I propose to take Questions Nos. 195, 225, 352 and 361 together.
Since my recent appointment as Minister for Foreign Affairs, I had the opportunity to meet my EU ministerial colleagues at the meeting of the General Affairs and External Relations Council which took place in Luxembourg on 11 October. I look forward to many future opportunities for discussions with my colleagues both bilaterally and in the Council on the range of issues on the EU agenda. I also received a telephone call from the British Foreign Secretary in which we discussed amendments which have recently been proposed to the working time directive.
In the General Affairs part of the recent Council meeting, we discussed the Presidency's draft annotated agenda for the European Council of 4 and 5 November — terrorism, enlargement and the financial framework for 2007 to 2013. One of the items on the annotated agenda for the November European Council, which is due to be discussed in more detail at the next meeting of the General Affairs and External Relations Council on 2 November, is the Lisbon Agenda which embraces many economic and social aspects of the development of the EU.
Under the external relations agenda, the Council addressed a wide range of issues and adopted conclusions in relation to Libya, the Middle East, Sudan, the Great Lakes, the western Balkans, Indonesia, Ukraine, and both the EU-China and EU-Iran human rights dialogues.
Before attending the Council, I was very happy to meet the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Affairs for a detailed exchange of views on the agenda items and my Department subsequently sent to the committee a copy of the Council's conclusions. These are also available on the following Internet address:www.consilium.eu.int.
The question of the future enlargement of the Union is one which will feature prominently on the EU's agenda for the foreseeable future. The Government has participated actively and positively in negotiations on the enlargement process, notably during our Presidency in the first half of the year, and will continue to do so.
On 6 October, the European Commission published its regular reports on progress towards accession of Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey, as well as an overall strategy paper on progress in the enlargement process which includes recommendations on Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia and Turkey. As part of its regular report on Turkey, the Commission also published a paper which looks at the issues raised by that country's possible membership of the EU.
The European Union's objective, as stated in the European Council conclusions of 17 to 18 June 2004, is that both Romania and Bulgaria should conclude negotiations in 2004, sign the accession treaty in 2005 and accede in January 2007, if they are ready. The Commission makes clear in its reports of 6 October that both countries have made good progress this year in their preparations for EU accession. Negotiations will be concluded on the same basis and principles applied to the ten new member states which acceded on 1 May 2004.
The Helsinki European Council in December 1999 decided that Turkey is a candidate country destined to join the European Union on the basis of the same criteria applied to other candidate states. The December 2004 European Council will decide, on the basis of the report and recommendation published by the Commission on 6 October, whether Turkey has fulfilled the Copenhagen political criteria. If that decision is positive, the EU is committed to opening accession negotiations with Turkey without delay.
The Feira European Council in June 2000 agreed that the countries of the western Balkans are potential candidates for EU membership. The EU-western Balkans summit in Thessaloniki in June 2003 confirmed that the shared objective of the EU and the countries of the region is their eventual integration into EU structures. It is agreed that the countries of the western Balkans will make progress individually, based on progress in negotiating and implementing stabilisation and association agreements with the EU, which involve wide ranging institutional reforms, and on the development of increased regional co-operation.
Croatia formally applied for membership of the EU in February 2003. The European Council in June 2004 decided that Croatia is a candidate country and that accession negotiations will begin in early 2005. The Commission, in its strategy paper issued on 6 October, sets out suggested principles for the negotiating framework for Croatia which must be finalised before negotiations can begin.
The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia submitted its application for membership in a ceremony in Dublin on 22 March this year. The Council on 17 May requested the Commission to prepare its opinion on the application for submission to the Council. This process is expected to take about one year to complete.