Thursday, 12 February 2004

Questions (55, 56)

Pat Breen

Question:

40 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the bilateral meetings already held or to be held between the Government and the government of Bulgaria in 2004; the position regarding the Bulgarian application for membership of the European Union; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4242/04]

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David Stanton

Question:

75 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the bilateral meetings already held or to be held between the Government and the government of Romania in 2004; the position regarding the Romanian application for membership of the European Union; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4243/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 40 and 75 together.

The Taoiseach visited both Bulgaria and Romania in November 2003. He met the Romanian Prime Minister again last month and is due to meet him once more later this month. I met my Bulgarian counterpart last month and Minister of State, Deputy Roche will meet the Bulgarian Minister for European Affairs in March 2004. Further meetings will be arranged as necessary.

The European Council in December 2003 emphasised the continuity and irreversibility of the ongoing enlargement process of which Bulgaria and Romania form an integral part. Over the past year, these countries have significantly taken forward their preparations for membership, which is reflected in the well advanced state of their accession negotiations. The Union's objective is to conclude negotiations with both countries in 2004, sign the accession treaty in 2005 and that the two countries should accede in January 2007, if they are ready. Negotiations will be concluded on the same basis and principles applied to the ten acceding states. To date, Bulgaria has closed 26 negotiation chapters and Romania has closed 22. As Presidency, Ireland will work to advance negotiations as rapidly as possible, in line with the clear political mandate given by the December European Council.