Thursday, 12 February 2004

Questions (101)

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

91 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on his January 2004 meeting with the Swiss Foreign Minister, Ms. Micheline Calmy-Rey; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4328/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

On 13 January, I met Switzerland's Federal Councillor, Ms Micheline Calmy-Rey, who has responsibility for Switzerland's foreign relations. Because of the importance of Switzerland's relations with the European Union, Federal Councillor Calmy-Rey had requested a meeting at the earliest possible opportunity in Ireland's EU Presidency and I was happy to facilitate this. Our discussions focused mainly on relations between the EU and Switzerland and on international issues of mutual concern and interest. We were both happy to note that bilateral relations between Ireland and Switzerland are excellent.

The EU and Switzerland are at present engaged in completing negotiations on a revised set of bilateral agreements in view of the impending enlargement of the European Union. The European Commission is conducting the negotiations on behalf of the EU on the basis of a mandate agreed by the Council of Ministers. The negotiations cover taxation of savings, Schengen, co-operation in combating fraud, free movement of people, trade in processed agricultural products, Swiss participation with the EU Environment Agency, co-operation on statistics, trade in services, and co-operation on media related matters, and on education, youth and training. Negotiations on trade in services have been deferred until a later date.

In most of these areas, only a few points remain to be agreed. With regard to the negotiations on the Schengen and Dublin agreements, on co-operation in combating fraud and on adapting the existing agreement on free movement of persons, there remain outstanding difficulties and negotiations on these continue. Ms Calmy-Rey and I had a useful exchange of views on these issues, while recognising that the Commission remains responsible for the conduct of negotiations on all of these issues on behalf of the EU.

Ms Calmy-Rey and I also discussed the Middle East peace process and, in particular, Switzerland's experience with the Geneva initiative. As this meeting was held just before my own visit to Israel and Egypt, it was a useful and timely opportunity to share views with another party with important insights into this difficult dispute.