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EU Treaty.

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 3 July 2007

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Questions (8, 9)

Bernard Allen

Question:

83 Deputy Bernard Allen asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on the content of the newly revised treaty recently agreed by European Union leaders at the June 2007 European Council meeting; the position of the Government on the Charter of Fundamental Rights; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18774/07]

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Oral answers (17 contributions) (Question to Minister for Foreign)

The Government is pleased with the outline of the reform treaty that was agreed at last month's European Council meeting. The reform treaty will amend the existing treaties in various ways so as to create a more efficient and effective Union that can better serve Europe's future needs.

Our principal objective going into these negotiations was to retain the substance and balance of the draft constitutional treaty that was agreed during the Irish Presidency in June 2004. This objective was largely achieved in that the great bulk of the 2004 agreement will be incorporated in the reform treaty when it is finalised later this year.

In the wake of the referendum results in France and the Netherlands, it was necessary to make certain changes to what had been agreed in 2004. The changes decided on at the recent European Council included dropping the constitutional title and the removal of references to the EU flag and anthem, although these will, of course, continue to be widely used throughout the Union. Moreover, the charter of fundamental rights has been taken out of the treaty, but will retain its legally-binding status. National parliaments have been given an enhanced role in the Union's legislative process.

There will be an opt-in/opt-out arrangement for the UK in the field of criminal and police co-operation. We will need to decide in the coming months whether to join that arrangement. Although the double majority voting system will not come into use until 2014, the overall institutional package from the 2004 agreement has not been reopened. This was a key requirement of ours throughout these negotiations. Ireland also succeeded in getting agreement to include commitments on combating climate change in the new treaty.

As regards the charter, the Government wanted it to be incorporated in the reform treaty, but this was opposed by a number of member states. We are happy that its legal standing will be confirmed in the new treaty. In our view, the text of the charter itself and the wording to be included in the treaty adequately define the scope and application of the charter.

At a very late stage in the negotiations, the UK delegation introduced a protocol which seeks to clarify the application of the charter as regards its own national laws. While we have no difficulty with the charter and do not believe that such clarification is required in our case, we nevertheless considered it prudent to look for an opportunity to study the implications of the protocol for the charter and its application.

I am glad the Taoiseach has clarified the situation regarding reports that Ireland has sought a derogation. The charter refers to human dignity, the right to life, the right to integrity of the person and the prohibition of slavery and enforced labour so why has Ireland reserved this position on it when many such issues are already enshrined in Irish law? Why is it that we are being a third party to grandstanding by the United Kingdom?

Given that the Minister of State said we are examining the legal implications for Ireland of Britain's stance, when will we have a final position on the charter? The Charter of Fundamental Rights is one of the biggest selling points for all of the major parties in this House in the approach to a referendum and taking a reserved position creates doubts. Many doubts have already been created by reports in the media.

I fully appreciate the Deputy's concerns given some of the reports in the media but the Government has no reservations regarding the charter. As I said in my reply, it is prudent to take the opportunity to examine the implications for the charter of this additional protocol, which was introduced at a very late stage. As the Taoiseach and I have said previously, the additional protocol seems excessive given that the field of application section in the charter makes it clear that the charter applies to the institutions of the European Union and member states as they apply legislation. It is wise to review the implications for the charter, although we do not have concerns about the charter itself.

I recall that Deputy Allen was perturbed by my reading out the elements of the charter.

I was perturbed by the time wasted — some 15 minutes.

I, like the Deputy, regard the charter as a major selling point, not just in the constitutional treaty process but in the reform treaty process. There is nothing in the charter that should cause a reasonable person concern because, as the Deputy correctly points out, it reaffirms existing rights. The only issues that arose were the British concerns regarding the protocol.

As has been said previously, Ireland was not mentioned, and we did not seek Ireland to be mentioned, in the footnote accompanying the relevant section of the mandate.

I request that the Leas-Cheann Comhairle put down a ground rule. My questions tend to be concise and short but receive long, rambling answers from various Ministers. I ask that we play within the rules and that time be allowed for supplementary questions.

I think that is a preamble to the Deputy's supplementary question.

What is Ireland's position on the reported backtracking by the Polish Government on what was agreed last week? Have discussions taken place with the Polish Government in this regard?

Can we have a concise and precise final reply from an t-Aire Stáit?

My view and the view of the Government is the same as that expressed by President Barroso. Arrangements were agreed in the Council and it would be very unwise for a member state to try to reverse them.

Michael D. Higgins

Question:

84 Deputy Michael D. Higgins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if, in the context of the new proposed European Treaty, he envisages new mechanisms for making decisions on common, foreign and security policy accountable to parliamentarians within the European Union; if the proposed Foreign Minister of the European Union will be accountable to the European Parliament; and if in turn decisions taken on CFSP will require the assent and scrutiny of committees of the European Parliament to which such functions have been delegated or plenary sessions of such parliaments. [18797/07]

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One of the key purposes of the reform treaty, which is due to be finalised by the end of the year in accordance with the Intergovernmental Conference, IGC, mandate agreed by the European Council, will be to enhance the democratic legitimacy of the Union and to strengthen its institutions, including the European Parliament. The treaty will give considerable additional influence to the European Parliament by extending the number of areas of EU legislation in which there will be a co-decision role for the European Parliament alongside the Council of Ministers. Another key objective of the reform treaty will be to give greater coherence to the Union's external policies.

The European Union mandate for the IGC on the new reform treaty confirms that the common foreign and security policy, CFSP, will remain essentially political and intergovernmental in character. The role of the European Parliament on CFSP will therefore remain consultative, with decisions on Common Positions and joint actions continuing to be made by the Council of Ministers, in accordance with general guidelines defined by the European Council. The specific roles of the European Parliament and Commission in this area are defined in the treaties. Consultation between the Council and Parliament on CFSP has greatly increased in recent years. During the Irish Presidency an extraordinary amount of the European Parliament's time was spent addressing areas outside the central focus of the original treaties.

The establishment of the post of high representative of the Union for foreign affairs and security policy, as provided for in the reform treaty, will enhance the coherence and effectiveness of the Union's external relations. The high representative will consult and inform the European Parliament on the CFSP and will ensure its views are duly taken into consideration. Javier Solana has established a very good relationship with the Parliament. There is also provision for special representatives appointed to deal with external issues to brief the European Parliament on their areas of responsibility.

Ireland has consistently supported the intergovernmental character of the CFSP, which we regard as most appropriate for the safeguarding of our interests. The Government acknowledges the importance of appropriate consultation with the European Parliament on CFSP issues, given its position of co-responsibility in relation to the Union budget. We welcome the improved level of consultation and interaction occurring between the Council and Parliament across the range of issues on the Union's wider agenda.

I am grateful to the Minister of State for his long reply, about which I will ask a complex supplementary question. The question I tabled was about accountability and I propose to make the matter simple. The European Parliament can have access to information on the Common Foreign and Security Policy it but has no right of decision. While it can summon people to appear before it, areas which are matters for intergovernmental competence will, as the Minister of State noted, remain matters for intergovernmental competence. The question of accountability then runs on to national parliaments.

I asked what additional accountability mechanisms would be available to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs or the plenary session of any member state parliament and to whom the new foreign minister of the European Union would report. I can concentrate the matter by putting the question in a concrete way. In 2003, a sub-committee of the permanent ambassadors of COREPER, the clearing committee consisting of five people, decided to add Hamas to a list of proscribed organisations. This decision had immense implications for Middle East policy. A common position was also announced in response to elections in Palestine in 2006. There was no accountability for these decisions in the plenary session of the Oireachtas, the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs or the European Parliament, which organises regular visits to Palestine but has no competence in this area. It is proposed that this absence of accountability will continue in the intergovernmental process and the proposed new post. I have serious reservations about the unaccountable positions taken up by Javier Solana, particularly on the Middle East.

As I stated and Deputy Higgins presaged, the CFSP, by its nature, will remain substantially intergovernmental. With regard to the Deputy's final point, as I acknowledged in my role of Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs in the previous Government, Javier Solana has established an extremely good relationship with the European Parliament.

That is not the issue.

On the issue of the link with national parliaments, the chairs of foreign affairs and defence committees of national parliaments meet every six months. This is a good process which could be developed in the Union. It is a matter for national parliaments, including the Oireachtas, to take a more active interest in the relevant issues and deal with the specific concerns raised by the Deputy.

Is the Minister of State aware that only the Chairman of the Joint Committee on European Affairs has access to information by way of consultation and no ordinary member of that committee or the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, including its Chairman, has access to such information? Is he aware that a discussion is taking place all over Europe among those interested in the word the Minister of State will not use, namely, "accountability", on the issue of making foreign affairs decisions that may arise in the context of the Common Foreign and Security Policy accountable to national parliaments? That is the issue.

As the Deputy knows well from all I have said and written over the years on this issue, it is very much a matter for each individual parliament and parliamentary committees to establish accountability. However, I make the general point that there is provision for much more intensive links with the European Parliament in the reform treaty.

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