Thursday, 12 February 2004

Questions (63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68)

John Deasy

Question:

44 Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the position regarding the EURATOM treaty in the draft constitutional treaty for the European Union, and at the IGC; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4283/04]

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Eamon Ryan

Question:

48 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the draft of the proposed EU constitution which the Government is using for negotiations; if the opt out clause from a mutual defence commitment that the neutrals secured in early December 2003 is part of the draft constitution under negotiation or if it will have to be agreed again; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4331/04]

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Damien English

Question:

54 Mr. English asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the efforts being made to reach agreement on the new constitutional treaty for the European Union during the Irish Presidency of the European Union; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4279/04]

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Liz McManus

Question:

97 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if it is the intention of the Government to seek agreement on a new treaty or constitution for the European Union during the period of the Irish Presidency; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4194/04]

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John Gormley

Question:

102 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if his attention has been drawn to the Taoiseach's statement at Davos in January 2004 that the Polish and Spanish Governments must forget the agreement reached during the Nice Treaty on voting strengths; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4330/04]

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Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

105 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on the status of the Article 40 common defence provisions of the draft EU constitutional treaty; his views on whether the Article 40 provisions have been finally agreed or may still be open to change at the next round of negotiations; if he has agreed to the Article 40 provisions; and, if not, if he will be seeking changes and the changes that will be sought. [4351/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 44, 48, 54, 97, 102 and 105 together.

As the House will be aware, as it did not prove possible to conclude negotiations on the draft constitutional treaty in December, the Irish Presidency was asked to consult partners, and, on that basis, to make an assessment of the prospects for progress and to report to the European Council in March

Towards this end, the Taoiseach and I have been engaged in an intensive process of consultation. There have also been extensive official level contacts. We have been struck by the positive and constructive response we have received. There is a shared belief that it is in the Union's interests to bring the IGC to a conclusion as quickly as possible.

However, the issues involved, especially, but not only, the question of voting in the Council, are sensitive and complex. There are strongly differing views which will need to be reconciled if we are to reach agreement. It is, as yet, too early to say if it will be possible to bring matters to a successful conclusion during our term in office. However, as the Taoiseach has made clear, the IGC is a matter of the highest priority for the Government and we will continue to do everything we can to facilitate and encourage agreement.

On the question of voting in the Council, and as is well known, many member states favour a move to a dual majority system. A small number prefers to maintain the current system of weighted votes. There are understandable sensitivities on both sides. Our role as Presidency is to seek to find an outcome with which all participants in the IGC can live. If we are to succeed, there will have to be a shared willingness to compromise.

In approaching our task, we are building on the work carried out by the Italian Presidency. It brought forward a range of proposals in the paper tabled ahead of the meeting of Foreign Ministers in Naples in November. These proposals were refined and additional proposals were made — including in the area of defence — in the paper tabled ahead of the summit meeting in Brussels in December.

Many of these suggestions would probably have been acceptable to partners had a full discussion taken place at that time. As Presidency, we will seek to build on the work carried out by our predecessors in office. However, we are also proceeding on the principle that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.

As a participant in the IGC, the Government has supported efforts by the Austrian delegation to secure a future review of the EURATOM treaty. As Presidency, it is our task to seek to achieve an overall balanced outcome which is acceptable to everyone.