Skip to main content
Normal View

Thursday, 5 Dec 2002

Vol. 1 No. 1

Euro-Mediterranean Agreements: Motion.

I am delighted to meet this committee. I shall begin with the motions dealing with the Euro-Mediterranean Association Agreements with Egypt, Algeria and Lebanon. It is important at this time of enlargement and change in the European Union that we continue to deepen our relations with our southern neighbours on the Mediterranean rim. The Barcelona process, which began in 1995, is the instrument on which EU co-operation with 12 Mediterranean partners is based. The agreements before us today have been negotiated in the framework of this process. The partnership between the EU and the Mediterranean countries involved has three main objectives; the establishment of a common Euro-Mediterranean area of peace and stability, based on respect for human rights and democratic principles; the creation of an area of shared prosperity through the progressive establishment of a free trade area between the EU and the Mediterranean partners; and the encouragement and promotion of closer links between the peoples of the region through social, cultural and other exchanges.

Each of these objectives is essential to the overall relationship. All are reflected in both the formal agreements and in the informal dialogue that is part of the Barcelona process. The Euro-Mediterranean partnership includes two complementary dimensions: a bilateral dimension that involves structured co-operation between the EU and each of the Mediterranean partners - the agreements before us today are examples of this type of co-operation; and a multilateral dimension involving greater regional co-operation and dialogue both between the regions and within the Mediterranean region. An example of the latter is the Agadir process, where Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan have agreed to establish a free trade area between them, an aim the EU encourages and will assist to the extent possible.

The EuroMed partners share a commitment to make progress towards creating a Euro-Mediterranean free trade area by 2010. For the Mediterranean partners this process will make a crucial contribution towards the modernisation of their economic and social systems. For the EU countries, it will help to create greater stability in the region and contribute towards the liberalisation of trade. An essential step in this strategy is the conclusion of Euro-Mediterranean Association agreements between the EU and each of the Mediterranean partners. Agreements are already in force with Tunisia, Morocco, Israel and Jordan. An interim agreement with the Palestinian Authority is being applied. Agreements with Egypt, Algeria and Lebanon, the subject of the motions we are dealing with today, are awaiting ratification. An agreement with Syria is under negotiation and when this is in place the series of association agreements will be complete. I should mention that Libya is not yet a partner in the Barcelona process although it is usually invited to attend meetings as an observer and has accepted invitations to do so in recent years.

The Euro-Mediterranean Association agreements between the EU, the member states and Egypt, Algeria and Lebanon involve mixed competence. They include certain matters in the area of justice and home affairs, which are outside the exclusive competence of the European Union, for example, immigration controls and asylum. This means that each member state and the community must ratify these agreements in accordance with its respective internal procedures.

Each agreement was negotiated separately with the countries involved and, while differing on some of the detail, contains core aspects in common. As I have already stated, in the first place the agreements are based on respect for human rights and democratic principles. They are comprehensive in scope. As well as providing for political dialogue, they include provisions covering the promotion of trade in agricultural and industrial goods, trade in services, transport, payments, competition, environment, co-operation on customs matters, co-operation in the social and cultural fields, co-operation in the field of justice and home affairs, including migration questions, combating organised crime, the prevention of trafficking in people and trafficking in illegal drugs.

Following the terrorist attacks in the US in September 2001, co-operation in combating international terrorism is now an important feature of relations with the Euro-Mediterranean partners. Unlike earlier Euro-Mediterranean Association agreements, the agreement with Algeria signed in April 2002 includes an article - article 90 - providing for co-operation in combating terrorism. This was included at the request of the Algerian authorities.

The agreement with Lebanon, signed on 17 June 2002, does not contain a specific anti-terrorism clause. However, there has been an exchange of letters between the EU and Lebanon in which both sides reaffirmed the importance of the fight against terrorism and, in accordance with international conventions, relevant UN resolutions and their respective legislation and regulations, agreed to co-operate in the prevention and suppression of acts of terrorism.

There is no reference to the fight against terrorism in the agreement with Egypt as it was signed in June 2001. However, the Egyptian authorities attach great importance to the international effort to combat terrorism and co-operation between them and the member states of the European Union is close.

Political dialogue is, of course, a major element of the process. This encompasses both dialogue between the European Union and the southern Mediterranean partners and exchanges among the Mediterranean partners. The dialogue aims at advancing the fundamental aims set out at Barcelona. There have been significant exchanges on the varied perspectives from which the participating states approach these issues. Within the framework of the Barcelona process, considerable support has been given to the work of research institutes on both sides of the Mediterranean examining questions of security, human rights and democratic developments from a number of national and regional perspectives.

Inevitably, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Israel's unresolved disputes with Syria and Lebanon have affected the climate for dialogue. This has been reflected in discussion of these matters within the Barcelona process. Eventually, it is hoped that the political dialogue within the Barcelona process will lead to the adoption of a Mediterranean charter on peace and security, comparable to the Helsinki charter which led to the establishment of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

We cannot underestimate the importance of people-to-people contacts and intercultural dialogue. The significance of this aspect of the relationship and the need for greater awareness and understanding of diversity has gained much greater priority since 11 September 2001. There are plans to set up a Euro-Mediterranean parliamentary assembly and a EuroMed cultural foundation and these can only contribute positively to this interaction.

I hope the agreements with Egypt, Algeria and Lebanon can enter into force at the earliest possible date. I commend the agreements for the approval of the committee.

I welcome the Minister of State and look forward to having dialogue with him. Will the Minister give an indication of what has taken place in the promotion of closer links between the people of the Euro-Mediterranean region through social, cultural and other exchanges? Perhaps the greatest outstanding issue in the context of these treaties is the absence of consideration, debate or dialogue on what might be called non-terrorist Koranic Islam. I asked questions some time ago about what was happening within the EU regarding consideration of the principles of Islam.

Where does the position of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic arise in this? Recognition was given to it by the UN and the Organisation of African States some time ago. This arises not only in the dialogue between Morocco and Algeria, but in the fundamental assumption of the UN referendum process that is recognition of sovereignty. I do not understand the attempts that have been made to progress Libya from observer status to having a deeper relationship with states in the region.

The Minister referred to article 90 in the Algerian agreement. There are some who would read article 90 as serving an internal purpose within Algeria. It raises the question of the human rights deficit in that country. This refers to my first question on the reluctance to discuss the position of Islam. At the bottom of the page reference is made to co-operation and it is stated that considerable support has been given to the work of research institutes on both sides of the Mediterranean. However, I am not sure that is the case and I would like to know which institutes are involved. I had cause to deal with such institutes in another aspect of my life and I am not aware of significant regional consideration of any of the issues I mentioned.

The Minister referred to UN Security Council Resolutions 1368 and 1373, which have the support of the world community. It dislodges Ireland's approach in interpreting these resolutions and agreements if we rely solely on a single strand of events. Most of the scholarship and thoughtful writing on the region and on both sides of the Mediterranean has stressed that peace and security must be based on recognition of cultural diversity and the elimination of the possibilities of ethnic and religious conflicts such as those which have arisen in countries like Algeria. It is, therefore, not a case of applying resolutions in the region but of the region, in the context of an understanding on the basis of security, being bound by the resolutions themselves. That is a different project in international affairs.

The Euro-Mediterranean association agreements can be viewed somewhat like apple pie and mother's milk in that everyone is in favour of them. The concept of having an area of peace and stability on our doorstep is attractive, as is that of sharing Europe with our neighbours and having closer links with peoples from the two areas.

The Minister stated that the agreement with Lebanon does not contain a specific clause providing for co-operation in the fight against terrorism. Why not? In today's climate, I would have thought that to be a sine qua non in any such agreement.

I appreciate that we are not discussing an association agreement with the Palestinian Authority, but, since we are talking about trade and relations with the Mediterranean area and since the helpful briefing note from the Department refers to the provisional agreement between the EU and the authority, will the Minister give us some detail and inform us, in practical terms, how trading relations between the EU and the authority operate? I gather there were difficulties on the border with Israel, problems with certificates of origin and suggestions that some goods sold into the EU as coming from Palestine were, in fact, manufactured in Israel. It would be helpful if the Minister would outline the practical trading terms of the agreement with the EU. If there are problems, Ireland should exert pressure to improve trading arrangements for the benefit of the Palestinians.

My officials provided me with an extensive list of cultural exchanges, which I will share with Deputy Higgins, under the regional programmes for European and Mediterranean cultural heritage. EU cultural exchanges and contacts are taking place between the more southerly European countries in the Mediterranean area because of the geo-political situation. Léargas is the Irish agency involved and there is also the Euro-Mediterranean Foundation. Hopefully, much of this work will take off as a result of the agreements we are about to reach. We also have EuroMeSCo, a network of research institutes supported by the Euro-Mediterranean process which has institutes in each member country. A meeting between EuroMeSCo and senior officials takes place every six months and deals with economic and social research institutes. There are research institutes in France, Spain, Italy and Greece.

Deputy Higgins referred to Western Sahara.

I am particularly interested in cultural institute seminars and the consideration of the development of understanding of Islam. I take it nothing is happening in that area.

Nothing is happening there.

Perhaps the Minister of State could provide us with a note which will be circulated to all members.

If there are any outstanding questions for which I do not have an answer now, I will share whatever information my Department possesses.

The question of Western Sahara is being considered by the UN Security Council. As the Deputy is no doubt aware, the former US Secretary of State, James Baker, is involved in the process.

I do not mind if the Minister of State comes back later with the answer, but my question relates to the quality of recognition of Western Sahara and its participation in talks. Is it a full member?

The state of Western Sahara has not yet been determined

We called on the United Nations for it to be recognised in the 1980s. Western Sahara is a democratic republic. The peace negotiations are with the Polisario Front.

My information is that it is still being considered by the UN Security Council. We can clarify that at a later stage.

Many of us are familiar with the situation in Western Sahara and we understood that Ireland recognised it as an independent state. The Baker initiative seeks to come down on the side of Morocco, namely, that it has sovereign rights over the territory and that some kind of local autonomy would apply. One could argue that if it was not for the presence of Ireland on the Security Council over the last two years, the Baker initiative would have been accepted by the UN and - if I can use undiplomatic language at a meeting of the Select Committee of Foreign Affairs - the Western Saharan people would be shafted.

Ireland is no longer a member of the Security Council and Spain has taken its place. There is a web of relationships between Spain and Morocco that goes back centuries and, while the official position in Spain might be in line with that of Ireland, Spanish public opinion is pro-Moroccan. In the first half of next year there will be pressure to implement the Baker report and Ireland's traditional position over two decades will be set aside. Many members have travelled to Western Sahara and met the people and their representatives. It would be a pity if it goes by default and we must face a new situation. I suggest that the Minister of State or the Minister, Deputy Cowen, should intervene before it becomes a fait accompli. They should raise consciousness both here and in the European Union of what is now inevitable, which is not in line with the position taken over the years.

I will be more than happy to take on board the views of the members. Over the years the Government has consistently supported the right of these countries to self-determination. There are a number of initiatives currently on the table and my information is that Spain is expected to maintain a similar position to ours. I will be more than happy to convey the views of members to the Minister and to our people in New York in the context of our concluding our term on the Security Council.

On the question of trade with the Palestinian Administration, there is an interim agreement dealing mainly with trade and trade-related issues. A number of Deputies raised the issue of the US regularly taking up the question of the rules of origin with Israel. There was a separate exchange of letters dealing with terrorism. This agreement had much more to do with trade but there was an exchange of letters in the past. The exchange of letters with the Lebanon was an agreement that had already been negotiated and it was not considered desirable to re-open negotiations to incorporate one new element. The progress of negotiations with Algeria allowed for the inclusion of terrorism provisions in the agreement. It was much more a trade-related agreement at the time but there has been an exchange of letters to cover terrorism.

Do the letters contain the same material as would be included in an agreement which provides for counter-terrorism measures?

The effects of the letter have the same status as Article 90.

Could I press the Minister of State on the rules of origin in regard to the Palestinian Administration? I raised the question of how the Palestinians can trade in their current situation. First, what is the current situation on the ground from the point of view of importing from Palestine and, second, is the rules of origin issue being abused? I understood such goods had to pass through Israel, that there was no free trade or full right of passage and that there might have been an abuse of the situation by the Israeli authorities.

I understand that the Minister, Deputy Cowen, raised this issue and the Dáil supported political action on the rules of origin. We are encouraging the Commission to act on this issue. There was a Council meeting in October where the issue with Israel was raised.

I raised the question of the resolution of the relationship with Libya, the human rights situation in the Algerian context and the Algerian interpretation of Article 90.

The EU-Algeria Agreement will enhance the human rights dialogue. The agreement also commits Algeria to develop the rule of law and democracy, including the upholding of fundamental freedoms. We expect these commitments to be implemented fully. An EU Troika delegation visited Algeria in June to discuss the agreement and further progress the dialogue.

Article 2 of the agreement states that respect for democratic principles and fundamental human rights, as set out in the universal declaration of human rights, will guide the internal and international policies of the parties and will constitute an essential element of the agreement. Given the presence of this article, we believe the conclusion of the agreement will put Ireland and its EU partners in a stronger position to persuade the Algerian Government to improve its human rights record. It is in line with our approach to Algeria, which is one of constructive engagement. I think the Deputy will appreciate that is our approach in view of the appalling situation in that country. The Barcelona process is regional in scope and the absence of an agreement with Algeria would create political problems.

May I explain something in order to be helpful? In 1994 there was a major conference on the interpretation of the Universal Declaration on Cultural Human Rights and Diversity and a paper was presented by Professor Hassan, among others. It pointed out that if one is trying to secure a human rights basis, the correct interpretation of the Koran is the magna carta for human rights and that in some respects the insistence by the universal declaration on human rights from a secular, modern, western perspective is quite limiting. It was in that context I raised the earlier question that the rhetoric about human rights in the absence of a commitment to understanding the source of human rights as interpreted by non-aggressive Islam, the Islamic tradition, is an absolute essential. I have identified it over a number of years as a major lacuna in individual and collective approaches by the European Union. Therefore, language suggesting, for example, that Algeria will adjust to the principles of the universal declaration on human rights is an invitation to what many progressive, democratic and humanist people see as a limited version of an alliance. This is not to say that the universal declaration on human rights is flawed, rather that it is one path to human rights and that the understanding of the alternative version is crucial.

This view is now shared by many human rights theorists abroad and it has been informing the consideration of global ethics. Many people from the non-western world have reacted negatively to the suggestion that a new global ethic could be created to accompany globalisation, which is another topic. I am simply pointing out the necessity for addressing these cultural issues. I am worried about the inability of agreements to get beyond the economic and social elements and the confusion about what is meant by "cultural". Cultural exchanges are more than what is described as technical exchanges. They are about understanding, which is very important.

I would like the Minister to come back at a future date with some kind of note on how he feels the issue might be addressed, even if it is not being addressed in the European Union.

I think the Minister would agree to that.

I am aware of what Deputy Higgins says when he speaks about globalisation and ethics. My experience at WTO level, where these issues have been discussed, leads me to think along the lines of many of the points raised by Deputy Higgins in the past.

On the question of the Koran and so on, these views were raised by the then High Commissioner, Mary Robinson. I understand this discussion is being covered by the EuroMeSCo referred to earlier but work on the issue is at an early stage. The issue here is that we cannot accept derogation from the Universal Declaration on Human Rights to which every member state of the UN has subscribed. The points raised by the Deputy are valid. They were also raised by the heads of state at the ASEAN process. We will pursue these issues at the EuroMeSCo level because this committee has a role to play in expanding our work in the interpretation of human rights and broadening the whole economic and social framework within which we operate. As a Minister responsible for trade, my experience in pursuit of development issues at WTO level means I can empathise with many of the views expressed by Deputy Higgins on this issue.

Are figures available to indicate the level of trade between the Palestinian Authority and the EU? It must be impossible because of the conflict for Palestinians to conduct normal life, much less trade. I am interested to know if there are figures to indicate that the interim agreement is applicable in this instance.

I am told trade is minimal, perhaps between €300 million and €500 million, but it is something we are anxious to pursue. I have met various representatives of the Palestinian Authority. Since becoming a Minister, I have been keen to become actively involved from the development side and wish to visit the Palestinian area at some stage in the near future. The level of trade is minimal but that is something we should try to improve dramatically.

This is a question in which a number of members are interested. Is there evidence of overt efforts by the Israelis to strangle export trade from the Palestinian area? If so, what is the EU doing about it and what steps are being taken at EU level to put pressure on the Israelis? There are other aspects on which they should be pressurised but I want to deal solely with trade. Is there not an association agreement with Israel? Could pressure not be brought to bear in the context of that agreement to ensure that Israel would pay a penalty if it interfered with trade between the European Union and the Palestinian area?

Many of the issues regarding rules of origin were raised at the Israeli association council. There is no question but that Israeli measures impede trade and there is an EU-Palestine joint committee plan for March 2003 where these issues can be raised in a formal way by the EU.

I take it Deputies are happy they have had discussion of those items.

On another matter, we are open to Libyan participation and support that if they support the acquis, which includes Israeli participation.

That is the end of that.