The Government and the European Commission met in Dublin Castle on 6 January for an in depth discussion of Ireland's EU Presidency priorities. On that occasion, I had very useful discussions with the Commissioners who have responsibility for Competitiveness Council dossiers.
I have published a priorities paper for the Competitiveness Council of Ministers, which I will chair during the Presidency. The programme for the Competitiveness Council is firmly rooted in the ten-year strategy for growth, economic reform and job creation agreed by the Lisbon European Council in 2000. The priorities paper is available in English, Irish and French and is also posted on the official Irish Presidency website atwww.eu2004.ie.
On 21 January, I presented the Competitiveness Council work programme and priorities to two European Parliament Committees, the Industry, Trade, Research and Energy Committee, and the Legal Affairs and Internal Market Committee. The Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, presented the relevant aspects of the programme of the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council of Ministers, for which my Department takes the lead role, to the Employment and Social Policy Committee of the European Parliament on 22 January.
The Lisbon agenda of economic, social and environmental renewal of the EU is a key overarching priority for the Irish Presidency. Progress on the achievement of the agenda and measures to give renewed impetus to advancing economic reform, enhancing competitiveness and stimulating employment in Europe will be the focus of the spring European Council on 25-26 March 2004.
I will chair two formal meetings of the Competitiveness Council of Ministers, which are scheduled to take place in Brussels on 11 March and 17-18 May 2004. Particular stress will be laid by Ireland on the need for the Competitiveness Council to focus on and develop its horizontal remit in line with the Seville European Council in June 2002 and the Presidency conclusions of the 2003 spring summit. It is important that there is attention at the highest political level on issues affecting the competitiveness of enterprise and I see the role of the Competitiveness Council as central to achieving this. The Council will also discuss a range of issues in areas such as enterprise, research and innovation policies and the completion and effective operation of the internal market, particularly with regard to the services sector. Specific dossiers on issues relating to intellectual property, including the proposal for a community patent, company law and consumer policy will also feature on the Council's agenda. I will also chair an informal meeting of EU and accession Ministers responsible for competitiveness, which is scheduled to take place at Dromoland Castle, County Clare on 26-27 April. The meeting will focus on industrial strategy and innovation.
The Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, will chair the sessions of the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs, ESPHCA, Council dealing with items on which my Department takes the lead such as the European employment strategy and other relevant individual dossiers. The ESPHCA Council is scheduled to meet in formal session on 4-5 March and 1-2 June 2004. The March Council will be used to focus attention on the key issues arising from the employment task force report. The main employment issue at the June Council will be to finalise the employment package for the June European Council. The Irish Presidency will seek to promote closer co-operation with the two sides of industry in facilitating change and helping in the effective transformation of the European economy. To this end it will convene a tripartite social summit with the EU level social partners in advance of the 2004 spring European Council. The Irish Presidency is working with the Commission and the European social partners with a view to adopting "A European Partnership for Change" as an overall theme for this summit and identifying all of the actors involved with advancing the economic, social and environmental goals of the Lisbon agenda.
On 16 January, the Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, co-chaired, along with the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, an informal meeting of Ministers for employment and social policy in Galway. The meeting focused on the theme of "Making Work Pay", which is a key priority for the member states of the European Union and a core objective in the EU level process to support the modernisation of social protection systems. On the previous day the Irish Presidency convened a Council troika meeting with the social partners and the social platform of NGOs, at which a fruitful discussion was held on the issues of "Adaptability and Change" and "Making Work Pay".
Both the Competitiveness and ESPHCA Councils will make significant contributions towards the preparation of the spring European Council meeting next March.
My Department will also be responsible for EU Council work on European common commercial policy matters during the Irish Presidency. This will involve the organisation and chairing of Council meetings at ministerial and official level in Dublin, Brussels, Geneva, Paris and elsewhere. Among the substantive issues to be dealt with will be the World Trade Organisation negotiations and the European Union's trade relations with various countries and regions.
In addition to the formal Presidency agenda, my Department is organising a number of further Presidency-related meetings in Ireland. The calendar of such events, across all policy areas, has been deposited in the Oireachtas Library by the Minister for Foreign Affairs.