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.