Ministers felt that the deal on offer was unbalanced in favour of the US and asked the European Commission to continue urgent negotiations with the US, particularly in view of the then upcoming EU-US summit on 26 June 2004.
Despite those last minute efforts by the Commission, it was not possible to bridge the gap in time for the EU-US summit. Accordingly, the negotiations are now paused for the summer. I understand that contacts between the EU and US sides will recommence possibly in September with full negotiations commencing possibly by the end of this year on the few items that are left to be agreed.
During the discussions at the Transport Council, Ireland once again made it clear that while we are in favour of reaching an EU agreement with the US, Ireland's agreement is contingent on an acceptable arrangement on Shannon Airport being agreed between Ireland and the US, and that deal being reflected in the EU-US agreement.
On 4 and 5 May 2004, my officials travelled to Washington to discuss this issue with the US. I also spoke to the US Transportation Secretary, Norman Mineta, about this issue when I met him at various meetings on a number of occasions in the months leading up to the Transport Council. No agreement was reached at any of these meetings. However, I am satisfied that had an EU-US deal emerged from the Transport Council, an arrangement for Shannon Airport would have been reached between Ireland and the US in the run-up to the signing of the EU-US deal at the summit.
Currently, there are no EU-US negotiations taking place. However, that does not mean that Ireland or the EU can stand still. There is no doubt that an EU-US agreement is inevitable once the difficult issue of market access for both EU and US carriers is solved. I am therefore maintaining contact with the US side.