I propose to take Questions Nos. 5 to 38, inclusive, together.
I travelled to Berlin on Thursday, 23 February, for an informal working dinner with Chancellor Merkel. Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis of Latvia and Prime Minister Petr Necas of the Czech Republic also attended the dinner. Discussions focused on the future of Europe; how we could move beyond the current crisis; and how we could ensure that we can avoid crises in the future. Our informal meeting was extremely engaging and conducted in a most positive and constructive atmosphere. There was a shared determination to focus on the steps needed to encourage growth and job creation in the Union.
I took the opportunity to brief my German, Latvian and Czech colleagues on developments in Ireland, and the preparations for Ireland's Presidency of the Council which will commence in eight months time. I outlined to my colleagues that the Irish recovery is proceeding well, but that we need the continuing support of partners. With regard to wider eurozone issues, we agreed that the deal reached by Finance Ministers on Greece on 20 February was an important one but I stressed that we still need firewalls and a strong focus on growth if we are to overcome the crisis.
In relation to our forthcoming Presidency during the first half of 2013, I indicated that we would be pressing ahead with jobs and growth at the heart of the agenda. The next round of the European Semester will take place during our term, and we will work to ensure that every effort to foster growth is central to the European Semester process. We did not discuss arrangements for ratification of the stability treaty during this informal meeting.
Following my meeting in Berlin, I travelled to Rome on Friday, 24 February for a meeting with Prime Minister Monti. Our discussions focused on eurozone issues, preparations for the spring European Council, the jobs and growth agenda and the Single Market. Both Italy and Ireland are working hard to get their economies back on to a sustainable footing and the Prime Minister and I agreed that while discipline is essential, recovery will not come without growth. We also agreed that while we are making great efforts to recover, robust firewalls were also necessary.
I attended the spring meeting of the European Council in Brussels on 1-2 March. As I have already made a statement to the House concerning this meeting, I will merely set out a summary of its proceedings.
Discussions at the spring European Council focused on economic policy. That meeting marked the end of the first phase of the European semester. The European Council discussed budgetary and economic strategies to stimulate growth and increase competitiveness across Europe. In this regard, we endorsed the five priorities for 2012 set out in the European Commission's annual growth survey, including actions to be taken at national level and action required at EU level. I cosigned a further letter on the growth agenda ahead of the meeting, this time supported by 12 member states. We called for progress in eight specific areas, and are broadly satisfied with how these issues are reflected in the Conclusions. They will remain a key focus over the period ahead.
As the House will be aware, there is now a shared view around the European Council table that to enhance prospects for economic recovery in Europe, we also need to generate real momentum aimed towards the creation of jobs and growth. These are the issues that matter most to the people of Europe. The Commission's growth forecast served as a reminder of this. With decisive and coordinated action, we can work together to underpin stability and boost growth and jobs.
The European Council also set the EU's priorities for the forthcoming G8 and G20 Summits, as well as for the Rio +20 Summit in June. In the field of foreign policy, the meeting took stock of the evolving situation in Syria as well as developments concerning the Arab spring and set guidance for further EU support to that process. Ireland fully supports this process. In addition, the 27 Heads of State and Government endorsed the granting of the status of candidate country to Serbia.
Finally, the European Council elected Herman Van Rompuy President of the European Council for a second mandate of two and a half years. Eurozone leaders also designated him as the first President of the Euro Summit.
In the margins of the European Council on 2 March, I signed, on behalf of Ireland, the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union. The treaty is, of course, subject to ratification by the Irish people in the referendum to take place on 31 May. While I had no formal bilateral meetings at the European Council, I did of course see a number of my colleagues during the course of the meeting. The issues of inflation risk and the situation in Egypt did not arise at this meeting of the European Council.
The announcement at the end of March on promissory notes and bank debt is another good step in our ongoing efforts to improve our programme. The use of an Irish Government bond for the promissory note payment allows the wider discussions on the Irish debt associated with the recapitalisation of the banks to continue and hopefully come to a successful outcome that is in our interests.
On my travel plans for the remainder of 2012, I will attend the scheduled meetings of the European Council on 28 -29 June, 18-19 October and 13-14 December. I will also attend the British Irish Council on 22 June. I will of course keep my plans for travel and visits under careful review, particularly as our Presidency approaches.
I have had no formal bilateral meetings with Prime Minister Rajoy of Spain or Prime Minister Coelho of Portugal, however, I will see both leaders at the next scheduled meeting of the European Council next month.
Relations with the European Central Bank are the responsibility of the Minister for Finance in the first instance, however, and I have had no contact with the President of the European Central Bank other than in the context of meetings of the European Council.
I have not yet received an agenda for the June European Council. The annotated draft agenda is expected to be received during the third week of May.